December 18, 2005

A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

Both the one who makes men holy and those are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. Hebrews 2:11

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. And sometimes you’re not too proud of your relatives. If you’ve got a mom or dad who gets drunk a lot, you don’t go around bragging about it. If you’re a respected business person and you’ve got a bum of a brother who does nothing but collect welfare checks, you don’t advertise it. If you’ve got a cousin who’s been convicted of molesting children, you hope nobody finds out you’re related.

You can’t choose your relatives, but you can try to avoid some of them. When Christmas comes along, though, you may have a problem. If there’s a family get-together, you have to face embarrassing relatives. You have to act happy to see them. That can be pretty awkward. It’s even more awkward if you happen to be the one everybody’s ashamed of. Nobody wants to look you in the eye. They fidget and mumble about the weather. You’re all relieved when the party ends and you can go your separate ways.

Christmas reminds us that we can’t choose our relatives. But Christmas also reminds us of someone who could choose his relatives. You and I had no choice in whether we’d be born or what family we’d be born into. But Jesus did have a choice.

The Family Christ Chose

The Son of God didn’t have to be born into this world. He could have simply continued his divine existence in heaven and ignored all the shameful sinners here on earth. But that’s not what he did. Instead, the Son of God became a baby. He became part of the human family. He became our blood relative. When Jesus joined the human race, he didn’t try to avoid being identified with embarrassing relatives. He made himself part of a family tree that was loaded with rotten apples.

If you start reading the New Testament part of the Bible, the first thing you see is a list of names in Matthew 1. At first glance, those names look about as exciting as the names in a phone book, but they have special significance.

For one thing, the names go back as far before Jesus’ birth as the amount of time that has now passed since his birth. The names in Matthew 1 start with Abraham, who lived two thousand years before Christ. Those names cover the two millennia leading up to Christ. We live two thousand years after Jesus’ birth. It is deeply moving to ponder two thousand years of people and events leading up to Christ, as well as two thousand years of people and events that have been influenced by Christ.

But there’s another reason those ancient names are important for us: this is the family tree that Jesus chose to identify with. When you get to know the stories behind some of those names, you find that Jesus chose some relatives who weren’t much to brag about. Here are a few examples from the list. Abraham was an idol-worshiping pagan before God called him. Jacob was a slippery scoundrel who lied to his father, ripped off his brother, and cheated his uncle. Tamar, the first woman mentioned in the list, was widowed as a young woman but wanted a baby, so she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, Judah, who was only too willing. She got pregnant with twins, and Judah and Tamar and their twins turn up in Jesus’ family tree. Another woman in Jesus’ family tree was Rahab, a prostitute. The list includes David and Bathsheba. They had an adulterous affair, and King David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed. I could say more about others in Jesus’ family tree, but you get the picture. That’s the kind of relatives Jesus chose.

Jesus chose to identify with that particular family and with the sinful human race. Just think of it! The Son of God, living from all eternity in perfect unity with God the Father and the blessed Holy Spirit, enjoying perfect love, wielding infinite power, lacking nothing, attended by angels, adored by archangels—this divine Person decided to take on our flesh and blood. Jesus could choose his family, and he chose to join the same family as grubby, stubborn sinners like you and me.

Why did he do it? Jesus was born “in the likeness of sinful man” (Romans 8:3), says the Bible, so that sinners could be reborn in the likeness of holy God (Colossians 3:10). Jesus joined the human family so humans could join the holy family.

Sometimes the baby Jesus, his mother Mary, and his adopted father Joseph are called “the holy family.” But as we celebrate Christmas, let’s realize that the holy family is a lot bigger than just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Bible say in Hebrews 2:11, “Both the one who makes men holy and those are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” If you trust Jesus to save you and make you holy, then you are part of his holy family. No matter who you are, no matter how unimportant you might seem, no matter what sins lie in your past, if you trust in Jesus and are in the process of becoming more like him, then according to the Bible, you are part of the holy family, and Jesus is not ashamed to call you his brother or sister. That’s why those who believe in Jesus celebrate his birth–because in that manger near the town of Bethlehem, the eternal Son of God willingly became our brother.

What does it mean to have Jesus for a brother and be part of the same family? Well, one thing it means is that he’s got the same human nature we have. On the night of Jesus’ birth, a dazzling angel told some shepherds: “Today … a Savior is born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” How would they recognize this new arrival, this God come down to earth? Would they see a blinding glory or at least an impressive halo? No, they would find a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feedbox. That’s it: just a baby in a feedbox. The Lord had become a baby and not a very privileged one at that. The baby Jesus was as human as any other baby. He had human blood running through his veins, and human tears running from his eyes. He’s not only God with us; he’s God become one of us. Physically, emotionally, and in every other way, Jesus is as human as you or I. He is our brother.

