To celebrate Christmas, you need to know what Christmas was designed for. You must know that Christmas was designed to display God’s grace. To understand grace, you must know something about a man named Paul as well as your sin. A long time ago, a man named Paul wrote an importance sentence into the pages of the Bible. He wrote it because Christmas was deeply personal. Here’s the sentence:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Paul draws a tight connection between Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem and his own sin. When he reflects on the story of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the manger, he cannot help but make it personal.
Christmas is Personal
Unlike Paul, most of us don’t think of sin when we consider Christmas. We think of happy things such gift-giving or spending time with family. I can imagine if Paul were invited into one of our homes only to begin confessing his sin while sitting in our living room, we’d quickly change the topic. Still others would simply make a face behind his back, mouthing the word, “Awkward!” Truth be told, Christmas in modern day America is a time where most of us desperately desire to be happy. Nobody wants to hear others confess their dishonesty, lust, or vicious anger at Christmas. We simply want be happy and carefree.
Not Paul. Paul celebrates Christmas differently. Paul remembers the kind of life he formerly lived. And everyone else knew the kind of man he used to be (Galatians 1:22-24).
Had you named one person who, more than any other, had worked to exterminate Christianity in the first three years of its existence, Paul’s name would have been on the top of the list. The Bible actually gives us a considerable amount of space to Paul’s activities prior to his conversion. He watched over the coats of the men who stoned Stephen, a good man, while they went about their dastardly deed. The men needed to remove their outer garments in order get the full range of motion necessary to really hurl the stones to kill Stephen. And Paul gladly watched over the outer garments of these men as they pelt Stephen to his death. Worse still, Paul liked this murder (Acts 8:1). He approved of this murder as Stephen was murdered for no other reason than for being a follower of Christ. This murder inspired Paul to try to eradicate every Christian in the early church. This is the kind of man Paul was. And it is his former life that he thinks about when he thinks about Christ’s birth.
The Christian population wasn’t that big in Paul’s day. At his death, it is estimated that there were some 40,000 believers throughout the Roman Empire. So it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to get the sense that these early Christians were a tight knit community.
Imagine if there was such a thing as a Christmas Eve service in those days. Paul enters the synagogue for a time of worship as he prepares his heart to give thanks for Christ’s birth. His life has been profoundly changed because of the grace of Christ. But when he walks into worship, he sees Stephen’s widow and her children. He recognizes her immediately. In the midst of his Christmas Eve celebration, he remembers his awful crime. It’s as if a knife is plunged into his conscience. Though he knows Christ has forgiven him, he still considers how he used to be. No wonder he says he is the world’s worst sinner.
Some know what it is like to see everyone around happy only to sit in misery. To feel the pangs of conscience when you think of how you have spoken to your spouse. To count the gifts under your tree but to know you haven’t been generous with your employees. To have made promises and failed to keep them. Sometimes the happiest times of all, bring tremendous amounts of pain.
Nobody is Beyond Grace’s Reach
Christmas was designed for you to think of Paul’s life. Where most of us think of Santa and reindeer and fewer still consider Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, God designed Christmas for you to also consider the example of Paul. How do I know this? Because right after Paul tells us that Christ came into the world to save sinners, he tells us that God made an example out of his own life for people everywhere:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
So watch the logic of God’s design behind Christmas in these two verses. Think of this as a chain of thoughts that are tightly connected to one another. Picture these words as a stone skipping across a lake where each time the stone bounces off the water you see interconnectedness of the Bible’s concentric circles across the surface.
- Christmas is the time when Christ came into the world to save sinners (verse 15).
- Paul is a big sinner (verse 15).
- Paul received mercy because of Christmas and his life was changed (verse 16).
- Paul’s transformation is an example to all of us. For if Paul’s life can be changed, any of our lives can be changed (verse 16).
Let’s put these the chain of 1 Timothy 1:15-16 back together. Christmas was intentionally constructed and arranged to change Paul and Paul serves as an example for the rest of us. And what kind of example does Paul offer? Just this: if Christ can change Paul, he can change anyone of us.
Experience the grace of Jesus this Christmas. We are not changed by our own efforts but we are radically changed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazereth.