The Christ of Christmas
December 9th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHRIST OF CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-9-84 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, The Christ of Christmas. It is a joy and privilege for us to be a part of this nativity celebration every night: tonight, Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, through Friday night. And they tell me that the puppets are the most interesting part of it; they begin at 6:30. I will be here tonight for my first time, and I am looking forward to it. Then at 7:00 o’clock this glorious choir magnifies the Lord in our “Singing Christmas Tree.”
There is a text in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, a simple word in verse 7, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes”; did not have enough affluence, enough money, to buy a little dress, just rags to wrap around the Child; “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” [Luke 2:7]. I could not think of a more poignant picture of poverty than that. Born in a stable, laid in a manger, and wrapped around and around with rags [Luke 2:7], the Son of God, the Savior of the world [Matthew 1:21-23].
In music, in message, in pageantry, Christmas appeals to the whole world. In all literature and in all history, there is nothing to rival the eternal and sweeping interest, motivation, celebration that we share at this time of the year. It seems that the spirit of Christmas re-creates the whole earth and the peoples who dwell upon it. It is a warming experience, coming as it does, at the conclusion of each annual, and bringing with it those symbols of the very hope of humanity, the star eternal that shines in the sky, above any field of battle and smoke of conflict, it is always there and it always shines.
The angel chorus, bringing to us the good news that men of good will shall surely inherit the earth [Luke 2:13-14], and the journey of the wise men [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11], and the visit of the shepherds bowing before that Child in the manger [Luke 2:8-16]; an invitation to the poor, and the forgotten, and the forsaken, and the lost, as well as the rich, and the wise, and the affluent of the whole earth to come and bow down before the King of Glory.
And the giving of gifts: “They brought unto Him gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” [Matthew 2:11]. And it’s a time when we remember our Lord, His kingdom’s cause in the earth. And we remember, in kindness and generosity one another, the giving of gifts. And in art, in literature, in music, the holy family; the mother, the Child, and Joseph watching over. There is no time, of any time, that has in it the beauty and message and pageantry of Christmas.
And I speak of the coming of that Child in three ways. Number one, in promise, in prophecy; number two, the God incarnate; and number three, the hope of the world.
First, in prophecy: there is a great stream flowing through all the pages of the Old Covenant. It is an upbeat; it is full of light and glory; it’s an incomparable promise; and it’s woven into all of the pages of the Scriptures of the Old Covenant.
Just as you have the Gulf Stream, fifty miles wide and one mile deep, winding and winding its way through the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and bringing life and warmth to the shores of the Old World; so this stream of prophecy, in the Old Covenant, filled with light and life and glory. Someone is coming. Someone, God has promised, Someone to bring righteousness, and healing, and hope, and forgiveness, and salvation, and heaven to the world [Malachi 4:2].
It began in the beginning, in the garden of Eden, when God said to the woman, “In thy Seed,” in thy Seed, in thy Seed [Genesis 3:15]… The old rabbis read that and couldn’t understand. A woman doesn’t have seed. A man has seed. But God said, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. And when finally we came to understand the meaning of the prophecy, “He was born of a virgin woman” [Matthew 1:20-25’ Luke 1:26-35]. “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. And the prophecy continued, the Lord said to Abraham, “In thy seed” [Genesis 12:3]. And the apostle Paul points out “as of one,” singular: “in thy Seed,” [Galatians 3:16] as of one shall all the families and peoples of the earth be blessed.
And God reiterated that promise to Isaac and to Jacob [Psalm 105:8-11]. And when Israel died, he gathered his twelve sons around him and turning to Judah he says, “Judah, Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise [Genesis 49:8]. The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” [Genesis 49:10].
And Moses said to his people in his farewell Deuteronomic address, “God shall raise up for thee a Prophet. . .like unto me; and unto Him shall ye hearken” [Deuteronomy 18:15]. And Nathan the prophet said to David, “Thou shall have a Son and He shall reign on thy throne forever and ever and ever” [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16]. And Isaiah said, “A Rod shall spring forth out of the root of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him…” [Isaiah 11:1-2].
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government of the whole universe shall rest upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
For a virgin shall be with child. . .and they shall call His name Immanuel, with us is God.
