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The Cradle and the Cross

The Christmas season is once again upon us. The hustle and bustle of last minute preparations, presents and planning seem to monopolize our time. Yet as I sit and ponder both the reality and meaning of this season, I wonder if we have fallen into the trap of the busyness and gift-giving, that we have forgotten what makes this season so great. I’m not against giving gifts and planning our gatherings with friends and family, frankly I love these aspects of this season. But I would like to take a moment, in between the phone calls, keystrokes and internet searches to direct our minds toward “the Gift”—the Greatest Gift ever given in the history of mankind.

Unfortunately, in many ways, Christmas has been hijacked by some reindeer who supposedly can fly, pulling a sleigh filled with presents to deliver to every “good” child in the world, in one evening, being driven by a jolly old man, who clearly has had one too many cookies, dressed in a red suit, who slides down chimneys to deliver presents even in homes with no chimneys. Quite a believable story, right?!

Somehow, in many homes, this story has replaced the story of the birth of the Child born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. The story of the Greatest Gift ever given. The story of grace and mercy, hope and love. The story of humility and sacrifice. The story of the God of heaven looking down upon His creation and sending His Son to be the Gift of life to a lost and dying world. This amazing story is the story of Christmas. It is the story of the cradle and the cross.

The “Cradle” and the “Cross” — What do these words mean to you? A cradle brings memories to parents of the early days with their children. Memories of anticipation of “what this child will become” among the sleepless nights and delirious questioning of my own abilities as a parent handling this great responsibility. The cradle is a picture of innocence and expectation. The cross on the other hand brings to mind pain and suffering, torture and death.

How can these two words be brought together especially in the context of Christmas? Truth be told, the greatest story the world has ever known is wrapped up in these words, of innocence and expectation, of pain and suffering, torture and death.

These two words, when boiled down reveal a profound contrast yet powerful and life-giving reality. The cradle is a picture of new life while the CROSS is a picture of death. As we consider the cradle and the cross, we see the true reason for this Christmas season—it is all about CHRIST.

The story unfolds as the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. ”—Luke 1:30-33

Talk about anticipation and the weight of responsibility this announcement brings. Yet Mary humbly responds as a willing servant, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

Next, we find Joseph struggling with the news of his pregnant fiancé and what he should do.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy GhostAnd she [Mary] shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.”—Matthew 1:20-21

I remember back to those days as I was anticipating the birth of our first child. The thoughts of this soon-coming responsibility of fatherhood, at times, were heavy and oppressive. I can only imagine what went through Joseph’s mind as he hears this announcement. I’m sure to some degree, this put Joseph’s mind at ease, yet he too has just received a heavenly announcement, filled with anticipation, being weighted down with the greatest responsibility—“I will be raising the One who will save His people from their sins?” But yet, without delay, he obediently took these steps of faith.

In the second chapter of Luke, additional characters are brought into this narrative. The anticipation finally reaches a crescendo with the birth of this Child, followed by more angels, this time singing and praising God, making a heavenly announcement of the birth of the Lamb of God to some lowly shepherds.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”—Luke 2:10-12

The cradle is the focus of the first act in this narrative while in the second act the curtain opens revealing the purpose for this cradle as the cross takes centerstage.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns was written by Ron Hamilton titled, “Born to Die.” The message of the third verse with the chorus sums up the message of the Cradle and Cross.

From His throne Jesus came, laid aside Heaven’s fame
In exchange for the cross of Calvary;
For my gain suffered loss, for my sin He bore the cross—
He was wounded and I was set free.
Born to die upon Calvary, Jesus suffered my sin to forgive;
Born to die upon Calvary, He was wounded that I might live
.

In these words we see the cradle and the cross. The cross cast its shadow over the cradle as Jesus was born and laid in the manger. This was the purpose for which Christ was born—He was born to die. Remember the angel’s words to Joseph, “And [Mary] shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins”?

