Earlier this year, I came across a website called www.Infiltration.org. It's all about urban exploration - a euphemism for going where you're not allowed to go. It's about sneaking around buildings like the Royal York Hotel and the Toronto City Hall. It's about exploring subway tunnels and the drainage system. And it's about not getting caught.
Now, I'm not recommending that you do this, but I can understand why people are tempted. I love to go behind the scenes. I'm one of these people who loves to figure out what's happening when the curtain on the stage is closed.
Tonight I want to take you behind the scenes. It's common at Christmas to go to Bethlehem and observe what was happening there. But have you ever wished you could go behind the scenes to discover what was happening in heaven that night? Wish no more.
In a passage that's not too well known, the writer of the book of Hebrews takes us to heaven just before Jesus came to earth. It's a startling scene. If you want to follow along, it's found in Hebrews 10 (page 1353 of your pew Bible). It reads:
That is why Christ, when he came into the world, said,
"You did not want animal sacrifices and grain offerings.
But you have given me a body so that I may obey you.
No, you were not pleased with animals burned on the altar
or with other offerings for sin.
Then I said, Look, I have come to do your will, O God
just as it is written about me in the Scriptures.'"
God had instituted a system of sacrifices it the Old Testament. The people gathered on the Day of Atonement to offer animal sacrifices for their sins. The system was very effective in accomplishing two things. It created an awareness of sin before a Holy God. People became aware of how far they had fallen from what God intended.
The system of sacrifices was also effective in reminding the people of another fact: that there had to be a sacrifice of the innocent on the part of the guilty. Sin just couldn't be wiped clean. Somebody had to bear the responsibility for the sin.
But the Old Testament system of sacrifices wasn't enough. Hebrews 10:1 says:
The old system in the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The sacrifices under the old system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
But just the opposite happened. Those yearly sacrifices reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
I don't know if you've ever imagined the Old Testament system of sacrifices. But it was bloody and messy. It was necessary year after year. It required perfect animals. It was a perpetual reminder of your failure. It was the greatest day of the year for Israel, and yet it was the day that you were reminded of your sins. That's the old way. And it's what Jesus came to earth to abolish.
In Hebrews 10, we get a glimpse of what was going on in heaven before Jesus was born. When Jesus spoke these words, he was the transcendent, eternal second person of the Trinity. If we had been there, we would have had to cover our eyes like the angels from his glory. We couldn't have grasped his greatness or his power.
But then he turns to his Father and says, "All of history has pointed to the need for a supreme sacrifice. I'm ready to go. I'll obey you."
And one millisecond later, that same holy God was reduced to a microscopic cell in a woman's womb. He was entombed in darkness for nine months. And he was born as a baby in a dirty cave, surrounded by animals. Why? So he could be our sacrifice. So he could abolish the Old Testament system of sacrifices and be our perfect sacrifice instead. He who was irreducible in his grandeur and glory was reduced to a babe. And every year we come back to the babe and worship him.
If we don't get that, we don't get Christmas. That's who Jesus was. That's why he came.
So in a sense, we've infiltrated heaven. We've heard the last words that Jesus said before he came to the earth. And we've seen the reason why Jesus has infiltrated the earth.
The temptation of Christmas is to reduce who Jesus is. It's easy to think that Jesus was just any baby lying in a manger. It's easy to reduce it to a nice little story and forget who Jesus was. Jesus was God. One minute the angels couldn't look on his glory. The next minute, he came to earth. Never forget who Jesus is.
Revelation describes the scene in heaven after Jesus returned from earth:
Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:
"The Lamb is worthythe Lamb who was killed.
He is worthy to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing."
And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They also sang:"Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever."
And the four living beings said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped God and the Lamb.
Do you ever marvel that the one who is worshiped by millions of angels came down and lived among us? That the one who lay in a manger was the one who created everything that we see around? Never reduce who Jesus is. That's the greatest temptation of Christmas.
Some of you are going to walk out of here tonight and forget about Jesus. It's almost like he's something you bring out once a year and then put away. But you can't reduce Jesus to that level. He's more than a baby. He's God.
The other temptation of Christmas is to forget why he came. Some people think that he came to be a good man - a good example. Others think that he came to teach us. Or that he came to do good things - to perform miracles. But that's not why he came. He came to do God's will. He came to be our sacrifice.
Tomorrow as you open your gifts, remember why Jesus came. Remember that he came to be the ultimate gift. He came to take away the guilt for all sins you've committed. Sins are not only the bad things that you've done, but the condition you're in. Sin is more the illness than the symptoms. Jesus came to heal you of that condition. He came to be your sacrifice.
Somebody has called Christmas "the day God got personally involved." It's the day that he infiltrated earth. And now we know why.
There might be someone here who has never realized why Jesus came. You might have thought that he came to be a good man. You might have thought that he came to be your example, or a healer. Tonight you've discovered that there's more.
Jesus came to be your sacrifice. Under the old system, you'd have to offer a perfect animal to take away your guilt, but you'd still feel terrible. Under the new system, Jesus took away all your sins forever. All you have to do is to come to him and follow him. You can do that tonight. You can pray, "Jesus, I accept you as the greatest Christmas gift ever. From this point on, I pledge to follow you. Forgive me for my sinfulness. I accept your sacrifice. And I pledge to follow you from this point on. Amen."
Jesus, thank you for coming to earth. The Lamb is worthythe Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." Forever and ever, Amen.