Whose birth are we celebrating? For what reason was He born? To whom is granted deliverance (i.e., salvation), and who will receive swift judgment?
What is it that we celebrate at Christmas? What is it that we rejoice in during this season of advent? Who is Jesus? And, what is so special about His birth?
Let us for the moment, forget discussions about Christmas trees (aka., evergreens or conifers), decorative lights, the famous and/or classic tunes of the “season”, the giving of gifts, family gatherings, and great food and drink to which we spend the rest of the year attempting to burn off so that we can do it all over again.
Instead, what I would rather do this morning is develop what I started last week a bit further. Before that, let us partake of a short review. That way we get our bearings in order, so to speak.
Last week we listened to the voice of two key witnesses concerning the early life of Christ (before and after His birth). Both men attested to the work of Jesus:
- Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, recognized our Lord as the great Redeemer1 of Israel, “… a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Luke 1.69).2
- Simeon and elder in Jerusalem noted the following as he held the newly born baby Jesus, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed… so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2.34, 35; ESV).
These men spoke in light of what they’d been taught growing up in Israel, under the tutelage of God’s Law-Word. To them Jesus was not someone that merely saved a person from their sins. A get out of hell, get ushered into heaven “golden ticket.” He was their King. As I said last week,
“The birth of Jesus is the birth of the King. Not just any king, but the Anointed One of God. That’s what Messiah [Hebrew] or Christ [Greek] means. Jesus entered history at the appropriate time to wage war against the enemies of God. Such language is troublesome, I think, to our modern ears. We think of Christ’s entrance into the world as a season of great joy. And it was! It is! But not for all people. Simeon was excited about it. Zacharias was too. But, not everyone would be overjoyed about the birth of the promised king. As far as many were concerned in Israel, David’s line (lineage) was better off dead.”3
What I would like us to do this morning is read through a few key prophetic texts that layout the promises of God, what the believers in Israel hoped for at the birth of God’s Anointed. After that we shall take a few moments drawing out the implications of these prophetic promises. The passages in question shall be: Psalm 2; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:13-14. But before we go to them, I want to look briefly at the claim of the wise men from the East, as well as, the testimony of our Lord a couple hours before His death. The desire is to see who and what we are celebrating when we speak of remembering Jesus’ birth.
The claims of the Wise Men from the East…
Let us read Matthew 2:1-2 together,
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’”
A couple of quick things to note. First, there were wise-men (or magi) from the east who saw the star (glory; Grk. Aster) of the Lord and they traveled a great distance to worship (offer service) to Him. These were the learned men of ancient times; scholars and experts in various fields of study. They served as counselors to kings, and often times served as the chief representation of the lord they were loyal to. Point being, they weren’t ignorant men but men who took the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom very seriously. Second, they saw the glory of the Lord from afar (literally hundreds of miles to the west of them) and they set arrangements to travel to Him because they were looking for Him. It wasn’t happenstance that which occurred, but it was an ordained event where believer’s of the One True God eagerly longed and looked for the true Master of their hearts.
Side Note: I have always found it fascinating that the gospel (Matthew’s) written primarily to “Jews” has at the early stages of our Lord’s incarnation representatives from outside of Israel seeking to serve Him. Whereas, Luke’s gospel is the one that highlights the Jewish people who were eagerly anticipating the birth of their Messiah, even though, it was written to a primarily Gentile audience.
This brings me to our third observation. The wise-men from the east enter into Jerusalem continually inquiring where the Promised One, God’s Anointed is located that they might worship Him. In other words, they are expecting the citizens of Jerusalem to know. We read the question in English, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” and we think, perhaps, it was only asked once. But the emphasis in the original language is that from the very moment they entered the great city of God—the place where God in the past established His Name—they never stopped inquiring “Where is God’s Anointed? Where is the promised King? Where is the Chieftain of all the Jews4; the worshiper’s of Yahweh?”
But one of the disparaging remarks against that 1st century generation is that though God, the Living-Word, 2nd member of the of Triune God, visited them in the flesh “…His own people did not receive Him” (John 1.11; HCSB). Nor, were many looking for Him it would appear to the wise-men who visited Jerusalem not long after His birth.