But there’s more to being a brother than sharing our basic nature. Jesus also shares our experiences. That’s a big part of being a brother and living in a family, isn’t it? Brothers and sisters grow up in the same home, they eat the same meals, they go through many of the same things. Likewise, our brother Jesus has experienced the same things we have. He’s worn the same diapers, walked the same earth, breathed the same air, and relished the same joys. He’s also faced the same sorrows, the same frustrations, the same temptations, the same pain, the same death we face—only worse. “He had to be made like his brothers in every way,” says the Bible (Hebrews 2:17).

The Family Representative

But why is it so important that Jesus be our brother? Why did he have to become like us in every way? Well, because he wanted to represent us, and in order to do that, he had to become one of us.

One way Jesus represents us is in the fight against Satan and the powers of death. We desperately need a brother who can stand up for us and fight for us.

Isn’t that how it is with brothers? They stick up for each other. You see it on the playground and on the street. Brothers and sisters don’t always get along; they argue and fight from time to time. But if somebody else starts picking on one of them, watch out! They forget their differences and stick up for each other. Any bully who picks on a little child had better look out if that child’s big brother is nearby. If you’ve ever been rescued from a bully, you know what a great thing it is to have a big brother.

That gives us a hint of what Jesus does when it comes to dealing with Satan. The devil is too strong for you and me. There was a time when Satan had humanity trapped in the power of sin. He could bully us and enslave us to our fear of death, and no human was strong enough to stop him. But then the eternal Son of God stepped into this world. He became our brother, and that changed everything. Up to that time Satan had been picking on mere mortals, but suddenly he found himself fighting with someone who was both human and divine—our brother Jesus. Satan threw his trickiest temptations at Jesus, but Jesus never gave in. Satan threw all the power of sin and death at Jesus, but the God-man endured all that on the cross and then rose again.

As Hebrews 2 puts it, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil.” “The reason the Son of God appeared,” says the Bible, “was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Becoming our brother at Christmas enabled Jesus to represent us and stand up to Satan and take the devil’s best shot and give the human race a decisive victory over Satan. Having won that great victory, Jesus can be trusted still today to help us win in our own daily battles with Satan and his demons.

Jesus’ victory over Satan is what C.S. Lewis pictured when he wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In Lewis’s story, a wicked witch holds the land of Narnia under a curse, making it always a cold, savage winter. Nobody has the power to break the curse. Nobody can free the guilty from the witch’s claim on their blood. But then Aslan, the great Lion who originally created Narnia, comes to those he loves. He knows how to break the curse, pardon the guilty, deal with the witch, and bring life and joy. If you’ve read Lewis’s book or seen the movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you’ve seen an exciting fantasy. But that fantasy is grounded in fact: Jesus stands with us and represents us when Satan tries to destroy us.

As Jesus represents us in the conflict with Satan, he also represents us in relation to God the Father. We need Jesus to take responsibility for us, to somehow transfer the blame for our sins from us to himself and to transfer the credit for his perfection from himself to us. To do that, Jesus has to be our brother. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason he had to made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

The only representative we can have, and the only representative God can accept, has to be one of us. He can’t be an animal. He can’t be an angel. He has to be a human to represent us. He has to be a brother. But not just any brother will do. He has to be perfect. He can’t be a sinner like the rest of us, or he won’t be acceptable to God. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God has given us the perfect brother we need. The Son of God has become one of us, he has become fully human, he has lived a perfect human life which can be credited to us, and he has died a horrible death which is more than sufficient to pay for our sins. That’s why the baby born on Christmas was named Jesus, meaning “the Lord saves.” God told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus stands in for us as our representative and does for us what we could never do for ourselves: he defeats Satan, and he makes us acceptable to God. He set all this in motion by becoming a baby in a feedbox. That’s what makes our brother’s birth on Christmas such a joyful event for us.

Family Companionship

When you have a birthday celebration for someone, you don’t just think back to when that person was a baby, and you don’t just think about all that person has meant to you in the past. You also celebrate who that person is right now and what he means to you at this very moment. A birthday is a time for memories, of course, but it’s also a time to enjoy and celebrate an ongoing relationship. So as we have Christmas celebrations honoring the birthday of our brother Jesus, let’s think not only about the baby in the manger and the Savior on the cross but also about the wonderful brother who is alive right now.

