We live in a day when Christmas has become a controversial holiday. If you doubt that statement, just try putting up a manger scene on public property. Or try saying “Merry Christmas” instead of the ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” Sometimes it seems as if there are more lawsuits than Christmas carols. Every year more and more people get offended by what were once considered innocent displays of Christmas cheer. To be sure, sometimes Christians can be offensive in the way we share our faith, and we do not disagree with those who argue for not subjecting others to unnecessary embarrassment. But at the heart of the matter is this truth: Some people are unhappy with Christmas because they want nothing to do with Jesus Christ. They’ve heard enough and seen enough, and like Ebenezer Scrooge, they say “Bah Humbug!” to the baby who “sleeps in heavenly peace” in the manger.
Alas, some people aren’t happy about Christmas. I wish it were not so, but it is, and there is very little we can do about it. By that I mean that unhappy people are unhappy in themselves and until they change on the inside, nothing we do or say will make much difference. I mention this not to deride anyone or to deny people the right to their unbelief. Certainly unbelief has a long and honored history in the western world. For that matter, the first Christmas was met with indifference, unbelief, and (in the case of King Herod) outright hostility. So perhaps it is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are still those who would devalue Jesus Christ by making him simply a good man, a teacher of morality, a religious leader, or perhaps one among many Saviors of the world. The practical effect of this devaluing of Jesus is always the same. If you can reduce Jesus to something less than God in human flesh, then you can put him in a box and forget about him. After all, if he’s just one more ancient teacher of morality, then perhaps his words should be studied in a classroom but they can hardly be taken as definitive, and certainly we don’t need to trouble ourselves with the need to worship an “ancient teacher” or sing songs in honor of his birth.
Back to the Bible
With that in mind, I propose that we revisit the birth of Christ to ask an all-important question: Who is that baby in the manger? On one level, we know who he is. He is Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary. This we know and this we believe and this we proclaim with all other Christians. But that hardly exhausts the answer. Who is that baby? And who is he to us? What is our answer to the postmodern reductionism that turns Jesus into something less than “the Word made flesh?”
It should be clear at the outset that our only reliable source for answering these questions is the Bible, the Word of God. And if we go to the Bible, we quickly discover that it will not allow us to reduce Jesus in any way whatsoever. Who is that Baby? He is truly and completely God. If we disagree with that, then we disagree with God himself.
But is the Bible really so categorically clear on this topic? I answer yes and could prove it to you from 20 different passages. But for this message we will limit ourselves to just one—the majestic opening verses of the epistle to the Hebrews. In just three verses we discover that Jesus is God’s final word to humanity and lest we misunderstand, the writer gives us a sevenfold description of who Jesus really is.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).
I. He is the Heir of All Things.
“Whom he appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). God has appointed Jesus as heir of all things. I understand this from a personal point of view. When my father died in 1974, I found out that my name had been written in his will. That meant that along with my brothers and my mother, I shared in my father’s estate. It also meant that I received a nice black and white checked sports coat he used to wear. I received it because I was an heir to what my father possessed. The same is true for my three sons—Joshua, Mark and Nicholas. They are named in my will. And after I’m gone, they can go through my clothes and take anything they like. It’s fine with me because I’m planning on a new wardrobe when I get to heaven.
To say that God has appointed Jesus heir of all things means that God has given everything to his Son. The deepest oceans. The farthest stars. The darkest corners. The highest mountains. It all belongs to him. Today it doesn’t appear that everything belongs to Jesus because Satan is a squatter who illegally claims the earth as his domain. But in the end Satan will be overthrown and Jesus installed as the rightful king of the universe. This means that when you come to the end of everything, Jesus is there! It may seem from a brief glance at the scoreboard that Satan is winning in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. But as they say in the election business, those are just “partial returns.” When all the votes are counted, those who stand with Jesus will find themselves on the victorious side. As Isaac Watts put it in his great hymn written in 1719, “Jesus shall reign where ’ere the sun, doth its successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”
II. He is the Creator of the Universe.
Through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus is the agent of creation and the Lord of the epochs of history. At the Father’s command, he brought the universe into being and he wrote the script for the unfolding ages. Through him God made everything. There are really only two choices a person can make as he studies the universe. Either you believe that everything is the result of infinite time plus blind chance or you believe that the universe is the result of God’s divine design. This means that all true science leads back to God. All true biology leads to God. All true botany, all true chemistry, all true physics, all true geology, and all true astronomy leads back to God. The Father delegated to his Son the work of bringing the universe into being and nothing was made except through him.
