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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 22, 2019 revision
What Child is This?
What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
he silent Word is pleading.
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Those are the words of the beloved 19th Century Christmas Carol written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898). The question in What Child is This? was prompted by the events that surrounded Jesus’ birth. There has always been an incongruity to the manger scene that prompts wonder.
Why would a child born in a stable and laid to rest, as Dix put it, “in such mean estate” be getting such attention from shepherds and angels? It would be expected that the child of poor parents without family connections to the important people of the time might be born in a very humble place, but why would such a child receive attention from the angelic host or attract the attention of the neighboring shepherds? The answer, of course, is that this was not an ordinary child, but Christ, the King who should be worshiped.
However, that answer to the first question immediately brings up another question. Why would the promised Messiah who is the greater son of David and therefore the rightful king of Israel be born in such a place? Shouldn’t such a person be born in a palace or at least in a nice home? He is of the royal line, so why are they so poor and why are the family connections so weak by this time that the young family is not helped? The answer to that question is a matter of fulfilled prophecy. We will look at both sides of the incongruity of the manger scene this morning as a means to understand better the nature of Jesus.
The Humble Birth of a Humble Man
To understand something of the humble birth of Jesus you need to understand something of the history of Israel and what happened to their royal line of kings.
The nation of Israel was born out of God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 & 15. Abraham’s father, Terah, left Ur of the Chaldeans and took his family went as far as Haran. Abram was then told by God to leave that country, his relatives and his father’s house to go to a land that He would show him. God then promised to make from Abraham a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great, and to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). (See: Abram, The Friend of God). These same promises, including a very specific designation of the land they would posses (Genesis 15:18-21), were passed down to Abraham’s son, Isaac (See: Isaac, the Son of Promise), and then to his grandson, Jacob (See: Isaac’s Family). However, before they would possess the land it was prophesied that their descendants would spend four hundred years enslaved and oppressed in another land (Genesis 15:13). Jacob, also called Israel, had 12 sons which became the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. They and their descendants ended up in Egypt where they grew and multiplied and became a large nation (See: Evil Intent & God’s Mercy), but they were also enslaved.
God raised up Moses to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt and bring them back to the promised land. God did this through a series of miraculous plagues that destroyed the power of Egypt (See: God Judges Egypt and Frees His People – 9/16/07). The nation of Israel left Egypt, and when they reached Mount Sinai, God gave them specific laws concerning worship of Him, their behavior toward one another and with other nations. However, that generation rebelled and God condemned them to wander in the wilderness until they were dead (See: Consequences of Rebellion). Just before Moses himself died, he gave the children of that first rebellious generation a recounting of their history and God’s laws recorded in the book of Deuteronomy (See: How to Live in God’s Blessing). They would enter and conquer the promised land under the leadership of Joshua (See: Conquest of the Land), but they were also given specific warning of what would happen if they also turned away from God (Deuteronomy 27, 28). Obedience would bring blessing and rebellion would bring curses and disaster.
Among the specific warnings was a series of judgments that would come as their rebellion increased. It started with a curse of withholding blessings from them, then increased to pestilence upon them and their land and being defeated by their enemies, then increased to worse diseases and oppression by their enemies, and ended with deportation from the land by their enemies. The reality of both the blessings of obedience and curses of rebellion was lived out in the history of the nation. After Joshua conquered the land there were blessings until a generation arose that had not served with Joshua. Then a cycle of curses and blessings began as they would rebel, be oppressed, repent and be delivered by a judge God would send (See: When Men Do What is Right in Their Own Eyes). The same pattern continued during the rule of the kings. A good king would bring blessings and an evil king would bring curses for the kings would lead the people in either obedience or rebellion against God (See: Of Kings & Prophets7).
The first king of the nation, Saul, started well, but then did not obey God resulting in his dynasty and then his kingdom being taken away. God then gave the kingdom to David to whom He made certain promises including that one day God would establish an eternal throne for one of his descendants (2 Samuel 7:12-13). However, the reign of any particular descendant was not guaranteed. The general promise was that if they would listen and heed the voice of the Lord, they would be established, but if they rebelled, they would be afflicted and replaced. Such was the history of the Davidic royal line until Coniah (also called Jeconiah) was cursed “no man of his descendants will prosper Sitting on the throne of David Or ruling again in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30). Coniah was taken into captivity by Nebucadnezzar and none of his descendants have ever risen again to the throne of Israel even after the return to the land after the exile.
