What Child Is This?

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Caravaggio (1609)

Jesus’ birth was the beginning of the end for Satan and his kingdom of darkness. That old serpent, the devil, tried his best to stop Christ from coming into the world. He knew if he failed, his fate would be sealed. Over and over again, Satan tried. 

In the wicked man Haman, he came near to pulling off a mass genocide of Israelites – cutting off Christ before He could come. Through Herod, he slaughtered untold numbers of young children in the region around Bethlehem (Mt 2:16-18).

The Apostle John summed up the matter in his vision of the dragon and the woman (Rev 12:4b-5a).  Satan tried to stop His own Creator, God’s unique and one and only Son, from coming into the world. He failed. Instead, Jesus completed His work, then “was caught up to God and to his throne.”

Why did Christ come? He came to save us from ourselves.

Ezekiel Sees Great Abominations

There are many sad portions of Scripture, but perhaps none quite as tragic as Ezekiel’s vision of the Israelites in Judah desecrating the temple. The year is about 592 B.C. Ezekiel, a priest, has been in exile in Babylon for about six years, along with many of the other leading citizens. Jerusalem will not fall for another six years. For now, most of his countrymen are still in Judah, vassals to the Babylonian Empire. They have abandoned all pretense of love for God, and have completely given themselves over to idolatry and wickedness.

Step by step, Yahweh leads Ezekiel deeper into the temple complex. His vision unfolds like a nightmare, a runaway freight train of apostasy which only grows more horrifying. Ezekiel sees the failure of the Old Covenant, and the need for a New and better one.

An idolatrous image is set up in the outer courtyard (Eze 8:5-6). 

And he said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations,’ (Eze 8:6).

After digging through rubble and uncovering a door in the wall, Ezekiel emerged to find the “seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel” (Eze 8:11), each man with a censer of incense, worshipping images of animals and wicked idols.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, every man in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land,’” (Eze 8:12).

Then, at an entrance gate, Ezekiel came upon a group of women weeping for a fertility god in ritual worship (Eze 8:14). At the gates of the temple itself, men stood with their backs to the building (and to God) and worshipped the sun (Eze 8:16). The deeper Ezekiel is led into the temple complex, the more terrifying the vision becomes. This is what the Israelites are doing as Ezekiel’s contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah, begs them to repent.

God has had enough. He summons his executioners to the city, “each with his destroying weapon in his hand,” (Eze 9:1). They take their place beside the bronze altar in the courtyard, and with them was a mysterious “man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side,” (Eze 9:2). The Lord issues a command to this man:

‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary,’ (Eze 9:3).

The vision concludes with God’s glory leaving His holy temple, abandoning His chosen people to a fate they deserve (Eze 10). This vision encapsulates everything that is so inadequate about the Old Covenant, and anticipates everything which is so much better about the New. The Old Covenant was a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved, regenerate and unregenerate, children of God mingled with children of Satan in one body. The Old Covenant laid out the promises of divine blessing in exchange for honest love for God. It even provided the means and rituals for an Israelite to have forgiveness and atonement for sins when, during the course of everyday life, he fails to keep God’s law. It wasn’t enough.

Something new and better is needed. This is the backdrop to the promise of the New Covenant, which follows right on the heels of this sad vision. God will bring His people back to the land, but next time it will all be different.

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Eze 11:19-20)

The New and Better Covenant

This is why Jesus came. He came to inaugurate a new and better way for God’s people to know Him. He came to establish a new covenant, built on better promises. After all, if the old covenant had been faultless, there would be no need for a second (Heb 8:6-7).

He came to be a perfect High Priest. He does not hold the office by mere legal inheritance, but by intrinsic and inherent worth (Heb 7:11,16, 26-27). The Old Covenant has been set aside “because of its weakness and uselessness” (Heb 7:18), while “on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God,” (Heb 7:19). Direct access to God is no longer mediated to the people through a priesthood. It is available to all of God’s people, because all of His new covenant children are individual priests.

Thus, the Scripture exhorts sons and daughters of God to boldly enter the sanctuary (Heb 10:19), because the blood of Jesus has opened the door to a more personal and intimate walk. No longer must believers stand afar off, outside the temple gates. Now, the Christian can draw near to God, to the very mercy seat itself “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” (Heb 10:22).

The New Covenant is not mixed multitude; it is a holy community of people who all know the Lord. “And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” (Heb 8:11). His law is written on all His children’s hearts, and placed in all their minds. They are all His children, and He is their God (Heb 8:10).

You Shall Call His Name Jesus

Of course, all of this hinges on the virgin conception. This miracle is a cornerstone of the faith. The Messiah came to actively fulfill all the Father’s righteousness by perfectly obeying God’s law in His children’s place, as their substitute. He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:3). He also came to passively allow Himself to be taken, interrogated, forsaken by those He came to save, tortured and executed for His children’s sins, in their place, as their substitute.

In order to truly be a substitute, Messiah must be a man. But, in order to fulfill His mission, He cannot be a sinful man. The virgin conception was God’s answer to this. Sinful people produce sinful children. Jesus’ incarnation was a miracle because Mary and Joseph were not involved in the conception. Mary wanted to know how thiss was possible.

And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Lk 1:35).

Because of this supernatural “overshadowing,” the incarnate Christ will be holy. Because of this miracle, the Messiah who would inaugurate the new and better covenant took on a human nature, left His Father’s side and came into the world. There will never be another vision as tragic as Ezekiel’s. There will never be a covenant predicated on man’s faithfulness. There will never be another exile. There will never be another faithless king, apostate high priest, or lying prophet. There is only the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Last Prophet, the Highest Priest and the Mightiest King.

Christ came to bring peace to men with whom God is pleased (Lk 2:14). God is pleased with any man, woman, boy or girl who bows the knee to Christ as “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), repents and forsakes his sin, and believes the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection – and everything all this accomplishes for those who are partakers of the heavenly calling (Heb 3:1).

Merry Christmas.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus: This, this is Christ, the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here The silent Word is pleading (CHORUS).

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, Come, peasant, king to own Him. The King of kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him (CHORUS).

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