The Christmas season—especially Christmas Day—is observed essentially all over the world as honoring the birthday of Jesus Christ. However, the actual date of Christ's birth—even the year—is still uncertain. Many nations and Christian groups have designated December 25 as the official date, but even this was not done until the 5th century a.d. To some considerable degree, this date was taken over from that of the winter solstice, since no actual record exists as to the true date.
Many Christians—most notably the Puritans of 17th century England—have refused to observe Christmas at all, considering it (with considerable evidence) as having originated in pagan festivals associated with the winter solstice. The fact is, of course, that no one yet knows for sure when Jesus' birth in Bethlehem really took place, and the existing festivals in late December seemed like a convenient choice.
In any case, His birth was not when He actually left heaven. His incarnation, beginning with His miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, was when the eternal Word of God first became flesh. In fact, the term "Christmas," often defined in modern times as the "mass" of Christ, really means "Christ-sent" (the word "mass" itself was derived from the same Latin word from which we get such words as "mission" and "missionary"). Thus, the Son of God was sent on a great mission into the world that He had created thereby to become also the Son of Man, thereafter living in sinless perfection as God intended man to live. He could then redeem lost men and women by the sacrifice of himself. It is then the incarnation, rather than the birth itself, which is the vital message at the season we call Christmas.
"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1).
These opening words of the New Testament identify this "book of the generation (literally "genesis") of Jesus Christ" as telling of the wonderful fulfillment of the promise to both Abraham and David of a very-special Son. To Abraham, God had promised: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son... in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18). This prophecy was directed immediately through Abraham's son Isaac, but focused finally on Jesus Christ, Abraham's greater Son. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16).
Similarly, a unique promise was made to David concerning his own special Son. "I will set up thy seed after thee.... I will be His Father, and He shall be My Son.... And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee" (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Once again, this promise applied precursively to Solomon, but ultimately to the greater Son of David, "made of the seed of David according to the flesh, And declared to be the Son of God with power... by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). He was greater than Abraham, greater than David, and even "better than the angels.... For unto which of the angels said He at any time... I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son?" (Heb. 1:4-5). Further, He was the fulfillment of the primeval promise of the coming "seed of the woman" (Gen. 3:15). He is the virgin's Son (Isa. 7:14), the Son given (Isa. 9:6), "the last Adam.... the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:45-47).
"The book of the generations of Adam" (Gen. 5:1) introduces the Old Testament, with its record of human failure and God's promises. "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ" introduces the New Testament and the fulfillment of the promises, culminating in eternal redemption through the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God!
"How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man" (Jer. 31:22).
Long ago, the "Preacher" in great wisdom concluded: "There is no new thing under the sun" (Eccles. 1:9). This is also the opinion of the leaders of the modern intellectual establishment who will be saying in the last days: "All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet. 3:4).
But God reminds us, as He reminded His backsliding people of Israel, that He has, indeed, created one new thing in the earth. Since only God can "create" (wherever this verb occurs in the Bible, God is the subject), a really new thing (not just a new combination of existing things) would have to be produced directly by the Lord himself. Of course, God had completed His original work of creating all things long ago (Gen. 2:1-3), including a marvelous mechanism for human reproduction. Nevertheless, because of man's sin, He very soon had to begin a work of reconciliation, and this included a primeval promise that the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) would come someday to accomplish this great work. Since all normal reproduction requires the male seed, such a miracle would mean God would have to create a new thing when the appropriate time would come. At that time, as Isaiah prophesied many years later, "the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son," and that Son would be "the mighty God," who would establish His kingdom "with justice from henceforth even for ever" (Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7).
Then, still later, Jeremiah reminded his forgetful people of this same great promise. God would create, by His mighty power, a new thing, a perfect human body, without inherited sin or physical blemish, and with no contribution from either male or female, in the womb of a specially called virgin. She would compass that "holy thing" (Luke 1:35) with warmth and love for nine long months as it grew in her womb. Then, in the fullness of time, "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4) to "save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2).
This is a very remarkable prophecy, explicitly predicting, some 700 years before He finally came, that the future king of Israel would be born in the little village of Bethlehem. Humanly speaking, Micah would probably have guessed the place of His birth would be Jerusalem, the great capital of Judah. Then, to assure its fulfillment, the Roman Emperor Augustus had to decree a comprehensive census, compelling Joseph to take Mary with him to Bethlehem for her child to be born.
