Recently, I was reflecting on my last 26 years as a pastor, and the various Christmas sermons I have preached. I discovered that in my early days of ministry, I preached on the fact of Christ’s coming, and even more on the events surrounding his coming, but didn’t focus on the theological reasons for Christmas. I rehearsed the details from the Gospel narratives without giving serious attention to the theological commentary on the incarnation that is found in the rest of the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters and the Book of Hebrews. Why was Jesus born? For what purpose did the eternal Son of God take upon himself human flesh? Why did he choose to be born, suffer, and ultimately die? Why would deity embrace diapers? These questions are far more important than how many wise men there were, or whether there was an innkeeper in Bethlehem.
The author of the book of Hebrews had a lot to say about why Jesus came. In this message I want to look at four reasons the Hebrews writer mentioned.
Jesus Came to Speak
First, Jesus came to speak as God’s final and full revelation to mankind. Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:1–2).
Some of the best advice I ever received about preaching was to give the people Jesus. This is what we see at the beginning of Hebrews, which is essentially an expository sermon on a variety of Old Testament texts. There is no personal introduction or funny anecdote to “set the table.” The writer does not even address his audience. Rather, he boldly declares how God has spoken to them through his Son. In the past, God’s purposes were veiled in shadows. The prophets spoke in terms and metaphors that many struggled to understand. But Jesus is the substance, the reality that these shadows anticipated.
Keep in mind that the author of Hebrews is not disparaging the value and truth of God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. God’s Word is always valuable and authoritative. Whenever and however God speaks, the message is of paramount importance to us. What the author is doing is drawing a contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in which God has spoken fully and finally through his own Son. Jesus is the ultimate communication from the Father. If you want to know what the Father is like, look to Jesus. If you want to see God’s love, mercy, and grace, look to Jesus.
You can trust what Jesus says. The verses that follow in Hebrews 1 teach us that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature and is the radiance of the glory of God. He upholds the universe by the word of his power (1:3). Thus, you can trust what he says. He is God!
Jesus Came to Share
Second, Jesus came to share our nature for its healing. Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14a).
Two major Christological heresies have plagued the church. One, of course, is Arianism, which denies the deity of Jesus. But Arius didn’t come along until the fourth century. A far older heresy, and one of the first to plague the church, was not an attack on the divinity of Christ, but on his humanity. This heresy, which developed in the late first century, is known as Docetism (derived from a Greek word meaning “to seem”).
Docetism teaches that Jesus only seemed human, but was not truly human. According to Docetists, he only appeared to have a real, physical body. Since Docetists viewed matter and flesh as inherently evil, they insisted that a perfect, sinless God could not be associated with matter. The body of Jesus was an illusion—something that looked real but was not a part of the physical order at all.
Obviously, this heresy has huge implications for the atoning death of Christ. If Christ was not fully human, he could not redeem us from our sins. Therefore, the humanity of Jesus became one of the first tests of orthodoxy, as 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7 affirm: If one denies that Christ has come in the flesh they are a deceiver and have the spirit of the antichrist.
The beautiful truth of the incarnation is that Jesus did not just appear like us, but actually became one of us! He was born. He grew. He became tired, thirsty, hungry, and physically weak. He truly suffered and died. He became fully human, and because of that, we can be fully healed! As Gregory of Nazianzus famously wrote, “That which is not assumed he has not healed.” In order for humanity to be fully redeemed, Jesus needed to unite a full human nature to the divine nature. The eternal Son of God became a man in full so that he might save us in full. A recent Advent hymn powerfully captures his humiliation for our sake:
How low was our Redeemer brought, the King who held the stars?
Lay helpless in a maiden’s arms and pressed against her heart.
While sheep and cattle raised their voice, the babe could speak no words.
The ever flowing Spring of Joy had come to share our thirst.
How low was our Redeemer brought, the Lord the worlds obeyed?
Would stumble as He learned to walk upon the ground He’d made.
The One the angels bowed before would kneel to wash our feet.
And be at home among the poor though He owned everything.
How low was our Redeemer brought to raise us from our shame?
And now the highest praise of all belongs to Jesus’ name.
The Healer wounded on a tree to bear our grief and sin.
The King gave up His crown so we could ever reign with Him.
Jesus Came to Subdue
Third, Jesus came to subdue death and the devil. Hebrews 2 goes on to explain that Christ became human “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14b-15, 14).
Adam was called to subdue every creature (Gen. 1:28), but instead he was subdued by the serpent. Christ, the new Adam, came to subdue the serpent and all creation, though he did it in the most unlikely of ways. Jesus took on “flesh and blood” and shared in our humanity, so that he could lay down his life for mankind, and through his death and resurrection, defeat the one who holds the power of death—the devil.
Outside of Scripture, no one addresses this truth more powerfully and practically than Saint Athanasius in his classic work, On the Incarnation:
The Word [that is, God’s eternal Son], perceiving that death could not be abolished except by the death of all; and since He Himself, the Immortal Word, could not die, took a body capable of death, and in it made a sufficient death for all: He by the resurrection abolished corruption, and by the self-sacrifice obliterated death. For He by His death satisfied all that was required, since all are united with Him; and by our solidarity with Him and one another we all are clothed with His immortality, and death no longer has any power over us. The presence of an emperor in a city preserves it from attack, and similarly the presence of the Word in human nature has put an end to the plots of our enemies and the corruption of death.
Christ came to render death and the work of the devil impotent in your life and mine. If you’re struggling with sin, the works of the devil have been destroyed (1 John 3:8). If you’re fearful of death, Christ has endured the pangs of death on your behalf.
Jesus Came to Sympathize
Finally, Christ came to sympathize with our weaknesses. Hebrews 2 goes on to say, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:16-18, 16).
Jesus assumed a fully human nature, yet without sin, and without ceasing to be God, that he might provide for mankind a perfect and complete sacrifice for sin, and offer grace to those who are being tempted. And because he was human and faced temptation, he can sympathize with those who are being tempted. Jesus is not just a high priest — he is a merciful and faithful one, who has compassion on us. In Psalm 103:13-14, David rejoices that “just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
When we pray, we are praying to a God who is touched with our infirmities. Jesus knows what it is like to be tired and hungry and to weep at the loss of a friend. Jesus knows what it is like to experience betrayal and rejection and be stabbed in the back by a close friend. Jesus even knows disappointment in ministry, as many chose to walk away when he offered eternal life to them. And because he experienced it, he is able to empathize and identify with us.
Is it any wonder we are instructed to come with confidence to our eternal high priest, and to draw near to the throne of grace that we might receive mercy and find grace in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16)? As John Newton reminds us,
Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with thee bring,
for his grace and pow’r are such,
none can ever ask too much.