“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’”—Luke 1:30–33
There I was, looking around absentmindedly and humming along with the background music when suddenly it dawned on me what I was humming: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Notice what I said? I was absentmindedly humming along with “O come, O come, Emmanuel”—absentmindedly humming the greatest news event in the history of the human race.
I couldn’t help but wonder how often we catch ourselves doing that. The trouble is that everybody is doing it. People who do not even know that the Emmanuel has come are humming “O come, O come Emmanuel.” We have entered into the season where everybody apparently knows something about Jesus, but they are thoroughly confused as to who He is. And so in celebration of the birth of Jesus they decorate their yards with lights, spend oodles of money on gifts, drink too much alcohol, and go to parties almost every night of the week, all the while complaining about how busy they are and how they cannot wait for the season to be over.
To compensate for their lack of knowledge about who Jesus really is, they perpetuate happy little fables and legends about Jesus. That’s really not new. That has been going on for centuries. Already back in the fourth century, a priest by the name of Arius taught that Jesus was the first thing that God created and, although he had a very high view of Jesus, he made Jesus less what our creeds confess: “very God of very God.”
For many others, Jesus is considered to be a great religious teacher who was killed because He challenged the religious leaders of the day. Unfortunately, churches are full of people who really do not know who Jesus is. And equally unfortunate is that there are many theology professors who do not know who Jesus is and, because of that, they are casting doubt on God and on Jesus.
To find out just how great this Jesus is, all we have to do is read the Book that was written about Him. In Luke 1, we find a young teenager named Mary who is engaged to be married. One day, while she is busy making plans for her wedding, someone not on the guest list appears before her. It is Gabriel, the angel of God.
He greets Mary with the words, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
The angel goes on to explain that Mary will conceive and bear a child. When Mary questions how this is going to take place, the angel explains that even as Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, is going to have a child in her old age, so also Mary will have a child at her young age. The angel provides Mary with the unique details of God’s plan that involve a unique birth and a unique child. And He will be great. After all, nothing is impossible with God.
So if there is any confusion these days as to who Jesus is, it certainly cannot be traced back to what the Bible says about Him. After all, the record is clear. The confusion arises when we reject that which Luke so very clearly records for us.
First of all, Luke clearly records that Jesus followed the usual pattern of child development from prenatal growth to birth. There was nothing strange about that. The same process occurs in every mother’s womb. Jesus grew from a fertilized egg to an embryo to a fetus to a little baby. Every expectant mother is going through the same thing Mary went through. The babies in their wombs are developing and growing the same way Jesus developed and grew in Mary’s womb. Jesus was a human being in the fullest sense. He didn’t merely take on the characteristics of a human being; he took on Himself our human nature with all the usual physical, emotional, and mental characteristics that we have.
When Jesus was born, I am certain that Mary counted his fingers and his toes, looked at his fingernails, and noticed His hair and the color of His eyes. Jesus received the fullness of human personhood from her. At Christmastime we celebrate the birth of a real human being.
But there is more. Mary was from the line of David. She was also from the priestly line of Aaron. These two facts about Mary become very important as we consider who Jesus is. Since Mary is from the line of David, her son would also be from the line of David. David was one of the most illustrious and marvelous characters in all of Jewish history. He was the person God had used to establish the nation of Israel. By the time his rule ended, he had laid the foundation for many years of peace to follow him.
This great Old Testament hero had great poetic and artistic ability; he had undaunted courage and determination. As a warrior king he is the great figure in the Old Testament that symbolizes all that can happen when a sinful person puts himself in the service of God.
David was from the tribe of Judah, and his family called Bethlehem their home. As a boy, he tended sheep on the very same hills where the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels made the announcement that a Savior had been born. David was the great lion of the tribe of Judah who had established the rule of God in a world that was filled with chaos. He was a man after God’s own heart.
After David died, there lived among the Jewish people the expectation that someone would come and reestablish the great work that David had accomplished. Jeremiah foretold of this very thing in his prophecy: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness’” (Jer. 33:14–16).
This was the hope of every expectant mother in Israel: that her baby would be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would sit on David’s throne, the one who would establish Jerusalem as a world power. When the angel told Mary she was going to become the mother of Jesus, she understood. She heard those words in terms of the great prophesies and all the promises and expectations expressed throughout the Old Testament.
All of Israel was looking for the Messiah who would be great, who would be David’s offspring, who would be born in Bethlehem, and who would reestablish the mighty rule of the great king. The great prophet Isaiah had also prophesied about a great king who would be like David: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
The angel Gabriel tells Mary her son would be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” As Jesus conducted His ministry, the issue of being David’s son, the promised one, came up time and time again. As He preached, the message He brought was the message of the kingdom: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17). Those who heard Jesus preach knew full well that He was referring to the kingdom of David.
