Compare the account of the birth of Christ in Luke and Matthew with that in Revelation 12:1–5. There “appears a wondrous sign in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cried out, travailing in birth and in pain to be delivered” (12:1–2). This is a wonderful and glorious picture of the Old Testament church, this woman with a crown of twelve stars. From the Garden of Eden to the town of Bethlehem, the Bride of Christ, laboring in pain waiting for the promise Messiah-King. Yet she is characterized with beauty and glory and honor.
You could call her name Eve whose promised Redeemer was described in these words to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). From the darkness of her transgression would shine the light of redeeming love and grace. You could call her name Sarah, who was barren, yet she would cry out, “God hath made me laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me… Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have borne him a son in his old age” (Gen. 21:6–7). From the barrenness of disobedience would come One who would bear the sins of many. You could call her name Naomi, who said, “call me Mara (that is, Bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). From the heart of God’s people a redeemer-kinsman would come to return a treasured legacy. And so a son was given to Naomi, meaning pleasant, through Ruth, Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:17). And this wondrous sign, “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet,” would bear the “root of Jesse,” the “Seed of David.”
Thus, you could call her name Mary. Jesus (Joshua) was born of the virgin. God’s angel, Gabriel, called upon Mary, saying, “Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women … behold! Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Joshua” (Luke 1:28–31). Joshua = Jehovah is salvation; “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus (Joshua); for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The Son of God was born of woman who wore the “crown of twelve stars,” the Church of the old dispensation. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13–14). This is a peace brought about by the divine mercy of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the Son has spoken, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
The rulers of this world desire that their wills be carried out, as if they can direct the course of history. If they declare a belief in God, they act as if God is looking down from His heaven as an observer, ready to act when called upon. We have a ruler before us today, and his name is Caesar Augustus. He wanted his greedy hands filled with the money of these people. To make sure that he got an accurate account of those under his rule, he called for a registration, a census. We still face the decree of the census with the result that we would be taxed. We still face those who would desire to be our savior. Promises, unable to be kept, are still made today. Those who would be king rebel against the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Joseph took Mary and traveled from Galilee, “out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” Joseph, because he was of the lineage of David, went to Bethlehem. Mary was “great with child.” It was at Bethlehem that the baby of Mary’s womb was delivered. The Lord spoke of Bethlehem as His chosen place for the coming of the Son: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose going forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). From the everlasting heavens has come the promise of the Christ and His redemptive work. Christ spoke to heaven saying, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Mary, in Bethlehem as it was promised, brought forth “her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” It was in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s place that the Son of God came to this earth. This was not by chance. Nor did the Sovereign Lord look into the future to see where He might be born. The Sovereign Lord employed Augustus to do His work, and so by his decree in the hands of Almighty God, our Lord’s prophecy was fulfilled. Now a prophecy is not reading of the future, but a promise that something would happen within history. Prophecy is like a large stone throne into a lake, it makes ripples which affect the whole lake. And so with the coming of Christ, it is cast into history and it affects the whole of history, from its beginning to end.
The shepherds, faithfully keeping watch over their sheep at night, experienced the coming of the angel of the Lord, “and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” It was an awesome and fearsome encounter with the glory of heaven. The angel of the Lord calmed their hearts with these words, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” What is it that gives us great joy, and encourages us to share this good news? It is Christ Himself! It is always good to introduce a loved one or friend to another. How much more should we introduce Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures, to others? Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit has revealed to us the truth that the shepherds heard: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
The account of the birth of Christ is a mystery revealed to us from the very throne of heaven. Again we see that our Lord sent an angel to make the announcement to the shepherds in the field. Here is an event which is not only a glorious thing to behold, but is an event which has had a direct affect on all of the generations of God’s people, from Adam to those of that last day when Christ will come to gather all those for whom He shed His precious blood. For the one who was born of the virgin is the one who has brought a new birth to our souls. As Scripture reminds us: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and everyone who loveth him who begat loveth him also who is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). We are not ashamed to love our Father in heaven who sent His only begotten Son. We are not ashamed to love Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who came that we might have life. To believe in Christ is to love Him who sent Him.
Here is a picture that we are all familiar with, the shepherds watching their flock by night, and the angels singing: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” Why such a song of praise from a multitude of God’s heavenly host? The shepherds would see with their own eyes a wonderful sign: “the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Why such a praise? Is it not the spirit of the angels rejoicing over the sinner who repents? Is it not their privilege to see the providential work of their Creator bringing mercy to the people on earth? These angels had witnessed over the centuries the wonderful grace of God in the lives of God’s children. And the angels were given the task of bringing to the world the GOOD TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY to all the people. “They rejoice in the glorious prospect of many souls being saved, and many brands plucked from the burning” (J. C. Ryle).
From the shepherds of the field, we are pointed toward the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for His sheep. He is the one born in the city of David, our Savior, “who is Christ the Lord!” He is the one of whom the prophet spoke, saying, “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this one shall be peace” (Micah 5:4–5). He alone is the Savior and peace of men.
The shepherds hastened to the place where Jesus was born. The Lord had made known this great mystery of the coming of the Messiah. They knew it was the Lord! Not only to Joseph and Mary but to all those they met on the way. Soon the message was going around Bethlehem. The Messiah! Mary kept those things within her heart. She blessed her Savior when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. Now she was pondering the truth that her Son was the Messiah. She meditated on all she had learned. Calvin wrote that this is a lesson we could learn: “For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment, and great object of our life, to consider those works of God which build up our faith.”
The shepherds glorified and praised God “for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” As we study and read the Word of God, as we learn of Christ and His coming to redeem His people from their sins, do our hearts yearn and burn to see with eyes of faith that which makes our tongues sing our with praise? Do you know Christ as Savior and Lord, that you may praise Him? If you know Him then you will have Him as the great object and witness of your life.
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