Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)
Jesus is likely between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. We know this for several reasons. First, we read that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.” Jesus has already been born. Matthew does not record the actual birth but rather tells us what happened after Jesus’ birth. These wise men would have traveled about 900 miles, which according to Ezra 7:9 was a journey of about 5 months. We also read that Mary and Joseph are no longer in a stable, but in a house (v.11), and then we are told that Herod orders every child, aged 2 and under, to be killed (v.16). Herod believed Jesus could be near two years old.
But who are these “wise men”? We know the wise men from the east were astrologers/scientists from the region of Babylon who at the time were well known for their scientific advancements in being able to read the stars, interpret dreams, and practice sorcery. For this reason, “Magi” (NASB, NIV) would be the better term and not “wise men” since the underlying Greek word is magos. The phrase “wise men” comes from older translations like the King James Version because in the year 1611 scholars were not sure what or who magi were. We also don’t know how many Magi there were. Traditionally, the scene is always depicted with three, but that is because three gifts were offered. The story never mentions how many magi traveled to Jerusalem.
Why then were these pagan sorcerers following this star and why were they looking for the king of the Jews? During the Babylonian captivity large numbers of Jews were exported to Babylon some 500 years before the birth of Christ. After the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews were allowed to return to the land of Israel, many of them stayed in Babylon. These well-read Magi would have been familiar with the many stories that circulated throughout the entire region and the biblical prophecies about a Jewish Messiah who would come from the line of David, from the tribe of Judah, and was to be born king of the Jews. The prophecies they almost certainly are referring to are Numbers 24:17 and 2 Samuel 7:12-16.
But why travel so far to worship this king if they aren’t devout Jewish believers? Why travel to Jerusalem? In biblical times it was not uncommon for Magi, nobility, and aristocrats to travel great distances to pay homage to the birth of a king in an effort to get in the king’s good graces should he grow up to be a powerful ruler. And in their minds, it would have made sense that a ruler would be born in Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel.
Hence, the Magi come before Jesus and kneel before him and worship him. They are paying homage to the one they believe will be the next political ruler of Israel, the descendant of David, the king of the Jews. This is apparent from the gifts they bring. All very costly gifts. Gold, of course, makes sense, a gift befitting a king. Frankincense was an expensive incense used in religious worship but was also used by the wealthy to fragrance their homes. Myrrh was an expensive liquid perfume used to fragrance one’s clothing or furniture, or to the dip burial cloths in to diminish the stench of decaying bodies. But what is interesting about this scene is that the Gentiles are the first to recognize what the Jews failed to see—Jesus is the king of the Jews prophesied about in the Old Testament, and as such is deserving of worship. The Magi worship Jesus, the newborn king, and offer him royal gifts.
Today is not a day primarily about getting, but about giving--about giving Christ the worship, praise, honor, and obedience he deserves. Today is about celebrating and exalting the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords, about celebrating the day light dawned, the day salvation stepped into our world, the day God’s righteous arm of deliverance reached out to humanity. Christmas is about Christ.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ 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 among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:8-14)
God breaks into time, space, and history in the birth of Jesus Christ, and we see angels announcing this momentous occasion by appearing to shepherds watching their flocks throughout the night. It’s interesting that God chooses to make this announcement to shepherds, not to kings or princes, not to the religious leaders, not even to middle class citizens, but to the lowest social class among Jews. Shepherds were very much looked down upon. They were not trusted. They were viewed as thieves and liars. In New Testament times their testimony was not admissible in a court of law because they were thought to be unreliable. Yet, the angel first appears to shepherds. This is one of the paradoxes of God. The King of kings and Lord of lords often reveals himself and chooses to use the lowest of men to do his bidding. If you were going to share some internationally important news, would you not share that information with the heads of state, major news networks, the most powerful people in the world? Not God. He chooses to announce the birth of the Messiah to shepherds.
Announcing the birth of the Messiah to shepherds does two things. First, it shows that the greatest gift to humanity has been given to the lowest of men. In Luke 5:31 Jesus will say, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” God did not come for the rich and powerful; he came for those who recognize their need for a savior. Second, revealing this news to shepherds shows that God does not need the rich and powerful to accomplish his will. This announcement is first made to lowly shepherds and within one-hundred years it will spread throughout the Mediterranean world. By the end of the 4th century, Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire and spreads across Europe. And it all starts with shepherds in a field watching their sheep by night.
The angel then says, "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.” The angel announces that Jesus is the Christ (Greek for Messiah, which means “anointed one”). Jesus is the Anointed One, the long-awaited Messiah, the son of David, prophesied about one-thousand years earlier who would establish a kingdom forever. And this promise has been fulfilled this night in the town of Bethlehem and these shepherds are the first to be given the news. They probably thought to themselves ‘why us?’ Why is this being revealed to us, shepherds, the one group of people no one is ever going to believe? God wanted to make clear that no one is beyond the love and grace of God. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you are the lowest of the low. This gift is for you. This gift is for all people. This gift is for all the world.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
Here we are given the story of Jesus’ birth. There are several items which are interesting about the details Luke records surrounding this event. First, we are told that Joseph was “from the town of Nazareth.” Nazareth was a rock quarrying town about fifteen miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. It was a city of low economic standing. Certainly not a vacation destination. Remember that the entire northern part of Israel was once a separate Israeli kingdom ruled by illegitimate rulers from about 930 BC to its fall in the 8th century BC. Those living in the northern kingdom of Israel engaged in false worship as the Temple, the legitimate kings of Israel, and the legitimate priests resided in Jerusalem in the south. It is for this reason when Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael says to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:45-46). The idea that the long-awaited Messiah would come from a place like Nazareth was simply hard to believe.
