December 25: The Birth of Jesus

25 Birth of Jesus

The Birth of Jesus

Advent reading for December 25: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; Micah 5:2

Luke and Matthew give us the beloved stories of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the circumstances surrounding it. Luke’s narrative follows the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s prophecy concerning John’s ministry as the Lord’s forerunner (Luke 1:57-80). Luke then focuses on the immediate circumstances of Christ’s birth, the circumcision of the babe (brephos) eight days later, and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna.

Matthew picks up the narrative sometime later when Jesus is no longer called a babe (brephos), but a child (paidion). Matthew begins with the words “Now after Jesus was born…”(Matthew 2:1). He tells of the wise men (“magi”) who came from the east to Jerusalem in search of the one “who has been born king of the Jews” (2:2). He writes of Herod’s rage and the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. He tells how Joseph, following the instructions received from an angel in a dream, escaped to Egypt with Mary and the child. Let’s consider first the birth in Bethlehem.

THE BIRTH IN BETHLEHEM

We might wonder why Mary was in Bethlehem, some 90 miles (145 km) from her hometown of Nazareth, when she gave birth to baby Jesus. This unusual circumstance resulted from a decree by the Roman emperor “Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” for taxes (Luke 2:1). Luke explains,

Luke 2:3–5 (ESV)  —  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Here we learn from a natural and political perspective, why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem with the important reminder that Joseph “was of the house and lineage of David.” As we have seen, Jesus, adopted by Joseph, was the legitimate heir to the throne of David. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in Bethlehem because the emperor had issued the decree.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BETHLEHEM

Bethlehem would not have been considered important at the time of Jesus’ birth. Although it was the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 17:12), it was only a village when Jesus was born. 1 

When the wise men from the east asked Herod, King of Judaea, where they could find the child who was “born king of the Jews,” Herod began his own search. “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). His purpose was not to worship the child as he claimed, but to destroy him.

King Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. They knew that 500 years before, God had revealed through the prophet Micah the place of Christ’s birth:

Micah 5:2 (ESV)  —  But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 

Bethlehem was “too little.” “O little town of Bethlehem” had seemed so insignificant. Except God had chosen Bethlehem as the place where his Son would be born. The scribes and chief priests gave their answer to Herod:

Matthew 2:5–6 (ESV)  —  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Out of Bethlehem would come a ruler in Israel. Micah had said that his “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” This future ruler would enter into time from eternity: “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” King Herod proved to be impotent against God’s decree.

When a country sends an ambassador to another country, all the pertinent information identifying the ambassador is sent to the host country well in advance of his arrival so that he will be recognized as the legitimate representative. 

TRUSTWORTHY CREDENTIALS

Through the centuries, going back four thousand years, God had spoken in various ways to the fathers through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). He revealed specific details about the One who would represent and speak for the Father so that we could identify him as the only one having the proper credentials. The Messiah, the Christ, would be of the seed of the woman, a descendant of Abraham, the “star” of Jacob, of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, born of the virgin in the village of Bethlehem. He would be the Son of David, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. He would be Immanuel, “God with us.” He would be the righteous Branch, the Suffering Servant, and the resurrected Lord of Glory.

This One born in little Bethlehem will be the ruler who will shepherd God’s people. Let us follow the example of the wise men from the east. Let us worship and adore him (Matthew 2:2, 11).


1 James M. Houston, “Bethlehem,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 290.

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December 24: The Word Made Flesh

24 The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh

Advent reading for December 24: John 1:1-14

The Gospel writers anchor the coming of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew traces Christ’s genealogy forward from the call of Abraham through David (Matthew 1:1). Luke goes further back, tracing Christ’s genealogy backward to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). But John looks beyond Abraham and Adam to a “time” before time.

THE WORD WAS GOD

John’s opening verse reaches back before human history, before the six days of creation, before time itself. John begins his Gospel in eternity past:

John 1:1 (ESV)  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Faithful Jews knew that the Scriptures began with the words “In the beginning…” (Genesis 1:1). Reading John’s Gospel, they would expect the next word to be “God.” “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, in John’s Gospel they read, “In the beginning was the Word.” John goes on to say, “and the Word was God.”

So in the beginning, the Word was. The Word was God. He did not become; he did not come into existence; he already was. He eternally “was” because “the Word was God.”

