Not the Crèche but the Cross: Christmas is but Servant to Easter

Everyone loves to celebrate a party. Weddings are much more fun than funerals.  Getting a new job is much more exciting than getting laid off. We in the church are certainly no different. Our tendency is to spend time enjoying the positives rather than celebrating anything negative. When it comes to “Christian” holidays, the clear winner for our attention and affection is Christmas. Even if we ignore the fact that Santa brings presents and the Easter Bunny only chocolate, who would not rather enjoy the birth of a child rather than the public execution of a state criminal? At Christmas, banners fly on Christian homes that read “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” They love signing Christmas carols, exchanging presents, and even in the case of our church, collecting money to give Christmas gifts to our missionaries that we support. But when it comes to Easter, we can hardly get people to consider coming together to reflect and even sing about the death of our Master. Easter takes second fiddle to Christmas when it comes to holidays to celebrate in the Church. Even when taking into consideration the resurrection as part of Easter, Christmas still becomes the event that dominates our holiday considerations.

Yet, it is not the crèche but the cross that is the pivotal point in the Christian calendar. Christmas simply serves as a servant to Easter. When the Christian rightly understands what the purpose of Christmas was, they will understand that Christmas should not be the main holiday focus of the church, but that Easter should dominate our attention. For Christ was not born simply to be born, but to go to a cross. Jesus was, as the saying goes, “born to die” I would articulate here then, that as individual Christians and as the church we should realize that Christmas should be a time when we reflect on the reason why Jesus came, namely to die a substitutionary death for sinners to be redeemed, and rose again to provide eternal life for the same. Christ did not stay in the manger, He went to His death for sinners. Christmas exists so that Easter could!

The Purpose of Christmas

Christmas is obviously not about the grand advertising and merchandising brouhaha that it has become. As Lucy Van Pelt says in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” That may be what Christmas is today, but the obvious purpose for Christmas was for the Incarnation to happen.

Ever since the Fall of man in the Garden, humanity has been waiting for redemption. It had been hinted at even in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) and the Levitical system of sacrifice pointed forward to the full and final sacrifice that was necessary (Hebrews 10:14). Yet, what was necessary, implicitly hinted at in some portions, was made explicitly clear in others. A child would need to be born. Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[1] Later, this promise is expounded upon further in Isaiah 9:6–7 emphasizing this child’s kingship, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

But, all too often once Christmas rolls around, we get stuck in the manger scene with the wonderful truth of the child born and attended to by shepherds and angels alike. It is a warm, caring scene that even the most anti-religious can tolerate to a certain extent. Still in towns do you even see community manager scenes, they play Christian music on the radio at Christmas, and people still wish each other Merry Christmas, much to the chagrin of the ACLU. Yet, what was the purpose for God being born a man? It was far more profound that simply being born.

It is very clear from the Scriptures that the reason God became man was to redeem the lost through the cross:

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

Matthew 9:13 – “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Galatians 4:4–5 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

1 Timothy 1:15 – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

1 John 4:10 – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

As B. B. Warfield rightly notes, “Eliminate sin as the proximate occasion and redemption as the prime end of the Incarnation, and none of the other relations in which it stands, and none of the other effects which flow from it, will be fulfilled, at least in the measure of their rights.”[2] What Warfield is saying is that without thinking that the prime end of the Incarnation is the death and resurrection of Christ means that no other benefits from it can come to pass. The essential purpose of the Incarnation was not for a child to remain in the manger but for that child to become a man, to live, and die to redeem sinners for God.

The Purpose of Easter

So, if the purpose of the Incarnation was the Cross, what was the purpose of the cross? That is not more explicitly described than in Isaiah 53. While the whole passage speaks to the nature of the reason for the suffering of Jesus, vv. 10–12 will do to demonstrate the reason for the cross.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The purpose of Jesus death on the cross was to bear the sins of those who would be redeemed. He bore our iniquities so that we might be saved. He took our place and was condemned instead of us. The reason Jesus died was so that we might live. This is the most profound truth that we can ever understand. The crux (from where the word “cross” comes from) of the Christian faith is the cross. God created man and when man fell it was the purpose of God to restore fellowship between God and man. With an infinite debt to be paid against an infinite God, the only way finite man could pay it could either be through an eternity in Hell or if an infinite person took our place. That was the reason Christ became man, so that the infinite could take the place of the finite. The reason we have life, and life abundantly, is that Christ in his death paid our penalty against an infinite God. The purpose of Easter was to redeem sinners.

This all can be summed up so clearly and beautifully by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:24–25: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The purpose of Christmas was so that Easter could happen. Easter happened so that men could be saved from eternal torment and punishment in Hell!

Living in the Shadow of Both the Crèche and the Cross

I remember preaching on an unusual passage one Christmas: Revelation 5.

Revelation 5 is the second part of the major climax of the throne room scene in the book of Revelation. Here John weeps because no one is found worthy to open the scroll that will bring about the justice of God upon all unrighteousness. Yet, in the midst of the elders one is found who is worthy to take the scroll and open it and enact the judgments to come. This passage becomes one of the most profound expressions of the purpose for the Incarnation.

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God      from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Here we see that the reason Christ was worthy to enact the judgments to come and bring about the fruition of God’s plans for the universe was because He was slain and He redeemed people for God from among the mass of humanity. He was worthy because He died and rose again. The only way Christ could do that was by becoming man through the Incarnation. The Incarnation occurred because the cross had to occur. It is ultimately not the crèche but the cross that is the center of our faith.

This Christmas, as we live in both the shadow of the crèche and the cross, we need to remember to not leave Christ in the crèche. The reason Christ came was so He could die for sinners. The question you need to ask yourself this Christmas is whether the peace that was promised at the arrival of Jesus as man is available to you, or whether you are still under the judgment of God? The redeeming work of Christ on the cross is still available to you and if you repent of your sins and turn and embrace Jesus Christ alone as your Saviour you will have eternal life. Jesus Christ came to redeem you from death and destruction through His death and resurrection. This Christmas, have an eye toward Easter and belief in Him.

If you are in Christ Jesus then consider which holiday should have most of your emphasis. Should Christmas, the servant of Easter occupy your entire focus or should it serve as a bridge to talk about the reason why Jesus Christ came? Christmas is a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel because people are open to celebrating the Christ-child. Use it to direct them to the real purpose for Christmas: the cross. Share with them the hope and peace they can have, not in the Incarnation in and of itself but in the reason He came, to purchase men for God through His death and resurrection.

While we might say Jesus is the reason for the season, Jesus is the reason for every season. And at this Christmas season, do not leave Jesus in the crèche. Remember He came to die for sinners. The purpose for Christmas was Easter.

[1] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

[2] B. B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, ed. John E. Meeter, 2 vol. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), I:143.

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