“And the angel sad unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:lO-12).
In December of each year there is a renewed interest in the second chapter of the Book of Luke. Bibles which have been closed since last December are opened, and the old story of the birth of Jesus is reviewed once again.
In innumerable churches around the world, plays and skits once again repeat the story in sight and sound, in flesh and blood. One of the principal characters in many of these skits is the angel who first announced to the Judean shepherds the birth of the Messiah. Songs and stories abound in which this heavenly messenger and his message are mentioned.
Yet with all of this emphasis there is still a great need to examine what the angel really said. The angel’s announcement, properly understood, provides a remarkable description of the identity and nature of the child born in Bethlehem.
First, let us notice that when this heavenly envoy appeared the shepherds were sore, or very, afraid. This is still the reaction of many people when faced with a manifestation of God’s power. So the first words of the angel were “Fear not. . . .” God is good and His love for mankind is great. A desire to help, not harm, mankind was the motive behind the incarnation.
The message of the angel is initially that we do not need to be afraid of the will of God. Many seem to hesitate to follow God’s directions because they fear they will not like or enjoy what He has planned for them. Fear not. Being in His will will bring you more fulfillment and greater lasting happiness than anything else you could do. Fear not.
In the message of the angel are broad but specific hints of things to come. Even today the whole of God’s Church echoes the angel when we mention the gospel. Gospel literally means “good news.” The shepherds were thus the first to be informed that this babe’s coming was “good news” for the world.
This good news has, as the angel declared, brought great joy to all people who will accept it. The joy of the Holy Ghost is available because of Jesus’ coming. Throughout the centuries .the joy of the Lord has been the hallmark of His coming. From the Ethiopian eunuch who went rejoicing on his way (Acts 8:39) to the latest one to receive the Holy Ghost, the coming of our Savior has meant joy unspeakable.
And, as the angel proclaimed, this good news has been for all people. For the birth, life and death of this One, whose birth announcement was given by an angel from heaven, has brought about the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the salvation of the Gentile nations. This good news crosses all color, social, economic and political lines.
THE CITY OF DAVID
We, centuries later, know much more about the eventual outcome of this life than did those shepherds who first heard it announced. But all that they needed to understand about the mission and identity of this babe was given to them by the angel.
Unto You. This child’s birth was important to the shepherds. They seem to have been chosen as representatives of the human race. They were hard working, diligent, probably not too wealthy, and most likely looked down upon by some. Yet from the sheepcote had come one of Israel’s greatest kings, David.
As there are good and bad shepherds, with dullards and potential kings within their ranks so it is with all of humanity. And it was to humanity that Jesus came. “Unto you. . .” seems to echo through the years until the Apostle Peter picked up the refrain on that special Day of Pentecost and amplified it: “. . .unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
Is Born. The Jews as a whole expected their Messiah to come into their midst in regal splendor and power. They were expecting something quite different from the normal birth of a child in a borrowed stable. It somehow had not occurred to them that His coming would not be with the nature of angels, but of the seed of Abraham.
They read the prophecies and gave mental assent to the human nature of the coming Messiah, while in their hearts they anticipated an angel. Their plans required a king, so they overlooked the pauper.
Jesus robed Himself in human flesh that He might taste death for every man. He would live facing all that life throws at us. And He would die as a man dies, that we might know that He knows our problems, not just theoretically, but from experience.
Besides the other things that He accomplished and the sacrifices He offered, He walked where we walk, and left us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
David. To these men especially the mention of Israel’s second king ought to have brought to mind memories of the promises made to the shepherd-king by a faithful God.
“The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne” (Psalm 132:11).
Among the many promises to David, this one stands out as a clear indicator of the identity of this Child in Bethlehem. For here the God of the Old Testament declared that He, and not some other, would come as a descendant of David to sit upon his throne “. . .and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever” (Isaiah 9:7). The One who would do this would come as a Child, as a Son, and yet be the mighty God and the everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6).
The reference to David, in itself, should have quickened to the shepherds’ minds, and to ours, the fact that this Babe whose birth the angel announced was none other than Jehovah come to be among men.
Then the allusion by the angel to David’s city should bring to our minds the history of this royal family which proves the necessity of the virgin birth. Many years before this night one of the ancestors of Joseph, the carpenter, had been a very wicked man. This man, Jehoiachin, the Coniah of Jeremiah 22, and the Jechonias of Matthew 1, was cursed so that no male of his family could rule as king again (Jeremiah 22:30). Since Joseph, the supposed father of Jesus, was descended from Jehoiachin neither he nor his son could ever be king, although they were legal heirs of the throne.
But Jesus was literally a son of David on his mother’s side through David’s son, Nathan. Thus He fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 132: 11 only by being virgin born. He was the offspring of David through Mary. And from Joseph he inherited the throne, without inheriting the curse.
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).
By announcing that the child was a Savior, the angel let those who understand know who had come to this world. Isaiah told long ago that God is our Savior. In fact the word translated “salvation” in 1saiah 12 is the Hebrew word from which we get the name Jesus.
Salvation comes only through the Jehovah God of the Old Testament. “But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD” (Psalm 37:39). A clear understanding of the message of the angel will tell us assuredly that this Babe was Jehovah in the likeness of sinful flesh.
WHICH IS CHRIST
And as He dwelt among them, He revealed His name: Jesus. Christ is a title; Jesus is His name. There has arisen a strong misconception about the term “Christ.” This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “anointed of Jehovah.” The anointed of (or with) Jehovah is what this Babe was. But Jesus is who He was.
The angel was not giving the shepherds His name. They were merely being told “the Messiah you have longed for is finally here.” The Messiah, Christ, is the joining of human flesh with eternal Spirit. The flesh of this man was what had been anointed by the Spirit. Through that anointing, God was then in their midst in a new and different way.
And as He dwelt among them, He revealed His name: JESUS. Christ is a title. Jesus is His name.
Then before giving the shepherds directions to the manger, this celestial messenger made things so clear about this One’s identity that none should miss it. The One you will find lying in a manger is the Lord!
The Hebrews who had had some two thousand years of training in religious matters could understand this only one way. The Lord is their God, the Jehovah of their fathers. In the light of the Scriptures there is no difficulty in conceiving of God being in flesh and at the same time filling heaven and earth. Even as far back as Moses’ day, God had made it clear that there did not need to be several gods doing things. He was, and is, great enough to do it all and still just be one.
“Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39).
Year after year the message of the angel is repeated. Multitudes fall under the sound of the words heralded so long ago. Yes, we hear the message. But do we understand its meaning? This is more than just a high powered birth announcement. God sent this message that the world might know He had come. But more importantly, it was sent that they might know who He is.
This article first appeared in the Oklahoma District Beacon about 1974 or 75, and then in the Pentecostal Herald December, 1976.