Think for a moment about these first two great statements. Jesus Christ is the Agent of Creation and the Heir of All Things. He was there at the beginning and he will be there at the end. And he is the Lord of everything in between. Truly he is the Alpha and Omega, the Creator, the Lord, the King.
Everywhere you turn, you run into Jesus. You have to shut your eyes to keep from seeing him! This is why atheism is the most unnatural philosophy in the world. We are made in God’s image, with an inborn desire to know God, and with the knowledge of God streaming in on every side. You have to deliberately reject the truth to become an atheist.
Let’s make this more personal. Not only did the Lord Jesus create the universe, he also created you and me. Psalm 139:14 says that we were “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We owe every part of our physical existence to the Lord Jesus Christ. As one simple example, consider the intricacies of your own blood. Leviticus 17:11 declares that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Here is a statement made 3500 years ago that scientists now tell us is 100% accurate. Blood is truly the fluid of life. Your blood is made up of cells and plasma. As the blood flows through the heart, it is pumped through arteries, veins and capillaries to every part of your body. The blood delivers oxygen and nutrients and removes waste products. Adults have about 5.3 quarts of blood—almost a gallon and a half. A little over half is plasma, which contains electrolytes, nutrients and vitamins, carbohydrates, cholesterol, hormones, clotting factors, and proteins such as albumin and immunoglobulins which are really antibodies that fight infection. The cellular portion contains red blood cells (carry oxygen from the lungs), white blood cells (fight infection), platelets (help clot the blood so you don’t bleed to death). Plasma (the liquid portion of the blood) is 90% water, yet the 10% of material dissolved in it is absolutely crucial for proper bodily function. These various elements are pumped by the body as directed by the brain to the places where they are needed most. Plasma also contains substances called electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, calcium and magnesium. These vital chemicals help in such things as fluid balance, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood clotting. At the same time the plasma removes waste and sends it to the kidneys and to the lungs. All during this never-ending process, there is pressure from the heart that sends the blood outward and there is pressure inside the vessels produced by proteins in the blood that keep the blood level constant and the pressure rightly adjusted. When you take medication, it is the blood that rushes it along to the place where it is needed.
The blood flows into the right side of the heart and then goes to the lungs where it deposits carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen. From there the blood goes back to the left side of the heart and then out to the various parts of the body. The average adult heart beats 72 times per minute. In the course of one day the heart beats over 100,000 times. In one year the heart beats almost 38 million times, and by the time you are 70 years old it has beat 2.5 billion times! An average heart pumps 1.3 gallons per minute. In other words it pumps 1,900 gallons per day, almost 700,000 gallons per year, or 48 million gallons by the time someone is 70 years old. That’s not bad for a ten-ounce pump!
And this just scratches the surface of what the blood does and how it works. And blood is only one part of your body. How can anyone study the complexity of the human body and think that it all happened by chance? It takes more faith to believe that than to believe that your body was divinely created by God.
Jesus is the Lord of your blood. He created it just for you. Every drop comes from him and every drop is precious to him.
III. He is the Radiance of God’s Glory.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3). The word for radiance was used for sunlight streaming from the sun. Jesus is the blazing radiance of the glory of God. What sunlight is to the sun, Jesus is to God. It would be easier to try to separate sunlight from the sun than to separate the Son from God.
