We changed our church’s Christmas pageant this year. Normally, we cover everything about the life of Jesus—His birth, His ministry, His death, burial, and resurrection. This year, we decided to focus strictly on the events surrounding His birth.
A few days before the first performance, our church receptionist took an unusual call. A woman on the other line wanted to know if we were presenting the pageant again this year. Gail Smith assured her that we are. Then, the woman said, “May I ask if you’re going to include the part about the crucifixion of Jesus?” “I don’t think so,” said Gail. “I think they’re just doing the part about Jesus’ birth this time.”
“Good,” the caller said. “You see, we’re from another faith, and we always enjoy your Christmas program. But the part about Jesus’ crucifixion offends us and makes us uncomfortable. We would prefer the story without the crucifixion.”
Gail said, “May I ask what is your faith?” “We’re Catholic,” the woman said. It was all Gail could do not to remind the caller that the death of Jesus on the cross is central to her religious faith, too. But she is the receptionist for good reason, and kindly told the lady we will look forward to seeing her and her guests at the pageant.
The death of Jesus on the cross is indeed unnerving and discomforting. The crucifixion delivers a slap in the face to our sensibilities, our pride, and our confidence in the mythical goodness of man. The cross is a frank statement from the Almighty that this is how earthlings really are—you take the best Heaven has, the finest ever to grace the earth, and this is how you treat Him. Don’t ever try to get past God with this new-age claptrap about the finer nature of man. He knows the truth.
The cross is Heaven’s remedy for earth’s ills. A drastic remedy indicates a serious problem. Never again will we be allowed to take our sin lightly. “I meant well.” “He has a good heart.” “Everyone is beautiful in his own way.” “Just as long as he is sincere.” “He’s not bad. Not really.” “I’m certainly not as bad as some people.” Don’t try that on the Almighty. He knows.
A young mother was dragging two whining youngsters through the mall a few days before Christmas. Her arms were loaded with packages, the children wanted everything they saw, and they still had four more stops before heading home. The mother managed to crowd her small brood onto the mall elevator and took a deep breath. As the doors closed in front of her, she muttered, “Whoever thought up this Christmas business ought to be found, strung up, and shot.” From the rear of the elevator came a quiet voice. “Don’t worry, lady. We already crucified Him.” You could have heard a pin drop for the rest of the ride.
“Call His name Jesus,” said Gabriel to the young mother-to-be, “for He shall save His people from their sins.” Nine months later, to a cluster of startled shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem, the angel said something we should not miss. “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior.” A Savior— rescuer, deliverer, redeemer, emancipator.
If God went to such extremes to provide a Savior, only one conclusion makes sense: humanity is in big trouble.
The old roadside signs are gone now. They offended the sensibilities of a lot of people and when they faded away, no one bothered to replace them. But they told the truth, one needed today more than ever. JESUS SAVES.
Jesus saves us, not by His birth in a stable. Not by His teachings in Galilee. Not by His miracles by the seashore. Not by His healing touch or gracious words or penetrating questions. Jesus saves us by what He did the day Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross and left Him hanging there to die.
Seven centuries earlier, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah had been given a glimpse of the Savior on the cross. He said, “All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He said, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, and by his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53)
Jesus did not come for our sins. He did not teach for our sins. He did not heal for our sins. He died for our sins.
The crucifixion of Jesus is not an addendum to the Christian faith, but its heart. A few hours before His arrest and death, the Lord said, “The time has come for me to die. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, this is the very reason I came. What I pray is, ‘Father, glorify thy name.'” (John 12)
Londoners refer to Charing Cross Road simply as “The Cross.” One dark wintry day, the London police found an old man who was lost. When they offered to help him, he thanked them and said, “If you will take me back to the Cross, then I’ll know where I am and can get home from there.”
As pastor and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, my assignment is to bring everyone I can to The Cross. It’s the only way that leads home.