(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 23, 2001
Christmas is nearly here. Here in America, it is a day of celebration with quite a mixture of tradition.Some of those traditions are religious in nature, though not necessarily Christian, and others are purelysecular. It would seem though that the secular continues to slowly overwhelm the religious.
I read an interesting article a couple of weeks ago about how difficult it has become to find Advent Calendars that were based on the birth of Christ. Traditional Advent Calendars were designed to create an anticipation of Christmas day. They are decorated with some design related to Jesus’ birth and there are little numbered doors for each day of the Christmas season which on opening would have a Bible verse that would tell part of the story of the birth of Christ. Some calendars might even have a treat of
some kind. Those calendars have become hard to find. Most of the advent calendars available now have about every theme except the birth of Jesus. They are decorated with reindeer, Santa Claus, winter scenes, Christmas trees, etc., and the picture behind the doors will be of toys and such. Diane found a religious-based one for our kids this year, but she had to do quite a bit of searching before she found it.
While American society may continue to move in the direction of Christmas being just a winter celebration, we who are Christians need to continue our focus on Jesus Christ and celebrate His birth.
While the emphasis in Scripture is on celebrating Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection, His birthday is also a significant event. The incarnation was the fulfillment of many specific prophecies and necessary for many others to be fulfilled. This morning we are going to examine some of these prophecies and their importance.
When was Jesus born?
The Bible gives us some clues about when Jesus was born, but it does not predict the date or reveal when the birth actually occurred. Western calendars supposedly use the date of Jesus’ birth as the starting point, but Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little) when he created this calendar about 525 A.D. made some calculation errors. The actual year of Jesus’ birth was actually earlier, with estimated dates ranging from 7 to 2 B.C.
There is also quite a bit of debate about the day on which Jesus was born. All sorts of dates have been proposed, but December 25, the traditional date in the West, and January 6, the traditional date in the East, are probably the least probable dates. December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when Pope Sixtus III officiated the first “Christ mass.” Though there is an attempt to calculate the date based on a speculation that Jesus’ conception and passion were
both at the Spring equinox (March 25), setting Jesus’ birth on December 25 has more to do with trying to adapt the pagan Roman celebrations of Saturnailia and Natalis Solis Invicti, (the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun) into a Christian context.
It is more reasonable to set Jesus’ birth into either a Spring or Fall time frame. This would be based on calculations involving the difference in age of Jesus & John, and the timing of John’s conception based on his father’s service in the Temple. Zacharias was of the order of Abijah (Lk 1:5) and would have served in the temple in June and again in December (though some calculate it to be July and January depending on the particular year). John the Baptist was conceived after Zacharias returned home. John would have been born then in either March or September and Jesus would have been born six months later (Luke 1:26). This timing would also fit better with the shepherds being out in their
fields and the timing of the census neither of which would have likely taken place in the Winter.
The early church did not celebrate Jesus’ birthday, for Jewish custom never recognized a person’s birthday, but rather the day of death was noted. Birthday celebrations actually have a pagan origin related to Astrology and trying to predict the future based on the arrangements of the stars at the time of birth. In saying all of this does it mean it is wrong to celebrate a birthday and in particular Jesus’ birthday. No. Astrology and reading horoscopes are definitely wrong because they are occultic practices that God
forbids (Deut. 18:10-14; Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2), but the celebration of another year of life is morally neutral as is Christmas. Paul makes it clear in Romans 14:5,6 that it is really up to the individual to make he wants out of the day. “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike.] Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he
does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” The context here is in reference to those professing faith in the Lord, and for them it is the mindset and attitude that are important. Since the birthday of Jesus is unknown, whatever date is set is somewhat arbitrary. Those that celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus in worship of the Lord do so in honor of the Lord. Those that do not regard the day as such give no offense to God. In other words, the day and celebration and the meaning of the various traditions you do are up to you. That is part of our freedom in Christ.
However, the celebration of Jesus’ birth is proper only in so far as it maintains the right perspective of who Jesus is and what He accomplished, for that brings worship to God and praise for His gift of salvation to us. To seek to celebrate Jesus birth while in denial of the incarnation, atonement and resurrection are blasphemy. If those things are not true, then there is no reason to celebrate His birth, for then the ancient prophecies are not fulfilled and God is a liar. It is better to disregard the day or keep it as a winter vacation than blaspheme.
