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The Sleepy Invasion

Jesus became human so that he could be the Savior we need

The stage was set. It was finally the fullness of time. The world had long been in prison, caught in a web of sin and death, controlled by a network of forces and powers hostile to God and his people. God Almighty King of the universe, Lord of history, the rightful Sovereign of the Earth was about to invade this world. He was about to come and conquer the great enemies, sin and death, and to triumph over the powers of evil. What a moment in time! The angel said, "I bring you good news which shall be a great joy for all the people." You would think, wouldn't you, that his invasion would come with mighty signs and wonders. You would think that the skies would be lit as far as one could see. You would think that the whole earth would rock from the impact of his landing, and that in some sense, all of humankind would know that God had landed. After all, think of the great invasions by mankind. Think of how we of such lesser power and greatness would invade an enemy occupied land. Recall the great wars of history. Think of D, June 6,1944. In the early dawn the greatest army the world had ever amassed began to land and assemble on the beaches of Normandy. Almost five thousand ships carrying over two hundred thousand soldiers came upon that captive continent, and for days men and supplies, heavy artillery equipment, thousands upon thousands of pounds of explosives were flown in to assist that massive invasion. Rumbling tanks, strafing bombers, swiftly moving armies marked that D.

Now think of God and his invasion of Earth. The almighty Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, by whom and through whom and for whom are all things, was about to invade the world. So much more powerful than any army any man had ever made or will make, he's the one who holds in his hand the delicate balance of atoms. He's the one who by a simple word could destroy the earth with nuclear capability beyond all the combined nations. He invaded the world. And the only sound you hear is the gentle breathing of a baby sleeping in his mother's arms. A baby. A baby. A baby. God invaded this planet, but he did so as a baby, as a man. His invasion was a sleepy invasion, and this is the wonder of Christmas. Will we ever fully plumb the depths of this event? Lying in that cattle trough in that cave that was used for a stable behind a hotel in Bethlehem of Judea was God the Lord. In the words of Martin Luther's Christmas hymn, "He whom the world could not enwrap / yonder lies in Mary's lap." Here is history's turning point, the greatest event in all of history, and the only sign we have of it is a baby lying in a manger. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is the truth of the Incarnation. The Incarnation God became man. The angel said, "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger."

The single most important question that Christian theology can ask, then, is, "Who is that baby in the manger?" The New Testament has two related thoughts as its answer to that question. The first is that the baby born in Bethlehem was God. Jesus of Nazareth was not a man who became God; he was God who became a man. Jesus was not simply a good man who by living according to principles of right thinking found God. He is God. Jesus was not a man who because of his perfect practice of religion found favor in God's eyes and therefore was adopted as the Son of God. He is and was the eternally existing God the Son. The baby born at Bethlehem was God. But the New Testament also affirms that the baby born at Bethlehem was God made man. God had taken on humanity he'd become a real man and so we read in that great hymn to Christ in the book of Philippians: "For he, who had always been God by nature, did not consider equality with God something to take advantage of, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man."

God the Son really became a real man. So much so that the writer of the Book of Hebrews says: "Since the children whom he loved share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same and was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." The baby born at Bethlehem was God made man. Have you ever asked yourself the question why God became a man? I mean, why should God invade the world in this sleepy way? The answer to that question is the greatest wonder of Christmas. It sends chills up and down my spine as I meditate upon that scene in Bethlehem. That little baby with his little handsGod. But what causes my heart to beat faster than normal and fills it with joy inexpressible is to realize that this event, this incarnation, this sleepy invasion took place for me. Why did God become a baby? A man? Because he loved me and he knew I needed a savior. Now he has come to be that savior I need. But if the baby in the cattle trough is not a real baby and is not God become man, then I do not have that savior I need, and I still live in an land without hope.

It's interesting to me to note that the earliest heresy of the Christian church turned just on this point. Docetism, as it was called, held that Jesus Christ, God the Son, only appeared to be a man. He was a phantom man, a ghost in man's costume. Not a denial of the divinity of Jesus, but the denial of the humanity of Jesus was the first great error of the church. And for years theologians fought hard developing intricate theological distinctions, holding councils and debates. Was this merely an academic exercise? Were they simply playing with words and theological concepts? No, they were fighting for the sake of mankind. They were fighting to keep pure the message of salvation. For if God did not become a real man, if his humanity was in some sense unreal an appearance or disguise if the figure in the gospels was some sort of angelic, unearthly visitant, then the whole doctrine of salvation falls to the ground. This way of thinking about Christmas is still with us. We tend to think of that invasion by God that incarnation in terms of a telephone booth. We think of Clark Kent, who in one form of dress is a normal man but who by changing clothes in a telephone booth becomes a superhuman being, a Superman. Jesus was not a Superman who changed into a human costume to hide his divinity. He was fully man. The bullets did not bounce off. He did not invade our world with a protective shield. And because he was a real man, he can be the savior we need.

We Need a Savior to Identify with Us.

