How does the story of the birth of Jesus fit in with the rest of the Bible?
And what possible significance does a cozy manger scene in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago have for any of us today? Alistair Begg explores these questions as we begin a series called Navigating the Nativity today on Truth for Life Weekend. I'd like to invite you to turn to Galatians chapter 4 verses 4 and 5. I'll read them in just a moment, but let me begin by reminding you of the fact that we say to one another from time to time that if we're going to get to grips with the Bible, we need to remind ourselves that the Bible is a book about Jesus. That in the Old Testament, Jesus is predicted. That in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is revealed. When we then read the Acts of the Apostles, we discover that Jesus is being preached. And when we read the Epistles, which is another word for the letters, we discover there that Jesus is being explained.
And when we get to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we find that Jesus is expected. Another way in which we try and help one another weave our way through the Bible is to say that between the Old and New Testaments, it's a bit like a two-act play. If you come to a play, having missed the first act, you make a perfect nuisance of yourself, asking the people around you, Who is this character and what does this mean and why has that happened? And the person says, Well, if you had come to Act 1, you would understand how Act 2 works.
In the same way, if you visit a play, you leave after Act 1, then you have to call somebody later on and say, How does the whole event finish? When we read the Bible in the Old and New Testaments, in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, we discover that it is very much just like that, a two-act drama, that they fit together. However, for a number of people, and some doubtless who are here this morning, the Bible remains like a trackless jungle. You have seldom considered it, and when you do, you open it up, and you might just as well be lost somewhere in the jungle as you look at it and you say, I don't know what this means or where this goes, and I don't know if there's a path that takes me through it that I can understand. It's full, you say to yourself, of apparently unrelated ideas, unrealistic notions and incomplete sentences. I just can't make sense of it at all.
Well, nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible actually is coherent. There is a story that runs the whole way through the Bible that is understood when we think about the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And it is this in a sentence or two. God, from all of eternity, determined that he would redeem, purchase, buy, take to himself a people who are his very own, and that the whole of the Bible is the unfolding of this plan of redemption. When Paul refers to it in Ephesians chapter 1, he says that God, throughout all of history, is accomplishing all these things according to the counsel of his will. So in other words, far from the Bible being haphazard, far from it being a trackless jungle, a sort of amorphous mass of ideas thrown haphazardly together by people who knows where and who knows when and who knows how and who knows why, far from that, what we discover is that God is orchestrating everything, even the disclosure of himself, in the pages of the Bible, and he's doing it according to his eternal plan. Now, the reason I take a moment to mention this this morning as we come so close to Christmas is because for many people, the Christmas story hangs totally unrelated to anything else in the whole of the Bible.
In fact, in many ways, hangs totally disconnected from anything else in all of life. Now, some of you are particularly interested and efficient with jigsaws. Jigsaw puzzles are not one of my gifts, nor actually are crosswords. I treat dreadfully in the United magazine when I do the crossword on the plane. And I'm always hoping that no one's noticing how many times I turn over those few pages to find out what the answers are, particularly when I'm sitting next to my wife.
Although she knows how bad I am, and when I finish with a great smug smile on my face, she knows that I cheated for at least eighty percent of the clues. And the same is true with jigsaws, because they actually appeal to me in those boxes. I go in the mall, often close to Christmas, and I'm tempted again to buy a jigsaw, because it all looks so good until you open the box and throw the pieces out, and then it looks so chaotic. And that had been one or two memorable Christmases when a great splash of enthusiasm from myself has unleashed a jigsaw upon the family, only for it to sit around for a day or two, and then to be thrown back into the box and consigned to the darkness, never to be seen again. But before it goes, I usually manage at least one piece of it.
Maybe fifteen or seventeen pieces, I manage to get together. And they all sit and look there, you know, a chimney pot or whatever it is. And someone comes and finds me smugly looking at my little section, and I'm saying, Isn't this wonderful?
Look at what I've done. Only to have the balloon burst by the person saying, And where do you think it fits in the rest of the jigsaw? I say, Well, frankly, I haven't got a clue where it fits in the rest of the jigsaw, but I'm just excited about the fact that I managed to put this little piece together.
