“Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.” – Isaiah 61:7
To defend the importance of the Christmas, it is sometimes said that you can’t really have Easter without Christmas. In other words, Jesus first had to come to earth as a man before he could die for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead.
The opposite is just as true: you can’t really have Christmas without Easter. Without any notion of Easter – who Jesus is or what he did for us, how he died but then defeated sin and dead – Jesus’ birth is not really all that special. Consider that Isaac was born to a 90 year old woman after angels predicted his birth (Gen. 18:10), or the story of the birth of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5-25). But Isaac and John the Baptist were just men.
So what made Jesus different? John the Baptist answers this question in his testimony before the Pharisees. He says quite clearly that Jesus is more important than he is: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. 1:26-27). He also points out that Jesus is the one who would take away the sins of the world: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
For Christians today, this statement of the Gospel may seem too simple or even cliché. How many times do we hear it said that “Jesus died for your sins,” almost as if this were a routine exercise? For millennia, Old Testament believers had been trusting in the promise of the forgiveness of sins with no firm idea of how this would be accomplished. Though the prophets promised a time when the sins of Israel would be removed from the land, even then no one knew exactly when or how that would happen.
In the typical Israelite experience, the only way to atone for sin was to sacrifice an animal and shed blood on the altar, or else to have God himself declare their sin forgiven by some other means.
Deep down we all have a sense that sin is utterly expensive, deadly, and impossible to remove. It leaves a residue and a stain on anything it touches. No amount of effort or confession is strong enough to “undo” sin. This is why it is impossible for us to escape the regrets of our past, or “restore righteousness” in our lives by just trying to improve our behavior.
Perhaps this helps to explain why John the Baptist got excited as he declared who Jesus was. Imagine the relief as people started to realize that Jesus actually able to restore righteousness in its purest sense. He was the sinless one, God in the flesh, the man whose death could count as a sacrifice great enough to remove sins.
Only Jesus can restore righteousness.