It was because of this curse on Coniah that his descendant, Joseph, was in the position that he was in. Though Joseph was the rightful heir to the throne of David, he was instead a carpenter and his family lineage had no value in a nation that was subjugated to Rome.
Now this does bring a dilemma. If the descendants of Coniah were cursed and none could ever sit on David’s throne, then how could the Messiah be in the royal lineage of David and yet avoid the curse and still inherit David’s throne? The answer is two-fold.
First, Jesus inherited His Davidic lineage through His mother, Mary. The genealogy recorded in Luke 3:23-38 is that of Mary who traces her lineage to David through Nathan instead of Solomon. Jesus is a physical descendant of David through Mary and so his blood line is qualified to fulfill 2 Samuel 7:12-13. This is noted in Luke 3:23 which starts off the genealogy with a parenthetical phrase, “Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli . . .” In the Greek text, Joseph’s name is the only one without the article which agrees with Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit and that Joseph was not Jesus’ physical father. Jesus would be Eli’s grandson through Mary. This also agrees with Luke’s emphasis on the humanity of Jesus in tracing back His physical descent through David to Adam.
Second, the genealogy in Matthew is of Joseph and establishes the royal line qualification to inherit David’s throne. It is this lineage through Joseph that still had the legal right to the throne. However, Jesus did not receive it by blood, but through adoption as the supposed first born of Joseph. This is noted in Matthew 1:16 in stating that Joseph is the husband of Mary, “by whom was born Jesus.” The “whom” here, while ambiguous in English, is clear in Greek (h|”) as a feminine pronoun and therefore must refer to Mary. Verse 16 states in full, “and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom (Mary) was born Jesus.” This fits with Matthew’s emphasis that Jesus is the Messiah and has the rightful claim to the throne of David as the legal, not physical, son of Joseph tracing back through King David to Abraham.
An additional reason Jesus was born in “such mean estate” is that Joseph and Mary were not at their home in Nazareth. Caesar Augustus had decreed that a census be taken and that everyone had to travel to their own city to register for it. Since Joseph was of the house of David, they had to travel to the city of David, which is Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5). They had to do this even though Mary was near delivery of her child. Since so many had come to Bethlehem for the same reason, there was no room in the normal places they might have otherwise stayed. They were able to find room in a stable, and then made use of the manger as a bed for Jesus.
There are three common misconceptions about the scene at the manger. The first is that it was a filthy place. I find it very hard to believe that Joseph and Mary would not have cleaned the place out before moving in, and even more so with a pregnant woman facing the “nesting” syndrome that commonly occurs before birth. Their culture was used to having animals around and even in living spaces, so it would not have been hospital sanitized, but you can be sure that it was clean. The second misconception goes the opposite direction and romanticizes the scene to the point where it seems as the most desirable of places to be. While it is safe to assume that Joseph and Mary were resourceful and would have made the stable as nice a possible, you can be sure that if they had a better option they would have taken it. In addition, no new mother wants the barn animals sharing quarters with her newborn if she can help it. The third misconception is that the wise men were present. Matthew 2:11 records that the magi did not arrive until quite sometime later and found Mary and Jesus in a house.
Speaking of the magi, they bring up another important point. It was no accident that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but God’s providence in fulfilling prophecy. When the magi first arrived in Judah they went to Jerusalem where they would have assumed a king would be born. The magi had seen His star which was spoken about in the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17. Upon arrival, they asked Herod where to find the one born King of the Jews and he in turn called the priests and scribes to find out where the Messiah was to be born. They informed him that it would be in Bethlehem of Judah according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “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.” That is where the magi then went and that is where they found Him.
