Read Matthew 1:18-25
As we head towards Christmas, I want to ask “Why did Jesus come?” That is an important questions if we are going to understand Christmas and Jesus’ life and death. Christmas could prompt a non-Christian friend to ask you, “Why did Jesus come?” You need to be able to answer that and maybe you can.
There is a number of passages in the scriptures that say why Jesus came and many of them come from Jesus’ own lips. Why He came is His purpose, His mission?
We all know the Christmas story. Mary was a virgin, peasant girl in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared and told her that she had found favour with God, that she would conceive and give birth to a son whom she was to name Jesus. Gabriel said a number of things about her son:
- He would be great
- He would be called the Son of the Most High
- He would be given the throne of His father, David.
- He would reign over the house of Jacob forever
- His Kingdom would never end
Those things speak about who Jesus would be and about his destiny but they don’t really tell us why He was coming; what His mission was to be.
Some time later, Mary was found to be pregnant. Imagine Joseph’s distress. His fiancée was pregnant! He could have been very angry with her. He could have quite justifiably exposed her to public disgrace. She could have been stoned but Joseph was a righteous man. He would merely break off the engagement. But then an unnamed angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream telling him to not be afraid to take Mary home as his wife because the child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Again the angel gave the gender and the name. “She will give birth to a son and you are to give Him the name Jesus.”
This time the name was explained. Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) which is a variation on the Hebrew name Yeshua, or Joshua. Yeshua means God saves or God the deliverer. There was a reason why this child was to have that particular name. God had chosen the name and the angel was clear why. “You are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.”
The angel condensed the core message about Jesus into His name and the words: “He will save His people from their sins”.
Jesus was a very popular name. Lots of little Jewish boys were called Yeshua. But Mary’s son was different. It wasn’t just a general statement that God saves. No, no. He would save His people from their sins. This baby would be the Saviour.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Short answer: He came to save sinners. That is how the angel summed it up and also how Paul, later, summed it up when writing to the young pastor, Timothy.
1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.
Paul stresses these words: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. This is true. Are you ready? Listen carefully. Write this down. Nine words. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
There it is, summed up: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. It couldn’t be any clearer.
That is what other people said about Him but what did Jesus Himself say?
Jesus made quite a number of statements about why He had come. You might be able to think of some. I have come that… The Son of Man came to… Click here for a list of statements about why Jesus came.
In Matthew 9, Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, in other words, a sinner in the eyes of the Jews. Jesus then had dinner in Matthew’s house with many “tax collectors and sinners”. The Pharisees, of course, were outraged and asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ response was,
Matt 9:12-13 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus says clearly why He had come (and why He had not come). He had not come to call the righteous. You might think that a religious leader would come to gather holy people together; to form a society of the righteous. Many religious groups claim some superiority: we are the enlightened; we have got it right. Everybody else is wrong. Not Jesus. He came to call sinners. He came to form a society of sinners.
Maybe I should say “former sinners”. I hope that the psalms we have looked at recently have reminded us of God’s holiness; God’s purity and inability to even look on sin; God’s anger at sin. But God loves sinners. Like the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, God pursues sinners and rejoices when one sinner repents. Likewise, Jesus came searching for sinners not so that they might carry on sinning but so that they might repent and be forgiven. Jesus came to save sinners from their sin.
That is good news for anyone who has done wrong. Notice how Jesus’ core message was summarised
Mark 1:14-15 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”
This message is good news. God’s Kingdom of justice and joy – is near. It is already visible. People can enter it. But what is required? Repent and believe. Repentance is required; turning from sin, being forgiven and becoming part of God’s new Kingdom of righteousness. At the heart of Jesus’ message is salvation from sin through repentance and belief. Jesus said His mission was to call sinners.
The Bible is a story about sin from beginning to end. Think of the big story.
- The Garden of Eden – sinless perfection. The world as God intended it.
- Gen 3 – Adam and Eve’s disobedience; the Fall; the destruction of God’s perfection.
- Gen 4 – Cain murders Abel. Sin is rampant.
