All eyes are on the one we call Jesus. He has our attention in the once-a-year ritual known as Christmas. Lighted trees fill the neighborhoods and decorations adorn our streets. Presents will be exchanged with those we love as families gather across the globe. It is a fun time of year, but it will pass. All the festivities will come to an end, and routines will resume. Then what?
The reality of Jesus will not change. Hearts that were made merry might lose their joy. Bright wrapping paper will suddenly become disposable trash. Trees look empty, almost sad. It all loses its glitter the day after. Then what? The attention that the Christ child gathered during this festive season will wane. A bit of a letdown will set in. The world returns to normal. The Lord seems to be put in a box and shoved into a corner of a closet for another year. The only thing that has not changed is Him.
Our emotions ebb and flow. They are often slaves to times and situations, swinging upward when circumstances are good and downward when they’re bad. The Son of God is not like that. He is as consistent as the Father who sent Him (Hebrews 13:8). The character that He demonstrated during His brief stay in this world has never varied. It never will, and we can only gather an accurate understanding our heavenly Father from Him (1 John 5:20).
Both Father and Son displayed an incomprehensible love through the remarkable life of the One who voluntarily entered this sinful world. Heaven is the ultimate goal for every child of God, and Jesus was there and stepped away to join us here. Temptations were real. The potential to fail was ever present. The tempter lurked around every corner. He experienced human weakness and struggle. He knows about hunger and physical pain. He understands what it is to be betrayed. Denied. Abandoned. Alone. Totally, absolutely alone. Yes, He knows in ways that we never will. Unless we reject Him. Then we will know…forever.
He gave up that unimaginable equality with God to save us from an eternal separation from our all-loving Creator. He knows about the power of emotions. He wept for the grief that His loved ones suffered (John 11:33-35). He agonized over the prospects of His impending death (Matthew 26:36-46). Yes, He literally knows exactly how we feel but never allowed it to dictate His actions. His sole focus was the salvation of humanity (Matthew 1:21). From cradle to grave, He was never sidetracked from that task.
As we see nativity scenes splashed all across the world, let us never lose sight of the eternal significance of the Christ child. He was born to die. He came to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also our enslavement to it. Enjoy the season, and always remember His ultimate purpose.
His entry into this world was hardly remarkable. No headlines greeted Him, just a string of “No Vacancy” signs. Oh yes, there was that place over with the animals. Let His expectant mom find a space there. Noteworthy? Not exactly, at least not from a human perspective. But this was no ordinary baby. This was the Son of God on a most extraordinary mission.
There were few clues along the way that this kid was anyone special. How significant could a carpenter’s son possibly be? He tipped His hand a little when He was twelve (Luke 2:41-51), but no one really understood. His parents experienced some anxiety, and He hinted at His bigger purpose. Life was apparently typical otherwise, and His mom cherished it all. It would become clear to everyone in years to come.
He stepped onto the public stage at age thirty and was nothing like the experts expected. He was baptized by the eccentric John and was immediately in a face-to-face fight with the devil. The tempter assaulted Him in multiple attacks but failed. The enemy was not finished. Rejection was swift from the covenant people of God. It was a hostile environment for the Prince of Peace, and He persisted. He never wavered. He came to seek and save the lost. The world, as unwelcoming as it may have been, needed Him.
He spoke in the language of the people, and they were amazed. His simple lessons carried profound meaning. Parables left the disinterested masses unimpressed and the disciples thirsty to learn more. Commoners, sinners, tax-collectors and the rejects of “proper society” gravitated to Him to listen. That same “proper society” criticized Him for the company that He kept. His footprints lead in a unique direction. A cross was on the horizon.
He ruffled the feathers of the elite. Well, maybe that is an understatement. The desire to kill the Son of God might be a bit more than ruffled feathers. They joined hands with the civil establishment of the day and anger turned into action. Mobs gathered around Him and dragged Him before the authorities. Apostles abandoned Him. One betrayed Him. Another denied Him. None stuck with Him. Death closed in.
He was whipped. Mocked. Spit upon. Blindfolded and beaten. A crown of thorns adorned His head. The once-innocent baby born among the animals was now being treated like a common criminal. Nails were driven through His flesh, and He was suffering the worst possible end to His life. “It is finished,” was His simple declaration as He drew His last breath (John 19:30). Mission accomplished.
That scene is not the end of the drama. Three days later the tomb was deserted. No need to seek the living among the dead. We should always remember that combination of love and power. Love to send His Son to die for our sins. Power to raise Him. Amazing grace. Awesome God.
Each of us is engaged in the battle of our lifetime. Our natural impulses pull at us. Our higher nature, the spiritual one, informs us of better choices. Those two are in perpetual conflict (Galatians 5:16-25), and the outcome of that fight affects everything. There is a long string of evidences that reveal which one has the upper hand, and they are signs of the ultimate destination that awaits our souls.
It is a simple understanding of the exclusionary nature of each. We live according to one or the other at every step. We cannot walk by both any more than we can simultaneously go north and south. Fleshly steps are much easier to take. Do whatever feels best, offers the fewest challenges and has the heaviest traffic. We simply go with the flow.
The higher road is governed by different principles. The spiritual route is rarely the easiest. It challenges us to overcome our feelings and emotions. There is little congestion along the way. There is no traffic backup on the entry ramp. It is tight and narrow. Excess baggage has to be left behind. Bitterness, anger and revenge must be removed. Sin is no longer a viable option.
Role models are rare. As much as leaders are needed, they are few and far between. That is why we search the pages of the gospels to find the footprints of Jesus. The Son of God showed us the way. We will never measure up, but we have high aspirations. He experienced perpetual interruptions and took unexpected turns. He butted heads with His religious contemporaries and embraced the untouchables. He leads. We follow. It is a remarkable journey for those who dare.
It all begins with a decision, “If anyone wishes to come after me… (Luke 9:23).” The choice is ours. He will not force anyone, but He does lay down the conditions that are necessary if we decide to come after Him. We are easily distracted. That old serpent still dangles forbidden fruit before us. It looks tasty and promises much but yields a harvest of life-damaging consequences. It ultimately closes the door to paradise for those who are deceived into taking a bite.
The first hurdle to be cleared for those who want to follow the Lord is self, “…he must deny himself…” We all have our fleshly wants and wishes that we want to indulge. Pleasure lures us into immorality or pain pushes us into violence. Forgiveness feels impossible when we have been terribly wronged. We are battered and bruised. Hopes die. Dreams are crushed. Careers fail. We are angry and want to take our hurt out on someone. Self-denial is tough business. No to self. No to the flesh. It is a nonnegotiable. To follow Jesus and walk by the Spirit we must. The decision is which road we will take. That affects everything and takes us to an eternal destination.