Stephen Hanna reminds us of a great Christmastime truth…
There’s an object that is very much part of the furniture at this time of year. In many homes, it‘s the ﬁrst thing put up and the last to be taken down. For some, Christmas would not be Christmas without it. I am, of course, referring to the Christmas tree!At this time of year, much attention is paid to the Christmas tree covered with tinsel, ornaments, and coloured lights. For a few weeks it is given a place of prominence within the home where it can be easily seen and its beauty enjoyed. Traditionally on Christmas morning, it is around the Christmas tree gifts are given and received.
But as we open our presents on Christmas Day, what tree are we most thankful for? I am not talking about the noble ﬁr. I am referring to another tree that might well be called the forgotten tree of Christmas.
This tree is not as attractive as all the Christmas ones. It’s the tree that reminds us of the purpose for which Jesus came to earth. We more commonly call it the old rugged cross.
At least three things can be said regarding the forgotten tree of Christmas.
It was to ‘this tree’ the Saviour came
Jesus always knew that the reason he was born in Bethlehem was to die one day in Jerusalem. Before our universe was created, he was the lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Even as a little boy of twelve he knew that he had to be about his Father’s business (See Luke 2:49).
He knew that doing the will of his heavenly Father would take him all the way to the cross. In Matthew 16:21, there was a time when he started to tell his disciples what would soon come to pass: ‘How that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.’
On the mount of transﬁguration when Peter, James and John saw Jesus clothed in the glory he had before coming to earth, he explained that he too would be rejected and killed as had John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13).
Throughout his ministry, Jesus used every avenue possible to show to his disciples why he came. He used parables, Old Testament references, and even a ﬂock of sheep to show that he was ‘the good shepherd: and the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11).
It was on this tree the Saviour died
John 19:28-30 tells us: ‘Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is ﬁnished!” and bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.’
The death of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago was not just a heroic act that caught the imagination of a band of men. It was a loving, courageous, death-defying mission of rescue – Jesus’ death was the turning point in human history, as a way was opened for sinful man to come to God.
The result of Jesus’ death on Calvary’s tree is that anyone who trusts in him is changed in their relationship with God. Changed in relationship to their personal sins. Changed too regarding the future, both in this life and in the life to come.
How can the death of one dramatically change the life of another? Jesus, himself, before bowing his head and giving up his spirit gave the answer. He proclaimed, ‘It is ﬁnished.’
With these three words, Jesus tells us that he completed what he came to do. He came to redeem men. ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
When we were in debt to sin Jesus paid the price through the shedding of his precious blood (Hebrews 9:22). When we were still slaves to sin, Jesus came to redeem us from bondage. We were condemned criminals before the judgment seat of God but Jesus bore the penalty of our sin in order to set us free. 1 Peter 2:24 reminds us that Jesus himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree.
Jesus’ death on the cross has made it possible for everyone who accepts him to be restored to fellowship with God (Colossians 1:20-21). We can begin walking with God and know a peace we’ve never known before. This peace comes through knowing that our sins are forgiven (Romans 5:10).
This is why the death of Christ on the cross is signiﬁcant and why lives are dramatically changed.
It is to this tree we all must look
In John’s gospel we are reminded, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15).
John is pointing us back to Numbers 21 to show why we all must look to the cross of Calvary. He recalls a situation when the people were dying because they had spoken against God.
Therefore, ‘God sent ﬁery serpents among them, and they bit the people, and many of the people died’ (v6). The people, realising that death was a consequence to their sin, came to Moses to seek God so the effects of their sin might somehow be removed.
God told Moses to put a brass serpent on a pole and if anyone was bitten and looked up at the serpent they would live (v9).
In the same way, we too must look to the cross, not because the cross has saving qualities but simply because Jesus Christ died to save sinners. It is through Jesus alone that forgiveness is found and the consequence of our sin is removed.
This Christmas morning…
This Christmas morning, you will wake up to receive gifts purchased especially for you. As you open your gifts taken from under a beautifully decorated tree, you will appreciate how much you are loved by your friends and family.
My prayer is that you will remember ‘the Forgotten Tree of Christmas’pea!
To some it may not be as attractive but on the cross a far greater and lasting love was displayed – ‘God commended his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8).
Christmas will soon be forgotten for another year but I hope none of us will forget the tree on which Jesus died to give us the greatest gift of all – eternal life. Like any gift, it has been bought with a great price; it is up to everyone to receive it.
Stephen Hanna pastors Lisburn Congregational Church (Ulster), Northern Ireland. Link: email@example.com / http://lisburncongregational.com