Today for Us Is Born the Savior
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 25, 2011
Copyright © 2011, P. G. Mathew
The Incarnation of Christ
The greatest miracle that took place in history was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Savior of the world.
What is incarnation? My late professor John Murray says this: "The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not . . . . The infinite became the finite, . . . the immutable became the mutable, the invisible became the visible, . . . the sustainer of all became dependent, the Almighty infirm. [In sum], God became man."1 Murray also states that this incarnation "means the conjunction in one Person of all that belongs to Godhead and all that belongs to manhood."2
Professor J. Oliver Buswell Jr. says, "The virgin birth was a special miracle wrought by the Third Person of the Trinity, whereby the Second Person of the Trinity, eternal Son of God, took to himself a genuine and complete human nature, and was born as a man, without surrendering in any way his complete divine nature."3
All humans exist because of God. Adam came to exist without a human father and mother. Eve came to be without a human mother. Jesus was without a human father. All the rest of humanity came to be with a human father and mother.
In the incarnation of Christ, the Holy Spirit begat, and Mary conceived, without the agency of a man. This virginal conception of Jesus Christ was miraculous in three ways, according to Professor Murray:4
Supernatural begetting. Mary conceived without the aid of a man. Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit. It is the absence of human begetting that made this a virgin birth.
Supernatural person. This baby to be born to Mary was a supernatural person. The Bible is not speaking about a mere baby supernaturally begotten. The eternal Son of God through supernatural begetting took upon himself human nature. This baby is God-man (theos anthrôpos).
Supernatural preservation. The child was called Holy Son of God. He and he alone was born sinless, unlike us and unlike Mary herself. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "What is taught in Scripture is not that Mary had been either born or made sinless, but that that portion of Mary, that cell out of Mary that was to be developed into the body of Son of God was cleansed from sin; . . . and it is to [this cell cleansed from sin] that the Son of God is joined."5 Jesus was preserved from corruption to birth from sin that would have otherwise proceeded from his human mother.
The teenager Mary of Nazareth was a virgin like Rebekah, whom God chose for Isaac, the son of promise. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. But before they came together, Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit's action, after the appearance of angel Gabriel and before she visited her relative Elizabeth. Mary reported this fact of conception to Joseph, who considered divorcing her quietly. But the angel directed Joseph "to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." Joseph obeyed, and had no union with Mary until she gave birth to her firstborn son, Jesus.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and to the shepherds. What was their reaction? They were all afraid. They were all sinners, and sinners fear God's judgment because the wages of sin is death. But they all were told by the angel not to be afraid, for the baby to be born would be their Lord and Savior. He would sacrifice himself to make atonement for their sins. Instead of great fear, these would rejoice with great joy. The angel was bringing them good news of great joy.
Jesus brings us the joy of salvation. So the angel told Mary, "Fear not, Mary! You are the graced one. You have found grace with God. God is with you." The antidote to the curse that we merit is the grace of God.
In Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve were afraid because they sinned. But God promised to send a Savior, the seed of the woman, who would crush the head of the serpent, the devil, the prince of this world. The son of Mary, the Prince of peace, came to conquer and defeat the God of this world, the enemy of all good, and grant God's people eternal peace and joy. His people shall find grace, be saved by grace, and rejoice because of grace. And charis gives chara, that is, grace gives joy- great, unending joy. The grace of God in Christ takes away all our fears and enables us to rejoice always, even in tribulations.
In the fullness of time, Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Micah the prophet predicted that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2).
God caused Caesar Augustus to issue a taxing decree so that Joseph and Mary would go to Bethlehem. God is the Lord of history. So Joseph traveled to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife. In Bethlehem they could find no room in which to stay. But the time came for Jesus to be born, and Mary wrapped the infant Christ with strips of used clothes to keep his body warm and secure. She laid him, not in a golden cradle, but in a stone cattle manger in a lowly stable, "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). He would say later, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58).
Jesus was truly homeless. He is always borrowing, though he was the Creator and the Owner of all. Before birth, he borrowed the virgin's womb, and after his death he would borrow the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Yes, Jesus was born in a stable. Luke emphasizes this fact by making reference to the manger three times (Luke 2:7; 12, 16). In Luke 2:12 the angel told the shepherds, "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
No other king, when born, was ever laid in a manger. King Jesus alone was. But everyone ought to know who this King is, for he bring us good news of great joy. Every sinner must know him and surrender to him to be saved.
Do you know Jesus Christ-who he is and what he has done for you? This newborn alone can solve our great problems of sin, death, and judgment. "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). So Isaiah declares, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "˜Your God reigns!'" (Isa. 52:7). This King Jesus has come to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Isa. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-21).
