Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

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Behold the King!

You have probably had the experience that I have often had, where you are looking for something in the closet or garage, but you couldn’t find it because you had the wrong concept of what you were looking for. You thought that it was in a square brown box, but it really was in an oblong yellow box.

So you stared right at it, and perhaps even moved it out of the way, but you missed it because your mental picture of it was wrong.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day missed Him as their Messiah and King because they were expecting a different kind of Savior.

They thought that Messiah would be a mighty political deliverer, who would lead Israel to military victory over Rome. They were not looking for a lowly Savior, riding on the foal of a donkey. They could not conceive of a suffering Savior, who offered Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. And so, tragically, they missed the coming of their King.

Many people still miss Jesus because of wrong expectations. They’re looking for a Savior like Aladdin’s Genie, who will grant their every wish, but it hasn’t happened.

They want a Savior who will instantly solve their deepest problems, but those problems have not gone away. Or, they expect a church where everyone always loves one another. But a church member treated them wrongly, so they dropped out in bitter disappointment.

In order joyously to welcome Jesus as our King, we need to understand properly who He is. Our text is one of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Even most Jewish commentators down through the centuries have agreed that this is a prophecy about the Messiah.

Zechariah 9:9-10 teaches us that…

Because Jesus Christ is King and He is coming to reign, we who are subject to Him should rejoice greatly.

The news that a king is coming is not necessarily a cause for great joy. The first part of this chapter predicts the coming of Alexander the Great, who ruthlessly conquered Israel’s neighbors.

The news of his coming would have struck terror into the hearts of those in his path. He often slaughtered all the men in a city and sold the women and children into slavery. He was not concerned about the well-being of his subjects, but only about his own power and dominion.

It is also difficult to accept the news of a coming king because there is a sense in which all of us want to rule our own lives. We can accept governmental interference to a limited degree, as long as it doesn’t get too close.

But if a king started trying to control every aspect of our lives—how we do business, how we relate to others, including our families, and even how we speak and think—we resist the very thought! We certainly would not rejoice at the news of the coming of that kind of king!

But that is precisely the kind of King that Jesus is! He is rightfully Lord of all people and of all aspects of all people’s lives. Regarding this King, Zechariah exhorts, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.”The rest of verses 9 & 10 describe this King and explain why His coming gives cause for great joy. If we understand who this King is and what His coming will mean for all the earth, we will rejoice greatly at the news of His coming.

Jesus Christ is King.

The phrase translated, “your king is coming to you” can also be translated, “your king is coming for you,” that is, “for your benefit”. To receive the benefits that this King brings, we need to recognize our need. Israel was under the domination of powerful foreign rulers. They were incapable of freeing themselves. But this King had the power to deliver them and He had their best interests at heart. Spiritually, we must admit that we are under the domination of sin that will destroy us and that we are unable to free ourselves. Then we will welcome the promised King and the benefits that He offers. He comes for you! But who is he?

JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF AUTHORITY.

Authority is bound up with the idea of kings, at least in the ancient world.

Today, some monarchs, such as the Queen of England, have almost no authority. They function as official state dignitaries. Their wishes may have some weight with those who run the government. But they don’t have much authority.

But even in His first coming when He came as the humble, suffering Servant, Jesus Christ possessed a quiet but total authority over all people and events. Although the Jewish leaders hated Him because He threatened their authority, they could not lay hands on Him until His time had come (John 7:30; 8:20).

The chief priests and the Sanhedrin had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they should inform them so that He could be arrested (John 11:57). Jesus’ bold action of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the cries of “Hosanna” led to His arrest and crucifixion at the very moment that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Scripture.

