Jeremiah 31:31 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.”
God has spent a lot of history in covenant with people. Whenever he has sought to establish a relationship with men and women, he has used an agreement to do it.
In times past God covenanted with the people of Israel on a conditional basis; if the Israelites were faithful to God he would be faithful to them, that was the agreement. But Jeremiah’s prophecy, 500 years before Jesus’ birth, speaks of a new covenant.
And the reason a new covenant was needed was that, whilst God remained faithful to Israel, Israel were continually unfaithful to God.
This is the problem all people have! Even when God makes provision for people to enter into relationship with him, they simply can’t remain faithful. People have a predisposition to reject God, even when he condescends to provide for them. Our relationship with God is just always broken. No matter what we do, it is eternally broken!
But, and this is the most glorious but! But, God has made another way; an unbreakable provision for people! He has made a new covenant which is not like the old one. This one is unbreakable for the basic reason, that it is un-conditional. The agreement is a unilateral one. God has sworn by Himself, that He will bring people into relationship with Himself; not on the basis of their performance, but on the basis of a perfect performance by God Himself! Jesus’ birth is His condescension and His death is the legal establishment of the new covenant. By His blood He has reconciled all God’s people to God, forever!
What an amazing story. Is there another narrative like it in all the world? Praise be to God for His indescribable gift to unfaithful, God rejecting people.
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For to 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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
This is a stunning passage of scripture! Jesus hadn’t been born yet – he wouldn’t be for another 700 years – and yet already the prophets were speaking remarkable things about him.
What high titles roll off Isaiah’s tongue. He speaks of Jesus as God Almighty; he speaks of him as everlasting; as a prince and a father; and as just and righteous. Were words like these ever reserved for another?
Not only are the ascriptions given to Jesus unique, but the accomplishments he would bring about are too. His, according to Isaiah, will be a government and with it he will accomplish a peace which knows no end. Peace is a familiar theme at Christmas (see the 7th day of advent), and people have noble thoughts of world peace in the year to come, but in reality the world only waxes worse. Less peace and more dismay; that’s the unconscious mantra of this world. So, has Jesus failed to fulfil Isaiah’s prophetic words?
Of course, the answer is no. Jesus didn’t come to make the war on Syria disappear, or the conflict between Israel and Palestine desist. No, he came to bring peace to the hearts of his people. To remove the perpetual turmoil and ruination that sin reeks in our lives, and to overturn it completely! Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
He brought peace, by waging war on sin and satan and “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Isaiah 9:2-3 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.”
Sight is perhaps the most fundamental sense. A loss of hearing impacts a persons life terribly, but probably not as significantly as a loss of sight. The ability to see, even by the slightest light, transforms our ability to accomplish things; to enjoy things; to understand things.
Deep darkness robs us of that sense. It robs us of the means to do, enjoy and appreciate. People who have had ground breaking surgery to restore their sight, have a common response the first time they can see; they express deep seated joy.
Isaiah was given a prophecy from God about a light that would dawn in the future. A light that would banish darkness for ever; a light that would make a whole nation rejoice like they had just had their sight restored for the very first time!
That Light was Jesus, and it’s dawning was his birth. Christmas represents sight for people who have spent their lives blinded by sin, for that’s what sin does – it plunges the soul into darkness.
When Jesus illumes in a person’s heart, they spiritually see for the first time, and that experience is utterly glorious! The joy of seeing for the first time, is the ability to know God personally; to desire to please him; to begin to appreciate his endless qualities and to love him deeply.
The nation Isaiah speaks of, are the people Jesus came to rescue from the power of sin and set free by dawning in their hearts. That’s the light we all need this christmas, and when we see him – when he returns in his glory – then, we are told, we will be like him!
Matthew 2:10-11 “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
You might be forgiven for thinking that these opulent gifts of great worth, brought by the Magi and placed at the feet of the baby Jesus, were designed to ease the passage of the new born king into the world.
Especially, considering that Luke tells us that when Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to make the offering in accordance with the law for purification rites, they offered in accordance with their means; the poorer offering of doves and pigeons, instead of a lamb. So the idea that Mary and Joseph were probably fairly poor is borne out in scripture. And so these valuable gifts might make logical sense.