Let me add here that do not be surprised if you find that even something as well attested as this is questioned and disputed by skeptics, apostates and the ignorant. Some years ago I had a fellow start e-mailing me to dispute that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He claimed that Bethlehem did not exist then and that Ephrathah only referred to a person. He also claimed that Matthew substituted “Land of Judah” on purpose to try and tie it to Judah. We exchanged several emails over time as I pointed out scriptures to him and he sent citations from supposed scholars and archeologists to support his claims. However, he did not filter what he sent very well because the scholars he was relying on contradicted one another. For example, one of his citations claimed Jesus was born in Nazareth while another claimed Nazareth did not exist at that time period. I finally ended the email exchange pointing out that I had the consistent witness of Scripture by writers of that time period, and all he had were the contradictory speculations and opinions of men who had no first hand – or even second hand – knowledge of that time period. Since this kind of nonsense is still promoted and you might run into it let me deal with it quickly.
First, Ephrath or Ephrathah can mean “ash-heap” or “place of fruitfulness.” The name was used of locations, people and clans of people. Ephrath is first found in the Bible in Genesis 35:16 and it is the place where Rachel gave birth to Benjamin and died and was buried. Moses notes in Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 that Ephrath was also known as Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”). Ephrath was also the name of the wife of Caleb, the great-great-grandson of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:19), and they named their first son, Ephrathah (1 Chronicles 2:50). Caleb’s father, Hezron died in a place designated as Caleb-ephrathah (1 Chronicles 2:24). 1 Chronicles 4:4 makes a reference to “the sons of Hur, the first-born of Ephrathah, the father of Bethlehem.” Ruth 1:2 notes that Ruth’s first husband was an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah. It was to Bethlehem that Ruth returned with Naomi, and the blessing pronounced on Ruth in 4:11 is that she would “achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem.” All of this shows positively that the reference in Micah 5:2 to Bethlehem Ephrathah is to a particular clan and a particular place. You cannot separate the identity of the two from each other especially when the name of the location was given as a name to people and of people to the place. To say the place did not exist seems rather silly when the location was already known by both names, Ephrath and Bethlehem, as far back as the time of Moses. Even liberals who reject these books as being from God have to acknowledge that they predate the birth of Jesus and therefore historically demonstrate the reality of the place Jesus was born.
Second, the quote in Matthew 2:6 is that of what the priests and scribes said to Herod. It is not Matthew’s own quote of Micah 5:2. The priests and scribes were known for quoting in a free manner and the designation of Bethlehem as the “Land of Judah” rather than “Ephrathah” was simply a way of making the location clear to Herod, and that designation may have come from its use in identifying David the son of Jesse, an Ephrathite of “Bethlehem-judah” (1 Samuel 17:12). This distinguished it from all other places called Bethlehem. Both Herod and the magi understood clearly what was meant as demonstrated by their actions that followed. The magi went to the location of Bethlehem in Judah and found Jesus in a house there and worshiped Him giving to Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. After Herod found out the magi had gone home by a different route, he sent soldiers to kill all the male babies two years old and under in an effort to eliminate a rival for the throne. However, an angel had warned Joseph and he had already left with his family for Egypt.
As was prophesied, Jesus was born in the village that was the hometown of His ancestor, David, an Ephrathite of Bethlehem. That He was born in a stable instead of a mansion was due to the curse put on Coniah, the ancestor of Joseph, Jesus’ supposed father. That He was born in humility rather than pomp was in keeping with the prophecies of His very character. Psalm 22:6 says He would be reproached and despised by people. Isaiah 49:7 refers to Him as a “despised One” and “One abhorred by the nation.” Isaiah 50:6 says that He would not cover His face from humiliation and spitting. Isaiah 52:13 and 53:2 & 3 describe Him as being without form or majesty that people should be attracted to Him for He would be despised, forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He would be a gentle servant that would not cry out or raise His voice in the streets nor would break a bruised reed or extinguish a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:1-3). All these things were said of Him before He was born. Philippians 2:5-8 looks back and says that Jesus is the example for us of humility because He emptied Himself taking on the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of a man, humbled Himself to even obedience to death on a cross. His humble birth was in keeping with His humble life and humble death.
The Royal Birth of the Sovereign King
Jesus’ birth was humble and He was a humble man, but circumstances of birth and the manner of life of a man do not reveal the truth about whom the person really is or what he will do in the future. So it is true of Jesus. He may have been born in a place fitting for slaves, but Jesus was born King nevertheless. The prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah contain both the aspects of Him coming as a humble servant and the aspects that designate Him as the sovereign king.
