Helen invited us to listen to this story of Jesus at our last Home Group. What do you believe?
It is the beginning of December and we are at the start of Advent, and the western world is starting to think about Christmas. I have often wondered how we could explain the importance of the Christmas story to people who don’t really know what it is all about – .
So tonight that’s what we are going to think about. But in a different way.
It is approaching Christmas time, and the world is busy getting it’s gifts ordered, the tills are ringing out across the land, people are planning their new clothes and their trips to see family and their huge food orders, and most have forgotten, or perhaps some never knew that we are really here to celebrate the birth of a baby boy called Jesus.
The baby was born to a woman called Mary- Joseph wasn’t the father. The baby was born in poverty in a stable at a very busy time in history, when people were moving in convoy from place to place. In this case Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem in Judea. Not very different then from the babies being born to migrants moving across Europe in the present day. Or in fact to thousands of families across the world whose futures are uncertain. Babies are born to unmarried mothers, in poverty, in difficult circumstances every day of the year.
But this baby, we are told, was special. Wise and learned men travelled to see him because they followed the stars because the stars told them that a king had been born. Humble shepherds left their flocks of sheep on the hills and travelled to the town to search for this baby.
Angels appeared to people to pass on the message that the baby would be born. An Angel came to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and told of this child/ Angels visited the shepherds and told them too. The King was so worried about this baby and what it would mean to himself and his position that he ordered mass infanticide to try to ensure that the baby would not be a threat. This story was recorded for history in the Gospels, and by the Romans. So it must be true.
It was the most important birth in the history of the world, more than the birth of a king or of an emperor. Because this baby was born of God. Because this baby was born to save the world from sin. Because this baby was born to die. Not like you and I are born knowing that death is the inevitable end of life. He was born to die on a cross, as the son of God, a living saviour.
First though he became a teacher. He was found at the young age of twelve in the temple with the teachers in the temple and they were amazed at his intelligent questions and answers. It must have been obvious then that this boy was special, that he stood apart from his peers. We don’t really know much about him after that until he was about 30, and that for the next 3 years he taught people, through stories and parables, that he healed people, that he had a group of disciples who helped in his works and teachings, and he told people that he was the son of God. People followed him. You would expect them to laugh and jeer and think he was too big for his boots, but people followed him, they came to hear him preach, to see him heal and even to raise the dead to life.
But he was ordered to be put to death.
This baby was born to die, on a cross, as the son of God, a living saviour. He died a painful and humiliating death. He was forced to carry his own cross through the streets whilst the crowd jeered at him. Imagine if you can the weight of that cross on his shoulders, and the heat of the sun on his head and his back, and the stones under his feet. So he was humbled and humiliated. They forced a crown of thorns onto his head, so his back was in pain from the weight of the cross and his head was bleeding from the thorns being pushed down as a taunt – so you think you’re a king do you?” Imagine the blood mixing with the sweat and running into his eyes and his mouth, and knowing all the time that at the end of this ordeal he was going to die.
And then they nailed him to the cross. Can you imagine the searing pain as the nails tore through his flesh. If you raise your left hand into the air, and then using a finger on your right hand, press as hard as you can with the your finger nail. Not pleasant not nice. A bit uncomfortable maybe. Now imagine a blunt and square nail, and it is being hammered into the palm of your hand, tearing the flesh into a ragged wound, breaking the bones as it goes in, and you are conscious and the crowd is baying and cheering. And you know that you have done nothing wrong. So the weight of your body is being supported by just your hands with the nails through them, and then the soldiers do the same to your feet.
So why did Christ let them do this to him. This is the man who could walk on water. This is the man who could turn water into wine. This is the man who was so powerful that he could cast spirits out of men, who could heal just by faith and the touch of his cloak.
Why didn’t he shout – God save me?
Why didn’t he tear apart the cross and the nails with a crash of thunder?
Why didn’t the Angels of God come down to release him?
Because he needed to die, so that he could take on the sin of the world. He needed to die so that those of us who believe in him will find salvation. And he needed to die so that he could rise again, so that he would Become immortal.
He was the lamb of God, and as a lamb he was hung for a sheep.
What kind of love could have died to give us life? Think about this story this Christmas. What do you believe?