Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! Thank you for joining us on the podcast. Pastor John, in the last episode I shared a clip from you preaching on Christmas 1981 — forty years ago, at the youthful age of just 35. The clip is older than you were when you preached it! It’s amazing to hear your voice as a rookie pastor.
But we’re now zoomed into real time in the studio. You are 75 now, and Christmas 2021 is tomorrow. For a lot of Christmases, you’ve been thinking about the implications of Christ’s coming. Over these past several weeks, I know you’ve been giving a lot of thought to the holiday this year in particular. Tell us why. And what’s on your mind this Christmas Eve?
I learned back in October that I’d be preaching at my own church — at Bethlehem — the Sunday before Christmas. From that time in October until now, the wonder of Christmas that has taken hold of me in a fresh and powerful way is the amazing reality that the personal, infinite, eternal, holy Creator of the universe sent his Son into this tiny speck of human habitation called Earth in order to be condemned to death in my place.
Sometimes we just have to do what Psalm 46:10 says: “Be still, and know that I am God.” In other words, we have to just pause and let staggering reality sink in. Christmas Eve is a really good time, I think, to do this.
“The Creator of the universe sent his Son to this tiny speck called Earth to be condemned to death in my place.”
So what reality do we need to let sink in today? Reality like this: reality before, above, and outside of all created reality, reality outside of the entire scope of the universe, with its countless light-years of expanse. Outside of all that, there is and always has been a personal, infinite, eternal, holy God. He is absolute reality. He is the most real. The most ultimate thing he ever said was, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). He is simply there. He’s there, like Francis Schaeffer said. He’s the God who is there — above, before, outside all reality.
Think of it. Eternal reality could have been a gas. Nothing could have existed before the original reality to make it what it was. It just was. Only we discover it’s not an “it.” Ultimate reality is a Person. This is just mind-boggling.
“I am who I am,” he says (Exodus 3:14). In other words, we don’t create him; we don’t define him; we don’t counsel, help, enrich, or initiate anything with him. He reveals himself. As Hebrews 1:1–2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” We must be still today, it seems to me, and let this sink in.
When God Sent God
From all eternity, the infinite, eternal, personal, holy Creator has existed as Father and Son and Holy Spirit. What could that possibly mean? It means that God has always had a Son. This is the kind of mystery that makes Christmas breathtaking. God has a Son. He has had a Son forever. The Son never came into being. He is not created. There never was a time in the infinite eternity past when he did not exist.
“This is the kind of mystery that makes Christmas breathtaking. God has a Son. He has had a Son forever.”
The apostle John helps us as our mouths are agape with astonishment. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was with God, and the Word was God. So God was with God. And the God who was with God — the Word — was the Son of God.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We mark this moment when God sent God into the world with a celebration called Christmas.
We have one day a year to be still and know that, from all eternity, God had a perfect image of himself — a perfect radiance of his glory, a perfect essence of his nature. This God who was with God was the Word and was the Son. And as Paul says in Galatians 4:4, when the time was full and perfect to accomplish all God’s eternal purposes for humanity, God sent God the Word, God the Son, to this tiny speck of human habitation called Earth, and the foundations of Christmas were laid.
Why God Sent God
Now the question is, Why? The answer God himself gives — the one that I have been so sweetly captivated by since October — is Romans 8:3: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son . . .” — that’s Christmas. Romans 8:3 is Christmas.
Here’s the rest of the verse: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” — and here it comes — “he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). God sent God as the God-man, the flesh-God, to be condemned in his mortal flesh, and the one who condemned God was God. God condemned sin in the death of the God-man, Jesus Christ. And Jesus didn’t have any sin. Jesus was the one person in the world who didn’t deserve to be condemned. The rest of us did.
John Piper has accumulated almost 76 years of sins — thousands upon thousands of sins, any one of which is offensive enough against a holy God to plunge me into eternal ruin. I don’t stand a chance on my own to be acquitted before a God of justice. I am under condemnation, and justly so. The righteous law of God that I have broken hangs over my head like a curse.
What hope is there then for me? In a very short time, John Piper, aged 75 now, will stand before God to give an account of his life. So what hope do I have? My hope is this: “Be still, and know the meaning of Christmas.”
God has done what the law, hanging over me like a curse, could not do. The law can’t pay for my breaking the law. So from all eternity, God planned to send God the Son, the God-man, so that in his mortal flesh — without any sins of his own at all — he might bear the condemnation I deserve. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Or to paraphrase Paul in Galatians 3:13: “Christ became a curse for John Piper.”
How Christmas Feels
What does Christmas feel like for me? It feels like a man standing on the gallows with the rope around his neck, and the king’s son steps forward, takes the rope off my neck, puts it on his own, looks me in the eye, and — just before he drops to his own death in my place — says, “I love you. I love you. Go show what I’m like now to the world.”
What does Christmas feel like for me? It feels like a man drowning in the icy Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic, desperate to be taken into a lifeboat, but being refused. Why? There’s no room in the lifeboat. It’s full. And a man — the wealthiest, healthiest, most influential man on that ship — pulls me in as he jumps overboard to make room for me. He looks up as I float away in safety and says, “I love you.”
What does Christmas feel like for me? It feels like I’m in a courtroom where my life hangs in the balance. The prosecuting attorney is the unassailable law of God, and the defense attorney does not exist. There is no defense. It is manifest to everyone in the courtroom that all evidence is against me, and the judge, the son of the king of the realm, brings down the gavel: “Guilty.” I’m sentenced to execution and everlasting ruin. And as they leave the courtroom with me in bonds, the son-judge follows me out, pulls me aside, and says, “I’m going to take your condemnation. You go now, and show the wonder of this moment to the world. I love you.”
So that’s where I’ve been during these months leading to this moment on Christmas Eve. I have been in Romans 8:3: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son [that’s Christmas] in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned [my] sin in the flesh.”
What Christmas stands for is infinitely precious. It is. I would simply plead with all our listeners: Come to Jesus Christ this Christmas. If you will embrace Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your precious Savior, all that God is for you in Christ will be yours in him. You will have no condemnation ever. And it will be a very merry Christmas.