The Cross Was Preceded by the Cradle

December 23, 2014

God became a man to save us from our sins, which he did finally and completely on the Cross. We commemorate his death and resurrection on Easter, but his suffering on our behalf began much earlier than that. We would do well to remember that at Christmastime, when we celebrate our savior’s birth.

Seminary professor Bob Tuttle, in his 2006 book, “Shortening the Leap,” puts that in perspective poignantly: “The Jesus of glory still bears the marks of the Incarnation, and not just in his hands, his side and his feet, but in his navel, because the suffering began in the manger, not on the Cross.”

Tuttle continues: “All of the Incarnation was a passion narrative — cradle to grave. Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion doesn’t know the half of it. It hurts God to be squeezed into sperm and implanted in a mama.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen, in his “Life of Christ,” made this very point as he put Christ’s incarnation in terms of a gripping metaphor. “It is hard for a human being to understand the humility that was involved in the Word becoming flesh,” wrote Sheen. “Imagine, if it were possible, a human person divesting himself of his body, and then sending his soul into the body of a serpent. A double humiliation would follow: first, accepting the limitations of a serpentine organism, knowing all the while his mind was superior, and that fangs could not adequately articulate thoughts no serpent ever possessed. The second humiliation would be to be forced as a result of this ’emptying of self’ to live in the companionship of serpents. But all this is nothing compared to the emptying of God, by which He took on the form of man and accepted the limitations of humanity, such as hunger and persecution; not trivial either was it for the Wisdom of God to condemn Himself to association with poor fishermen who knew so little. But this humiliation which began … when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary was only the first of many to counteract the pride of man, until the final humiliation of death on the Cross.”

These great theological thinkers don’t make this stuff up. They’re not fashioning their theology out of whole cloth. God’s revealed Word tells the story.

The writer of Hebrews explains: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, describes it this way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

I think we sometimes forget to emphasize sufficiently that Christ’s selfless, substitutionary death on the Cross so that we could live was preceded by his 30-plus years on this planet as a human being, suffering all the indignities of humanity so that he could fully experience, literally in the flesh, what we created mortals experience — and far worse. (His separation from the Father and his acceptance of God’s wrath for all of our past, present and future sins were greater suffering than we could imagine, well beyond anything any of us will ever experience.)

Our God is personal and relational. He created us in his image to enjoy fellowship with him and with one another. Our omniscient Creator doesn’t merely understand our suffering intellectually. He doesn’t just comprehend our human relationships by way of analogy in the sense that he has always enjoyed fellowship within the Holy Trinity.

Jesus Christ became and remains not just the Deity but a human being who has related to us and continues to relate to us not just as our God but also as a person.

Among the unspeakable marvels of God is that though he is utterly beyond our comprehension — his perfection, his infinity and his wisdom are unfathomable to us — he is also wholly accessible to us. He not only is available but invites us to have a personal relationship with him.

Because he loves us, he died on the Cross for us. But never forget that years before he completed his work on the Cross, he was born for us — as a little, dependent baby in his earthly mother’s arms — in Bethlehem.

It is the event of his birth that we celebrate at Christmas, without which there would have been no Cross, without which there would be no life everlasting for us.

Merry Christmas to all.