The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.12

December 28, 2008

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
.” -Isaiah 53.12

Isaiah 53 closes with one last reminder of why Jesus came: to “[bear] the sin of many” and to “[make] intercession for the transgressors.”

The child was promised to be king, and after doing what no other man could do, he was exalted as such by his Father in heaven (Acts 2.32-33, Ephesians 1.20-23).  The child given gifts by the Magi, is now given gifts by God, and in his majesty he has decided to share that gift, that royal inheritance, with those who are called by his name (Romans 8.12-17, Galatians 3.26, 1 Peter 1.3-5).

This is the good news.  This is the Gospel.  This is the reason for the season.

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.11

December 28, 2008

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
.” -Isaiah 53.11

At Christmas the focus is on gifts.  And inevitably someone will get cliche and remark that the greatest gift of all is the one God gave to Mary: Jesus.  Is that true?  Is that the good news?  That Jesus was born in a manger?  Why is a baby born in a horse stall supposed to be good news to me?

It’s not.  Plain and simple, if all Jesus did was to be born in a manger, that’s no good news for anybody but his parents.  And that’s certainly no greatest gift.

God’s gift was not given as Christmas, it was given at the cross, where the record of our sin debt to him was nailed up with Jesus to be atoned for (Colossians 2.13-15).  The good news is that by Christ’s death, those who believe in him may have his own righteousness “accounted” to them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.21).

We must not truncate the well-known verse, saying just, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”  If that’s all we have then we are in no less sorry of a condition than we were before this so-called “greatest gift.”  Thanks be to God that it’s not.

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.10

December 27, 2008

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
.” -Isaiah 53.10

Lest we forget, in celebrating Christmas, why this all came about in the first place: it was “the will of the Lord.”  Jesus being born, ministering, dying, and resurrecting, all of this was part of the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2.23).  Christ wasn’t just born as an adventure, to see what it was like being human; there was always a purpose, always a plan, which he was incarnated here to complete.

And just as Mary looked down with pleasure at her baby boy wrapped in swaddling cloths, so too did the Father look down with pleasure at his son robed in blood, hanging from the cross.  This pleased him since, knowing death could not hold him, the Father was then to raise Christ again (Acts 2.24) and in raising him secured the salvation of all his sheep (1 Corinthians 15.17-20), who will receive the unfading inheritance of this act in the last time (1 Peter 1.3-5).

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.9

December 27, 2008

And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth
.” -Isaiah 53.9

Born under humble circumstances, buried in luxury.  Though he was killed as a criminal his body was not left like a criminals to be scavenged by the birds.  The Father provided for him a proper burial, that when he rose three days later there would be no question of its authenticity.

Also, we think of Christ the infant as peaceful, silent, and “lov[ing] pure light,” but the true measure of his divinity is that the same could be said of him as an adult.  All of us sin (Romans 3.23) and turn to our wicked ways, walking in the paths of the world (Ephesians 2.1-3).  As adults we are all sufficiently defiled, through our thoughts and actions.  Yet of Christ it was possible to say “he had done no violence” and “no deceit was in his mouth.”  How often do we really meditate on this?  It is hard enough to imagine one day without the cross thought or word coming out of us.  So to ponder what a life of pure connection to the Father was like, and the excruciating pain of losing that on the cross, is something I don’t think we can understand in with our finite means.

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.7-8

December 26, 2008

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
” -Isaiah 53.7-8

The Lamb of God knew his purpose.  Like an obedient lamb he did not resist the plan of the Father.  It was his choice to lay down his life, and he did so willingly (John 10.18).

Thus it ended.  The life, started in a barn, born to a teenage virgin mother, now poured out upon a cross, sacrificed for the sins of Israel.  The life which was started with its end always in mind, and now upon the cross he has been “cut off out of the land of the living.”

If this were all, that birth in a manger would not seem so extraordinary.  If he died just a simple death, like any other man, he would not have accomplished much.  But he did, for the same reason his birth was so spectacular: he’s not any other man, he’s the God-man.  Because of this his sacrifice was “without blemish” (Hebrews 9.14) and his death stands as a substitution for all who’ll believe on him (2 Corinthians 5.21).

