Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bethlehem, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb

At this time of year when the world celebrates a secular form of Christmas, others celebrate the winter solstice, and Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, it is extremely important to remember the Savior as more than just a baby in a manger. Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Creator of the universe, entered time and space and came into this world on a mission. His mission was the redemption of lost sinners, and He accomplished that not through His birth or His righteous life, but through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. There are three key locations connected with the earthly life and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, and those are Bethlehem, Calvary, and the empty tomb.
BethlehemThe nativity scene is the symbol of Christmas for those who understand that Christmas is about Christ, not the worldly trappings of the holiday. This event happened at exactly the time and place God intended. “…when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5, NKJV).
The angel Gabriel announced to a young teenager by the name of Mary that she was to be the mother of the virgin-born Son of God. We can be certain than many things went through her mind, but her response was one of willingness and obedience, whatever the cost. "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38, NKJV). Mary and her husband-to-be, Joseph, traveled to Bethlehem to register for Roman taxation, and there Jesus was born in a lowly stable, visited by lowly shepherds. It is quite significant that the birth of the Lamb of God was first announced to shepherds. “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-12, NKJV).
Calvary As important as the birth of Christ is, the baby in the manger does not save anyone. After thirty years of relative obscurity, growing up and living in the home of a carpenter, Jesus began His earthly ministry. He taught many things and performed many miracles, all of which validated His identity as the Son of God. In the end, the religious authorities turned on Him because of their fear of losing their influence over the people and the crowd was incited to demand His crucifixion by the Romans. This was all part of God’s plan. In reality, it was not the crowd, it was not the Jewish people, and it was not the Romans who crucified Him. It was our sin that nailed Him to the cross, and He willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. The Apostle Paul said, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV). “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
The Empty Tomb – The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal event in all of history. Without it, the Gospel becomes meaningless. With it, Christianity is true without any doubt. In recent years, in a Christian school not far from here, a student who practiced the religion of Islam had his Bible class the last period of the day. He did his work and studied well, and he was one of the best students in the class. He stayed after class almost every day to discuss biblical issues with the teacher. One day, he made a particularly revealing admission. He said, “If the resurrection really happened, Christianity is true.” How right he was! Although he accepted neither the resurrection nor Christianity, he had made a profound statement.
“…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty...For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:13-20, NKJV).
The message of Christmas is incomplete without all of the Gospel. The birth of Jesus is only important in relation to what it made possible – His death, burial, and resurrection. “…I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…Then last of all He was seen by me also…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, NKJV).
This Christmas season is a great time to come in faith to the Christ of Christmas, the One who was born into poverty, who went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin, and who rose again to defeat death forever.

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