But the reality of the gift giving is much more significant than that. When you give a gift which stretches your means (as Mary the sister of Martha did with her nard), you make a statement about how you measure the worth of the one you are giving to. You are saying, “you are more valuable to me than these things!” That’s why gift giving with a mean spirit is dishonouring – you haven’t stretched, therefore you haven’t loved so much.
These gifts were high high value items and they send a clear message from the Magi to Jesus: “Jesus, to us you are better than frankincense, you are better than myrrh and gold; even if you put them altogether, you’re better!”
Jesus was their treasure; not the ownership of commodities, not riches and wealth, but the baby incarnate God.
I wonder what our gifts would have looked like. Would they have expressed how much we value Jesus? Christmas is so often about accumulating stuff, but if our hearts are giddy with gifts, then how can they possibly be giddy with Jesus? And that’s what they should be. They should be leaping with joy like those of the Magi, when they saw the star!
Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Perhaps we could all spend some time this Christmas asking where our treasure truly is.
Matthew 2:3 “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
At the inaugural Christmas, not all those concerned with Jesus were as awe struck as the Shepherds and the Magi. Some were positively terrified by the news. Not least the king, Herod.
His fear was that he would be unseated and that this promised king who had now been born would usurp him.
His fear was misplaced, he hadn’t understood that Jesus never came to be an earthly king. It is true though, that Jesus came to disturb people. His earthly ministry was full of distrurbance. His very presence, his words, his actions made and continue to make people inherently uncomfortable.
But why? Because Jesus came to set up a throne in the souls of individuals and until he does people have that seat firmly occupied with themselves. This is why Jesus makes people disturbed, he absolutely insists on usurping us from the thrones of our own hearts.
Anybody who wants to be a true Christian has to be prepared to give up the seat of their hearts to another. But oh the joy when they do! Christ is so much of a better ruler of our hearts than we could ever be! He knows what we need and only he can give it to us. When that throne gets occupied by Jesus, disturbance gives way to an eternally satisfying joy which all other forms of happiness can only glint at. But disturbance must come first – it is a vital part of conversion.
If thinking more deeply about Jesus this Christmas unsettles you don’t quit, Jesus will have his throne and nothing can stop Him.
Matthew 2:1-2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.””
Local shepherds were some of the first to see Jesus, but so were foreigners. Matthew tells us about these Magi who came from the east to worship the baby Jesus.
Matthew’s account tells us some amazing things about Jesus if we look deeper. First of all, the visit of the Magi signifies the inclusiveness of the salvation Jesus came to bring. The Magi call Jesus ‘The King of the Jews’, but His work was much more inclusive than merely touching His own people. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave or free, but all are one. The Magi’s visit highlights the extensiveness of Jesus’ purpose.
The Magi’s visit fulfils prophecy – ‘nations will come to your light’. Perhaps these men had come from Persia and had read Daniel’s prophecy leading them to understand the significance of the star in the sky, who knows. What we do know is that God had His plan of redemption figured out in eternity past and, that not one detail fell out of place for the introduction of the Saviour to the World.
Lastly, the Magi came with the express design to worship the baby. These wise men came to put their faces on the floor before the new King, that’s the measure of this event. They understood to what manner of king they were coming; they knew that the Bethlehem born babe was a king on a cosmic scale and not a mere mortal monarch. Isn’t it remarkable that the weakness of the form that God the son had taken, didn’t make the Magi question the kingliness of the Christ? It didn’t because they saw the bigger significance; the larger picture. The visit of the Magi confirms Jesus’ deity; it confirms his historical importance and it confirms the power of his purpose.
Christmas ought to be a time of reflection on the qualities of Jesus and that reflection, if it is done thoughtfully and prayerfully will make us fall on our faces in worship of the King of Kings!
Luke 2:15-18 “’Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
One of the things shepherds don’t do is leave their sheep – if they do then wolves come. And one thing sheep don’t do is move quickly as a group. So it’s reasonable to think that the Shepherds made some decision about the importance of their sheep versus the significance of the angel delivered news they’d just had. Furthermore, nothing tends to impact our decision making more than the value of what awaits at the other end of the choice.
So perhaps its surprising that the Shepherd’s decision is both hasty and unequivocal – “Lets go and see… and they hurried off”. Maybe they left a few hired hands in charge of the sheep; a risky plan given the words of the Lord Jesus – the hired hand will not lay down his life for the sheep. Even with some insurance in place, the decision to opt to go and see the baby is still a remarkable one.
