“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Mt. 1:20-21
“Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:13-14
The Exclusivity Of God
One thing abundantly clear in the Old Testament is the exclusivity and preeminence of the God of Israel above the many false gods and idols of the nations around His chosen people. The array of false gods revealed in the Scripture constitute an unholy tapestry woven by the depravity of men who, as Paul wrote, suppressed the evident truth of God in their own unrighteousness and fashioned gods to their own liking (Rom. 1:18-23). They worshiped the creature rather than the creator, the creation rather than the One from whom the mere spoken words “Let there be” sovereignly empowered the universe’s ex nihilo formation.
The multitude of false gods in the Old Testament include such names as Amon, Ashtoreth, and Asherah. There is Moloch, Dagon, Chemosh, and Marduk. Scripture notes Nebo, Tammuz, and Bel. There is Baal, the supreme deity of the Canaanites. There are some thirty such false gods named. But there is only one true and living God, Yahweh. And in the midst of the world’s multitude of false deities, when God transmitted His holy and perfect law to His chosen people, its first two commandments directed them to His exclusivity.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:3-6
Throughout the Old Testament record of God’s dealings with Israel, we read repeatedly His warnings against idolatry and His promise of decisive judgment upon those who engage in it. God’s people were not even to “mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth” (Ex. 23:13). They were not to set up “an image or a sacred pillar” or a “figured stone” in order to “bow down to it” in worship (Lev. 26:1). There was a divine zero tolerance policy for the production of idols or “molten gods” (Lev. 19:4), a hatred most amply demonstrated when God threatened to let “my wrath burn hot” to consume the calf-creating idolators at the foot of Sinai (Ex. 32:7-10).
God’s warnings against idolatry are accompanied with His divine reason, “For I am the LORD your God.” Scripture features the proper name of God which He revealed to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14), by employing the capitalized version “LORD.” Where “LORD” shows up in Scripture, it denotes Yahweh, and Scripture employs it nearly 7,000 times. The point of God’s revelation of His name to Moses, and its frequent employment throughout Scripture, is the very same point for which He gave those first two commandments: God expects to be known and known specifically, and loved and worshiped exclusively. God is not a God in hiding.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut. 6:4-9
The Exclusivity of Jesus
When we turn to the New Testament, though the world remained entrenched in idolatry, worshiping what the apostle Paul said were “demons” (1 Cor. 10:20), we have an astounding exclamation point of the finality and fullness of divine revelation from the LORD through the inspired words of the author of Hebrews. The revelation of God is manifest fully, finally, and eternally in the Son of God.
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” Hebrews 1:1-4
The fullness of God’s revelation to mankind is summed up in “His Son” (Heb. 1:2). Indeed, the overriding promise of God’s revelation in the Old Testament pointed to this “begotten” Son (Heb. 1:5, Ps. 2:7), to this “anointed” One (Ps. 2:2, Acts 10:38) whom the very angels of God would worship (Deut. 32:43, Ps. 97:7, Heb. 1:6). From the very opening chapters of Holy Writ – “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15) – and throughout the subsequent millennia up to the birth of Christ, God had promised the coming of a very special One, the deliverer, the redeemer, the Messiah.
Perhaps the most well-known prophecy about the birth of the Messiah is the one featured by Matthew. When the angel appeared to Joseph explaining the divine goings-on with his betrothed’s potentially scandalous pregnancy, Matthew states, ”Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us” (Matt. 1:22-23). This prophecy from Isaiah (Is. 7:14), affirmed by Matthew, was given over 700 years before the birth of Christ. Scores of Old Testament prophecies join Isaiah’s in promising the coming of Christ the Messiah, His divine mission, and providentially orchestrated details of His life, and Matthew affirms many of them (Mt. 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54).
Before even the expulsion of the first couple from Eden, God promised a “seed” from the woman who would destroy the enemy of God who had deceived His image-bearers. Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 1:1-17) opens with the words “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,” and its contents about the Christ Child point to the protoevangelion of Genesis (Gen. 3:15), and Scripture’s other prophetic promises, which His coming fulfilled. He would come through the line of Abraham (Gen. 12:3), of Isaac (Gen. 26:4), of Jacob (Gen. 28:14), of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12), of Jesse (Is. 11:1), and of David (Is. 9:7).
