Images of the Savior (1 â€“ His Birth)
Men have always been in search of El Dorado. As long as men have walked the face of the earth, there have been whispered stories of fabulous treasures, cities of gold, fool-proof schemes to win big in the stock market. Men will always dream of finding great riches. They will always be looking for that next golden opportunity, that next El Dorado. There are only two problems with this: most of these fabled treasures don't exist; and if they did exist, they wouldn't satisfy. A man can starve to death on a pile of gold or on a pile of sand. A millionaire can be as empty as a beggar on the street. Gold doesn't satisfy the innate hunger for riches that we all have. We were designed for something greater. We were designed to be satisfied with nothing less than the treasure of knowing God.
When we understand this, it changes everything about the way we pursue our happiness. We are no longer satisfied to chase empty dreams or mirages of wealth. We are no longer content to mask our deep hunger with busyness, professional advancement, or mindless entertainment. When we have tasted the pleasure of knowing God, that joy becomes our one consuming passion. And unlike El Dorado, finding that great treasure does satisfy us at our deepest level of need. So our question now becomes, "Where do we find this treasure?".
If we are looking for the treasure of knowing God, there is no El Dorado like the four gospel accounts of our Savior. This is a treasure house that will spring up with new delights for endless ages. This is the field where lies the hidden treasure of incalculable worth. This is the merchant's long desired pearl of great price. This is the only place where we can find the treasure of knowing God, because this is the place where we meet Christ. And it is only through Christ that we can see God. As John tells us, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." And elsewhere, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:18,14). It is only through Christ that we can see God, and it is only through Christ's righteousness that God can accept us. Christ is our great treasure. He alone can satisfy through endless ages. And the gospel accounts give us our clearest glimpses of this great Savior, this Treasure of vast and eternal delight. Throughout the next weeks, I hope we can journey together to our true El Dorado. I hope we can look together at the gospel images of our Savior; and as we look, I hope we can see more and more of who he is and how perfectly he is suited to meet all of our needs and wants. And this we will do, if God permits.
First, let us consider what we may learn of Christ from the account of his birth. When we read this gospel history, we notice at once his greatness. At the occasion of the birth of Christ, all of the highest orders of creation were employed to announce his arrival. In the physical creation there is nothing more glorious and beautiful, there is nothing more vast and mighty, there is nothing that enjoys a loftier or more conspicuous position, than the stars of the sky. It is the heavens in particular that the psalmist recognizes as declaring the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1). When Christ was born, it was a star, and not just a star, but the most glorious of stars, the highest instance of the highest order of the physical creation, that announced his birth. This was truly a wonder, and a cause for great joy. Hence, we read in Matthew 2:9,10, that when the magi from the east had left the king, "the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
But even this glorious star was not sufficient to herald the birth of our Savior, and so the highest order of created beings, the angels, and the most glorious of the angels, were sent to announce his coming. The angels were simply messengers sent to announce Christ's arrival, and yet their very presence was enough to cause a mighty fear and consternation among the men that even glimpsed them â€“ as we read in Luke 2:9, " And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid." If the mere messengers of the king caused such wonder and awe by their glorious appearance, how great must be the one whom they were sent to herald! And we have no time now to examine how the angel was also sent to Mary, to Joseph, to Zecharias and Elizabeth, all for the sole purpose of announcing Christ's birth.
Now consider further: it was not simply the greatest physical creation, the star of the east, and the greatest of all created beings, the angel of the Lord, that heralded the birth of Christ. Beyond this, the man occupying the greatest position in all of history prior to Christ's coming was born for the sole purpose of preparing the way for him. John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, â€˜Prepare the way of the Lord.'" (John 1:23). And so great was this privilege of preparing the way for Christ, that Christ himself said of him, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke 7:28). If it was so high a privilege to announce the coming of Christ, think how glorious Christ himself must be!
Nor is it simply the greatness of the messengers that shows Christ's greatness. It was also the content of the message they brought. Remember what the angel said, when he announced Christ's birth? "Glory to God in the highest!" How mightily has God displayed his glory for all to see â€“ he created the manifold wonder of the world, he filled it with food to sustain all of his creatures, he showed his power and glory in wonderful and startling ways when he judged Pharaoh and poured out the ten plagues on Egypt. Remember how gloriously he showed himself when he divided the Red Sea, redeemed his people from Egypt, and preserved them for forty years in the wilderness. And yet, in all the ways that God has shown his glory, the highest way that his glory has ever been displayed, the one mighty act that was said to bring glory to God in the highest was nothing less than the coming of Christ. How great our Savior must be, that his coming brings God glory in the highest degree!