What is of further interest is that Joseph, the father of Jesus of Nazareth, is from “the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Thus, Joseph is born and raised in despised Nazareth, but his family and lineage is from the city of David. He has royal blood in him. This was to show that Jesus was the Messiah for all Israel—north and south. The north could embrace him because Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, and the south could embrace him because Joseph is from the line of David and Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The third interesting point about Jesus’ birth is that he was born in a stable and lain in a manger, an animal feeding trough. Here is the son of David, the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would be called Immanuel (God with us), Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isa. 7:14; 9:6), the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Heb 1:3), the King of kings and Lord of lords. He could have chosen to be born in a palace in the most wonderful city on earth, but instead he chooses to be born in a stable. Why? Had he been born to the rich and powerful, the elite would have claimed him as their own and prevented the poor from approaching. The poor would have thought the Messiah to be beyond their reach. But Jesus was born from the lowest of families, a couple from Nazareth, in the lowest of places, a stable and lain in a manger, because he was born for the lowest of men. Jesus was born as a gift not just to the rich and powerful, but for the lowest of low, a gift for all humanity—Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, black and white, men and women, adults and children. The gift of Jesus Christ is given to all who believe.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25)
As we read this story regarding the birth of Christ that we are all so familiar with, we often fail to realize the seriousness of the situation. In first-century Israel, betrothal was a serious matter. Marriages were pre-arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. This being the case, the parents of the bride would have chosen a man to marry their daughter who came from a family with a good reputation, a man who himself had a good reputation in the community, someone faithful to the Torah. Likewise, the parents of the groom would have chosen a wife for their son who came from an upstanding family and whom herself would have been an upstanding and virtuous woman. Furthermore, a betrothal arrangement entailed the partial payment of the bride-price to Mary’s parents. A betrothed person can only nullify the betrothal if they discover some serious sin in the other person, which would impugn both the reputation of the other person and their family. But worst of all is what might happen to Joseph or Mary, depending on his decision. Joseph is a righteous man who wants to honor God’s law and does not want to shame his parents, but to proceed with the marriage would be to condone Mary’s perceived infidelity. However, he also knows that according to Old Testament Law, Mary could be put to death for adultery (Deut 22:22). In the end, because of the dream, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took [Mary as] his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.”
What is so significant about this passage is that twice we are told that that which is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit (vv.18, 20). Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is not the product of human genetics, human procreation. In the miracle of Christ’s conception in the virgin Mary’s womb, the divine nature of God was forever united to a human nature. Matthew also makes it a point to tell us that Jesus would fulfill the meaning of the name given to the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14, Immanuel--God with us. Matthew wants his readers to understand that Jesus is Immanuel because Jesus is God. This is important because to deny the virgin birth is to deny the deity of Christ. To deny the deity of Christ is to deny his salvific work on the cross. So also, to deny the full humanity of Christ is to deny the salvific work of Christ on the cross. If Jesus is not fully God and fully human, then we are all still in our sins and are without hope in the world. This is how and why Christ is able to “save his people from their sins.” Advent reminds us of this glorious truth!
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
This is such an important and rich passage. Mary’s response is often called Mary’s Magnificat, meaning an utterance of praise. There is so much in this passage that could be commented on, but there are two things in particular which are certainly worth noting.
First, Mary begins by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary immediately knew that the child she was carrying inside was to be the salvation from God, the savior of the world. Not only would Jesus provide salvation for all humanity but would provide salvation for Mary herself. Mary recognized that even she was in need of salvation, of deliverance from sin.
The second important point from Mary’s Magnificat is that God’s “mercy is for those who fear him.” Salvation and eternal life are not for everyone automatically, but for those who tremble before the holiness of God, who are willing to acknowledge their sinfulness, acknowledge their need for a Savior, that Christ is that Savior, and then are willing to bow the knee to the lordship of Christ and say, “You’re the Lord and I’ll follow you the rest of my life and live in obedience to your commands.” For those willing to do that, for those who come to Christ in humble repentance, he exalts “those of humble estate” and fills “the hungry with good things.”
Jesus himself will later say, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). Only in Christ, only as we come to Christ by faith and embrace him as our God and Savior, will we find fullness of joy, eternal contentment, and unending satisfaction. This is the meaning of Christmas! This is what we celebrate during the Advent season.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 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 Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God." (Luke 1:26-35)
This is where it all begins in the New Testament. An angel appears to a lowly, unsuspecting virgin in Galilee, named Mary. From the perspective of the world, she was a nobody from nowhere, so why her? Throughout the Old Testament God is fond of using the most insignificant people through whom to perform his great works—Abraham, a pagan worshipper, Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment, David, a lowly shepherd boy, and Mary, a young girl from Galilee. But what this angel says would have been mind-boggling to Mary for several reasons.