Jesus was born so that He could die. This sounds quite depressing as far as stories go. Clearly this wasn’t written for any awards or block-buster movie deals. Up until this point it captivates our attention. It is filled with twists and turns that make for a good story yet at this point many choose to disembark this story train—Jesus was born so that He could die! See, if the story ended here then I would agree but give it a chance, keep on reading. The great reality is that Christ’s death was not the stories’ end but a pivotal moment within the narrative of Christ’s provision for our salvation. It was part of the process of securing our salvation. The cross is empty and so is the tomb as it could not hold Him. Christ has conquered death and has risen from the grave, just as He said He would (Matthew 16:21).

The purpose for which Christ came to this earth was to die, to pay the penalty for our sin—which He did. BUT then He rose again the third day, claiming victory over death leaving the tomb empty as evidence of a risen, living Savior.

Don’t overlook the journey from the cradle to the cross. Stop and look upon the empty cross and see all the suffering Christ bore on your behalf. Then keep going from that tree to the tomb. Again, stop and look inside and see Him there no more and rejoice for He lives! But there is more…continue on from the grave to the glorious mount as He ascended, returning to the Father.

From the cradle to the cross we see how Christ lived as a perfect Example and He died as a perfect Sacrifice. In that He triumphs over the tomb, we see that He lives as a conquering King and He saves as a perfect SAVIOR.

Remember that there is a Christ in CHRISTmas for a reason. HE is the REASON for this season. Celebrate HIM as the Greatest Gift ever given. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we can enjoy the cradle of a new birth in Christ—a life with Christ that never ends—a life with Him here on this earth and in heaven for eternity.

Do you have a relationship with Christ? Have you received this Greatest Gift that is eternal life? Consider Christ’s words to a religious man searching for answers about life. Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again [from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) The Bible says elsewhere, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Have you responded to Christ when He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [peace]” (Matthew 11:28). Christ’s invitation demands a response. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “But as many as received Him [JESUS], to them gave He power to become the sons of Godeven to them that believe on His name:” (John 1:12)

If you haven’t placed your faith and trust in CHRIST alone for salvation won’t you consider doing that today? This Christmas enjoy the Greatest Gift ever given—His name is JESUS. He will never fail you for in Him alone is contentment, peace, joy, and love that truly transcends all understanding. In Him alone is true life that never ends.

Join with me this Christmas season and make JESUS the center—put CHRIST at the center of your CHRISTmas.

For more information, consider reading “How do I get to heaven?

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“It Is Finished!”

The last words of a dying soul often tend to be heavy with meaning, weighted with such great significance in their heartfelt genuineness. Especially without the heavy sedation compassionately given by modern day hospice care, these last words picture for us a glimpse into the soul—a view of unobstructed insight into the most important matters of the heart as one awaits their final breath.

Stories are told of the torment of souls as they stand at deaths door not knowing what will meet them on the other side. With gut wrenching agony loved ones have watched them fight the inevitable slide into eternity. But there are also stories told of triumphant songs sung by souls prepared for what lays before them. Souls who willingly and joyfully step into glory with great anticipation and expectation knowing that their Savior awaits them with open arms. With sorrow they leave their loved ones behind but with great joy they look forward to the welcome embrace of their loving Shepherd.

It is the last words of this loving Shepherd that have arrested my thoughts in anticipation of the services of remembrance and celebration that lay before me. With pen in hand, and the unfamiliar sound of silence in my ears, I sit with an open Bible before me pondering His triumphant last words, “It is finished!” The apostle John records these last words of triumph (John 19:30). Words filled with meaning that plumb the unfathomable depths of life, love, and sacrifice of the Son of God.

Approaching this glorious time of the year my mind is flooded with thoughts as I ponder the steps of a Man who undeservedly walked a path and carried a cross that was not His own. A man who carried the weight of the world upon His bloodied back; a man who wore a crown fit not even the worst of kings let alone the King of Kings. He walked my path; He carried my cross; He wore my crown; He bore my sin with each step on His way to Mount Calvary to lay down His life on a cross made for me.

The passage that lays open before me is Isaiah 52:13-53:12 where it speaks of the “Man of sorrows” long before this undeserving world laid its eyes upon the “Word made flesh.” As we allow the Gospels to shed light upon these words of prophecy we see a bruised and broken Man whose “visage was so marred more than any man” yet robed with love and grace, with gentleness and humility as He endured the shame and disgrace that my sin demanded of me. It is in my place that I see Christ walk. It is in my place that I see Him die. It is in my place I see His love on full display unlike the world has ever seen. Such grace so undeserved yet so abundant and free.

