A child’s hymn that has often been sung contains this refrain, “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word; tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.” The story of Jesus’ birth is certainly not new to any of us. It is the old, old story, one that is well known even by children. Yet, though an old story, it holds a certain attraction—not because it is a quaint and sentimental story—but because, through it what was impossible has become possible. Deliverance from sin and its power from a human point of view is impossible. There is no way of escape from sin and the punishment due us on account of sin. In ourselves we are doomed to a future of an everlasting torment and agony in hell with no way of escape. But with the conception and birth of Jesus, God has made possible what is humanly impossible. This is true because in His birth we find the Son of God born in human flesh. We are given a divine/human Savior who alone is able to save us from our sins. This is why we can say again today: tell me the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
The passage we consider today begins with shepherds who had settled in for the night on the hills of Bethlehem. This village was some 11 miles south of the city of Jerusalem, nestled among the hills of the countryside. These shepherds were more than likely low on the social scale, perhaps paid by others who themselves owned the sheep. Many were the days and nights that were spent by these men caring for these sheep. Right now, they were camped outside on the hills, keeping watch over the sheep at night. They had to protect the sheep from natural predators who would creep up in the dark of night to prey on a sheep that was not kept safely within the fold. These shepherds were probably believers, numbered among the few who yet looked for redemption in Israel. We say this of the shepherds because of their response to the message of the angel to them. They hurried off to see the Christ child and then returned, glorifying and praising God for what they saw and heard.
So, the account before us today begins with these shepherds sitting together sharing the watch of their sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared out of nowhere in the night. The angel shone brightly with the glory of God from out of whose presence he had come, being sent forth by God Himself. The angel reflected the holiness, goodness, and infinite perfection of God—a light so bright that it dispelled all the darkness of the night. These otherwise brave shepherds, who were willing to fight wild beasts to protect their sheep, were greatly afraid—not just a little afraid, but, to use a crass saying, “scared to death” by the brightness of this angel. It was because of this reaction that the message of the angel we consider today was spoken. We read in Luke 2:10, 11, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Consider with me for a few moments this message of the angel.
I. The Message
The heart of this message is recorded for us in verse 11: “For unto you is born this day…a Savior!” A Savior is born this very day! The angel refers to an event that began in the little village of Nazareth, to the north, in Galilee. There a young maiden named Mary, with her husband Joseph, began a journey to Judea. This young woman was large with child—soon to be delivered. But a decree had gone out from the emperor of the world, Caesar Augustus, that all the peoples of his kingdom were to be taxed. Before this taxation was held, however, he required that everyone in his kingdom had to register—not unlike here in the U.S. This required Joseph and Mary to journey to the town of their lineage, which was Bethlehem in Judea. Having arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor. Since there was no room for her and Joseph in the small inn there, they found shelter in a cattle stall, a lean-to, or shed of sorts, probably outside the city limits. The stall was empty, and there, on a bed of straw, Mary gave birth to her little boy. Joseph must have delivered his own son. The son was healthy and was soon clean and wrapped in swaddling clothes, long linen strips, and laid to rest in a manger, a feeding trough. That same day, when evening arrived, the angel appeared to the shepherds on the hills overlooking Bethlehem. This is why the angel said, “Unto you is born this day.” The same day that Jesus was born the angel announced His birth to the shepherds.
But something more can be said about the “this day” of our text. You see, the day of Christ’s birth is the central day of all of history! The history of the church centers in that day. It was a day that ushered out the Old Testament and ushered in the New. And even though this wicked world chafes under the designation BC (before Christ) and AD (the year of our Lord) and is trying hard to change this, it stuck. All of western history is viewed from this point of view. The point is, however, it is this day of Christ’s birth in which God fulfilled His covenant. Christ’s birth stands at the heart of God’s covenant and its promises, both in the old and new dispensations of that covenant.