First, the angel tells her she will have a son and call his name Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which literally means Yahweh saves or salvation is from Yahweh. Yahweh is the holy and sacred name of God in the Old Testament. Thus, Jesus is literally named ‘salvation is from Yahweh!’
Second, 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. He is the fulfillment of the promise given to King David one-thousand years earlier, the long-awaited Messiah, the One who would deliver God’s people from their enemies.
Third, Mary, a virgin, has found favor with God and so she will conceive in her womb and give birth to a son. This peculiar fact is not lost on Mary, for the first words out of her mouth are, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” ‘Surely, there’s been some sort of mistake, some sort of mix-up.’ She may not be well-educated but she’s smart enough to understand how women become pregnant. The angel responds by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This will be a miracle of the highest order. This child will not be any ordinary child, so it is only fitting that he will not be born in any ordinary way. The circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ immediately distinguishes him from the birth of every other human on the planet in world history.
But fourth, and most significantly, the angel says that “the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Jesus is born of a virgin because Jesus is not the physical product of a man and a woman--Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45). Just as Adam had no earthly father but came directly from God, so also Jesus has no earthly father but comes directly from God. As the second Adam, Jesus came into the world to do what the first Adam failed to do—live in perfect obedience to God’s laws—and be the new head of a new humanity who are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Advent is about celebrating Christ coming into the world to do and accomplish what the first Adam failed to do!
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Jeremiah is a prophet who lives and ministers during the fall of the southern kingdom of Israel to the Babylonians during the 6th century BC as God’s punishment upon them for their sins. The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the Assyrians about two-hundred years earlier because of their disobedience to God. Thus, things are looking pretty bleak for the nation of Israel. It appears that God has forsaken them entirely. But this is where Jeremiah 31 comes in as a glimmer of hope. God has not entirely forsaken his people. He tells them through Jeremiah the prophet that there will come a day when he “will make a new covenant” with his people and that this new covenant will be unlike any covenant he has made with them before in at least three ways.
First, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” The laws of God will be internalized, rather than written on tablets of stone. When the new covenant is established, God’s people will have this internal natural desire to live in obedience to God’s word. The Law will no longer be seen as a burden by God’s people, but as a joy and a delight.
Second, “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” When this new covenant is established, all those within the covenant community of God will have a personal saving relationship with Him. This is different from the Old Testament where all those inside the covenant community did not have a saving relationship with God. This is why the prophets were constantly telling their fellow Jews to stop worshipping Baal and false gods and “know the Lord.”
Third, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” When this new covenant is established, those within the covenant, those who have been brought into a saving relationship with God, will have their sins forever forgiven. No longer will there be a need for daily, monthly, yearly sacrifices.
In the instituting of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:20). Christ was born into the world and died on the cross in order to establish the new covenant with God’s people, prophesied about nearly six-hundred years earlier, so that those brought into this new covenant will have God’s laws impressed upon their hearts, will have a desire to live in obedience to God’s word, will have a personal saving relationship with Christ, and will have their sins completely and forever forgiven. Christ came into the world to establish a new covenant with a new people, comprised of Jews and Gentiles. All glory be to God! This is what we celebrate during Advent!
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
There is a story I once heard of a king who lived a long time ago who ruled over a kingdom during a time of great drought and famine. To prevent crime from rising, the king passed a law requiring that anyone caught stealing food or water would be flogged with one-hundred lashes. Before long, the first criminal was caught and brought before the king so that the flogging might be carried out. But when the criminal was brought before the king, to his shock--it was his mother!
The king did not want to dismiss her, lest he appear to the people as unjust, but neither could he bring himself to flog his own dear mother. Thus, after a few moments of thought, the king stepped down from his throne, laid aside his robe, stretched himself across his mother’s back, and then proclaimed: “Let the flogging begin!”
This time of year, we love taking in all the wonderful sights and sounds of the holiday season. We love the wonder and magic of the Christmas spirit, making s’mores by the fire and sipping on hot chocolate. We enjoy hanging our stockings by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will appear. We love snuggling in bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Through it all, it can be easy to forget what Christmas is really all about. Yet, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane with great stress, he prayed to his Father, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come” (John 12:27). Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lain in a manger, nursed at Mary’s breast, and raised as the son of a carpenter, for the very purpose of being beaten, flogged, crucified, and driven through with a Roman spear.
But why? As Isaiah states it: “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The Bible makes clear that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s holy and righteous standard (Rom 3:23). Not one of us can honestly say we have all perfectly kept every one of the Ten Commandments. Who has not lied? Who has never disrespected or disobeyed their parents? Who has never used God’s name in vain? Yet, we are told in scripture that the wages of sin is eternal death in hell (Rom 6:23). In other words, because of our sins, because we have committed cosmic treason against our Creator, we deserve to be sent to hell eternally. This is what sin earns us, these are our wages, our just dessert.
