For centuries theologians have been writing and Christians have been debating the details of depravity. Augustine took his cue from Paul and Pelagius went in the opposite direction. Luther agreed with Augustine while Erasmus purported the aged idea that man was free.
Just how corrupt is the human heart? Do people have a free will to choose God or is man’s will in bondage to sin? That’s the question that has been the subject of debate for a very long time. However, when you take a step back from the debate and read Scripture, it seems clear—man is by default a slave to sin and dead to righteousness (Ps. 51:5). Therefore, God had to come to fallen man.
God Came in the Garden
When Adam and Eve fell, they hid from God in the Garden of Eden. It was God who came to man. As David makes it clear in Psalm 53, there is no one good, not even one. There is not one person who seeks after God. From the very beginning we see the pattern of God coming to man.
What did God do when He came to them after the fall? Rather than leaving them in the shame of their nakedness, God clothed them (Gen. 3:21). God has always sought broken sinners. This is God’s pattern. Sure, God rebuked and judged Adam and Eve, but there was provision made. God came with grace and treated them with mercy. From the moment of the first sin—man was not seeking God, but God was seeking man.
Emmanuel and Depravity
The prophets had written and promised that the Messiah would come to deliver His people. Israel was waiting on this kingly ruler to appear on the scene. In God’s time, God came. The second Person of the Triune God was born in the city of Bethlehem. Infinite God became a baby. God had come to his people. John Piper has defined Total Depravity as:
Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us salves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior. 
Not one single person would choose to seek after God if left to his own will. David longed for the coming salvation of Israel (Ps. 53:6). The prophet Isaiah pointed to the future hope of Israel (Is. 9:1-7). Jeremiah 23:1-6 promised the descendant of David who would rule his people righteously. As we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we find Jesus coming to his own people, yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:9-11). Not only were they unable to seek God, but they were not even able to recognize him when he was there in their presence. They did not have eyes to see or ears to hear. Once again, it was not man who was seeking God, but God who came to man.
Our Hope in Jesus’ Return
Today as we celebrate Christmas, we look back at the coming of Jesus with great joy. As we consider the long awaited Messiah who came, was rejected, and ultimately paid for the sins of his people with his blood—it reminds us of the reason we sing “Peace on earth.”
Today, we stand in a different place than David in Psalm 53. We stand at a different place in history than Isaiah and Jeremiah. We have a far different vantage point than Micah or Moses. Today, we celebrate Jesus’ first coming while we await with anticipation his second coming. How will the lawless be judged? How will the brokenness of this world be restored? How will all of the wrongs be made right? It’s clear from the pages of Scripture, it will not be man going to God—but God coming to man. One day Jesus will come again and we wait patiently on his return.
When Jesus came the first time, he brought peace to his people. When Jesus comes the second time, only his people will experience peace. The rest of the world will be judged. From the very moment of Adam’s rebellion in the Garden to our present day—the need for God to come to us has not changed. With John the apostle, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
- John Piper, Five Points, (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 15.
One of the most anti-Christmas things you can do as an American during the Christmas season is bypass Santa. It does save time at the local mall as we walk past the long line of families waiting for their opportunity to pay for the awkward Santa Claus photo with their children, but beyond that—it creates tension at times with close friends and family members. Why have we decided to say no to Santa?
Is Santa Sinful?
My wife and I both grew up in homes where Santa Claus was the normal talk of the home at Christmas time. We both took pictures with the real Santa who was validated by a real white beard in the local mall. While Santa was very much apart of our Christmas celebrations—we both were raised in the context of Christian homes where the gospel was emphasized. So, is the practice of Santa Claus sinful?
The answer to that question depends on several key factors. Is Jesus replaced by Santa in yearly Christmas festivities? Is the emphasis placed on materialism and selfish greed rather than the gift of God’s Son for the salvation of his people? Are God’s non-communicable attributes given to a mythological character who rides on a sleigh behind flying reindeer? Are you lying to children about Christmas and expecting them to believe you about the incarnation once they realize it’s all a friendly game? These questions must be addressed fully and the heart of each person must be carefully examined in order to determine if a family is sinning with Santa. Only God knows the heart and true motive of each person.
Santa Is Not God
The theology of God should never be attributed to the fictional character known as Santa. Consider the words to the popular song that every child knows—and learns to recite on a frequent basis as the days draw closer to December 25th.
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
While God is not limited by time, geographic location, and while God knows all things at all times—that cannot be said of a mythological character known as Santa Claus. God is able to discern the thoughts of men (Luke 11:17), but no person possesses such abilities. Be careful not to confuse children by placing a jolly fictional character on the same level as the deity of Jesus.
Furthermore, the theology of Santa is quite troubling. The idea depicted by the fictional jolly man with a large white beard is that he encourages an empty works based pattern of life that says, “be good for goodness sake.” This is not the gospel and it certainly can confuse children unintentionally in the spirit of Christmas festivity.
The inconsistency of Santa is likewise troublesome. The most disobedient child who has been threatened with a bag of coal in the place of toys for Christmas suddenly receives a free pass by Santa—who like an aged old grandfather rewards such children with their entire wish list on Christmas morning. What does this say about Jesus—the righteous Judge?
Christmas Is About Something Greater than Santa
Last year, Christmas day fell on a Sunday. Sadly, many churches cancelled services because their members didn’t want the church services to conflict with their Christmas celebrations. That’s a sad picture into how professing Christians push Jesus off into the shadows in order to celebrate Christmas. What exactly are we celebrating if we have to cancel church in order to celebrate Christmas?
While my wife and I both have many good memories surrounding Christmas morning with gifts from Santa—we’ve decided to go a different route for our family. No, we’re not Jehovah’s Witnesses. We’re Christians who celebrate Christmas. We want our children to be thrilled with Jesus—not Santa. We want our children to look forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior, so we’ve decided to forego the whole Santa game. While we do provide gifts, we have told our children they’re from us as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We gather together, eat cake (or cupcakes) and sing to Jesus. While it may be possible for Christians to engage in the Santa traditions without sinning—we’ve made a decision to bypass Santa for several key reasons.
We want to emphasize the birth of Jesus and place an intentional spotlight upon the celebration of the incarnation (Luke 2). The greatest miracle in the history of mankind is the moment when God took upon himself human flesh. God became a man and dwelt among his very creation (John 1:14). This is the kind of stuff that we find in story books and fictional movies—but even then no story or movie plot can compare to the story of God’s gospel.
The troubling statistics about teenagers who walk away from the faith should be troublesome to us. In 2001, the Southern Baptist Convention released statistics stating that 70-88% of their youth walk away from their faith after their freshman year in college. In 2006, Barna Research Group stated that “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years.” These numbers aren’t getting better and we must address the problem.
While I don’t believe the problem rests on the shoulders of Santa Claus alone, I do believe that inconsistency as Christian parents can be a chink in the armor that Satan uses to destroy the faith of children. Teaching children to engage in little white lies can be the seed of doubt used to question the reliability of the Bible and the story of God’s gospel. We want our children to believe us—always. So, that’s one reason we don’t do Santa in our home. We’ve made the hard decision from day one to tell our young children that Santa isn’t real (or at least the mythological figure known to live in the North Pole).
We want our children to look at the story of a jolly old man who visits us on a red sleigh behind Rudolph and a host of other flying reindeer and find no comparison to the story of the second Person of the Trinity leaving heaven’s throne to be born into poverty as he clothed himself in human flesh—entering the world through the womb of a virgin girl—in order to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). God was born that man no more may die—to borrow the words from the well known carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Jesus—the Creator—entered his very creation on a saving mission and today after completing his mission on the cross and being raised from the dead on the third day, he sits upon heaven’s throne as he upholds the entire universe by his power (Heb. 1:3). Santa cannot compare to Jesus.
Teach your children the truth about God. Build confidence in your children by allowing them to know that you will always tell them the truth. Make Christmas about God’s gift in Jesus rather than Santa’s big bag of goodies that will be broken and forgotten about before February.