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is not some grimy, blurry image of the Almighty. He isn’t the sun peeking through the clouds. He is the blazing, magnificent revelation of God himself. Jesus is a clear picture of God. He radiates the glory of God. Theologians have a word for this. They say the Son is “co-essential” with the Father. That means the Father and the Son share the same essence. The Father is God and the Son is God.
IV. He is the Exact Representation of God’s Nature.
“The exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). The phrase “exact representation” comes from the Greek word charakter, from which we get the English word “character.” Jesus shares in the character of God. This word was used for the impression made by an engraving tool when it was stamped into metal in order to make a coin. The image on the coin was precisely the image on the engraving tool. So Jesus is stamped with the image of God. This is why Saint Athanasius declared, “Jesus whom I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God.”
He is the “radiance of God’s glory” and the “exact representation of his being.” These two expressions taken together are a powerful statement of the Son’s full deity. Theologians refer to Jesus as the “only-begotten.” That term means “one-and-only.” We can truly say that not only is Jesus the Son of God, he is also God the Son. When we see Jesus Christ, we have seen as much of God as it is possible for us to see.
V. He is the Sustainer of All Things.
“Sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). A recent issue of U.S. News and World Report says that the United States will soon launch a space station into orbit in an attempt to define gravity. That’s an interesting thought. We’ve known what gravity is for hundreds of years, but we don’t know how it works and we really don’t know what it is or where it comes from. There is a vast movement in science today seeking to discover what makes the universe hold together. What is the power behind the power behind the power? What is the Ultimate Force in the universe? Our text makes clear that the answer is not a what but a who. What makes the universe hold together? Jesus Christ is the power behind all power. He holds the universe in place by his powerful word.
Note that this is a present tense. Even now Jesus is “sustaining” the whole universe. All things hold together in him and for him and by him. His power is greater than nuclear power and his force is mightier than the mystical Force of the Star Wars movies. His might is mightier than the might of all the mighty men on earth.
Think of it. Were he to say the word, Oak Park would be no more. Just a word and we would all perish. Do you realize that if Jesus stopped thinking about you, you would cease to exist? You owe your next breath to the fact that Jesus Christ is thinking about you. He sustains you so that you can breathe. Without him, you would not be reading these words.
It is ironic to consider that even atheists must use the power he provides to deny his very existence. They shoot their cannons of unbelief on the ground he has provided. The atheists owe their existence to the One they so vigorously deny.
Jesus is the nucleus of creation and “the glue of the galaxies.”
VI. He is our Savior.
“After he had provided purification for sins” (Hebrews 1:3). The King James version adds the words “by himself” after the word “he” and I think it is correct. Note the tense. It is “had provided,” not “will provide” or “is providing.” He died once for all time. His death on the cross was the complete payment for our sins. That is why he cried out, “It is finished.” He purged us from our sins. I was dirty … he was clean. He become dirty … that I might be made clean. I’m never going to face purgatory because he purged me from my sins. I’ve been purged from my sins through his death. My “purgatory” happened 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross.
This means that all efforts at self-reformation as a means of salvation are doomed to failure. You can clean yourself up if you like, but it will not help you gain merit with God. It is only by Jesus’ atoning death that we are forgiven by God. To add anything else to the work of Christ is nothing less than blasphemy. Biblical salvation means trusting Jesus Christ so completely that if his death is not enough to take you to heaven, you aren’t going to go there.
Jesus died that he might save us. This is why the angel declared in Luke 2:11 “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” In these pluralistic days when the world wants to water down what we believe, let us declare the truth very plainly. Jesus is not a good way to heaven or the best way to heaven. He is the only way to heaven.
VII. He is now seated at God’s Right Hand.
“He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). He sat down when he returned to heaven because his work was done. Nothing can be added to the work Christ accomplished on the cross. When it comes to salvation, there is no room for self-cleansing, for penance, or for human merit. God is fully satisfied with the sacrifice of his Son. Nothing can ever be added to the merit of his blood. Until you come to the end of your striving and trust in him, you can never be saved. Until you are satisfied with what Jesus has done, you are still in your sins.