Sometimes the lack of hair, the lack of polish, the lack of sharpness about his coming disappoint us. But his way of coming, his sleepy way, fulfills us. For you see, what we need is a Savior, and we need a Savior who can first of all identify with our human predicament and secondly deal with our human predicament. It is the mystery of God's plan for life that only as a man can God be that Savior. God came to earth to do what man could not do, but he came to do it as a man. And if that baby in the manger is not G, not a sleepy baby, then he is not the savior we need. Let me show you what I mean and why this is so important. We need a savior who can identify with our human predicament totally. Now think of some of the problems you have faced or are facing. Perhaps you've shared them with friends. Remember how they, meaning well, would say to you, "Oh, I understand. I can identify with that." Most of the time that rang rather shallow, didn't it? But haven't you had someone respond to you when that didn't seem shallow, when it seemed authentic? That person had come through or was experiencing the same thing you were wrestling with. Remember how that relationship became so redeeming? That person really did help, maybe just by being able to feel with you what you felt, or by being able to point to the solution that that person had found earlier. This is what we feel we need in our relationship with God. If we just had someone from God or God himself who could truly identify and understand, if he felt our pains and our hurts and our disappointments and our emotional strain, if he could just know the weight of fatigue, if he could know what it's like to receive the news of the death of a loved one, and he could know the frustration of living with the injustice and greed of man, maybe then his offer to be a companion in life would ring more true.

This is precisely part of the glory of the manger scene. That God, in his love for us, for you, and for me, emptied himself of all but love, and entered fully into our life situation. He, too, grew as a child. He learned how to talk. He took those first painful falls as he learned how to walk. He skinned his knees when he fell as a little boy. He, too, clumsily learned how to write the alphabet. He likely cried when his best friend moved away or was hurt. And as a carpenter's apprentice, he must have pounded his fingers time and again and cut his finger with a saw. He experienced greater hunger pains than any of us in this room, and he was weighted with fatigue from the crowds crowding him all day long. He agonized long into the night over his own impending death, and he wept at the grave of a dear friend. Perhaps it is there we see God feeling our predicament the most. Jesus had received the news of the death of Lazarus, a man whom Jesus dearly loved, and after some days, Jesus came to Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha. When Jesus saw them weeping, and the Jews who were with them weeping, Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled. He asked them where they had laid Lazarus, and they said, "Come and see." John the apostle tells us in what is perhaps the most compassionate verse of Scripture that Jesus wept. God was a man so much a part of the fabric of human existence that he wept. Death was real to him, and death was wrong to him. Jesus did not Pollyanna it away. It was real. And it was an intrusion, an ugly intrusion into the world he had made. He could feel the heartbreak of Mary and Martha. He knew their pain and he wept, because he was one with them and one of them. That is part of the reason why God the Son invaded the world in this sleepy way. He wanted to demonstrate to us once and for all that he does care, that he does understand. As the text we read said, "He was tempted in all things, as we are tempted." He, too, grew by suffering. Jesus Christ is that savior we need because he loved us enough to become one with us and one of us.

We Need a Savior Who Can Break the Power of Sin and Guilt.

As wonderful as that truth is, Jesus carries his identification with us one step further. Now we move to the heart of the Christmas message. As humans we struggle with hardship and disappointment and pain. We live with smog and inflation, disease and tears. But these things are only the outward expression of our human predicament, for underneath our situation is a complex scaffolding of sin and death and the powers of evil. It is this scaffolding that God the Son invaded the world to dismantle, and he dismantled it by his death on the cross. This is the ultimate reason for coming as a baby, for the Incarnation, for the Cross. Even on that first night of his existence, we can see the flickering outline of his cross, and its shadow is cast across every page of the gospel record of the life of Jesus.

The theological dimensions of the Cross can hardly be articulated in a sermon of such short duration, but this much is clear: on that cross, Jesus broke the power of that network of sin, death, and the Devil, and he did so for us. The sin of man had brought on the reality of death. The Devil, that personal power of evil working in this world, continues to use and inspire the sin of man, and he uses death as his great tool of coercion. I will not attempt to untangle that network before you, but simply know this: that network, which had long held the world captive, was crushed by the death of Jesus Christ. How? As a man, Jesus took upon himself the sin of mankind. Jesus so identified with us, was so very much a man, that he could represent us on the cross. As a man, he could hang there in our place, instead of us. When Jesus died on the cross, he died the death you and I should have died. Do you realize that? Do you really believe that?