And Micah prophesied saying, “And thou, Bethlehem. . .though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet shall He come out of thee who shall govern and rule My people Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. Far into the infinity of the existence of the world, and God Himself shall He come, God with us [Matthew 1:23], and “in the fullness of time,” as Paul spoke of it in Galatians, “in the fullness of time He came, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
When you read the ancient historians of that Greco-Roman period, they speak of the expectancy of the whole world, that at that time, there should come a great deliverer out of the East. A later contemporary of John the sainted apostle is Suetonius and Tacitus, remarkably gifted Latin historians, and they speak of that wonderful expectancy, that out of the East should come a great savior of the world.
Nor could you find a more brilliant and moving prophecy of the coming of that Child than you read in the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Virgil was an incomparable Latin poet, a great and wonderful man. He died fourteen years before our Lord was born. And you listen to Virgil, the Latin poet, as he writes concerning the coming of this child who should save the world:
Lo, the last age of the seer has come!
Again, the great millennial eon dawns…
and from high heaven descends
The firstborn child of promise. . .
. . . smile softly on the babe;
The age of iron in his time shall cease
And golden generations fill the world.
For thee, fair child, the lavish earth shall spread
The earliest playthings. . .
Thy very cradle, blossoming for joy,
Shall with soft buds caress thy baby face;
The treacherous snake and deadly herbs shall die,
And Syrian spikenard blow on every bank.
Come, dear child, claim thine honors
For the time draws nigh babe of immortal race,
The wondrous seed of God.
Lo, at thy coming how the starry spheres
Are moved to trembling, and the earth below.
O if but would life bring me days enough
And breath not all to scant to sing thy praise
Come, child, and greet thy mother with a smile!
Ten weary, waiting months her love has known.
Come, little child. . .
Virgil, a pagan poet, who died fourteen months before the Lord was born: he sounds like Isaiah! A picture of the expectancy of the whole world that at that time, a savior and a deliverer should be born.
Second, I’ve just spoken of our Lord as the Child of promise. Second; speaking of Him now as God incarnate. It may be, and is of course, that the liberal, and the modernist, and the half-infidel, despise the presentation of our Lord in the Bible. For in the Scriptures, with great emphasis, He is always presented as the Lord God in human flesh, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God [John 1:1]. And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, as of the glory of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” [John 1:14]. The Word was made flesh, and the Word was God living in the flesh: this is the unfailing presentation of the Holy Scriptures.
Now when we think of God, what do you think of? What is God like? He is certainly not the quintessence of nothing. In the tremendous kinetic passage, in the second chapter of Philippians, Paul writes, “This Lord Jesus, being in the morphē of God, the form of God, He was in the morphē of God” [Philippians 2:6]. Now what is the morphē, “the form of God?” What kind of a form is God? “He, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto, to be grasped, to be equal with God: But poured Himself out and took upon Him the morphē of a man” [Philippians 2:6-7]. He contrasts the state, the appearance, of our Lord. He was in the form of God, the morphē of God. And He poured Himself out into the morphē of a man.
What is the morphē of God? Language cannot bear the weight of the meaning. I want to show that to you. Several times in the Old Testament the prophets tried to describe the essence, the glory, of God. And here’s the way they will try it. Ezekiel writes:
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne—
He’s talking about the four cherubim, above the four cherubim, above their heads, was the likeness of a throne—
as the appearance of a sapphire: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above it.
And I saw as the color of amber—
we don’t know how to translate that word that Ezekiel uses, it was a brilliance that was indescribable,
as the appearance of fire round about. . .from the appearance of His loins upward, and from the appearance of His loins downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of the rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face. . .
and then he heard God speak to him.
What is God like? Language cannot bear the weight of the meaning: the essence of God. May I point out just one other? In the thirty-third chapter of Exodus, Moses says to the Lord:
I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory, Thine essence, Thy presence. . .
And God said, Thou canst not see My face: for there shall be no man that sees Me, and live.
And the Lord said, Behold, here is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of a rock, and will cover thee there with My hand while I pass by:
And then I will take My hand away, and thou shalt see the back parts: but My face shall not be seen.
What is God like? It is beyond our imagination. And no man has ever seen God’s face [John 1:18; 1 John 4:12], no man could see God, and live [Exodus 33:20]. The effulgence of the essence of omniscient being is beyond what our little finite minds could ever grasp. And that’s what God did when He came down into this earth incarnate, in the likeness and form of a man, that we might see God and live [John 14:6-11]. He is God incarnate; this is God! As our Lord said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. He has seen God.