The Claims of Jesus before the Authorities of that Period…
We now briefly turn our attention to the statements of Jesus hours before His crucifixion. He stands before ecclesiastical and civil authorities with claims that ultimately led to His unlawful death. In Mark 14:61-62 Jesus is interrogated by the current high priest of Israel,
“‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (ESV; ref. To Psa 110.1; Dan 7.13-14).
For now, I will only highlight two facts present in this text, which we shall return to later in greater detail. First, Jesus testifies that He is in fact the Anointed One of God, His beloved Son. Secondly, He states not only that He shares God’s power as an equal, but that judgment is His to deliver.
In John 18:33-37 we read about Pilate’s questioning of Jesus. A little background information might help in understanding the conversation between the Roman governor Pilate and Jesus. The charge against Jesus in the Roman court is that He is claiming to be a king contrary to Caesar (cf. Luke 23.2; John 19.12, 15). This was a crime of sedition, if true. Thus the conversation between Pilate and Jesus goes as follows,
“Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me? Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of5 this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’”
Why did Jesus say He was born? What was His reason for coming into the world? To be King. And what does the King do? What is the evidence of His rule? He dictates the coming and going on in His realm. He demonstrates His authority to govern, for governing is the right of kings. (All four gospels verify this repeatedly.)
And when we look back to Matthew 2 with the coming of the wise-men, what do we find? We find those who have traveled a great distance in order to pay homage (i.e., worship, service) to the one born King of the Jews. But at the same time, we also find those who weren’t looking forward to His coming, were unaware of His arrival, and when they learned of it were “troubled” (Matt 2.3). And we need not wonder what sort of “trouble” His entrance into history brought to their minds, for it is revealed early on what they thought of God’s Anointed—they hated Him. They wanted to see Him dead (e.g., Matt 2.16; Mark 12.7, 12).
Ultimately, Christ Jesus did die for being a king but not because His life was taken from Him. Rather, it was because He willing laid down His life for His sheep. He died to deliver His people from sin. From sin’s damning effects personally and corporately. While this is true, and it is surely a truth to be celebrated, it is not all the story.
Today’s Angst Against the Christian Faith…
Before we delve into the prophetic promises of the past and our Lord’s take on them, I wanted to take a brief moment and discuss the current antagonistic spirit against the Christian faith. Over the last couple of years I have been heard the phrase “Christian Nationalism” over and over again. At first, I was unsure of the meaning of the phrase. I’d never heard it before the various media outlets and political pundits thundered their various warnings and condemnations in reference to it.
I’m not surprised that the world hates the Christian faith. The world is split into two general groups: covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. Those that acknowledge the Holy God of Scripture, and those who vehemently oppose Him. But something I listen for is the response of those who claim to know Christ.
The identifying marks of a Christian are those who desire to know and live by God’s Law-Word (cf. Psa 119.97, 113, 163, 165). That’s not my personal standard, but it is the standard that Jesus Christ hammered out in His earthly ministry; demonstrated repeatedly in word and deed. In fact, He said you’d know true believers by their fruit (Matt 12.33; Luke 6.44), and their fruit would be defined by their adherence to the truth His Law-Word’s life application (John 8.31-32; cf. Luke 6.46-49).
So, when I first began hearing about Christian Nationalism as a catch phrase, I listened to how various Evangelical groups or people responded. (Evangelical was a word used to describe the Lutheran’s during the 16th century Reformation where they “…sought to redirect Christianity to the gospel and renew the church [universal] on the basis of God’s authoritative word.”6 However, in recent years the spiritual zeal of such groups leans further and further from established biblical norms, towards a humanistic understanding of the faith.)
It is then no surprise that many “Evangelicals” here in the West are denouncing the idea of Christian Nationalism, while also, disparaging those who dare attempt to put it in a positive light. The argument against the idea that a nation should be Christian, or that Christians should attempt to restructure the nation after the image of the founder of the Christian faith (Jesus, our namesake; cf. Heb 12.2), is stated in the following ways:
“Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the apostles attempting to persuade civil magistrates (rulers or leaders) to adopt a Christian understanding of law and justice. All they did is preach (proclaim) the gospel.”
“We are Americans. We live in a pluralistic society. We can’t force our Christian morals or ideals on the rest of the nation. We can’t think to punish them for not thinking like we do by having laws based on our religious beliefs.”
