Imagine standing in the long line of a bus queue for an exciting journey you planned for. You finally get to the front only to be told that you have been in the wrong line, or even worse, your bus has already left! Daunting, isn’t it? Waiting is overwhelming enough but waiting with one set of expectations, only to be hit with a completely different outcome, is even more dreadful.
The heart of the Christian message is built on the person of Jesus. Yet I wonder, do we really have the right check list of what Jesus is all about, who he would be? Like our Israelite counterparts, who only one-sidedly longed for a Messiah to give them political victories, is it possible that often we misunderstand what his long-awaited appearance was meant to be for?
After all this waiting, I hope not. It is important for us to double check our expectations when we think about Jesus. As we saw in my previous article, God had a specific mission in mind. And so, if we remember it by knowing what expectations Jesus’ birth fulfilled, only then will our waiting and re-celebration of the Christmas season not be in vain.
Jesus, the Anticipated Messiah; Fulfilled Saviour
Matthew began his account with Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). Although unfamiliar to the modern eye, this aspect was important in Jewish life for purposes of tracing one’s ancestral lineage. Matthew details Jesus’ royal descendancy all the way to David and Abraham, alluding to God’s covenants to both key giants of Israelite history concerning the seed they were to sire (Genesis 12:1-3,17:4-8, 2 Samuel 7:11-16, Isaiah 11:1-11). The one who would save his people.
If we know what expectations Jesus’ birth fulfilled, only then will our waiting and re-celebration of the Christmas season not be in vain.
Luke, on the other hand, traces Jesus’ genealogy to Adam (Luke 3:23-38) to stress that Jesus is not only the Saviour of the Jews (Luke 2:25, 38) but also for the whole world.
Although the Jews of the 1st century may have imagined a Messiah who would save them politically, God instead sought to highlight that the human universal problem is our sinful condition and thus prepared a perfect Saviour for us. Jesus will indeed, one day, deliver us from our oppressive circumstances, yet far more chiefly is the need to break from the tyranny of sin in our hearts, from which all evil flows. The good news of Jesus today is far better news when we understand the reality and the deep darkness of our sin.
Jesus, the Faithful Law Keeper
When you read the story of Israel, which God describes as his first-born son in the Old Testament, one major theme that will jump out is their constant failure to keep the laws of God against their better judgment. From the least to the greatest kings, each one reeked of faithlessness, dragging the whole nation away from God. This promise of an obedient Son of God strongly contrasts with Israel’s disobedience (Isaiah 11:1-5). Not only would he be obedient, but also righteous in his judgements over those he reigns.
Jesus kept God’s law perfectly and ultimately received God’s judgement on behalf of humanity as foretold in God’s obedient servant (Isaiah 53:4-12, Psalm 45:6-7, 110:5-7). Through his obedience, ultimately, the door for disobedient Israel and the rest of humanity to relate with God is wide open once again (Romans 5:1-2,19). His example and empowering by the Spirit enable us to become obedient sons of God.
Jesus, the Son of Man
The title, “Son of Man” mainly referred to the God-like figure in Daniel’s vision who would take the Judgement seat at the end of the age (Daniel 7:8-14). Jesus referred to himself as “the Son of Man” more explicitly with his disciples but at other times, he implicitly spoke of this authority and exercised it; for example, when he extended the forgiveness of sin, rebuked the teachers of the law for their misguided notions, and through exorcisms, etc. (Luke 5:24, Matthew 10.23, 20:27). At the chief priests’ and elders’ assembly, Jesus affirmed that he indeed is the Son of Man, a claim understood to mean equality with God (Matthew 26:64) and was thus seen as blasphemy by the High Priest (Matthew 26:65).
From his humble birth to his despicable death, the exalted King, though unrecognisable by his very own people as foretold, came and bore our human experience to usher us back to his Kingdom. What a grand story Christmas is!
Immanuel, God with Us
From the dawn of time, God has always intended to dwell with his creation (Genesis 3:8a) and thankfully, at the end of time, he will do so (Revelation 21:4). Due to the disobedience of the first family, consequentially, all of humanity became estranged from God (Genesis 3:22-23, Psalm 51:5).
When God unfolded his redemption plan, he graciously offered his nearness to a specific people for his mission through covenants. This was the case for Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then later with the nation of Israel. The Jews understood this perfectly, that unless God was among them, they would perish. Moses’ famous prayer for God to show his glory revealed this sentiment (Exodus 33:12-18). The nearness of God was always a huge celebration point for the Israelite nation unlike its pagan neighbours (Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 40;34-38).
From his humble birth to his despicable death, the exalted King came and bore our human experience to usher us back to his Kingdom.
This is precisely why the birth of Jesus is magnificent. The God of the universe not only chooses to redeem us himself, but also uses means least expected! He does not save us from a distance but comes to share our whole experience with us. God, who had only spoken and revealed himself through a few, had now chosen to dwell among us and so, rightly fitting is his name: Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). Moreover, this name would not only remind Matthew’s Jewish audience of how God resided among their descendants in the tabernacle and the temple, but also allude to Isaiah’s prophecy about the birth of a baby whose name would be Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14-17).
Embrace the Shadow-Turned Reality
Israel longed for her Saviour who has now since appeared amidst darkness. The darkness is still a malady that grips us today through our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 9:1-2, Matthew 4:15-16). But in contrast, the scriptures offer us good news, that the light has come (John 1:5,9).
And since God has worked through several millennia to bring us this gift of his Son, we do well to have a proper understanding of who Jesus is and what his true mission is to rightly honour him. Seize the season, wait no more and join the greatest story ever told. Turn to Jesus, the exalted King.