Imagine with me, if you will, what it was like when Christ was born. It had been over 400 years since any prophet from God had been heard, reminding some of the length of time their ancestors had labored in the slavery of Egypt. God had not been present among them. Their worship was carried out by many as a matter of duty and of checking boxes, not worship in spirit and truth. Indeed, they may have been remaining in the land, but they had been wandering in a wilderness all the same. Their gentile persecutors had set up shop and claimed ultimate authority. But the real struggle for authority took place in the hearts of the people, just like today.
The Sanhedrin wanted the people to behave themselves so God would return, and they placed guide rails around the law to define it more strictly than originally intended, placing a heavier burden upon the people. The burden of man is always oppressive, whether it comes from political pressures or from religious pressures. These religious leaders were oppressing the people just as much as the gentiles, but the people were largely blind to it. The people cried out to God against the enemies they could see, just as they had throughout the book of Judges, but nobody was coming to the rescue. It was one oppression followed by another on the outside while the inside oppression never changed.
Just as reformation was necessary five hundred years before today it was necessary in the land of Israel in the time of Jesus. You see, the Ashteroth poles in the hearts of men are harder to topple than those on the high places, and the deliverance in the history of these people always began with the toppling of false worship. Spiritual oppression from the scribes and the Pharisees added guilt in the name of God to the people rather than providing any comfort or guidance other than their added guide rails. Yes, I am speaking of two thousand years ago and not today, even as church leaders add to the commands of God as they seek to redefine the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Centuries of error and of heartache had transpired. The best way I can describe it is if you change gears on a bicycle when you are not riding it. Then you get on and start pedaling. There’s a cha-chunk, perhaps a scratched leg, and things just don’t engage. You can put in the work, but the bicycle just doesn’t move as it ought to. Frustration abounds. Eventually, your bicycle will start to move if you give it enough effort. The cycle of heartache due to a temple devoid of the holy resident reminded all of their perpetual failures, and the effort they put forth to appease their religious leaders never resulted in the coming deliverance. It’s not that putting forth more religious effort will result in a lack of movement. You do get going! You’re just going in the wrong direction.
And then comes Luke 1. A voice crying out in the wilderness is promised to a priest who isn’t allowed to cry out anywhere. The coming holy one is promised to an unwed girl. It would begin as a scandal, but the throne of David would be His and His kingdom would have no end. Not even a parenthesis or a pause. Mary didn’t need to know yet that this story would seem to end in scandal, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. The Son of God was coming. The silence from God was ending.
Post tenebras lux “Light After Darkness.”Latin
Oh, holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh, night divine, oh, night when Christ was born!
Oh, night divine, oh, night, oh, night divine!
This light that came into the world was announced both near and far, though not to those who were accustomed to being the first to receive invitations. Shepherds were the first to visit the newborn king, having received notification from the heavenly host. These elohim were messengers sent by the King of Kings, not to regional governors or to Roman emperors. They were sent to poor men who kept sheep for their wool and their meat, but most importantly they kept sheep for the sacrifices at the temple. The firstborn of every living thing belonged to God, and if that firstborn sheep was without blemish, it would be presented for the covering of sin.
These shepherds were quite familiar with the requirements for a lamb in temple worship. They understood the caring for a lamb, including the protection of it in swaddling clothes and the examination of it on a stone manger. They knew the context of what these things meant, and the absurdity of ever placing a human child in such a position. No wonder they knew where the Tower of the Flock was where these things would be found. They had visited there many times over the years!
The other invitees were more prominent, but not within the circles of Israel. No, these men were magi. They were gentiles and their lineage was not one that necessarily had a fondness for the Jews. But they recognized the sign in the sky that a new god-king had been born and they sought to honor Him. What were they after? What was their motivation? Were they wanting to be found on the right side of the next world power? I can only speculate. But God doesn’t need gold, frankincense, or myrrh. He does desire our devotion, our seeking him out, our obedience. These magi gave all of that to the king. And no, they didn’t find him still in a manger. Their travel to see him took quite some time.
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
I do not speak of a newborn baby who would one day become king. I do not speak of one who earned the right to be called a king only after his resurrection. I do not speak of one who would pause his reign for a few thousand years while he works on a side project with a surprising group of people. I speak of the king. The only wise king. The one who makes the places where he goes holy because of his presence, thus he meets with those who are not holy and calls them to, “go and sin no more.” Just as the spirit of God filled the tabernacle, and later the temple, only to later depart from the people, that same spirit was upon Jesus and is within all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus alone as their reconcilliation with God.
This king remains the king. If this were not so, he would not hold all authority today. If this were not so, both the rulers and the common people of today would not all bow before him and be held to his judgment. There is a day coming where his rulership will be recognized by all, but the refusal of many to recognize it today doesn’t mean that he isn’t ruling. It just means that there are many who reject his rule. They will perish lest they kiss the son (Psalm 2). It is our role as Christians to go into the nations and disciple them.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! Oh, praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
The rejected rules are that we love both God and neighbor with a love that can only be defined by God. His law truly is love and his gospel truly is peace. The slave truly is our brother and all oppression must cease when the rule of Jesus is recognized. See the book of Philemon if you’d like to know what that looks like in this world.
Christ is Lord. Christ is King. He didn’t just disrupt a worldwide order of things. He replaced it. And people at all times in all places are commanded to repent. Commanded to acknowledge that this world is now under His rule. Commanded to start living according to this truth. This truth that is as true today as it was when God entered the world through the womb of a young virgin.
So with that proclamation, allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.