THE WORD WAS WITH GOD

“In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God.” Yet between those two phrases, John wrote, “and the word was with God.” While affirming the deity of the Word (“the Word was God”), he carefully maintains the Word’s distinct identity by repeating in verse 2, “He was in the beginning with God” (pros ton theon). The Word was in a dynamic face-to-face fellowship with God and yet the Word was God. These two truths John holds in tension: the Word was with God and the Word was God. We must not deny either truth.

Jesus affirms this understanding in his prayer to his Father the night before his crucifixion. He refers the glory he shared with his Father before the world began:

John 17:5 (ESV)  —  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

THE WORD WITH US

Matthew points to the birth of Christ as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that the child born of the virgin would be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). John speaks of the eternal Word who took on himself humanity and became “flesh” that he might dwell among us:

John 1:14 (ESV)  —  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

As we contemplate the meaning of Christmas, we understand that the eternal Word, who was in eternal fellowship with the Father and who came from the Father, took on himself human nature so that through his life and death and resurrection, we too may have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).

December 23: Jesus Christ, Son of David, Savior, Immanuel

23 December Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ, Son of David, Savior, Immanuel

Advent reading for December 23: Matthew 1

The opening chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew is another example of the New Testament writers recognizing that the ancient prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (See Advent Reading for December 22.)

Matthew opens the New Testament with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Immediately he traces Jesus’ descent from Abraham through the royal line of Judah via “David the King.” Abraham is mentioned three times (1:1, 2, 17), but the emphasis is on David who is mentioned six times in four verses (1:1, 6, 17, 20), the second time as “David the king” (1:6). 

JOSEPH, THE HUSBAND OF MARY

In the genealogy, Matthew uses the phrase “the father of” 39 times: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of…” etc. When he gets to Joseph, the pattern changes. Joseph is not said to be the father of Jesus, but rather “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is call Christ” (1:16).

Picking up the story in verse 18, Matthew clearly states that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, a legal status as binding as marriage, but they had not yet “come together” for the actual marriage had not yet occurred. When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, knowing that he had not been with her, he naturally assumed that she had been with another man and decided to divorce her privately. 

As Joseph considered his plan, God intervened. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and addressed him as “Joseph, son of David,” reminding him of “his legal ancestry by which he was the legitimate successor to the throne of David.” 1 The angel relieves his fears about Mary. She was still a virgin: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (1:20).

JESUS, THE CHRIST, THE SON OF DAVID

“She will bear a son,” the angel instructs him, “and you shall call his name Jesus.” The naming of the child was a legal act of adoption. By virtue of this adoption, Jesus is like Joseph “a legitimate successor to the throne of David.” 2 As the angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” Jesus would be called “the Son of David” (eight more times in this Gospel) fulfilling the promise that God had made to David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). While both Joseph and Jesus were legitimate successors to the throne, Jesus alone was the promised Messiah, the Christ (1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4; etc.).

JESUS, THE SAVIOR

Thus, this child, conceived in Mary, from the Holy Spirit, would bear the name “Jesus” from the Hebrew Yeshua, or Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” “God to the rescue!” 3 “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). 

JOSEPH, THE OBEDIENT MAN

While Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Mary’s perspective. Matthew focuses on Joseph. Mary was submissive (Luke 1:36); Joseph was obedient:

Matthew 1:24–25 (ESV)  —  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:

  1. He took his wife. 
  2. He did not have relations with her until she had given birth. This implies that he did have normal conjugal relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. His brothers are frequently mentioned (Mat 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19). 
  3. He called his name Jesus.

JESUS, IMMANUEL, “GOD WITH US”

Jesus is no mere teacher, no guru, no Muhammad or Gandhi. He is ‘God with us’.

— Michael Green

Matthew specifically states that this virgin conception was a fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah 7:14,

Matthew 1:22–23 (ESV)  —  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Immanuel: God with us. This is not us making our own way to God. No, God made his way to us. Jesus is God with us. 

Jesus is no mere teacher, no guru, no Muhammad or Gandhi. He is ‘God with us’. That is the essential claim on which Christianity is built. It is a claim that cannot be abandoned without abandoning the faith in its entirety. 4

God with us. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).


1 Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 53.

2 Ibid.

3 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 60.

4 Michael Green, 59–60.

December 22: Son of the Most High

22 Son of the Most High

December 22

Son of the Most High

Advent reading: Luke 1:5-38

From the opening chapters of Genesis, the Old Testament looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior. The New Testament, from the opening chapters of the Gospels, looks back to demonstrate that the promise has been fulfilled.