A Child Foretold By Prophecy And Announced By Angels
The arrival of Jesus as Messiah, as incarnate God (John 1:1), therefore was not unforetold. It had been progressively revealed throughout the unfolding revelation of God. It was not unexpected. Neither was it unannounced. Joseph was told by angelic messenger (Matt. 1:20-21). Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that the Son she would bear would be called “the Son of the Most High” and that “His kingdom will have no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). Mary’s cousin Elizabeth , herself bearing the one whom Jesus would call the greatest among men (Matt. 11:11, Lk. 7:28), the one whom God would employ to bring an end to 400 years of prophetic silence in Israel and would prepare the way for the Messiah (Is. 40:3, Mal. 3:1, Matt. 3:3), understood that Mary was “the mother of my Lord” (Lk. 1:43). Scripture records even that Elizabeth’s yet unborn child, John the Baptist, leapt for joy at the greeting of Mary (Lk. 1:44).
So Joseph knew. Mary knew. Elizabeth knew. The unborn John the Baptist knew. And yet Scripture tells us the announcement of Jesus’ birth was not limited to these. The magi from the east, having seen “His star,” travelled to Jerusalem to find and worship “He who has been born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). An unimaginable angelic host appeared to nameless, lowly shepherds announcing “good news of great joy which will be for all the people, for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:12-13). At His presentation in the temple at eight days old, Jesus was recognized as “the Lord’s Christ” by the “righteous and devout” Simeon (Lk. 2:25-35). Anna, a devout and faithful servant of God in the temple, recognized this Child as the One who would bring redemption (Lk. 2:36-38).
Herod, to whom the wise men came in search of this foretold and announced King, recognized the threat that this Child could pose to his reign. He instructed the chief priests and scribes to determine where the Messiah was to be born. When the prophecy of Micah (Mic. 5:2) that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was made known to him, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in the city, yet another fulfillment of prophecy (Jer. 31:15). So even the wicked Herod, by the very prophecy from the Word of God and from the witness of the worship-desirous wise men who had come to him, recognized the uniqueness of this Child. Even foreigners were coming to worship this Child.
The Incarnation of God
“What we celebrate at Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, but the incarnation of God Himself.” R.C. Sproul
Though the Scripture foretold His coming, and though His birth was abundantly and miraculously announced, what was, of course, missed by many during our Lord’s life was the divine mission for which He came. The Jews who expected the Messiah failed to recognize Him and, instead, they “killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). And now, two millennia beyond that history-defining birth and that death-defeating resurrection, many today may recognize the historical reality of the birth of a baby named Jesus, and engage in some hat-tip Christmastide celebration of Him, but utterly fail to know the mission of His birth.
Yet His very name reveals the mission of this One who was not just another child born in the world, but was God Himself. He is the One who, though born of a woman, was divinely sent (Mt. 10:40). Jesus is, as the angel told Joseph, the One who “will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21), which is the very meaning of His holy, divinely-given name. Jesus is the rescuer, the deliverer, and, as Matthew records, He is “Immanuel,” “God with us” (Mt. 1:23). In the birth of Jesus, because “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16), the world was given by God the only Savior it would have or need. There would have been no need for God to take on human flesh were His mission anything other than the redemption and reconciliation of fallen man, for He can judge us from heaven. But He came as a Savior. Jesus is the good news.
“See here, as in a glass, the infinite love of God the Father; that wen we had lost ourselves by sin, God, in the riches of his grace, sent forth his Son, made of a woman, to redeem us. And behold the infinite love of Christ, in that he was willing thus to condescend to take our flesh. Surely the angels would have disdained to have take our flesh; it would have been a disparagement to them. What king would be willing to wear sackcloth over his cloth of gold? But Christ did not disdain to take our flesh. Oh the love of Christ! Had not Christ been made flesh, we had been made a curse; had he not been incarnate, we had been incarcerate, and had been forever in prison. Well might an angel be the herald to proclaim this joyful news of Christ’s incarnation: ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’.” Thomas Watson
“For False Christs … Will Appear” (Mt.24:24)
When we peruse the Old Testament, God was always distinguishable to His chosen people. As Hebrews recounts, God had manifest Himself to them “through the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1). Though we read narratives of Israel’s sinful, frequent engagement in open idolatry, we do not see them confusing God with the false deities that would lure their sinful affections. Rather, we see them replacing Him. When Israel did not keep His words on their hearts, when they did not teach them diligently to their children, when they did not talk of them as they went on their way, on their rising and their lying down (Deut. 6:4-9), then their affections were enticed to idolatry. Having forgotten the Word of the Lord was to forget the Lord Himself. Having ignored the Word of the Lord was disobedience to the Lord.