Truly amazing, when you think about it. Now I say this without attempting to belittle anyone. But the ignorance7 of our generation (of the past couple generations) is astounding. It shows a total lack of understanding concerning worldview issues. It assumes a position of neutrality is possible in this life. And it denies what the Scriptures testify about our Lord and God. If God is not the God of a nation, then some other god will fill the void. Nature abhors a vacuum. We are either for God or against Him in terms of the individual and society at large. All laws are religious in nature. If God and His Law-Word is not what sets about to dictate the affairs of life, then some other law-word will. Whether it be secular humanism, Islamic Sharia Law, Communism (Marxism), or something else.
When we say we live in pluralistic society what does that mean? That there are many ways to determine what is right politically, ethically, and socially? Pluralism is relativistic for it is a representation of the gods of the nation. The theological term for pluralism is polytheism. The question is never whether or not a nation should be Christian or representative of the Triune God of Scripture, but if not that God, then who?
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov 14.34; ESV).
Prophetic Promises of the Coming King…
Rather than listening to me prattle on about this or that, let us look to the Scriptures and see if God’s thoughts on the matter can straighten us out.
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.’ ‘I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’ Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship [serve] the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to [lit., kiss or obey] the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”
Notice that all the kings of the earth are to stop plotting against the Lord and His Christ (Anointed means Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew), and are told to obey Him, lest they be destroyed for their rebellion. God laughs at their foolish plans. They plot evil, but they cannot win. If they continue to plot their current course, destruction will be their final destination.
Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6-7
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (ESV).
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
These passages are often cited during the Christmas season because of their fulfillment found in the birth narratives recorded for us in Matthew and Luke. Both attest to the fact that the one whom we know as Jesus, the son of Mary, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, of the lineage of David, is the chief representative of God in the flesh who tabernacled amongst us (cf. John 1.14, 18). Please note what the primary comment about Him is—i.e., what role He is to fulfill. The government is to rest on His shoulders. He bears the office of chief governor. His government is said to continually increase. No end is in sight for it is eternal. Starting when? At the moment of His birth to be sure, but the final witness to its unfailing nature will be when He demonstrates His power over all things, including death.
Daniel 2:44-45 & 7:13-14
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but is will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy” (cf. vv. 31-43).
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve [worship and obey] Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Both prophecies refer to the same individual. The stone which was cut from non-human hands and hurled at the kingdoms of the earth, destroying them and growing into a great mountain that filled the earth is being referred to in Daniel 7:13-14 as the one like a Son of Man. Notice that the kingdom (His kingship) is eternal, and His dominion covers the whole earth. He is presented to the Ancient of Days (i.e., God the Father) as one worthy of receiving this Kingship and Kingdom. His worth was proved in that He honored the Father’s will in word, thought, and deed. Jesus applies these truths to Himself during His earthly ministry. He testifies about it through His preaching ministry. He demonstrates it by His removal of the effects of the curse ranging from personal sin, to the blight of the curse on man’s health, their social relationships, and even overthrows the existent demonic powers who flee from Him in terror.
Some will say, yes these things are true, but they don’t apply yet. We must wait for some future return before Christ truly reigns. It is said that the devil reigns and yet he doesn’t appear before us, how can it then be said that Christ who has appeared, who has been vindicated through the resurrection from the dead, and is now seated at the Father’s right hand… how can it be said that the devil reigns but Christ does not?
Moreover, how can it be said that God never intended for the nations to be obedient to Jesus and the Christian faith for which He stands, when He blessed His Son with a name that is “… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1.21; ESV).
The coming of Christ was not just the get out of hell free card that so many churches across this nation love to offer platitudes about. His coming was the ushering in of a vast Kingdom; a mighty kingship. One that demands the loyalty of all people in every nation, not just here in the United States. Listen to Him who is the Christ, who is the Anointed King over all Creation. Listen to what He demands of His people, and what He requires of the nations. (And these are in light of the passages I read to you a short while ago.)
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [that is, OBEY] all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28.18-20).
Jesus has “ALL” authority. He possess it in heaven, seated at the hand of Power, and on earth. He commands His people to represent Him, to proclaim His worth, to testify about the goodness of His law, to call on the people to follow Him. And how do they demonstrate this following? By being baptized in the Name of the Triune God, and as a result of that covenantal status learning to obey Him in all matters of life. This means that God’s laws are not only righteous requirements of His people, but an unbreakable standard that will hold the rest of the world accountable.
