After 18 years with five strapping sons, it was quite a shock to my system when our daughter Hadley was born in 2014. I was so used to Tonka trucks, Nerf guns, and action figures that it took me quite a while to adjust to pink bows, Disney princesses, and baby dolls around the house.
Hadley turned three this summer, and she plays with her baby dolls constantly. And each year at Christmas, we remember how Jesus entered this world as a helpless infant in a humble manger. But we often forget the real dangers that surrounded His birth. He wasn’t born in a germ-free hospital, but in a dirty stable where animals slept. And what about Jesus’ enemies?
When Herod the Great learned about this infant king, he determined to eliminate his rival at any cost. Even Satan himself attempted to exterminate Jesus on more than one occasion.
With so many threats to Jesus’ life, we might wonder why God didn’t bypass the manger and send Jesus to earth as a full-grown adult, a few weeks before the cross. That way, Jesus could still die on the cross for our sins, while avoiding all the pain and problems of a typical human life. So why was it so important that Jesus be born, and live a full life in adulthood prior to the cross?
The Bible gives us at least three important answers:
1.) Jesus came to live the perfect life we needed. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John the Baptist was shocked (Matthew 3:14). But Jesus insisted, explaining that His baptism would “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In other words, Jesus was doing what was right in God’s eyes. Thankfully, Jesus would continue to do right His entire earthly life.
Scripture says He grew up physically, socially and spiritually (Luke 2:52) — so that He might accomplish the mission of rescuing sinners and returning them to God.
At every point in life where sinners failed, Jesus succeeded. By living the perfect life, Jesus established the righteousness we needed to be accepted by God. When we trust in Jesus, God exchanges our sin for Jesus’ perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). So it wasn’t only Jesus’ death that saved us — it was His perfect life, too. This is why Jesus lived those 33 years, which stretched from Bethlehem to Calvary. He did all the work, but those who believe in Him get all the credit.
2.) Jesus came to taste our human experiences. It’s not uncommon for hurting people to say, “You just don’t understand.” But Jesus understands. In addition to being the Son of God, He is also 100 percent human in every respect. Just like us, Jesus experienced weariness (John 4:6), hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 4:7), anxiety (Luke 22:44) — and even back-stabbing friends (John 13:27).
Because Jesus lived a full life, He understands our struggles and sympathizes with our sorrows. Scripture says, “We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Jesus has “been there,” and He’s ready to help us.
3.) Jesus came to give us an example to follow. Do you remember the first time you wrapped a Christmas present? Chances are someone had to teach you how to do it correctly. This signals another reason Jesus lived a full life on earth: to teach us how to live for God. Loving one’s neighbor, showing grace to the undeserving, and obeying God’s Word — Jesus taught these things and He modeled them, too. His remarkable life was not merely for our viewing pleasure, like toys in a Christmas catalog, but for “an example, that you should follow in His footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). If we want to make our lives count for eternity, there is no better example than the life of Jesus Christ.
Christmas is only a few weeks away, and everywhere we look we see decorated nativity scenes. Wooden, plastic, or ceramic — every scene has a manger in the middle, where the baby Jesus rests.
This year, let’s remind ourselves that while Jesus started in the manger, He didn’t stay there. Scripture says He grew up physically, socially, and spiritually (Luke 2:52) — so that He might accomplish the mission of rescuing sinners and returning them to God. This was a full-grown task for a full-grown man, and we should be incredibly grateful that Jesus embraced the challenge — from the cradle to the cross.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.