The Christmas story

During the Advent-Christmas season, we look forward to Jesus' second advent (coming), then back to his first (his incarnation and birth). Concerning his birth, I've reproduced below a sermon recently published on GCI's Trinitarian Preaching page on Facebook. Enjoy!


Jesus Shares our Humanity

by Ted Johnston

Introduction

In Luke chapter two, the beloved physician gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ early life as newborn baby, infant, and youth. Luke shows how Jesus, sharing our humanity at each stage of human development, beat back our fallen nature with the temptations it brings. At every point on this journey, Jesus (in his vicarious humanity and by the power of the Spirit) was at work re-creating our humanity. As God incarnate (sharing our flesh), Jesus not only is with us, but as one of us, he is radically for usJoy to the world---the Lord is come!

1. Jesus, the newborn baby (Luke 2:1–20)

Luke shows how the eternal Son of God came into the world of his creation in the most humble and helpless way; a human baby, born in a stable, placed in an animal’s feeding trough.

a. Jesus’ birth draws Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (vv. 1–7) 

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge—now using Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph 80 miles from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem. Every 14 years, Rome took a census, and each Jewish male was required to return to the city of their fathers to record their name, occupation, property and family.

When Mary says, “Be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38, KJV), little did she know what was in store for her as God went about fulfilling the many prophecies concerning the promised Messiah, including that he would be human (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:16), Jewish (Gen. 49:10), of the line of David (2 Sam. 7:1–17), born to a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in the village of Bethlehem, David’s city (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” was the ideal birthplace for the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Its rich historic heritage included the death of Rachel and the birth of Benjamin (Gen. 35:16–20), the marriage of Ruth, and the exploits of David. This ordinary scene thus speaks of God’s mighty hand.

Mary’s journey to Bethlehem must have been exhausting. Nevertheless, she rejoiced in doing God’s will, and, no doubt, was glad to get away from the gossip-mongers in Nazareth.

b. Jesus’ birth draws the angels from heaven (vv. 8–14) 

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The Adoration of the Shepherds by van Honthorst
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Think of it—the Creator of the vast cosmos born as a lowly creature. The eternal Word of God has become a speechless baby! The angels announced this stunning event first to the lowliest of the lows—shepherds. How ironic! Shepherds were outcasts—not even allowed to testify in court. Their work not only made them unclean under the Law of Moses, but kept them from the temple for weeks at a time so they could not be made clean. Luke’s point is clear: God cares about the poor and lowly (Luke 1:51–53; 1Cor. 1:26–29). Moreover, Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10) and the Lamb of God sacrificed for ALL humanity (John 1:29). Luke is emphasizing that the gospel is good news for everyone. All are included!

“Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10) is a key theme in Luke’s Gospel (see 1:13, 30, 74). Literally the angel says, “I announce to you good news, a great joy which shall be to all the people.” He uses the Greek word that means “preach the good news,” a word Luke uses often in his Gospel and in the book of Acts, which he also wrote. What is this good news? That God has sent a Savior to meet the greatest need of ALL people—that need here described as peace. The Jewish word shalom (peace) means much more than the absence of war. It means well-being, health, prosperity, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with inner character than outward circumstance.

Life was difficult at that time just as it is today. Taxes and unemployment were high, and morals were slipping lower. Roman law, Greek philosophy, and even the religion of Israel under the Law of Moses could not bring the shalom of God to men’s hearts. So God sent his Son. And the angels cried out in praise. They had done so at creation (Job 38:7), and now as God commences a stunning re-creation in and through Jesus, the Creator of the cosmos now clothed in our humanity.

The purpose of this re-creation is to unite all humankind with God’s “glory.” That glory once dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and then in the temple (2 Chron. 7:1–3), but it had departed because of the nation’s sin (1 Sam. 4:21; Ezek. 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22–23). Now God’s glory has returned in the person of Jesus—God in flesh (John 1:14). Now the “holy of holies” containing God’s presence is a human baby lying in a lowly manger. Glory to God!

c. Jesus’ birth draws shepherds from the fields (vv. 15–20) 

5 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds knew what to look for: a newborn babe lying in a manger. When they found the baby, they worshiped him and marveled at God’s grace and goodness and the miracle he had wrought for them. These shepherds are models of receptivity to Jesus—they received by faith and responded in obedience to the message God sent. After finding the baby, they shared the good news with others, “glorifying and praising God.” Then they humbly returned to their duties, new men going back to their life’s vocation. There is great irony here, for shepherds were not permitted to testify in court in that culture. Yet God used them to be the first human’s to testify to the arrival of the promised Messiah!