There can be no doubt that the message of the angel did not simply center in the events of that day. It centered in who was born that day. There in the little village that lay so close at hand was born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Now, I could spend several broadcasts on each one of these principal names of our Savior: Jesus, Christ, and Lord. In reality, in these names of our Savior is found the joy of the season. We rejoice in who is born on this day. A Savior is born to us. The designation Savior calls attention to the name Jesus, which means Jehovah salvation. The message of the angel does not point to an earthly king who had now come to reign over the kingdom of Israel. It speaks of the coming Messiah as a Savior—one who delivers others from something. According to the message given by the angel to Joseph, that from which this Savior would save is sin. Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin! For unto you is born this day a Savior. And this Savior is Christ, the Lord. He is the Messiah—the one for whom all God’s faithful saints looked and longed. The Messiah is born, the Christ is born. He shall hold the office of the Anointed One of God. He is the one ordained by God from eternity and qualified to perform the work of our Savior. This Christ is the Lord from heaven. He is God, who has come to earth to rule over all nations and peoples. He is the head of His church and the master of every believer. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. That says everything we need to know of our salvation from sin. In these three names is contained the identity, that is, the Person and the work, of our Savior.
But one more detail of this message may not be overlooked. This Savior is born this day in the city of David. That may not seem all that important, but the reference here to David was and is of great significance. It was necessary that Jesus be born in the line of David. Everyone knew of the promise God made to David that a Son would sit on his throne, one who would rule over the house of Israel forever. Everyone knew that the Messiah was a royal son of David. So it was of great significance that the Messiah was born in the city of David. This is of significance to the church today too. It is so because Christ as the Son of David rules over God’s elect Israel yet today. Israel was the church of the Old Testament. But elect Israel continues yet today in the church of Jesus Christ. So, that Christ is the Son of David speaks to you and me today, too, that He yet rules over the church, guiding her, preserving her, and leading her to eternal glory. We will consider in a moment that unto us this Savior is born.
But where is this city of David to which the angel referred? The first thought that comes to mind is the city of Jerusalem. We read of Jerusalem in II Samuel 5:7: “Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David.” Or again in verse 9, “So David dwelt in the fort (that is, the fort of the Jebusites that would later become Jerusalem), and called it the city of David.” It is evident from this Scripture and others that after conquering that fortress or stronghold atop Mt. Zion, David grew and waxed strong. He himself called this city the city of David. So, when the angel mentions that this Savior is born in the city of David, would not these shepherds be inclined to believe that this baby was born in the palace of Jerusalem? That would be the natural place that royalty would be born, after all. Such was the thought of the wisemen from the East who came looking for the Messiah in Jerusalem, the city of the great king. But this is not at all what the shepherds thought when the angel spoke of the city of David. They immediately thought of Bethlehem. The remainder of the message of the angels indicated this to them too. We read in verse 12, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
You see, Bethlehem was the city where David was born and raised. There also Samuel first anointed him to be king over Israel. This was also why Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the tax. They were of the lineage of David, who was born here. Besides, Micah in his prophecy spoke of Bethlehem as the place where the Christ would be born. And the people of Jesus’ day knew this to be the case too. When the people of Galilee argued among themselves whether Jesus was the Christ, it was said, “Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” The shepherds therefore did not hesitate to go to Bethlehem to find the Savior that was born that day.
II. Its Joy
This message of the angel is, in fact, the good tidings of great joy that the angel now brought to the shepherds. Take note of that, fellow believers: that Jesus Christ our Savior is born is a reason for great joy. Our hearts thrill with the knowledge that God has sent His Son into this world to make our salvation possible. This is the reason that the angel first of all had to tell these shepherds not to fear. “Fear not! Do not be afraid!” Of course these shepherds were afraid. The glory of God’s holiness and infinite goodness was seen in the angel’s countenance. If there is anything that would make us impure, unholy, wicked, filthy sinners quake, it would be to be in the presence of a holy God who is a consuming fire in that holiness. But there is no reason to fear, because the angel brings us good tidings. Literally, the angel said, “I herald good news! I officially bring to you from God on high this good news, this gospel. The Savior is born! Your Messiah is finally come! Your Ruler is here!”
That is good news to us who were lost in sin and subject to death! That is light to us who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. How deeply we are aware of our own unworthiness to stand in the presence of our all-glorious God! How unworthy to sit in His presence and experience His great love and favor toward us. How unworthy of God’s fellowship and care! Who among even God’s redeemed people dare raise his or her eyes in pride, as if in some way we earned the right to stand before God? But now God sends His messenger from heaven and speaks to these lowly shepherds and to us the message of the gospel, the good news of our Savior.