He sat down at the “right hand” of God. This is the place of highest honor. Jesus sits today at God’s right hand because it is the highest honor God could give his Son. If there were another crown, he would wear it. If there were another honor, he would have it. But the “right hand” of God the Father is the highest honor in the universe. That’s where Jesus is today.
We may therefore say with confidence that Jesus is at the very center of the universe. He is Lord and he is King. He is where God is. We all want an inside source, a friend in high places, someone who can help us when we are in trouble. Sometimes reporters talk about a “highly-placed source” who gave them certain information. The higher the source, the closer you come to the seat of power. Since the Son is at the Father’s right hand, we have a friend in heaven who dwells eternally at the throne of God. When we pray, we are talking to One who is at the very center of all things.
Even now Jesus reigns from heaven. Even now he reigns over the devil. He reigns over the elements of nature. He reigns over the past, the present and the future. He reigns over cancer and heart attacks and over death itself. Someday soon he will return to the earth and reign visibly from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
God has given him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). Today we confess this by faith. One day the whole universe will bow—willingly or unwillingly—to openly declare that Jesus is Lord.
Who is that Baby? Let us heed the answer of our text. He is …
The Heir of All Things.
The Creator of the Universe.
The Radiance of God’s Glory.
The Exact Representation of God’s Nature.
The Sustainer of All Things.
Now Seated at God’s Right Hand.
That’s who Jesus is. That’s the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. This is the true identity of the baby born to Mary that night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
To the architect he is the chief cornerstone.
To the banker he is the hidden treasure.
To the baker he is the living bread.
To the builder he is the sure foundation.
To the doctor he is the great physician.
To the educator he is the master teacher.
To the farmer he is the Lord of the harvest.
To the florist he is the lily of the valley.
To the geologist he is the rock of ages.
But who is Jesus to you? Do you know him? Do you know this Jesus? Is he your Savior?
This week a friend sent me an e-mail containing the following poem. It seems to summarize some of the truths we’ve talked about in this message:
The Word of God became flesh.
The Son of God became man.
The Lord of All became a servant.
The Righteous One was made sin.
The Eternal One tasted death.
The Risen One now lives in men.
The Seated One is coming again.
As we come to the close, let me encourage you to think carefully about who Jesus really is. You don’t have to take my word for it. Check it out for yourself! This is far too important an issue to decide lightly. And you don’t have to believe what I am saying just because I said it. Take the time to check things out. Read the New Testament. Make up your own mind. But whatever you do, don’t be casual about Christ. What you believe about the Babe of Bethlehem is a life and death matter with eternal implications.
In just a few days Christmas will be here. Then all too soon we will launch into another busy year. Before you take down the ornaments and put away the Christmas music for another year, take time to discover who Jesus really is. Don’t walk away from the manger this year without coming to grips with the tiny baby who sleeps there. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why was he born? And what difference does his coming make to you? Find out if what the angels said is true. And if it is true, make this a time to get to know him better. There is no more important quest in all the universe! If you will truly seek to know God, you will eventually be led by the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ.
All that God has to say to us can be wrapped up in one word: “Jesus.” And not just any Jesus, but only the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament. He alone is the Lord from heaven. He alone can save us. All that God has for you and me is wrapped up in his Son. No matter what difficulties we face or the decisions we must make, in the end God leads us back to that simple one-word answer: “Jesus.”
In an interview with David Frost that was broadcast on PBS, Billy Graham said he hoped the last word he uttered before dying was simply this: “Jesus.” We can’t do any better than that.
Our Father, we thank you for the Lord of Glory. We do not have words to set forth the wonder of the coming of the Son of Man. We stand amazed that the eternal God should enter our world as a helpless baby in order that one day he might die to set us free from our sins. We thank you for it. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. Thank you for dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Loving Father, grant that our hearts might be filled with joy this Christmas season. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior, Amen.