Big Idea: Jesus came to earth to reveal grace and destroy death.
I came across an article in Christianity Today that asked a good question: When did God save the world? You would think that the right answer would be Easter, because that is when Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. That is a good answer, but it’s not the only one. I was fascinated to read the author’s argument:
What about the Incarnation? More than any other event, it is the Incarnation that puts the person of Christ front and center, because its emphasis is not on what Christ did but on who he is.
When did God save the world? In many ways, he saved the world at Christmas. Or, at the very least, God’s plan to save the world took a giant step forward at Christmas, and things have never been the same.
I find it fascinating that the Bible is full of Christmas. In the Old Testament, it anticipates Christmas. In the gospels, it tells us the story of Christmas in different ways:
- Matthew about the Jesus’ lineage, the visit of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt;
- Luke about the shepherds;
- John about the theology of Jesus’ birth.
And then, if that wasn’t enough, the rest of the New Testament contains passages that give us windows into Jesus’ birth. We’re going to look at three over the coming weeks, and today I want to look at the first.
Now, most Christmas sermons seem to focus on either the anticipation of Jesus’ birth, or the accounts of Jesus’ birth. Not many seem to come from the rest of the New Testament to help us understand Jesus’ birth. But I don’t know why not. So today, let’s look at the first. We just read it.
Why did Jesus come to the earth? In other words, what’s the big deal about Christmas? Well, this passage tells us the answer. Jesus came to earth to reveal grace and destroy death.
Jesus came to reveal grace.
First, a little context. Paul is writing from prison to his sidekick Timothy. We don’t know a lot about Timothy. We know that he was a leader in the Ephesian church and like a son to Paul. A lot of people imagine that Timothy was a little reticent or shy and needed to pull himself together. I think I know why, although I think that could be a bit of an exaggeration.
Here’s what we do know: that life is tough, and ministry is tough. We need encouragement if we’re going to survive, and so did Timothy. As a Christian leader, then, Paul begins to pour on the encouragement in his letter. In verses 6 to 14 he keeps giving Timothy reason after reason to persevere and be encouraged. Let’s face it: we need this! Is there anybody who doesn’t need to be encouraged this morning?
As we come to the end of the list of encouragements, we get to the best one of all. Paul writes:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Paul talks about two things that Christmas does. The first is this: it reveals God’s grace.
In verse 9, Paul says that he gave us this grace before the ages began. I find this deeply encouraging. There’s a huge difference between something that is spontaneous and something that’s been planned for ages. If I threw you a surprise party, you may be touched that I thought of it. But if I said, “Oh, it was nothing! It just came into my head an hour ago and I thought it would be a good idea,” your gratitude would be fairly limited. It wouldn’t really move you that much.
But imagine that I threw you a surprise party. Imagine that you found out that I had started a year ago, and had put hours into it. In fact, I had a binder of plans. I had carefully researched the people to invite. I found out the food you liked, and found the perfect caterer. I researched the location and decorated it in your style, and tracked down friends of yours that I had never even met so that they could be included in your celebration. You would be filled with a lot more gratitude if I threw you a party like that.
Paul says that God’s grace is something that has been meticulously planned before the ages. Before God went to work creating this planet, and before even a single creature took its breath, God had already given you his grace in advance. Let that sink in. God has been planning your salvation for millions of years. Not only that but he’s arranged all of human history to accomplish his purposes.
It’s not the only time that Paul says this. In Ephesians, Paul says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)
I love how someone’s put it:
Before the creation of the universe God thought of me. He fixed his gaze on me and chose me for himself. He did not choose me because I was already in Christ of my own doing, but that I might be in Christ. He did not choose me because he saw me as a believer, but so that I might become a believer. He did not choose me because I chose him, but so that I might choose him. He did not choose me because I was holy or good but so that I might become holy and good.
Everything I am and all I hope to be is rooted in God’s freely choosing me. (John Piper)
Before the creation of the universe, God thought of you. He gave you his grace before any of this came to be.
But that’s not all. It’s one thing for God to give us his grace, but we also need to know about it.
I’m sure you’re aware of the trend to do “reveals.” I’m so old that when we had our kids that nobody did reveals. We just told people. Now parents do these elaborate reveals to reveal not only the pregnancy but the gender. You see creative pictures, Pinterest boards, YouTube videos, and more on how to do a “reveal” of your pregnancy. At some point, people are gong to find out that you’re pregnant, so you may as well make it fun.
According to Paul, Christmas is God’s reveal of his grace. It’s always been there, but Christmas is when it came out. When Jesus was born, God’s grace became real and effective.