The uniform picture of all four gospels is that Jesus was firmly in charge of all these events. Jesus was not a helpless victim. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down on His own initiative (John 10:17-18). The point is, Jesus was clearly in charge of the events surrounding His death, including the triumphal entry, the betrayal by Judas and the death plots of the Jewish leaders. None of it took Him by surprise. He is the King of authority who controls all things according to His purpose, even the events of His death (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

Before we move on, we need to personalize it: Is Jesus the King your King? Does He rule in your heart and life? The idea that you can choose Jesus as your Savior now and consider whether you want Him to be your lord later if you wish, is nonsense!While submitting to His lordship is a lifelong process, it begins at salvation, and if it has not begun in your life, you have reason to question whether you are truly saved.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF JUSTICE.

Zechariah says that Israel’s king is just (some translate “righteous,” but the sense is justice).

The primary reference in this context is to a king who administers justice in his kingdom. He is not corrupt, like so many world rulers. I recently read a news article of a former president of a Central American country who siphoned off over $100 million into personal and family bank accounts. That story could probably be repeated in dozens of countries. Much of the poverty and suffering around the globe stems from corrupt leaders who have no regard for justice.But Jesus Christ will be just in the administration of His kingdom because He is righteous in His person.

He is not out to take advantage of His subjects for personal gain. He has their best interests at heart.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF SALVATION.

He is “endowed with salvation” (NASB). Jesus came to bring salvation to His people. For the Jews, the salvation that Messiah would bring had national political overtones.

For centuries, the Jews have been threatened by hostile nations that have sought to annihilate or enslave them (Ps. 129). Thus when God promised them a deliverer, they thought of one who would reign on David’s throne and bring “salvation from all our enemies, and from the hand of those who hate us” (see Luke 1:69-71). Yet at the same time, salvation for the Jew also had a personal dimension related to the individual’s deliverance from God’s judgment on his sins. Thus the father of John the Baptist prophesied that he would go before the Lord’s coming “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Or, as the angel told Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Zechariah 9:10 refers to Messiah’s second coming, when He will fulfill the national sense of salvation by ruling over all the nations.

But the New Testament makes clear (in conjunction with several OT prophecies) that in His first coming, Messiah came to bring spiritual salvation by offering Himself as the sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice against sinners. If God dismissed our sin without the penalty being imposed, He would not be just. God has declared that the penalty for sin is death, not only physical death, but also spiritual death, eternal separation from the holy God (Rom. 6:23). Through Jesus’ death as the perfect substitute, He paid the penalty we deserved, which allows God to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

There are two wrong notions that will keep many people out of heaven, and they usually go together. First, people wrongly believe that God is too loving to send decent, moral people to hell. But that kind of thinking grossly underestimates the serious nature of our sin. A single sin in thought, word, or deed is enough to condemn a person to hell! And it compromises God’s justice in favor of His love, which compromises His holiness. The second wrong notion is that most of us are good enough to qualify for heaven. Sure, we all have our faults, but we’re not like murderers, terrorists, and child molesters.

So we figure that the scales will tip our way when we stand before God because we were sincere and we meant well. Many Jews made this mistake. They thought that since they were descendants of Abraham, they observed the ritual law as prescribed by Moses, and they were better than the Gentiles, that God would not judge them. But their error was that it requires perfect righteousness to get into heaven.

That’s where Christ and the cross come in. On the cross, the perfect Son of God offered Himself as the substitute for sinners. He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Some day you will stand before God either clothed in your own goodness, which will condemn you, or clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. God credits that righteousness to you the instant you renounce all trust in your own righteousness and put your trust in Jesus as your sin-bearer (see Rom. 3 & 4).

Jesus came the first time bringing salvation, but He will come the second time as the judge of all the earth. If you have trusted Him as your personal Savior, then you can rejoice at the thought of His coming as the judge, because He has borne your sins.

JESUS CHRIST IS THE KING OF HUMILITY.

“King of humility” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Perhaps we should say that He is the humble King. In contrast to the proud Alexander on his war horse, Jesus came as a servant on not only a donkey, but the foal of a donkey. The donkey was a lowly animal, used for peaceable purposes by those who were of no rank or position. By riding the foal of a donkey, Jesus was showing Himself to be the King, in fulfillment of our text, but not the exalted political king that the people expected. In His first coming, Jesus was the suffering Messiah who offered salvation and peace with God through His death.