We must make one more point before we move on. That is, we may also discern the greatness of Christ when we note the fierceness of the opposition of God's enemies as soon as he arrived. Never has the devil raged more violently than he did when Christ was born. So great was his wrath that he poured out the blood of many countless innocent children in his attempt to prevent the coming of the great King (Matthew 2:13-18). He hounded and harried him even to Egypt, and surely would have devoured him, except for the power of God. The devil has no need to concern himself with those who have little to do with advancing God's work. But when he rages, we may be sure that there is a mighty work of God being accomplished. And never has the devil raged like he raged when Christ was born.
The second thing we must notice of the coming of Christ is his humility and condescension. We have seen Christ's greatness in the circumstances surrounding his birth. Surely, for the arrival of so great a king, it would be fitting that he be born in the most luxurious of palaces, with servants and maids ready to carry out his every wish, and with all of the nations of the earth coming and bowing before him. This is what we would expect of such a king, but at the time of his birth we find a shockingly different story. Instead of a great city, he was born in the insignificant little village of Bethlehem. Instead of a glorious reception by the rulers of the earth, he came into a place where there was no room for him. Instead of kings bowing before him, he shared a lodging with the beasts of the earth. How great is the humility of our Savior! The world he created had no room for him. The men he came to save had no desire for him. The kings of the land, instead of bowing down to him, sought to spill his blood. His own people, the people to whom he had been promised and prophesied of throughout the ages, mocked, scorned, and disregarded him.
We know of his greatness and glory from the prophets and angels sent to announce his coming. The heavens and the earth, all the works of his hands, testify of his power. And yet, at his birth, we see a tender child, a helpless infant, dependent upon his mother for nourishment and sustenance. We would think it a degrading insult to be bathed and dressed and swaddled and spoon fed by our inferiors, and yet the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator of all mankind, put himself in just such a position. How great is our Savior's condescension, that he would stoop to walk among men. But how much greater that he would willingly submit to be mocked and scorned by them!
If the mere messengers of Christ's coming brought terror and awe to those who beheld them, we might expect that Christ himself would so fill the hearts of those around him with fear, that none should dare to behold him. And yet we find that there was nothing striking or captivating about his appearance. He was to all appearances a normal, helpless infant to coo and cuddle, certainly noone to stand in awe of. When we remember how great this child is, how staggering it is to glimpse such deep humility!
So we have seen in Christ's birth the greatest glory and the deepest humility ever displayed. Now let us apply it to our hearts. How fitting it is that Christ should be so great. We are so designed that nothing paltry can satisfy us for all eternity. If Christ is to be our great Treasure, if he is to be our delight for endless ages, he must be infinitely high and lofty and glorious.
How fitting it is that he be great, for our need is great. How desperately wicked and helpless we are! How deep is our sickness, and how great is our sin. If we would look for a Savior, he must be very great indeed to save the likes of us.
How fitting that Christ be great, for he came to perform the great task of reconciling us to God. God is infinitely high and holy, infinitely great and glorious. Christ must be great so that he can stand in the presence of God. And so he is, for he came from God's right hand where he dwelt as one with the Father from all eternity. But more than that, Christ must be great so that he can lead us to the Father. Truly it is Christ alone who is great enough for this wondrous task.
But not only must Christ be great. If he is to be our Savior, he must also be humble. No man can see the glory of God and live. If even the glory of a messenger of God filled the shepherds' hearts with terror, the splendor of God himself would so completely overwhelm and dissolve us that we could never survive. If Christ had all the greatness of God, but did not lower himself to approach us, his greatness would be unattainable and useless to us. It would not be fitted to fill our great need.
How fitting it is that Christ should be humble. Our great and glorious Savior, who leads us on to victory, knows what it is like to be cold and hungry, weak and tempted, despised, forsaken, and poor. Because of his deep humility he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, to understand what we desperately need. And because of his greatness he is able to provide for all of our deep needs. Because he lowered himself to become one of us, he is well suited to bear our sins and weaknesses, and to offer himself up to God as a spotless sacrifice in our behalf. How fitting that Christ should be both great and humble.
Thus the shepherds that trembled before the heralds of Christ, found their terror utterly dissolved away when they stood before Christ himself. Here was the great Savior of whom the angels sang in such fearful splendor. But there is nothing terrifying about the humble child lying before them. The greatness of God is now wrapped up in a form adapted to man's weakness. Instead of fear, the shepherds are filled with great wonder and joy. Instead of trembling, the magi from the east rejoice with exceeding great joy. And instead of dissolving in terror, you and I are able to see God and rejoice, through our great and humble Savior.