Yesterday, we had the distinct privilege to gather with our church family on Christmas. As we gathered for worship, it wasn’t just any Lord’s Day, it was the day set aside on the calendar each year to remember the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I preached from John 1:1-18 and the focus of the sermon was the incarnation of Jesus.
Not only did the eternal Logos become a man, Christ also dwelt among His own people. What a unique truth to behold in John’s Gospel. In a masterful way, moved by the Spirit of God to communicate with precise doctrinal clarity, John the apostle connects the dots from the Tabernacle of the Old Testament to the incarnation of the New Testament. When we consider the fact that God became a man, taking upon Himself human flesh, He not only did that in reality, but He dwelt among His very own creation.
Just as it was profoundly wonderful for the radiant glory of God to descend upon the tent-temple of the Old Testament tabernacle, in a far greater weight of glory was the arrival of God in the flesh of Jesus. What a miracle to behold. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is by far the most amazing miracle in the whole Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join Himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe. 
The text explains that Jesus “dwelt” among us. The word translated dwelt comes from the Greek word σκηνόω, meaning, “To pitch a tent or to tabernacle.” When we pause to think about the fact that Jesus, the highest King of human history, was not born in a palace or behind the walls of a massive castle as royal babies typically are, but he instead was born in a stable for animals—it’s overwhelming. Jesus, the Son of the living God, became a man and lived among His very own creation in a cruel sin-cursed world.
This was the purpose of the incarnation, Emmanuel—God with us. As God, Jesus would minister in a way that no other human could possibly do. Jesus would come to seek and save the lost, and to fulfill what the angel spoke to Joseph in Matthew 1:21. Jesus was born to die. Through His death, God and sinners would be reconciled, as Charles Wesley so eloquently described it in his hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
God became a man, yet He didn’t cease to be God. He was God when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, He was God when they laid Him in the stable, He was God when He preached His first sermon, He was God when they nailed Him to the cross. He was man, yet God at the same time, and after being brutally killed on the cross, He was raised from the dead proving His divinity.
What is the incarnation? It’s when God became a man. Why did He become a man? He came to save His people from their sins. Have you been rescued from your sin? Have you been saved? God motivated Caesar Augustus to make a decree regarding the registration which forced Mary and Joseph to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem so that she would give birth to Jesus in that particular city in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Could it be that the same sovereign God has ordained that you come to understand what Christmas is all about this season, in order to save you from your sin?
Unlike the most holy place within the Tabernacle of the Old Testament that was sectioned off and unapproachable by every person, when God became a man He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Consider these words written by Charles Wesley:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 563.
In the popular cartoon story A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), we see a great lesson about the purpose of Christmas. We often see this old cartoon played at Christmastime as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – the Messiah. In one climatic scene, the cartoon depicts Charlie Brown going out to find a Christmas tree for their play, that he and his group of friends would perform on stage, only to be laughed to scorn for the one he chose. After being frustrated with the whole scene, he exclaimed loudly, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?” At that very moment, Linus, with his blanket in hand, took center stage in the empty theatre and quoted Luke 2 by memory. He then went over to Charlie Brown and said, “That’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.”
The fact is, we all lose sight of what Christmas is about. It’s turned into a commercialized event for retailers to make money. The vicious cycle of gift buying and exchange can be tiresome and unfulfilling at times. It’s important to remember that Christmas is about the gift of peace. Other gifts will not provide what God’s gift to a broken, bankrupt, fallen, spiritually destitute, and depraved race of sinners provides. God’s gift of His Son was the gift of peace. Consider the words from Luke 2:1-20 and focus in on verses 13-14.
Luke 2:13-14 – And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
One angel quickly turned into a multitude of angels that appeared like a bright curtain of angelic beings that spanned the horizon of the nigh’s sky. They were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” You may recall that Linus from the Charlie Brown movie quoted the King James, “peace and goodwill toward men.” A more accurate translation is focused on the fact that peace comes to those with whom God is pleased. In other words, just because God’s Son has been born doesn’t mean that the entire race of humanity is at peace with God.