The Hebrew word for “humble”can also mean poor or needy in an economic sense, and that was also true of Jesus, who had no earthly wealth or possessions (Luke 9:58). The word also includes the meaning of a righteous man afflicted by evil men. Jesus willingly laid aside His rights and took the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Charles Spurgeon pointed out that no false Messiah has ever copied Jesus in this taking the low place of a servant (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 3:129). But our Savior commanded us to follow Him in this regard. After He took the towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet, He said, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you”(John 13:15).

There are numerous commands in Scripture warning us not to think too highly of ourselves and to think more lowly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3, 16Phil. 2:3). I cannot find any verses that tell us to build our self-esteem. So we should learn humility from our Savior. He is the King of authority, justice, salvation, and humility. Finally,

 JESUS CHRIST IS KING OF CREATION.

This is evident from the fact that He rode into Jerusalem on an unbroken colt. I am no expert on horses, but I know enough not to climb onto an unbroken colt! Jesus’ riding on this colt shows His miraculous power over the creation that He spoke into existence by the word of His power. There was also a spiritual significance in the fact that the colt was unbroken. In the Old Testament, when an animal was put to sacred use, it had to be one which had not already been used for common purposes (Num. 19:2Deut. 21:3). Since this animal was now to be used for the Messiah, it had to be an animal that had never been ridden by man.

Only the Lord of creation could do what Jesus did.

If Jesus is the Creator, then certainly we should obey Him. This colt, like Balaam’s donkey, was smarter than people are. The colt received Jesus on its back without bucking, but He came unto His own people, and they cast Him off. If we see Jesus correctly for who He is, we will submit to Him as the Almighty Creator.

If Jesus Christ is the King of authority, justice, salvation, humility, and creation, then it makes sense that He is coming to reign.

Church, behold your King.

The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).

The Advent of God’s Faithfulness

Hear the Word of the Lord:

“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all the beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel…”

“Now the Lord said to Abram…’I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’…And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a Ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come…’Judah, your brothers shall praise you…[and] the scepter shall not depart from you, nor the ruler’s staff from between your feet until [Shiloh] come…and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples…’

Your Lamb shall be without blemish…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses…They shall eat the Flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with Unleavened Bread…[This] is the Lord’s Passover…The Blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the Blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast…’

“…and the Lord said, ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you, [Moses], from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I commanded Him. And whoever will not listen to my words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him…”

“…say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts…I took you…I have been with you…I will make for you a Name…I will raise up your Offspring after you, One of your own sons, and I will establish His Kingdom…and I will establish His Throne forever. I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son…I will confirm Him in my House and in My Kingdom forever, and His Throne shall be established forever…'”

“…the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel…and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”

“…But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah [of Judah]…from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days…And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their Peace.”

“And the Angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end…And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger…And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger…Glory to God in highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

Amen.

As surely as God’s faithfulness delivered to us the Promised Messiah, He is coming again to take all those who eagerly await Him to be with Him. “And so we will be with the Lord, forever…Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

The Gospel According to Angels

There is a beautiful and mysterious passage in 1 Peter which gives the indication that the angels of heaven long to look into the gospel of our salvation.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Apostle Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Humans and angels have a lot in common. We’re both created by God; we’re both commanded and sent out by God to perform His will; and we’re both enabled by God to serve His grand redemptive purposes in this world. So then why would angels long to look into the good news preached to us? Because of the one major difference between us and them. It was only for mankind that God would send redemption in the person of His Son Jesus.

To Mary: “He Will Be Called the Son of the Most High”

In Jesus’ birth narratives, we get a glimpse of the gospel from the perspective of angels. The first stop in our journey is the annunciation to Mary, found in Luke 1. The angel Gabriel announces the coming birth to Mary and explains Jesus’ unique identity and mission: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end…the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God” (Luke 1:32-33, 35b).