Luke begins with the angel Gabriel’s announcement that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son, and they shall call his name John. He announces that John will go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children… to make ready for the Lord a people prepared”(Luke 1:16-17). These beginning verses of Luke’s Gospel link to the last verses of the Old Testament where the LORD announced, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Six months later in the same chapter of Luke, God sends Gabriel to Nazareth “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:26). That one sentence points to the fulfillment of God’s promise to David a thousand years before (2 Samuel 7:1-17) and to Isaiah’s prophecy 700 years before that a virgin would conceive (Isaiah 7:14).

The virgin Mary is told that she will conceive and bear a son, and call his name Jesus (Luke 1:31). Gabriel spoke of 

  • His deity: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” the Son of God.
  • His royalty: “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (1:32).
  • His eternal reign and kingdom: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of this kingdom there will be no end” (1:33).

Mary wonders how this will be since she is a virgin. The angel explains that this will be a creative act of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The result is given: “therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (1:35). That is how the Son of God would come into the world: through the virgin birth.

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” That which seems impossible will happen “for nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37).

Salvation, like the virgin conception and birth, is impossible for man, but the impossible is possible with God. Mary’s response must be our response to the Good News of Jesus Christ: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). We cannot save ourselves, but we can say,  “Let it be to me according to your word.” “I am yours; save me!” (Psalm 119:94).

December 21: The Lord and His Prophet

The Lord and His Prophet

The Lord and His Prophet

Advent reading for December 21: Malachi 3:1-4; 4:1-6

Prophets don’t have prophets who announce their coming. We read the calls of certain prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah, but nowhere do we read that the prophets had other prophets preparing the way for their coming.

In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, the LORD speaks of two messengers who would come. 

Malachi 3:1 (ESV) — Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

The previous verse (Malachi 2:17) indicates that the LORD is speaking, so the first messenger would prepare the way before the Lord, the messenger of the covenant.

Jesus quotes Malachi to indicate that John the Baptist was the first messenger who prepared the way for Christ, the messenger of the covenant:

Luke 7:26–28 (ESV) — What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John…

“By citing Malachi, Jesus… has shown in what way John the Baptist is greater than a prophet: he is greater in that he alone of all the prophets was the forerunner who prepared the way for Yahweh-Jesus and personally pointed him out.”1

The prophets did not have prophets preparing the way before them. Only the LORD has prophets. Yes, Jesus the LORD had a prophet, John the Baptist, the greatest of all the prophets. John prepared the way for the One who was infinitely greater than himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.


1 D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 307.

December 20: King on a Donkey, Bringing Salvation

King on a donkey

King on a Donkey, Bringing Salvation

Advent reading for December 20: Zechariah 9:9-10; 12:10-13:1

God continues to reveal details about the identity and mission of the Offspring that he promised to Eve (Genesis 3:15). The two themes of the Messiah’s suffering and future reign continue to be developed through the Old Testament. Zechariah, one of the last prophets of the Old Testament, gives us one of the better known verses quoted in the Gospel according to Matthew. On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before his crucifixion, Jesus sent two disciples into the village of Bethphage to bring him a donkey.

Matthew 21:4–5 (ESV) — This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

Some 500 years before the birth of Jesus, Zechariah had prophecied,

Zechariah 9:9 (ESV) — Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

In this prophecy, Zechariah tells us several things about the coming Christ. First Christ the Messiah is our king: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” He is the one who was “born king” though his “kingdom is not of this world” (Matthew 2:2; John 18:36).

Second he is righteous. Time and again the Old Testament calls for the people of God to live righteous lives. The coming Messiah would be known and identified for his perfect righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:4-6; 16:5; 32:1). 1

Third, he would bring salvation. He would be called “Jesus” for he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Fourth, he would show himself to be “humble” or “lowly.” 2 Jesus invited us to learn from him, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). “He humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8).

Finally, he would come to his people “mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He came not on a war horse, but as the One who would be our peace. “He himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Zechariah takes us another step in showing how the coming Messiah would bring salvation. The LORD speaks of a time when the house of David will mourn as one mourns for an only child, a firstborn:

Zechariah 12:10 (ESV) —…when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced…

The Jewish scholars did not understand how the LORD could be pierced, but John tells us, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water…these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled…: ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’”

Zechariah tells us,

Zechariah 13:1 (ESV) — On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

Yes, this Word made flesh, this humble King was pierced for our transgressions. His blood was shed that we might be cleansed from our sins and uncleanness.

 


1 George L. Klein, Zechariah, vol. 21B, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 271.

2  Klein, 273.

December 19: The Son of Man, Human or Divine?

