All over our world churches spend much of December in preparation for pageants and plays on Christmas Eve. During our years of pastoring in Fort Lauderdale our church began a Christmas pageant that through the years grew to mammoth proportions. But, I must confess that I much prefer the simple Christmas plays conducted by the thousands of smaller churches each Christmas Eve. There is beauty and dignity not only in the simple and oft-repeated story but also in the simplicity of crude props, terrycloth bathrobes serving as Shepherds’ robes and a plastic baby doll placed in a crib of hay and stubble. There is just something that seems to be atmospheric about Christmas Eve.
I always found it amazing how much went on backstage before the curtain ever rises in a Christmas presentation. There are props to be made. There are costumes to be sewn. There is child care to be provided for the cast. There are faces to be made up and platforms to be constructed. There is music to be rehearsed and lines to be memorized. It can be somewhat confusing, often complicated and sometimes even comical backstage.
But on this Christmas Eve when everything is focused on Bethlehem and the manger I would like for us to think a moment about what it must have been like backstage…backstage in heaven, that is. Backstage in heaven our Lord was speaking a farewell to the Old Testament saints, to the angels and to the Father. He, then, laid aside His glory, stepped over the portals of heaven and into the dung of a smelly Eastern stable.
What would He say to the Father as He departed? Before the curtain rose on the greatest event in all of human history what was the conversation backstage in heaven? Fortunately, the Bible has recorded it for us in Hebrews 10:5-7, “Therefore, when He came into the world He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will O God.’ ”
Now, that for which heaven had been waiting was coming. Now, that One to whom the prophets had been pointing was coming. The Father had been bringing to light the picture of His coming for generations. Way back in the early verses of Genesis the sun of His revelation began to rise casting its shadow for all to see. He was there pictured in the skins that clothed Adam and Eve, in righteous Abel’s offering, Isaac’s sacrificial lamb, in the Passover lamb of Egypt and in Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter. Now, on Christmas Eve, it is high noon on God’s clock of revelation. No more shadows. It is now “the fullness of time” and God was sending forth His own son. God, Himself, now clothed in human flesh, was stepping out of heaven and into human history. How? With “a body You have prepared for me.” Why? “To do your will O God.”
Christmas Eve in heaven…what a thought! Most of our thoughts on Christmas Eve are centered around what took place on earth. The Innkeeper. Joseph. Mary. Elizabeth. Zacharias. The stable. The shepherds. The wise men. The angels. But, what about Christmas Eve in heaven? Gabriel had returned from his visit and had made his report of Mary’s response upon hearing the news. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she said. He reported on how faithful and obedient Joseph was while knowing that he would most likely become the brunt of every barroom joke in Nazareth. He told of the shepherds and their own excitement out in the fields of Bethlehem.
All of heaven was now looking over those portals. The “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) had come. Even though those on earth were mostly oblivious to this remarkable event, those in heaven were waiting, watching and worshipping.
Abel was looking over those portals. He had brought, not a work of his hands, but a sacrificial animal to the altar of worship and God had accepted it. “Now, I see it clearly,” he declares. Abraham was looking over those portals. He had left the land of his father and now he watches Christ make ready to do the same. Isaac was peering over the portals also on that Christmas Eve. He had put the wood on his back and carried it up Moriah to be sacrificed himself. Now, he too, sees it more clearly. Moses was watching. He had taken the Passover Lamb and spread its blood over the doorpost and lintel of the home and found out what it meant to be delivered from death and slavery. Rahab leaned over the portals that Christmas Eve also. Centuries earlier she had hung the scarlet thread out her window, a picture of Christ and His deliverance for us. And, Isaiah, he was certainly attentive. It was he who had prophesied that “a virgin would conceive” and would give birth to a Son who would later be “wounded for our transgressions.”
And thus, backstage on Christmas Eve, the Lord Jesus turned to the Father and said, “A body You have prepared for me….I go now to do Your will.” In these words we find two very important affirmations on this Christmas Eve. There is a word of condescension and a word of comprehension. Let’s go backstage in heaven and listen in on this Christmas Eve conversation.
A Word of Condescension
“…a body You have prepared for Me…” (Hebrews 10:5)
What a step—from the splendor of heaven to the womb of a woman and finally to the stable of Bethlehem. There is so much behind this statement of our Lord, “A body you have prepared for me.” The word “body” in the language of the New Testament translates a word meaning “material substance.” We know well the Bible teaches that God is a Spirit. Thus, what a word of condescension we find here. This great creator God stepped into a body of flesh to identify with us. In this body He would become our own sin bearer.
There is much revealed in the use of the word “prepared” in this statement of our Lord. It translates a Greek word, καταρτιζω, which means to be framed or to be perfectly joined together. It is found here in the middle voice which simply means that the subject performs the action upon himself. What a divine revelation — this is God who took upon Himself a body.
Here is condescension of the first and finest order. He became as helpless as a tiny seed planted in a young girl’s womb and as helpless as a little baby in total dependence upon someone else. He visited us and He did so as a baby. What condescension. His birth was unlike any other and yet, it was like ours in that it was accompanied by pain and struggle. He was born…not with the decency of a sterile environment with clean sheets…but in the dung and filth of a stable where sickness and death were likely possibilities.