So why this choice? For the shepherds there was no contest, the loss of all their sheep and their livelihoods to boot, couldn’t have made them forego the opportunity to see the Messiah. For them Jesus represented the real treasure and not the accumulated market value of their sheep. The value of sheep is good, but for this life only. According to the Apostle Paul, if we have hope only for this life then we are to be pitied above all people.
The bible doesn’t tell us for sure whether the Shepherds left their sheep behind, but it seems reasonable to think they may have done. Whether they did or didn’t, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that at all costs we must see Jesus – our eternity depends upon it! Make sure Christmas 2015 is mostly about seeing Jesus.
Luke 2:13-14 “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.'”
According to the Angels, people’s peace is dependant on God. It’s those who find themselves in God’s favour who receive peace. No alignment with God means no peace. Is it any wonder people who have rejected God in their hearts have no lasting peace? When trials and tribulations come, false peace fades like an exhaled breath on a cold Christmas morning. Real peace on the other hand bears a person through the hottest ordeal.
But how does a person get the favour of God to rest upon them? The bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. So faith in Jesus is vital to obtaining the peace of God. It was specifically to His disciples that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Faith is a gift of God, we are told. And so it comes full circle. God gifts His people the faith to believe in Jesus as saviour and Lord and by it He brings people into the favour of God and upon them his peace rests for ever and ever. So, this Christmas, top of the gift wish list should be the gift of faith! Pray for it; seek it, as the means of obtaining the favour of the Prince of Peace.
Luke 2:10-12 “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'”
The shepherds, we are told were given a sign. Signs look like one thing but represent another. And usually they look simple but point to something more profound.
So it was in this case. A simple scene – a new born babe, wrapped in cloths – there’s nothing too extraordinary about that. The sign was simple. But the message behind the sign was the most profound message the world has ever heard.
This baby would be for the rising and falling of nations (Luke 2:34-35). This baby was good news and the source of great joy for people in a way that no baby before or since could ever be, even though the birth of babies are undoubtedly newsworthy and joyous events.
When the shepherds set their eyes on this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger they were supposed to see beyond the animal stall, beyond the cloths and beyond the weak crying baby; they were supposed to see the fulfilment of promises; the substance of hope; the light of the world!
Perhaps, had the angel not said “this will be a sign”, the shepherds might have got caught up with the birth and missed its surpassing significance. We could do the same. This Christmas there will be plenty of talk of a baby in a manger, but what about the bright dawning of Redemption? What about sins forgiven and eternal peace with God? These are the joys that the baby Jesus wrapped in cloths was about to accomplish!
Luke 2:6-7 “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
The picture of Jesus born in a stable with cattle lowing all around and the star above, is cute and pretty but probably a long way removed from reality. We’re not told he was born in a stable, that idea comes from the fact that he was laid in a manger – no more than a trough that cattle eat from. So there may have been livestock present, but perhaps not the clean, neat and gentle ones we see in the nativities.
And most likely the room was one located in the lower parts of the house, with normal living quarters above. And it doesn’t say there wasn’t any room, it says there was no guest room available – perhaps the animal stall below was all they could afford for lodgings.
It might sound trivial to contest these small details, but the quaint picture painted each Christmas of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, mask the lowliness of His arrival. The birth of Jesus is not meant to be quaint and picture perfect, it’s meant to be low, and poor, and mean and rude.
But why? Well because His birth was designed to be a pointer to His purpose. Afterall this was God making Himself nothing; becoming like a man. The manner of His birth was the manner of His life and significantly it was the manner of His death! His birth was with the animals, His life was scorn and ignomany; His death a cursed criminal’s cross.
The birth is not meant to be a kingly one, He had already left His kingdom, now He was going to get dirty and be stripped naked in the heat of battle; He was going to fight a cosmic turf war with the devil, and the world; with sin and with death in order to overcome the enemies of His people and to ransom them with His own blood.
If we prettify His birth, we will fail to appreciate His condescension and we will minimise the worth and magnitude of His work of redemption. Thank God this Christmas for the low birth of Jesus, without it there would be no noble adoption for His people!