Then how does anyone get to heaven and avoid hell. The Bible tells us that “God made him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus, who was perfectly sinless, stood in the place of sinners and absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf, on behalf of those who place their faith in Christ. Jesus allowed himself to be treated and punished by God the Father as though he were sinful, even though he was not, so that we would be treated by God the Father as though we are righteous even though we are not. Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities,” and through his suffering “brought us peace” with God. Jesus stepped down from his throne, set aside his robe, laid across the backs of his people and exclaimed: “Let the flogging begin!” This is what we celebrate during Advent.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)
In the previous chapter (Isaiah 8), God warns both the king of Israel and the king of Judah that he will bring an Assyrian invasion upon them because of their sin and disobedience (8:5-8). But God promises he will not fully nor utterly abandon his people. “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish” (9:1). God promises to someday send someone to deliver his people from all their greatest enemies, and that this deliverance will come through the birth of a child. And that when this child is born “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” That is, he shall be King over all kings and Lord over all lords. He will rule over all nations, “and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Do not miss the significance of some of these titles--Mighty God, Everlasting Father. This is what every false religion gets wrong. Jesus is not just a great prophet. Jesus is not just the Son of God. When Mary held Jesus in her arms, she was holding God Himself—the very One who spoke all things into existence by the power of His word (Genesis 1). The angels themselves echo the words of Isaiah 9 when proclaiming the birth of Christ to the shepherds. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6; Lk. 2:11). This is the point the apostle John makes in the opening words of his gospel when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). The Word, who is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Advent is not just about God sending someone into the world to save us from our sins. Advent is about God Himself stepping into our world to deliver us from the power of sin, Satan, and death, to fix what humanity had ruined.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)
In this context, King Ahaz of Judah is terrified because Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel have joined forces together against the southern kingdom of Judah (7:1-2). Judah is very small in comparison and Ahaz knows that by itself Judah doesn’t stand a chance. Thus, God sends Isaiah to encourage King Ahaz and let him know that God stands with Judah and will come to her aid. He should not fear the kings of Syria and Israel (vv.3-4). To bolster Ahaz’s faith, God commands him to ask for a sign, any sign, and God will cause it to happen to assure King Ahaz that God is faithful and will not abandon Judah (v.10). Ahaz, however, does not ask for sign, saying, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Ahaz believes he is being humble in not asking God for a sign; however, when God commands someone to ask for a sign, to not do so is not humility but disobedience. God takes it as an afront to his authority and power and so says to Ahaz, “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” In other words, do you think God is not able to do whatever sign you might ask? Nonetheless, God will give Ahaz a sign anyway. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is the sign God will give to show that he is ever faithful to his promises, that he is ever faithful to his people. A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his name will be called Immanuel. This name in the Hebrew literally means “God is with us” (immanu = with us + El = God).
Seven hundred years later, an angel will appear to a Jewish carpenter in Nazareth through a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." The apostle Matthew then adds, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:20-25). In the birth of Christ, we celebrate not just the birth of a king, not just the birth of God’s son; we celebrate the incarnation of God himself--Immanu El—God with us. In the birth of Christ, God takes on human form and is born in Bethlehem in order to redeem a people to himself, to fix what Adam and Eve had ruined. This is what Advent is all about.
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2:7)
Psalm 2 is one of the two pillars of the psalter that the reader must pass between as they enter the prayer book of God’s people. The book of Psalms is the prayer book of God’s people in that it is the only book written with God as the intended audience. It is the only book in the entire Bible written from the perspective of God’s people to God. Every other book in the Bible is God speaking to his people. The book of Psalms is God’s people speaking to God through prayer and song.
As we enter this prayer book, we must pass through Psalm 1, which brings us to attention. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (v.1). Psalm 1 brings us to attention and Psalm 2 bids us to worship God and “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way” (v.12).
The psalm begins by God asking why the “nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Why do the “kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed (vv.1-2). Initially, this would have been thought to be speaking about the kings of Israel. But as we read on, it becomes apparent that God has someone far different in mind.
The psalmist goes on to say that God has “set his King on Zion” and that he laughs at those who think they can thwart God’s plan, those who plot and gather against God’s anointed one (vv.4-6). But who is this anointed one? Is it one of the kings of Israel? Verse 7 makes clear whom God is speaking of. “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” In the New Testament, the apostle John echoes these words with reference to Jesus when he writes, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then again he says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:14, 16 NASB). It seems clear that John had Psalm 2 in mind when he wrote these words.
Jesus is the Son begotten of God the Father. And regarding this son, Psalm 2 exhorts all peoples, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 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” (vv.10-12). Christ, the King, the Son of God, has been born into the world and it is the wise who will fear God and rejoice with trembling, who will bow the knee to his Lordship and kiss the Son lest they perish eternally. Three-thousand years ago, God prophesied that he would bear a Son and that son would be king--King of kings and Lord of lords—and that all humanity has a debtorship to worship him. Advent is about celebrating the birth of God’s only begotten Son, the King of creation, who was born in Bethlehem to be worshipped by all.