Look at Mary. She is in labor. Her back is aching. Her feet are swollen. She is sweating. She is having contractions. The little babe’s head pushes itself into the world. She is struggling, pushing. And then, He arrives! God in flesh has come to visit us. Yes, “a body You have prepared for Me.”
Parenthetically, I have always been a bit amused at why some have a problem believing in the virgin birth and yet have no problem believing in the miracle of natural birth. How can two tiny specks of protoplasm be joined together resulting in all the intricacies of a nervous system, a respiratory system, a circulatory system and a digestive system? It is a miracle. Why, then, if we believe this can we not believe that this same great God could have planted His own seed in the womb of a young virgin girl?
Seven hundred years before Bethlehem the prophet Isaiah talked about a sign that would come. He said, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A sign is something that gets your attention and then tells you something. We have all seen them on the roadside during car trips. Isaiah told us to watch for a sign regarding the coming Messiah. And the sign was to be that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. This would take a miracle. So our Lord, backstage in heaven, says, “A body you have prepared for Me.” God planted that seed in that virgin girl Himself.
There are those today who contend that the virgin birth is not an important Christological doctrine. But it is vitally essential to Christ’s own Messiah-ship. He was the “God-man” and not God and man. He is God because He is the “only begotten of the Father” and He is man because He is “born of a woman.” God clothed Himself in human flesh.
Yes, in the words of our Lord this Christmas Eve, “A body You have prepared for Me.” What amazing condescension. He did not come as a grown man and rush out to the cross, but as a baby so that He could say to any and all of us, “I understand.” He knew what it was to face the accusations of illegitimacy throughout His life. He knew what it was to be deserted by much of His family and to be betrayed by His best friends. He knew the pain of being falsely and unjustly accused.
Yes, what amazing condescension. “A body You have prepared for Me.” He took a physical body so that one day we might have a spiritual body. He came to be with us in order that one day we could go to be with Him. He became what we are that we might one day become what He is in the sense of being with Him in a glorified state in His perfect paradise. In short, He came to earth so that we could go to heaven.
The miracle of Christmas and the virgin birth is that God formed the Christ in Mary. Before the day of Pentecost one body had contained the Lord Jesus but since then all bodies can through the new birth. Paul, the apostle, said, “I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
On this Christmas Eve amid all the joy of the season, look back-stage a moment. There is a word of condescension. “A body You have prepared for Me.”
A Word of Comprehension
“…I have come…to do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
Our Lord not only comprehended the will of the Father, He came to perform it. This is the primary purpose of His advent, that is, to do the Father’s will. He began with it here on Christmas Eve in heaven and thirty-three years later He ended with it in Gethsemane’s garden praying, “Not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Here was a conscious willingness on His part. He willingly, voluntarily, laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s will. Later, in the prime of life, He was beaten almost beyond recognition, stripped and mocked, slapped and spit upon and finally nailed to a Roman cross of execution. And, all willingly.
Listen to our Lord, “I have come to do Your will, O God.” Willingly the Lord Jesus took a body. Willingly He was led before Caiaphas, then Pilate and on to the cross. He was never dragged or pushed as an unwilling victim. Hear Him in Isaiah’s prophecy, “I was not rebellious nor did I turn away. I gave my back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out My beard. I did not hide My face from shame or spitting” (Isaiah 50:5-6). Yes, we have a word of comprehension on this Christmas Eve. “I have come to do Your will, O God.”
In the preceding verse from our text, the writer of Hebrews had said, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). In fact He says, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire” (Hebrews 10:5). Why then all the animal sacrifices on Temple Mount? They were all pointing to the Lamb of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. God took no pleasure in the sacrifice of these animals (Hebrews 10:6).
They all simply were pointing to Jesus. In what sacrifice then did the Father take pleasure? The final and complete sacrifice of His Son. We know this because He told us so at the baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Father responded from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
There are two small but very important words in our Lord’s word of comprehension. Note carefully, He said, “I have come to do Your will, O God.” It is not simply enough for us to know the will of God. We must do it in our own experience. The Lord did not come to find the will of God. He came to do the will of God. And there is a huge difference in the two. Many find God’s will but few seem to “do it.” True success in life is not simply to find God’s will for our lives but to actually do it. Jesus said, “I have come to do Your will, O God.”
This will of the Father took Jesus to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Nazareth, to Capernaum, to Jerusalem and on to Gethsemane, Golgotha, the grave and then back to glory. And because of His faithfulness to the Father’s will, the writer of Hebrews says, “By that will we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:10-12).
What if our Lord had called those legions of angels to deliver Him from the cross? What if He had known the will of the Father but not done it? There would be no Christmas tree, no ornaments, no presents, no Christmas Eve. There would be no church steeples, no churches, no New Testament. There would be no hymns, no hope. But thanks be to God that we “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
There is not only a word of condescension but also a word of comprehension. The Lord came primarily to do the Father’s will and that will eventually took Him to a Roman cross. Early on He declared, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
Christmas Eve in heaven. What a thought. What a night. Just before the curtain rises, our Lord turns to the Father and says, “A body You have prepared for me…I have come to do Your will, O God.” Should we do less this Christmas season? Since our Lord humbled Himself to say, “A body You have prepared for Me,” should we not also humble ourselves before Him? Since our Lord declared that He had come “to do” the Father’s will should we do less?
On this Christmas Eve in the midst of family and friends, pageants and plays and gadgets and gifts may we sincerely join the Apostle Paul in exclaiming, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).