Why Jesus Came (In His Own Words)

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” ~ Mark 1:38

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Matthew 20:26-28 (also Mark 10:45)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” ~ Luke 19:10

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” ~ John 12:27

“‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” ~ John 18:37

The incarnation of the Son of God is miraculous and wonderful in so many ways … but if the Story ends at the manger, or even in Egypt, then it is only a partial telling of the miracle and wonder; it only hints at the purpose.

For His purpose as stated is much the same as ours:

  • To preach good news
  • To be a servant; to give up our lives in service
  • To seek and save the lost
  • To face the hour of sacrifice with courage
  • To testify to the truth

Long ago the Preacher opined, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Jesus knew His time and His purpose. We who believe should, too.

Our time is now.

Our purpose is His.

The Nativity Story from John 1

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook asked a group of mostly preachers what they would be preaching about on Sunday, December 25, Christmas morning.

I answered, “I don’t preach, but if I did, I’d preach on the Nativity Story from John 1. Yup, John 1. It’s short, but cosmic.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. ~ John 1:1-5, 14, 17-18

I love the baby-Jesus-in-a-manger version of the story as dearly as anyone. But this version has incredible power in its brevity.

The very Son of God, the Word, who was with God and was God from the beginning, took our form to live with us. The glory of which angels sang was now visible in Him. You could see grace. You could see truth. In Jesus, you could see God.

Want another tiny sample of this part of the Nativity Story?

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” ~ John 8:58

They wanted to kill Him right there in the temple by throwing rocks at Him, they were so incensed to hear this. He claimed to be God. But truth is a defense against blasphemy as well as libel … and He walked away, unharmed. I have to wonder if their hands were stayed by doubt in their conviction that He was only a man; that a man could not also be God.

Another glimpse?

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” ~ John 14:8-10

God with Us. Immanuel.

Jesus knew who He was. He knew what Isaiah had prophesied in 7:14, and He knew that “Immanuel” meant “God With Us.” He had to have known what His mother had treasured in her heart for all those years.

And in telling Philip and the other apostles once again Who He was, He was promising to give them the very Holy Spirit within Himself so that God could do His work through them as well.

One more glimpse, this time from someone other than John:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:5-11

God became a single cell; a nothing; a thing invisible except through a microscope. God became a baby. A young man. A servant.

A sacrifice.

God intended all of this to happen, and that was why it was as good as done as soon as Jesus was born, and the angels could sing praise at His birth for what He would yet do as a man, and a servant, and a sacrifice.

Jesus showed us that God could be in and among man, so that God could continue His work in us and among us and through us by His own Holy Spirit.

Jesus showed us that we could be born anew; become something very different, something still like a human being on the outside, but full of grace and truth and God within.

Jesus showed us that the true glory of God is to serve, to give, to be given and spent out and used up in love to others.

He gave up a throne in heaven to wash dirty feet.

He gave up being in the Presence of God in order to be the Presence of God.

He surrendered His life there to surrender it again here, and to give it abundantly and without measure to anyone who hears and believes and asks.

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Saint Nicholas

At a time in history when mankind’s faith is an ocean at low ebb – when it’s difficult for adults or children to believe in anything because of man’s failure and perhaps inability to live up to reasonable expectations – I would like to take this opportunity to reassure every man, woman and child upon this globe that Santa Claus is real.

He is not a mere wispy sentiment of generosity perpetuated among conspiring adults to play upon the gullibility of innocent children, nor is he simply an inflated legend of the literary and motion picture industries created to stimulate the purchase of merchandise to be given away as gifts.

He was a real person, born Nicholas of Myra a mere two hundred seventy-some years after the birth of Christ. Most of his life – and death – is fogged by mystery and legend, but we can be sure that he was a follower of Christ and a bishop of the church where he lived. And the mysteries of the miracles said to have been done by God through him as well as the legends of kindnesses done by him all share a magnificent common theme: giving … generosity … charity.

He had a great heart; he was eager to share wealth with the poor. And as the respect for certain saints grew into veneration in the centuries that followed his death, his memory was among the most celebrated and the most widely-observed. His death on December 6 was commemorated with a variety of practices and festivities. In northern Europe, he became known as Sinterklass – Saint Nicholas – and over a number of years in the English-speaking world that moniker slurred into “Santa Claus.”

