25 December 2008

The Christmas Story

by Dan Phillips

The Christmas story doesn't really start with wise men nor shepherds. It does not begin with Gabriel's announcement to the young virgin, nor his earlier word to old Zechariah.

Its real origins lie far back in the days of eternity. Infinitely intelligent, wise and powerful beyond all imagining, the triune God conceived the entire plan that hinges on Christmas before He had lit a single star or spun a single planet. Never caught by surprise, God's masterful and intricate plan repeatedly surfaces throughout the pages documenting the thousands of years of Old Testament history and prophecy.

The first specific glimmer twinkles at the first fall of gloomy darkness. Eve and her idiot husband had just done the most foolish thing a couple can ever do: they had opposed their judgment to God's judgment. She had been a fool, and he'd trotted along like a moronic puppy. Of course, they had lost, in their fools' gambit; worse, they were lost, and God read them the riot act.

But amid God's announcement of the woes they'd brought on themselves and their children comes this word, spoken to the Serpent who had fooled Eve into rebelling:
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15 CSB)
Odd phrase, that: "her seed." The seed properly is what the man contributes to the birth of a child, and then it is used of the child so conceived, singularly and collectively. But in the hundreds of chapters and tens of thousands of words in the Old Testament, "her seed" never occurs again. It means... something, surely. But, at this first read, we're not sure what.

However, we do know that this theme of the seed keeps popping up throughout the Old Testament. God clearly is up to something. This is the outworking of some plan.

When all of the race has gone bad in Genesis 6, God wipes them all out — all except one family of one man, righteous Noah. Three sons are born to Noah, but Shem is the one singled out as chosen by God for a relationship (Genesis 9:26). Shem has many sons, but only one named Abram is isolated as the one in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). In Abram, and in his seed (Genesis 22:18).

The years roll by, and the narrowing continues. Abram has two sons, but Isaac is the one dubbed his "seed" (Genesis 21:12). Two sons are also born to Isaac, and it is the younger one, Jacob, who continues the line of the blessed Seed (Genesis 28:13-14). Jacob then has twelve sons. Which of them will continue this line? So much space is given to Joseph of the technicolored dreamcoat that we might think it is he - except that God identifies Judah as the one son who will produce the line of kingship (Genesis 49:10).

And here's one more clue for us: each of these moves involves a miraculous birth, a birth involving an act of God. How so? Every one of these matriarchs is infertile. Abraham's wife Sarah is infertile (Genesis 11:30), and so are Isaac's wife Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), and Jacob's wives Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:31; 30:22). So we keep hearing that faint ringing of the bell, associating something remarkable with births in the line of the woman's Seed.

Are we given any help as to which of the thousands of children descended from Judah will be the line of the delivering, ruling, blessing, conquering Seed? Indeed we are, and we'll single out two.

First, around 1000 BC, Judah's grandson King David gets the news that he will never lack a son to sit on his throne, which is thereby guaranteed to his seed (2 Samuel 7:14). Of the thousands of Judah, that family is the one through whom the kingly Seed will come.

Then some three centuries later the house of David is told that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, whose name would be God-with-us (Isaiah 7:14). Ah, now — the mystery is both solved and deepend! What would be remarkable about the Seed's birth? He really would be "her Seed," the seed of a woman without the normal participation of a husband. His origins would be from God.

That was why He would be named God-with-us; because He would actually be God in human flesh, as we further learn in Isaiah 9:6 —
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.

So there, you see, is just a bit of what is behind the lovely story of the girl and the star and the shepherds and the angels. More importantly, this is why Heaven itself was so excited at the Child's birth, that no less than the Chief Angel was sent to announce it; and that is why Heaven emptied out to pour out its joy and praise, lighting up the darksome Mediterranean sky that night (Luke 2:13-14).

It wasn't just a story or an isolated event, like some bright fleck of confetti. It was part of an eternal plan, devised in the heart and mind of the infinite-personal God of Scripture. It was God's plan for the rescue of our fallen, lost, helpless race.

We were so far from God, so alienated and hostile, that no less of a measure could redeem us. We had had laws, examples, warnings and promises. None had worked!

The problem wasn't the laws; the problem was us. We were estranged rebels under God's judgment from the start and in the middle, and we still were. Nothing coming from us could save us, because we were the source and focus of the problem. We needed an extraordinary intervention from outside of us, from God Himself.

We didn't need to be merely instructed or improved. We needed to be saved.

That is exactly what Christmas was all about.

