Christmas Is …
Study Guide, December 4, 2022
Pastor Clay Olsen
So, here we are, on the cusp of Christmas…cusp of Christmas? ‘Cusp’? You know, there is a whole lot of meaning in that little word of ‘cusp’. It means: An event marking a unique or important historical change of course or one on which important developments depend. How about that? Does that describe Christmas or what? The first Christmas was definitely a unique and important historical change on which important developments depended all right! That first Christmas changed everything!
But people think about Christmas in a lot of different ways. If we were to say Christmas is…, there would be a lot of different responses. Like Christmas is…a Winter Wonderland; or Christmas is… a time for special get togethers of family and friends; or Christmas is… a time for giving gifts; or Christmas is… a time for focusing on the first Advent, the coming of our Savior Jesus.
There are lot of ways to think about Christmas. Here’s one that we need to add: Christmas is…a ‘Rescue for the perishing’. That’s right, a rescue…like in ‘a rescue mission’! There is a song that you don’t hear when you think about all the great Christmas carols that are sung, but it could be one of them, because, of all the things that Christmas is about, this is certainly central to it all. The song is called ‘Rescue the Perishing’. And how surprising would it be if in one of the many Christmas programs showing this time of year, if, all of a sudden you heard the singers singing – “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.”
People might look at each other and say, “I didn’t know that was a Christmas Carol!” Well, it’s never been included in a Christmas Caroling songbook, but it could…because it is the real reason for the season in the first place! Remember, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” NASU
What if you were to ask people on the streets to fill in the rest of this: The World is…what? How many would fill that in with what God revealed in John 3:16…The World is… perishing!? Probably not many people would say that. How strange that people the world over will celebrate Christmas again this year, and year after year, and not even know what Christmas is even about! Christmas is the realization of John 3:16! Jesus is the reason for the season because the reason Jesus came was because the world was and is perishing. But fortunately, and thankfully, and amazingly, God so loved the world that He made a way for all those in the world that were perishing to not have to perish. And that was through the gift of His Son, in that first ‘Mass’, Christ’s Mass. And although the word ‘Mass’ is used in different ways in different religious settings, the Latin word ‘Missa’ was also used to denote a ‘Mission’. And Jesus was definitely on a ‘mission’! He was coming to rescue the perishing!
The crazy thing is, so many people will be celebrating Christmas again this year, but they don’t even realize that, unless they have turned to Christ in repentance and faith in order to be rescued from perishing… they are still perishing and will perish. Anyone who has not been ‘born again’ in their spirit is still perishing in their soul. But Christmas comes around each year with the same offer from a loving God to a perishing world. And every year they’ll sing the songs, and they’ll celebrate the season, but they still will not repent and receive the greatest gift that will rescue them from their greatest problem…they are perishing. That’s not celebrating Christmas…that’s celebrating their ‘madness’.
‘Madness’? Sometimes you hear about the frenzy of shopping or the rushing around from all the festivities described as ‘madness’. And it can certainly feel that way. But another surprising thing is that ‘madness’ not only describes the condition of someone who is frantically doing this thing or that thing, no, ‘madness’ describes the condition of anyone who is still in his or her position of perishing. ‘Madness’ is a human disorder. It’s a disorder of the mind and heart that is caused by the neglect or refusal of a person to allow God to have His proper place as Lord in their lives. ‘Madness’ is the condition of the mind and heart of anyone who is living in direct opposition to the authority of God and not ordering their lives according to God’s instructions for their life.
In the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes even things such as living in self-pride instead of humility before God is described as ‘madness’. In other Scriptures even by failing to live by God’s moral standards, that behavior is charged as ‘madness’. And so, even Christians can be vulnerable to these destructive sins with various degrees of ‘madness’, like ‘leftover madness’ from their old sin nature. That’s why we have to be careful to order our lives by God’s instructions. Otherwise, sin will infect and damage our thinking and feelings as well. And we know that even from the example of nature, like when sheep try to go their own way apart from their Shepherd, that is simply a display of ‘madness’ on their part. It’s self-destructive. Sin is self-destructive. Sin damages a person’s thinking and perception and decision making and feelings. Unresolved sin is a form of ‘madness’.
In fact, any created human being that seeks to plan, make choices, and live their life apart from their Creator’s control is living under this self-inflicted condition of ‘madness’. Unconfessed sin and unforgiven sin causes a sickness in the mind and in the heart of created beings. And since so many in the world are still living unrepentant lives toward their Creator and only Savior, not only are they still perishing in their sin… they are also infected and afflicted by their sin, and it has caused a condition of ‘madness’ in their minds and hearts.