Go and tell my servant David, “Thus says the LORD:...‘When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:5, 12-13)
In this chapter, God makes a covenant, a solemn binding promise, to King David that after his death he would someday have a descendant whose throne and whose kingdom would last forever. This clearly is not a reference to King Solomon. As great and as wise as he was, his kingdom and his throne did not last forever. In fact, shortly after King Solomon’s death, the kingdom is torn in two by his son, Rehoboam, and his rival, Jeroboam. Jeroboam will rule the northern kingdom of Israel until it’s fall to the Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BC, and Rehoboam will rule the southern kingdom of Israel until its destruction by the Babylonian Empire in 6th century BC. Both Solomon and Rehoboam, and every king thereafter who reigns in the southern kingdom of Judah are physical descendants of David, but none of their kingdoms last forever. They all come to an end until…Matthew 1:1. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew goes to great length to show in his gospel that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise given to King David one-thousand years earlier. Matthew mentions Jesus as the “son of David” no less than ten times. Far more than any other gospel writer. Mark and Luke each mention Jesus as the Son of David only three times, and John never uses the phrase at all. It is Matthew who records the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:20-21). And Luke records the angel saying to Mary, “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” (Lk. 1:30-33). Christ was born in fulfillment of the promise given to King David, to establish his kingdom, a kingdom that will have no end, a kingdom that has and continues to advance throughout every nation and every continent as the gospel moves forward, plundering people from the power of sin, Satan, and death, and bringing them into the kingdom of God. Advent is a time to remember the birth of our King who will someday dominate and control the entire world!
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!" (Num. 24:17-19 ESV)
This prophecy occurs in one of the most fascinating and humorous stories in the Bible for this is the story of Balaam attempting to curse the people of Israel. He had been hired by the king of Moab (Num. 22) and offered a large monetary reward for traveling a great distance of about 400 miles from the north (Num 23:7). Contrary to what many believe, Balaam was not a good person. He was not a prophet of God. He was by all accounts a worshipper of pagan gods. While Balaam appears to be a righteous person, speaking only what God commands, the Bible never speaks positively of him (Num 31:16; Dt 23:4-5; 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11; Rev 2:14). Hence, the point of the story of Balaam and his talking donkey is to show that the God of creation is in sovereign control of everyone and everything, including pagan sorcerers and their donkeys.
During Balaam’s fourth and final oracle, his fourth attempt to curse the people of God, in part he says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!" Balaam sees a star rising out of Jacob, another name for the nation of Israel, and he sees a scepter, a king, rising out of Israel. This is likely the prophecy and the scripture passage the Magi were speaking of when they came to Herod in search of the infant Jesus. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." They saw the star rise over Jacob (Israel) and came in search of the newborn king. But what is also interesting is that Balaam goes on to say that this star which rises out of Israel “shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!” Though this does not happen at Christ’s first advent, scripture tells us this will happen at his second advent. Someday the King will return at the head of an angelic army and will destroy all the enemies of God’s people (Rev. 19:11-16). During Advent we celebrate the first advent of the King of kings and Lord of all lords, and we look forward to the second advent when He will once for all destroy all the enemies of God’s people!
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)
Leviticus chapter 16 describes the Day of Atonement. This is the most important day on the Jewish Old Testament calendar. On the Day of Atonement, just once per year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies within the temple, the inner most part of the temple. The Old Testament temple was constructed of three parts. The courtyard which contained the large laver for washing the sacrifices and the large alter for burning animal sacrifices, the Holy Place inside the temple building which contained the golden lampstand, the table of showbread, and the alter of incense, and then the Holy of Holies (aka, Most Holy Place) which contained the Ark of the Covenant, considered to be the throne of God. Once per year, the High Priest would take two perfect goats without blemish. One would be sacrificed and then its blood would be cast on the Ark of the Covenant as a way of making an atonement (a covering) for the sins of God’s people. With the other perfect animal, the High Priest would lay his hands on the animal’s head and confess all the sins of God’s people, essentially placing their sins upon the innocent animal and then releasing that animal to wander in the wilderness, essentially carrying the sins of God’s people from the presence of God. This goat is also called the Scapegoat.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (9:11-12 NASB). Christ was born into the world to be the perfect and great High Priest for his people, to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins and to be the Scapegoat we so desperately need. These blessings come to us by faith alone in Christ alone. Christ was born in Bethlehem not just to be king, not just to be our High Priest, but to be the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Advent is a time to celebrate the birth of our great High Priest who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for us.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the LORD said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (Deut. 18:15-18)
In this passage, Moses prophesies that someday God would send another prophet like himself who would come “from your brothers.” He would be an Israelite. And when this prophet comes, God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command.” In other words, this prophet will speak the very words of God and “to him you shall listen.”
Fast-forward 1,500 years and we read in the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1, 14). Christ not only spoke the words of God, but Christ is the Word of God, the word become flesh. To refer to Christ as the Word of God means that Christ is the greatest and clearest revelation of the God of creation. Moses may have spoken God’s words, but Christ is God in human form. Christ not only reveals God’s will to humanity, but he shows us what God would be like if he were human, what he would talk like, behave like, love other people like, and what it means to perfectly live and do God’s will.