This brother understands us completely, and he gives us help when we need it. The book of Hebrews says that because Jesus has been through what we’ve been through, he’s able to give us exactly the kind of help we need. Hebrews 2:18 says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” A bit later in Hebrews, the Bible says the Christ is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Maybe you’re facing terrible troubles right now, and your faith is severely tested. Your brother Jesus can help. He’s been through the same things, and he’s there right now to help you get through it. Or maybe you’ve been struggling with a powerful temptation. Again, your brother Jesus can help. He has faced those very same temptations on your behalf, he’s overcome them, and now he’s eager to help you and provide a way out (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Look at it this way. Maybe you’ve had times where you went to an experienced older brother for help. He’s ahead of you in school, so he can give you some idea of what to expect. He’s already been through the math course you’re taking, so maybe he helps you with some of the problems you can’t get. Later, when you’re trying to get a car loan or you’re looking to buy a house, you may ask your older brother for some pointers, because he’s been through the whole process already.   Now, if an ordinary brother can give you that kind of help, what about a brother who also happens to be one with God himself?

Jesus knows everything you’ve been through. He’s gone through more suffering and faced worse temptation than you ever will. He knows your situation from his own experience, and not only that, he knows how to get inside your heart and mind right now, through his Holy Spirit. In all of this, Jesus identifies with us totally. Jesus says in the Bible that whatever happens to one of his brothers also happens to him (Matthew 25:40,45). If Jesus is your brother, you never face anything alone. You never face a situation that nobody understands. Your brother Jesus knows what it’s like, and he can help you. He can bring all the power and love of God to bear on your situation.

But what’s the best reason to celebrate Jesus’ birthday? What’s the best thing about being part of the same family with him? Love—Jesus loves his brothers and sisters more than you or I can possibly imagine, and Jesus’ Father in heaven loves us as his children just as he loves Jesus himself. “God is love,” says the Bible. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:3-9). We can’t choose our relatives, but Jesus could, and in love he made us his brothers and sisters.

How much does our brother love us? Well, sometimes when we talk about family members being loyal to each other we say,

“Blood is thicker than water.”  That applies to Jesus in more ways than one. He became our blood relative at Christmas; he’s got human blood running through his veins. And Jesus has another blood bond with his people: he poured out his blood to save us. He died to give us life. It’s impossible to love more than that. Jesus’ love is the infinite love of the invisible God, and at the same time it’s a love bonded in human blood. That’s the love we celebrate on Jesus’ birthday, knowing he’s alive and loving us as much as ever.

Notice again what Hebrews 2:11 says about Jesus’ attitude toward his brothers. It says Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. I mentioned at the beginning of the program that we can’t choose our relatives, and that we’re sometimes ashamed of them. But if we really love them, if our relationship really means anything, we’re willing to associate with them in spite of their shameful problems in the past. The Bible says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Jesus is no fairweather friend. Despite our failings, he is not ashamed to call us brothers.

Join the Family

There’s still one question we have to deal with, however: Are we ashamed of him? Jesus was willing to be counted part of our family. Are we willing to be counted part of his family? Or do we avoid Jesus the way we avoid an embarrassing relative?      The shocking good news of Christmas is that Jesus is not ashamed to identify with sinful people. The shocking bad news is that sinful people are sometimes ashamed to identify with Jesus. We’re ashamed to admit we need Jesus, and we’re ashamed to live like Jesus in a way that other people might notice a family resemblance. If you find yourself in that situation, then you need God’s help. It would be understandable if Jesus were ashamed of you, but you’ve got no excuse to be ashamed of Jesus. Jesus says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).

Christmas is the thrilling news that Jesus became part of our family and became like us. But Christmas is also the urgent call to become part of his family and become like him. The Bible doesn’t say everybody in the world is automatically part of God’s family. It says, “Both the one who makes men holy and those are made holy are of the same family.” You are part of Jesus’ family only if you are being made holy by him. Only if his blood has washed away the guilt of your sins and only if his Holy Spirit is living in you, making you more like Jesus, can you call Jesus your brother and God your Father.

Once Jesus was teaching in a crowded house, and his mother and brothers arrived outside. They sent someone in to tell him, “You mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35).

If you want a real family Christmas, if you want to celebrate Christmas as your brother’s birthday, you need to do God’s will. And what is God’s will? The Bible says, “This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23). Put your faith in Jesus, and love others, and Christmas will indeed be a great family celebration of our brother’s birthday. “Both the one who makes men holy and those are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you for becoming our blood brother, for entering into our flesh and blood and then sacrificing your flesh and blood for our salvation. Thank you for becoming part of our family that we might be part of yours, for coming to earth that we might go to heaven. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me fully and unashamedly and forever. Please use this message to welcome others into your great family.

Father in heaven, it was your plan to send Jesus. Now embrace many more people in that plan this Christmas. Holy Spirit, it was your miraculous work that formed Jesus in Mary’s womb. Now, O Spirit, form Christ and his holiness in the hearts of many people today. Live in us, dear Christ, that we may live like you, love like you, and look like you, our glorious brother, and be part of your family forever. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.