As we approach Christmas we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But why is that worth celebrating? What is so special about Jesus? What makes Him more important than anyone else? After all, there have been numerous other famous religious teachers down through history. What makes Jesus special?
One of the first persons to face that question was John the Baptist. John had known Jesus personally; and both had engaged in teaching ministry and had baptized. People inevitably made comparisons between the two.
Yet John was aware that there was a difference between himself and Jesus – a vast difference. And he saw his own role as that of a servant heralding the coming of his Master (John 3:28-30). But what was it that made Jesus so special?
First of all, Jesus was no ordinary human being: He had come down to earth from heaven above. “He who is from above is above all; he who is of earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes down from above is above all” (v. 31; NKJV). In other words, what we are celebrating at Christmas is none other than the incarnation of the Son of God who came down to earth to dwell among us. And because He was “from above,” according to John the Baptist, Christ is “above all” – He occupies a place of preeminence over all created beings.
But secondly, because He is the Son of God who came down from to the very presence of God in heaven, His teaching carries more weight than that of any human teacher. “And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies . . .” (v. 32a). What Jesus spoke here on earth reflected what He had seen and heard in heaven. Indeed, “For whom God has sent speaks the words of God . . .” (v. 34a).
Here several important truths are underscored. First of all, Jesus had been “sent” by the Father. He came from the Father down to earth, and He came on the authority of the Father Himself – the Father was the One who had sent Him. Thus when He spoke here on earth He had the full weight and authority of the Father behind Him.
Secondly, when He came what He spoke were “the words of God” – the hremata, the spoken words. What this means is that we have received a verbal revelation from God Himself – God has communicated to us in human language which could be verbally spoken and written down. Or, to put it another way, the discourses and parables of Jesus recorded in the four gospels ultimately came from God the Father Himself; they are God’s revelation to us.
Moreover, Jesus “speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (v. 34b). While He was here on earth Jesus had a special endowment of the Holy Spirit. All prophets who had been genuinely sent by God “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21), and indeed every Christian who has been genuinely born again has the Holy Spirit living inside him. But in Jesus’ case John the Baptist says that “God does not give the Spirit by measure.” God the Father gave Him the Spirit in overflowing abundance. That made Jesus the greatest of all prophets.
John the Baptist goes on to say that “the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (v. 35). Jesus was God the Father’s own Son, and the Father loved the Son dearly. And so the Father “has given all things into His hand.” He has placed all created things under the authority of Christ; and that, in turn, means that as human beings we are all obligated to honor Him and Lord and King. Or, as we enjoy singing from Handel’s Messiah at this time of year, “King of kings and Lord of lords; and He shall reign forever and ever!” (cf. Rev. 17:14; 9:16; 11:15). It means that there is coming a day when all the crime, cruelty and corruption of the present age will be done away, and there will be a universal reign of peace and justice at the Second Coming of Christ. Well might we sing “Hallelujah!”
But most importantly of all, Jesus Christ is the Savior. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (v. 36). Here the promise is that if we “believe in the Son” we will have “everlasting life.” To “believe in” the Son means to put our personal trust in Him, to rely upon Him as our Savior. And the promise is that if we do so we will “have everlasting life” – we will be with Christ forever in heaven.
Conversely, “he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Mankind’s root problem is sin and our state of rebellion against God. Because of that “the wrath of God abides on” us. In order for there to be a restoration of our relationship with God, and with it the hope of eternal life, our sin must be atoned for. What is needed, then, is a Savior; and that Savior is Christ, who, as the sinless Son of God was uniquely qualified to act in that role. That is why there is no possibility for salvation apart from Christ.
That, then, is the meaning of Christmas. We are not simply celebrating the birth of a great religious teacher. We are celebrating the entrance of the Savior into the world. It was the decisive turning point in history. What we are called upon to do as individual human beings is to “believe in the Son” whom god the Father sent into the world that we might receive “everlasting life.”