But most importantly, Christ reveals God’s grace and truth to humanity. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). The Law in the Old Testament could never save sinners. The Law cannot fix people; it can only tell us we are broken. This is because no one can ever live up to God’s holy and perfect standard. This standard does not change with the coming of Christ. Jesus commands, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God demands perfection in order for us to have eternal life. But how is that possible? It is possible through the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus came into the world to live the perfect life of obedience to God’s Law on behalf of those who place faith in Him, and to offer the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and to communicate and demonstrate perfectly to us God’s will for our lives. Advent is about celebrating God’s grace and truth revealed to the world!
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." (Exod. 24:6-8)
Here God enters a covenant relationship with his people. The Ten Commandments had just been given to them in Exodus 20, the basis for all Old Testament law, but now based on the requirements and stipulations of that Law, God binds himself to the people of Israel by means of covenant. A covenant in the Bible is a solemn binding agreement between two or more parties wherein each agree to certain terms of the covenant in order remain in covenant relationship with one another. Covenants were often entered with the shedding of blood by means of a sacrifice. The idea was that if either party were to violate the terms of the covenant, then may what happen to the sacrificial animal happen to the one who violates the covenant.
Within the context of Exodus, God has just delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and is establishing them as a nation with himself as their king. He has given them the Law which they are required to keep, and God will be their king and will provide for them and protect them. Israel, however, failed to keep the Law and so God brings destruction upon them in 722 BC when the Assyrians destroy the northern portion of Israel, and then in 586 BC when God uses the Babylonians to destroy the southern portion of Israel. Then in AD 70, God destroys Jerusalem and the Temple for a final time.
What does any of this have to do with Advent? Christ came to earth and was born in Bethlehem in order to establish a new covenant with a new people so that, as it says in Hosea, “‘Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God’” (Rom. 9:25-26; Hosea 1:10; 2:23). This is the new covenant prophesied about in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which Christ inaugurates in his death and with his blood (Lk 22:20). Advent is about celebrating God entering a new covenant relationship with a new people comprised of Jews and non-Jews who are in union with Christ by faith. It’s about being brought into a relationship with the living God, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us.
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Exodus 12:21-23)
This passage of scripture recounts the story of God delivering the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. After nine plagues, Pharaoh was still refusing to let God’s people go free, and so he was warned that the tenth and final plague would be the death of every firstborn in Egypt. In preparation for this night, God instructed the Israelites through Moses to take a lamb without blemish and sacrifice it and then smear its blood over the tops of their doorframes and on their doorposts and that this would be a sign for the death angel to pass over that home and not harm anyone inside. Hence, the name the Feast of Passover. The blood of the animal itself had no magical power to ward off the death angel nor did God need to see the blood on the homes in order to distinguish between Israelites and non-Israelites. God is all-knowing and all-seeing. The sacrifice of the lamb and the smearing of the blood was an object lesson for God’s people—to avoid the wrath of God upon us because of our sin, someone or something without blemish must die. The Passover event is a harbinger of the sacrificial system about to be established with the giving of the Law and, ultimately, a foreshadowing of Christ. This is because the Bible makes clear that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins and was never intended to actually atone for sins (Heb 10:1-4). Instead, all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were simply designed as reminders to God’s people that they are sinful, that they could never live up to God’s standard, and that they needed a true Redeemer, and everlasting atonement, someone to once for all deliver them from the burden of their sin and the condemnation of God’s Law.
God provides just such a Redeemer, an everlasting atonement, and a once-for-all Deliverer from the burden of our sin and the condemnation of God’s Law. As we celebrate Advent this Christmas season, we like to reflect on the birth of Christ and watch all the movies which end with the Nativity scene, the angels singing, and the star shining. But the story does not end there. During Christmas we often fail to think about why Christ was born in Bethlehem in the first place. Christ was born to die, to “save his people from their sins” (Mtt 1:21). This is what Christmas is all about.
But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." (Genesis 50:19-21)
These are the words of Joseph to his brothers, who years ago sold him into slavery to get rid of him. They despised him and his dreams and, of course, the tipping point was the coat of many colors made for him by his father which he pranced around in before his brothers. Joseph was the youngest of twelve brothers. Imagine the psychological trauma of being sold by your own flesh and blood into slavery. As the wagon continues down the road, you can see your brothers in the distance, counting their money, becoming smaller and smaller until, finally, they disappear over the horizon. Imagine not knowing where you would end up, what they would do to you, how they might harm you. Eventually Joseph ends up in an Egyptian prison, having been accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Egyptian prisons were not known for their comfort or humane treatment of prisoners. For years he would have slept on a cold hard floor in a rat and flea infested cell, living on stale bread and water. His father, Jacob, had been told by his brothers that he was dead, that he had been ripped to shreds by a lion. Thus, as far as his father was concerned, Joseph was dead. Then through a series of providential events, Joseph rises to the second highest position in the land of Egypt so that when a severe famine strikes, he is the perfect position to not only save his family, but to save all of Egypt. Their father, however, eventually dies, and now his brothers are left standing before Joseph, wondering what he is going to do to them. His response? “Do not fear,…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Joseph was despised and rejected by his own people and left for dead. Yet God sovereignly orchestrated all of it so that the ‘stone which the builders rejected became the cornerstone’ (Matt. 21:42). Christ was despised and rejected by his own people. Yet, what people meant for evil, God meant for good to bring about the salvation and forgiveness of many. Advent is about Christ, the Creator, being born in human form and allowing himself to be rejected by his own creation, to be beaten, flogged, and crucified so that those who place faith in Christ should receive the hope of eternal life. Advent is about the amazing compassion and love of Christ.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. (Gen. 49:8-11 ESV)
In this passage, we have Jacob pronouncing a blessing on his twelve sons while on his deathbed (vv.28-33). Jacob is the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham. His twelve sons will go on to form the twelves tribes of Israel who will eventually occupy the land of Canaan. In pronouncing a blessing upon Judah, he says a couple of interesting things.