Son of Man

December 19

The Son of Man, Human or Divine?

Advent reading: Daniel 7:9-14

In considering many of the prophecies of the coming of Christ, we have seen recurrent themes of his sufferings (such as Isaiah 53) and his glorious reign (for example Jeremiah 23 and 33). The Apostle Peter wrote of these prophecies which pointed to “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:11).

In the Book of Daniel, we find a most important vision referring to Christ’s favorite title, “The Son of Man.” Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man 82 times in the Gospels. But what does he mean by this title?

It is often assumed that the title Son of God refers to Christ’s deity while the title Son of Man refers to his humanity. In fact, the title Son of Man refers to the incarnation of the One who was made flesh (John 1:14). It refers to Christ’s authority (Mark 2:10-11, 28), his earthly mission (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:22), and future reign (Matthew 26:64). It refers to the One who was human and divine, fully God and fully man.

The last time Jesus uses the title “the Son of Man” is when he was brought before the Sanhedrin the night before his crucifixion, the high priest commanded him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Matthew 26:64 (ESV) — Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus explicitly claimed to be the Son of Man who is seated at the right hand of God and will come on the clouds of heaven. In answering the high priest, Jesus quoted from Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man:

Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV) — “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ, it was revealed to Daniel that one was coming “one like a son of man” who would be “given dominion and glory and a kingdom.” “All peoples, nations, and languages” will serve him. All other kingdoms would pass away, but of his everlasting kingdom “there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:33). 

While we face uncertain days, but Daniel’s vision assures us that we will reign with Christ.

Daniel 7:18 (ESV) — But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’

The time will come for us to possess the kingdom (Daniel 7:22).

Daniel 7:27 (ESV) — And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

We will rule and reign with the Son of Man who is fully human and fully divine.

December 17: The Righteous Branch

Righteous Branch

December 17

The Righteous Branch

Advent reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6; 33:14-18

Disappointed are those who put their hope in the next election. Human leaders ultimately fail to meet our highest hopes and expectations, for like us, they are part of fallen humanity. Sadly, we have come to expect broken campaign promises or the inability of elected leaders to fulfill them. We are outraged when we learn of corruption, exploitation, and the abuse of power and position by those who have been elected to serve. How much worse are the conditions of people who live in totalitarian regimes such as North Korea.

The history of the world is often the story of self-serving leaders who exploit the people they should serve in order to gratify their own selfish desires. Such was the history of Israel, both the northern and southern kingdoms. In Jeremiah 23, the LORD rebukes “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (23:1). He warns them, “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD” (23:2).

The wickedness of the leaders leads to the scattering of the flock of Israel, but the LORD promises to “assume the role of the shepherd and gather the remnant of his flock from all the places he had driven them.” 1 The LORD promises to set shepherds over his people who will care for them so that they will not live in fear or be lost or missing.

In fact, he promises a future day when a descendant of David, “a righteous Branch” shall reign as king and execute justice and righteousness. (See Isaiah 11:1-9 and advent reading for December 13.) This coming king will be called “The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). This promise is so important that Jeremiah repeats it virtually word for word in 33:14-16.

Who is this coming king, this righteous Branch? The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). It is “by his special work he will impart to men a righteousness not of works but of grace (Eph. 2:8) which will include personal holiness as the work of the Spirit after justification.” 2 The LORD our righteousness is the righteous Branch who will come a second time to reign as king. As we consider the state of our world, we pray with the Apostle John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”


1 F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 211.

2 R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 21, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 123.

December 16: The Suffering Servant, Born to Die

Born to Die 001

December 16

The Suffering Servant, Born to Die

Advent reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Isaiah 53 is one of the most remarkable chapters in the Bible, sometimes called “the forbidden chapter” because it is avoided by Jewish rabbis. Many Jews, reading it for the first time, have come to faith in the Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

This passage has inspired hymns such as “The Healer” (“He was wounded for our transgressions…”) and “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”

If there is any doubt that Isaiah was referring to the coming Messiah, Jesus makes it clear. The night before his crucifixion, quoting from Isaiah 53:12, Jesus himself declares that he was born to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy:

Luke 22:37 (ESV)  —  For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

As we celebrate Christmas, we must not forget that the baby in the manger was born to die. He would be God’s Suffering Servant.

This passage actually begins in chapter 52, verse 13. God calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus: 

Isaiah 52:13 (ESV)  —  Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST

Christ would be “high and lifted up” on the cross, and after the resurrection he would be exalted to the right hand of God (John 12:32-33; Philippians 2:8-11).

