God in a Manger
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What is Christmas? The answer may just surprise you.
For many, Christmas is the time to think of Jesus Christ as a baby in a manger. While the birth of Christ is a special and miraculous event, it isn’t the primary focus. The central truth of the Christmas story is this: the Child of Christmas is God.
Christmas is not about the Savior’s infancy; it is about His deity. The humble birth of Jesus Christ was never intended to conceal the reality that God was being born into the world.
But the modern world’s version of Christmas does just that. And consequently for the greater part of humanity, Christmas has no legitimate meaning at all.
I don’t suppose anyone can ever fathom what it means for God to be born in a manger. How does one explain the Almighty stooping to become a tiny infant? Our minds cannot begin to understand what was involved in God’s becoming man.
Nor can anyone explain how God could become a baby. Yet He did. Without forsaking His divine nature or diminishing His deity, He was born into our world as a tiny infant.
He was fully human, with all the needs and emotions that are common to us all. Yet He was also fully God—all-wise and all-powerful.
For nearly 2,000 years, debate has been raging about who Jesus really is. Cults and skeptics have offered various explanations. They’ll say He is one of many gods, a created being, a high angel, a good teacher, a prophet, and so on. The common thread of all such theories is that they make Jesus less than God. But the biblical evidence is overwhelming that this child in the manger was the incarnation of God.
One passage in particular, written by the apostle Paul, captures the essence of Jesus’ divine nature and underscores the truths that make Christmas truly wonderful.
Colossians 1:15–20 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For … all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”—By John MacArthur1
According to God’s plan of salvation, Jesus’ humanity is as important as His deity, because our salvation depends on Jesus being both fully God and fully man.
Because He is one of the persons of the Trinity—God the Son—salvation is possible. Only one who is God can bear the weight of the sins of the world. Only one who is eternally God can bring a sacrifice of infinite value and render perfect obedience to the law of God, bear the wrath of God redemptively, and so free others from the judgment of the law.2
By the same token, only one who shares in humanity can make salvation possible. Because the first man, Adam, sinned and brought condemnation to all men, it was necessary that another human bear the punishment and receive God’s judgment upon himself—for only a human being can vicariously represent mankind.
In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.3
It was therefore necessary for Jesus, who is the second person of the Trinity, to become incarnate, to take on full humanity, to be both fully God and fully man, to make salvation possible.
Often people focus on the deity of Jesus and push His humanity into the background. But while Jesus was God living on earth in human flesh, He was just as human as you and me. He had the same physical needs and weaknesses that we have. He had the same physical and mental limitations. He had the same emotions. He was tempted to sin and had internal spiritual suffering, just as we do. He was a man, and He was born, lived, and died just like any man. He had human nature, meaning both a material body and a rational soul, or mind.—Peter Amsterdam
The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16–17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself.4 Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshipping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.
The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”5—From gotquestions.org
Published on Anchor December 2014. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
2 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: 1996).
3 1 Corinthians 15:20–22.
4 1 John 4:8.
5 Romans 5:8.