26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you." 29 But she was deeply troubled by this statement and was wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30 Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name JESUS. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. 34 Mary asked the angel, "How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?" 35 The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the holy child to be born will be called the Son of God.
(Luke 1:26-35 HCSB)
8:21 They will wander through the land, dejected and hungry. When they are famished, they will become enraged, and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 They will look toward the earth and see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness.
9:1 Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of darkness,
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
[The people] have rejoiced before You
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
4 For You have shattered their burdensome yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as [You did] on the day of Midian.
5 For the trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 8:21-9:7 HCSB)
31 Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men's legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. 33 When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth.
(John 19:31-35 HCSB)
10 as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13 Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers' venom is under their lips. 14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17 and the path of peace they have not known. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God's judgment. 20 For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, apart from the law, God's righteousness has been revealed--attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 --that is, God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 3:10-24 HCSB)
For many families across the English-speaking world, reading (or viewing one of the movie versions of) Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a holiday tradition. This classic tale of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve due to spiritual intervention begins with the following confirmation concerning the death of Scrooge's former business partner, Jacob Marley:
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'change for anything he chose to put his hand to.
Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.
[Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Mahwah, NJ: Watermill Press, 1980), 1]
The significance of Marley's deceased condition is explained a few paragraphs later:
There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not convinced that Hamlet's father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out in a breezy spot- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance- literally to astonish his son's weak mind.
Another Christmas tradition for many families across the United States is the viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas
. In this cartoon, the character Linus tells viewers the true meaning of Christmas through a recitation of the biblical account concerning the angel of the Lord announcing the birth of Jesus from Luke 2:8-14
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that one thing that makes this angel's announcement so striking is the background we are given to this announcement in Luke 1
. The fact that a woman of Bethlehem gave birth to a baby and swaddled him is, in and of itself, hardly worthy of an angelic visitation. Even the fact that the child was laid in a feeding-trough would seem to merit nothing more than neighborhood comment. But, as in the fictional story of A Christmas Carol
, in the true story of the Nativity the wonder is dependent upon what the reader knows to have occurred beforehand. In Luke 1:26-35
[which is given above], as the angel Gabriel speaks to Mary of her upcoming pregnancy, the point is belabored that Mary is a virgin. A birth is far from uncommon, but a birth from a virgin is a miracle of God that we would expect the angels to proclaim. Furthermore, this birth from a virgin indicates that the child is indeed a human- that He was born of of a woman (cf. Gal. 4:4
)- but that He is also deity- as Luke 1:35 says, "the Son of God."
Old Testament Background
Jesus' birth is anticipated not only by Gabriel's visit to Mary, but the Nativity is foretold in the Old Testament Scripture as well. [See, for example, Isaiah 8:21-9:7 above.] Again, the context is crucial to gaining a proper grasp for these words recorded by the prophet. This passage comes in the midst of a prophecy foretelling the conquest of North Israel by Assyria. National Israel had become a mighty kingdom under God's friend David and had enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity under King Solomon, David's son. Solomon seemed to be the fulfillment of a prophecy God had given to David concerning a son that would rule over His people forever. But Solomon's heart was drawn away from devotion to God due to his many idolatrous wives and Solomon eventually died; at the beginning of the reign of Solomon's son national Israel fragmented and weakened. The Assyrian invasion foretold by Isaiah was the beginning of the darkest time in Israel's history. But the prophecy given in Isaiah 9:1-7 is a message of great hope. This message tells of a glorious restoration coming for God's people. This restoration would come about by a child who would be born: but not just any child, for this child would be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The only child worthy of these names was the One born to the Virgin Mary: Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Reason for the Nativity
Jesus Christ was born as a Man in order to live a perfect human life- keeping every one of God's commandments- and to die on behalf of sinners, taking the full punishment for sin in the place of everyone who would trust in Him alone for salvation.
So, as others have noted, there is a real sense in which Jesus was born for the purpose of dying.
And the death of Jesus is crucial to the Christian message. This is why the Apostle John is so specific in relating his eye-witness account of the death of Christ in John 19:31-35. John includes the gory details of the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ's corpse and he is emphatic that he is telling the truth because he wants his readers to know that Jesus surely died. This historical fact is so important for readers to grasp because it sets the stage for subsequent information John will present: for John tells us that Jesus not only died, but He was laid in a tomb- a tomb that was found empty three days later- and that Jesus was seen alive. This sinless Man, who had been tortured to death so publicly, was found living! His empty tomb was open for public examination, causing His enemies to invent lies to account for it; hundreds of His followers- as we are told in First Corinthians 15- saw Him alive after He had been dead! Jesus Christ, the child of the Virgin Mary and the Son of God, who was perfect God and perfect Man, conquered sin and death.
The opening chapter of the story A Christmas Carol is not wonderful unless we understand that the character Jacob Marley died before the story began, so it should have been impossible for him to appear to Scrooge. The history of Jesus' birth (which we may call the first Christmas) does not fill us with appropriate awe unless we realize that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived, so it should have been impossible for her to have a child. The prophecy from Isaiah concerning this first Christmas is not properly understood unless we realize the utterly hopeless condition of God's people and the glorious hope offered by the coming Messiah. The Good News that Jesus has conquered sin and death, having been risen from the grave on the third day after His burial, is nonsensical unless we understand that Christ did, in fact, die on the Cross as a sacrifice for sin.
To appreciate how this Good News applies to your life, there is some background information you must know about yourself. This information is revealed in Romans 3:10-18. "Nobody's perfect" is a common enough saying, but we do not realize how serious this assessment is unless we consider that we will be judged by a perfect God whose standard is perfection. God created humankind to be in a right relationship to Him, to understand Him, to seek Him, to honor Him, but we have turned away, we have become useless to His purposes by choosing to ignore Him, by choosing to lie for our own convenience rather than speaking the truth, by choosing to speak unkind words to others in our own selfish frustration rather than speaking compassionate words to encourage.
Dear reader, if you are honest with yourself, you must admit that these things are true in your life. You have sinned against God's perfect Law in these and many other ways. And so God does not owe you anything accept judgment. If He gives you what you deserve, you will be separated from His love, which means separation from all that is good and banishment to Hell.
But God has provided salvation from sin and Hell through the His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as described in Romans 3:19-24. If you come to see yourself as a sinner (as described above) and then call out to God for mercy, not trusting in your own imperfect attempts to pay for your sins, but trusting only in Jesus' payment for sins that He made through dying on the Cross and trusting in His resurrection- that He conquered sin and death- then you will be saved. Turn away from your sins today and turn to Christ for mercy.
Labels: Bible study, Christian worldview, evangelism