A Gift for the Ages
When do you start planning for Christmas? This past week I read about a lady who begins each year on the day after Christmas preparing for the following year's Christmas. To be fair, she has 11 children and around 30 guests over, and by planning that far in advance, she's able to save significantly.
According to the introduction to Matthew's gospel, we learn that God, though not motivated by cost savings, had been planning the first Christmas a very long time. He starts with a simple sentence:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
At the very beginning of the Christmas story, we learn that God is keeping promises he made long ago. That means he’s been working on Christmas a very long time. So let's unpack these three identifiers to find out what's at stake with Christmas.
Matthew calles Jesus the 'Son of Abraham', going back to around the year 1800BC. In Genesis 12:1-3 we learn that God promised Abraham that through him 'all the nations of the earth would be blessed'. That promised is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, who brings salvation to people from every nation.
Abraham believed this - and other - promises that God made to him; this faith brought him justification and friendship with: 'And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend' (James 2:23)
Why would faith bring friendship? Because any relationship is built on trust, and to have friendship with God, we have to believe him. God consistently tells the truth, which means his promises are reliable. The relationship we have with God is called a covenant - a relationship based on promises and responsibilities. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus makes a new covenant with us (Luke 22:20).
God also made a covenant with David, to whom he promised that ' I will establish his kingdom … And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever' (2 Samuel 7:11-16). That's why Matthew calls Jesus thje 'Son of David'. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise to David that one from the kingdom would perpetually be governed buy one in his line.
For us, the signifance of Jesus' claim to the Davidic throne not only means that God keeps his promises; it also means we have a king. When we read through the book of Acts, taking note of the apostles' preaching, two key points emerge:
- Jesus was raised from the dead.
- Jesus is Lord.
Not only does Jesus offer us friendship through the new coveant; in this covenant, He is Lord and king. That means he is the ruler of our lives. Although we live in an age that tends to resist authority, to follow Jesus means that we submit to his authority. It's true - we get the benefits of his kingdom. But there is no friendship with Jesus that rejects his Lordship.
And that brings us to the third of Matthew's descriptions of Jesus - he is the Christ. Some people assume that 'Christ' must have been his last name. Rather, it's a title, the Greek Version of the Hebrew word, derived from the promises in the Old Testament about the 'anointed one' who would deliver God's people. When Jesus himself asserts that promise of 'the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor' (Luke 4:16-21), he was claiming to be the Messiah.
There many different Messianic promises in the scriptures, let's take a look Isaiah 11:1-9. This passage itself portrays a beautiful, multi-faceted deliverance the 'shoot from the stump of Jesse' will bring. For example, 'The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra', meaning that all evil has been vanquished and natural hostility disposed.
This section ends with an ginormous promise: 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea'. One key function of the Messiah is to further the knowledge of God. This is a ministry Jesus ascribes to himself in Matthew 11:27: 'All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him'. Obviously, these Messianic promises are not yet fully fulfilled: Jesus inaugurated his kingdom when he came the first time, and he will consummate when he comes the second time.
In summary, we have a promise made to Abraham in 1800BC, fulfilled in Jesus; we have a promise made to David in 1000BC, fulfilled in Jesus; we have a promise made through Isaiah, also fulfilled in Jesus.
So what do we do these promises? Why does Matthew begin the Christmas story with a statement that links Jesus with Old Testament prophecies made to Abraham, David, and through Isaiah? Here are three key thoughts.
1. The gift of Jesus was a well-planned gift. The first Christmas wasn’t random or accidental; God has been planning it for a very long time.
2. Jesus is the gift we need. In planning Christmas, God hasn’t necessarily given us what we wanted, but he has given us what we need. Mick Jagger sang that 'You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need'.
3. The gift of Jesus lasts forever. Not only has God given us something that was planned for a long time, he has given us something that will last for a long time. When I was seven, I wanted a Zorr, a molded styrofoam eagle who could supposedly climb, swoop, turn, glide, and dive! Except that he couldn't. And when he crashed on the first test flight, I soon lost interest.
How many Christmas gifts do we still own, that still work, that still fit, that we still use? The great thing about Jesus is that He has no shelf-life; he never goes out of date. In Christ, we have a Forever Gift:
- The promise of Friendship– God invites us into eternal covenant
- The protection of Lordship– God invites us into submission to his lasting Lordship
- The power of Saviour– God invites us into perpetual deliverance.
Matthew starts his gospel by describing Jesus as Son of Abraham, Son of David, and Messiah to remind us that He is a gift for the ages - promised long ago, drawing us ino the benefits he offers for a long time to come. Charles Wesley summarises this well in the beautiful Christmas hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
This Christmas, I hope you have a great time relishing, enjoying, celebrating Jesus, the gift for the ages.