Much of the church today is in the same shape as idolatrous Israel. Having forgotten the Word of the Lord by neglect, though not lip service, the church too has delved into idolatry. The blasphemous reality found often in contemporary Christendom is a church that has has created scores of false Christs that it touts as the true Christ, and those are worshiped with a vigor.
Depending on what part of Christendom you look to, you’re liable to find any of a multitude of Jesuses. Identity politics has entered the church and has yielded an identity faith. For example, there is, looming large over Christendom, the currently popular social justice Jesus. There is a Republican conservative Jesus and a Democrat liberal Jesus. There is a liberation theology Jesus and even an unpopular white privilege Jesus. Don’t forget the immigrant and refugee Jesus either. You can easily find, of course, the prosperity Jesus who wants you successful and self-satisfied. There’s the Jesus who, if you have enough faith, always wants you healthy. There’s the ethical Jesus and Jesus the enthusiastic motivator who will eagerly serve as your constantly upbeat life coach. There’s the pro-life Jesus and the pro-choice Jesus. There's the nationalist Jesus and the globalist Jesus. You can find Jesus the mystical, spiritual therapist, and the “your best life now” Jesus. There’s a New Age Jesus, and there remains an emergent, postmodern Jesus. With little effort, the effeminate feminist Jesus is quickly accessible. Of course, the ever-popular Jesus your “BFF” is always to be found.
An unbeliever gazing upon modern Christendom is presented with this dizzying array of iterations of “Jesus.” And the most pronounced reason for this plethora of divine ID's is that the church – ever the target of mankind's Edenic enemy – has done what Adam did. The church has done what Eve did. It has done what Israel did when it descended into forbidden idolatry. It has forgotten and disobeyed the Word of the Lord. It has forgotten the Lord who is known only in, through, and by His Word.
Though some of the iterations of Jesus may rightly reflect the effect of His regenerative power in genuinely redeemed believers, the church has largely redefined Christianity by its desired effect rather than its redemption-missioned Author. Pragmatism has prompted a pursuit of the benefits of Christ in the name of Christ but without the obedience to Christ. Christianity has become more about the Christian than Christ.
“The revelation made of Christ in the blessed gospel is far more excellent, more glorious, more filled with rays of divine wisdom and goodness than the whole creation, and the just comprehension of it, if attainable, can contain or afford. Without this knowledge, the mind of man, however priding itself in other inventions and discoveries, is wrapped up in darkness and confusion. This therefore deserves the severest of our thoughts, the best of our meditations, and our utmost diligence in them. For if our future blessedness shall consist in living where He is, and beholding of His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than a constant previous contemplation of that glory as revealed in the gospel, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory.” John Owen
As we worship this week before the celebration of the birth of Christ, let us focus on the Christ who is revealed to us exclusively and exalted before us supremely in His Word. Let us know, by repentance and faith, the One who came to save us from our sins, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Let us worship the One who alone commands our worship, “For I AM the Lord your God.” Let us reverently fear the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2) Who is sovereignly jealous for His own name and will righteously judge idolatry, particularly idolatry blasphemously perpetrated in His holy name (Is. 42:8). Let us contemplate the birth of Jesus in the fully revealed context of His death, His resurrection, His present and eternal reign, and His certain, promised return. Indeed, if, when gazing upon this glorious Child of Christmas, we do not consider His humiliated suffering and death at Calvary on our behalf, or the sense-shocking, worship-inducing supernatural power of His empty tomb, we have not rightly beheld the miracle that is this holy Child, for He is the One who alone shall everlastingly be called “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).