2. Jesus, the infant (Luke 2:21–38)

Luke now shows us more about the child Jesus through three encounters: 1) with the Law (the rites of the Law of Moses), 2) with Simeon, and 3) with Anna.

a. The Law (vv. 21–24) 

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. 22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
Though Jesus came to deliver us from the Law: its curse (Gal 3:13) and bondage (Gal 5:1), he lived “under the Law,” perfectly obeying its requirements on our behalf (Gal. 4:1–7). As shown here in Luke 2, Jesus did so from the very beginning of his life, including through his circumcision, which symbolized how he would remove (circumcise) our sin nature through his own substitutionary-representative humanity (see Gal. 6:15; Phil. 3:1–3; Col. 2:10–11). Jesus’ circumcision was also an example of how Jesus suffered at every point of his life for us. In obedience to the Lord, Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, meaning “Jehovah is salvation” (Mat. 1:21).

When Jesus was 40 days old, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the temple so Mary could be purified as mandated by the Law (Lev. 12) and so Jesus could be “redeemed” for five shekels as mandated by the Law in the case of a firstborn child (Ex. 13:1–13). Joseph and Mary thus redeemed with a paltry five shekels the one who from day one was giving his precious substitutionary life to redeem all humanity. Their sacrifice of two doves was the standard sacrifice given by the very poor instead of a lamb (2Cor. 8:9). However, the one they brought to the temple was the true Lamb of God—the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

b. Simeon (vv. 25–35) 

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Simeon by Mironov
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Simeon was a faithful Jew waiting and praying for “the consolation [deliverance] of Israel.” His prayers were answered when he saw Jesus, now 40 days old, in the temple. Simeon’s response is the fifth and last of the “Christmas hymns” in Luke (Elizabeth, 1:42–45; Mary, 1:46–56; Zacharias, 1:67–79; the angels, 2:13–14). Simeon’s hymn is a worship hymn as he blesses God for keeping his promise and sending the Messiah. He joyfully praises God that he has been privileged to see the Lord’s Christ. Simeon’s hymn is also a salvation hymn: “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). Now he is ready to die! The word dismiss in Greek (v29) has several meanings, each telling something about the death of those who trust in God’s salvation: to release a prisoner, to untie a ship and set sail, to take down a tent, and to unyoke a beast of burden. As believers we do not fear death because we understand the deliverance (freedom) we have in our Savior—in this life and the next. Thirdly, Simeon’s hymn is a missionary hymn—he sees this great salvation going out to all (see Luke 2:10)---the compassion and provision of Jesus for the whole world is one of Luke’s major themes.

Having finished his hymn of praise, Simeon prophecies (Luke 2:34–35), noting first that the nation of Israel will “fall” (stumble) over Jesus (see Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:32), but in him, many would “rise” in salvation. Jesus will be a “sign”—the word means “a miracle,” not so much as a demonstration of power but as a revelation of divine truth. Jesus’ miracles in John’s Gospel are called “signs” because they reveal special truths about Jesus (John 20:30–31). Jesus is God’s miracle; and yet, instead of admiring him, the people attacked him and spoke against him (thus revealing what was in their hearts). Thus Jesus is both Savior and Judge. The basis of this judgment is their view (acceptance or rejection) of Jesus. Lastly, Simeon prophecies that a “sword will pierce” Mary’s “soul.” This speaks to the suffering and sorrow she would bear as the Messiah’s mother. During our Lord’s life, Mary experienced more and more sorrow until one day she stood by Jesus’ cross and saw him suffer terrible pain and die (John 19:25–27).

c. Anna (vv. 36–38) 

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna, meaning “grace,” was a godly widow of great age. There are 43 references to women in Luke’s Gospel, and three times they are widows. Widows were particularly vulnerable in that day—often neglected and exploited. Nevertheless, Anna, a prophetess, devoted herself to worshipping God in the temple. She came up just as Simeon was praising the Lord for the child Jesus, and she joined in the song! Anna then spoke, sharing the good news concerning this child among others gathered there who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. The excitement began to spread as more and more people heard.