We are born in a sinful state of rebellion against God (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23). Sin entered the world through the first Adam and from that point forward, we have all been born into sin – with a heart of rebellion (Romans 5:10). Because of our rebellion, like Mary sang as the Christ child was in her womb, we all need a Savior (Luke 1:46-47). So, how is Christmas about the gift of peace?
God Sent His Son to Die for Sinners
The announcement of the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the angel to Joseph clearly points to the purpose of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came to save sinners from their sin (Matthew 1:21). We must see that from the beginning, Jesus’ birth is connected with Jesus’ death. He was born to die a sacrificial death – to accomplish a work that no other human could ever accomplish (Psalm 24). Jesus, as fully God and fully man laid down His life and was crushed under the wrath of the Father for guilty sinners (Isaiah 53:10).
God Provides Peace Through Jesus Christ’s Work on the Cross
Long before Jesus was born, He was called the “Prince of peace” by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus came to provide peace between God and sinners. The only means whereby God will be pleased with guilty sinners, is through the sacrifice of His Son (1 John 2:1-2). Therefore, if anyone will confess their sins to God (repent), believe that Jesus died for them on the cross (have faith in God), the Bible says that person will be saved. In short, this means the sinner who was at war with God in the rebellion of sin will now be at peace with God.
Romans 5:1 -Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:19-22 – For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
As you consider the purpose of Christmas, ask yourself this important question – Do I have peace with God? That’s what Christmas is all about – the celebration of hope and the fullness of genuine peace with God. Peace as the world gives is merely the absence of trouble. The peace of God is not contingent upon the circumstances of life (John 14:27). We have a peace that passes all understanding in Christ (Philippians 4:7). Therefore, in all trials and tribulations of this life, we can rest assured that we have peace with God – even if we don’t have peace on earth. Charles Wesley, in his famous hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, penned these words:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Have you ever been forced to celebrate Christmas late? Maybe it was due to a sickness or perhaps you had to travel and couldn’t celebrate until a few days after Christmas? There is a man named Simeon who once celebrated Christmas 40 days late (Luke 2:22-32)! He had been promised by God that he would not see death until he saw the Christ of God.
In Jewish culture, when a woman would give birth she would be considered unclean for a period of 40 days. She would not be able to enter the temple for worship. It was 40 days after Jesus’ birth that Mary and Joseph entered the temple for the purification process with baby Jesus – and when they arrived, Simeon was standing in the temple. As they entered – it was made known to this old man that the baby in Mary’ s arms was indeed the Christ of God. God had kept His promise and Simeon praised God and in his prayer of praise we hear some important truths about Jesus.
1. Simeon called Jesus – “Salvation.”
Rather than calling the baby Jesus, the name God instructed Joseph through an angel (Matthew 1:21), Simeon calls Jesus “salvation.” What a fitting title for Jesus. As we see this announcement coming from the lips of this old man, we must immediately see our need for salvation. Just as the angel announced Jesus as the “savior” in the fields to the shepherds at His birth, this old man calls baby Jesus – “salvation.” The point is clear! Jesus did not come for the purpose of growing his Twitter account or Facebook friend’s list. Jesus didn’t come as a moral teacher or a good man. Jesus came for the purpose of saving sinners and Simeon had seen the Savior of the world face-to-face.
What greater Christmas gift could you receive than Jesus Himself? Although Simeon’s Christmas was 40 days after the birth of Jesus – it was God’s promise fulfilled and Simeon had now become a witness of God’s great salvation plan in person. The Bible declares in Acts 4:12 that salvation is not available through any other person in human history other than Jesus Himself. Buddha, Mohammad, Allah, Confucius, and all other religious leaders are incapable of providing salvation. From birth Jesus was called “salvation” and He alone has the power to forgive sins.