He calls you and he calls me: "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28, author's paraphrase). Christ has broken our yoke of slavery and the equipment of war has been destroyed, all because "to us a child is born, to us a son is given" (Isa 9:4-6). The phrase "to us" means all this is for our salvation.
The Hebrews writer tells us, "Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity" - that means God became man - "so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death [i.e., the devil] and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15). Do you fear death? It is coming to you. But by his death, Christ destroyed our death and gives us eternal life.
Who Is Jesus?
Who, then, is this Jesus? When he was running for president, George W. Bush, to win the evangelical vote, said that Jesus was his favorite philosopher. I disagree with President Bush. Jesus is not a mere philosopher like Socrates. Who, then, is Jesus?
He is Immanuel (God with us). The virgin's son is called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:22-23). John writes, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory" (John 1:14). He is very God and very man, not a mere philosopher. God came to us in Jesus Christ to save us miserable captives from our sins. God is with us, and God is in us. The transcendent became immanent in Jesus Christ.
He is Savior. Jesus is the only Savior of all elect sinners. Christ alone saves all who surrender to him. So repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will save you. No one will be saved without faith in this Savior. Isaiah the prophet says, "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel. . . . And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isa. 45:15, 21-22). Hear the angel's words to the shepherds: "Today is born in the city of David a Savior." God alone saves, and yet Jesus saves. Therefore, Jesus is God the Savior.
He is Jesus. The angel told Joseph and Mary independently to give Mary's infant the name Jesus (Joshua), which means "The Lord is salvation." The reason is given in Matthew 1:21: "[For] he will save his people from their sins." All other saviors are frauds. Jesus alone saves us from, not in, all our sins, and sets us free from slavery to sin and death.
He is Christ, that is, the Messiah (Gk. Christos). He is the Spirit-anointed deliverer. He alone is competent to save. The Spirit of the Lord rests on him: the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2-3). He alone is the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King who teaches us, atones our sins in his sinless body, and rules us as King of kings and Lord of lords. (PGM) We read about the eternal kingship of Jesus Christ in 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, 18. God gives him the throne of David and he will reign forever and ever. He is the stone that came down and destroyed all kingdoms of the earth, and then grew to fill the earth (Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45). He is the Son of man to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given (Dan. 7:13-14).
He is Lord (Gk. Kurios). Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the eternal I AM. Yahweh is translated by the word Kurios in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint. In the New Testament, Kurios is applied to Jesus. This means the New Testament writers understood that Jesus was none other than Yahweh. This means Jesus is God. As God, he has come in Jesus to save his people. He does not beg; rather, as God, he commands all people everywhere to repent and believe on him. In the gospels, the term Savior appears only two times: Luke 2:11 ("Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord") and John 4:42 ("Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world"). So Mary gave birth to Jesus, her Savior and Lord. The baby lying in the manger is God and Savior. He demands no sympathy, but total surrender of all. Now he is wrapped in flesh and in rags, and soon he will be wrapped in grave clothes. Then he will be wrapped in great glory as he leaves this world to go back to heaven. In this great glory he will also come again to judge the living and the dead.
He is Wonderful Counselor (Heb. Pele Yo-etz). This Jesus is Wonder; he is Deity; he is Counselor. This King needs no counsel from us to do his job; rather, he gives counsel to us. The whole Bible is his counsel. Have you opened it? Have you read and understood it? Do you believe in the book of God's infallible truth? We must read the word of God in which God speaks to us, teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. It is the Bible that discloses the way of wisdom and salvation. Fools will not read the Bible. They may pretend to be brilliant and philosophers, but they are fools. Paul says, "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Rom. 11:34). He is Wonder Counselor to us.
He is Mighty God (Heb. El Gibbor). This means he is a warrior God, a God of war. God's defeat of Pharaoh and his army in Exodus revealed to Israel that their God is a mighty warrior. He declares war against all his enemies, and he always wins. Read the book of Revelation. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ proved that Jesus Christ is God-Warrior. He declares war against all sinners. Surrender is the only option if one desires to be saved. So the psalmist exhorts, "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him" (Ps. 2:12).
He is Everlasting Father (Heb. Avi-ad). This title reveals that Christ's paternal care for his royal subjects is eternal; it will never end. Isaiah says, "But you are our Father, . . . you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name" (Isa. 63:16). And as a Father, he has compassion on us his children. He never stops loving us.