Willingly he laid down his life that, though we choose to run straight to hell, we might be granted an eternity in his presence.

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.6

December 26, 2008

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned-every one-to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all
.” -Isaiah 53.6

As we gather around the manger, who does not want to be there worshiping the “newborn king”?  We gladly announce “the first Noel” and talk about that “silent night.”

Yet all of us “like sheep have gone astray.”  We may be influenced by the docile nature of a sweet little baby, or by the memories of Christmas’ past, but once the season moves on how much regard do we have for the one born there?

We have “turned . . . to [our] own way.”  Even at Christmas we turn to spending however much money it takes to make us happy.  Or like myself, we stress about buying the perfect gifts, that the recipient would not have an enjoyable Christmas otherwise.  This is our sin, our indulgence.  Our behavior over Christ’s birth makes the reason he was born, to have “the iniquity of us all” “laid on him,” all the more necessary.

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.5

December 24, 2008

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed
.” -Isaiah 53.5

“Peace on earth and good will to men.”  This is a common refrain this time of year.  We hear it on the radio and TV, we see it lit up on wreaths in peoples’ yards.  Christ came to bring peace, for sure, but oh how we have perverted this.

How was it that Jesus brought peace?  By being born?  Certainly not.  Nor was the peace he brought in the way of a worldly armistice (or else he would have been an utter failure unworthy of our praise, and a liar, cf. Matthew 10.34).  We may fancy that a destitute child born in a barn is what the world needs for peace, but this radically misses the point.

We are told that it is in his chastisement that we were given peace.  First off, that he was chastised at the cross, not in the manger, is clear.  Second, he is said to have completed our peace.  This is certainly not worldly, military peace.  It is the peace Charles Wesley wrote about singing, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”

Christ worked peace, on the cross, in the form of reconciliation with the Father of those sinners who are in him (John 16.33) and among whom he is pleased (Luke 2.14).

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.4

December 24, 2008

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted
.” -Isaiah 53.4

It is now that we get to the heart of why Jesus was born: “surely he has borne our griefs.”  All Jesus went through, birth, childhood, learning a trade, studying, ministering, training disciples, all of it led up to this; to Christ bearing our grief and sorrows on the cross.  All that was accomplished by his birth was the coming of God into this world.  If that was all that happened then we would still be dead in our sins.  If Christ did no more than incarnate then there would be no point in celebrating his birth.

Thanks be to God that that’s not all he did!

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.3

December 23, 2008

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not
.” -Isaiah 53.3

This picture of Jesus is completely lost if all we look at is the Christmas story.  Sure, the king wanted to murder him, but from all other appearances it seems that Christ is being valued above all men.  Shepherds come to see him.  Kings trek across the desert to carry him gifts.  This child born in a manger is not despised at all; he’s cherished, celebrated, as no other.

But this did not last.  Those shepherds who celebrated him would later be among those chanting, “Crucify him.”  The kings that bore him gifts would one day feel threatened by his own claim to kingship.  The joyous baby in the manger turns to the broken man on the cross, crying out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The Reason for the Season- Celebrating Jesus’ Birth in Isaiah 53.2

December 23, 2008

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him
.” -Isaiah 53.2

Christ was born as a baby and grew as a toddler, an adolescent, a teenager, and as a young adult.  He grew taller, his hair needed to be cut, he had to start shaving.  He was probably like all of us, a little awkward at some point.  Too skinny, too short, acne, something.  We always want to go from a little baby glowing in a nice white blanket to a full grown man, flowing hair and well-kept beard.  But Jesus had to grow.  He was fully human.

Nor should we be under any illusion of his appearance of majesty.  Jesus probably more resembled a homeless vet with dirty skin, patchy facial hair, and crooked teeth than he did a model for Middle Eastern menswear.  And forget about the halo of light we envision surrounding him.  There was nothing desirable about Jesus to the superficial, to those who only cared about the externals.  That wasn’t the point.