No Christmas without the Cross

fullsizeoutput_11a3The Christmas Tree is up at the Sayler house and we are preparing our home and hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We’ve always been very careful about how we decorate, avoiding the commercial and worldly images and themes of Christmas, and instead focusing on themes from Scripture – and this is especially noticeable on our tree.  Not quite a Chrismon Tree, all of our ornaments fall into 4 categories, Angels, Stars, Nativity Scenes, and Crosses.  Now the first three of those are readily seen in the story of Christ’s birth, but unless we keep the Cross in the story, the birth loses its meaning and purpose.  Indeed, there can be no Christmas without the Cross.

I’ve shared before from James Boice’s book The Christ of Christmas,* but I thought today I’d share just a bit from the opening chapter, The Christmas Story According to Jesus Christ. Boice finds the Christmas story according to Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-7, which is a direct quote from Psalm 40:6-8:

When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’
Hebrews 10:5–7

What is it that our Lord emphasizes in these verses? First, that He came into the world for a purpose. That is important, for it is uniquely true of Him. It cannot be said of any other person that he or she came into the world to do something. It is often true that there are purposes parents have for their children. They hope that the child lying in a crib will grow up to do something significant in this world. If the parents are Christians, they want their child to be kept from sin and be able to serve Jesus Christ. Parents have those and other aspirations. But the child does not have them. The child has to acquire them. That is why, from a Christian perspective, the child must be taught its destiny from the pages of the Word of God.

But Jesus was different. Our Lord says that He came (and was conscious of coming) for a specific purpose. Moreover, He spells that purpose out: “I have come to do your will, O God.”

What was that will? God willed Christ to be our Savior.

I do not know why it is, be we often lose a sense of that purpose in telling the Christmas story. We focus so much on the birth of the baby and on the sentiment that goes with that story – and there is a certain amount of legitimate sentimentality that goes with it – that we miss the most important things. Actually, the story is treated quite simply in Scripture, and the emphasis is always on the fact that Jesus came to die. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took a human body in oder that He might die for our salvation.  When our Lord speaks of His coming it is therefore highly understandable that He is thinking along those lines.

In the tenth chapter of Hebrews the author contrasts the sacrifices that took place in Israel before the coming of Christ – the sin offerings and burnt offerings, by which believers testified of their faith that God would accept them on the basis of the death of an innocent substitute – with Christ’s great and perfect sacrifice. It is in the context of that contrast, between the former things and that which has now come, between the shadow and the reality, that he brings in the quotations from Psalm 40. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world with a purpose, and that purpose was to do God’s will: to be our Savior. We miss the most important thing about Christmas if we fail to see that.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Christ of Christmas (Moody Press; Chicago, Ill. 1983)pg 14.


The Cross and the Open Tomb


 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death,
in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.”
(Romans 6:4)

The following is an excerpt from The Cross through the Open Tomb by Donald Grey Barnhouse:

It is not wise to teach the crucifixion as the climax of the life of Christ.  Such teaching not only minimizes the resurrection, but it also robs the believer of a sense of the ever-living presence of his Lord in daily life.  Let us consider the cross from the resurrection side in three aspects.

First, as we think of the cross in connection with out past sin, we shall know only sorrowing defeat unless we see the death of Jesus Christ through the open tomb, for our sin nailed Jesus Christ to that cross.  If we see Him merely dying, then there is nothing for us.  But Christ arose from the grave, and His resurrection assures us that He has overcome death.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the triumphant cross. There our sin was dealt with; there our sin was paid for; there our enemy was defeated; there death with all its powers was vanquished and we have life in Christ.

Second, the cross though the tomb means that we have a living Savior, a Savior of our present life.  The tomb of our Lord is empty and our Savior is in heaven interceding for us.  Furthermore, because Christ is risen, we have the high privilege of walking with Him in newness of life, for by His Spirit we are identified with Him.  This enables us to walk as the sons of God among the sons of men.  Through the cross our sins are forgiven; by the open tomb the risen Lord imparts to us His eternal life.  When the cross is truly seen through the open tomb, we can be sure of victory in our risen Savior, amid the problems of daily life.  God can tame our tongues; He can give us a word of grace instead of words of criticism.  God can make us long-suffering instead of short-tempered.  In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Third, not only is the cross through the open tomb our greatest triumph because our sins are forgiven and redeemed forever; not only do we have confidence and trust for daily life because our risen Lord is at the right hand of God; but the cross through the open tomb guarantees our future hope.  1 Peter 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  Nothing can destroy this hope, nothing can corrupt it, nothing can defile it, nothing on earth can depreciate it, for this hope is reserved in heaven for us.  Through the power of God we are being kept for this glorious hope.  Nothing can keep us from it.

Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
(Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

I’ve started running again.  After a brief hiatus (weather, schedule, laziness – whatever), I’ve gone back to the streets for my early morning run.  I’ve forgotten how much I love that time.

Sure, I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it is.  It’s early.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  Still, there is something beautiful about the morning run.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook.  Sometimes you can get so preoccupied with watching your steps, figuring the pace per mile, avoiding skunks, calculating how much time you’ve got before you have to turn around and get back home to get the kids going for school – you can sometimes forget to even look up.

This morning I looked up, and what a blessing.  I came to the top of the hill, to a clearing of trees, and there, sitting on the horizon of the lightening sky was the moon, golden and full.  If my arm were just a little longer, I swear I could have reached out and touched it.  Was I watching it, or was it watching me, as I ran my course this morning, I couldn’t tell.  Then, in the light of the moon, five deer ran in front of me, gracefully clearing the snow drifts and tall grass as they made their way to the frozen creek.

Something like that doesn’t happen on every run, but I can tuck that picture away for quite a while.  All I had to do was drag these sorry old bones out of bed, hit the trail, and look up.

I think this is why the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  We can get so caught up in all the “busyness” of the Christian life, i.e. small groups, reading programs, mission trips, worship services, Bible studies, all of which are good and valuable practices, but sometimes we can miss the forest for all the trees.

As we read through the Bible, we can get so preoccupied with just getting the reading done that we fail to actually hear what the word says.  We plan and prepare for the program, find the right verses to support the lesson, and pretty soon the Bible becomes nothing more than a book of fragmented quotations to help defend a position.  We come to the Holy Days in the life of the Church (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter), and adding church into the “holiday” just seems like one more thing we have to do.  The church gets so busy doing, serving, caring; we forget the main purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel, to call the world before the cross and the empty tomb.

Hear the word again: “fix your eyes on Jesus.”  Fix your eyes on Him, regardless of where you might be.  Are you preparing a Sunday school lesson or sermon?  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  How does that passage you are reading today show you your need for a Savior, point you to Christ, establish your hopes in Him?  Are you swamped by the busyness of work, family, and everything else you’ve got to do – you feel like you are sinking and cannot swim?  Fix your eyes on Him, cry out to Him, and He will save!  Are you overwhelmed by the weight of the world, wondering how we came to such a time and place as this – where if someone pulled the right string the whole thing would simply fall apart?  Fix your eyes on Him.  Jesus has overcome the world!  The grave could not hold Him, the kingdoms of this world rise and fall for His glory, and one day all things will be placed under His sovereign reign.

Calvin had an adaptation of the Sursum Corda, the prayer that is offered before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Not wanting the congregation to be preoccupied with the elements of bread and wine, as though they had been transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, Calvin urged believers to look up, where Christ is now interceding for us before the throne of God, and where the true communion of Christ exists.  He writes:

With this in mind, let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption. Let us not be bemused by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with the eye, and touch with the hand, in order to seek him there, as if he were enclosed in the bread or wine. Our souls will only then be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance, when they are thus raised above all earthly things, and carried as high as heaven, to enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. Let us therefore be content to have the bread and the wine as signs and evidences, spiritually seeking the reality where the word of God promises that we shall find it.

Today, whatever you are doing, look up.  Find yourself at the foot of the cross, the cross that was meant for you, the cross that symbolizes your sin, your guilt, your offence before God.  Look up to the cross and find that it has been carried for you, it has been occupied for you, it has been emptied for you.  Don’t get so caught up in everything else that you miss this one thing.  Christ has died for your sins, and was raised for your justification.

Look up!  There is more to see than just the trees.  Look up!  There is glory all around you.  Look up!  Fix your eyes on Christ.  Look up!