That one bulb that brings down the entire string of Christmas lights is a single point of failure. Maybe you’ve been there, frustrated, detangling that rats nest of wires, inspecting every single bulb for burnout. After all is said and done, the bulbs are in the trash, and you’re burnt out now too. This is a single point of failure due to (1) a lack of redundancy.
Have you completed all your Christmas shopping? Maybe you like to push the limits of Amazon’s two day shipping guarantee. Enter a single point of failure when deliveries are delayed. Your Christmas tree finds itself barren Christmas morning, surrounded by the wails of ungifted children as you feverishly refresh the package tracking app on your phone. This is a single point of failure due to (2) low tolerances for error.
Software, on the other hand, can have multiple “single points of failure” sprinkled throughout the code. This is what makes hacks and software vulnerabilities inevitable with seemingly unlimited vectors for attack and exploitation. Software engineering is incredibly difficult.
In this fascinating presentation, Tom Scott weaves a fictional tale of a single point of failure in Google’s code that results in every Google account being unlocked and exposed. Every email, every text message, every photo, your entire browsing history… all public, all because of one simple addition to the code, inserted at just the right spot.
Harmless as it may look, the code that strictly scrutinizes passwords for accuracy is now detoured entirely, granting login access to anyone and everyone. This is a single point of failure due to (3) an insufficient rule based system.
Oddly enough, God designed a system entirely around a single point of failure.
No, I’m not talking about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in the garden of Eden. True, there was no other tree that would result in the downfall of humanity, a single point of failure indeed. But, no, this failure did not threaten the success of God’s plan. Actually God’s plan fully anticipated it.
No, the single point of failure in God’s plan was a legitimate threat to its success. Something that could be seen as a design flaw from the onset. A weakness so great that failure at many points in history seemed all but certain.
God’s plan had no redundancy (1) with no fallback in case of catastrophic failure. His plan had such a low tolerance for error (2) that nothing short of perfect execution would succeed. Meanwhile, the success of His plan hung in the balance, on the scales of an insufficient rule based system (3).
What made His plan so vulnerable to failure, so weak and so risky?
It is in the Garden of Eden that we find our first clue. Adam and Eve are hiding themselves in shame over their disobedience, and God issues this judgment upon Satan for his role.
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you shall strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (NIV)
The Protevangelium, as it is called, is the first glimpse into God's plan for humanity, the “first gospel”. In the midst of devastating consequences for sin, God proclaims hope. True, this enmity will fuel a war lasting thousands of years, but ultimately the woman’s offspring will defeat Satan by crushing his head.
And herein lies the weakness, the single point of failure. God’s plan hinges on the success of the woman’s offspring. God’s success is inseparably tied to human success.
Satan immediately preys on this weakness and “crouches at the door” (Genesis 4:6) of Eve’s firstborn son Cain. Cain proceeds to kill his brother Abel. Satan knows this simple truth, the offspring of the woman can not defeat him from the grave. This is a disastrous single point of failure.
And so the war begins. The Bible traces the battles, generation to generation, a tragic procession of corruption, failure, death and defeat.
Consistently God raises up faithful fighters, equips them for battle, only to have their children fall into disbelief and rebellion. The offspring of men are weak.
God responds in a very peculiar way. He doubles down. He makes a promise to King David that further narrows this single point of failure.
“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” 2 Samuel 7:16 (ESV)
God promises that the one who will rise victorious and defeat Satan, the one who will reign forever, the conquering champion, will in fact be born of David’s lineage, the prophesied Lion of Judah. (Genesis 49:8-12)
By announcing this, God knows Satan's battle efforts will now be refocused on David’s descendants, and they are. The single point of failure in God’s plan was now thoroughly exposed. The promises of God are at stake. It’s now become a war to stop the birth of this promised descendent of David.
In the familiar Dr. Seuss’ story the Grinch makes every effort to stop Christmas. Stealing trees, decorations, presents and even the “last can of Who hash”. As you know, he fails, because Christmas is not what he thought it was. Christmas isn’t gifts or decorations.
You may have heard the term “War on Christmas” along with the alarming news that saying “Merry Christmas” is politically incorrect. Political correctness aside, let’s imagine it were actually illegal to say “Merry Christmas”. I’m here to say right now that not even that would constitute a war on Christmas. No, the plan of God is not threatened by political correctness or free speech laws. Christmas is not a greeting. This is not the battleground for the War on Christmas.
No, the War on Christmas is Satan’s direct efforts to undermine and destroy the line of David, to undercut the promises of God, and ultimately make God a liar. The single point of failure in God’s plan is the birth of a child, and without this birth there is no Christmas... and so the war escalated.
