18.12.16 – Christmas Is About Sin (Forgiven) – Peter Cheyne

Do people still send Christmas cards?

Well, let’s just reminisce. Imagine a line-up of Christmas cards on the mantelpiece. How many of them have the word “sin” quite prominently on the front? Or, imagine the newsletters you receive. How many feature the word “sin”?

Probably none! It would be an awfully negative way to celebrate Christmas, wouldn’t it, to focus on sin? Who wants a word like that spoiling the festivities? Or such an ugly word in amongst the beauty of the Christmas cards? If you did get a Christmas card with “sin” on the front, you would probably assume it was from some religious nut who takes his faith much too seriously, who has no social skills and who is so insensitive as to ruin everybody’s Christmas. Mentioning sin in the context of Christmas would be one of those jarring, inappropriate, awkward things that would make everyone uncomfortable.

But, you know what? Sin is written all over the Christmas story.

After being told that Mary’s baby had been supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit, the angel said to Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

“Jesus” is the Greek version of the Jewish name “Joshua” which means “the Lord saves”. It was very common. It was commonplace for Jews to name their sons with a name that means “the Lord saves”.

But the angel was very specific that Mary’s baby was to be called “Jesus” not because it was generally true that the Lord saves but because He would be the means of that salvation. He would be the Saviour. He would save His people… from what?

From the Romans? That is what the people craved and expected. But, no. From suffering? No, there would be plenty more of that. From injustice? No, that is not what the angel said. The angel said Jesus would save His people from their sins. Biblically, Christmas is about sin.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Mary had also been told that the baby was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31). So, same thing, but we are not given the reason. Obviously, there was a particular reason why this particular baby would have this particular name “the Lord saves” but we are not told that reason.

Except that, there are references everywhere. The angel’s words to Mary would have reminded her of all of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. The angel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.” No ordinary child would be called the Son of God. No ordinary child would reign over an eternal kingdom, sitting on the throne of King David. We are talking here about the Messiah. That would have been obvious to Mary.

The reference to a king reigning on David’s throne forever would have remaindered her of Isaiah 9. But that passage starts by saying, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (9:2) The world is a dark place.

Being a virgin but pregnant would have remaindered her of Isaiah 7. The context there is how the people are testing God’s patience. She might also have thought about Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:5-6       5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

John the Baptist’s father sang about his child giving people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Everywhere we look it is about sin.

The angel announced to the shepherd, “Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) A Saviour. Saving people from what? Again, the answer is sin.

John 3:16 is about God giving His Son. Why? So that people might not perish (as a result of sin) but have eternal life. The context again is about sin. Look at the verses that follow John 3:16. It is about people who reject Jesus preferring darkness because their deeds are evil.

Galatians 4:4-5      4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Why did God send His Son? To redeem those under the law – to rescue those required to keep the law but unable to keep it – those who break God’s law.

Enough! My point simply is that, biblically, the Christmas story is about sin.

Does that sound negative and depressing? It shouldn’t because it is not about sin. It is about sin forgiven. It is about a Saviour from sin. It is about being forgiven and set free and becoming children of God and eternal life. It is about the most amazing rescue plan that has changed the lives of millions of people who have believed in Jesus.

The angel told Joseph to name the baby “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins. It is not negative news. It is incredibly positive news. Sin is a reality but here is someone who can save us from our sins.

All of those Old Testament prophecies were about a Saviour – about light breaking into the darkness; about someone who would die for our sins.

John the Baptist would point people to the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sin. Sin is the negative word but John pointed to salvation and forgiveness. Of course, John the Baptist always pointed to Jesus. It was in Jesus that salvation and forgiveness would be found.

John 3:16 is about God giving His Son so that people might not perish but have eternal life. Galatians 4:5 is about being redeemed.

That is why the angels announced to the shepherds “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people”. Sin is the problem. We all know how infected we are with sin and how it separates us from God. Look at the effect of sin in our world. Look at what is happening in Syria. Look at the violence in our own country. Look at the way children are treated. Look at the dishonesty. Look at the things we do that we hate doing but that trip us up repeatedly.

Christmas is about that sin. It is about being saved from that sin. Christmas has the potential to not only change our lives but to change the world…

…if only people would turn to the Saviour whom God sent into the world; turn to Jesus.

As Christians, we often bemoan the fact that Jesus is left out of Christmas. So, we take one step and we make sure that Jesus is mentioned. We buy Christmas cards that have a nativity scene instead of a wintery landscape with a sleigh and reindeer. But I want to suggest that that step is good but it is not enough. What does the nativity scene convey to people? We might send a card (or electronic newsletter) that uses biblical words, for example, “Peace on earth and goodwill towards people”. Those words are great. They are straight out of the Bible. But what would a non-Christian make of them – especially when there is not peace on earth and there is not a lot of goodwill.

We need to take another step. It is not enough to simply mention Jesus. We have to say what the coming of Jesus means: “He will save His people from their sins.” If we don’t mention sin – I don’t mean that we bash people with it or that it is the first thing in a conversation, but if, at some stage, we don’t mention sin, we haven’t shared the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. We don’t mention sin because we glory in sin. We mention sin because we are realistic about the consequences of sin and we glory in the solution. We glory in the Saviour.

There is pressure to be politically correct. In the United States of America, the politically correct thing is to say “Happy Holiday” not “Merry Christmas” because they don’t want to offend members of other religions or offend atheists who don’t believe in God. In fact, I think (I’m not sure) that I noticed it on an Air New Zealand email this week too. It was “Happy Holiday” not “Merry Christmas”.

But we have our own form of political correctness. If we call not mentioning Jesus at all “PC2”, PC1 is mentioning Jesus but not mentioning sin. And so, Jesus becomes the one who loves us and who came to be with us. And that is acceptable. But there is no call to repentance. There is no facing up to our own sin and our own rejection of God’s ways. But that is actually what Christmas is about. He will save His people from their sins.

Christmas is that message of great joy for all people because it is about the Saviour who died on the cross, taking our sins on Himself; Who paid the price.

Isaiah 53:5-6       5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

We have been talking all this term about the gospel: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. We have talked about the fact that it is about what Jesus has done, not what we are required to do. We have talked about th power of the gospel to transform lives and about the lifestyle of those who believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. We have talked about the hope that is found in those words “and rose again”. But we haven’t talked about sharing the gospel.

Isaiah 9 talks about the people who walked in darkness. We are surrounded by people walking in darkness. But Isaiah talked about those people seeing a great light. For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given.

Jesus said that He came to seek and to save the lost. He said He came to give His life as a ransom for many. It is not just a nice story about a gentle, loving God. It is a story about lostness. It is a story about one man – the Son of God, born of a virgin – who would give His life as a ransom; give His life to pay for others to be set free.

We have people all around us walking in darkness who need to hear the Christmas story: to you, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born. And we who know the Saviour can rejoice at this greatest of all good news.

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