When the Infinite Became an Infant
December 25, 2022 | Brian Bill
When I spoke at Second Winders earlier this month, I started with a couple Christmas quizzes. You would think because of the wisdom of these older saints, they would have aced these tests. Not so much. I came up with some new quiz questions to see how you’ll do.
Q: What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
A: Frosted flakes.
Q: Why is everyone so thirsty at the North Pole?
A: No well, no well.
Q: What did Adam say to his wife last night?
A: “It’s Christmas, Eve!”
Q: What did the third wise man say after his friends had already given gold and frankincense?
A: “But wait, there’s myrrh!”
Q: What do you call a snowman having a temper tantrum?
A: A meltdown.
OK, now let’s take a “Christmas According to the Bible Quiz” to see how well we know the facts about the first Christmas.
- How many wisemen came to see Jesus?
- We don’t really know
The correct answer is “D.” Many people assume there were three because of the three gifts. However, in ancient times they would have traveled in large caravans, along with a full entourage for protection.
- Where did the wisemen find Jesus?
- In Herod’s palace.
- In the Jewish Temple.
- In the stable.
- In a house.
The correct answer is “D.” By the time the Magi appeared, Jesus had been moved from the manger to a house. Listen to Matthew 2:11: “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.” Incidentally, the Greek word used for “child” is “toddler, or young child,” so He was somewhere between 12-24 months old.
- What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
- “There is no room in the inn”
- “I have a stable you can use”
- None of the above
- Both of the above
Actually, there’s no record of the innkeeper saying anything. In fact, the innkeeper is not mentioned at all in the Bible. The correct answer is “C.” Luke 2:7 simply states: “…because there was no place for them in the inn.”
- In what books of the Bible can you find the Christmas story?
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- Matthew and Luke
- Mark and Matthew
- Matthew, Mark, and Luke
The correct choice is “B” – Matthew and Luke. These two gospels narrate the birth of Jesus and provide much of what we know about the first Christmas. While the Gospel of Mark focuses on the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel of John begins much earlier than even the accounts of Matthew and Luke.
The Apostle John takes us back to the beginning, to show us that Jesus had no beginning. He goes behind creation to show the baby in the feeding trough was the Creator of the world. John does not use a narrative but instead gives us the theology behind the nativity.
John’s gospel begins with a prologue which will give us some clues about the identity of the infant in the manger.
Please turn to John 1:1-5; 9-14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Let’s look at the reality of Jesus and then at our response to Him.
The Reality of Jesus
1. The Infant is Infinite.
For many years I thought Jesus got his start when He was born. The fact of the matter is Jesus Christ has always existed according to verses 1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Jesus is before the beginning of time as He said in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was born, I am.” He is eternal, or infinite because He has always existed. This passage reminds us of the opening words of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God…” We’ll return to our study in Genesis in January.
The word “word” is the Greek “logos,” which refers to Jesus Christ, the second member of the Trinity. In Greek culture, logos, was that which gave meaning to all things. The philosopher Philo saw the logos as a bridge between a transcendent God and the material universe. John is using a term that everyone would be familiar with and yet he expands and transcends its meaning. Since a word is an audible or visible expression of a thought, Jesus perfectly revealed what was going on in the mind of God. He’s the bridge between God and us.
The “Word was with God,” indicates Jesus Christ has always existed in a face-to-face relationship with the Father. Jesus was not only in the closest possible fellowship with God, the “Word was God.” Verse 2 summarizes, and repeats verse 1 in order to make sure we grasp the magnitude of this truth: “He was in the beginning with God.” The Infant is Infinite.
2. Christ is the Creator.
We see in verse 3 that Christ is also the Creator: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was not made.” Jesus is both the creator and sustainer of all things.
3. The Lord is Life and Light.
Look at verses 4-5: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Bible begins with physical darkness in Genesis 1. To correct this darkness God said, “let there be light.”
Spiritual darkness spilled into our world in Genesis 3 and can only be removed by the Lord who is life and light. As the light, Jesus shines into the darkness, and those who have not yet received Him are still in the dark and cannot understand Him. Many people today do not comprehend the real meaning of Christmas. It’s because the world in general has no place for Christ.
The darkness cannot ultimately put out the light because light is more powerful than darkness
The word, “overcome” means “to lay hold of, to seize or grasp.” The darkness cannot ultimately put out the light because light is more powerful than darkness. Darkness by its very nature refuses to come into the light because darkness and light are mutually exclusive. If you have one, you do not have the other. Those in darkness cannot readily understand the Lord who is life and light.
