Christmas has arrived. Merry Christmas to each and every one of you who listen to the podcast. Today we celebrate Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnation of God in the flesh — Immanuel — “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). So why did Christ enter into this world? What was his goal?
For the answer, I have persuaded Pastor John to read a chapter from his excellent book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. He recorded it specifically for you, the APJ audience. You’re hearing this for the very first time. Here now is Pastor John reading chapter ten from his wonderful book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, to answer this question: Why was Christ born into this world?
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:4–5)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
The Mercies of Jesus Christ
God is the wealthiest person in the universe. He not only owns more than anyone else. He owns everyone else and everything everyone else owns. When you create something, it belongs to you. And God created everything — including us. “It is he who made us, and not we ourselves [marginal reading]; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). There is one ultimate owner in the universe: God. All others are trustees. Neither we nor what we have is finally our own. It is all a trust to be used for the aims of the owner. In a sense, therefore, all sin is embezzling.
But, strikingly, the New Testament describes the wealth of God not mainly in terms of what he created and owns, but mainly in terms of the glory he has from all eternity. Repeatedly we read of “the riches of his glory” or “his riches in glory” (for example, Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27). If God were only rich because he made and owns all things, he would have been poor before creation. But that means he would have created out of need and would be dependent on his creation. But that is not the picture of God we find in the Bible. God did not create to get wealth; he created to display wealth — the wealth of his glory for the enjoyment of his people (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
But even more specifically, the focus of the New Testament is that the wealth of God’s glory is, at its apex, the wealth of his mercy. This is something the world takes very lightly: “the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience” (Romans 2:4). God created and redeemed the world so that he might “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). Or, to put it another way, he creates and saves his people “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The universe exists primarily to display the wealth of the glory of the mercy of God for the enjoyment of his redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
Apex of God’s Glory
Justice is essential among the perfections of God’s glory. But mercy is paramount. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). Yes. Therefore justice is essential. But something else is also true: “It is [a man’s] glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Therefore, if justice can be preserved, it is the apex of glory to show mercy.
For this reason Jesus Christ came into the world. Jesus is the mercy of God incarnate and visible. He is also the justice of God incarnate; but justice was subordinate: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God the Father offered up his Son in death “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). The substitutionary death of Jesus Christ created the backdrop of justice where justifying mercy would shine with unparalleled glory. Therefore, the glory of God’s mercy is the aim of Christ’s coming. This is explicit in Romans 15:8–9: Christ came into the world “to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” The aim of the incarnation was to magnify the mercy of God for the enjoyment of the nations.
“Not only was the mercy of Jesus kindled by suffering, but also by sin.”
In Mary’s Magnificat, and in Zechariah’s prophetic song at the birth of John the Baptist, the reason given for the coming of Jesus was “in remembrance of [God’s] mercy” (Luke 1:54), and “because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78). Or as the apostle Paul put it, the work of Christ is due to God’s being “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). It is all “according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). He bestows “his riches on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).
Mercy Without Price
This mercy that Jesus embodies and brings is utterly free. Not that there was no cost. Jesus paid the price at the cost of his own life. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). But now, to broken and needy sinners, it is absolutely free. Thus God says, “‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:14–16, 18). We do not earn mercy. We receive it as a free gift by faith, not by works. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5).
Even the faith to receive this mercy is itself a gift of mercy. “To you it has been freely given for Christ’s sake to believe” (Philippians 1:29, author’s translation). And what about others? Let us correct our “opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25; see also Ephesians 2:8; John 6:44; Acts 13:48). From start to finish, God saves us “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). His triumphant mercy is utterly free.
Nothing Stops Grace
Since Christ is the incarnate display of the wealth of the mercies of God, it is not surprising that his life on earth was a lavish exhibit of mercies to all kinds of people. Every kind of need and pain was touched by the mercies of Jesus in his few years on earth.
When the blind beggar cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” many were embarrassed and indignant. But “Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 18:38, 42).
When the revolting and feared lepers raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” he stopped and took pity on them and said, “‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:13–14). Even more remarkably, Mark recalls the time another dreaded leper fell on his knees pleading with Jesus to make him clean, and Jesus not only spoke to him, but also touched him: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (Mark 1:41).
