I love the holiday season for many reasons, maybe most of all because it reminds me of home. It brings back memories of decorating the house with the family and Amy Grant playing in the background, of driving around at night to look at the city’s lights, of joyful anticipation of Christmas morning. In short, the holidays remind me of a time before the pain, strife, and troubles that have come with the years.
This is what I expect with Christmas—to take me back “home.” Not necessarily to a physical place, but to that time of innocence, peace, contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, rest.
And every year I’m disappointed when again the holidays are lonely, busy, stressful, anxious, and sad.
Far from the holly jolly, candy canes, and sunshine of commercial Christmas, the Christmas message of the Bible speaks to our reality of wandering and pain.
The angel declares to Joseph, “…he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21b)
Since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sin entered the world, God’s people have been wandering in the wilderness, waiting for a savior to bring them home.
The pain we feel during the Holidays are a direct reflection on the curses of sin.
- Tight Budget—“Thorns and thistles it will bring forth for you…by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (Gen. 3:18-19)
- Separation—Adam and Eve felt shame, hid from God, and turned on each other. (Gen. 3:7-8)
- Loss of Loved Ones—“in the day you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17)
- Stress, business, anxiety—Adam and Eve were expelled out of the Garden, driven east to wander in wilderness.
But the Christmas message also promises us a savior who will lead us “home.”
“And you will give him the name Jesus…” (Matt. 1:21)
“Jesus” was a popular Jewish name. R.T. France in his commentary said it was “among the most common Jewish names in the first century.” But the Bible, not history, gives us the context. “Jesus” means God/YHWH saves, or God is salvation, but it is also the Greek name of the famous OT leader, “Joshua” in Hebrew.
So by taking the name Jesus, God wants us to look back: how does Joshua paint for us a picture of the salvation our savior Jesus will bring? And he wants us to look forward: If Jesus is like Joshua, what do we expect from his salvation?
Faithfulness in Temptation, Brought Rest
God led the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the edge of the land long ago promised. Standing on the edge of their to-be “home,” God commanded that the leader from each of the twelve tribes be sent in to spy out the land (Num. 13:1). These men spent 40 days surveying the land and its people (13:25), presenting this expedition as a microcosm of the wilderness testing. Will the leaders and will the nation trust God to save them and be true to his promises in the face of the giant people and fortified cities? (13:28).
In short, the leaders of the tribes, the spies, failed: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (13:31). The entire nation, also lost faith—responding hysterically, weeping, grumbling, and even looking to appoint a leader to lead them back to slavery in Egypt (14:1-4).
Even Moses himself, the prophet par excellence, failed to trust and obey the voice of God in the desert (Num. 20:6-13), and was disqualified to lead the people into the Land (20:12).
So God raised up Joshua—the faithful man of God, the one who triumphed over the 40 day testing when the nation failed, the leader who believed and obeyed the voice of God, the man in whom the Spirit of God dwelt. This man was to bring his people “home” and to give “rest on all sides” (Joshua 21:44).
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The rest of the Scripture is clear that the Promised Land did not bring the salvation they had hoped. The nation of Israel might have been physically in the land, but they weren’t “home.”
- Time of judges presents total anarchy: “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes”
- Kings presents us with Saul, the failed king like the nations, and after David and Solomon, who are by no means without sin, the kingdom divided and idolatry and wickedness reign
- Enemies on all sides—Moabites, Midianites, Amorites, Philistines, Assyria
- Finally Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem, took God’s people away from the land
They were again wandering in the wilderness, longing for salvation, longing for rest, longing for home.
Jesus, our greater savior, leads us to the greater rest
Heb. 4 shows us that the real rest God promises his people is not the earthly possession of the Land of Canaan but a share in his own Sabbath, his eternal rest in heaven.
Just as at creation God worked for 6 days, and then rested on the Sabbath, so in salvation God works in Jesus Christ–living life we couldn’t, remaking humanity, bearing our sins in his body on the tree. And just as God at creation, when Christ’s work was finished, offering his once for all sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God”—resting after his work (Heb. 10:12).
The holiday season reminds us that we stand just like the people of God in Old Testament. We have been wandering in the desert, longing for rest, for home. But now we are on the threshold of that Rest. What we have is a greater savior than Joshua. One who will save us from our sins and lead us home.
Come Home for Christmas
The Good News of Xmas is not just that Jesus has triumphed, though he most certainly has, but that he also extends his hands and welcomes us into his rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28-29).
Do you want peace, fulfillment, rest this Christmas? Don’t look to the traditions, festivities, or the warm fuzzy feelings. Look to the manger and see towering behind the rugged cross and empty grave.
Jesus, our savior greater than Joshua, is the only way we’ll be home for Christmas.