Luke begins his account of the gospel by comparing and contrasting the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. Notice in Luke 1:32, Jesus is called, “the Son of the Most High” and “the Son of God” in verse 35. But in verse 76, John the Baptist is called, “the prophet of the Most High.” The angels knew that this Christ was the eternal Son of the Father from before the foundation of the world. This same angel Gabriel was sent to the prophet Daniel half a millenia earlier with the news that this Divine Son of Man would reign from an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 8:16, 7:13-14, 9:21). Now Gabriel’s mind is perhaps being blown as he sees God’s perfect wisdom crafting His plan of redemption with this Baby in the manger. Did God tell the angels what He was doing when He was sending Jesus or did He just tell them to go and proclaim the message? I’m not sure. But they were probably beginning to grasp new complexities of the gospel at various points in redemptive history, leading them to wonder all the more over this all-wise plan and to serve more heartily its Grand Architect and Designer.

To Joseph: “He Will Save His People from Their Sins”

Next, the angels address Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, guiding him away from divorcing Mary to wedding her and adopting Jesus as his own so that Jesus could truly be called the Son of David. Since Matthew had just finished his genealogy of Jesus and the reader is left to wonder how Jesus could be the Son of David while not being Joseph’s son. Only if Joseph named and adopted Jesus as his own son would the proper family line and inheritance be traced through Him. This isn’t trivial stuff. If Jesus isn’t the Son of David, God would be a liar and we would have no true Savior.

Then, in verse 21, we read the angel’s stunning words concerning Jesus’ identity: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel declared that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, not their physical enemies. The air of Judaism at the time was rife with a longing for salvation from the hands of the Romans. Rome had slowly but surely taken over Jerusalem and the Jewish people were feeling the political pressure increase much like they did in Egypt under Pharaoh. They longed for the “prophet like Moses” who would come and set them free from Rome’s oppression and lead them to worship God in the Promised Land after defeating their enemies (Deut. 18:15). But the angel pronounced to Joseph that Jesus came for a much more significant salvation than merely political salvation. Yes Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” who would come, and yes He would defeat His people’s enemies, and yes He would lead them to the promised land to worship God in freedom, but not the way they anticipated. Christ would preach repentance from sin and faith in Himself. Christ would, “disarm the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15). These enemies were, “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ would bring His redeemed people into the promised land of eternal life with Him, where they will forever be free to worship and serve Him.

For us, the angel’s words in Matthew 1:21 relay the precious truth that Jesus did not come to merely make salvation possible, but to fully secure salvation. Jesus did not come to save a faceless mass; He came to save specific people by bearing their specific sins Himself on the cross. This gospel message must have led the angels to wonder at God’s plan. What were the angels thinking when they saw this Messiah on Calvary’s cross crying out, “It is finished”? Was there gasping among their heavenly throng when Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane that He could, but wouldn’t call down twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). We could only ponder.      

To the Shepherds: “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”

Finally, once Christ is born, the angels go to the shepherds. Jesus’ birth announcement is made by a chorus of heaven’s angels to a few lowly shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It is a stunning contrast seeing this grand and glorious chorus praising God before such a meager and motley crew of first century shepherds. They were the ruffians, the nobody’s, the outcastes who had no place in the pomp and polished courts of nobility. Surely God was making a point to the high and mighty. He who chose small and ruddy David over big and mighty Saul, also chose to send His Son to a peasant family in little Bethlehem over the royal family in mighty Jerusalem. Yet listen to the sheer excitement in the angel’s words as they proclaim, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The salvation the angels pronounced was one of good news. It was headline news because God was breaking into this world in the Person of His Son. It was good news because God was not breaking into this world to condemn, but to save sinners. It was news of great joy that led the angels to worship because these sinful humans were being shown something they could have never earned in a million lifetimes: divine and astounding grace! It was news for all people, because Israel’s King and Savior was the King of a new Israel, who would make up people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.

May we feel the same shocking wonder of Christmas this year as the angels felt that first night when the Son of God was born to save sinful men and women.