Read Mark 11:27—12:12
“They will respect my son.” (Mark 12:6)
It is at our own spiritual peril that we forget—amidst the haze of Christmas cheer and cozy warmth of vague “seasonal” sentimentality—that Christ was not born into this world so that God could discover “in the flesh” what nice people we are. He was born into a world full of people who had put themselves at odds with God. Or to put it less politely, God-with-us means, in the first place, God-among-his-enemies. Jesus Christ was born to die. His humble birth in Bethlehem was the first of many self-abnegations that culminated in his death on the cross at Calvary.
To a certain extent the story presented to us in the four Gospels is a story of rejection. What happens when we sinners finally get our hands on God? We kill him.
Jesus tells the harrowing parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-12. An owner of a vineyard living abroad desires the fruit of his land, as is good and right. So, he sends a servant to collect. The tenants beat him and send him packing and empty-handed. He sends more servants; and the tenants either beat them to a pulp or kill them. Finally, he thinks to send his beloved son. Delighted, the tenants kill him in an effort to take over inheritance of the vineyard once and for all.
The meaning of the parable is clear enough to Jesus’ hearers. God had sent his prophets to Israel time and time again. Yet Israel had rejected God’s word. Finally, God sent his beloved Son. “Come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours,” said Israel. And in this rejection of God, Israel stands in for all of us human sinners. Jesus Christ was born to die.
The Gospel is a story of rejection. But even more it is a story of what God in his incomprehensible mercy accomplishes through that rejection. When humanity said, “Let us take the inheritance,” God said, “Let them have it.” We kill God’s Son and God uses that murder to make us his sons and daughters. Through the cross of Christ God reconciles the world to himself. Through the cross God deals once and for all with those who had put themselves at odds with him. Jesus Christ was born to die for us and for our salvation. This is the inner meaning of Christmas: God took on flesh, but mortal flesh and eventually murdered flesh; and a more wondrous thing can scarcely be imagined.
Karl Barth tells us: “God condemned sin in the flesh, not in our own flesh but in that of Jesus Christ.” Thanks be to God.