Preach The Cross, Not The Manger

by Jeff Asher

As important as the birth of Christ is to God's scheme of redemption, true Christians and churches of Christ do not celebrate "Christmas Day" in memory of the birth of Christ either religiously or non-religiously. Why is this?

The Scriptures do not reveal when Christ was born with respect to the day, week or month. The Scriptures are silent with respect to any festival or holy day of obligation in memory of, in celebration of, or in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, no man has divine authority to designate a day for His birth and assign a religious celebration to that day to be observed by Christians.

The religious observance of "Christes Masse" was not known until the fourth century A.D. There is historical evidence that Christians repudiated its observance upon any day as late as the mid-third century. The Catholic church attributes its papal origin to Liberius in 354 A.D. Beyond this year there is nothing but pagan ritual associated with December 25th.

True Christians look upon the day as they do any other holiday designated by the government or custom. Therefore, we have no church "Christmas" parties and no special services on December 24th or 25th. Not only do we not have them, we oppose such being done in the name of the Lord. However, we accept it as a legal holiday and individually observe the non-religious customs that are associated with it which are legitimate and righteous.

Jesus' Birth Not Important?

The fact that we do not make a special observance for the birth of Christ does not mean that we regard it as unimportant or unnecessary. Quite the contrary. Without the birth of Christ exactly as it occurred prophecy would have been unfulfilled, there would have been no example for us in the flesh, the greatest doctrines man has known would have been untaught, all righteousness would not have been done, and man would still be in his sins. Yes, the birth of Christ is important.

But, His birth was not all that was necessary for our salvation from past sins and our new birth unto a living hope. His adult life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension unto the Father's right hand were all essential to effect God's eternal purpose (Romans 4:25; 5:8-10; 1 Corinthians 15:16,17; Galatians 4:4,5; Hebrews 5:7-9; 10:5ff).

The announcement of Christ's birth to Joseph was in terms comprehending the total mission of His life which culminated in His death: "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Even Jesus, when speaking of His birth, put it in the context of His death, "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The Scriptures focus upon the death of Christ as the climax of His coming, not His birth (John 19:30).

Furthermore, it is not Christ's birth that Christians or the church are commanded to memorialize by a feast. Rather, the Scriptures authorize the proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes every first day of the week by the observance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7; Matthew 26:28). Ironically, some who will be upset that I would suggest that "Christmas" is not a holy day, will be the very ones to deny the importance of the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper.

Away From The Manger!

I submit that because many are bound up in observing man-made holy days they have lost sight of the truly significant principles of Christianity as revealed in the Bible. The extent of the knowledge of some about Christ is only what they have heard about Jesus as a baby in the manger. Their knowledge of the Lord is corrupted with the legend, the myth and the fantasy of a secular holiday which traditions come from the pagan and the fairy tale.

Paul warned against this possibility in Galatians 4:9-11 saying: "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." The apostle would class the religious observance of "Christmas", a return to the "weak and beggarly elements," with the "will-worship" characteristic of the "commandments and doctrines of men" which are to perish and are of no spiritual value (Colossians 2:20-23).

Therefore, while we are mindful of all the benefits which are ours because he was born, we must realize there is more to the life of Jesus than the manger scene. Thus, we need to move away from the manger and His birth to other things of great importance, all the way to His death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead by which He became Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Away from the Manger to the New Birth

The baby Jesus in the manger had done nothing toward effecting the mission of His life. This remained for Jesus to accomplish in His personal ministry. This ministry is summarized by Matthew as, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17). Jesus came preaching the kingdom which He would establish and identified the terms of admittance as requiring repentance and faith (Matthew 21:28-32; Mark 1:15).

Early in His ministry Jesus encountered Nicodemas, a Jew of the Sanhedrin. To him Jesus taught the "new birth" or regeneration (John 3:1-8). The agents employed in this birth according to Christ are water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Jesus identifies how both are employed in giving the great commission after His resurrection saying, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Faith comes through the spiritual words of the gospel (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 2:12,13). Baptism is accomplished when we are immersed in water for the remission of sins (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 8:36-38).

Sadly, most religious people know more about the birth of Jesus than about this new birth. They are quite able to answer the question of the wise men, "Where is He that is born king of the Jews?" But, they are unable to properly discern the Scriptures and be born again. Like Pontius Pilate, they acknowledge that Jesus is a king (John 18:37), and like Pilate, they scoff at the truth of the kingdom.

Away from the Manger to the Rejection of Tradition and Creedalism

When Jesus entered upon His ministry he attacked the human tradition and creedalism of His day. He denounced the hypocrisy of self-righteousness saying, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Jesus used as examples of this hypocrisy the outrageous behavior of the Pharisees. Whether it was blowing a trumpet upon giving alms, praying on the street corners, ritual fasting, washing of hands and vessels, or broadening the borders of their garments to carry scrolls of Scripture Jesus perceived their inward corruption and determined they had their reward.

