As I write, it’s December and we’ve barely finished celebrating Jesus’ birth. But in the land of newsletter editing, it’s March—time to think about Jesus’ death and Resurrection. It’s all part of the joy of publications—doing everything so far ahead of time that you’re never quite sure what month it is.
But you know, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to think about the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection all at once. And of course now it really is March for you, our friends who take the time to read the Jews for Jesus Newsletter. (God bless you!) So the shoe is on the other foot as I talk to you a little from the not-too-distant December past.
Have you ever thought about how the glitter and glamour of contemporary Christmas are oddly detached from the real drama of Jesus’ arrival on this earth? After all, He was haunted by death almost from the moment of His birth. Herod’s plot to kill the Messiah forced Miriam (Mary), Joseph and baby Yeshua (Jesus) to flee and live as refugees. Not a very joyous scene, and one you don’t see in many pageants.
Even without the machinations of an evil Herod, Jesus was dogged by death from His very birth. Remember Simeon’s prophecy as he held the baby? He joyously recognized Yeshua as the Messiah, but in the next breath he warned His mother that a sword would pierce her own soul. Simeon understood that this child was born to die.
We sing Joy to the World” as we celebrate the birth of this baby for whom there was no room, this baby who entered the world through a stable—this wondrous child of promise who is shadowed by menacing threats and the darker promise of a painful death. Because beyond the stable smell, beyond the doom and gloom cast by the cross is the centerpiece of the gospel: Resurrection.
Did you ever notice that God’s cure for sin is the exact opposite of a sugar-coated pill? He never promised a solution that would taste good to us. Sin is a bitter disease and its antidote is not pleasant. But at the core of the antidote is a sweetness that cuts through all the bitterness.
God addresses the bitter truth head on and, in fact, He turns the harsh and painful realities of life to His own purposes. The pain Jesus suffered was the cutting edge of a radical surgery that God performed on the human race. Yeshua was cut off for us so that we could be made whole. He experienced death in order to bring about Resurrection—first His, then ours. For this He was born (John 12:27).
When we are born again, we share in Yeshua’s death as well as His Resurrection. In a sense, like Him, we are (re)born to die. Our new birth means death to our old nature, to our very selves—and most of us find it is an ongoing and painful death. But it is the way to freedom.
When we are born again our spiritual senses come to life, and new pain receptors make us vulnerable to harsh realities we did not know before. We ache for those headed to a Christless eternity. We suffer to see the body of Christ torn and divided when we know that God desires us to be one. We feel things we didn’t feel when we were dead in our sin. We smell the odor of stable refuse in a world that has no room for the baby Jesus, or for those of us who want to follow Him.
And yet…in the middle of it all, there is a surpassing joy. Because though we may be crucified in public opinion and though we may be rejected by family and friends for being Jesus’ people, there is that certain something beyond the bitterness. Yes, we develop new pain receptors, but we also develop new joy receptors.
So I think that contemplating Jesus’ death and Resurrection at Christmastime is not such a bad thing. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing for you to contemplate Christmas during the Passover-Resurrection season. This is the season that gives meaning to Jesus’ birth. The bittersweet fact of that birth is that it leads to death…and the bittersweet fact of that death is that it leads to life.