God did not have recorded the exact day of Jesus’ birth for His emphasis is upon Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we do know that the birth was in God’s perfect timing. As far back as Geneses 3:15 there was a prophecy that there would come a redeemer who would “bruise the serpent’s head.” Galatians 4:4,5 states, “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Celebrating Jesus’ birth is also celebrating God being true in the fulfillment of the prophecies.
Jesus’ Blood Line
The prophecies concerning Jesus coming are very specific about what blood line He would come from. He could not just be any descendant of Adam, but had to be from a very specific family.
First, he had to be one of Abraham’s descendants. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This narrowed it down to a very specific family among the Shemites – the Semitic peoples. The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 record Jesus as a descendant of Abraham.
Next, God later told Abraham in Genesis 17:19 that this promise would come through Isaac and not Ishmael. “But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Again, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke record Jesus as being a descendant of Isaac. Contrary to the claim of the Arabic people, who are descendants of Ishmael, Mohammed cannot be a
prophet who would bring this blessing to the world, for he is not of the correct lineage.
Third, the Messiah to come also had to be from the lineage of Jacob and not Esau. Genesis 28:14 and 35:9-12 record that the promises to Abraham are given to Jacob. In addition, Numbers 24:17 records that the future ruler would arise from Jacob. Messiah would have to be Jewish. Again, Jesus is of this lineage.
Fourth, Messiah also had to be from a very specific tribe of Israel. Israel’s blessings on his children in Genesis 49:10 includes the statement that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him [shall be] the obedience of the peoples.” Jesus is a descendant of Judah.
And finally, Jesus would have to be an heir to the throne of King David. God told David in 2 Samuel 7:12,13 that there would be a descendant after David whose throne would be established forever. Isaiah later prophecied concerning the coming Messiah, “There will be no end to the increase of [His] government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” Jesus is of the lineage of David. The Angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:32,33 concerning the child she was going to bear, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.” These requirements narrow down the possible candidates from everyone to very few. But there are
still additional requirements.
Place of Birth
The coming Messiah would have to be born in a particular location. Matthew 2:1-6 records the coming of the wise men of the east who had seen the anticipated star of Messiah. Recall that Numbers 24:17 specifically states that “a star shall come forth from Jacob.” These men had been looking for it, and when it appeared the set of to find the one born under it to worship Him. When they reached Jerusalem, the logical place to search for a king, the inquired of Herod where the one “born king of the Jews” was at. Herod then inquired of the chief priest and scribes where the Christ was to be born and they had no hesitation in telling him for the prophecy was well known. Micah 5:2 states, “But as for you,
Bethlehem Ephrathah, [Too] little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” The sad part is that though they knew the prophecy and were to be the religious leaders of the nation of Israel, they did not seek the Messiah while those from a foreign land did.
This Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” was distinguished from other places named Bethlehem by the title “Ephrathah,” which means “ash heap or place of fruitfulness.” This was the
ancestral home of king David, but after a 1,000 years and the deportations of Israel and Judah, there were very few of David’s descendants that would have been born there. This further narrowed the possible candidates. As it was, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, which is where Mary would have given birth
except a census required by Caesar Augustus forced them to go to Bethlehem even though Mary was near delivery of her child. This was no accident, but God’s providence in fulfilling the prophecy. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Time of His Birth
We have already said that we do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but his birth had to be within a certain time frame. Daniel 9:24, 25 speaks of the time when Messiah would be alive. 24
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy [place.] 25 “So you are to know and discern [that] from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince [there will be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.”
Without going into all the detail of the calculations of the seven and sixty two weeks, Harold Hoehner has worked out the time of Messiah being cut off to be March 30, A.D. 33. This further limits
the possible candidates to within a fairly small time frame.
Now if these were the only prophecies, then there would be a small number of people that could possibly have fulfilled them. We know that there were other babies born in Bethlehem during the same time period as Jesus because Herod sent his troops there to kill them (Matthew 2:16f). Since it was the ancestral home of David and the census had required people to return there, then there is a good possibility that some of these other children were also of the lineage of David. There are, however, a few more prophecies that make it impossible for anyone except Jesus to be Messiah.