That the prophecy involves an actual child birth is clear not only from the phrase "come forth," but also from the succeeding verse, which warns that God will "give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth" (Mic. 5:3). The preceding verses had also predicted that "they shall smite (this coming ruler) the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (Mic. 5:1), speaking of His initial rejection and execution.
That is not all. The prophecy not only foresees His birth in Bethlehem, His repudiation by His own people, and His eventual installation as king over all Israel (not merely Judah), but also that this same remarkable person was none other than God himself. His "goings forth" had been "from everlasting." That is, He is eternally proceeding forth from His Father. He did not become God's Son when He was born in Bethlehem; He has been coming forth eternally. "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18).
There is still another truth implied in the remarkable Hebrew word for "goings-forth." It is also used for such things as the flowing of water from a fountain or the radiations from the sun. Thus, the never-ending flowing forth of power from God through the Son is nothing less than the sustaining energy for the whole creation, as He is "upholding all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3). This was to be the babe in Bethlehem!
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).
This magnificent verse, used so often on Christmas cards, is a splendid prophecy of the divine/human nature of the coming Messiah. He would be born as a child, like every other human being, but He would also be given as a Son at the same time, with the giver clearly being God himself. "He gave His only begotten Son!" (John 3:16).
The name of this God/man offers further testimony. At the introduction of this prophecy, God had named Him Immanuel, meaning "God with us" (Isa. 7:14). Now He is given a series of names, all of which are needed to express His full identity. It is likely the first two names should be considered one name: He is our "Wonderful Counselor" (the punctuation marks have been added to our translations, but the combined term is more in keeping with the structure of the other names).
This "child," amazingly, is also "The mighty God" and "The everlasting Father," stressing His absolute and eternal deity, as well as His omnipotence and the unity of the Father and the Son in the triune godhead. Finally, as "The Prince of Peace," it is only He that can unite the warring factions of mankind and bring true world peace. These names stress His deity, but also His perfect and effective humanity.
Also, in His human nature, He is our "Wonderful Counselor," our perfect example and infallible teacher. He both shows and tells us what to believe and how to live, and He is never wrong, for in Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:3, 9).
"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be" (Gen. 49:10).
This is a remarkable Messianic prophecy, given by Jacob 1,700 years before the first coming of Christ fulfilled it. Later prophecies would focus on His descent from David and then His birthplace in Bethlehem, but first one of the 12 sons of Jacob must be designated as His progenitor.
Remarkably, Jacob did not select either his firstborn son, Reuben, or his favorite son, Joseph. Nor did he choose Benjamin, the son of his favorite wife. He chose instead his fourth son, Judah, evidently by divine direction.
Yet it was over 600 years before the tribe of Judah gained ascendancy over the others. The greatest leaders of Israel were from other tribes—Moses and Samuel from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, and Saul from Benjamin. Finally, David became king, and "the sceptre" was then held by Judah for a thousand years until Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Jesus' parents were both of Judah, both of the line of David, with both the legal and spiritual right to David's throne. Then, just 70 years after His birth, "the sceptre" (that is, leadership over the 12 tribes) departed from Judah with the worldwide dispersion of Israel, and no man since has ever held that right. It is still retained by Jesus, and will be reclaimed and exercised when He returns.
In the meantime, the prophecy stands as an unchallengeable identification of Jesus as the promised Messiah. Ancient Jewish commentators all recognized "Shiloh" as a name for Messiah. Since the sceptre has already departed, Shiloh has already come. When He returns, His people will, indeed, finally be gathered together "unto Him."
"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall" (Gen. 49:22).
This is part of Jacob's dying prophetic blessing on his 12 sons. Each of the 12 prophecies has been fulfilled, including this prediction of Joseph's fruitfulness.
Joseph actually received a double inheritance in the future land of Israel, with the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh both descended from him. The name Joseph means "increasing," so that even his name was prophetic of the great multitudes who would be his descendants.