Just before His crucifixion, as Jesus approached Jerusalem—the city of David—the people of the city came running out to greet Him as the One who was in fact going to restore the kingdom. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9–10).
After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples ask Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They fully expected that Jesus was going to take His place on the throne in Jerusalem and rule the world.
Repeatedly the Bible announces that the Jesus is the great promised son of David. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus declares, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Biblical message is not complete, however, if we just notice that the baby born in Bethlehem centuries ago is a descendant of King David. After all, the Bible never talks about Jesus taking the throne in Jerusalem. Israel never did become a world power. Instead we read about how this Jesus died a most horrible and painful death.
If we look at the life of David, we see him as a great man who was also a sinful man. David would acknowledge that himself. That would be true of any person who followed David to the throne. The Old Testament is full of kings who followed David to the throne who were corrupt and wicked. They were sinful.
If Jesus came to be the long-promised son of David but was just an ordinary person like you and me, there would be very little reason to believe in Him or to worship to Him. But the Bible makes clear that Jesus is also the Son of the Living God.
Isaiah had foretold that His name would be Mighty God. The angel told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). This is the great message of the Bible. God’s only begotten Son became David’s Son. Certainly, His birth followed all the usual patterns of child development from prenatal growth to birth. But His conception was supernatural. The angel describes the coming child as distinct from all others born of a woman. While Jesus is a real and true human being, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. From the moment of conception He is holy in and of Himself. Whereas the great John the Baptist was declared by Gabriel to be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth, Jesus is holy even before His birth.
Because of His supernatural origin, Jesus was not born with the original sin that clings to the rest of us. David may rightly confess, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5), but it was not so with David’s Son born of Mary. He was like us in all things—except sin. Jesus came into the world much as Adam, the first Man, came into the world—uncontaminated by sin.
That is what we celebrate. We praise God for giving us this new man, Jesus Christ, who is like us in every way and is at the very same time the Son of God. He becomes the second Adam. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, moved from the fullness of His divinity into the limitations of our humanity. Paul says He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). It goes even further than that. I mentioned that not only was Jesus born from the line of David, but He also comes from the line of Aaron. Aaron was the priest of Israel when the people were set free from bondage in Egypt. As the priest, Aaron would make the necessary sacrifices on behalf of the people.
This Son of God, son of David, and son of Aaron also made a sacrifice. He made the necessary sacrifice for us when took upon Himself our sin and guilt. God became incarnate for that very purpose—to take upon Himself the debt we owe to God. When He was born of the virgin Mary, the Son of God began to walk down the road that led to Calvary where He gave up the sacrifice—His own life on a cross—to pay for human sin.
We have to remember that sin is our greatest problem. If our sin cannot be removed from us then we are all doomed. But God, in His great love, sent His one and only Son into this world to remove our sin from us so that we could be reconciled to Him.
Many people do not like to think about that as they celebrate the Christmas holiday. They don’t like to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They don’t like to think about the huge debt they owe to God because of their sin and how God paid that debt through the death His Son. And so they celebrate the birth Jesus as a great man, or a great teacher who has taken His place among the great teachers and leaders of the world. They admire Him for His wisdom, His moral purity and obedience to God. But they refuse to recognize His sacrifice to God as our great High Priest. Because of that we absentmindedly hum along with the carols we hear in the background. As we do so, we miss His essential greatness as the only begotten of the Father the Son of the Most High God.
This great Jesus, Son of God, son of David, and son of Aaron, established His kingdom by going to the cross for you, where He died to pay for your sin. He established His kingdom by rising up from the grave in victory. Now He demands your allegiance to Him. He is the great King! His kingdom shall have no end, just as the prophets of old foretold.
In this issue we have seen the angel Gabriel announce the birth of two great men: John and Jesus. Who is the greater? John’s mother was barren; the mother of Jesus had never been with a man at all. John became the prophet calling in the wilderness for people to repent of their sins. Jesus had the authority to say to them, “Your sins are forgiven you.” John would be great before the Lord; Jesus would be great without any qualifications. He was declared to be the Son of the Most High God. He is Lord!
Have you learned to acknowledge the all-surpassing greatness of Him who came in the fullness of time to save His people from their sins? God calls you to place your hope, your trust, and your faith in Jesus Christ. God calls you to trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation and to dedicate your life to serving Him. He has fully paid the price for your salvation through His death. Whatever plans you have for celebrating the Christmas season, make sure those plans do not exclude Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.