Robert Jeffress - The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress. Welcome again to Pathway to Victory. It's hard to believe that Christmas is only a few weeks away with all the gifts and shopping and family gatherings. It's easy to lose sight of what Christmas is really all about, isn't it? Well, today I'm going to bring us back to the heart of Christmas by looking at three symbols that truly encapsulate the Christmas story. We're talking about the Cradle, the Cross and the Crown on today's special edition of Pathway to Victory.
Methodist minister, Monk Brian tells a story about driving to church one Christmas Sunday morning with his family, his young son asked him a question, he said, "Dad, are you going to allow us to enjoy Christmas this morning, or are you going to explain it"? I understand how that little boy feels. You know, the fact is those of us who are pastors sometimes feel the need to overly explain the meaning of Christmas. And there's a reason for that. We've allowed secularists to obscure the meaning of this holiday. Even religionists have perverted the meaning of Christmas missing the entire point of Christ coming. So there is a need to explain Christmas. But today I want us to do more than explain Christmas. I want us to experience it, to enjoy it together. And that's what we're going to do in the few minutes we have this morning.
If you were to ask the average person on the street, what are the symbols of Christmas? They would probably answer the candy cane, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus. But today we're going to look at the three symbols that really explain the entirety of the Christmas story. The first of Christmas is the cradle. This is where it all began at least from a human perspective. The late designer, Versace was one time asked if he believed in God, he said, "Yes, I believe in God, but I'm not the kind of religious person who goes to church who believes in the fairy tale of Jesus born in the stable with the donkey. I'm not stupid. I can't believe that God with all the power that he has had to have himself born in a stable, it would not have been comfortable". Versace was right on one point. It wasn't comfortable for God to leave heaven and come to a manger. And yet that is exactly what happened.
So Paul explains what Christ did in Philippians 2:5-8, "Have this attitude in yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a born servant and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross". One writer describes it this way, "Stepping from the throne, Jesus removed his robe of light and wrapped himself in skin, pigmented human skin. The light of the universe entered a dark wet womb. He whom angels worship, nestled himself in the placenta of a peasant, was birthed into the cold night and slept on cows hay". What is the significance of Jesus humbling himself by being born in this cradle? Two things. The fact that Christ was willing to come and to be born under such humble circumstances, reminds us first of all, that God loves us. He took the initiative in establishing a relationship with you and with me.
Pastor Tim Zingale tells a story about a five-year old boy named tommy. Tommy loved to run and play like most five-year-olds. When he smiled, people said he looked like an angel, but tommy didn't smile much. His parents had died a few years earlier and he was in an orphanage. One day while tommy was out playing dodge-ball by himself, he was totally unaware of what was happening right down the street, at a courthouse. There, judge Johnson was listening a couple explain why they wanted to adopt tommy to become their own. They had driven by the orphanage one day and seen tommy played outside and decided they wanted him to become a part of their family. Tommy was completely unaware of what was happening right down the street. A decision was being made that would alter the course of his life forever.
You know, the Bible says that the judge of all of the universe, before the beginning of time decided that he wanted a relationship with you. And he said into the plans into motion, the plan by which you and I could be adopted, into God's family, through Jesus Christ. And that's exactly what cradle represents. God took the initiative in establishing the relationship with you to put you into his forever family. Here in his love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and gave himself as the propitiation for our sins. The cradle means that God loves us. But secondly, the cradle means that God forgives us. We'll talk about this more in just a moment, but God became flesh so that he could be one of us and accomplish the mission of salvation.
If you've ever been to Hawaii before you may have heard the story about the island of Molokai. The island of Molokai was used as a refuge, as a place of seclusion for those who had contracted, but then deadly disease of leprosy. The lepers had to be separated from the rest of the population. So they were put on this island of Molokai. In 1873, a young dedicated priest named Father Damien volunteered to go to Molokai, to spend his life serving the lepers. When he arrived he was startled to see people's suffering, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as outcast. They were victims of hopelessness. And because of that, they were given to acts of immorality, drunkenness, violence toward one another. What he saw on that island, where people who needed hope, they had the same questions that many of us have today. Is there a God? And does he really care about us?
And so in 1873 Father Damien went to this desolate island of Molokai to spend his life among the lepers. He helped them build a church, a hospital. While he was there he built 600 coffins as well. Every Sunday he would stand up to lead the worship service for the lepers and he always began the service by saying the same thing, "My dear brethren". But then one morning in 1885 at the age of 45 in a calm clear voice, Father Damien instead of saying, "My dear brethren," began, "My fellow lepers, I am now one of you".
Jesus Christ for no other reason than the love would which he had for us left the realm of heaven he came to this island of hopelessness called planet earth. He willingly took the curse for our sin in order that he might point us to God. And that's why we say his name is Emmanuel, God with us. God became one of us so that we might be a part of his family. There could have been no Christmas without the cradle, but 2000 years ago on that night Jesus was born, casting a shadow over the cradle was a cross. If the cradle is the beginning of the story, the cross represents the main body of the Christmas story. It explains why it is that Jesus came to earth.
One writer says it this way. "Here's a side to the Christmas story that isn't often told. Those soft little hands fashioned by the holy spirit in Mary's womb were made so that the nails might be driven through them. Those little pink feet unable to walk would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant's head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns upon it. That tender body warm and soft wrapped in swaddling clothes would one day be ripped open by a Roman spear. Jesus was born to die". Paul said it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21. "God made him Jesus, who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him". Jesus came to take the penalty we deserve for our sins.