It hurts so much to see so many of you, and me, still trying to pay the debt of our sin. Much of our unhappiness and much of our suffering is actually a subtle attempt to pay the debt, to atone for our sin. We know deep inside that we have disobeyed God. We know we are guilty in spite of what much of modern psychology tries to tell us. So we try to make up for it, to pay that debt. But this is the great news of Christmas: God himself became a man, and as a man, he died for you, instead of you. You may not understand all that Scripture has to say about that Cross, but let this much sink deep within you: what happened fully and completely and finally dealt with your guilt. You no longer need to carry that burden, that awful burden. Yes, you are guilty. Yes, you have sinned, fallen short of God's standard. Yes, yes, yes. But you have been forgiven. The price is paid. The debt is canceled. "It is finished!" said Jesus himself, and who are we to disagree with him? You need not and can not add to his work. You need only to receive it as a gift of his love. Oh, how I wish that each one of us could really know that and constantly remember this: that in that baby, lying in a manger, you and I are to see the final and sacrifice for our sin. This is one of the reasons for that sleepy invasion, so that he as a man could die for you, instead of you.

We Need a Savior to Absorb the Sting of Death.

Furthermore, as a man, Jesus has disarmed the power of Satan, which is the power of death. Death is the great consequence of sin, the great enemy that rules in this world, the great unmentionable of our day, but now God has entered this world to absorb the sting of death. Can you imagine Death roaring with laughter at the thought that the Baby in the manger was to dethrone death and evil? And can you imagine Death and its powers of evil sneering when Jesus was hanging on the cross? "Aha! You came to conquer us with your ridiculous sleepy invasion, and now look who's won! Fool! Did you really think that by becoming a human like them you could save them? Now look who's dying. You're dying you! I will kill you, God, instead of them, and then who's going to prevent me from killing them, too? Aha! It didn't work." But then Death's confidence and sinister laughter were pierced with the startling realization that Death and the Devil had been tricked. The sleepy invasion had just won the decisive victory. Why? Because Jesus Christ in absorbing the sting of death disarmed death and evil. Dr. Peter Joshua once said, "When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death." And when that G rose from the grave, the saying became true: "Death is swallowed up in victory. 0 death, where is your victory? 0 death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord."

We Need a Savior Who Guarantees the Final Victory.

That is another reason why he comes in this sleepy invasion so that as a man, he could absorb the sting of death and conquer death and disarm the powers and forces of evil that rule this world: the sleepy invasion coming to earth as a real baby worked. God became the Savior we needed because he fully identified with our human predicament and dealt with it at its deepest dimensions. Because of the victory he won on this invasion, the final victory is guaranteed. Someday there will be another invasion, only this one will hardly be a sleepy one. Jesus Christ will one day return to invade this world with force and full glory, with universal recognition. Then it shall be in fact what is now true in anticipation, that "the kingdom of this world must become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall rule forever and ever." In the meantime, you and I now live in this world with the confidence that God has won the decisive victory, that he has established his sovereignty and he has inaugurated his kingdom that cannot be defeated. If that baby sleeping in Mary's arms is not God become man, if it's not a real baby, then everything we have said is worthless babbling. But if, as is the case, that child is indeed the Lord come to earth, then we have a Savior who can indeed be our companion in life, for he knows our life. We have a Savior who has fully carried the penalty and burden of our guilt. We have a Savior who has wondrously absorbed the sting of death and, because he now lives, can give us life and eternal life. We have a Savior who is now the Lord of history, having won the decisive battle with the powers of evil. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby...."

How can we adequately respond to the Christmas news? There are many ways, but I want to suggest just two: The first response is one of awe and wonder leading to adoration and praise. Don't let the mystery, the glory, of what happened at Christmas in Bethlehem pass you by this year. Take the time to think of what took place there. Then go out of your way, as did the shepherds and the wise men, to praise and adore him who is the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. Do you really feel the absolute uniqueness of that event? God who is eternally existing, who made the universe, who made man became man. And what he did in that event is the single most important event of history. Someday, all men and women, all the great and powerful leaders of the world, will bow before him who slept in the manger. The second response is one of deep gratitude and joy leading to a fresh opening of your life to him. Do you realize that what he did in Bethlehem, he did for you? And do you realize that what he did allows him to now invade your life with love, with peace, with joy, with meaning, with purpose, with life in the midst of whatever crisis you're facing or crisis will have to face in the future? Dear people, don't let all the activities of this time of the year submerge the glory of Christmas. Take time to thank him for his invasion of love, and especially take time to allow him to invade your life afresh with his life, that he might be your Lord and Savior. I believe God wants for each one of you in this room the greatest Christmas gift you will ever receive, and it is this: He wants you to know that he came to earth as a baby to do his work of salvation as a man for you. If you were the only one who ever lived, you would be the reason for the sleepy invasion. All of life can be radically altered if you really know that.

© 1986 Darrell Johnson
Preaching Today Tape #39
A resource of Christianity Today International

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Darrell Johnson has been preaching Jesus Christ and his gospel for over 50 years. He has served a number of Presbyterian congregations in California, Union Church of Manila in the Philippines, and the historic First Baptist Church in the heart of Vancouver, Canada. He has taught preaching for Fuller Theological Seminary, Carey Theological College in Vancouver, and Regent College in Vancouver.

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Sermon Outline:


I. We need a savior to identify with us

II. We need a savior who can break the power of sin and guilt

III. We need a savior to absorb the sting of death

IV. We need a savior who guarantees the final victory