The Bible describes attempt after attempt to terminate the line of David. Most kings were corrupted, and turned to idols. Prophets issued warnings, calling for repentance and faith in God, but they were easy to silence with swords and stones. Faithlessness was rampant. Kings were assassinated and laid to rest in tombs unmourned. Foreign nations attacked and carried kings off into exile.
For hundreds of years, God reminded His people over and over again of the warrior that would rise up and end the war once and for all, definitively fulfilling His promises. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to offer king Ahaz a word of encouragement, and assurances that the line of David would survive.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
Here God reveals that this warrior, this offspring of the woman, this descend of David would be known by two identifying features :
He would not be born by natural means. Virgins can not be virgins and conceive, let alone bear sons. This child will be conceived miraculously.
He would not be merely human. Immanuel means “God with us” and is truly the logical outcome of a miraculous conception. This child will be God in the flesh.
But Ahaz was not encouraged and missed the incredible miracle described in this prophecy. His faithlessness and pride resulted in 120,000 of his soldiers slaughtered in one day, 200,000 of his people taken captive, and the death of his son. (2 Chronicles 28:6-8) The noose was tightening and the royal lineage was down to a trickle. In desperation, Ahaz faithlessly turned to Assyria for help instead. (2 Chronicles 28:16)
And so this promise went almost forgotten. The war on Christmas seemed all but lost. For 400 years there were no kings, no descendants, and no hope.
At this dark time, the downcast people of God only needed to look up in faith. If they had, they would have seen what astrologists from the East saw in the night sky. A new king was born, the star proclaimed it. They charted their path and began a journey following the star. It brought them to Jerusalem, and King Herod’s court.
[The Magi] asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2
God placed that star in the sky and brought them to Jerusalem, but why would God do that? He certainly knew that drawing attention to this birth would ultimately reveal the location of the child. The single point of failure would never be more vulnerably exposed.
After years of waiting, and wondering, Satan was in hot pursuit, ready to strike, and inject his poisonous venom to kill this child. And yet God doesn’t hesitate to let Satan know the Promised One has arrived. Even while Satan and Herod are conspiring on their murderous plot, God shines a spotlight on this birth :
[Herod] sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:8
“...Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." Matthew 2:13b
When the Magi fail to ping back the child's coordinates, Herod sends out a decree to kill all the infant boys in Bethlehem. But this child escapes. The boy grows, and matures, He finds favour with God and man. The people call Him Jesus. Satan, tracks Him down in the wilderness and tempts him to abandon the fight, to accept the runner up prize instead. Jesus refuses, impervious to the allure of illicit gain. The religious leaders hear him teach and speak authoritatively about the kingdom of God, it infuriates them, and at the delight of Satan, stones are raised to kill Jesus. But He walks away unscathed, unharmed, seemingly invincible to the threat of man.
The Pharisees hear Jesus' claims to be God, to be God in the flesh, Immanuel.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58
They seek His death. A follower of Jesus hears the whispers of Satan, and pledges to expedite the process by betraying Him for thirty pieces of silver. And he does.
They rush through a midnight trial, and cowardly condemned Jesus to die without cause. They nail Him to a cross. The serpent strikes, Jesus is pierced, and a flash of venom fills His veins. The sky goes dark and the earth shakes. Satan could think for a moment that his evil laughter is splitting the rocks. A soldier thrusts a spear through Jesus' abdomen, and His limp body does not even shudder, the lymphatic fluids have separated from the blood and it flows freely. Jesus is dead. They wrap him in grave clothes, and they seal Him in, entombed by a boulder. There is no escaping the clutch of death.
The war is over. You see, there is no redundant backup (1) to God’s plan. If Jesus couldn’t do it no one could. There was no plan B. God’s plan had zero tolerance for error (2), Jesus needed to be perfect. The insufficient rule based system (3) had been hacked for generations, and Jesus exposed the vulnerabilities but it only brought Him death. And to be dead is to be defeated. There’s no victory in the grave.
Or is there?
There was a mighty defeat that occurred in that grave. But the defeat was not Jesus’. The first enemy to fall was sin. Jesus was in fact perfect, He met God’s intolerance for sin fully. He was perfect, without blemish of spot, and death had no claim on Him.
The second enemy to fall was death itself. Because Jesus had no sins of His own, the only thing that kept Him dead was the sins of mankind, yours and mine. Jesus resolved each and every one of them completely. When He was done, the stone no had further jurisdiction over that tomb and it immediately rolled away.
The final enemy was Satan. Jesus crushed his head. And the battle is won. Satan has has no claim over Jesus, no claim over those who put their trust in Jesus. The War on Christmas is over. Jesus is victorious.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57
Yes, God designed this world with a single point of failure, and Jesus overcame every obstacle. And while I fail in these ways every day of my life, I can celebrate this Christmas that the single point of victory is Jesus, Immanuel, God with us!
For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory. Deuteronomy 20:4
The war is over.