Born to Die, and Live…For You and Me


December 16, 2001 ~ Crossroads Community Church


I have a Christmas tape I used to listen to; one of the songs on this tape goes in part like this:

The perfect tree grew very long ago

And it was not decked with silver or with ornaments of gold

But hanging from its branches was a gift for you and me

Jesus laid His life down on the perfect tree


Ray Boltz "The Perfect Tree"

While these at first may seem to be an odd group of words to include on a Christmas tape they are perfectly in keeping with the topic of this morning’s message: "Born to Die, and Live…For You and Me!" The point that I wish to make this morning is that from the Christian point of view the celebration of Christmas has no significance if we do not remember Easter. The whole point of the gospel presentation of the life of Christ is that He came to die, for you and me. In fact the message of the entire Bible centers on the necessity of Jesus’ death.


Now the question that would immediately come to my mind if I did not already know the story would be "Why?" Why did Jesus have to die? Why does death have to make its presence felt during my Christmas celebration? And so, assuming that there are those among us today who are asking these questions, or others similar to them, we will spend a few minutes looking at the answers.


First let’s look at an event that happened when Joseph and Mary went to present Jesus at the temple:


Luke 2:25-35 - (25) Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. (26) It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (27) He came in the Spirit into the temple. When the parents brought in the child, Jesus, that they might do concerning him according to the custom of the law, (28) then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, (29) "Now you are releasing your servant, Master, According to your word, in peace; (30) For my eyes have seen your salvation, (31) Which you have prepared before the face of all peoples; (32) A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of your people Israel." (33) Joseph and his mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, (34) and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. (35) Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

Jesus was just eight days old when the incident above took place. For the past several months both Mary and Joseph must have been tremendously excited that God would send His Messiah to the world through them. Imagine what must have gone through their minds when they hear the prophecy which Simeon spoke concerning Jesus: "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of your people Israel." Then just as the importance of all that has recently happened once again overwhelms them Simeon goes on, saying: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Here is a mother holding her new-born son, filled with wonder at all that God has accomplished, and she hears that because of this boy a sword would pierce her own soul. This is not the normal praise that mothers have grown to expect, but it is significant for that very reason for death was the single most important reason of His birth.


Death was present when the wise men presented their gifts:

Matthew 2:9-11 - (9) They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was. (10) When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (11) They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The significance of this is that myrrh was used both as a perfume and as a spice for embalming.


Death again attends Jesus’ birth as a fearful Herod kills all the boys under two years of age in the region of Bethlehem in an attempt to remove a potential rival:

Matthew 2:16 - Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men.

Death fled when Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave:

John 11:43-44 - (43) When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (44) He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Free him, and let him go."

Jesus Himself makes repeated reference to His own death and resurrection:

Matthew 16:21 - From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.

Death is defeated in Jesus’ resurrection:

Luke 24:1-7 - (1) But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they and some others came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. (2) They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. (3) They entered in, and didn't find the Lord Jesus' body. (4) It happened, while they were greatly perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling clothing. (5) Becoming terrified, they bowed their faces down to the earth. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? (6) He isn't here, but is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee, (7) saying that the Son of Man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again?"

And in our scripture reading this morning death is prophesied when Jesus is but eight days of age. But death was not simply a part of Jesus’ life and ministry; death had been symbolically prophesied centuries earlier, even from the beginning of the Bible.


When this series began Lynette read from Genesis 3:15 where God placed a curse on the serpent that had successfully tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God:

Genesis 3:15 - I will put enmity [hatred] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel."

From that time on mankind has been in a constant state of rebellion against God. Not one of us is innocent, all of us have sinned in doing what God has told us not to do. But the problem is not just that mankind keeps running away from God but that mankind in the general sense does not care that they are running away from God. In order for this problem of rebellion to be corrected two things had to happen: The first was that man had to become aware of his sin, he had to be introduced to the reality of his shortcomings and become concerned at the desperate situation that he was in. The second was that some provision had to be made by which the sins of man could be forgiven, somehow man had to be taken out of his situation and made right with God.