Well, says the person, big deal, but unless you know how and where it fits, it frankly is largely irrelevant, wouldn't you say? And so it's Christmas again. Twelve months have gone by, and we came back. We go back in the attic, get out the same jigsaw, lay it out, throw the pieces out, pick up a small cluster, get fifteen or seventeen pieces put together, where we've got a little picture of Jesus or a little picture of a donkey's head or whatever else it is, and we've got some semblance of what's going on. Somebody says to us, Now, where does this fit within the larger scheme of things? And the answer is, I haven't got a clue where it fits. Now, when Christmas is viewed in that way as it is so easily viewed, truncated, disconnected, it very quickly becomes sentimentalized.
It very quickly becomes marginalized in our minds. And cynical men say, You know, Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer, but frankly, I think Scrooge was right, and a lot of it is total humbug. It's good for grandmothers who like to wear rugs on their laps. It's good for children.
I like to see them run around, but frankly, it is totally irrelevant to me. You know, what do I have with a baby in a manger in Bethlehem? Two thousand years ago, some totally unrelated, disconnected piece of information. Who invented this, we say to ourselves. Hallmark? Who's trying to voice something on me here? What indeed is all of this about? And in the back of our minds, we've created the impression that Christmas is just largely one appeal, and usually an appeal for money.
There are people everywhere sending letters, send me money. There are people doing things with all kinds of little bags and whistles and drums and bugles in order to try and make us feel largely guilty that we had one of those wonderful things that allowed us to lock our car door without even putting the key in, and we felt quite smug at being able to walk twenty yards away and click it, and we turned around and we met a man with a kettle and out of a dreadful sense of guilt at the lovely car that we've just left parked, we reached in our pocket and dumped in a bunch of cash that, frankly, we had no interest in giving. But then as we walked into the mall, we found ourselves saying, My, my, this is what Christmas is all about after all, isn't it?
Quotes for kids, Be your best, make a difference, work together, eradicate war, establish world peace. Is that it? No. Christmas is not an appeal. Christmas is an announcement. Good news, great joy for all the people. And what exactly, then, is the nature of the announcement? What is the nature of the good news?
What does this mean, and how does it fit? Well, as I said to you, in the Epistles, much of what we read in the Gospels is explained, and every so often in the Epistles you come on a summary statement which gives to us a very succinct way of understanding the story. And verses 4 and 5 of Galatians chapter 4 provide us with just one of those statements. And I want to read them to you, and then I want to unpack them for you by noticing with you a number of questions.
Verse 4 of Galatians 4, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Well, you say, that sounds tremendously complicated to me. Can I just go back to Bethlehem for a moment or two and just think about the simplicity of it there? Well, no, I want you to think about this if you would.
Some of you will be very quickly in the third stages of anesthesia. There's no doubt about that. But to those who have ears to hear, let them hear. The gospel, says Stott, is not good advice to men, but it is good news about Christ. It is not an invitation to do anything, but it is a declaration of what God has done.
It is not a demand, it's an offer. And if we have fastened on Christmas as being something which comes, first of all, to make demands upon us, which when we respond to those demands thereby contribute to the spirit of Christmas as defined for us, and miss the fact that Christmas is actually an offer, it is an announcement, it is not a demand and an appeal. Well, first of all, will you notice in verse 4 that Paul establishes for us the time factor in relationship to the coming of Jesus? When did Jesus come? Well, the answer is, when the time had fully come. When the time had fully come. In Jesus Christ Superstar, in one of the songs, the writer of the particular lyric seems to question, perhaps even disdain, the time at which the Lord Jesus came to earth.
And the lyric goes like this, "'Every time I look at you,' says the writer looking at Jesus, every time I look at you, I don't understand. Why you let the things you did get so out of hand? You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned. Why'd you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you'd come today, you would have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 B.C.
had no mass communication. Don't get me wrong. I only want to know, I only want to know, I only want to know, Jesus Christ, who are you?" So on the one hand, the writer takes to himself the prerogative whereby he can call in question the appearing of Jesus and yet is honest enough to say, but frankly, having said what I've said, I really don't know who you are, Jesus.
