Servant Unto Death
Have you ever thought about the lyrics of Christmas carols? We sing along and know the words…but do we really pay attention to what these words mean?
Many of the most well-known Christmas carols have deep spiritual meaning. Let’s take a look at some familiar carols.
In O Holy Night, we sing:
O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices…
The opening lines of this song make some things crystal clear: we are celebrating the birth of our Savior, the world is full of sin, and we have hope because the Savior was born.
How about Hark the Herald Angels Sing?
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the new-born king
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
The birth of the King allows God and sinners to be reconciled.
What about God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
This song reminds us how Jesus was born to save us when we were gone astray.
All three of these familiar Christmas carols help us understand that the reason we celebrate Christmas is more than a birthday celebration for Jesus – it is a celebration because our Savior came to earth to rescue us from sin.
In the days leading up to Christmas, we’ve been asking the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”
Last week, we discussed how Jesus is the prophet promised of the Old Testament. This week, we will discover that Jesus is also our Great High Priest.
Jesus is who scripture refers to as the Great High Priest. He’s the only one to receive this title. That’s because he is far above all other High Priests. Jesus serves as the Great High Priest in a much greater way than the High Priests throughout scripture and Jewish history, because He can actually save us from our sin.
Sacrifice and Atonement in the Old Testament
Before we talk about how Jesus serves as our Great High Priest, we need to back up and discuss some Old Testament theology. We’re focusing on the Levitical priesthood.
The Levitical priests were primarily responsible for serving as mediators between God and man, representing man before God, and offering up sacrifices for sin according to the Mosaic law.
The Levites were given lots of roles in the caretaking of the Tabernacle. The priests held services there and acted as judges and teachers of the Law.
Once a year, on what was known as the Day of Atonement, the high priest (the priest of priests) would enter the Holy of Holies (or the Most Holy Place) where the presence of God resided, and he would sacrifice an unblemished lamb for the sins of God’s people, Israel.
This sacrifice was how the people were made righteous or put in right standing before God. Every year, after a long strand of evil and wicked deeds from God’s people, the High Priest would make a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement for Israel’s sins. Year after year, sin after sin, sacrifice after sacrifice.
This was the system all the way up into the days of Jesus. All throughout the Old Testament, we read stories of the priesthood and stories of the sins of humanity.
How could God be fully reconciled back to sinful people? There aren’t enough lambs to take care of that.
God had a better plan, a once-for-all plan to reconcile us back to our Creator. Jesus was the plan. Rather than having to go to a High Priest to sacrifice an unblemished lamb for our sins, Jesus became the one we go to (no lamb needed).
Jesus Identified with Sinners
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15
Jesus identified with humanity in many ways.
You can see it in his compassion toward the sick, the lowly, the alienated, the poor, the needy. He met with them. Talked to them. Wept with them. He showed them that they were loved and seen.
In identifying with humanity, Jesus also identified with sinners. Jesus, living as fully human, was to be tempted in every way that we are. Yet, he was without sin.
Both things were necessary for Jesus to remain as our Great High Priest.
Knowing that he also faced temptation like we do shows that we have a High Priest we can relate to. He’s not incomprehensible or detached from us. Though he was no sinner, Jesus saw firsthand in humanity and in his own human life the realities and depths of sin’s curse in the world.
A lamb cannot empathize with humans, but Jesus, in his humanness, can.
Jesus Died For Sinners
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:12-15
Jesus Christ died as the once-for-all sacrificial lamb of God, the one who came to take away the sins of the world. He has entered the holy places, not by animal sacrifice, but by his own blood.
The author of Hebrews says, “If animal sacrifices can purify, imagine what the blood of the holy Son of God could do. Could it not at least free us from sin?”
Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins, but Jesus has, in fact, shed his blood. Because of that, we have been forgiven.
Jesus didn’t have to shed his blood multiple times for each of your sins, but only once for all of our sins. Every year the High Priest has to make the sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all people at all times.
Jesus Intercedes for Sinners
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. – Hebrews 7:23-25
Jesus intercedes for us. To intercede is to stand in the gap. He moves and speaks and stands before God on our behalf.
Jesus is not simply the Savior of the world, but he is the Intercessor for all who have believed.
And he doesn’t partially save them, but he saves them to the uttermost. He justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies his people.
He blesses and he keeps us. He prays over us. He stands before God for us. 1 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.”
All our Christmas carols testify to that truth – Jesus has come down to save us from our sins, that we might be blameless before God.
May you recognize the miracle of the words you sing this Christmas season.