The magi recognized this even through the little that was contained in the ancient prophecy of Balaam that “A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17). That was enough for them to come looking for Him who was born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). The Jewish religious leaders knew where the promised King was to be born, but they did not show any interest in coming with the magi to worship Him. How tragic. They had all the prophecies but did not actually pay attention to any of them. Herod recognized the possibility that a king was born, and since he knew that he had no legitimate right to the throne of Israel since he was an Idumean and not even Jewish, his interest was in crushing any possible rival and resulted in the slaughter of babies in the region of Bethlehem.
The prophecy to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 was that the throne of one of his descendants would be established forever. As already pointed out, Jesus fulfills the requirements. When the other prophecies concerning location of birth, timing of birth and manner of birth through a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:35f), Jesus is the only one that could ever fulfill all of these prophesies.
Psalm 2 gives a description and several prophecies of the nature of the Messiah. He will laugh and scoff at the rebellion of the kings of the earth against Him before He terrifies them and is established upon Zion, God’s holy mountain, as king (vs. 2-6). His origin is as the begotten Son of God who will break the nations with a rod of iron and shatter them like earthenware and receive the nations as His inheritance and possession (vs. 7-9). No wonder the kings of the earth are warned to show discernment and worship the Lord with reverence and pay homage to Him lest He become angry with them and they perish in His wrath (vs. 10-12). There are blessings for those who take refuge in Him, but destruction for those who rebel against Him.
Jesus’ first coming was as the suffering servant who would redeem man from sin (Isaiah 53). He has accomplished that through His substitutionary death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Jesus is at present in heaven where He is preparing a place for His followers as well as interceding for us at the right hand of God the Father (John 14:1-4; Hebrews 7:25; 10:12). The prophecy of Psalm 2 is of what is still to come in the future when Christ returns to set up His kingdom on David’s throne.
Revelation 19:11-16 describes the return of Jesus as the King and what He will do. Jesus came the first time as a humble babe lying in a manger, but He will return the second time in a totally different manner. “11 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.”
In Revelation 19:17-18 an angel calls to all the birds to gather for a feast on the flesh of the army that has gathered against the returning King. Verses 19-21 describes what He will do. “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.” This is no longer a humble baby, but a mighty king. The “mean estate” of Jesus’ birth did not reveal who He was, but the angels declared it. He is the Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).
Isaiah 9:6 &7 gives a prophecy that has a fuller description of the nature and position of the Messiah born that day. “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.” The government resting on His shoulders speaks of Him being the ruler, the king. His designated names reveal His deity and therefore the sovereign ruler of the universe. Putting them together we are forced back into the wonder of the incarnation itself for the Mighty God and Eternal Father became a child born to us and a son given to us. That is the reason for Christmas!
Christmas is the celebration of that moment in time when God became a man to dwell among us. And for what purpose? To redeem us from sin by living a sinless life and becoming the perfect sacrifice that atoned for our sin, then being resurrected proving His work complete and all His promises to be true including saving us by His grace through faith in Him, forgiving our sins, changing our nature and therefore our lives, and coming again to take those who believe in Him to heaven to be with Him forever. At the same time such blessings are bestowed upon those who obey His command to repent and believe, there will be curses on those who do not. They will suffer His judgment for their every sin and evil deed.
I pray you are one who will receive His blessing and not His curse, but that depends on what you believe the answer is to the question of the hymn writer, What Child is This? Is it simply the babe, the son of Mary. A normal human who lived an inspirational life as a moral teacher and died a tragic death, or is it the promised Messiah, Christ the Lord? Your true answer to this question will be revealed in your response to Him. If it is with disregard or indifference, then it is the former and you are well advised to repent today in order to know His blessing and escape His future wrath. If it is with humble worship, then you also know the real reason to celebrate the wonder of Christmas.
This, this is Christ, the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Sermon Notes – December 22, 2019
What Child is This? – Selected Scriptures
Why would a child born in a stable getting such attention from shepherds and _________?
Why would the promised ___________be born in such a place?
The Humble Birth of a Humble Man
The nation of Israel was born out of God’s promises to __________in Genesis 12 & 15.
