It’s Christmas, and it’s the time of year when we Evangelicals stop and consider our Maker, and our Savior. We think about Jesus coming as a baby and we stop in Wonder at the God-man who took on flesh on our behalf. The older I get, the more consumed I become with this person, Jesus. The smarter I get, the more confused and awestruck I become with the incarnation. So let me share a few things in answer to the most important question we can ask: Who is Jesus?
Jesus was a Real, Historical Person
Jesus was a man who lived and died at the center of history. Our calendar is literally written around Him. He gets capital-lettered pronouns because He claims to be God, and we talk of Him in the present tense because He claims to still be alive, 2,000 years after His own death. Jesus was a real man who existed in real time-and-space, and, because we aren’t historians, too often we think that believing in Him is like believing in unicorns when believing He really existed is just like believing Julius Caesar existed. It’s one thing to have faith that a historical event really happened, and it’s a whole other thing to believe that that historical event has spiritual importance. It’s often hard to make that distinction for us because we church folks prefer… well I’ll let N. T. Wright take it from here:
The church prefers the Jesus of the liturgy, of pious devotion. C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, condemned the study of the historical Jesus in an attempt to not lose the “real” [spiritual] purpose of Jesus in bringing us salvation. But Christianity is committed to history. In our own creeds we say Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” What is a second-rate Roman governor doing in my creed? I’ll tell you. He is anchoring the Jesus whom I worship in first century history. Everyone tries to protect Jesus (in this case from history itself), but remember what He does when people try to protect Him (like Peter in the garden). He goes about unprotected; that is who He is.
So first, we must believe Jesus actually lived on this blue planet. Second, we must believe He is who He said He was. Jesus claimed to be God, over and over and over, and the entire Scriptures back that claim. So Jesus is either, as C. S. Lewis put it, Liar, Lord, or Lunatic, and if He is anything other than Lord, the entire Christian Scriptures are undermined since everything points to Him. The entire calendar system will have been written around a shameful character of sociopathic instability, and the most influential religion on the planet would have as its hero, a madman. These are high stakes.
Jesus Redeemed The Entire World
The reason I love Christmas the most is because this is the one time of the year when we churchy folks put aside our personal relationship with Christ and look at Him more objectively, as the historical center of the world. Instead of singing about how much we personally need God or personally love Him, in Christmas songs, we get to focus on the redemptive history, the Big picture, the Jesus of History who rocked the world almost off its rockers. Listen to these lyrics:
No more let sins and sorrows grow Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found. Far as the curse is found. Far as, Far as the curse is found.
Jesus reversed the curse, fulfilling the promise God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen 3:15), and He fulfilled the Kingship of David by wielding the Davidic Covenant of 2 Sam 7. Now, He rules the world:
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.
He rules the WORLD. He makes the nations show as proof the glory of His righteousness. This is Jesus. Not the lowly, meek-and-mild version we get in Sunday School growing up. He is a fierce King who rules with justice and righteousness, and yet He is the definition of Love, the sacrificial lamb who provides redemption for His people.
Jesus was Jewish
We Americans think that Jesus was Christian, but He was a Jew, living in a Jewish world. Jesus was the “hope of Israel” before He was the head of the church. Jesus came to redeem the lost sheep of Israel; He was the Shepherd of Isaiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah, the Messiah of Micah, and the King of David. We often forget His backstory, and if we forget His Jewishness, we’ll forget the significance of his coming. That is why I love the carol “O Come O Come Emanuel.”
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appears Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Because of the Gospel going to the Gentiles in the book of Acts, we Americans can be grafted into this, but that doesn’t mean we can make Christmas about us, culturally. The more we understand of Jewish culture then, the more we get of Jesus now. He was their Messiah; it just so happens, by His grace, He’s ours too.
Who is Jesus?
He is Lord. He is God. He is man, and he’s also King of the world. He is the self-sacrificing redeemer and the eternal righteous King who will reign in perfection forever and ever. He’s the hero of history, the very climax of all creation: all of history is centered around Him, and yet, He lived a small life in a small country in ancient times. We can’t deny he actually lived, but we can, in our hard hearts, deny He is God. He is the reason for the season, and I’m so thankful for the great opportunity to step back and see the big picture again, if only for a moment, for in His light we find rest. May God grant you a Merry Christmas!