One of the things I strive to do during Advent is to deliberately connect the manger to the cross. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15 that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and I believe it’s important that we remind ourselves that Jesus came on a predetermined mission—He was a baby born to die.
As I contemplate this truth and seek to show it to my children during the Christmas season, the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament provide ample instruction to guide me along the way. Passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, among many others, display the beauty of a Savior who would save His people by laying down His life in their place. While meditating on this, however, I am also pleased to find that alongside these promises of His death there are also numerous promises concerning another crucial aspect of Christ’s saving work on our behalf—His life of perfect righteousness.
Our Creator made us in His image and called us to live as reflections of His character. Part of this commission is to be holy, just as God Himself is holy. As Jesus put it, the standard is nothing short of perfection (Matthew 5:48). Yet none of us have lived the life we were intended to live. Each and every one of us has gone astray to pursue our own ways, to set our own standards. This is the essence of sin—turning from God and His righteous rule in order to become our own kings. This attempted self-rule is, by definition, in treasonous opposition to His perfect kingship and such an action carries with it the penalty of death (Romans 6:23). If we would turn our backs on the Life-Giver, then it stands to reason that we should forfeit our very lives.
This is why Jesus came to die. In order to save His people, He would pay the penalty for our sin. He did this willingly out of His great love for us (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9–10). But in order to die that substitutionary death, it was necessary that Jesus have no sin of His own for which to die. The Savior needed to be perfectly holy, a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19). This was the exchange planned out before the foundation of the world—He would take the penalty for our sin and we would get the credit for His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus came to live a life of perfect obedience to the Father and, as the messianic prophecies attest, this was a vital part of the divine rescue plan from the beginning. The prophet Jeremiah assured a rebellious nation, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Likewise, Isaiah said of this coming King that “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist” (Isaiah 11:5). Jesus would live the life we were intended to live. He would be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect.
And what would He do with the merit of His righteousness? He would spend it for the sake of anyone who would trust in Him.
It’s just as God planned it before time began:
“Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch . . . and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” (Zechariah 3:8-9)
The Righteous Branch, grown out of a hardened and rebellious people, accomplished the salvation of His people by living the life we never could and dying the death we all deserve. He came in righteousness and, because He did, He was able to remove our iniquity in a single day as he hung on that cross in our place.
As you celebrate Christmas, keep in mind that the baby in the manger was the fulfillment of God’s promise to save His people through the death of His Son. He was a baby born to die, but He was also a baby born to live—and live in a way we never could. He came in righteousness.
Scott James serves as an Elder at The Church at Brook Hills. He and his wife, Jaime, have 4 children and live in Birmingham, AL, where he works as a pediatric physician. He is the author of The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent and Mission Accomplished: A Two-Week Family Easter Devotional.