And when the Lord speaks, it’s God speaking. When the Lord walks among us, it’s God walking among us [John 1:14]. When the Lord touches us, it’s [God] touching us. When He suffers with us, it’s God suffering with us [Isaiah 53:4]. When He weeps, it’s God weeping [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7]. When He is hurt, it’s God hurt [Isaiah 53:5]. When He died, it’s God dying [Matthew 27:32-50]. And when He was raised, it’s God raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. And when He enters into heaven, it’s God opening the gates of grace and glory for us [Acts 1:9-10]. He, God, became a man, incarnate, in human flesh, that we might know what God is like. This is God: our Lord Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25].
The reverse is also true. He not only came to bring God down to us, but He also came that we might be presented to God. Our Mediator and Representative and great Intercessor: He represents us to God [1 Timothy 2:5; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. There are no more beautiful meaning passages in literature than you read in the Book of Hebrews. And the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews closes with these words.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood; He also likewise partook of the same.
For He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. . .
For it behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. . .
For in that He Himself suffered being tried, He is able to succor them who are tried.
[Hebrews 2:14, 16-18]
And the beautiful fourth chapter of Hebrews closes in the same way.
For we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that ye may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Come. He knows all about us. There is no heartache in which His heart did also not break. There are no tears that He did not cry. There are no sufferings that He also has not suffered. There’s no sorrow, there’s no frustration, there’s no disappointment, there’s no hunger, there’s no despair that He has not experienced. And that means that when we pray, we don’t lift up our arms and our hands and pray to a great, mighty, impersonal effulgence, the essence of omniscient being, we don’t pray like that! We get down on our knees, and here’s the way we pray: “Blessed Jesus, You know all about me. There’s no trial, there’s no heartache, there’s no sorrow, there’s no disappointment, there are no tears that You do not share. Lord, stand by me in strength, in help, in mercy. And in my hour of need, be Thou all-sufficient grace. And someday, Lord, when the end of life comes, may the nail-pierced hands that opened for me the gates of grace open for me also the gates of glory. And take care, Lord, as only God can take care.”
It’s another world; it’s another day; it’s another faith; it’s another hope; it’s another comfort; it’s another mercy; it’s another salvation. We do not pray to an indefinable, inexpressible, untouchable effulgence of omniscient essence and being, we pray to the Lord Jesus. He knows all about us. He was tried in every point such as we are. And He is a faithful and merciful Intercessor and High Priest. Wherefore, come boldly, no matter who you are, come boldly that ye may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need [Hebrews 4:14-16]. That’s the meaning of Christmas, and the incarnation, and the coming of our Lord into the world [Matthew 1:20-25].
Third, I’ve spoken of the Child of promise, I’ve spoken of the incarnation of God, God manifest in the flesh. Third: now I speak of Him as the hope of the world. Even with all of the darkness that pervades our modern history, it is difficult for us to place ourselves in the kind of a world into which Jesus was born. His people and His nation were a part of an embittered and seething humanity. Just a few years after His return to heaven [Acts 1:9-10], that little country of Palestine, that little country of Israel, rebelled against and challenged the might of the Roman Empire. So full of despair and hopelessness were the people, that they threw themselves, and cast themselves, against the swords and the shields and the spears of the Roman legions.
It took Rome five years to quell the rebellion of that embittered, small nation of Israel. Out of it came two great Roman Caesars: Vespasian and Titus. And if you’re ever in Rome, and many of you have been, you’ll see in the Forum a great marble arch, a triumphal arch, erected to the glory of Titus who was able to overcome that awesome rebellion.
That was the little country and nation and people into which Jesus was born. Not only that, but slavery was the universal characterization of the whole civilized Greco-Roman world. Out of a population of one hundred million people, sixty million of them were slaves, chattel property. Had you walked down through the streets of Ephesus, or Antioch, or Alexandria, or Rome when our Lord lived, three men out of every five you met were bonded slaves. And not only that, but all the countries and nations and tribes and peoples of the world were under the iron heel of the Roman Caesar. I wish I had time to continue describing the kind of a world into which Jesus was born.