Avoiding the Curse
In the genealogy of Messiah, there were not only blood lines that He must be from, but also blood lines that He could not be from. The difficulty is that the restricted blood line was the line of heritage to the throne. Jeremiah 36:30 states, “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah, “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.” How could Messiah be a descendant of David with the right to rule and
yet avoid the curse on Jehoiakim through whom the right to rule passed?
The answer is that the Mother would have to supply the blood line to David and the father the ruling inheritance line through adoption. That is exactly what Jesus has. Luke records the genealogy of Mary through whom Jesus inherits his lineage through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and king David. This is Jesus’ blood line. Matthew records Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph who is a direct descendant of Jehoiakim, the ruling line of David. Joseph has the right to the throne and can pass it on. Jesus is not of the blood line of Joseph, and so avoids the curse on Jehoiakim, but he inherits the right to rule through Joseph as his adopted son.
The possibility of anyone else fulfilling this is small, but we must grant there could be a possibility even if infinitesimally small. A descendant of David has a son and then her husband dies and she then remarries another descendant of David who is in the ruling line and he adopts her son as his own. Since the ruling line did not always pass through the first born son, there would be contention about exactly who had that right. However, even in granting this possibility, the next prophecy removes it completely.
The Virgin Birth
Isaiah says in 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” If all we had was the Hebrew, there would be a question since the Hebrew word translated “virgin” here can also mean “young maiden.” However, Matthew’s application of this to Jesus makes it clear that Messiah would be born of a virgin, and not just a “young maiden.” The Greek word used in Matthew 1:23 is specific. parqenoV / Parthenos refers to a
woman who has not known a man – just as Mary had said to Gabriel when he announced to her that she would be the mother of Messiah. “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the
Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.” There is only one person who has ever been recorded as being born of a virgin – Jesus Christ. But this also brings up the final prophecy.
The Son of God
Gabriel said that this child would be called the Son of God. This was not a new prophecy concerning Messiah. Psalm 2:6,7 says, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee.” Isaiah 7:14 states that name of the one born of a virgin would be “Immanuel,” which means “God with us. Isaiah 9:6,7 states further concerning Messiah, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of [His] government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
The Nature of Jesus
It is also one thing to claim to be or to be called the Son of God by your followers. It is quite another to prove it to be true. The various prophecies concerning Messiah have been fulfilled by only one person. Jesus Christ. It is really this final prophecy concerning His birth that is crucial for it focuses on what makes the Messiah unique and allows Him to accomplish all the other prophecies concerning Him. How He would live. What He would do. How and why He would die. Jesus is the Son of God. He is God incarnate. If He is not, then He is either a liar or a lunatic and therefore not worthy of following much less honoring on His birthday.
The various gospel accounts were written to prove the claim to be true. Matthew specifically presents Jesus as the promised Messiah who fulfills all the ancient prophecies. Mark presents Jesus as the Son of God who came to serve and sacrifice His life for sinners. Luke presents the results of his thorough investigation that Jesus is the God-man who came to seek and save the lost. And in our study of John earlier this year, we saw John present the conclusive evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through believing in Him we could have eternal life.
Only God incarnate could do all that Jesus did. He demonstrated authority over the elements of nature, over disease and sickness, over demons, over sin and even over death. Here are a few of Jesus’ many miracles. Miracles over nature: He turned water into wine (Jn. 2). He fed five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6); He walked on water (Jn. 6); Calmed the wind and sea (Mt. 8). Miracles of healing: The lame man at Bethesda (Jn. 5); Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt. 8); the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath (Mt. 12); the paralytic (Mk. 2); cleansing the leper in Galilee (Lk 5); the multitudes (Mt. 15:29f). Power over demons: Healed the demoniac in Capernaum (Mk. 1); Cast the demons out of the two Gergesene demoniacs (Mt. 8:28f); and the legion of demons out of the Gadarene demoniac (Mk. 5). Power to forgive sin: Healing the paralytic and forgiving his sins (Mt. 9:6); Miracles of restoring life:
Raising the widow’s son from the dead at Nain (Lk 7) Raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mt. 9); Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11); Rising from the dead Himself (Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24; Jn. 20). Only God in human flesh could live a perfect life in which there could not be brought any true accusation of wrong doing. Only God in human flesh could love us sinners enough to pay the sacrifice for our sins Himself so that we could be forgiven. Only God could conquer death and give us sure promises of eternal life.