Unless God revealed it to us, we would never understand his heart toward us. And so God decided to tell us in the clearest and most personal terms possible. He didn’t just send a letter or even a prophet. He sent his own Son. That Son became human and lived among us, and taught us about God’s grace. But he didn’t stop at teaching. He then demonstrated his love to us by offering his life as a sacrifice for our sins.
Don’t forget: Paul is trying to encourage Timothy. He’s trying to give Timothy all kinds of reasons to be encouraged, because Timothy needs encouragement, just like we do. And Paul gives us a very big reason to be encouraged no matter what you’re facing. When you look at Christmas, you are looking at the revelation of God’s grace. Before the creation of the universe, God thought of you. But when Jesus was born, God revealed his thoughts. He reveals the extent of his grace for you and for me, a grace that pursues us, pardons sin, and will not let go.
But that’s not all. Jesus came to reveal God’s grace. He also came for another reason.
Jesus came to destroy death.
It’s been kind of a rough year for me. In January I developed a heel spur. In the summer I somehow strained my rotator cuff. I’ve basically skated through life without any pains or serious injuries, and this year I’ve developed two.
The heel spur is amazing. I said I developed it in January, but that’s not technically true. According to the podiatrist I saw, heel spurs develop over years, even decades. It only reached the critical point in January, but it had been there for years.
It’s not exactly a cheery thought. What other conditions am I carrying that haven’t made themselves known yet? It’s a reminder of my mortality — that, according to researchers recently, the oldest that we can possibly live is about 125, according to scientists. We may be able to increase average life expectancy, but not the maximum human lifespan.
This is why I love what Paul says. He says that God’s grace “now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10)
What does he mean that Jesus appeared to abolish death and bring life and immortality to light?
It can’t mean that we no longer die. We clearly do. What it does mean is this:
First, that death is no longer the punishment for the sins of the believer. It has instead has become the start of an interlude between this life and our resurrection. Make no mistake: death is the punishment for sin. We were not meant to die. Jesus has forgiven our sin, but we still live with some of the consequences of our sins. In fact, the consequences of our sins are all around us. While death remains as a consequence, it is no longer a punishment for sin for the believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus ran to the punishment to take it in our place. When we die, we can face death knowing that it’s the consequence of our sin, but it’s not the punishment. This is the great news: you have been delivered from the punishment of sin!
Even better, it means that true life is there for us on the other end of death. I was just reading this the other week. “Why are we so loath to die and depart from here to possess the everlasting rest promised to the people of God?” wrote Richard Baxter almost four hundred years ago. “If we would believe the promises of glory, we would be impatient of living!” He’s not saying that we should see death as a good thing. Death is an enemy. But it’s a defeated enemy, and on the other end of death is everlasting life.
As Baxter said, “Jesus came from heaven that we may go to heaven.”
I remember sitting in the funeral service of a friend. The husband of the woman who passed away was sitting at the front of the church. The ugliness of death was as evident as the casket at the front of the church. I looked at my wife and I think I understood a little of the pain of losing someone close to you.
But then the pastor preached this passage. God’s grace “now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10). And I remembered: this is exactly why Jesus came at Christmas. He came to defeat and abolish death, and to bring life. “Sin and death are the one-two punch that Jesus came to knock out” (Mike Wittmer).
Three weeks from today we’re going to be celebrating Christmas. I hope that you’ll enjoy a lot of good things: gifts, food, and relationships with people who care about you. As you enjoy Christmas this year, it’s good to ask yourself: What’s it all about? Why did Jesus come?
The answer: Jesus came to earth to reveal grace and destroy death.
From eternity, God planned to shower you with his grace. He planned to do this before this world had even begun. But when Jesus was born, his plan was revealed. Paul writes to a guy who’s facing all kinds of trials and difficulties, and he’s trying to encourage him to stand up in the middle of all of those troubles. He points to the birth of Jesus and says, “Timothy, keep going as you remember that God chose you before the ages. Keep looking at Jesus, who has made God’s grace known to you.” No matter what we’re going through, keep looking to Jesus. As we see his grace, we’ll keep finding the strength to move forward no matter what we’re going through.
And one day when we face death, we can know that death is no longer our punishment, because Jesus has taken all the punishment for sin. We can face death knowing that it’s our enemy, but it’s a defeated enemy, and that real life awaits us on the other end of death.
Why was Jesus born at Christmas? To reveal grace and destroy death. And that’s very good news indeed.