Those promises, including the land, were given to Abraham’s son, _______, and grandson, __________
Abraham’s descendants would spend ____________enslaved and oppressed in another land (Genesis 15:13)
God raised up ____________to deliver them from bondage in Egypt and to establish God’s law
They were warned of blessings for obedience and ___________ for rebellion
The reality of God’s blessings and curses are seen in the ___________ of the nation of Israel
God promised __________ that one of his descendants would have an eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
_________was cursed that none of his descendants would sit on the throne of David or rule again in Judah
It was because of the curse on Coniah that ________was a carpenter instead of King and poor instead of rich
Jesus inherited His blood line to David through __________
Jesus gained the __________ right to the throne as the supposed son of Joseph
Joseph and Mary were not in their home town of Nazareth, but in Bethlehem due to a ___________
The manger scene would not have been __________ (though not “hospital sanitized”)
The stable would not have been ____________
There were no _________ present when Jesus was newly born
Jesus was born in ____________ according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2
The name Ephrath / Ephrathah (place of fruitfulness) is used of ____________ , people and clans of people
The _____________ was known by both names, Ephrathah and Bethlehem, since the time of Moses
Matthew 2:6 is a quote of what the ___________________said in making clear the location of Bethlehem
The magi went to Bethlehem and found Jesus in a ____________ there and gave Him their gifts.
As prophesied, Jesus was born in the hometown of His ancestor, _________, an Ephrathite of Bethlehem
The Royal Birth of the Sovereign King
The _________ understood and believed the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17
The prophecy of 2 Samuel 7:16 guaranteed an ___________ throne for a descendant of David
_____________ is the only one that could fulfill all the prophecies
Psalm 2 describes the some of the characteristics of the ____________ reign of the Messiah
Jesus came the first time as a suffering ___________, but He will return as a conquering King
Revelation 19:11-21 describes the return of Jesus as the ___________and what He will do.
Isaiah 9:6 &7 describe Him as both a _______that will be born and the Mighty _______, Eternal Father
_____________is the celebration of that moment in time when God became a man and dwelt among us
God’s ____________is upon those who repent and believe, but His _________ on those who do not.
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 – 1) Count how many times Jesus’ birth is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about why Jesus was born in a stable, and yet the angels glorified Him.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why would a child born in a stable get such attention from angels and shepherds? Why would the promised Messiah be born in a stable? What were the promises given to Abraham and his descendants? Why did the nation of Israel spend 400 years in Egypt as slaves? How did God free them from this slavery? What was the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy? What were the conditions for them to receive God’s blessings? What did God warn them would happen if they disobeyed. How does the history of the nation demonstrate these blessings and curses? What did God unconditionally promise David? What was the curse placed upon Coniah (Jeconiah)? What effect did that curse have upon Joseph, the husband of Mary? How does Jesus’ blood line trace to David? How does Jesus receive the legal right to the throne of David and yet avoid the curse placed upon Coniah and his descendants? Where was the home of Joseph and Mary? Why were they in Bethlehem? How did that fulfill prophecy? Why couldn’t they find a normal place to live? What would you do if you had to live in a stable for a while? What do you think Joseph and Mary did? Did the magi (the wise men) ever see Jesus lying in a manger? Why or why not? What is the meaning of the name Ephrath /Ephrathah? List the various ways in which the word is used in the Bible? What is the connection of this word with Bethlehem? To what does the prophecy of Micah 5:2 refer? How do we know that Bethlehem was a real location that existed prior to Jesus’ birth? Who is being quoted in Matthew 2:6? Why does that quote change quotation of Micah 5:2 from “Ephrathah” to “Land of Judah?” What did the prophets predict about Jesus’ character? How did the magi know that Jesus was born a king? Could there ever be anyone else that could fulfill all the prophecies concerning the first coming of the Messiah? Why or why not? What does Psalm 2 tell us about Jesus’ future reign as king? What will He do to those that rebel? How does Revelation 19 describe Jesus’ future return? What will He do to those who seek to make war against Him? What does Isaiah 9:6-7 tell us about Jesus’ nature? What is the real reason for the celebration of Christmas? What is God’s promise to those who repent and believe in Christ? What will He do to those that refuse to do so? What is your answer to the question, What Child is This? Are you ready to face death and eternity? If not, what do you need to do to be ready?
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