When Jesus saw a widow who had not only lost her husband but now her only son as well, Luke tells us, “[Jesus] had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13). Then he raised her son from the dead. And in this case, not a word was said about her faith. It was a free and lavish overflow of divine mercy, even before faith.
“O Father, make the mercy of Jesus the greatest beauty of the Savior in our eyes.”
Mercy also drew Jesus to those who were made miserable by demons. One man brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus after years of sorrow. The boy was unable to speak, and the evil spirit often threw the boy into the fire. The father pleaded with Jesus, “Have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). And even though the grieving father could only manage a mustard seed of faith — “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) — Jesus responded to the cry for pity and rebuked the spirit and cast it out.
Even when a demon-possessed man had no one to be his advocate and could not believe or submit to Jesus — as in the case of the Gerasene demoniac — the Lord delivered him and then explained that it was sheer mercy: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). And don’t miss the added mercy that this man was not a Jew, but a foreigner just like the “Canaanite woman” who cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). Neither the demons nor the Gentile distance from Israel stopped the mercy of Jesus.
Not only was the mercy of Jesus kindled by suffering, but also by sin. When Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners,” the Pharisees and scribes criticized him. But Jesus told three parables to explain what he was doing. One was the parable of the prodigal son. The climax of this parable pictures God, filled with compassion for his sin-soaked, home-coming son: “While [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). In other words, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners because he was the incarnate display of the Father’s tender compassion for sinners.
Jesus showed this compassion not only for individuals who sin and suffer, but also for whole multitudes. He did not look on masses with contempt or with impersonal indifference. Once when great crowds had followed him and had not planned well for their food, Jesus looked on them and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2). On another occasion, it was not their hunger but their spiritual need for truth that filled him with compassion for the crowds: “He saw a great crowd, and he felt compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
All the Father’s Mercies
One of the most sweeping statements about God’s mercy that Jesus ever made came from Hosea 6:6. It was Jesus’s way of putting the whole Old Testament ceremonial law under the banner of mercy instead of meticulous rules. When he was criticized for going to dinner at Matthew’s house with unclean tax collectors, he turned the criticism around and said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’ [Hosea 6:6]. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). And when his disciples were rebuked by the Pharisees for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7). In other words, Jesus’s entire ministry was shaped by the insight that mercy is the ultimate meaning of God’s law. And since Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill that law (Matthew 5:17), he was the incarnation and manifestation of the wealth of the mercy of God.
“Every kind of need and pain was touched by the mercies of Jesus in his few years on earth.”
The same is true of Jesus today. In this regard “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This is why God, who is called “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3), beckons us to come boldly to his throne through Jesus Christ who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is our sinless, all-sufficient High Priest. He has offered himself as our substitute in perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. All the Father’s mercies belong to those who come to God through faith in Jesus. “Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The place where mercies are kept is at the throne of God. Here is infinite wealth and infinite power and infinite wisdom. And all this stands ready in the service of mercy, because of Jesus Christ, the mercy of God incarnate. Whether you learn this through pleasure, or learn it through pain, like Job, whatever you do, learn it: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).
O Father, how we need mercy. We sin every day. We fall short of your command to love you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We are lukewarm in our affections. All our motives, even at their best, are mixed. We murmur. We are anxious about tomorrow. We get angry too quickly. We desire what ought not be desired. We get irritated at the very attitudes in others that we ourselves displayed five minutes before. If you do not show mercy to us, we are undone. O God, let us see the mercy of Christ and savor it for what it is. Grant us power to comprehend his love. Incline us to read and ponder the stories of the mercy of Jesus in the Gospels. Let us so admire what he did that we imitate him. But let it be much more than external imitation. Let it come from the heart where we have been broken for our sin and where we have come to cherish mercy and live by mercy and hope in mercy and long for mercy. Make the mercy of Jesus the greatest beauty of the Savior in our eyes. Let us behold him, and beholding, become like him. And bend this taste for mercy outward so that we show it. Make us full of his mercy that we might show mercy. Fulfill in us the command to do justice and love mercy. Let us love showing mercy. Make it so much a part of us that it is who we are. So unite us to Christ that his mercy is our mercy, and our mercy is a presenting of Christ. He is all we have to give in the end. Glorify his mercy, Father, in our faith and in our patience. Thank you, oh, thank you, for Christ and your mercy to us in him. In his name we pray, amen.