- Noah – the whole world is so evil God was sorry that He had made it. Yet He rescues the one righteous man and his family.
- The calling of Abraham to be the father of a nation of people who would be God’s people. The Old Testament is the story of the success and failure (mostly failure) of the Jews to obey God.
- Moses and the Ten Commandments; God spelling out what is right and what is wrong.
- The repeated sinfulness of the people in the desert
- The system of sacrifices whereby sin could be forgiven
- The military victories on entering the Promised Land but also the disobedience that led to compromise with the pagan nations.
- The Judges and the nation repeatedly turning from God, suffering, crying out to God, being delivered, then turning from God again.
- The demand to have a king like the other nations and the succession of evil kings with the occasional righteous one.
- The prophets calling people to turn back to God.
- The failure to do that; God’s judgement; both Israel and Judah taken into exile.
- And, in amongst all of that, the prophecies of a Messiah who would deliver God’s people, and visions of God’s Kingdom restored; a new age of peace and prosperity when the lion will lie down with the lamb and men will beat their swords into ploughshares.
The whole thing is a story about sin – its pervasiveness, its consequences, and its solution. The solution would be the Messiah; the suffering servant. Jesus was that solution. He came to save sinners.
Then, of course, the Bible story continues with Christians spreading the news of this Saviour; more sinners being saved, the church expanding and, ultimately, the restoration of God’s Kingdom – the perfection that was experienced oh so briefly in the beginning but which will be eternal.
But talking about sin is not very popular in our society. If we were asked why Jesus had come, we could dress it up some other way. We could talk about all sorts of other things but, at its core, it is about sin. If we are going to be Biblical, it is about sin. Sin is the problem.
Why are you a Christian? If you were to tell me your story, you might tell me about how God has been good to you or other Christians have been good to you. You might tell me about the values that your parents passed on. You might tell me about a spiritual search that you were on and questions you had that were answered when you encountered Christians or the Bible. But somewhere in that story you need to tell me about your sin. How ever God got through to you, the core issue is your sin and your forgiveness and reconciliation to God by His grace, when you believed and repented. Jesus came to save sinners.
On another occasion, Jesus said…
Luke 19:10 …the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
That doesn’t explicitly mention sin but it is clearly implied. Lostness is a result of sin.
Do you know what occasion that was? It comes at the end of the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was rejected because he was a tax collector, a sinner, but Jesus called him by name and invited Himself for lunch at Zacchaeus’ home. We don’t know what Jesus said to him but, at one point, Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)
That is when Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus was lost. Jesus came to seek and to save lost people. Isn’t that good news?
Some approaches to evangelism start with persuading the listener that he/she is a sinner. People don’t generally like that. That gets people’s backs up. I think it is right to question that approach because Jesus didn’t start each encounter by pointing out that the person was a sinner. On the contrary, on this occasion, he befriended and shared fellowship with Zacchaeus over a meal. He chose him out of the crowd when, probably, many would have been honoured by having Jesus come to their home. I would guess that even in their conversation, Jesus didn’t try to persuade Zacchaeus that he was a sinner. If Jesus had attacked like that, I suspect that Zacchaeus would have got more resistant rather than more open. But how ever, it happened, Jesus did reveal Zacchaeus’ sin and Zacchaeus repented. Maybe it was Jesus’ genuine open friendship that made Zacchaeus realise how his sin had alienated him from everyone, including God, and prompted him to repent of his greed and dishonesty. Maybe it was love that convicted him.
The same was true of the woman at the well, wasn’t it? Jesus started by asking for help and offering her a gift. He showed grace and love and gentleness but He also revealed her sin and wouldn’t let her avoid it. I think, in evangelism, sin is always the core issue but it is not always the place to start. In fact, we might never even have to mention it. Primarily it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin.
So, as we approach Christmas, why did Jesus come? At the heart if it, He came to save sinners and that is very good news for sinners. Is Christmas a wonderful celebration for you because at some time you came to Jesus as a sinner and He forgave you? Do you know other sinners who need to hear that good news?