Jesus was born to transform not just the nation of Israel, but the surrounding nations so that His light, His glory, will fill the whole earth. He believed the prophecies about Him and acted accordingly. As a result, His work as King is to put all His enemies under His feet (cf. 1 Cor 15.23-27). And His people are His representative servants, living out His Law-Word in every area of life. Jesus stands in opposition to pluralism, to polytheism, to all systems of thought that are opposed to God’s Holy Word.
If He is opposed, then what does it say of us? What should our position be? Where do our loyalties lie?
The thing that gets me the most, is that the world of unbelieving thought sees the truth of this better than we do. They saw Jesus as a threat and sought to kill Him. In the book of Acts, we read how they likewise viewed His disciples (the Church) in the same light and sought to do the same with them. Why were Christians hunted down and persecuted, imprisoned, and killed? What brought them before the various civil and ecclesiastical authorities of the past? Why is the history of our brethren littered with violence and hatred against them?
Was it because they on proclaimed love and peace? Was it because they only held onto a personal, individualistic faith? No, it was because they told the world that they needed to repent, to lay down arms, and recognize Christ Jesus. They said that all other authorities are commanded to bow down and obey Him, for He is ruler over them all.
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.7; ESV).
I am amazed at the blindness the seems to hold such sway over the Church here in the West. So as not to confuse I do want to offer one last explanation. The overthrow of all false systems of thought do not come through the armaments of men, but of the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer. Our faith is not violent, but it is demanding. We do not plead with the world to believe, we tell them that if they desire to live they must repent. For the King of kings has not only been born, but is currently seated at the right hand of God, exercising His sovereign authority by divine right. Change has already came upon the earth since His birth, and that change is continuing, and will continue until all His enemies are brought low before Him. This change is the long-view of history, not the short. If we look over the last two thousand years what do we see? The slow and steady advance of the Kingdom of Christ into every corner of the earth.
That is what we ought to be celebrating when we remember the birth of our King. And it is our duty this time of year, as of others, to remind the citizens (great and small) of this nation that they owe their allegiance to Him, lest He become angry and dash them to pieces. In short, we have nothing to fear but everything to rejoice in this Advent Season. Let us do that.
1A Greek term filled with political nuances.
2“horn of salvation” means great or strong savior or deliverer. The use of a “horn” was a symbolic reference to the strength displayed in some animals, that serves as a type of crown or seat of power. This is why you will note other biblical references to other civil leaders as “horns” (aka., mighty kings); see Daniel 7:7, 24; 8:3-8, 20-22; Rev 17:7, 12, 16. Compared to the Lord God: Psalm 18:2, which reads, “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (ESV; emphasis added).
3Kristafal Miller, “Over the Years: Christmas and the Testimony of Two Witnesses,” sermon delivered 12/11/22, pg. 6.
4Today the term Jew means anyone associated with or claiming ties to modern Israel; or the religious sect known as Judaism. Originally, the word was taken from the patriarch of the tribe of Judah, was used to identify the Southern Kingdom after the schism when Solomon, 3rd king of Israel died, and was later applied to the entire Israelite nation after returning from Babylonian captivity. A Jew is one who is stylized as a worshiper of God, a believer in His Word or Holy Scriptures. According to the Apostle Paul, a true Jew is one who believes in God’s Christ/Messiah (Rom 2.29; cf. Col 2.11-12; Gal 3.26-28; 6.14-16).
5The word “of” is possessive carrying with it the meaning of “from.” It speaks of origins, not of where Christ’s kingdom is manifested. According to Jesus in the gospels, His kingdom is in our midst (Luke 17.21; cf. Matt 12.28; Rom 14.17).
6R.V. Pierard and W. A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, Walter Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 409, s.v., “Evangelicalism.” The term has been used quite extensively but over the course of time the sense of the term has changed.
7“Ignorance” properly defined is the lack of knowledge or education, either purposefully or accidentally. An accidental ignorance is just a lack of knowledge or understanding on a given subject. Such ignorance is not shameful. Since the human mind is finite, we are naturally limited in our ability to know and understand all things. However, a willful ignorance is another matter entirely. To be willfully ignorant is to be stubbornly stupid. It is not the absence of knowledge or understanding but the rejection and refusal of acquiring it. Such ignorance should be shamed, for it is contrary to the dictates of our God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1.7; cf. 18.2).