There is an ancient story told about a Tibetan ruler who had decreed that anyone in his nation who was caught stealing would have his hand chopped off. One day an elderly woman was brought before the king. The king looked at her and said, "You have been charged and found guilty of this crime. You know what the penalty is, but because you are my mother, I will take the penalty for you". And with that he placed his arm on the chopping block and had his hand suffered from his arm. You see if the king had simply overlooked his mother's crime, he would not have been a just king. So a penalty had to be exacted and he was the one who was willing to bear it.
The same thing is true for you and me. God is a holy God. "God's eyes are too pure to look upon iniquity," the Bible says. And that's why it is impossible for God to simply look away, to look over, to excuse our sin. If he did that, he would no longer be a just God. God's decree says, "The soul that sins shall die. Shall be separated from God for all eternity". But God was willing to take the penalty for you and me. And that's what he did when he came to suffer and die on that cross. And some inexplicably way Jesus experienced the full wrath of God. So that one day we could receive his blessing. A famous religious leader made headlines just a couple of years ago when he said, "Even unbelievers can be saved. All who live a just life will be saved even if they don't believe in Jesus. The Gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the beatitudes, the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life will enter God's kingdom".
If what that religious leader says is true then the cross of Jesus Christ was totally unnecessary. What he said was absolutely wrong. If there were any other way to be saved, then God did not need to come and do a cradle. He did not need to suffer that excruciating depth on the cross, the reason he did that was the cross represents man's only way to forgiveness and hope and Jesus. 700 years before Christ came Isaiah the prophet prophesied of what Christ would do for us. In Isaiah 53, he writes, "But he Messiah was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening of our wellbeing fell upon him. And by his scourging, we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity, the sin of us all, to fall upon him, Jesus".
The whole purpose of Christ coming is summarized on that cross. If the cradle represents the beginning of the Christmas story and the cross represents the main body of the story, then the climax of the Christmas story is found in the crown. It's a different kind of crown. It's not the one Jesus wore on Calvary. It is the crown he will wear when he returns to earth. The crown represents the promised second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Somebody has said, "When Jesus came the first time he came veiled in the form of a child. But one day when Jesus comes again, he will be recognized by all. The first time Jesus came a star marked his arrival, the next time Jesus comes, all the heaven will be lit by his glory". "The first time Jesus came only a few attended his arrival, but the next time Jesus comes every eye shall see him. The first time Jesus came, he came as a baby, but the next time Jesus comes, he will come as king of kings and Lord of Lords".
You know ultimately that's our only hope in this world that one day Christ is coming back. When the right will prevail. I don't have to tell you, we have in a live in a world that is marked, that is tainted by sin. And it causes so much heartache in every one of our lives. I was just reflecting on some conversations I've just had recently, talking with the wife of one of our deacons who just went to heaven as she mourned the loss of her husband. Talking to a young man who had just stood over the open grave of his mother. Hearing a little child cry uncontrollably, begging God to send her father back home. That's the kind of world that we live in. Maybe you're having trouble this morning, really entering into the celebration of Christmas. Perhaps it's because you're facing an uncertain future. Maybe a dream in your own life has died. Maybe you too are suffering the loss of a loved one. Either through death or desertion. The pain you feel right now is real, but it's also temporary. One day, Jesus is coming back again. And when he comes back again, he is going to put an end to suffering because he's going to put an end to the author of suffering, Satan himself.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul says that, "One day Satan, the author of all heartache will be revealed and the Lord will slay him with the breath of his mouth and bring him to an end by the brightness of Christ coming". The return of Jesus Christ is our hope, our only hope in this world. The apostle John described the return of Jesus Christ this way in revelation 19, he said, "After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven saying, 'hallelujah, salvation and glory and power belong to our God'. And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse, and he who sat on it is called faithful and true, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems many crowns: and he has a name written upon him, which no one knows except himself. And he is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called, the word of God".
The first time Jesus came, he came as Savior of the world. The next time Jesus comes, he is coming as judge of all the world. The first time Jesus came, he offered salvation. The next time Jesus comes, he's coming to offer condemnation. The coming of Jesus will be a great moment of rejoicing for those of us who know him. But for those who have rejected him, the coming of Jesus again will be a time marked by remorse and regret. I came across this piece recently listened to it carefully.
"Towards the night before Jesus came, and all through the house, not a creature was praying, not one in the house. The Bible was laid on the shelf without care in hopes that Jesus would not come there. The children were dressing to crawl into bed not once ever kneeling are bowing ahead. And mom and her rocker with baby on her lap was watching the late show while I took a nap. When out of the east, there arose such a clatter. I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash tore open the shutters threw up the sash. When what to my wondering eye should appear but angels proclaiming that Jesus was here. With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray, I knew in a moment that this must be the day, the light of his face made me cover my head. It was Jesus returning just as he'd said. And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth I cry when I saw him in spite of myself. In the book of life, which he held in his hand was written the name of every saved man. He spoke not a word as he searched for my name. When he said, it's not here, my head hung in shame. The people whose names had been written with love. He gathered to take to his father above. With those who were ready, he rose without a sound while all of the rest were standing around. I fell to my knees, but it was too late. I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate. I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight. If only I had been ready, tonight".
Jesus is coming back again. And that is the ultimate truth of the Christmas story. He is returning to reward the righteous and to punish the guilty. You know one of my favorite songs that we sing at this time of the year is "Joy to the world, the Lord is come"! Most people don't know that that song was never intended to be a Christmas carol. There are no mentions of angels and Bethlehem and a star. When Isaac watts wrote that hymn in 1719, he was writing not about the first coming of Jesus, he was riding it about the second coming of Jesus. This song was based on Psalm 98:9 that says, "For the Lord cometh to judge the earth with righteousness, he shall judge the world". Jesus is coming back, that is the hope of every one of us who is a believer here this morning. Jesus is coming back again. Are you ready?