First, “your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you,” and the “scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” This is the language that Judah, or one of his descendants, will someday ascend to the throne and subdue all his enemies, and his father’s sons, his brothers, will bow down and pay homage to him.
The second interesting thing Jacob says in pronouncing this blessing upon Judah is “he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.” This is what is called Hebrew parallelism where “garments” corresponds to “vesture” and “wine” (red in color) corresponds to the “blood of grapes.” Whomever Jacob is speaking of, he is speaking of a king whose garments will be soaked in blood.
Of course, none of this happens to Judah as the story of Genesis ends in the next chapter. The book of Exodus then begins with the Israelites having been in slavery for four-hundred years. The first king to come from the line of Judah is King David. But even he cannot make the claim that the scepter never departed from his hands or even from his sons. The Davidic dynasty comes to an end with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC to the Babylonians. Hence, this blessing can only be pointing toward one person--Christ, the son of David, who will conquer the greatest enemies of God’s people—sin, death, and Satan—by suffering and dying on the cross for their sins, and of whose kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:30-33). Advent is the celebration of the birth of this king--the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.
God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.
(Genesis 22:8 ESV)
In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his son—his only son. This is at once a fascinating and bewildering story, considering that Abraham only has one son from Sarah, the one son he waited twenty-five years to have. God promised Abraham at age seventy-five that he would someday make him a great nation. Then at age eighty-five that he would have a son from his own body who would give him children as numerous as the stars in the heavens. He then had to wait until he was one-hundred years old before actually having that son, and now God wants him to take him atop of Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him.
In an amazing act of obedience, Abraham obeys. “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (v.3). Yet, as they approach the mountain, Abraham takes the fire and the knife and then loads his son up with the wood for the burnt sacrifice, and Isaac, who’s about thirteen years old at this point, is quite perceptive and asks the obvious question: “My father...Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (v.7). Uhm, dad, aren’t you forgetting something? Abraham responds to his son with a prophetic answer: “God will provide for himself the lamb" (v.8).
Throughout the Bible, God makes clear that someone must die for sins committed against him (Ezek. 18:20). This is God’s holy standard. Thus, throughout the Old Testament, all the animal sacrifices that were offered for the sins of God’s people were simply designed to remind the people of their sins and of their need for a genuine sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-4). Animals could never atone for our sins because animals were not the ones who brought sin into the world--humans did! (Rom. 5:12-14). Thus, Christ comes into the world to be the one, true, and perfect lamb of God to die in the place of sinners. This is how John the Baptist identifies Jesus when he sees him. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). This is what Christmas is all about! Celebrating the Lamb of God who came into the world for sinners!
And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:3-6)
Back in Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. At the time, Abraham was seventy-five years old. Now about ten years later, he still has no children and is wondering how this promise is going to be fulfilled. How is Abraham going to be a “great nation” if he cannot have children of his own? Thus, God takes him outside and shows him all the stars in the heavens, which would have been an amazing sight to see in the ancient world before the days of light pollution. Abraham would have been able to see far more stars with the naked eye than we are able to see today. Then God makes him a promise that someday his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Amazingly, Abraham, a man of eighty-five years of age, whose wife is seventy-five years old, simply believes God with his whole heart and God credits it to him as righteousness.
This promise comes to fruition in the coming of the Messiah—the birth of Christ. Scripture tells us that this promise given to Abraham was, in fact, the promise of Christ coming into the world to die on the cross for sinners in order to redeem a people to himself. Not only that, but in the coming of Christ into the world, in his life, death, and resurrection, all those who place faith in Christ are adopted into the family of God. Christ becomes our brother. God the Father becomes our Father. The Holy Spirit gives birth to our souls and makes us alive in Christ. The spiritual descendants of Abraham have truly become more numerous than the stars in the heavens. Two-thousand years ago, Christ came into the world to create a family for God. This is what we celebrate during the Advent season!
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)
Here we have the promise God gave to Abraham that someday, and in some way, he would be a blessing to all nations of the earth. What is interesting about the call of Abraham out of the land of Ur is that Abraham is a pagan from a pagan family within a pagan culture. This is clear from Joshua 24:2 which says, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Not only that, but Abraham has two other brothers, Nahor and Haran, so then why does God call Abraham out of Ur and then enter an eternal covenant relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure unmerited grace. In that covenant, he says to Abraham that he would make his name great and that somehow he would be a blessing to all nations. Fast forward 2,000 years later to Galatians 3:8-9 and the apostle Paul writes, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” The promise given to Abraham was the promise of a Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem. Because of that event God has truly made for Abraham a great name. If it were not for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, no one would have ever heard of Abraham. Additionally, through Mary, who is a physical descendant of Abraham, Abraham has become a blessing to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, has exploded beyond the borders of Israel. During Advent season, throughout the month of December, we celebrate the promise fulfilled that was given to Abraham 4,000 years ago. Christ, the son of God, born in Bethlehem, lain in a Manger, is the promise of light and hope to the world.