The Bible makes it clear that man was too deeply stained with sin to not really care how he stood with God or what the consequence of his sin would be. Isaiah, a prophet, wrote these words:

Isaiah 53:6 - All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way, and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Seven hundred years later the apostle Paul described the result of this straying and the reward of the provision which God has established through Jesus Christ:

Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the book of Leviticus we can see indications of the provision God was making to forgive these sins:

Leviticus 16:5-10; 21-22 - (5) "He (Aaron) shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering (6) Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. (7) He shall take the two goats, and set them before God at the door of the Tent of Meeting. (8) Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats; one lot for God, and the other lot for the scapegoat. (9) Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for God, and offer him for a sin offering. (10) But the goat, on which the lot fell for the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before God, to make atonement for him, to send him away for the scapegoat into the wilderness….(21) Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. (22) The goat shall carry all their iniquities on himself to a solitary land, and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness."

The nation of Israel, recently freed from their Egyptian slavery, was on its way to the land of Canaan, and was camped before Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to serve as a guide for the Israelites. What was read from the book of Leviticus is just a small bit of what God told Moses on the mountain and tells us the specifics of an annual celebration called The Day of Atonement. This was the day on which God would in dramatic fashion both reacquaint the Israelites with the reality of their condition (much like a doctor today might tell us some very scary things in order to begin to heal us) and also provide the means by which this condition might be repaired. That is what atonement means, that something is being done to atone for something else that was done. It is a restoration of a broken relationship, the removal of whatever obstacle stood between two individuals.


On the Day of Atonement Aaron, as the religious leader of Israel, would take two goats and would select one that he would kill and one that would be sent into the wilderness. These two goats symbolized the two different aspects of God’s judgement: Punishment and Provision.


The goat that Aaron killed was used to carry the punishment and indicated that the true penalty of sin is death. The writer of the book of Hebrews, written shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, wrote these words concerning the death of this goat, and of all the other animals that were sacrificed in the Israelite religious ceremonies:

Hebrews 9:22 - According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness of sin).

What was being shown to the Israelites as they watched Aaron kill the first goat was that the due consequence of their sin was their own death, not merely physically but spiritually as well. As they saw this goat die they remembered again that it died in their place and the anger that God had against them for their sins was directed instead toward the goat. It was a substitution that allowed the people of Israel to see the penalty for their sins without dying themselves.


The second goat represented God’s provision of freedom. Not the freedom to wander around in the wilderness but freedom from guilt. Aaron would symbolically place all the sins of the people upon this second goat and it would then be released into the desert in such a manner that it would be unable to ever find its way home. This symbolized the complete removal of sin from the people. In Psalms we read:

Psalm 103:12 - As far as the east is from the west, So far has he removed our transgressions [sins] from us.

The imagery is that of getting rid of something so completely that even if we wanted it back we could never find it again. Our sins are so completely removed from us by Jesus’ sacrifice that there is no way we could ever again claim them for our own, they are gone and gone for ever.


So now, what does all of this have to do with Christmas? Well, in the same section of Hebrews from which we read earlier we read the following:

Hebrews 10:4 - For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.

What was needed then was a more perfect sacrifice. A sacrifice that would completely remove the sins of man without the need for the annual repetition of the Day of Atonement, which was merely a symbol of something infinitely better that was yet to come. What was needed was one death that would eliminate the endless repetition of the sacrifice as well as the need for man’s own death for his own sins. What was needed was a sacrifice that would not destroy the one for whom it was being made for there was no way that any of us could make atonement for our sins without paying the penalty of death and thereby losing any reward of life.


One of the best known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, shows that Jesus is the only answer to this dilemma.

John 3:14-16 - (14) As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Here Jesus confirms that He will die for the sins of man and that all who place their faith in Him will therefore not die. Now it is clearly obvious that many who have had faith in Christ have died so obviously Jesus is speaking of the death of our spirit as opposed to the death of our bodies. That our bodies will die is certain. That we will rise again is proven by the recurring theme of this message: Jesus’ own return to life. Jesus’ death is never discussed apart from the truth of His return to life. We will die, it is inevitable, but our soul will continue after our body’s death. Whether your soul will spend eternity if Heaven or Hell is entirely determined by how you respond to the birth, death, and return to life of a little child born so long ago this Christmas season.


Christmas is important not only because it is a celebration of Jesus’ birth but also because of why He came. He came to die, in our place, for our sins, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. His was the final, ultimate, and completely satisfactory sacrifice to which all the sacrifices of the Israelites for all the centuries between Moses and Jesus had pointed. Christmas is important because it marks the entry of our saviour into our world. Do not waste the opportunity to know Him now so that you may love Him for all eternity.