When I was studying Greek, for example, we studied the Greek papyri, that’s the koinē language into which the New Testament was written. It was a common language of the people. And one of the papyri that I read was written by a man to his wife. And the father, was the husband, was away on a long journey, and while he was gone a little baby was to be born in the house. And he wrote, and I read the papyri, I read the Greek papyri—written on…that’s where we get our word paper—I read, he said to his wife, “If the child that is born is a boy, keep him, rear him, but if the child that is to be born is a girl, expose the child.”
Now what you mean by “expose” is, you take the little baby, and set it out somewhere where the dogs can eat it, or the wolves can ravish it, or worse still, somebody can take the child and break its bones and its limbs and rear it up as a pitiful spectacle, and set it on the side of a street corner to beg for alms. That was universal in the days of the Roman Empire. Any father had the right, by law, to take his child and expose it, let the dogs eat it. It was that kind of a world into which Jesus came.
What is God’s answer to the violence and the darkness and the hopelessness and the despair, and the age and the death of the world? What is God’s answer? Wouldn’t you think that He would have sent a great, triumphant Roman Caesar with a sword and with his legion? Wouldn’t you have thought that? Wouldn’t you?
In reading the history of the ancient world, time and time and time again, I would read and then they would call the man’s name who’s leading this great army. It would be Seleucus Soter, or it would be Antiochus Soter, or it would be Ptolemy Soter, or it would be Demetrius Soter. S-o-t-e-r, soter, well, I thought that is the funniest kind of a title, Soter, Cassander Soter, Lysimachus Soter.
Then I read it in Greek, and it just looked so different in Greek. The “o” is an omega and the “e” is an eta, sōtēr. That’s the Greek word for savior. These men like Seleucus and Antiochus and Ptolemy and Demetrius and Cassander and Lysimachus and all of the rest, they came with their great marching armies to be the savior of their people.
You know, it’s a strange thing how history is and how humanity is. War breeds war; revolution breeds revolution; hate breeds hate. He that takes the sword perishes by the sword [Matthew 26:52]. I read that in every newspaper. The Russians quell the violent revolution in Hungary, but deep down in that nation of Hungary there is a seething, waiting for the day that will come. God’s Book says it will come. Same thing you’ll meet in Poland. Deep down in Poland is an implacable hatred, waiting for the day when they will challenge the might of the Russian tank and army. The same thing happens in Afghanistan. By the millions now, those people are agonizing, waiting for the day when they will rise to challenge the might of the Russian army. God’s way is so different. When He sought to solve and to bless the heartache and the hopelessness and the darkness and despair of the world, He sent a little Babe; a quiet, sweet, little Babe [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:11-16].
And when the magi came from afar, they came with a burning question: “Where? Where? Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. They thought everybody knew. There wasn’t anybody who knew, not one. And they made their way to the palace of the king [Matthew 2:3]. “If He is a King, He is born in a king’s palace. Where is He that is born King?” [Matthew 2:2]. They were led by a star from heaven that stood over a stable and God pointed down with the rays of the star [Matthew 2:2, 9-11]: this is the King of the world; this is the Savior of humanity; this is the blessing of mankind, this little Child [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:11-16].
I have to close. It was faith that knelt down in those magi, those wise men [Matthew 2:11], to believe that in this quiet, humble, precious little life would be the forgiveness of our sins [Matthew 1:21; Ephesians 1:7], the opening of the gates of heaven [John 14:2-3], and the bringing in of the kingdom of God into our hearts, and into the world. And that’s the same faith that we exhibit and demonstrate today, when we come and kneel before Him who was born in a manger [Luke 2:11-16]. His companions were donkeys and oxen and shepherds and the poor of the earth as well as the affluent and the rich and the wise and the magi [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. There’s a common denominator in the birth of that Child that makes us all one in Him, in His church, in the fellowship of God’s people. And that’s the invitation we make to your heart.
Would you bring your family and come and worship the Lord God with us? Bring your children. And we all bow down and praise Him who is the light of our life and our hope of heaven [John 8:12]. A couple you, or just one somebody you, “This is God’s day for me and pastor, we’re on the way. We’re on the way.” If you’re in the balcony, there is time and to spare, from that topmost seat, down one of these stairways, and in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we’re coming. This is God’s day. The Lord has spoken to me, and we’re answering with our lives” [Romans 10:8-13]. May angels attend you in the way while you come. God bless you and make you happy in that committed decision for His name’s sake. And sweet friends, we’ll just go up to heaven together from right here, while we stand and while we sing.