His Purpose in Coming
The focus of Christmas centers on Jesus as a baby in a manger. It is a romanticized scene. Jesus is cute, innocent and helpless. As a baby, Jesus was not a threat to anyone, or so it would seem. King
Herod had better insight than most people. He was not afraid of a baby, but he was afraid of the implications of who this baby was. Jesus, as king of the Jews, was a threat to his quest for continued
power. Jesus, the Son of God, is a threat to all that love sin, but He is also the hope of all who love righteousness. Those are the implications of who Jesus is and why He came to earth.
Jesus did not become a human so that we could celebrate a romanticized scene of a baby in a manger, but to pay the penalty of sin so that we could be forgiven and restored to a proper relationship with God, our creator. Contrary to some current writers who think that it “gradually dawned on Jesus that his mission in life was to die in Jerusalem as the servant of God,” Jesus understood this from the beginning. Only a short time into His public ministry Jesus cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and answered those who challenged Him saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John specifically states that Jesus said this in reference to His body (John 2:21). Jesus
continued to make references to His coming sacrifice and resurrection throughout His ministry (Matt. 16:21; 17:22; 29:17; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; Lk. 9:22; 18:31; John 10:17). Jesus is fully man, but He is also fully God. He set aside the glories of heaven to become a man (Phil. 2:5f). As a man He knew of the glories He had there and longed to return to them (John 17:4,5).
Jesus came the first time as a baby in a manger, but He did so for the specific purpose of being able to accomplish our redemption through His sinless life, sacrificial death as the atonement for our sin, and resurrection. Those who place their faith in Him can receive that forgiveness of sin and promise of eternal life.
Jesus’ will come again in the future, but it will not be as a helpless baby, but rather as a conquering king. Rev. 19:11-16 tells us of this return. “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and
He who sat upon it [is] called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 And His eyes [are] a flame of fire, and upon His head [are] many diadems; and He has a name written [upon Him] which no one knows except Himself. 13 And [He is] clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white [and] clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name
written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
However it is you decide to celebrate Christmas, do not neglect the meaning and ramifications of the incarnation, for it is only in those that there is a reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth. And do not forget that Jesus is coming again. For those of us who have been saved from our sins by His first coming, it will be a blessing, but for those still in their sins, it will mean judgement. I pray you are ready. If you are not, talk with one of our church leaders and get ready, for Jesus could come at anytime.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the name “Jesus” used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what the importance of Jesus’ birth.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How do you celebrate Christmas? What traditions are important to you and your family? Why? What evidence have you found of the increasing secularization of Christmas? What year was Jesus born? Do you know the reasons advocated for the difference dates? Why does the West celebrate Christmas on December 25? What arethe reasons that this is not a good date? What are some other possible dates? What time period would actually be
the most reasonable? Why didn’t the Jews celebrate birthdays? Why do people celebrate birthdays now? Is celebrating Christmas wrong? Why or why not? Why didn’t God have the date of Jesus’ birth recorded? Was the timing of Jesus’ birth arbitrary? What is the specific blood line required of the Messiah? What was the particular place the Messiah had to be born? Why? What was the general time frame in which Messiah had to be born? How
could the curse against Jehoiakim be avoided and still meet the other requirements for Messiah? How did Jesus avoid that curse? What is the importance of the virgin birth? How did Mary come to be with child? Why did Messiah have to be the Son of God? What evidence is there that Jesus was the Son of God? What was the purpose of Jesus’ coming? What evidence is there that He was aware of this purpose? Are you ready for His second coming?
Sermon Notes – 12/23/2001 A.M.
The Messiah Has Come – Selected Scriptures
When Was Jesus Born?
Jews & Birthdays Romans 14:5,6
Jesus’ Blood Line
Place of Birth
Time of His Birth
Avoiding the Curse
Jeremiah 36:30 – curse on Jehoiakim
The Virgin Birth
The Son of God
The Nature of Jesus
Only God incarnate could do all that Jesus did. He demonstrated authority over the elements of nature, over disease and
sickness, over demons, over sin and even over death.
His Purpose in Coming
Jesus came for the specific purpose of being able to accomplish our redemption through His sinless life, sacrificial death as the
atonement for our sin, and resurrection. Those who believe in Him can receive that forgiveness of sin and promise of eternal life.