Verse 9 reveals that Jesus Himself is the true light that gives light to every person. Unfortunately, for many of us, we’d rather live in the dark.
Light and darkness are recurring themes in the Gospel of John. People love one or the other, but not both.
Four years ago, about 70 of us went caroling in the neighborhoods around Edgewood. We divided into four different groups to sing carols about Christ. I noticed a number of different reactions and responses that correlate to how some of you might be feeling toward Immanuel right now.
- Some were just not home. The message came but no one was there to hear it. Perhaps you don’t put yourself in a position very often to hear the message.
- A few were too busy and told us they didn’t have time. Does that describe you?
- One man cracked the door open but when he understood what we were doing, he quickly shut the door and turned off the light. Have you shut the door on spiritual matters?
- A couple people hid in the house and didn’t answer. Have you been hiding from God?
- Others opened the door with big smiles on their faces and leaned forward to hear the music.
- Some invited the rest of their family to come and hear about Christ.
- A number were really happy, thanked us, and even applauded.
- One man came to the door on his hands and knees because he couldn’t walk. He listened to the songs of Christmas and thanked us for coming. I was very moved by his posture and the effort it took for him to hear the message of Christmas.
What about you? Will you open the door to Jesus Christ today or will you slam it shut on the Savior? Will you run and hide? Are you ready to come to Him on your knees, bowing before His supremacy, ready to confess that He is Lord and Christ? You can have Immanuel with you, right now.
The Response to Jesus
Let’s look now at three responses to Jesus.
1. You may not recognize Him.
Unfortunately, even after all Jesus did to dwell among us, verse 10 reveals that Immanuel is often ignored: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.”
With all the tinsel of Christmas, it’s easy to blow right past the birth of Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Everything starts with this truth: Jesus Christ was in the world. And He was here for more than a fleeting visit, having walked on this planet for 33 years. He was one of us and lived among us. J.B. Phillips put it this way, “We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.
There has always been a great divide among people. When He came the first time, Herod hated him, the scribes ignored Him, and there was no room for Him in the inn. Only the shepherds and the wise men, the poor, the foreigners, the meek and marginalized, welcomed him to earth.
Not much has changed as we see the birth of Jesus slipping from our cultural discourse. He came to the world He created, and the “the world did not know him.”
In 1932, Robert McGimsey attended a Christmas Eve service in New York City and then headed back to his one-room apartment. As he walked the final blocks, he passed by the open doors of private clubs where people were partying. They didn’t seem to have a clue that it was Christmas Eve, and if they did, they didn’t seem to care. As he stepped over people who had passed out on the sidewalk, he thought to himself, “What a strange way to celebrate the birth of the most perfect Person who ever lived on this earth. People are missing the whole significance of His life.”
When he arrived home, he scribbled some words on the back of an envelope.
“Sweet little Jesus Boy, they made you be born in a manger. Sweet little holy Child didn’t know who you was. Didn’t know you’d come to save us, Lord, to take our sins away. Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see, we didn’t know who you was.
Have you been ignoring Jesus this year? Don’t let this Christmas pass by without figuring out why Jesus came.
2. You might reject Him.
While some are apathetic and ignore the Christ of Christmas, others reject Him outright. Listen to verse 11: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Jesus came to the people who should have known Him best, but they wanted nothing to do with Him. The idiom “came to his own” means “to come home.” Jesus came “home” to his own people, and they wouldn’t take Him in.
They should have known better because they knew He was coming. Every book in the Old Testament testifies to this one great truth: He’s coming. One day God would send His Messiah to deliver His people Israel. And when Jesus finally arrived, they didn’t receive Him because they didn’t want to. To not receive means, “to reject.” Instead of welcoming Him home, they drove Him away.
This is not just an historical observation; it’s a profound theological statement. In general, humans reject God. And the reason we reject Him is because we want to. Frankly, many don’t believe in God because they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. While some seem to be sincere seekers of Christ, the Bible says most are looking to be rid of Him. People are blind because it’s their very nature to reject the light.
3. You must receive Him.
While the world did not recognize Him and His own people rejected Him, there have always been some who receive Him. John 1:12 explains clearly how someone can personally become a Christian: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Notice three key words
- Believe. To believe means to engage your total being so that you put your trust completely in Christ as an act of the will.
