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Christ before Christmas

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: John 1:1-18

It was the middle of the Christmas rush at the airport. One passenger, standing in line, asked the clerk, “Why is there mistletoe hanging over the baggage counter?” The clerk replied, “It’s there so you can kiss your luggage goodbye.” You’ve been there.

Welcome to the hurried, and holy, Christmas season.

Before there were holidays in Dallas, there were holy days in Bethlehem. Across these four weeks in Bethlehem, we will seek to experience Christmas the way they did. So that Jesus can be as real to us as he was to them.

We begin with a neglected topic: Christ before Christmas. What Jesus did before he chose to come to earth in a feed trough in a cow stall.

The early Christians knew what we will learn today. Because they knew about Christ before Christmas, the Christ of Christmas was even more special to them. I trust the same will be true for us.

Seek your Creator in Jesus (v. 3)

First, let’s think about Jesus Christ and creation.

Astronomers have determined statistically that there are about 10×25 stars (10 million billion billion) in the known universe. It is not humanly possible to count this number. If you could count even as many as twenty numbers per second, it would still take you at least 100 million billion years to count to 10×25. And who knows how many stars exist beyond the reach of our finite telescopes?

Now, our text is clear: “Through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (v. 3). In other words, the Christ of Christmas, the babe of Bethlehem, made all of that.

Verse 1 is just as explicit. Here John calls Jesus the “Word,” which is the Greek term “logos.” To the Jewish mind the “word” of God related to the creative power of God. Remember that YHWH created everything that exists by his word; for instance, God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis1:3). To be the “word” of God is to be the creator God.

And the “word” or “logos” was not only the creating principle to the ancients, but its sustaining principle as well. The Greek philosophers saw the “logos” as the order, the reason, the harmony in the world. For Jesus to be the “logos” of God meant that he was holding the world together since it began.

And the rest of scripture agrees.

Hebrews 1:2 says that Jesus “made the universe,” and Colossians 1:16 substantiates the claim: “By him all things were created, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” And Colossians 1:17 says that Jesus “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Think of it—a newborn baby created the mother who gave him birth; he created the manger in which he was laid, the cave where it all happened, and the shepherds who came to wonder and worship. He created the Wise Men who came eventually to celebrate his birth, and the star which guided them to him.

This is bold, and even absurd—a baby created the “hospital” where he was born. But it is true. At the beginning of the Old Testament and the beginning of time, Jesus Christ was creating and sustaining all that is.

And now, because of Christmas, the creator has entered his creation. We can know our maker, and his purpose for our lives.

You exist for a reason. Jesus Christ made you for a purpose. Ethel Waters was born because her mother was raped, but she used to say, “God made me, and he don’t make no junk!” That was the gospel truth.

You can know his purpose for your life. You can ask Jesus to give you direction and significance, to guide and lead you, and he will. Where do you need help with the “directions”? What questions would you like to ask your creator? Because of Christmas, you can.

And because of Christmas, you can have his power in your life as well. The creating, sustaining power of God himself. At Christmas the creator entered his creation, and he has never left.

Here’s another way of trying to describe the indescribable. If you could bore a hole in the sun and somehow put in 1.2 million earths, you would still have room for 4.3 million moons. And Jesus made that sun. Then consider the star called Betelgeuse, 880 quadrillion miles from us, with a diameter of 250 million miles—greater than the earth’s orbit. The babe of Bethlehem made that. And you. And he makes no junk.

Your life can have purpose and power. Just ask him.

Seek your Savior in Jesus (12)

Now John makes another astounding claim for the Christ of Christmas: that he is our creator and sustainer, and our savior. If we will “believe in his name,” meaning that we trust in him with our lives, we “receive” him as our Savior and “become children of God.” This baby can do that for us.

Jesus is God’s only plan for our salvation. And he has always been exactly that.

Revelation 13:8 calls him “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”

In Genesis 3:15 God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Only Jesus was born as the “woman’s seed,” of a virgin. He was God’s plan to defeat the enemy and save us from our sin, from the very beginning of time. No wonder Charles Spurgeon called this verse “the first gospel sermon that was ever delivered upon the surface of this earth.”