Isaiah’s words are rich with theology and meaning. Each time I read through this passage I come to rest on verses 4-6, personalizing it as I read,  “Surely He hath borne [my] griefs, and carried [my] sorrows: yet [I] did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for [my] transgressions, He was bruised for [my] iniquities: the chastisement [for my] peace was upon Him; and with His stripes [I am] healed. Like [a] sheep [I] have gone astray; [I] have turned to [my] own way; and the LORD hath laid on [Jesus Christ all my] iniquity.”

These words cut to my heart to think of the consequence of my sin, my selfishness, demanding my own way. The flood of emotions rush into my heart as at times my eyes begin to overflow. What sadness and heartache to consider the suffering that my Savior chose to endure because He knew that I would choose my “own way” instead of His good and righteous way. My “own way” is the way of sin.

God tells us the consequence of sin is death(Romans 6:23). This death speaks of separation from God. If I would have continued my “own way” I would have been separated from God for all eternity. The reality is that God provided a way by giving His Son. The consequence of my sin brought about death as God sent His Son to die in my place as my substitute. “For [the Father] hath made [Jesus] to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The hymn writer, Charles Wesley so aptly put it:

“And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me who caused His pain? For me who Him to death pursued?

 Amazing love! How can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me?”

God’s love is nowhere on display more greater than on the cross of Calvary. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

With great sadness I see the suffering my Savior endured in order to show His love for me. Yet it is also with great joy that I hear Him say, “It is finished!” Just before Christ breathed His last breath upon the cross He stated a single Greek word, “tetelestai,” which is translated, “It is finished!” It was a statement of triumph overflowing with rich meaning. What is so profound about this statement? What is finished?

This word, “tetelestai,” was used in everyday life back in Biblical times. It was used by a priest as he would examine a lamb brought for sacrifice and found it to be faultless. Jesus Christ was the perfect Lamb of God who was without spot or blemish. It was also used by merchants who would declare that a debt was “paid in full.”

The work that the Father had given Christ to do was now complete—it was finished. While hanging on cross, looking like a defeated victim, He celebrates victory—the greatest triumph in the history of all of God’s creation. With His death He paid our debt of sin in full. He bought our salvation with His blood—with His life. He had fulfilled every requirement that the law had required on the behalf of sinners. Christ’s atoning work was complete thus satisfying the justice of God.

You cannot add to a finished work. Someone once approached the great evangelist D. L. Moody and asked him, “Mr. Moody, what must I do to be saved?” He said, “I’m sorry, sir, you are too late. As a matter of fact, you are hundreds of years too late. All the doing has been done!”

Consider this Gift that has been given. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As with any gift, in order to enjoy it you must first believe that it is for you and then simply receive it as your own. The same is true for God’s Gift of eternal life—the gift of His Son. God made provision for the penalty of our sin but until we believe and receive this Gift it cannot take effect in our lives. The decision is left up each of us. In order to enjoy this gift the Bible tells us, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Do  you see what Jesus did for you? Do you see His great loving sacrifice to provide for you the greatest gift anyone can ever receive? Do you see that “It is finished”?

During this Easter season my prayer is that you too would sorrow in what Jesus went through for you but that you would also rejoice in what He accomplished for you. “It is finished!” Your ransom has been paid in full as the Gift of eternal life is set before you. The decision is yours—choose life!

It is finished!”—the work is done! Simply believe it to be true and receive it on your behalf. Then with great joy you can sing:

“Man of sorrows!” what a name for the Son of God who came,

Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood,

Sealed my pardon with His blood; Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement! Can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die, ‘It is finished’ was His cry;

Now in heaven exalted high, Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King, all His ransomed home to bring,

Then anew this song we‘ll sing, Hallelujah, what a Savior![i]

What will your experience be when death comes knocking? Will you with great joy look forward to the loving embrace of your Savior? Or are you unsure of what will meet you on the other side?

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

For more information please consider reading the article, “How do I get to Heaven?” or you can also write me at pastor@pibcny.com.

[i] Philip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah! What a Savior”