The Baby Born to Die
Dr. Jim Denison
This morning I have good news for half of you, and information for the rest. The essay is titled, “Why men are just happier people.” Here are some of its disclosures: wedding plans take care of themselves; car mechanics tell us the truth; wrinkles add character; phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat; we can open all our own jars; we get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness; if someone forgets to invite us, he or she can still be our friend; three pairs of shoes are more than enough; we can “do” our nails with a pocketknife; and the number one reason: we can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives, on December 24, in 15 minutes.
There are better reasons for happiness. This Advent week of love claims that our Creator loves us. The King of the entire Kingdom loves his subjects. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
But what does this knowledge mean to us practically? No word is harder to define than “love.”
The Bible teaches us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:39). So, how do we love ourselves?
At its core, our self-love can be summarized as seeking our good. We will always seek our own good. This is not a feeling or emotion. We often feel frustrated and unhappy with ourselves. Self-love is an action. I can be trusted to do whatever is to my own good. So can you. Seeking our own good is the most basic and fundamental characteristic of life. It is the instinct for self-preservation defined.
Therefore, to love my neighbor as myself is to seek his good as much as I seek it for myself. To “love” God is to seek his good with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
These are the two goals of today’s Advent message on love: that we would seek the good for God and for each other, even before our own. Why would we do so?
Know God’s universal plan
Our text is the second of four “servant songs” in the book of Isaiah, four poems about the coming Messiah, each of which was fulfilled by the Baby of Bethlehem. This one tells us the “why” of Christmas: “Before I was born the Lord called me” (v. 1).
To what purpose?
“To bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (v. 5). To bring God’s chosen people back to their Creator and King.
However, “It is too small a thing for you” to limit your ministry to the Jewish people alone: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6). God’s plan included all the nations, from the very beginning. This text is sometimes called the Great Commission of the Old Testament.
How would the Servant fulfill his calling?
He would be “the Redeemer” (v. 7a). To “redeem” someone in the Bible is to buy them back from the punishment they deserved, to free them from the slavery which was the consequence of their sinful choices.
How would he redeem us? He would be “despised and abhorred by the nation” (v. 7b). As the last Servant Song predicted, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He was born to die.
With this result: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down” (v. 7c). These kings would represent the nations of the earth. They would come to worship the One who would die for them.
Rejoice in the universal love of Christmas
How would these promises be kept? The Christ of Christmas would die for the Jewish people whose race he entered as their Messiah. He would preach in their synagogues, heal their sick, raise their dead. He would do his best to persuade their religious leaders to trust in his Father. He would weep over the lost city of Jerusalem. Despite all the ways they rejected him, he would die to prove his unconditional love for them.
And he would die for the Gentiles and pagans as well.
He would invite the shepherds to attend his birth. They were unclean spiritually, unable to keep the Jewish laws, assumed to be thieves and criminals. No self-respecting Jewish home would invite them to the birth of a child. But he did, to prove his unconditional love.
He would invite the Samaritan woman to himself, and the lepers and the prostitutes, the demoniacs and the despised. All to show his unconditional love.
He would call the kings and princes, the Magi and wise men, from Persia to himself. Even though they were pagan astrologers and magicians, despised and rejected by his people, they would find his unconditional love.
And he would send his missionaries to continue spreading his unconditional love across his creation. In Paul’s first missionary journey, he quoted this very text as sanction and support for his evangelism among the Gentiles, where he spent his life to share God’s unconditional love.
If the religious leaders had planned Christmas, there would have been no peasant parents, no shepherds, no Magi. You and I could not come. But this Baby came for us all. No qualifications or exceptions, just unconditional love.
Consider your worst sin, your gravest secret and shame. Next, think of the person who would be most hurt if he or she knew of this sin. If you were to admit this sin to that person, and were to receive only that forgiveness which forgets, cleanses, and buries the sin so that it is no more, you would know you were loved.
What king dies for his subjects? Only this one. The Son of God became man, that men might become the sons of God. C. S. Lewis, commenting on such love, says that if you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. He did far worse. He was born to die, to prove his unconditional love to you.