Maybe where some of us are this morning. When did God send Jesus? When the time had fully come.
What does that mean? Well, at the time that God determined. At the moment that God had determined in his eternal decree. Jesus did not arrive haphazardly. He didn't come arbitrarily.
He didn't come a moment too late, and he didn't come a moment too soon. He came when the time had fully come. You find other statements like that in Romans chapter 5. Paul again, he says, at just the right time when we had no way of escape, God sent Jesus at the perfect moment. And those of us who are tempted to say, well, if he'd come now with the internet and all these different things, then it would have been so vastly different.
Well, we understand all of that, but the fact is God sent him at the exact moment in time that he needed to come. Now, we could say that the fullness of time pointed, for example, to the conquest of Rome. Rome, having been so triumphant and built all these wonderful roads, was making it possible under the providence of God for the news of the gospel to emanate and disseminate itself from Jerusalem and make its way through the Roman Empire.
That would be true. That the Greek culture, having established its language on so many people, provided a cohesion that made for the spread of the gospel. That the minds in men and women, having so many of them given up on the mythological gods of Rome and of Greece, were ready for some reality, were confused by so much religion, and were wondering if there was truth anywhere.
That would be true too. I think the only thing we can say with absolute definite conviction is that he came at the right time when the law of Moses had done the work of preparing men for Jesus. Now, I'm going to come back to this, but I want you simply to notice that in verse 23 of chapter 3. Before this faith came, says Paul—before the notion of Jesus being someone to trust and believe—before this came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. When, then, did God send Jesus? When the time had fully come, and when all of the preparatory work had been done. That's all we need to say for the moment. The second question is, what is it that God has done? Well, it is there in one simple verb.
It is the verb descend. It is in the past tense, God sent. When?
At just the right moment. What? He sent. He didn't send an idea. He didn't send a phantom.
He didn't send a religious apparition. He sent his son. And it isn't possible for us men and women this morning to understand the work of Christ and its relationship to the will of God unless we understand at least something of the fact of the Trinity—that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are coeternal and coequal, and that in eternity, pre-time, pre-incarnation, the Father and the Son and the Spirit entered into a covenant with one another, determining that one member of the Trinity should become the Savior for the sins of men and women. And that role was given to the Son. And Christ, in submission to his Father, said, Father, when the time is right and you determine it, then I will go to do your will, and I delight to do your will.
And the promise of the Father to the Son was that having entrusted him with this specific task of redemption, he would not only uphold him in that experience of his earthly journey, but he would also reward him that this Son would see of the travail of his soul, that he would see all of the agony of his life, all of the fulfillment of his purpose in those whom the Father had given to him as this company of people whom God from all of eternity had determined to put together. Now, I had granted to you that this may seem immediately in the minds of some to be a long, long way removed from a cradle in Bethlehem. But let me say again to you, the significance of the cradle in Bethlehem may only be fully grabbed by an understanding of where that piece of the jigsaw fits in the larger scheme of things. And I say again to you that the reason that many reject the Christmas story is because it seems so largely irrelevant.
And one of the reasons I give to you that it seems so relevant is the way that people like myself proclaim it is so largely irrelevant. And the thinking mind says, There is nothing there for me. But when I ask you to think with me beyond the nine dots of your human capacity into a realm that is unknown to us and to ponder this immense idea that the Creator of the universe, one in three and three in one, enters into a plan in eternity whereby he will send in time his Son, you see, this demands my attention in a way that I had never really considered. But was it then that God the Father sent his Son, and Jesus was resentful of it? No, that's Jesus Christ's superstar again. In the Gethsemane song, you may recall, Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane, and he's singing to his Father, and he's basically saying, Why did you put me here?
