To Us A Child Was Born
As we read earlier, it was an angel who announced to Mary that she would be pregnant, but not by her husband. That, of course, confounded Mary and she questioned:
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1).
We have here both parts, if you will, of Jesus’ genetic make-up. Before looking at his Divine nature, we’ll consider Jesus’ humanity. Both are equally important because both have their foundation in the prophetic writings and in God’s promises from the very beginning.
Looking at both Matthew and Luke at this point, you will find how relationships fit into the birth of Jesus. Let’s begin with Luke since he includes the wider perspective. Luke’s genealogy goes from most recent to earlier ancestors. You will notice this at the beginning and the ending of his genealogy in Luke 3. It begins with Joseph, Mary’s husband and ends with Adam:
23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph.
Then Luke ends with Adam, directly created by God:
38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Relationship was also prominent in Genesis 3, where we read God’s first covenant with fallen mankind:
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Verse 15 records God’s first promise to mankind regarding redemption from the forces of evil. To the serpent, God says: Yes, you will “wound” the redeemer, but he will crush your power over humanity. The deliverer of the human race will be one born of this first woman, Eve. From this point on through Scripture, you will see a refining and a narrowing of the corridor that will bring deliverance to humankind.
Turning now to Matthew’s gospel, the genealogy goes from earlier to more recent. Jesus’ background starts with his relationship to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, highlighting both Abraham and David. The writer wastes no time, beginning with the very first verse of the book:
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers(Matthew 1:1, 2).
While he begins Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham, throughout the book the writer will develop the Kingdom of Heaven and describe its King. Accordingly, he inserts Jesus’ kinship to David in the very first verse.
We might say that for Matthew, his gospel is tied to God’s promises to Abraham and to the nation that would come from him. But it was not just Abraham: God’s covenant was to pass through Sarah. Abraham already had a son with Hagar, Sarah’s servant. Since Sarah was so old and well past childbearing age, Abraham thought God would work it out through Ishmael, his son with Hagar. That was not God’s plan. Read the conversation between God and Abraham from Genesis 17:
17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” 19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
God’s covenant relationship for the coming Messiah was through Abraham and Sarah. You can read the full agreement with the aged couple in Genesis 17. Beyond that covenant with Abraham and Sarah, years later it was revealed that the redeemer would be a person from the Hebrew people. The occasion was God’s test of Abraham—to see if his trust and confidence in the covenant was based on his son Isaac, or on God’s promise. So God asked him to sacrifice his son of the covenant. How did that turn out? (You can find the entire story in Genesis 22.)
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
The point here is two-fold: First, the text identifies a single “offspring” as the conduit for blessing all nations on earth. The word “offspring” can be translated as “seed,” singular. We again see a narrowing of the path by which that blessing will be delivered to all. What began with a generic “human” instrument related to Eve, here it is a person coming from the Hebrew race, one connected by blood to Abraham and Sarah, through their son Isaac.
As we discover in reading through the prophets and see as well in the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, the covenant line will eventually run through Judah, son of Jacob, and then David. Among many references, we read this in Psalm 89: 2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, 4 ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’ This covenant culminates in the person of Jesus of Bethlehem.
To Us a Son Is Given
We began this chapter with a reading of Scripture from Isaiah 9. Let’s revisit those verses to focus on the other aspect of Jesus’ genetic makeup. I should throw out this caution first. Over the years, there have been battles within the church over the dual aspect of Jesus’ person. It has separated friends and divided congregations. But none of those debates should cloud what we are about to examine. It is essential to our understanding of God’s offer of redemption to humanity that we grasp what really took place in Bethlehem.
Two verses from Isaiah 9 establish the framework for this section:
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
The child and son described here are really one person. Grammatically, that doesn’t seem to fit, but it does. Understanding it, however, may be another question. If Mary had a child under normal human conception, it would have been the child of Joseph her husband and herself. That would be the natural result of human activity. Each parent would contribute to the genetic makeup of the child. But these two verses are telling us something that is far greater than that.