On Christmas, God the Son was born a man, and given the name Jesus — which means salvation. Jesus lived as a man, obeying God perfectly from the heart as none of Adam's natural sons had done. Jesus spoke God's words, and did God's deeds of power over the natural world and the spiritual world.

How did we respond? Our highest representatives in the sacred and secular realms hated Him, rejected Him, misjudged Him, condemned Him, and crucified Him. He died the death of a guilty man under God's judgment — though He had never done anything but the good and the righteous.

In that bloody death, Jesus fully satisfied the justice of God, by taking the place of lost sinners. Then Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father's right hand. One day Jesus will come to rule from David's throne, just as promised.

This is the Child of Christmas, no longer a babe in a feeding-trough: Jesus Christ, the woman's conquering Seed, the Son of David, God with us, the Savior.

Where does this leave you, then? Maybe now you know more than you once did. If so, that is wonderful.

But Herod knew all this, and he hated the Christ, and wanted nothing to do with Him. The religious leaders couldn't be bothered with Him. The politicians couldn't be rid of Him quickly enough.

It was the simple shepherds, and the foreign magi, who came to worship Him.

In which group do you stand?

Let us take our place by their side, marveling and wondering, believing and adoring. Let us worship God come in the flesh for our salvation: Jesus Christ, the true and only celebrity of Christmas.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

I'm grateful for the use folks have been able to make of the Herod post. I said I was working on a post anyone could use to read to their spiritually-mixed gatherings. This is that; I pray it will be useful to you.

Merry Christmas!

Johnny T. Helms said...

This is a wonderful overview of the "progress of redemption" as we called it at Columbia.

I am so thankful that God in His grace has graciously manifested these truths that "have been reported" to me and all believers, things the prophets could not fully grasp and angels longed to look into (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Merry Christmas, Team Pyro.

Unknown said...

Merry Christmas

Mike Riccardi said...

So great, Dan. Wonderful.

After reading Frank's harmony below (with a few of my own additions), my wife and I read this together this morning. I remarked to her how it was evident that you have a teaching gift, as I was reading through I was simply fighting with all my might to not stop and comment in exultation. Truly God-glorifying stuff.

Merry Christmas, brother.

David Kyle said...

Incomprehensible, unwarrented, and unappreciated. Our God is so amazing!

donsands said...

That was a blessed thing to read on Christmas.

It's not just the "baby' Jesus, it's everything you put together here, which is what Christmas is all about.

And the sketches fit perfectly and helped me as I read.

Thanks for taking the time and work to feed the Church with the only true nourishment for the spirit; the Word of our Lord.

Have a great Christmas season Dan.

Pedro said...

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

(Rom. 11:33-36)

Merry Christmas.

Stefan Ewing said...

Thanks for this, and merry Christmas!

Rita Tomassetti said...

Dan, thank you for this post!
May the Lord continue to bless you so richly! Merry Christmas.

Sam said...

Dan, quick question, where do you get all of the old sketches that you use in your posts? They look like they are from an old Bible.

Thanks and have a very Merry Christmas!

DJP said...

Most of those are by Gustave Doré, and I get them from this site.

jeff said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for that comprehensive snapshot of Gods' eternal plan. I have been a bit confused about the lineage of Christ, and its' importance. That was helpful. Again, thanks and Merry Christmas.

Randy Talley said...

Whoa........ powerful.

Thank you.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks DJP for the precious Christmas gift!

There is something that I have wondered about, off and on through the years, that you wrote of in your magnificent essay, and it is decidedly tangential to your overall thrust, and of a tertiary order, but yet I still paused when I read it. You wrote:

"When all of the race has gone bad in Genesis 6, God wipes them all out — all except one family of one man, righteous Noah."

This sparked within me the age-old question: Was the Flood a global flood or a local flood?

I confess to not being certain about the answer.

But other than that, rest assured that I am most blessed by your exposition that God ordained from the beginning His Plan and His Seed.

Bryan Riley said...

Excellent tribute. Thank you for writing.

Strong Tower said...

"This sparked within me the age-old question: Was the Flood a global flood or a local flood?"

It was local, but like in the crossing of the Red Sea, God stacked the waters up above the mountain tops: "And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep."

Now of course what is inferred in this is that the whole heaven is only local also ;)

Great job Dan.

Wes Walker said...


Two excellent posts (this one and the Herod one). I appreciate the Pyro team, and the ways you provoke us to rethink our assumptions.

I like that you used the topic of Christmas to proclaim the Gospel, without which, Christmas would be utterly inconsequential.

I tried my hand at the same thing.


Thanks for raising the bar for would-be bloggers like me.