Why Was Jesus Born?

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

When I was a kid my favorite word was “why.” I was a curious lad, always wanting to know how and why things worked, or why things are done a certain way, and not another way. Whenever I was told to do something I would always want to know “why.” I’m sure I exhausted my parents with my continual asking “why,” but I am convinced that this unquenchable curiosity has always played a large role in my quest for knowledge and understanding.

Hence, when people begin asking questions about the birth of Jesus, I’m frequently amazed that they will ask “when, where, and how” about his conception and birth, but rarely will they broach the question “why.” Specifically, why was Jesus born? I mean, God could have worked his Divine will by some means other than being born in human flesh. He didn’t have to become one of us, live among us, and walk the dusty streets of life with us, in order to teach us about God’s love, mercy, and grace. And, he certainly didn’t have to show us the true depths of Divine love by dying on the cross for our sins. God could have reached across the gulf that our sins have generated between God and us and simply made things right without anyone having to die. God, being God, could have wiped out our sin, converted us into perfect, obedient children, and placed us all in paradise. Right? Yes, God could have done anything he wanted – God is all-powerful, and had he desired to save us through some means other than the sacrifice of his Son, he could have done it. God didn’t have to come as Jesus of Nazareth to die in our place. Or did he?

While it is true that God could have achieved our redemption in any way he desired the simple fact remains that God, being true to his word and his nature, saved us through a perfect, eternal sacrifice. He saved us in the only way that his word would allow: God, himself, came to save us:

It was not by messenger or by angel,
but by his presence, that God saved his children;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them.
(Isaiah 53:9b)

God could have sent an angel to deliver us the message of his love. God could have wiped out our sin from a distance, without having to send his Son to be with us and to die for our sins. But, he didn’t. God’s word and God’s will required that: (1) God’s very presence be essential in our salvation, and (2) our faith in God be freely given in response to God’s gift of salvation. Sending an angel to give us a message of how to live, while wiping out our sin without any response on our part, would have invalidated God’s word and God’s will. Throughout scripture, and most especially revealed in God’s willingness to continually strive with the Israelites even despite their idolatry and disobedience, it is clear that God desires children who will love and trust him. Like any father, far more than involuntary obedience God wants his children to trust him. We failed to trust God in the Garden of Eden, where we listened to and accepted the word of the serpent rather than God’s word. And, so, Jesus was born to give us the opportunity and ability to love and trust God again.

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
(Hebrews 2:12)

Here we find Jesus asserting that he came into the midst of God’s people and, by his very presence, proclaimed the name of God. Jesus’ name – in Hebrew, “Yeshua” – means “Yahweh Saves,” and this is precisely what God planned to do through the incarnation, birth, life, and death of our Lord. As was said through the prophet Isaiah, God’s presence saves us.

“I will put my trust in him.” (Hebrews 2:13a)

The Father desires our faith; Jesus places his faith in the Father, trusting that God would honor his word and, after the crucifixion, would raise him from the dead. Such faith acts as a confirmation and empowerment of our faith as Christians. We are enabled to have faith because of Jesus’ own faith.

“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” (ibid.)

In other words, Jesus states to the Father “Behold, here I am and those you’ve given me!” To put this simply, Jesus stands with us before the Father, and the Father looks through Jesus and sees us as if we are as perfect as Jesus. God, through Jesus, bridges the gulf we have created between us.

Each of these three statements from the Book of Hebrews tells us why Jesus was born. Firstly, he was born to proclaim the very essence of God as the one who saves us. Secondly, he was born to empower our faith by placing his faith in the Father. And, thirdly, he was born to die for us and, hence, stand with and for us before the Father as our righteous savior.

God comes, in Jesus of Nazareth, to be our savior and to enable and empower our faith. No angel, no messenger, no unrelated entity could have ever done this. To accomplish these purposes, God needed to become one of us – he had to become human – so that he could die. In other words, Jesus was born to die.

© 2004 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.