These verses, supported by many other scriptures, are declaring something unheard of in human history. It is the same announcement that the angel Gabriel gave Mary and is reported in Luke 1:29-33. A woman (Mary) would become pregnant under the power of the Lord Almighty. This offspring would be a “child” of the human race, and the Son of the God of heaven. The child was “born” and the Son was “given”—one person of two distinct natures, human and Divine.
The offspring of Mary, the seed of Mary; the son of Mary is the gift from God–that is “a son that is given.” To repeat the promise and its fulfillment: Jesus was fully the child of Mary, and Jesus was fully the Son of God. He was fully human and he was fully God. Our difficulty with this equation is that there has only been one person like this in all of creation. We may diagnose a person as having a “split personality” or have someone who has dual citizenship, or someone who might be possessed by a demon. Jesus, however, was fully God and fully human at the same time.
Read though the two verses from Isaiah 9 once again. The son Mary was given also carried names given only to Divinity with powers of achievement that are super-human if you will. But this person will be given the throne of his “genealogical” father, King David. It is at this point that we might repeat the words Mary used when she could not grasp what the angel Gabriel told her: “How can these things be?” But, don’t stop reading now, as there is more to come.
Let’s go back to Eve and Adam in the opening chapters of Genesis. God had placed them in what we call the Garden of Eden, with certain conditions and consequences. They failed the testing and were expelled from Eden. Yes, they were punished. But they also were given a promise. That is what we looked at in Genesis 3: 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The first couple received an astounding promise from God: From them would come someone who would nullify the power of evil in their lives. Yes, this someone would be able to “crush” the power of the tempter, something neither Adam nor Eve could do. In this earliest of God’s promises to humankind, he said that redemption, provided by God, was on its way. In that promise, it would be someone of human origin, and yet be someone with greater power than any human possessed.
So from the very beginning, God committed himself to provide a mediator who was a human being yet having “super-human” abilities. That is Jesus as we have him pictured in Isaiah 9. That is Jesus as he is seen in Psalm 22. That is Jesus as he was born in Bethlehem. That is Jesus, God and man in one person. That is Jesus, a child born . . . a son given!
So the question arises, could the redeemer be someone who could not be tempted as were Adam and Eve, and David, and Joseph and Mary, and you and me? The child born had to be fully and completely human, capable of being tempted and being hungry and hurt and able to cry and feel our pain in every way. The redeemer had to be able to live with full human capacity in order to overcome the same temptations and weariness and agony that humanity often endures. And, likewise, to have the ability for love and joy and fear and friendship we all can share. Yes, Jesus had to be fully man.
In Bethlehem, we have found the son who was given as our Redeemer. Remember, the promise to Eve (and Adam) was to all who would claim her as their mother—the human race. This Son would have the ability to provide redemption for the entire race. That could only be someone who was far more than another human. This Son had to have infinite love, if you will, and infinite power to provide redemption for every child of Eve, regardless of time or location of birth. Yes, the Redeemer had to be the God-Man, fully God and completely human.
Do any of us understand how that came about? It is a mystery impossible for us humans to get our arms or minds around. But just as Adam and Eve, and Abraham and David, and Mary and Joseph, redemption is not a matter of what we understand but in what we accept. Remember, the child was born and the son was given. There is the ultimate question for all ages and all people: Will you accept the gift? That gift was given at Bethlehem–Jesus.
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above they deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in they dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given?
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enter in.
Oh, Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend on us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel
In these few pages, we have seen the town of Bethlehem, met those who lived there and those who visited at the birth of the Son that was given. You have read what Matthew and Luke, and even John and Mark gave to us in their writings. The prophets of old proclaimed in advance and God promised from the very beginning that someone would come to redeem the human race. And for that very reason God gave the Son, the child of Mary.
As you look around you today, you know in your own soul that this world including yourself needs someone to enter in with power and love to make a change. Will you accept the words of the hymns’ last verse and make it your prayer for this season? You see, it’s a gift that God is waiting to give you and all who will receive him. As the Apostle John tells us in the opening chapter of his story about Jesus, 12 . . . to all who receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
That is the story of Christmas—God’s redeeming grace and love for you.