SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 6 of 20
Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Today’s verses, our friendly sceptic will soon notice, doesn’t actually proclaim Jesus as God’s unique Son, but we include it for another reason. Yes, this passage does speak more about the Messiah or Christ but we should consider what that reference to Jesus meant, and also take note of what was happening as recorded in the events surrounding his birth.
First of all let’s consider the question of Jesus as Messiah or Christ. They are simply Hebrew and Greek terms for the same role, that of “the anointed one”, for that is what both words mean, one anointed by God to perform a special task. Jews today will naturally deny that Jesus was their Messiah and still expect their Messiah to come. This is somewhat natural because they, as a people rejected him two thousand years ago and were part of the partnership (Jew & Gentile partnership – the Romans being the Gentile partner) that rejected, falsely tried and crucified him. This together with a desire for righteousness by good deeds has produced what the apostle Paul, a Jew himself, called ‘a hardening’ (Rom 11:25) which continues to reject Jesus as Messiah. We should always remember that this is them as a nation and not individuals, because the whole of the early church was initially made up of Jews and still today Jews become ‘completed Jews’ or Christians.
Throughout the Old Testament period there had been disputes about the nature of ‘the Coming One’. The prophetic Scriptures clearly indicated there was going to come one from God who would save His people, but the nature of this ‘Coming One’ was unclear. Some Scriptures seemed to describe him as a suffering servant, while others described him as a conquering king. The academics never realised that he would, in fact, be both and that Jesus perfectly fulfilled all of these prophecies of which there are over three hundred in the Old Testament.
So there might be a case to be made that Jesus was simply to be the Saviour of the Jewish people. Indeed Matthew, recording the dream Joseph received, seeing an angel come to him, records Joseph as hearing the angel say to him, “you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of ‘Joshua’ which means ‘the Lord saves’, so they could have understood that Jesus just came as a deliverer, to save the literal people of Israel, and only them, but therein there is a problem! He didn’t. When he died the people, as a nation, were unchanged. They were still under the occupation of the Roman oppressors. So if he was to be a Messiah who delivered the nation of Israel from under the hand of Rome, he certainly failed!
But this also ignores another key point that comes out in the Old Testament, that Israel were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world. Again and again we come across this, a declared intention on God’s part to reach out and reveal Himself to the rest of the world through Israel. Surely, if there was to be this ‘Coming One’ he would further that desire and bring about a revealing of God to the whole world, not just to one small nation. Seen like that, the word to Joseph we saw above, becomes a reference to all God’s potential people from around the world, a promise to deal with the ‘sin problem’ (we are separated from God by our sin).
But then we are confronted with an even bigger problem: how could a mere man deal with the sin of the whole world? The answer that the New Testament gives us, is that the man was God in disguise; only God Himself is big enough to deal with this problem – but we’ll see more of that later. The point that we would make here is that references to the Christ or Messiah were, in fact, references to One who had to be far more than a mere man. Jesus is either a failed Messiah or a Messiah for the whole world and who has achieved the plans of heaven. The testimony of the rest of the New Testament and of subsequent Church History, is that he gloriously achieved God’s purpose, and countless millions have since been brought into a wonderful relationship with God because of what Jesus did.
There is one other small (!) point to be made in passing, about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. There are three facets of what happened that make his arrival on earth a clearly unique event, and one has to ask why this is so if he was just an ordinary man? The first facet is the past prophetic aspect of it all. Matthew, writing particularly for the Jews, points out how everything that was happening, was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. This was all very specifically working out a divine programme, declared centuries before. The second facet is that of present divine guidance that is involved in the accounts. There is the communication from heaven with the main participants – John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, then Mary mother-to-be of Jesus, and Joseph, guardian of Jesus, not to mention the shepherds in our verses today, the Magi who we’ll consider tomorrow, and two godly people in the temple. In all of these cases there is amazing guidance in a variety of forms that means that these are people who are motivated and energised by God to play their parts. The third facet is the supernatural nature of all that was going on: an elderly lady conceiving after decades of inability to conceive, a young virgin conceiving without male help, angelic appearances one after another and incredible guidance of clearly divine nature.
For the materialist this must be one of the most upsetting areas of Scripture, so full is it with divine appearances and happenings. Why, we have to ask again, should there be all this incredible heavenly activity if Jesus was to be merely a prophet – no other prophet has ever received this attention? If, on the other hand, this is the Son of God, coming from heaven (which Scripture says it was), then it makes perfect sense. Not conclusive evidence but a strong piece of the puzzle that ‘fits’ the big picture – this IS the Son of God arriving.