The birth of Messiah, was a fulfillment of a long-awaited prophesy. We first encounter it in the form of a promise to Eve, soon after humanity was plunged into an inheritance of sin. (Gen 3:15) The prophets’ prophesies afterwards, carried forward this promise. One of which has become a staple verse for Christmas, i.e. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6, ESV) We see this prophesy fulfilled in the New Testament, with the birth of Christ. We also further find a solidification of our hope in another often-quoted verse, i.e. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16, ESV) The result of believing in this Son, sent in love to establish peace, is an everlasting joy. The Apostle Paul confirms, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom 15:13, ESV)
In these three verses, you must have noticed three highlighted words: peace, love, and joy. And these are the three words that I wish to focus here. But what does these words mean?
I once came across a very clever definition of peace. It said, peace is the absence of conflict. As impressive as that definition sounds, the kind of peace the scriptures talk about, with reference to Christ is not that. Rather, conflict is a quintessential part of following Christ – the conflict between worldliness and Christlikeness; the later of which we are to pursue despite the pressing nature of the former.
The biblical peace is a reconciliation between sinful men and a Holy God, that could only happen because Christ died for us.
According to the scriptures we are born with a sinful nature that is in itself an enmity against God. We are in accordance to our natural birth, born as “Children of Disobedience”. The Apostle John records, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it . . . He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (Jn 8:44,47, KJV) This is the natural state of man. We are, by the account of our sin, natural enemies of God. Reason thereof, we stand accused and deserving of divine wrath. But Christ came to justify us, He came to die, laid down His life as a ransom, so that we can be reconciled to the Father. “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”. (Matt 20:28, KJV) The Apostle Paul further puts this more coherently, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life”. (Rom 5:10, ESV)
Biblical love has more to do with divine justice than passionate affection. Love in the scripture isn’t the same as we normally understand. It rather is completely opposite to it. People often say, God is love. But that is a half-truth, and a complete misdirection of YHWH’s intended desire for us. The only true description of YHWH is what we find in the Prophet Isaiah’s words – God is Holy. (Is 66)
When we talk about love in the general sense of the word – we are actually talking about the subject of our desire. For example: when I say, I love philosophy. I am declaring my affection towards philosophy. I am saying, I have strong emotional need and desire with respect to philosophy, without which, my life may seem incomplete. In short, when I say I love philosophy, I am declaring my dependence over it.
But in the Bible, YHWH shows no such affection towards us. God does not need us. He is the LORD of creation. God does not love us because His existence depends on us. God does not love us because He is lonely. Without man, YHWH will not cease to be God. He will still remain God, with us or without us. And no, Christ did not die on the Cross because you and I were so valuable to Him. Christ did not die on the Cross for love, or to show how much He loves us. No. Christ laid down His life for us, to justify us, to pay the debt of our sins so that we can be reconciled to the Father; so that God is glorified. And herein lies the definition of Biblical love – “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” (1 Jn 3:16, NKJV)
The biblical love is not an emotional or passionate affection that God has towards us. The biblical love is a filial love (Jn 17:23); meaning, He loves us as a Father loves His children. He does not love us like a romantic lover, who is in desperate need of his lover’s love. No. He loves us because He created us to partake in His glory, to be with Him as sons and daughters. (2 Cor 6:18) His desire for us is not like a romantic lover’s desire to pamper his love, so that we would listen to Him and give Him attention. No. His love for us is like a Father’s love for His children, to save us from the perils of our sins. His desire is for us to be Holy, and Righteous like Him. (Lk 1:74-75)
When the Apostle Luke records (in Lk 1:14, ESV) “you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth”, he wasn’t talking about the joy of Christmas gathering, or feast, or social gathering. The Apostle wasn’t making a record of the joy of giving gifts, or leisure or physical fun. The Apostle was making a note of a peculiar kind of joy, that is recorded only in the scriptures, and i.e. the joy of salvation. “Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his salvation.” (Ps 34:9, ESV) “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17, ESV) The birth of Christ, therefore should remind us, about the joy that He has solidified for us, in Him for eternity. This is the joy we celebrate in Christmas, because this is the joy we are called to live in, because this is the joy we will be living with, in eternity.
What Does Christ Want This Christmas?
John Piper raises this question (in Good News of Great Joy). And I believe this is not only an interesting question to ask, but also an honest one to reflect upon, as we grow closer towards celebrating the birth of our Saviour.
I will here summarize Piper’s response in three points (based on Jn 17:24):
- Christ wants His chosen few to be in Him, as He is in Father. Christ wants this fellowship not because He is lonely. Piper notes, Christ wants us to be in Him, because we are the one in need, we are lonely; Christ’s concern is to meet our longingness, to be our satisfaction. Just as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are in a profoundly satisfied fellowship with one another, Christ wants us to be a part of that fellowship because we desperately need it.
- Christ wants us to love Him just as the Father loves Him. So that we could be loved the same way as the Father loves the Son (Jesus Christ). He wants us to experience and be a part of that divine love equation.
- Christ want us to witness and savour the Glory of God; which alone is the summum bonum of the human life – to glorify God. Because a life, consequently, that does not glorify God is a highly dissatisfying one.
In these three points, we learn of Christ’s desire towards us. But what we should know is that these aren’t just a childish hollow demand He makes towards His creation. We learn that, in order to meet this desire (that His chosen ones should abide in Him), He not only makes this desire known, but has also fulfilled all the necessary requirements to make it happen. And so, in the birth of Christ, essentially what we celebrate is this – His self-sacrificial act of establishing peace, love, and joy for us. Why? So that we could abide in Him – just as He desired in the garden of Eden. Isn’t that heart assuring, that the Creator of Heaven and Earth has secured eternity for us, for the sake of His glory alone.
Therefore, as the season ushers us into celebrating the birth of Messiah – let us ponder upon these questions: Do I desire Christ as He wants me to? Do I have the peace, love, and joy that Christ secured for His people? If not, let us pray and hope, that the Holy Spirit may birth these new desires in us this season.
NOTE: This article is an introduction to a series of daily devotionals I am starting from today onward (i.e. 30th Nov to 26th Dec 2019). These devotionals as you must have noticed, are based on the message of Christmas. This series is inspired by John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy; and much of its framework is based on it. I pray and hope that it may encourage you, just as it has encouraged me.