There is nothing more despised of God than human tradition imposed upon men as true religion (Matthew 15:1-14). True righteousness is not measured by the success one has in fulfilling the requirements of humanly imposed standards (Matthew 12:7), rather it is determined by the obedience of faith (James 2:21-24). The worshippers which God seeks are those that are seeking Him with worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Those that please Him are those that do the things which Jesus His Son says (Luke 6:46; Matthew 7:21-24).

Perhaps at no other time in the year is there less of what Jesus says done than at "Christmas." Like Herod, we profess a desire to worship Him (Matthew 2:8), but we intend to do exactly what suits us best. We cannot continue to admire the baby Jesus and refuse to listen to Him who speaks to us from heaven, the man Christ Jesus (Hebrews 12:25).

Away from the Manger to the One Church

"Christmas" like most other man-made religious traditions has been used to promote denominationalism. It is at this time of year that the various sects of "Christendom" will lay aside their doctrinal differences and join together in the celebration of "Christmas." There is a feeling of "unity" in their diversity. Men think: we all believe that Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem; we all sing the same carols; we all put an angel on top of the tree; therefore, we all must be serving the same Lord.

The Jesus that was born at Bethlehem did not preach religious diversity. He said: "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19). The Christ whom religiously divided men profess to worship established only one church and revealed from heaven through His chosen ambassadors its worship, work, organization and terms of admission. It is rank hypocrisy to gather around the manger-cradle of Him who died to purchase one church with His blood (Acts 20:28) singing "Come let us adore Him" and then perpetuate the division of that church.

Agreement on the facts surrounding the birth of Christ does not make Christians. The Mormons, the Catholics, the Pentecostals and most other Protestants celebrate the holiday. Yet, they are divided on fundamental questions of religion. For example, the Mormons celebrate "Christmas," but deny the deity of Jesus. Most Pentecostals celebrate it denying the triune nature of the Godhead. Some Protestants and Catholics celebrate offering the body of Jesus in the Mass, but are divided as to how they offer it. The wide acceptance of Christmas only coincides with the acceptance of other religious errors.

Away from the Manger to the Realities of Sin

It is wonderful that we can see at times the goodness of the human spirit. Christmas time has the power to infuse us with a charitable disposition and a concern for our fellow man. I admit that this is a Christlike attribute; however, it should not be limited to December. It is also at this time of year that we long for world peace and prosperity. Many think that this is what was announced when the angels said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14). Men become so overwhelmed with feelings of brotherhood and yearnings for peace that the "Christmas Story" is construed as a platform for saving the world.

While benevolence is a part of the work Christians do (1 John 3:17), it is not the principal work. What men need is not more food, better housing, less intolerance or greater education, but the gospel of peace (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15; Matthew 5:6; 11:28-30; John 14:6). Not until men are converted to Christ will they change. What many have forgotten is that the whole world lieth under the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). Satan is the God of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2), and as long as men serve him wars, murders, thefts and all manner of wickedness will continue (2 Timothy 3:13; Matthew 24:6; 26:11).

The serene picture of a mother and her child rejoicing in the love of family, hearth and friends does not represent the means by which this world will be transformed. Rather, that is the picture of those transformed by the power of the word of God. Joseph and Mary were chosen as the parents of Jesus on account of their righteous character. The shepherds were men of faith who looked for the coming Christ. The wise men were seekers of truth who upon viewing the star went in search of Him whose coming it announced. The baby in the manger did not transform Herod, Archelas or their Herodian cronies (Matthew 2:16). It was the Jesus who went to the cross and revealed His gospel that freed men from wickedness. Christ crucified is our peace (Ephesians 2:14-17; Colossians 1:20; 3:15; Philippians 4:7). He is the only hope of the world.

The Cross of Calvary

When Jehovah wanted to present the great prophet Isaiah with a picture of the coming Messiah He gave him glimpses of His birth (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2). But, in order to give him fullness of understanding, He took the prophet in the spirit and set him at the foot of the cross, as it were, to see the whole ordeal of bearing the sins of the world (Isaiah 53).

Dear friend, if you would reverence Christ as your Lord you need to see what Isaiah saw on Calvary, the sinless Son of God rejected of men and forsaken of God bearing your sins. This is the Jesus in whom you must trust to be saved. Yes, He is the child in the manger, but He is much, much more. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In order for you to have this Jesus you must repent of your sins (Luke 13:3,5), confess Christ (Matthew 10:32) and be baptized into Christ (Mark 16:16). Then you are a new creature in Christ whom the Lord has added to His church (John 10:15,16). My friend come away from the manger to the cross of Calvary.