Bow Low Before Baby Jesus
On our Christmas tree, we hang a number of ornaments with names, dates, and baby pictures. I bet you do too. There's something special about Christmas, when families gather together to remember the birth of a baby boy. We tell our own children about Mary and Joseph, the long journey, the manger, and the shepherds summoned by angels to see the face of God.
Christmas is a season when we introduce the babes in our families to the babe born in Bethlehem. For many, Christmas is the genesis of saving faith. This probably plays a part in why we hang baby ornaments. As we commemorate "Baby's First Christmas," we long for our children to know the "First Christmas's Baby."
Yet we must not confuse love for our kin with the lordship of our king. When we consider Jesus in the manger, we should take a fresh look at the Gospels to see how they present the birth story. What we find there may surprise us: Jesus isn't displayed as a cute cherub glistening in the hay. Instead, he's the all-glorious Lord who has taken residence in the home of a poor carpenter and his ostracized wife (cf. John 8:41).
In particular, let us hear what Matthew 1 says about Jesus. In his careful introduction, Matthew selects three names to describe our Lord. These names do more than simply give us data from his birth certificate; they identify who this babe is. He is the King of kings, the Savior of the world, and God with us.
Son of David
Verse 1 begins: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Matthew presents Jesus the Messiah as the son of promise (Gen. 12:3; cf. Gal 3:16) and the long-expected king (2 Sam. 7). Over the next 16 verses, Matthew divides 42 generations into three groups of 14---the number of David---to show how the promises to Abraham are passed to David and ultimately to Jesus. Then, in verse 20, the angel of the Lord addresses Joseph as a "son of David."
Why all this emphasis on David? To understand the significance of the Christ child, one needs to know what God had long ago promised David and his sons. In 2 Samuel 7, God refined the scope of his blessing to David and his offspring, promising them an eternal throne. For nearly a millennium, then, the people of Israel awaited a Davidic king who would keep the covenant and inherit the throne. Matthew reveals that Jesus is this long-expected, law-abiding king.
He is the one who would bring everlasting peace (Isa. 9:6-7). He is the Branch that would reign in righteousness (Jer. 23:1-6). He is the royal Son who would inherit the nations (Ps. 2). Indeed, he was the Beloved of the Father (Matt. 3:17), sent into the world to inherit the kingdom promised to a righteous son of David. Thus, the baby born in Bethlehem was the one God had in mind when he promised David his son would sit on an eternal throne (cf. Mic. 5:2; Rom. 1:3-4).
Next, Matthew records how Mary and Joseph received instruction from the angel of the Lord to name their son Jesus. In those days, that name (Yeshua) would have been as common as Michael or John today. Nevertheless, like everything else in Scripture, the name had significance. As verse 21 says, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Indeed, Jesus' name means "Yahweh Saves." This, in one word, is the message of the Bible.
Typologically, two saviors in the Old Testament carry the same name. First, Joshua was chosen by God to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land rest. But because of the people's unbelief, Joshua could not provide lasting rest (Heb. 4:8-10). However, when Jesus came into the world, he came as a greater Joshua---one who would save his people from their sins and give them everlasting rest (Matt. 11:28-30). Yeshua's birth meant Sabbath rest had transcended space and time, and found permanent fulfillment in Jesus.
We encounter another Joshua in the prophecies of Zechariah. He's the priest purified by the angel of the Lord (Zech. 3:1-10). The visions of Zechariah 3 and 6 depict a priest who wears the royal crown. Since such a combination of priest and king was forbidden in the Israel's law, this portrayed another kind of Messiah---a royal priest like Melchizedek. In the coming of Jesus, this priestly king had arrived at last.
So Jesus' name highlights the work he was sent to accomplish (salvation) and the office he would hold (royal priest). Indeed, the central message of Psalm 110---perhaps the greatest messianic psalm---designates Jesus Christ as the messianic royal priest. Thus the name Yeshua conjures up images of the long-expected Messiah who would deliver his people from sin, death, and judgment.
Last, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (Matt. 1:23). The name Immanuel is pregnant with meaning. It literally means, "God with us"---which may or may not be good news. For sinners under the judgment of God, "God with us" could be devastating (cf. Isa. 8:9-10). However, when God comes in mercy, his presence is the highest blessing. In the case of Jesus, the eternal Son came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:16-17). His impoverished, uncelebrated birth was part of the grand plan to save poor, lost sinners.
Yet Jesus did not save the world in his birth. It was in his life, death, and resurrection that he was declared the Son of God (Rom. 1:3-4). Indeed, he became a servant and offered himself as a ransom for many (Isa. 53; Matt. 20:28). Isaiah 57:15 tells us God dwells in a high and holy place, but also with the lowly and contrite. In the Incarnation, the exalted Son took the form of a lowly servant, and died the death of a criminal. Therefore, the Father exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name (Phil. 2:5-11).
So as we read the birth stories, hang ornaments, and tell our children the mesmerizing account of baby Jesus, let us not forget that he's the eternal, omnipotent Son who upholds the universe and rules with a rod of iron. The magi recognized these truths; we must do the same. May we not fawn over him with mere sentimentality this Christmas, but bow low and adore him as our Savior and King.