3. Jesus, the youth (Luke 2:39–52)

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. 41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." 49 "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Jesus Found in the Temple by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Having fulfilled the requirements of the Law, Mary and Joseph returned home to Nazareth, where Jesus lived until his public ministry began some 30 years later. What did Jesus do during those years growing up? We don’t know the details, but Luke indicates that Jesus developed in the way all humans do—one step at a time: physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually (Luke 2:40, 52). Through his incarnation, the Son of God had set aside the capabilities of his divinity and lived and operated out of his assumed humanity (Phil. 2:1–11). This is illustrated here by Luke in a story from Jesus’ youth.

As devout Jews, Joseph and Mary travelled to Jerusalem each year to observe the Passover. Relatives and whole villages often traveled together in pilgrim caravans, and kept an eye on each other’s children. At age twelve, Jesus could easily have gone from one group to another and not have been missed. They had gone a day’s journey from Jerusalem when they discovered that Jesus was missing. It took a day to return to the city and another day for them to find him.

During those three days, Joseph and Mary had been greatly distressed (Luke 2:48). Whether Jesus had spent the entire time in the temple, we don’t know. We do know that when Joseph and Mary found him, he was in the midst of the teachers of the Law, asking questions and listening to their answers; and the teachers were amazed at both his questions and answers.

Mary’s loving rebuke brought a respectful but astonished reply from Jesus: “Why were you searching for me…didn’t you know I had to be [KJV=”must be”] in my Father’s house?” (v49). Luke often quotes Jesus using this word “must” to speak of his sense of divine compulsion—here at a young age already understanding that he is God’s unique Son, and something about his mission in the service of his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ parents “did not understand” (v 50) all this. The “sword” of discrimination spoken of by Simeon in v35 is at work already, though Jesus willingly submitted to his human parents (v51). Here we see God as a Servant come to suffer with us and for us.

Luke adds in v52 that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Jesus, in his humanity, grew---he developed just as we all do. But Luke may be telling us even more than that here. The Greek word he uses for “grew,” is prokopto. In a general sense it means simply “to grow.” But literally it means “drive forward as if by beating.” Thayer’s Lexicon assigns the following possible meanings: to beat forward, to lengthen out by hammering (as a smith forges metals), to go forward, to increase/make progress. Jesus, through the incarnation that unites his divinity with our humanity, is our representative and substitute, who took upon himself our fallen humanity and “beat it back” at every stage of life—in the womb, at birth, in childhood, here in his youth, in an adult vocation, and through much torture ending in a terrible death. Jesus truly does share fully in our humanity, including our nature and life experiences—thus he truly is our merciful, understanding, faithful high priest—the one able fully “to sympathize with our weaknesses…[having been] tempted in every way, just as we are—yet…without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In Jesus, our humanity is re-created!
Comment: An erroneous idea held by some is that Jesus in his incarnation assumed human nature as it was before the fall. But this is not what Scripture teaches and the early church taught. Jesus was human in every way we are (including having a fallen nature), except he never sinned. To have a fallen nature like we do, yet to avoid all personal sin is a HUGE part of how Jesus suffered for us as one of us, and as noted above, how he accomplished our salvation. The atonement accomplished by Jesus on our behalf included his sacrificial death on the cross, AND his ongoing suffering in battling corrupt human nature from conception through death. And, we should note, Jesus’ sharing in our humanity continues, because the incarnation is forever – Jesus is now, and forever will be, both fully God and fully human (and now he is a glorified human like we shall one day be). All for us. Thank you Jesus! [For more about the type of human nature Jesus assumed, click here.] 

Conclusion

Jesus is fully God and fully human—he shares our humanity just as we experience it—as a baby, an infant and a youth; and also as an adult. Bearing our humanity, Jesus redeems us—delivers us—re-creates us. Oh come let us adore him! Merry Christmas.

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