That First Christmas, What Jesus Sacrificed for Us.

 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” Philippians 2:5-7

 

We usually think of the Cross as the sacrifice that Jesus made so that we could be free from the bondage of our sin and all that goes with it. But Christmas is really the place where we see the first sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We don’t find it so much in what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us about that birth, but rather in the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Philippians.  

Think of what Jesus had prior to coming into the world. Paul calls it, “equality with God”. Jesus was one with the Father with all the glory, splendor, power, holiness, and delight that goes with being God. He was on the receiving end of the worship of all creation. He was literally in heaven. But He did not consider for a moment hanging on to all of that. He willingly gave it up for us. He not only gave it up, but exchanged it to be born into the world as a frail, helpless, totally dependent baby, son of an unwed mother, in a backwater village ruled by a army of occupation. He set aside His omnipotence, and omnipresence. He laid aside His splendor and majesty. No longer was he wrapped in glorious, marvelous light, but rather in homespun clothe common to every baby in the land. No longer would He be on the receiving end of the serving of the angels but rather He would be the humble one, taking on the form of a servant for us. He went from living in the palace to serving in the barn. 

I don’t think we can even begin to grasp what a sacrifice He made for us 30 years before even going to the cross. But we can get a hint in a rather surprising story. It is in John 11:35 when we are told “Jesus wept”. He was standing at the entrance to the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had died a few days earlier. The people standing around think that Jesus weeps out of grief because his friend had died. I’m not so sure. For starters, Jesus more than anyone would have understood that Lazarus was in heaven and free of pain and sorrow. He would also have known for certain that he would see Lazarus again soon in heaven.

So why the weeping? The clue is found in Luke 16. Of all the parable that Jesus told, with dozens and dozens of characters in them, only one is ever given a name. Usually they are just referred to as, “a certain man”, or “a father”, or “a woman”, or “a Samaritan”. But in Luke 16  Jesus speak of a very poor man who suffered much in life. Jesus gives this poor man the name Lazarus. Lazarus was a sickly man who begged for his living each day and was ignored by “a certain rich man”. Both of them died, the rich man going to Hades and Lazarus going to paradise. I wonder if Jesus didn’t name the poor man in the parable, Lazarus as a way to honor his friend Lazarus who died in John 11. 

Why would Jesus honor his friend this way? It is the same reason that he weeps at his friends grave. Jesus knew more than anyone what he was asking Lazarus to give up by being raised from the dead. Jesus knew the splendor and joy that Lazarus was experiencing in heaven at that moment. He knew it because it was his entire experience before being born in that stable. I wonder if Jesus didn’t weep because of the sacrifice he was asking Lazarus to make. The thought of forcing someone to give up the overwhelming joy of being in the very presence of the Father caused Jesus to weep for his friend. He knew what he was asking because he first made that same sacrifice himself. He made it for you and for me. 

Blessings to you this Christmas. May the sacrifice Jesus made for you fill you with wonder and thanks and may it cause you to have His same mind, that you consider others more important than yourself and thus honor Him who is the Lord.

Merry Christmas

Dan

Provocative Contentment: Is God Really Enough?

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

My wife teaches at a Christian school and several years ago each teacher was asked to pick a verse from the Bible that was to be their guiding verse for the year. When this was published along with their profile, I noticed then nearly 30% of the teachers chose “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” as their verse for the year. My first thought was that I didn’t know teaching elementary students was so tough. But it also got me thinking more about that verse. Many people, not just elementary school teachers go to those words for strength in time of hardship and struggle. They are great words of hope.

But when we look carefully at the passage it is astounding to realize that we are usually only focused on half of the story. Sure Paul says that in times of hunger or struggle or suffering, he has learned to be content with God and to find strength in Christ to endure. But at the same time Paul says that he has also learned to be content when things are going great, he is well fed, and life is just cruising along. In those times he has also learned to survive by depending on the strength that Christ gives. Now you may be thinking, well anyone can learn to be content when life is good. How hard can that be? Actually it is harder than you think. One of the effects of sin is that when we have “enough”, we very quickly become dissatisfied with that and we want more. In many ways it is the same as the diminishing return a drug user gets over time. After awhile the body becomes used to the drug and the impact is felt less from the same amount. So in order to achieve a high, the user needs more and stronger doses. The same thing happens with the good times in our lives. For the moment we are content. But after awhile the effect wears thin. We find that we need the next cool thing, the next new product, the next amazing experience. We get bored and easily discontent.

Paul understood that in order to be truly content in both abundance and want, the only answer was to depend on Christ for His strength. In essence that means being content with Christ no matter what our physical and emotional circumstances are. For Paul it was ultimately all about Jesus. He said earlier in the letter that whether he lived or died really didn’t matter, as long as Jesus was glorified. Paul discovered that everything else paled in comparison to the joy of knowing Jesus. For Paul, God really was enough to make his life full and complete. If he had abundance then the goal was, how can my abundance bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. If he had little then the goal was, how can my poverty bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. No matter his life situation, for Paul it always came back to the Glory of God and being in closer fellowship with Him.

In that regard, God was enough for Paul. Jesus and the strength He offered, was really all Paul needed or wanted. Nothing else mattered because nothing else gave him purpose, or joy, or security, or status. Are you that content? If God suddenly made you poor, would you be just as happy as if you were rich? How often have things given you contentment that was temporary, only to discover that after awhile you wanted more. That nice house that seemed so big and wonderful. When did it become unsatisfying? Was it when your friend or sibling bought a newer, bigger house? The same can be asked of your car, new dress, cell phone or vacation experience.

In some ways it is the times of blessing that are hardest to deal with because we don’t think we need the strength of Jesus. Yet those are the most dangerous times. we get sucked into a delusion of being just fine spiritually because we are just fine physically. We need to cling to Jesus all the more in our abundance and blessing. Paul knew that for himself. We need to know that for ourselves.