This time of year, Christians often ask a question that goes something like this: In our increasingly secular age, how can we sustain the true value, the true meaning of Christmas?
If we are going to answer this question faithfully, though, then surely we must first know why we celebrate this holiday. And for that, we need look no further than to the simple yet unimaginably profound statements of the Gospels:
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20–21)
The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11)
These texts take us straight to the heart of Christmas: the long-expected advent of Christ our Lord. Two thousand years ago, God Himself, the eternal Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). We should never gloss over such a glorious reality but instead soak up the wonders of the incarnation and celebrate it with all the joy it’s due! But we also must remember that Christmas is not a goal unto itself—that is, that the incarnation is a beginning, not an end point.
With that in mind, let’s consider together four reasons that Christ came that very first advent.
1. Jesus Came to Take Away Our Sins
Matthew’s Gospel points us to the truth that Jesus came to “save his people from their sins” (1:21). Similarly, as Jesus begins His earthly ministry in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist announces, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). Paul adds this more systematic statement to the mix in his grand treatise to the Romans: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
In our broader culture, the imagery of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem usually evokes a measure of sentimentality and feelings of peace and love. Certainly, Christmas is a time to enjoy such warm feelings. But it’s also much more than that. As Jesus declares to Zacchaeus in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Christmas had as its goal Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday, when Christ utterly triumphed over death, dealt it a lethal blow, and paved the path to reconciliation with God.
This was Christ’s mission, accomplished on the cross, where He gave Himself up for His people. Christmas, then, is actually about the love Jesus displayed on the cross, for “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christmas had as its goal Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday, when Christ utterly triumphed over death, dealt it a lethal blow, and paved the path to reconciliation with God.
2. Jesus Came to Destroy Satan’s Work
At the incarnation, our Savior came not only to defeat death but also “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The arrival of Christ in Bethlehem was a signal of the beginning of the end for Satan and all his ways.
Now, we must bear in mind that the devil is still active and alive, even if he has been doomed to fail since the beginning (Gen. 3:15). Peter would remind us, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Still, though he prowls, Satan is chained. He may snarl and roar and grab for us, but Christ came to destroy his works.
John assures us that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18). The very one “born of God,” Jesus Christ, will guard those who come after Him. Ultimately, though Satan deceives, accuses, lies, and hinders, he cannot touch us. His time is nearly up. His final destruction has been guaranteed. (See Rev. 20:10.)
3. Jesus Came to Make the Father Known
The arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem was like God taking a brush and painting a self-portrait right across eternity and into the view of time. We no longer have to wonder what God is like; instead, we can gaze upon “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). As John’s Gospel puts it, while “no one has ever seen God,” Jesus Christ “has made him known” (John 1:18). He is not only the Word incarnate (1:14) but also God’s final message to the world—His last word, the one and only Son through whom “he has spoken” (Heb. 1:2).
What a marvelous mystery it is that this baby Jesus, suckled at the breast of His mother and rocked to sleep in the arms of His earthly father, was and remains fully God! He seemed a helpless, wriggling infant, but He was God’s Son, who is now glorified in heaven and rules over all. Though He cried like any other and weighed a mere handful of pounds in the manger, He would eventually declare with absolute authority, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, came to manifest God to the world.
4. Jesus Came to Prepare for a Second Advent
Finally, the Lord Jesus Christ came not only to take away our sins, to destroy the devil’s work, and to make the Father known but also to prepare for a second advent.
John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Much as the people of God awaited His first coming, so we now eagerly anticipate the second. In the time between these advents, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. He tells us, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). And when he does come back, He will come “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28).
The New Testament pulsates with this great Gospel assurance, which is as vital an aspect of the message of Christmas as is the cradle in Bethlehem. If Jesus Christ is not coming back again, then much of the New Testament is lying to us; the angels were wrong, and Jesus is nothing more than a false teacher. But the glorious truth is that just as surely as He came humbly that first advent, He will return in awesome power and glory at His second.
Are You Ready?
So, why did Jesus come? To take away our sins. “Though your sins are like scarlet” and “red like crimson,” have they become like snow and wool because of Christ’s cleansing power (Isa. 1:18)?
Why did Jesus come? To defeat Satan’s works. Are you living in the light of that victory?
Why did Jesus Christ come? To make the Father known. Do you know the Father? Do you know God more and more each day?
Why did Jesus Christ come? To prepare for the second advent. Are you ready for His coming? When He sees you, will He take you in His hand and say, “Friend,” or will he say, “I never knew you; depart from me”? (Matt. 7:23).
Around the holidays, as we scramble to prepare food, decorations, parties, and presents, friends or relatives may ask us, “Are you ready for Christmas?” It’s an innocent question. But now, in light of God’s self-revelation, we are a little readier to answer in earnest: Yes, I am ready. Jesus has washed me, saved me, made me new. The new life I have in Him can never fade. And now the hope of Christmas has grown into the eager expectation for His second coming, when the good news of great joy, peace, and love will reach its climax and we will truly, wonderfully live happily ever after.
This article was adapted from the sermon “The Purpose of Advent” by Alistair Begg.