He is the Prince of Peace (Heb. Sar Shalom). Jesus Christ is the Prince who defeats all his enemies and ushers in the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Peace comes after war. His war is not a win-win situation. Jesus wins, and all his rebel enemies lose for all eternity, and enter into eternal punishment. Jesus Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14; Micah 5:5). He made peace with God and with us by his atoning sacrifice, and he comes to proclaim this peace through the gospel to all who surrender to him (see Col. 2:15; Eph. 2:14-17; Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:14-15). Isaiah declares, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end" (Isa. 9:7). But understand the order. Christ's peace comes only to those who welcome his government, to those who truly confess, "Jesus is Lord."
He is the Shepherd. "He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, . . . and they will live securely" (Mic. 5:4). The people of God will dwell securely because their Shepherd is not a hireling. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for them. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall lack and fear nothing.
The Great Birthday Celebration
The angel Gabriel was sent, not to the emperor Caesar Augustus in Rome, or to King Herod in Jerusalem, but to the poor teenager Mary. He was sent to the despised shepherds with this good news of great joy. Paul writes,
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
The gospel comes through his messengers to the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the zeroes of this world, including these stinking shepherds. The mighty think they do not need Jesus to save them. They trust in their power, nobility, brilliance, philosophy, beauty, money, and youth. But they go to hell, the place that Jesus himself has prepared for them.
To the shepherds the angel proclaimed, "Do not be afraid, poor shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy for you and all the chosen people of God. Today in the city of David is born a Savior-your Savior-Christ the Lord, who was promised long ago by the holy prophets. You will find him laid in a manger. That is your sign. No other baby in Bethlehem shall be found lying in a manger. When you see him, trust in him, bow down before him, and worship him. He will save you. Then declare to all people this truth: Jesus saves sinners." We need a Savior because we are sinners. We need a divine, sinless Savior.
Then came the first great celestial birthday celebration. All heaven came down to Bethlehem to celebrate this birth of the Savior, God's eternal Son in human flesh, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a cow shed. Heaven came down, and glory filled the field of Bethlehem. The army of angels came down. God the Father himself came down in celebration of his Son's birth. If heaven rejoices when one sinner repents, how much more did heaven rejoice when the Savior of sinners was born and entered human history! So the angels sang the first Christmas song, full of joy and truth:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men of God's good pleasure.
This Jesus would bring glory to God by his life and death. He would do what Adam and Eve failed to do. They sinned and despised God, failing to glorify and enjoy him forever. In Adam, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In Adam, we sinned, and therefore we must die (Rom. 5:12).
But this infant Jesus would bring glory to God, and even now he brings many sons of Adam to glory. This One would fulfill all righteousness. He would obey his Father actively and passively by his death on the cross. So he would say later, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4). On the cross he cried out, "Tetelestai- it is finished!" (John 19:30). The work of redemption was done. And his Father said, "Amen," by raising him from the dead.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace-shalom-salvation to all who are God's chosen ones! When he saw the baby Jesus, Simeon declared, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).
Jesus Christ is the Prince of peace. He achieved peace by destroying the enmity between God and man, and the enmity between man and man, by his death on the cross. Now God declares peace to all who surrender to Christ and receive his grace, as Mary did, and great joy to all who receive grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
The shepherds believed the angelic gospel. They searched and found the baby in a manger as the angel had said. They believed, worshiped, and joined the heavenly choir, praising God: "Glory to God in the highest, because we sinners are reconciled by this Peace Child, Jesus."
What about you? You have heard this good news of great joy. Have you believed in him? Have you received grace and peace from him? Have you surrendered to him? Is your heart his throne? Have you confessed that Jesus is Lord? Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Soon you will die-either in Christ, or in your sins and under God's wrath. There is no third option.
Listen to the angelic declaration: "Today in the city of David is born to you [that is, for your salvation] a Savior, Christ the Lord." Jesus himself declared, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21). To the great sinner Zacchaeus, Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). To the praying and dying thief on the cross, Jesus spoke encouragingly: "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Jesus is the friend of the publicans, sinners, prostitutes, and thieves. He opposes the proud and gives grace, peace, and great joy to the poor and humble. So let us today join the shepherds and bow down and worship this Savior, King Jesus Christ, our Lord, and sing with all passion, "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!"
1 John Murray, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Collected Works (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984), 132.
2 Murray, 133.
3 J. Oliver Buswell, "The Virgin Birth of Christ," Baker's Dictionary of Theology, Ed. by Everett F. Harrison et al (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 543-44.
4 Murray, 134-135.
5 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits, Exposition of Chapters 7:1-8:4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 324.
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Copyright © 2011, P. G. Mathew
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