- Receive. To receive means, “To take, or to seize.” Have you taken hold of Him?
- Become. The moment you receive Christ into your life, God gives you the right to become a member of His family.
Believe, Receive, and Become. We must first believe that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God the Father. Then we must personally receive what He has done on the cross and through the resurrection by appropriating the gift of salvation. Then, we become children of God.
Verse 13 makes it clear salvation doesn’t run automatically from one generation to another. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “You will never go to heaven in a crowd.” God saves individuals, not masses or groups.
The whole gospel is in the little phrase “born of God.” Salvation is of the Lord. It’s a gift—totally free and totally of grace. It’s not a cooperative venture where you do your part and God does his. We may ask, “Don’t I have a part to play in salvation?” We do indeed have a part. Our part is to be hopelessly lost in sin and God’s part is to save us. That way God alone gets the credit. Salvation is a work of God from first to last and is wrapped up in the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
The infant is infinite, Christ is the creator, and the Lord is life and light. Recognize Him for who He is. Don’t reject Him. Receive Him as your Lord and Savior right now.
No one “drifts” or stumbles into Heaven by accident
When it comes to great spiritual issues there can be no neutrality. No one “drifts” or stumbles into Heaven by accident. God has no natural-born children. At some point you must consciously believe and receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. To fully understand the reason for Christmas, we must respond to the reality of Christ and be born again.
One pastor has some good insight when he says, “We are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud…the Christmas story…is not about how blessed it is to be givers but how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.”
The most important Christmas quiz is not focused on what you know, but on whom you know. The key is not information, but life transformation. Most of us have enough data; we just need to make a decision. There’s another quiz coming. Actually, it’s your final exam and it only has one question on it: Here it is: Have you repented and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you answer “yes,” you pass and will spend eternity in heaven. If the answer is “no,” you fail and will spend eternity in Hell.
Jesus aced the exam and wants to give you credit for what He has done. But you must believe, receive, and become His child for His perfect score to be applied to the gradebook.
Ponder the mystery contained in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” One paraphrase captures it like this “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
I received a letter this week from some friends who live in India which captures the reality of the incarnation.
I was asked to visit a dear old lady in our community yesterday. She mentioned that there had been a lot of fighting outside of her home in recent days. She was beginning to feel unsafe.
“Would you pray for my neighbors? The fighting never seems to end. The drinking and punching and screaming wake me up in the night.”
I went with another young Indian woman who has become a dear friend. We had to tiptoe past animal and human waste to get there. People stared and asked where we were going…and laughed when we told them that we were visiting “a nobody.”
When we arrived, this auntie greeted us with tears and exclaimed, “You came!” We squeezed inside her tiny home…ten feet by 6 feet. I asked her what else we could pray about besides the fighting and chaos in the evenings.
“The rats,” she said. “The rats are really bad right now. They’re eating my clothes.”
Words caught in my throat. How do you respond to that?
I thought for a minute and said, “The place where Jesus was born probably had rats.” She was shocked. “How can this be?” I reminded her that He was born in a place that would have housed animals. In villages all across India, animals often live downstairs from the family in straw-filled areas like this one pictured. It’s easy for us on this side of the world to imagine the first nativity.
We chatted for a while, prayed, and discussed a plan to ensure her safety. As we hugged goodbye, my eyes welled with tears. I grieved for her situation. I grieved for mine. I grieved that the incarnation was so much harder and messier than I ever imagine.
I don’t know where you are this Christmas. I don’t know if you are partying and singing and planning and getting together with family. I don’t know if you’re taking chemo or planning a funeral or aren’t welcome with family. But one thing I do know. Because God became man, He is not unfamiliar with our situations…no matter how grievous they are. And in these coming days, may we remind ourselves and each other of that eternal truth.
I want to give you an opportunity to be a receiver by accepting the greatest Christmas gift of all time. Will you receive Him on Christmas Day? The Bible says if you don’t receive Him, you’ve already rejected Him.
I like one of the lyrics we sang earlier from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It goes like this: “Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.” Matt Smethurst tweeted this week: “Jesus was born once so you could be born twice.”
If you’re ready to believe and receive so you can be born again and become God’s child, I invite you to pray this prayer with me.
Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I confess that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I acknowledge that you are infinite; that you’re the creator, and that you are life and light itself. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe and now I receive, so that I can be born again and become your child. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.