Sunday, December 13, 2015

The First Christmas Tree

The other day I found myself watching an old movie from 1996 entitled, "Dead man Walking."  I must be forthright and honest, I support capital punishment, in fact I don’t think we use it nearly enough.  But I also have to admit that I came away from watching that movie with a sense of abhorrence at the seemingly callousness of those who were charged with administering the actual act of capital punishment, which is probably what the liberal Hollywood director intended.

The cry as they walked through the corridor to the death chamber, “Dead man walking,” how final, how seemingly irrevocable, and regardless of your view on capital punishment, most people cannot help but be left with a sense of uneasiness at the execution of a fellow human being.  "Dead man walking." A forecast of doom, the ultimate declaration of guilt, and an appropriate moniker to a deserving inmate on death row.
But how would you feel if you visited the maternity ward at one of the numerous hospitals in the world, and amidst the cries of the newborn and the excited celebration of their families could be heard the cry resonating in a deserted passageway -- "Dead man walking?"  And yet on that night in Bethlehem, as a myriad’s of angels burst into ecstatic praise heralding the birth of a special Baby in that hastily arranged, and rustic labor ward, an alternative to that celestial composition entitled "Glory to God in the Highest" could very well have been "Dead Man Walking."  For on that night in the little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds did what shepherds do and wise men studied the stars and kings assessed their political futures and priests sought to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition, a baby was born to die.
The very announcement of His birth was also a proclamation of His impending execution.  Jesus was not born to live a charmed life, but He was born to face execution. It was not to receive the adulation of ululating crowds that Christ came into the world that night in Bethlehem, but it was to be murdered. The King of kings did not come to ride in regal grandeur, but to be led like a lamb for slaughter.
The son of God was not afforded the mercy of lethal injection, the electric chair or the hangman’s noose. No, nothing as merciful as that. But instead the one that came to bring light into the world was destroyed upon an object of abject torture. On a hill far away, on an old rugged cross, on an instrument of torture devised in the cauldron of hell by Satan himself and ultimately applied by human agents. Some of those human agents had raised their voices a few days prior to His death in shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David." They now joined the very forces of evil in human form standing in the courts of Pilate chanting "Crucify Him, crucify Him."
Born to die -- in agonizing tones of bewildered prediction the prophets had scratched out on tablets of clay, on papyrus sheets, and scrolls of parchment the sometimes-cryptic clues as to the destiny of the Son of God:
Genesis 3:15
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel."
Isaiah 53:1-12
1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no {stately} form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  3 He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  4 Surely our griefs He himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.  8 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, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke {was due?}  9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.  10 But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting {Him} to grief; if He would render himself {as} a guilt offering, He will see {His} offspring, He will prolong {His} days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see {it} and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.  12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
The heavenly celebration of joy that appeared in that little town of Nazareth did not initially allude to the ultimate purpose for His coming to this earth:
Luke 1:26-32
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth,  27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  28 And coming in, he said to her, "Hail, favored one! The Lord {is} with you."  29 But she was greatly troubled at {this} statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.  30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.  31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
But in appearing to Joseph, the purpose is outlined in the explanation of His Name:
Matthew 1:18-21
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.  20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
The writer Ellen White records for us:
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. "With His stripes we are healed."
This year, as the world focuses on the glamour and glitter, the glory and grandeur of the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem, let us recognize that His birth, death and resurrection had been determined from before the beginning of time as the ultimate solution to the problem of sin in our lives.  May we recognize this Christmas that the ultimate Gift was provided by the Supreme Giver:  the gift of forgiveness for our sin, the gift of freedom from our guilt, the gift of unconditional acceptance, the gift of the assurance of salvation, and the gift of eternal life.
For on that night in the little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds did what shepherds do and wise men studied the stars and kings assessed their political futures and priests sought to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition, a baby was born to die for you and for me.
And most importantly we must remain watchful, because as shepherds are still doing what shepherds do, as wise men are studying the financial and economic indicators, as politicians are still assessing their political futures, and the church seeks to defend the faith by upholding the status quo and adhering to tradition; the Son of God, no longer as a baby, no longer as a suffering servant, but this time as a conquering King in royal splendor riding on the clouds in heavenly majesty, is preparing to come again!
Yes, He was born to die, but He arose in triumph over sin and death. And He is preparing to come again. I pray to God that as we celebrate His birth today that we will not reject His death on the cross for us and that we will be ready for His Second Coming to this earth.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment