Truth and Christmas
What is Christmas all about? What are we to learn from God becoming a man? These should be pressing questions during this holiday season. And while these questions point us to great mysteries, they are also matters about which the Bible speaks plainly. In fact, on a number of occasions Jesus himself – the God-man – teaches with great clarity about the meaning and purpose of His entrance into the world as a human baby. Most often Jesus explains the purpose of the incarnation by focusing on the death he needed to die and the obedience to the Father he needed to display.
Hebrews 10 – quoting from Psalm 40 – combines these elements, telling us, “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.’ Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’” This is near to the heart of the incarnation: Jesus came to die; and His life on earth – from beginning to end – was lived in obedience to the revealed will of His heavenly Father.
But if that was what Christ said when He came into the world, it is worth noting what he said when he neared the end of his earthly life. In a moment of high drama, Jesus was brought before Pilate, a military commander and judge in Judea. Jesus boldly declared that he was a king, but a king with a kingdom “not from this world.” Pilate pressed him further, so Jesus gave another statement about his incarnation: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.” The incarnation of Jesus – his birth and entrance into the world – had as its purpose giving witness to the truth.
This is a necessary message in any age, but it seems increasingly important in our own. In an age that philosophically despairs of the existence of truth, we need to be reminded that truth does indeed exist. And in a time which increasingly (and often with good reason) looks on claims of truth as power-plays and spin-jobs, Jesus declares unashamedly and un-ironically that his purpose is to declare the truth. That means that one of the things we should celebrate at Christmastime is the existence of truth, and of Jesus as the supreme witness of the truth.
This sounds obvious. Who would want to celebrate Christmas if Jesus was a charlatan, a liar, or an ignoramus? But remember, this same Jesus who said he came to earth to testify to the truth also held an remarkably high view of the Bible (Matt 4:4; 22:32); he was exclusive in his claim to be the only way to God and to eternal life (John 14:6); he believed and taught that no one could approach him unless the Father first drew that person (John 6:65); he taught that we needed to forgive those who have wronged us (Matt 18:22). None of these claims are incidental to his ministry. And yet we shy away from these them as if they are matters for debate or equivocation. Are we not guilty of celebrating the incarnation while implicitly denying the purpose of the incarnation? Jesus came to earth to bear witness to the truth.
When Jesus made his statement before Pilate concerning truth and the incarnation, he followed by explaining how those who love the truth respond to him: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” That is the mark of those who are of the truth. Searching for truth may be worth our admiration; but those who are of the truth trust and obey Jesus – the one who came to earth for the purpose of declaring the truth. May that be said of us this Christmas.
There are other alternatives, of course. You can certainly find many today who celebrate Jesus’ birth without celebrating the purpose of his birth. There was, of course, an alternative response to Jesus’ claim at the trial before Pilate, too. Pilate heard the words about Jesus and truth and responded with skepticism or perhaps carelessness – it hardly matters which. He responded with the ultimate dodge: “What is truth?” In the incarnation we find the answer.