There is another interesting and intriguing fulfillment of this prophecy. More men were named after Joseph than any other man in the Bible, with no less than 11 different "Josephs" mentioned in Scripture. This may not seem so remarkable until it is realized that no one else in the Bible was named after Adam or Noah, Abraham or Isaac, or even Moses or David or Solomon. No one was named after Paul or Peter. Why, then, so many Josephs (except to fulfill prophecy)? One would normally think that Abraham or Moses or David would provide the most favored names for Hebrew children, but not so.
Among all the namesakes of Joseph, the most important were Joseph (the husband of Mary) and Joseph of Arimathea. One provided legitimacy to the birth of Jesus, taking the virgin Mary as his wife and giving Jesus the legal right to David's throne. The other provided a legitimate burial to Jesus, falsely condemned and crucified as a criminal.
Two Josephs—both descended from Judah rather than from their namesake—thus played key roles at the beginning and end of the earthly ministry of the true "increaser," the "Child born" and the "Son given." He is the most fruitful branch of all, for "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end" (Isa. 9:6-7).
"I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth" (Num. 24:17).
A parable is not an illustrative story, as most people think, but a "dark saying" (note Ps. 78:2), designed to reveal some hidden truth only to those who are prepared to understand (note Jesus' assertion in Matt. 13:10-17).
The first reference in the Bible to parables is in connection with the seven parables of the false prophet Balaam (Num. 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23). The central parable of these seven verses is the one in our text speaking of a mysterious Star which would come out of Jacob and a Sceptre out of Israel, both the Star and the Sceptre representing a great person coming in the far future, destined both to guide and to rule all nations.
The wise men of the East somehow recognized His star when it began rising, and came seeking the King. The star they saw, appearing perhaps in one of the constellations long associated by ancient peoples with the primeval promise of a coming redeemer/king—was but a type of the true "bright and morning star" (Rev. 22:16) and the "day star" that one day shall "arise in your hearts" (2 Pet. 1:19), that "light of the world" (John 8:12) who would be "the light of life" for all people who follow Him in faith.
He would also be the Sceptre, the King of all kings, that "rod of iron" by which all nations must one day be ruled (Rev. 19:15) in righteousness. The babe in Bethlehem would become the suffering servant on the Cross, then would rise from the grave like a bright and morning star out of the darkness and now will also very soon be acknowledged as "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15).
"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required" (Ps. 40:6).
That Psalm 40 is primarily a Messianic psalm speaking mainly about the work of Christ is evident from its quotation as such in Hebrews 10:5-10. The psalm is prophesying particularly of His incarnation, as He says: "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me" (Ps. 40:7).
Burnt offerings and sin offerings were indeed required from God's people under the law, but these were not an end in themselves. These sacrifices were meaningless unless they were offered out of a willing heart, obedient expressions of submission to a forgiving God.
That was the implication of the "opened ear," a symbolic expression indicating one's willingness thenceforth to hear only the voice of his master and to submit to His will in all things. If a freed bondservant "shall plainly say, I love my master... I will not go out free: Then his master shall... bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever" (Exod. 21:5-6). This was the testimony of the coming Messiah, as reported in our text.
Then note its application as recorded in Hebrews 10:5: "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me." That is, the phrase, "mine ears hath thou opened," would be translated by the Holy Spirit as "a body hast thou prepared me." The perfect submission of the Son to the Father required that He become a man, with a very special human body prepared by His Father. Then Psalm 40:7 becomes (in Heb. 10:7): "Lo, I come... to do thy will, O God." "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:9-10).
"Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7).
The marvelous words of Hebrews 10:5-7 are an interpretive quotation from Psalm 40:6-8, which in turn was cited prophetically as the testimony of the eternal Son of God as He prepared to leave heaven and "the bosom of the Father" (note John 1:18) to descend to earth to become also "the Son of man," with no "where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20).
He would first take up residence on earth in the womb of Mary, then in a manger, then a house in Bethlehem, then somewhere in Egypt until the death of King Herod who would seek to kill Him, then in the home of His foster father in a despised village, eventually on a cross on which His enemies would impale Him, and finally for three days in a borrowed tomb.
All this, amazingly, would be simply to do the will of His Father in heaven, which He fully understood would include the terrible death of the Cross. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17).
We can never comprehend such love—only believe it and receive it. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Now we can testify with Paul: "the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God [His faith, not ours!], who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
Anyone who ignores that love should note this sobering truth: "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).