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It Matters Who We Worship

posted Feb 6, 2017, 12:54 PM by Kelly Griffin
Philip Yancey tells of a 16th century Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who went to China bearing samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian message. The Chinese loved portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but were repulsed by pictures of Christ’s crucifixion. They insisted on worshiping the Virgin mother rather than the crucified God.

But you don’t have to scrutinize many Christmas cards to realize we do much the same thing. We observe a sanitized, feel-good holiday stripped of purpose and often stripped of the central person.

Is it wrong to celebrate a generic holiday that encourages the best in the human spirit? Of course, not. But to make Christmas that holiday is to rob it of its meaning and to deny the highest reason of all for human celebration – the possibility of forgiveness and a guilt-free relationship with our Creator.

Isn’t it good to promote the values Jesus promoted? Yes. But to do so in the absence of any recognition of the ultimate purpose of His birth is heartbreaking because that purpose matters.

Jesus was born to die. There’s hard evidence. His birth and many of the events of his life predicted hundreds of years beforehand, but so also was the fact and even the nature of his death. Israel’s King David prophesied that the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced a thousand years before Jesus’ death by crucifixion (Psa 22:16). 

Jesus himself repeatedly prophesied his own death during his last months on earth. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must . . . be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus’s death was no surprise to the prophetic writers of Scripture, much less to Jesus himself.

It was also unlike any other. It was squarely aimed at mankind’s devastating guilt before God. Isaiah identified both the problem and solution in Isa 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

How did God do that? Sacrificial death. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5).

No person could pay their debt to God except by eternal separation from Him. That’s where Christmas comes in. God Himself solved our problem by sending His own Son to take on human existence – fully God and fully man in one unique person. As a man he lived the perfect life we could not live; as God he paid the infinite price we could not pay. He was born to die.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the completeness of his victory over sin and death for all who will believe in him. Christmas is the start of the greatest story ever told. But if we only worship the baby in the manger. or worse, discard him altogether, we deny God’s plan to redeem our fallen race.

Paul summarizes in II Corinthians 5:17: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

David Sandeman a Scottish missionary to China lay dying of cholera when a friend asked how he was. He replied, “I am head-to-foot righteousness.” None of us could claim that on our own. But Christmas is God’s plan to make fallen humanity “head-to-foot righteousness” by faith in him. Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

No one else in history could ever say that. That’s why he alone is worthy of worship. Merry Christmas!

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference)

Published in The Tribune on December 24, 2016