How did I get myself in this dreadful predicament? I didn't really want to be here, and I don't want to do this. Well, of course, we know that Jesus said, Father, if you're willing, let not this cup pass from me, because in his humanity he recoiled from all that was before him. But he said, I delight to do your will, and nevertheless not what I want but what you want. And when you read the summary statement in Philippians chapter 2 and verses 5 and following, you find there Paul explaining that when the Lord Jesus comes, he comes voluntarily. He's not coming out of a sense of coercion. He gladly gives up the equality that he's enjoyed with the Father and the Spirit in heaven in order to take to himself humanity. And when, for your homework, you read Philippians 2, 5–11, you will notice that the Lord Jesus becomes what he was not, namely flesh, without ever ceasing to be what he was God. When was this?
When the time had fully come. What was this God was sending? We've already really dealt with who was this, because he was sending his Son.
So let's go to how was this? How did this take place? How does this unfold, this huge metaphysical concept? Well, two little phrases are all we have in verse 4. God sent his Son. Phrase number one, he was born of a woman. Phrase number two, he was born under law. Is there significance in this?
Yes. Born under woman is simply a reminder to us of the fact that he was truly man, that the Jesus who walked the Jerusalem streets and moved around the hills of Judea and was present on the Sea of Galilee was a real man. He was not a phantom. He was not an apparition.
He was not a ghost. He took a human body which had the exact same biochemical composition as yours and mine. He had his own DNA. He had the same anatomy as any other human being, the same physiology. He had the same central nervous system, therefore he had the same sensitivity to pain. His mother made the exact same contribution to Christ as her son as any other human mother makes to the genetic input of her child.
Fifty percent of his chromosomes came from Mary, and fifty percent of the chromosomes were imparted miraculously in the creative act of the virgin conception. Incidentally, and in passing, who would ever invent a religion with all this stuff in it? That's what my friends wanted to tell me. All this stuff was just invented, you know. It was just made up. Somebody sat around and contemplated their navel for a while, and they came down from a hillside and they said, here's an idea. Were they trying to make it as unbelievable as they possibly could?
Was that it? I put it to you, Mr. Skeptic, Ms.
Skeptic, this morning that it is the very unbelievable-ness of this story that makes it so patently believable. Really a man, really alive, born under woman and born under the law. Now, you're going to have to go home—and only one of you will probably do this, probably me—and read the first three chapters of Galatians and fill in all the blanks.
But stay with me, and I'll try and help you by summary. Taking these verses out of context is dangerous, because so much of the surrounding context is vital to understanding each piece of it, and particularly born under the law. The previous chapter has had so much to say about the law of Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments, okay? And, says Paul, when God comes to earth in the person of Christ, he has a human mother, and he lives a human existence, and he's born under the jurisdiction of the law of God.
In other words, he's not free to do whatever he wants to do. He is here to do all that the law demands. He becomes subject to the demands of the law—to love the Lord his God with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind and all his strength, to be absolutely truthful in his words, to be absolutely faithful in his friendship, to be absolutely committed to the things that God has given to his people whom he has redeemed.
And it is because he has fulfilled all of the precepts of the law in perfection that he is able to be the representative of his people. All of scripture, the whole Bible, is the unfolding story of God's plan and promise to redeem a people of his very own. That is Alistair Begg demonstrating how Jesus is at the heart of God's plan of redemption, and you're listening to Truth for Life Weekend. We are not too far out from Christmas at this point, and to help you take advantage of gospel-sharing opportunities that the Christmas season presents for us, we have a wonderful collection of books you can purchase at our cost. Visit truthforlife.org slash gifts to browse books that make terrific gifts for your friends and relatives of all ages.
It's an easy and affordable way to tell other people about Jesus. And if you're starting to look beyond the end of the month and into the new year, let me tell you about a 31-day devotional called Be Thou My Vision. This is a book that provides structured daily devotions that follow a traditional church service format. The book draws from throughout the centuries to lay out a daily time of worship that includes scripture readings, historical creeds and catechisms, and excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer.
There are writings from the Puritans and men like Martin Luther and Augustine. All of it will help you put words to your time of adoration and confession and intercession. Find out more about this unique approach to private or family devotions when you visit truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. Next weekend, you'll hear the conclusion of today's message. We'll find out why we can't truly comprehend the significance of Christmas without first understanding the events at Calvary. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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