What is that good news? That we who are unworthy sinners are, through His birth and death, made worthy in God’s sight. Christ has delivered us from sin by paying the price. He suffered the punishment of God against our sin in order that we might escape that punishment. But much more. We, God’s people, by means of this Savior, are brought back into God’s favor. Through Him you and I who believe have a right to stand in God’s presence without fear of punishment. That is what comes with the birth of our Savior. The goods news of Christ’s birth is that this salvation from sin is made possible. Christ is able to suffer under God’s wrath to deliver us from it because He is the Son of God come into our human flesh. He is both God and man. As we confess, He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. This is the good news of Christ’s birth. He is God made flesh in order that salvation from sin might be made possible for us poor sinners.
These good tidings bring great joy. They are the gospel, after all! Neither is there truly any joy that is greater than that of salvation from sin. It ought to make us rethink this season of the year when joy is found in the things of this world rather than in Jesus Christ. There is no greedier season of the year than this season, much of it going under the name of Christian. In some farfetched way, over the many years, the birth of Christ has been linked together with spending hundreds, if not, thousands, of dollars buying gifts for others. There is nothing wrong with buying gifts, of course, but it really has nothing at all to do with the birth of Christ. But the commemoration of Christ’s birth has become secularized and commercialized, so that people have become greedy and spend money on bigger and better gifts. This is what brings joy to the world, not that the Lord has come, but the luxuries of this life. Things cannot buy joy. This is why some of the richest people in the world who have been handed fame and fortune commit suicide.
Happiness and joy—true joy, that is—cannot be found in the earthly and material. Sometimes the unbelieving world can convince us otherwise. We as parents begin to think that when we buy our children everything they desire, our children will be happy. Such joy is illusive. It is so temporary. True joy is found within; it is found in the heart. It is a heart that is filled with contentment and peace in no matter what circumstance of life, even if life brings us little in the way of luxuries and comforts. True joy is found in the heart of one who can even be persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ. True joy is found even in the midst of suffering. If suffering brings only bitterness, anger, and complaint, then there is no true joy in the heart.
True joy can be rooted only in the glad tidings brought to us this day. Joy is found in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for us in His suffering and death—a suffering that already began in His lowly birth. We find great joy in the salvation that He has brought us, saints of God. We say this because we know that through our Savior we belong to God. And since God is God and He is for us for Christ’s sake, He will turn everything in this life to our advantage and profit. We are held in the arms of almighty God! When we can discover that in our lives, then there is going to be joy. Our sins are forgiven! What joy! There is now no more condemnation! What joy! Heaven awaits us! What joy! All of that is found in this Savior born to us in the city of David who is Christ the Lord.
III. Its Scope
But listen closely to the message of this angel, fellow believers: for unto you is born this day. That baby Jesus is not born to everyone in this world. He is born unto all of God’s people. No doubt the reference here is, first of all, to the shepherds themselves. The angel was passing along this message of salvation to these believing shepherds. But there were also others who looked for such redemption in Israel at that time. There was an elect remnant according to grace who looked for a Messiah who would come to save them from their sins. Much of Israel was not looking anymore. Most looked for an earthly Messiah who would restore the earthly kingdom to Israel. Few looked yet for salvation from sin. But there were those who did. And this message of the angel was of great joy to them too! So the “unto you” mentioned in verse 11 was meant of all those who faithfully looked for a Savior. But the scope of this message is larger yet. We read at the end of verse 10 that the good tidings of great joy shall be to all people!
Does this mean to every man? Did Christ come as a Savior for every man? Of course not! Christ knew who His own were that the Father had given Him. These He came to die for, and these He delivered from their sin by His death. But the gospel message is indeed to all people. This is why we can rejoice today. The joy of Christ’s birth is ours because He has died for all people. Christ was born for His church universal that is gathered from all peoples, nations, and races of this world.
We rejoice in our Savior today. May the joy spoken of by the angel be yours and mine today and always!