December 17, 2008
By Derick Parfan
The Christmas story in Luke presented two contrasting responses to the word of God. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah the good news that his barren wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Because he doubted God’s words, the angel said, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (1:20). Zechariah did not believe at first.
On the other hand, Mary believed the words of Gabriel what she will give birth to the Messiah even though he was a virgin. Although there is some trace of doubts upon hearing it first, she indicates faith by saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). Her cousin Elizabeth pronounced the blessedness of believing God’s words, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45). Mary, in contrast to Zechariah, believed.
Today we also find two groups of people: those who do not believe and those who do believe. Many people celebrate Christmas without faith in Jesus. What is happening is lamentable. Even Christians celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ by joyfully trusting in him and in his words.
This season is a call for people to believe in the word of God that the Savior has indeed come. And Jesus demands that we believe not just in the words about him but in the Word himself. Jesus did not demand that we celebrate his birth. Jesus demands that we believe in him. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). It is better not to celebrate his birth than to celebrate it and not really believe in him.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Many people claim that they believe in Jesus, but do they really believe? In the Gospel of John, the verb “to believe” is used 98 times to indicate its importance in the Gospel. The noun “faith” does not occur even once. He wrote Jesus’ story “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Saving belief in Jesus is not just an intellectual assent to a set of propositions about Christ. Merely knowing and believing certain truths about Jesus won’t save anyone. Faith is more than that.
Believing in Jesus is a dynamic response to God’s revelation in Christ. The call to believe in Jesus is a call to trust him that he will save us from God’s wrath and bring us to eternal life with God. The judgment of God is hanging on everyone’s head, except when they believe in Jesus. Notice the words perish, condemn, and wrath in this passage:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:16-18, 36).
Jesus’ coming is a rescue mission. We are under condemnation because of our rebellion. Jesus came to rescue us from that condemnation. We are doomed to perish. Jesus came to save us and bring us to eternal life. And what is eternal life? It is not just the absence of God’s wrath but the experience of the pleasure of knowing God and being with him through Christ. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
The question each of us need to answer is not, How am I going to celebrate Christmas? Or, What gifts will I buy for someone? Or, What food will I prepare for the Noche Buena? Or, Will I go to our annual family reunion? The most important question to ask is, Do I believe in Jesus? Do I believe that he came to save humanity from God’s wrath and bring us to eternal life with him in heaven? Do I trust him to be with me during difficult times? Do I trust him that he will carry out his promises in this life and in the life to come? Do I trust him?
How about those who do not believe? What are we going to do with them? This Christmas is a call for us to point our unbelieving relatives, friends, and neighbors to Jesus. What good is it to celebrate Christmas parties with them if we will not help them know Jesus for who he really is? What good is it to give them a nice Christmas present if they will not receive the most wonderful Gift of Christmas – Jesus himself? What good is it to laugh with them and not share the joy of Jesus? What good is it to have fun with them and send them to everlasting misery in hell because we did not share Jesus? May we make it our commitment to share the good news of Christmas to at least one person before holiday season is over. Don’t just spend you vacation by watching a lot of DVDs. Spend it with friends who do not yet believe in Jesus. Share Jesus to them that they, too, might believe and be saved like you.
The office building where you are working collapsed after a major earthquake. You find yourself trapped inside a pile of rubbles. You are gasping for air. You cannot help yourself to get out because you broke your legs. You know you are dying in a short while. Then you saw someone through a small opening. It is the Rescuer! But he is not just the rescuer, he is your Friend. He told you to hold his hand and trust him to get you out. You did. After a few minutes you are out of the rubbles, now breathing easier and able to walk. But you don’t want to go home yet. There are still many people trapped in the rubbles. There are still many people dying. Though you are weak and helpless you will seek for your friends who needs to be rescued and point them to the Friend who rescued you. You will tell them that your Friend can be trusted and they need to hold his hand that they too might be saved.
The Christmas season is a call not just to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to believe in Jesus and to bring others to faith in Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Help others believe in our Jesus.