A reading from Luke 2:10-14: "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 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, good will toward men."
There are certain words inextricably tied in with the birth of Christ, words that were uttered by angelic tongues the very night of his birth. "Good tidings," the angel said, as well as "great joy, which shall be to all people." A Savior? Yes, that as well. And also, not just from one angel but from a glorious multitude of them who appeared to join in the praise, "peace, good will toward men." No poet or card maker could ever fully do justice to the beauty, glory, wonder and joy of the very Son of God and God the Son becoming flesh and being laid in a manger in the tiny town of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. It was every bit the wondrous night all of the Christmas hymns make it out to be, and infinitely more.
Bethlehem, though, is situated a bit over 5 miles west of Jerusalem and 2,100 feet below it in elevation. Or, to be a bit more plain in what I am driving at, on the glorious night of Christ's birth, all eyes were focused on a tiny manger, a feeding trough that would serve as a cradle, in which somehow lay the God who is bigger than the universe itself; but when the sun rose the next day, the shadow of Calvary was falling across it.
Jesus came to die.
But it is the road from the cradle to the cross that most intrigues me. Not simply the short, rocky road that ties the two locations together, but the journey Jesus took from his peaceful, glorious birth to his violent, gruesome death.
That this was the foreordained plan of God is not in dispute. Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." The cross was always the goal, not the manger. But I am interested in this right now as it pertains to man's perspective, not God's perspective. Yes, God the Father was "pleased to bruise him" and "made his soul an offering for sin" as Isaiah 53:10 prophesied more than 700 years beforehand; but what was it that made mankind so eager to put the babe of Bethlehem to death?
If Jesus had been what the world today commonly believes him to be, he never ever would have managed to get himself crucified. If he had been the all-tolerant, all-accepting, sweet-as-sugar Messiah that modern culture paints him as, his brow would never have been mangled by the crown of thorns, his back would never have been gashed open by the whip, his beard would never have been yanked out of his face and his hands and feet would never have been pierced. He would have been simply a baby with the most unique story of conception and birth, and then a man who lived a sinless life, and none of it would have affected our eternal destiny in any way.
But Jesus was not that at all. He was very literally the most divisive figure in time or eternity, and needfully so. Had he merely fed the hungry and healed the lepers and given sight to the blind and taught people to love one another, the road beginning at the cradle would never have ended at the cross. But Jesus was not about "the feels," as the modern phrase goes. He was about something much more solid and unbending.
As he stood before Pontius Pilate, the governor wanted to know why he was there and why everyone was demanding his death. Jesus' answer in John 18:37 was, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
Truth. Jesus would not bend so much as an inch on it, nor would he shy away from giving it. He told a woman who had been taken in a sexual sin to "sin no more." He proclaimed that even looking at a woman to lust after her was committing adultery in your heart. He stated unequivocally that he was the only way to heaven. He told a crowd who did not believe in him that they were going to die in their sins. He called a politician a fox, and that was not at all a compliment; it was an insult.
He flipped furniture over in the temple and chased some people out of there with a handmade whip. He told people that if they did not repent, they would perish. He preached the most vivid, frightening message on hell in the entire Bible. He told one group of men that they were children of the devil. He called others children of hell. He called others blind fools. Little wonder then that by the time he was finally crucified, it was initiated by the Jews, carried out by the Gentiles, clamored for by the religious leaders, gleefully participated in by soldiers and mourned over by very few.
Jesus came to be what man needed, not what man wanted. Humanity always wants to be soothed, coddled, affirmed and made to feel good. But we are one and all born in sin (Romans 5:12) no one is righteous (Romans 3:10) and even the best things about us are filthy rags in the sight of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). We did not and do not need to be made to feel good; we need to repent and be redeemed.
And that is why the short, rocky road from the cradle led all the way to the cross.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and atwordofhismouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.