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Genesis 3:20-21)
This is truly an amazing verse when we stop and ponder it. Adam and Eve had just sinned against God, essentially shaking their fist at Him and saying, ‘We are going to do things our way!’ They had one law to obey and yet they failed to keep it. They lived in a pristine environment. God had given them everything they could ever possibly need or desire, but still they wanted more. And so, they reached out and took from the forbidden fruit and brought sin, suffering, misery into the world. Then for the first time, Adam and Eve went from being completely selfless toward one another to being completely selfish and so they sewed fig leaves together to cover their bodies from each other because they no longer desired to be transparent with one another and then they hid themselves from God as a way of covering their shame and their guilt. God rightly curses them and curses the serpent. Yet despite all they had done, God feels compassion for them. They are like frightened sheep which have no idea what to do. And so, God kills an innocent animal and makes an adequate covering for Adam and Eve, something to cover their shame and guilt.
This is what Advent is all about. In our shame and guilt, we needed an adequate covering for ourselves. All our good works, all our efforts, all our self-righteous deeds are nothing more than fig leaves sewn together in a pathetic attempt to hide ourselves from the eyes of a holy God. Thus, Christ came into the world as the Lamb of God to die on the cross for our sins and to provide a perfect and everlasting covering for our sins against the eyes of God. Because of what Christ has done for us, for those who place faith in Christ as their only means of salvation and eternal life, we can once again stand in the presence of God Almighty and be acceptable to him.
The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all 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." (Genesis 3:14-15)
What is amazing about this passage is that immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve, immediately after they had engaged in cosmic treason against their Creator, rather than God turn them into greasy spots, which is what they deserved, amid cursing the serpent, and then cursing Adam and Eve, he promises to someday send a Redeemer to fix what man had ruined.
Now there is some debate as to the meaning of v.14 when God says, “cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Some believe the serpent once had legs and walked upright. Others believe that when God curses the serpent “above all livestock”, he is simply stating a fact that the serpent will be the most despised of all the land animals. It is more likely, however, that when God says, “on your belly you shall go” that this is likely a change in significance, rather than a change in existence (e.g., the rainbow).
However, the central point of this passage is in v.15. At first it seems God is going to put enmity between snakes and humans, but it becomes clear what is meant when we notice that the text suddenly shifts to singular pronouns in the second half: “he” and “you.” God is communicating two important truths. First, from this day forward there will be two spiritual lines of humanity (1) the spiritual offspring of Satan and (2) the spiritual offspring of the woman; i.e., the people of God. These two lines will be at enmity against each other, beginning with Cain and Abel. Second, from the offspring of the woman will come one who will bruise/strike the head of the serpent, while the serpent will merely strike his heal (Rom 16:20; Rev 12:9). From Genesis 3 forward, the story of the Bible is about tracing the seed of the woman through history until the promise is fulfilled in Christ (Gen 12:2; 15:18; Gal 3:16; 4:4-5).
Advent is about celebrating the fulfillment of that promise given to Adam and Eve so many thousands of years ago. That although humanity ruined what God had made, God sent his Son into the world, to be born in Bethlehem, and to die on the cross, to fix what man had ruined and to redeem a people to be his own. Advent is the celebration of God fulfilling his promise to humanity way back in Genesis 3:15.
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4-6)
As we begin to celebrate the first advent of Christ, sadly we must begin by recalling why Christ had to come in the first place. Why did Christ, the second person of the Godhead, the Son of God the Father, step out of the glory of heaven and take on human form? Why did the God of creation, the King of glory, step down from his throne, set aside his robe, and allow himself to be born in a stable, to be nursed at Mary’s breast, to grow up in Israel and live through the muck and the mire of life in a fallen world? Christ was willing to do this for us, for humanity, because of what humanity had ruined. Adam and Eve lived in a pristine environment, in perfect fellowship with God, had everything they could ever need, and had one law to follow—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest you die. Instead, Adam and Eve, our biological parents, the representatives for all humanity, did what everyone of us would have done. They listened to serpent feed them lies. They began to question the goodness and trustworthiness of God. They became dissatisfied and discontent with where God had placed them and what God had given them. They came to believe God was withholding something better from them. They wanted more, so they reached out and violated God’s law. They broke trust with God. They forever damaged theirs, and our, relationship with God and brought sin, misery, death, and destruction into the world. They created a disaster they were incapable of fixing. They unleashed a power that was beyond their control—sin, death, and Satan. But although they brought this on themselves and deserved to suffer the consequences of their actions, God is rich in mercy and grace and knew that if the problem they created was ever going to be fixed, God himself would have to be the one to do it. Advent is about celebrating God making right what man has ruined.
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