A flood of “Merry Christmas” expressions this time of year come via emails from companies wanting to retain our business, via cards from neighbours as goodwill gestures, and via verbal comments from professionals and others. But as we know, one can only be truly merry about Christmas if one believes in the Christ who came to earth to take upon Himself, through His suffering and crucifixion, the heavy curse that lay upon us—yes, that lay upon us even before we were born. Yet that is something even many ‘Christians’ will not accept.
Recently Rev van Delden related in a sermon[i] how, some years ago, he had the sad duty of conducting the funeral service of a young child that died in his mother’s womb. At the graveside, he led the family in prayer and thanked the Lord because even though this child was conceived and born in sin and therefore subject to all sorts of misery, even to condemnation, he was nevertheless sanctified in Christ. But these words—namely that this child was conceived and born in sin, and therefore subject to misery, even condemnation—provoked one of the assistants from the funeral home to come to him after the graveside service and to vilify him for having spoken those words. According to this funeral assistant the minister was the most disgusting person he’d ever met, seriously mentally deranged, unfit to be a minister of God’s Word. Without giving the minister an opportunity to respond, he walked off in a rage.
The doctrine that every baby comes into the world defiled by sin is foreign to so many people; yes, even to many Christians. Yet Scripture is very clear that everyone is conceived and born in sin and that, because of this, the heavy burden of God’s curse rests upon him. David says “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5). The curse that rested on our first parents Adam and Eve when they turned away from God (who had blessed them so amazingly in Paradise with all that is good and perfect and lovely) in order to follow Satan applied to all their descendants. This we confess in our Canons of Dort:
“Since after the fall man became corrupt, he as a corrupt father brought forth corrupt children. Thus the corruption has spread from Adam to all his descendants…. Therefore all men are conceived in sin and are born as children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, inclined to all evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin.” (Ch. 3/4, Art. 2&3)
This was impressed upon the people of Israel in the Old Testament in so many ways. Think, for example, of the Levitical laws. As Rev van Delden said:
“God instituted laws that impressed upon the saints of old the transmission of sin from parents to children. In Leviticus 15 we read that if a man, in the course of sexual intercourse with his wife, released some of the seed from which new life originates—he was unclean, and he had to bathe himself.
There was a similar law for women in their menstruation, which is a part of the cycle that prepares a woman’s body for a new opportunity to become pregnant. A woman would become unclean during this period, and everything she touched would become unclean.
By these laws, the Lord taught His people that the whole process of reproduction was tainted with sin. That which flowed from the founts of life in man and woman was unclean. The seed of man and woman was defiled.”
We sometimes hear people talk about common grace, a teaching popularised by Abraham Kuyper as a basis for working together with unbelievers in various kingdom activities. By it they mean that God’s blessings rest upon all people, for does He not make His sun to shine over all the earth, and does He not provide rain and so many more gifts to all people? However, if one speaks of common grace in this way one must also remember its corollary, the common curse that rest on all people. It’s this curse, because of our original as well as actual daily sins, that needs to be removed and can be removed through the miracle of Christ’s birth and life on earth for all who believe. The removal by Christ of that curse is the ground on which we may have a merry Christmas.
For just as the first Adam brought sin into the world and polluted all his descendants with it, so the second Adam, Christ Jesus, took that curse upon Himself, freeing us and all His people from the eternal punishment, misery, weeping and gnashing of teeth we deserved. The tremendous debt and burden of our guilt has been removed from us: “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden [because of the guilt of your sins] and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
How could Christ, through His perfect obedience, suffering and death, obtain this rest for us? Because He was both perfectly sinless man and true God. As Rev van Delden said:
“Christ was able to bear the indescribably heavy burden of God’s wrath which burned against you and me, and against our children and grandchildren, as many as God called to Himself. No human, however perfect and pure, could have borne that immensely heavy burden. A normal man would have been crushed under before even 10% of that burden had been placed upon his shoulders. But because Christ was not just a man, but because He was also true God, he could bear in full the heavy burden of God’s wrath.
Furthermore, the fact that Christ was true God gave His suffering and death such great value. The fact that Jesus is the eternal, natural Son of God meant that His death was of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for our sins and the sins of our children.
What does all this mean? This, that we are not subject to the curse of sin any more! We are not subject to the punishment of sin in this life and in the life to come.”
Of course, this does not mean that God’s children are therefore no longer suffering in this life. There continue to be illnesses, accidents, persecutions, oppressions and other sufferings here on earth. But we know they come not by chance but by God’s loving, fatherly hand. He uses them to build us up in the faith. Indeed, we know that all things work to our salvation. This gives comfort in our trials and difficulties.
As Habakkuk said:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labour of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God makes us to rejoice, to have great comfort, to have a merry heart because Christ came to earth to suffer and die, purchasing His church with His precious blood. Is it not inexpressibly wonderful to walk with Him from day to day in the firm assurance that the heavy burden of our guilt has been removed through Christ our Lord and Saviour? He offers this salvation, and the glorious, deep, inner peace of mind that is the fruit of this salvation, to all who accept the promises of the gospel with a believing heart. He took our curse upon Himself and grants to all who believe blessed fellowship with Him, now and eternally. In that comfort of what Christ has achieved for us we can be truly, deeply merry at Christmas and always.
[i] Sermon on Lord’s Day 14 of the Heidelberg Catechism held in the Free Reformed Church, Mt Nasura, 17th December, 2017.