by John Phillips
'. "' The father of English hymnody, Isaac Watts, provided the church with almost 600
; hymns. His classics include "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "O God, Our Help
in Ages Past." But perhaps his most noteworthy contribution is this Christmas-time favorite: „
'. "Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing."
~ ■ ■-:" The Christmas story revolves around that theme. We see the shepherds and the sages... :. finding their way to the feet of the infant Christ and paying homage to Earth's rightful King. Angelic hosts swarmed down the skyways from glory. God hung a new star in the sky.
But when we getto the later verses of the hymn, we realize that perhaps this was not a Christmas carol at all. Either the author was idealistic or else this was written in the prophetic present, as though the future were already here. The fourth verse reads: "He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness. And wonders of His love."
Obviously, the Lord does not reign on earth today. Neither does nature now bend beneath His sway. Men worldwide are not employing their songs in anthems offering /worship to Him. Nor do the nations, except in the most limited and individual sense, prove the glories of His righteousness.
With the world's wars and famines, graft and greed, lusts and hates, evidence - demands that in the literal and nationalistic sense, Jesus Christ is not reigning today. Isaac Watts'great hymn is much more suited to the Millennium than to the manger.
With that in mind, consider the angel's grand announcement to the peasant girl chosen by God to mother the Lord Jesus Christ:
■ ' ■ ■ "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:31-33).
The angel's statement contains seven distinct prophecies. Four of them relate to
Christ's first coming, three of them to His second coming. Four of them have already
been fulfilled, three of them still slumber in the womb of time, awaiting the proper
• moment for delivery.
Four of the prophecies concentrate on Jesus as Savior, three of them on Jesus as
; ■ Sovereign. Four of them focus on Jesus as the Man, the woman's seed, while three of
: . them focus on Jesus as the Messiah, David's promised seed.
; ■_;•-.' As the first four had a literal, historical fulfillment, so will the other three. This
--■•••■ marvelous prophecy may be summarized as follows:
• 1. His Coming to Redeem (2) His Unparalleled Claim
; a. The Importance of His Coming 2. His Coming to Reign. .
' ''. • (I) The Miracle of His Birth a. By Divine Right
; . (2) The Meaning of His Birth b. With Divine Might
b. The Impact of His Coming (1) The Center of His Kingdom
(1) His Unparalleled Fame (2) The Circumference of His Kingdom
' ' "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name
;.. -Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest." These first four
; ' . ; statements resolve themselves into two basic statements of truth, underlining the
= ' " -importance and the impact of Christ's coming to redeem. Continued on 64
i ' '-' "•■ " *■' '■ Mr. Phillips is on the extension staff of Moodj Bible Institute.
I MOODY / DECEMBER 1982 - 63
Regarding the importance of Christ's coming, the first of the statements emphasizes the miracle of Christ's birth: 'Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son."
The herald angel was talking to a pure-minded, morally sensitive, spiritually exercised, young unmarried woman. She was engaged to be married but was as yet still single.
Immediately she raised the question: How could I possibly become a mother? The angel then informed her that the birth would be miraculous—a virgin birth.
Although unbelievers have done their best to do away with this concept, Christ's virgin birth was a miracle. The Bible leaves no doubt.
If Jesus was not virgin born, then Mary was guilty of immorality and He was illegitimate. The Hebrew law called for stringent penalties against all sexual sins.
The death penalty was required for most acts of immorality. Against the illegitimate child, too, severe restrictions were imposed. The severity of the law served as part of God's plan to uphold the sanctity of marriage.
With this in mind, notice the first thing Mary did after the angel's promise had taken effect. Hurrying off to Judea, she visited her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth's husband Zacharias was a priest.
Think what this means. Mary was espoused to Joseph of nazareth, and according to Hebrew law, betrothal constituted a legal and binding contract that could not be broken except for immorality, which was considered adultery.
In this way, couples officially engaged to be married were legally man and wife though the law called for a waiting period to elapse between the signing of the betrothal contract and the actual marriage ceremony. During this year, the two lived apart—the woman with her parents, the man with his.
The Mosaic law made provision for the proven unchastity of either of the engaged couple. Tor instance, if the young woman were found to be pregnant, the man had to denounce her publicly—to protect his good name as well as his life.
The officiating priest would then examine the case and pass sentence. The offended partner was required to cast the first stone in the resulting execution. This law applied to Mary.