2. Simeon announced good news to the Gentiles.
Many of the Jews who eventually became Christians did not fully understand God’s plan to save Gentiles until much later. Therefore, when Simeon stood in the temple and praised God while holding baby Jesus, all of the Jews and priests serving in the temple had a very small view of God’s salvation plan. They believed that God was saving the Jews only and they often despised the Gentiles. However, out of Simeon’s mouth was a different idea altogether. It was God’s plan of salvation that involves people from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. Simeon said Jesus was a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
As we consider this wonderful statement by Simeon, we must see God’s intent to save a people for Himself from all the world. Jesus would come to save His people from their sins according to the angel (Matthew 1:21), and these people would be from all nations. Salvation through Jesus is for all people groups, all nationalities, all social classes, male, female, young, old, rich, and poor. The salvation of God transcends social and socioeconomic barriers. What a wonderful truth! The Bible makes clear that “whosoever” calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). If any person would repent of their sins and believe by faith that Jesus died for them on the cross and after being buried in a tomb rose again from the dead on the third day – the Bible says they will be saved.
Jesus did not remain a baby. He did not stay in a manger. He grew into a man who lived a sinless life, kept the law of God in totality, was tempted in all ways like us but remained without sin, and was killed on a cross in a Roman execution. According to Isaiah 53, Jesus took the wrath of God for us. The wonderful truth of Christmas is summed up very well in the words of J.I. Packer:
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.
As you celebrate the birth of our Savior today with your family – remember Simeon’s Christmas! Simeon called him “salvation.”
Pastor Josh Buice
During the Christmas season, we all hear sermons that point to the purpose of Jesus’ birth. When we consider the fact that “Very God of Very God” came from the throne of glory to a sin cursed earth – it boggles our mind. To think that God was mindful of sinful man when He could have left all of humanity in our sin, it humbles us (Psalm 8:4). Why was Jesus born? The fact is, He was born to die, to save, and to destroy.
Jesus was born in order that He would die as a man on behalf of sinful humans. The cross of Christ was not an accident. Although it was a crime, it was not something that caught God off guard. It was murder, but it was the plan of God. It was sinful men acting freely in their choices of sin, but it was the sovereign plan of God as He controlled the affairs of mankind through His powers of providence. Peter calls the death of Christ “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Jesus was not born to be adored in a manger scene. He was born to die a ruthless and ignominious death on the Roman cross.
Don Whitney once said, “The cross lies at the heart of all God did through Jesus Christ. It is the supreme example of God’s power and wisdom displayed in what the world considers weakness and foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And anyone who wants to know God must find Him in Christ crucified.”
Jesus was born to save! The Son of God came to save helpless sinners. The depravity of the human heart reveals the fact that fallen sinners would not desire God and could not please God unless Jesus intervened to bring us salvation. The angel of the Lord told Joseph these words as Mary his betrothed wife was pregnant, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus came to set prisoners free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32, 36). Only through Jesus can sinful man be reconciled to God the Father and Jesus made that abundantly clear by His words in John 14:6.
J.C. Ryle describes the saving work of Christ by writing, “[Jesus] saves His people from their sins. This is His special office. He saves them from the guilt of sin, by washing them in His own atoning blood. He saves them from the dominion of sin, by putting in their hearts the sanctifying Spirit. He saves them from the presence of sin, when He takes them out of this world to rest with Him. He will save them from all the consequences of sin, when He shall give them a glorious body at the last day. Blessed and holy are Christ’s people! From sorrow, cross, and conflict they are not saved. But they are saved from sin for evermore.“
The Bible tells us that Satan’s work is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus’ birth was to accomplish the exact opposite. Jesus came to give Himself in a sacrificial death, to bring life, and to destroy the work of the devil. 1 John 3:8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” When Jesus died on the cross, He literally suffered under the wrath of God in place of guilty sinners. He finished the work of salvation and cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). When Jesus said it is finished, He was referencing the will of the Father. He was referencing the salvation of His people. He was also referencing the destruction of the devil’s work.
Charles Wesley accurately described the death of Jesus in his hymn, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, “Born that man no more may die.”
May God fill our hearts with the truth of Christmas – and work that Jesus accomplished following His birth.
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. “Take Up Your Cross Daily,” www.BiblicalSpirituality.org
2. Commentary on Matthew 1