And people wonder why the world around us in such a mess. It’s not an educational problem…it’s not an environmental problem…it’s not a governmental problem…no it’s a sin problem. And because of sin, this world has a perishing problem! The world is perishing because the world has a sin problem. And their sin problem is because so many in this world have not surrendered in repentance to their Creator and God and have not in faith received their only Savior who came to Earth that first Christmas so that they would not have to perish but could be rescued from perishing.
Which leads us back to this new addition to the Caroling songbooks…or could. The song says – “Rescue the perishing, duty demands it – Strength for your labor the Lord will provide; Back to the narrow way patiently win them, Tell the poor wan-d’rer a Savior has died. Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
This leads us to another ‘fill in the blank’ or ‘blanks’, as in ‘Jesus came to Earth to…’ what? Some would say ‘Jesus came to Earth to be an example of how to live’, or ‘Jesus came to Earth to show us how to love and treat one another’, or, ‘Jesus came to Earth to show us what God is like’, and so on. Well, in part, but how about this? ‘Jesus came to Earth… to die.’ Jesus is the only Person who was born for the purpose of dying. “Tell the poor wan-d’rer a Savior has died”, says the song.
In Isaiah we marvel at the prophecy of Jesus’ coming birth into the world – “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isa 7:14 NASU And then we rejoice at the other titles given to Jesus – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isa 9:6 NASU But then in John we are struck by both the identity and the purpose of His coming – “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 NASU
Jesus was laid in a manger in the place where the sacrificial lambs were laid in preparation for the sacrifices at the Temple. Why? Because He was the final sacrifice as the Lamb of God who came to Earth to be sacrificed on an altar of the Cross so that our sins could be taken away from us. Jesus’ gift of eternal life to us is because of the gift of His death on a Cross for us. Jesus perished in our place. He perished on the Cross for us…or even more…because of us. For another passage in Isaiah is also connected to Christmas…Isa 53:5-6- “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” NASU
That’s why we call Him – ‘Savior’! Jesus is the Lamb of God who is the Savior of the world! Speaking of the world, let’s add another ‘fill in the blank’. How would people on the streets fill this in – Jesus is…? Some would say – ‘Jesus is the Savior of the world’. Some would say – ‘Jesus is a great teacher sent from God’. Some would say – ‘Jesus is a great prophet of God’. But how many would say – ‘Jesus is mankind’s only Savior and only hope for sharing eternal life with God.’
In many countries around the world Christmas is more of a public holiday than a celebration of the Incarnation of God Himself and the only Savior of mankind. Like in many countries, Christmas is known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. Many countries add their own traditional religious beliefs to that of the Christmas story. As you know, in many parts of the world, including our own country, religious beliefs are becoming more and more ‘syncretistic’. This means that whatever religious beliefs people had before, they are now allowing for other beliefs to be joined to them or added to their own. And part of the reason for this is that there is a growing pressure in many cultures for disbelieving that there is such a thing as ‘absolute truth’ when it comes to revelation about one God, one Creator, one Lord and one Savior. So now, in much of the world, there is more of a ‘union’ or even a ‘fusion’ of religious beliefs that allow for pretty much anyone to decide what is true for them concerning life and faith and beliefs about the First Advent of Jesus Christ, as well as His Second Advent.
And in other countries, like in the Middle East and its surroundings, Christmas is not even allowed to be recognized as a public holiday, since Jesus is taught to be not God Himself nor the Savior of the World, but only a prophet of God, only a man. Which brings us back to how many around the world would fill in – ‘Jesus is…’ with: ‘Jesus is mankind’s only Savior and only hope for sharing eternal life with God.’ As we are witnessing in our world’s syncretism of beliefs and apostasy concerning reality, fewer and fewer people now believe in their heart and mind that Jesus is mankind’s only Savior and only hope for sharing eternal life with God.
Oh, Christmas is still being celebrated around the world, as in the many traditions and public festivities, but Christ, the Biblical and Historical and Prophetical Christ, is being left out of it all. Many are celebrating the Season, but they are ignoring the Reason… especially the fact that regardless of what people think or imagine the reality is: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18 NASU
People around the world and across our country who have not believed, who have not received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior have already been judged and are still perishing. What they believe or accept about this information is secondary to what God has already announced to the world in His revelation about it all. People without Jesus as their Savior are perishing.
But Jesus came to rescue the perishing…we call it ‘Christmas’. And we are called to ‘Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.’
So, in this Christmas season, let’s each try to share the Gospel in as many ways as we can with this perishing world around us, either in spoken form or written form. For remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His great salvation is the best gift we could ever give anyone!