But what does she do? As soon as she discovers she is going to become a mother, she goes to the house of an officiating priest, one of the very men
who would be required to investigate a case such as hers.
This fact offers incidental proof that she was a pure woman. And Zachar-ias, in taking no steps against her, demonstrates he was perfectly satis-fled with her story. How could he doubt it? The same angel had visited him six months before.
Christ's virgin birth is of supreme importance to us. If Jesus were not virgin born, then, of course, He had a human father and He would be just another ordinary human being. His claims to deity, therefore, would have been blasphemy.
And, as an ordinary human being, He could never have died for the sins of all mankind. This is evident from the words of the psalmist: "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him" (Psalm 49:7).
If the life that the Lord Jesus surrendered at Calvary were just another ordinary human life, it could have been laid down as substitution for only a single individual. "A life for a life" was the Mosaic creed.
Christ, as merely human, could have died for Peter or James or John or you or me—but not for all of us. The life that He yielded up on the cross, however, was an infinite one. That's why the virgin birth of Christ is at the very heart of the gospel.
Iio one pretends to know how the miracle of the virgin birth took place. All we know is that it did. nothing is too difficult for Qod.
The second clause in the prophecy deals with the meaning of Christ's birth: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus."
Qod the Father exercised a father's rightful prerogative in naming His own Son. The name "Jesus" is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Jah-Hosheah, or Joshua. It identifies the Jesus of the new Testament with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
When affirming this part of divine truth to Joseph, who would become the foster father to the Lord Jesus, the herald angel said: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
The name "Jesus" means "Savior" and, specifically, one who saves from sin. The meaning of Christ's birth is enshrined in His name.
No wonder Paul could remind Timothy: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15).
Look next at the impact of Christ's coming. The angel Gabriel presented
the virgin Mary with two tremendous facts about the greatness that would be attached to the name of Jesus.
The first fact centered on His unparalleled fame. "He shall be great." And, truly, the Lord Jesus is the greatest person who ever trod the scenes of time.
With whom can we compare Him? With the world's great thinkers? With Solomon? Socrates? Plato or Pythagoras? Einstein or Marx? It's sacrilege to link such names with the name of Jesus.
Shall we place Him alongside Alexander, Caesar or Napoleon? Shall we compare Him with Confucius, Buddha or Muhammad? Indeed, no, for as the heaven is high above the earth, so is He higher than all of these. The distance that separates Him from them is the distance that separates a mortal man from an omniscient omnipotent God.
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, it's interesting to note what Cassius said to Brutus. Cassius, one of the conspirators plotting to kill Caesar, attempted to win over Brutus. In the background were shouts of the common people acclaiming Caesar. When Brutus expressed his concern, Cassius immediately seized his cue:
Continued from 66
When Jesus came, Herod sat on the throne in Jerusalem. And when the Romans crucified Him, they did so on the grounds that He claimed to be "the King of the Jews." One day, Jesus will actually sit on the throne of David.
Why should the other clauses in this prophecy be fulfilled but not this one? The literal interpretation of this
All nations will own His
sway and worship at
His footstool in
passage demands Christ's second coming.
If this were the only verse in all of Scripture to proclaim this truth, it would be enough. Yet it is backed by scores of similar statements in both Old and New Testaments.
As the last two clauses affirm. He is also to reign with divine might Note how the angel underlined where the center of His kingdom would be: "He shall reign over the house of Jacob."
Today, the Jewish nation does not acknowledge Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. But when He comes back. He will convert the nation's remnant, make Jerusalem the world's capital and "reign over the house of Jacob for ever." They will look on Him whom they pierced and, at last, own Him as their Messiah.
Finally, the angel underlines the circumference of His kingdom: "And of his kingdom there shall be no end."
He is to reign "from the river to the ends of the earth." All nations will own His sway and make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at His footstool.
Even in space. His kingdom will have no end. Upon the cessation of the millennial kingdom. He will make "a new heaven and a new earth," and He will reign to the utmost bounds of the universe as Sovereign Lord of a new creation.
In time also, there will be no end to His kingdom. It will go on for ever and ever, till time shall be no more.
One day, when Christ comes back, the second part of the angelic prophecy will be fulfilled, and we shall be able to sing the rest of Isaac Watts' great hymn:
"Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While field and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy."
May we anticipate that day here and now, enthroning in our hearts Jesus as Lord. □
MOODY / DECEMBER 1982