From before time began, God knew that he would bring his Messiah (Hebrew for “Chosen One”) to die for our sins, to take our place and punishment, to purchase our salvation. And step by step, the Old Testament revealed who this Messiah would be.

The Scriptures made clear his family history: of the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:2), Jacob (Numbers 24:17), Judah (Genesis 49:10), Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and David (2 Samuel 7:12).

He must be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

He would eventually be rejected by his own people (Isaiah 53:3), sold for thirty shekels (Zechariah 11:12), forsaken by his disciples (Zechariah 13:7), and silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7).

At his death, his hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16); he would be crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12); no bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20); the soldiers would gamble for his clothes (Psalm 22:18), and he would suffer thirst (Psalm 69:21).

Then he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9), resurrected (Psalm 16:10), ascended (Psalm 68:18), and now sit at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1).

What are the mathematical chances that Jesus could fulfil just 48 of these OT Messianic prophecies? One in 10×157. To count this number you would need to count 250 per minute for 19 million times 19 million times 19 million years. I’d say the odds are rather good that Jesus was and is the Messiah, God’s Savior.

From the beginning of time this has been true. How were people saved before Jesus? By Jesus. God is not bound by time as we are; all time is present with him. And so for him, Jesus’ death on the cross could pay for the sins of Abraham as well as yours and mine (see Genesis 15:6).

And now, God’s plan for our salvation has come to us. The Savior has come to the earth, to those who need to be saved. He is available to you this morning. No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or what you think of yourself, God loves you. You matter to him. And his Savior has come to forgive you and give you eternal life.

The babe of Bethlehem is the only hope you have of salvation and eternity. And the only hope you need. Just ask him.

Seek your God in Jesus (14, 18)

Now to the last astounding claim for the Christ of Christmas: he reveals God himself. Verse 14 says that in Jesus we see the very glory of God; verse 18 says that Jesus makes the Father known to us. To find God, come to the babe of Bethlehem.

This was true all across the Old Testament. Here we come to a concept which will be foreign to many of us: “the angel of the Lord.” He was a common figure in the Jewish Bible: he kept Abraham from sacrificing Isaac at Mt. Moriah, and promised that God would bless him and his descendants (Genesis 22). He rescued Hagar in the desert (Genesis 16), appeared to Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 31), and spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2). Wherever he appeared he was worshiped and feared as God.

However, “the angel of the Lord” was distinct from God the Father. In fact, twice in Zechariah he prays to God and stands separate from him. So this “angel” is divine, part of the Trinity, but not the Father. And he cannot be the Spirit, for the Spirit is always invisible and unseen in Scripture (cf. John 3:8; 14:17). Add the fact that this “angel” never appears after Jesus came at Christmas, and it seems clear that this “angel” was Jesus himself.

This is what the early believers thought, including Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origin, Theophilus of Antioch, and Cyprian. I agree.

What does this mean? It was Jesus who revealed God to Moses at the burning bush; commissioned people into service such as Moses, Gideon, and Samson; interceded for the people (Zechariah 1, 3); comforted them, as with Hagar in the desert and Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19:7); delivered the Jews from Egypt (Exodus 3); and changed the lives of every person who met him.

In short, Jesus revealed God the Father. As he did in the manger. As he still does today. If you want to find God, go to Bethlehem. Jesus is waiting for you.

Conclusion

What a shock—that the Christ who created, sustained, saves, and reveals God to the entire world would consent to enter that world as a helpless human baby. If he would go there, he will go anywhere. Even here. Even now.

Listen to Frederick Buechner: “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of [us]. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in the least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there, too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully” (The Face in the Sky).

If a baby in a feed trough is the creator, savior, revealer of God to the world, then our creator, savior, and revealer is with us today. Now, where is your feed trough in a cow stall? What is that place where you need God most? Look there, right now. He’s waiting for you.