Perhaps the life of Nicholas was exaggerated in that growing observance; perhaps not. But it became of such fascination that his very remains were stolen and secreted from his hometown Myra to another location – and perhaps more than one – in the hope that their presence would somehow bring God’s blessing.

What can be ascertained about Nicholas of Myra is that he serves as an inspiration for the generosity of a season marked by the giving of gifts, just as wealthy wise men gave gifts to the infant Jesus. They knew His true identity as King of Israel, but perhaps never knew that He was also King of Heaven and Earth, of all creation, of all people.

He was given as a gift to mankind, through Whom many other gifts could be given to bless us, every one: hope, purpose, an empowering Holy Spirit, a life without end in God’s kingdom.

Of this, Nicholas could be certain – and so can you.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

Repost: Of Course We Christians Love Christmas

Who wouldn’t love a sweet, innocent little baby born in a barn, cradled in a food trough for animals, worshiped by angels, sought by wise men and targeted for death by despot?

So all of us Christians really want to emphasize this part of our Lord’s Story to charm and beguile those who haven’t heard it all into wanting to hear more.

The problem is, there comes a point where He grows up and he’s no longer just sweet and charming.

He scares his folks to the edge of panic by staying behind in Jerusalem while they’ve gone on toward home after the Feast. And asks them simply, “Shouldn’t I be about my Father’s business?”

He abandons Joseph’s business to pursue a career as an itinerant preacher.

He seeks out his weird, wacked-out cousin in the wild and seems to join his baptismal cult, fasts forty days, has an encounter with the devil, and starts preaching with John the gospel of “Repent! God’s kingdom is almost here!” with a few “… you brood of vipers!” thrown in for good measure.

This is not your typical, nice Jewish boy.

Oh, sure, He’ll impress the winesteward at a poorly-catered wedding, heal some people, feed a lot of people, and preach that people ought to love and respect each other because God loves all of them. But He’ll also thrash a few demons from time to time, fraternize with tax collectors and centurions, and generally antagonize the entire religious establishment, whether Pharisee or Sadducee. Not to mention putting one of the tax collectors in his entourage, along with a potential insurrectionist, a hot-tempered fisherman or two and a few other ne’er-do-wells (including a suspected thief).

Yet He does all these things – by the implication He encourages – because He wants people to accept that He is the Son of God?

What is His deal?

Why couldn’t He just settle for being a peculiar prophet with wise teachings about relationships between people and God; pick up a few seminary students, or pluck the best synagogues, or even schmooze a few Levites? Maybe even a priest?

It’s like there’s no compromise with Him. It’s either His way, or the highway – the broad, broad highway that leads to destruction, in His words.

And it’s not like He’s talking flowery beds of ease for His followers, either. He expects for them to suffer, and especially after He’s murdered. Yes, that’s right. He starts talking about being arrested and tried and crucified.

Then it happens.

He puts up no fight, responds to no accusation, retorts to no insult, curses at no torment, reviles no lash, evaporates no nail hammered into His hands and feet, calls down no angelic army to obliterate His captors, breathes no supernatural breath to hold asphyxiation forever at bay.

He dies while lifted up on that cross.

And draws all men unto Him. Not just a few shepherds. Not just some oriental astrologers. Not even just a dozen or so close friends. All men. We have to pause at the foot of that cross and gawk upward, and wonder …

Who is this Jesus?

What happened to that marvelous Christmas Christ? The King given gold instead of a crown of thorns? The One gifted with myrrh who ends up buried with it? The Child who received frankincense, but became the Man whose innocence was sacrificed as a sweet-smelling savor to God?

Then we discover the tidings of comfort and joy don’t come until three days later … the swaddling cloths are found folded neatly in His empty tomb. It can’t hold Him.

Now it can’t hold us.

That’s what we Christians love about Christmas. It doesn’t end at Easter. It goes on and on and on, as long as life shall last, and then on and on and on.

It’s not just a sweet Story for gullible children; it’s not even a Story for every rational adult.

It’s for those who are willing to suspend incredulity, to truly and deeply believe its irrationality and passion, and who will live that belief from cradle to grave … and then some.

(from 2007)