By T.R. Robertson
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
(traditional Appalachian Christmas carol)
I sometimes wonder as I wander just what anguish Jesus went through as the final weeks and days of his life on earth came near. I’ve watched people struggle with the knowledge that their time in this life was short. But Jesus wasn’t sick. The only terminal disease burdening him was the sinfulness of humankind and the death sentence we faced.
When someone dies young, no matter how noble the sacrifice, we talk about how a life was cut short, about the potential that will never be fulfilled, the accomplishments that remain unfinished.
Jesus’ friends felt the same way in the hours surrounding his death. They had expected so much, had anticipated such greatness, only to watch his life be cut short.
Born that Man No More May Die
Jesus himself, though, had no such regrets. He knew dying was the very purpose for his birth and for his life.
During the final week before his death, a group of curious Gentile proselytes approach Jesus, wanting to meet this up-and-coming prophet. Jesus, though, doesn’t talk to them like a man building a movement, but like a martyr.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:23, 24).
He confesses some uneasiness about the coming days, but he knows this has been the purpose of his life: “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27).
In Thy Dark Streets Shineth the Everlasting Light
As the hours and days crawl by in that final week, the crowds are drawn to him, expecting him to make his move, to stir them up toward some kind of action.
But instead he talks to them about the move they need to make, from a life stumbling in the darkness to walking in the light. “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
He’s echoing the prophecy of his second cousin, Zechariah: “The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78, 79).
He Rules the World with Truth and Grace
Later during Jesus’ trial, Pilate is also curious about Jesus’ true agenda and tries to elicit some sort of confession from him, only to find himself wading in some deep spiritual waters. Jesus says little but finally makes a clear statement about the reason he was born, one that Pilate finds incomprehensible.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“’What is truth?’ retorted Pilate” (John 18:36-38).
And God Sent Us Salvation that Blessed Christmas Morn
As Jesus talks to people during those final days, he continually steers the conversation back around to his birth, to the reasons why he came in the first place.
The angel had told Joseph, when the Holy Spirit had first planted the messianic seed in Mary’s womb, “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” (Matthew 1:21).
Some 33 years later, Jesus affirms what the angel had foretold, telling the crowds, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).
Even today, many people misunderstand Jesus’ purpose in coming. His name has been used to justify inquisitions, rebellions, protests, and wars. And occasionally we remember to be about his business of salvation.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Jesus tries to get his disciples to understand these things too. Gathered together in the upper room for the Passover meal, he talks to them at length about what is going to happen over the next few hours and days. He could hardly speak more directly about this than what he says in John 16:28: “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
After talking to the disciples, he prays to the Father: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you . . . I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:1, 4, 5).
He’s not just talking about a choir of angels singing about his glory on the night of his birth. He, and the angels, are announcing something much greater: the day when God would glorify the Son by bringing him back from death and raising him to sit with the Father in glory in Heaven.
As the angels 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The disciples were slow to understand. Only later, after his resurrection and ascension, did they put all the pieces together and comprehend what Jesus’ purpose had been among them.
Matthew explains, in his telling of the nativity story, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22, 23).
John, at the beginning of his Gospel, spells it out: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18).
Jesus talks about this relationship with the Father during his upper room prayer: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26).
With those words he unwraps the incredibly wonderful Christmas present he came to give us all. Not only did he come to be “God with us” for 33 years but to offer the indescribable gift of “God in us” for all who accept the offer.
And this is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. The Immanuel purpose of Jesus’ birth and life, as well as his death and resurrection, continues in our daily lives. Through the Holy Spirit in his people, the Church, God is still with us.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
God is still revealing himself to the world at large, through the lives of each follower of Christ—in our unified efforts to shine his light, to live out his truth, and to hold his grace in our hands and offer it freely to everyone we encounter.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
Christmas in April
Think about your favorite Christmas song lyric. How does it parallel, echo, or find fulfillment in the Easter story? How do the elements of both the Christmas and Easter stories manifest themselves in the work you see God doing in the world today?