“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:42 ESV)
So often we use terms without knowing their meaning. Just the other day, I was reading the official government application for a local building to be designated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The application, written in the 1960’s, cited one reason the building should be included in the national register was the “perverseness” of those who had built the building and survived those difficult early years of statehood. I went back and read that sentence, again. Yes, that was the word they used. It didn’t appear to be a typographical error. It certainly wasn’t the result of “autocorrect” like often happens as I write these very words on my iPad.
At first, I thought I must be mistaken as to the meaning of the term. I was pretty sure I knew what the term “perverse” meant. Perhaps there was another meaning with which I was unfamiliar. So, I looked it up. No, it means exactly what I thought. Perverse: to be wicked or to turn away from what is right or good. That’s the primary definition. There is a secondary definition that means to be obstinate in opposing what is right, reasonable or accepted. I can only hope that the writer of the application was referencing this secondary definition of perverseness for those he cited as religious pioneers; obstinate in opposing what was accepted as pioneers in faith based education. I think the author should have chosen another word.
How often we refer to Jesus and use the term Christ as if it is his family or surname. We call Him Jesus Christ, without much understanding of that term. In reality, it is more like a title or an adjective than a name. The term “kristos/christos” or Christ literally means “the anointed one” and is equivalent to the Hebrew “mashiyach” or Messiah. Notice in today’s text it literally reads that they were teaching and preaching that “the Christ is Jesus.” The Messiah, the Anointed One or the very one promised by God is Jesus…
Just who or what is this promised Messiah or the Anointed One and why is this message of His arrival so important? In just a few days, Christians around the world will celebrate His birth. In fact, even non-Christians will celebrate the holiday with little or no recognition of His true identity. I’ve heard many who call themselves Christian and lament the use of the term “Xmas” or decry the greeting “Happy Holidays” but do very little to proclaim to a hurting world His true nature as the Christ. So, today I will simply use this reference in our text of “the Christ” to point us towards the promises He came to fulfill.
Matthew begins his telling of the birth story by recounting Jesus’ family lineage. If you’ve ever read the first seventeen verses of Matthew’s story, you might have simply skimmed or even skipped over those verses. But Matthew’s purpose in showing Jesus’ family lineage is to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. This story Matthew tells is tied back to God’s promises throughout the Old Testament and specifically those covenants made with Abraham and David.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1 ESV)
“Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together… So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” …I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:8, 14, 17-18 ESV)
God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering… is it coincidental that Bethlehem is the site of Jesus’ birth? Bethlehem is just six miles south of Jerusalem and the fields surrounding the holy city were specifically used to raise the cattle and sheep used as sacrifices in the Temple. These shepherds weren’t just any shepherds, they were Levitical shepherds. They were raising the lambs used in the Temple worship. But as Levites, they would have been familiar with the Messianic prophecies. In fact, you may recall that the Magi answered Herod, when he asked where the Messiah was to be born:
“In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” (Matthew 2:5-6 ESV)
But even more specifically, the Jewish Rabbis taught that the Messiah would come from the “Migdal Eder” or Tower of the Flock…
“And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8 ESV)
You might not be familiar with that specific prophecy concerning the Messiah and His origins, but I’m sure you’re more familiar with this one that comes just a few verses later in Micah and as quoted by the Magi to Herod…
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:2-4 ESV)
Where is this tower? It is in the fields near Bethlehem. While I won’t quote the passage here, you can read in Genesis 35:16-21 about Rachel and the birth of Benjamin near the tower outside of Ephratha or Bethlehem. (Note: when Rachel gave birth she named her son Ben-oni or son of sorrow as she died, but Jacob changed the boy’s name to Ben-jamin or son of my right hand. Consider the prophetic truth of that in relation to Christ.)
So, what does all of this have to do with the Christ being born in Bethlehem? Well, there’s one more piece to this picture that I want to tell you about, then I think it will become clear. These shepherds were raising lambs for the Temple worship and those lambs were required to be perfect, without spot or blemish. As the lambs were born they would be quickly inspected and, if they met expectations, they would be quickly swaddled in cloths and placed in the stalls or mangers of the tower. We’ve become accustomed to the traditional view that a manger was a feeding trough. But, the word is generally translated as a stall.
So, the shepherds were told that they would find the Messiah near Bethlehem and the SIGN they should watch for would be that the child is wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a stall. I think, as they heard the angels make this declaration, memories came rushing in. They knew these prophecies, the promises of God. They were familiar with the words of Micah. The announcement would have sent them running to the stalls of the Tower of the Flock. This was not a guess, it was a revelation! They didn’t have to wonder where this promised child would be, they knew exactly where He would be. God had been telling them for centuries where the child of sorrow, the son of His right hand would be born. He would be in The Tower of the Flock.
One last thought you ought to consider, if you haven’t already picked up on it. The baby born that night was God’s perfect lamb, the Promised or Anointed One. His mother took him and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a stall. While she may not have completely understood, yet, she was preparing Him for the fulfillment of both names – son of sorrow and son of my right hand (see reference above regarding Rachel and Benjamin). Why is that important? Because our salvation rests upon Him being both… He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the King of kings who will reign at His Father’s right hand.
Jesus didn’t come to give us a holiday and a respite from work. Christmas isn’t about buying gifts, decorating our homes, or even about having family time. Christmas is about God’s promise of redemption. Jesus came to bring that redemption, to give us life and hope. He is the promise of God in response to our sin (see Gen. 3:8-19). God Himself did indeed provide the lamb of sacrifice to cover our sin, Jesus the Christ. The shepherds attest to that fact.
But, the Magi came to declare the birth of the King of the Jews. The Son of Sorrow would become the Son of My Right Hand. The message of Christmas is not only the message of redemption but is also the message of hope. God’s sacrifice brings forgiveness and transformation now and hope for tomorrow. I don’t mean some future tense “pie in the sky” view of heaven, I mean living a transformed life in the moment. While I hope and long for that time when I will kneel before my Lord in humble submission, I know that for now He has called me to grateful obedience today. My hope for the future is not dependent upon my comfort today, but is entirely based in my confidence in His authority over today’s struggle. Is yours? If you’re unsure, please read these words by a Chinese pastor taken by force when Chinese authorities shutdown the “house church” he pastors…