Yet on the cross, his appearance would be astonishing:

Isaiah 52:14 (ESV)  —  As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

What is this? A crucified Christ? What a contradiction of terms! How could he be the Christ, the anointed one, and yet be cursed by God for “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23). Surely he is “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

SMITTEN BY GOD

Yes, it is true. Christ Jesus was smitten by God. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10). 

But why? “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (53:9). He is “the righteous one, my Servant” (v. 11). Why did God smite his Servant, his Son? Why did the LORD want to crush him? Why did he put him to grief?

The LORD makes it clear that his righteous Servant bore the punishment for our sins. He was numbered with the transgressors; he was numbered with us (v. 12). “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). He bore the sin of many (v. 12). He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities (v. 5). He was punished for our transgressions (v. 8). His soul was an offering for sin (v. 10). As the Apostle Paul puts it,

2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)  —  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

DIVINE SATISFACTION

The lamb or goat that is sacrificed as an offering for sin, that victim dies never to live again. But God’s Servant “will see the light of life and be satisfied” (v. 11, NIV). He lives again and is satisfied because “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many.” Through our knowledge of the Suffering Servant who died for our sins, we become part of the portion that is given to him.

Let us contemplate the meaning of Christmas. The baby born in Bethlehem was born to die and live again, that we might know him and through him be justified.

December 15: Christmas, the Story of God on a Mission

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December 15

Christmas, the Story of God on a Mission

Advent reading: Isaiah 49:1-7; 50:4-11

Christmas is the story of God on a mission. The Christmas story does not begin with the birth of baby Jesus. It starts with the prophecies of his birth at his first coming which we have traced from Genesis 3:15 through the promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Isaiah. God’s mission is further clarified in Isaiah 49:1-7.

GOD’S MISSION

God is on a mission. Theologians use the Latin term Missio Dei which means “mission of God,” or “the sending of God.” 1 God’s mission is revealed as the Father speaks to the Son: 

“I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6b).

God’s mission is not limited to the nation of Israel; it extends to the whole world. God’s Son is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12). As he promised Abraham, “In your offspring [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).

God fully intends “to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him” (Isaiah 49:5), but he declares to the Son,

Isaiah 49:6 (ESV) — …“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The Lord God says to the Son, “It is not enough that Israel would be redeemed. I want you to shine to the nations. I want my salvation through you to reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s mission is that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakuk 2:14).

GOD’S MEANS

How is this to happen? How is God’s salvation to extend to the whole inhabited earth? 

First, God provides salvation through his Son. The context of Isaiah 49 shows that the greater fulfillment of these verses points to God’s Son. The Son speaks of his incarnation, when he, the pre-existent Word, became flesh:

Isaiah 49:1 (ESV) — …The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Seven hundred years later, while the child was in Mary’s womb, angelic messengers told both Mary and Joseph that they were to call him Jesus. Gabriel told Mary,

Luke 1:31 (ESV)  —  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

An angel told Joseph,

Matthew 1:21 (ESV)  —  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

In the same way, Hebrews tells us,

Hebrews 10:5 (ESV)  —  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;

Again verse 5 refers to the LORD as he who formed me from the womb to be his servant.” The Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is spirit. God had to prepare a body for Christ to come into the world and fulfill God’s mission. The divine Son assumed a human nature and entered into human history as a man.

GOD’S MESSAGE

God’s message of salvation is the second means by which he will accomplish his mission.

The Servant Son’s message penetrating message is “likened to two sharp weapons,” 2 a “sharp sword” and a “polished arrow:”

Isaiah 49:2 (ESV)  —  He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.

Twice he states “in the shadow of his hand he hid me” and “in his quiver he hid me away.” God’s eternal plan was hidden until the appropriate time when Christ entered into the world (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 3:4-5, 8-10). 3

The message of salvation through Jesus Christ is declared to the ends of the earth:

Isaiah 49:1 (ESV)  —  Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar…

The world is called to “Listen to me” and “give attention.” The message of salvation through Christ alone is for the “coastlands” and “peoples from afar.”

Hebrews 1:1–2 (ESV)  —  Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

“This is my beloved Son,” God says, “listen to him.”

Christmas is the story of how God’s mission of salvation for the world is accomplished through Christ and his Word.

 


1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missio_Dei

2 Geoffrey W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III, Garland David E., vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 777.

3 Ibid.