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We hear a lot about angels at Christmas. An angel appears to Zechariah as he is offering incense in the temple to tell him that he and Elizabeth will have a child in their old age. This child is to be named John and he will prepare the way of the Messiah.
An angel appears to Mary six months later to tell her that she too will have a miracle child, a child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. He will be the one to rule on the throne of his father David forever. His name is to be Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream to assure him that what Mary told him about her pregnancy was true. She really was carrying the Messiah, the Son of God, Immanuel.
Then, as Shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks on the night Mary’s baby was born, an angel appeared to them. He told them the good news – that very night, in the town of David, a Savior had been born. He is the Christ, the Lord. It was such good news that myriads of angels joined together saying glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward mankind.
We hear a lot about angels at Christmas, but the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Christmas is not about angels. Jesus didn’t give up heaven to take on flesh and blood and live in this sin-infested world because he was concerned with helping angels. The angels who rebelled against God are beyond help. They are already consigned to Hell, and the good angels who did not rebel against God are confirmed in glory. They don’t need any help. Jesus chose to be born of the virgin Mary because he was concerned with helping Abraham’s offspring, and through them, all people.
Jesus came to earth on a mission. He came to lead many sons to glory. In order to do that, in order to be the author of our salvation, he would have to suffer. That’s how he would accomplish his mission. But, in order to suffer he had to be made like us in every way. That meant he had to share our flesh and blood. He had to live as a human being on this earth just as we do. He had to experience hunger and thirst, joy and sadness, pain and loss.
As we review the life of Jesus each year in the festival half of the church year, we are reminded that he did become just like us.
Although he is the ruler of all that exists, he was born as a child who had to be fed by his mother, have his diaper changed, and go through all the stages of life we experience. He attended the Synagogue with his parents and, as we heard in the gospel for today, he traveled with them to the required festivals in Jerusalem. Although he showed that he knew that his Father’s business came first, he was always obedient to his earthly parents. He kept both the first and the fourth commandments.
When the time was right, he came to be baptized by John, not because he had any sins of his own, but so that the Father could anoint him into his office as Prophet, Priest and King, and he could officially begin his public ministry.
As he traveled, teaching God’s word and proclaiming the good news of God, he saw firsthand the effects of sin. His heart went out to people who suffered from illness and disease, people who were deaf, blind, and crippled, people who were possessed by demons, and people who were hungry and in danger of fainting. But what seemed to affect him most was the death of his friend Lazarus, the shallowness of the people’s understanding of Scripture, and most of all, the lack of faith. And that was in a place and at a time when almost everyone went to Synagogue, or at least to the temple a few times a year. Imagine what Jesus thinks as he looks at the world today and sees how many know nothing about what the Bible say about him, and how many have no faith in him at all. In fact, on one occasion He said, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Only by the miracle of God as his powerful word is shared with others.
Because he did take on flesh and blood, because he is not ashamed to call us his brothers, he also experienced very real temptation. The writer reminds us that he suffered when he was tempted. His temptations were just as real as ours are. His stomach was really hurting when he refused to turn stones into bread. Who would deny that he suffered as he prayed in the garden and his sweat was mingled with blood as it streamed down his face and fell to the ground? Yet, as he always did, he overcame temptation. He kept the first commandment, and with it, every other commandment. He showed by words and actions that he submitted himself to the Father’s will, not his own will.
His complete submission shows itself most clearly during his passion. Isaiah hears him say, I was not rebellious. I did not turn back. I submitted my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from disgrace and from spit… I made my face hard like flint.
Jesus came to earth with a mission. He came to lead many sons to glory. In order to do that he had to become one of us and accomplish his mission through suffering. He remained faithful in the face of suffering, much greater suffering than we have ever faced. He remained faithful even to the point of death, even a painful, excruciating death on a cross. But, because he was faithful through every experience, and every temptation, even to the point of death, he did reach his goal of leading many sons to glory. By his death he destroyed the one who had the power of death (that is, the Devil). He crushed Satan’s head by resisting every temptation Satan threw at him. He conquered death by his glorious resurrection from the dead. As the glorious victor he is now leading us, all who trust in him as their Savior, on a victory march that ends as we enter with him through the gates of heaven, down the streets of gold to the mansion he has prepared just for us.
In the meantime, as long as we continue to live on this earth, we too reach our goal through suffering. We will continue to experience hunger and thirst, joy and pleasure, sadness and loss. One day we too will face death. But because we know that Jesus lived and died in our place and then rose from the dead, death has lost its sting. The sting of death is sin, but all our sins have been paid for in full by Jesus. The power of sin is the law, but the law’s demand that we be punished falls on deaf ears because Jesus took that punishment on himself.
Through all our sufferings on this earth we know that we have someone who truly knows what it’s like, and more than anyone else, knows exactly how to help us. He is our merciful and faithful High Priest before the Father, pleading our cause and making sure our every prayer is answered in the way that is best for us as we follow him on the way to glory.
When we face suffering, when we face death, we can say with Jesus, I know that I will not be put to shame. The one who will acquit me is near! Who can accuse me? …Who can pass judgment on me? …Look, the Lord God will help me. Who then can declare me guilty? Because Jesus reached his goal through suffering the answer is No One! No one can declare us guilty because, in Jesus, because of what he has done in our place, God has declared us not guilty. Jesus There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
We hear a lot about angels at Christmas, but Jesus didn’t come to earth to help angels. He came to earth to save us. His goal was to lead many sons to glory. He accomplished his goal through suffering, serving as our substitute and our sacrifice. Rejoice that he accomplished his mission. Let your joy move you to follow him every day until he has led you all the way to the glory of heaven.