God put [Christ] forward . . . to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The story of Martin Luther’s conversion illustrates a point. He had almost been struck with lightning and made a vow to God to become a monk. But as a monk he was utterly unable to find peace with God. He sought God in every way the church of that day taught him—in good works, in the merits of the saints, in the process of confession and absolution, in the ladder of mysticism. On top of all this, they appointed him to the university to study and teach the Bible.
Listen to the way Luther later described his breakthrough. How was he prepared to see and receive Christ for who he really is?
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”
In the monastery Luther had come to the end of himself. He had despaired of salvation by his own hand. But by the grace of God he did not give up his longing and his hope. He directed his attention to the one place he hoped to find help—the Bible. He said, “I greatly longed to understand.” He said, “I had a great yearning” to know what it meant. And he said, “Night and day I pondered.”
In other words, God prepared Luther to see the true meaning of Christ and accept it, by stirring up a deep and powerful longing in his heart for consolation and redemption that could come only from Christ.
And this is what God does again and again. He may be doing it for you in this Christmas season—graciously and tenderly frustrating you with life that is not centered on Christ and filling you with longings and desires that can’t find their satisfaction in what this world offers, but only in the God-man.
What a Christmas gift that might be! Let all your frustrations with this world throw you onto the Word of God. It will become sweet—like walking into paradise.