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Keeping the King in Christmas


Matthew 1:1-17
December 6, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 20:35 in the audio file.



Or, On the Increase of His Government

Series: Advent 2020 #2

Introduction

One December when I was a kid I got into big trouble for writing “X-mas” on a box. As I remember the circumstances, I wasn’t trying to make a theological statement or express a new commitment, I had seen X-mas somewhere and it seemed like fun, plus, it fit on my small box. My abbreviation skills were not appreciated and I got a good lecture on keeping “Christ” in Christmas.

Even with my contrarian streak it wasn’t my intention to keep the gifts but get rid of God in flesh. But I took the lesson to heart, and made the concern my own for a number of years…until I learned Greek in college. In Greek class I learned that the first letter in the word for Christ is a chi, which looks exactly like our English letter x. Perhaps the first person to ever write X-mas was a sophomore Biblical studies major who thought he was being clever, and little did he know how much consternation he would cause among Christian mothers trying to teach their kids about the reason for the season.

In more recent years we Christians have gotten garland wrapped up tight around our groins about business signage and disposable coffee cups and public greetings of “Happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” This verbal shift was calculated to promote the good-feels of the god of pluralism and avoid offending those who don’t worship the Christ. I’m fine with a deliberate “Merry Christmas” back with a twinkle in your eye, or if you have a little longer, maybe a response of, “Thanks, but what’s so holy about the holiday without Jesus?”

The Christ in Christmas is certainly key. Christ is more than Jesus’ last name, though after a while calling Him “Jesus Christ” became natural in a way that calling me “Sean a Pastor” never will. Being the Christ is part of Jesus’ very nature.

All of the gospel writers identified Jesus as the Christ, but Matthew highlighted this attribute more than the others. It is part of the reason that his gospel comes first of the four, and part of the reason that it comes immediately following the end of the Old Testament. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings anticipated the Christ. The people of God were waiting for the promised Seed, the Christ.

Χριστός (Christos) is the Greek word, transliterated into English as “Christ,” that translates the Hebrew word for Messiah, a word that is difficult to define with just one word (which is why the English “messiah” is transliterated from Hebrew). It referred to one who was anointed, that is, recognized and appointed to a certain office or title or responsibility. We typically associate Jesus as Christ with Jesus as Savior, and that is good. But there are specific words for savior, like, you know, the word Savior. When we think of “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4), we think of Him as God’s-Son who saves and is sovereign. Again, that’s good. But it’s not enough.

Yes, Jesus will save His people from their sin (Matthew 1:21), but the saving work, the primary aim of His first coming, is prominent in His earthly name: Jesus; the Hebrew name Jesuha means “the Lord is salvation.” Calling Jesus the Christ makes prominent that He is the Savior King. Keeping Christ in Christmas is only as good as we’re thinking about it as keeping the King in Christmas.

If you are a serious Christian, one who reads his Bible, one who hates the commercialism and the materialism and the secularism of what our holiday has become, you also probably think about Jesus as a King in terms of Jesus’ explanation to Pilate when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The way such a serious Christian honors Jesus as King is with church services and songs and spiritual thoughts. I have been a “serious” Christian “celebrating” Christmas like that.

But it is ironic, isn’t it? To celebrate God becoming man, God with us, Immanuel, the Word made flesh, by trying to forget or acting like the flesh things, the earth things, the food and gifts and wine and decorations and hugs things, are of lesser importance?

And what is hitting me freshly this year is that God with us, the Word made flesh, came as, and will come again as, King.

The wise men/magi came from the east because they saw the sign that “the King of the Jews” had been born (Matthew 2:2). Celestial, astronomical events moved into place to make the point, that the world would now come to orbit around this King, this Son of God. Herod heard the magi and asked the chief priests “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). Christ means king. It’s why Herod attempted to find the baby Jesus and kill Him because Herod’s earthly throne was threatened; even those in Jerusalem were “troubled” (Matthew 2:3). The killing of male children two and under in Galilee was not because Jesus’ birth as king only had spiritual meaning.

Years later, as all four gospels record, the forerunner, John the Baptist came preaching that the “kingdom of God was at hand” (Matthew 3:1) That was his message that the kingdom, with its King, was upon them. It is the great confession of Peter when Jesus asked, “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), in other words, the promised and anointed King.

Within a short time Jesus was crucified as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11). He was mocked for it (Matthew 27:29), given a crown of thorns to mock Him for it, a sign written in multiple languages scoffing over Him as king (Matthew 27:37). Jesus as King is not merely a celestial reality, but a spiritual one with earthy consequences.

Beloved, this is exactly why Matthew begins his message of good news with a genealogy, and why he selected the lineage list as he did, to show that Jesus is the King.

Look again at how the book begins:

> The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Jesus is a son of Abraham, which establishes His identity as part of the covenant people. God made a promise to Abraham of offspring, and through Isaac and Jacob and Judah we have Israel. Jesus is a Jew, and from the line of Judah, and remember Jacob’s blessing to Judah:

> “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10)

One of the heavenly elders told John, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Revelation 5:5).

Jesus is also the “son of David,” a title Matthew uses nine more times in his gospel. David is the only name mentioned in two of the three divisions of 14; David is the final name in the first group, with his title: “Jesse the father of David the king” (verse 6), and then David begins the next set of 14, as verse 17 summarizes.

It is “the book of…Jesus Christ” (verse 1), “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (verse 16), and the counting ends after the deportation to Babylon “to the Christ” (verse 17).

Note the second division, starting with David halfway through verse 6. These are Israel’s kings, the final king Jechoniah when the nation was taken into the Babylonian captivity. Though kings were not reinstituted when they returned to the land, the genealogy continued, and this is the royal line. Jesus is heir to the throne of David.

This is why the angel addressed Joseph in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife” (Matthew 1:20). It is why when Caesar Augustus called for a census and taxing, “Joseph went up…from Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4).

When the angels showed up to the shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, one of the angels said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Here are three different words: the saving one–Savior, the sovereign one–Lord, and the royal one–Christ.

It is a fascinating rabbit hole, without a current bottom, to consider some of the differences between the genealogy Matthew provides and the one that Luke lists. One proceeds forward from Abraham and the other moves backward to Adam. One includes multiple women, the other has none, not even Mary. And one has the grandfather of Jesus as Jacob, the other has the grandfather of Jesus as Heli.

Of the usual options that are given for the discrepancy (and other discrepancies), other than the option that the Bible has errors (which I don’t accept), are either that 1) Jacob and Heli were brothers, and it was Jacob’s name that mattered as the older brother and Heli married Jacob’s wife when he died (levirate marriage), Heli was the physical grandfather. Or 2) Jacob was Joseph’s father and Heli was Mary’s father, with Luke tracing Jesus’ physical genealogy as the Son of Man back to the first son of man, Adam.

It turns out that a couple important things happen here.

First, the last king of Israel before the exile was Jechoniah (also known as Coniah). He was so wicked that the LORD cursed him and said that “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David” (Jeremiah 22:30). Though he was in the line of kings from David through Solomon, and then though Jacob and Joseph were part of his line, Jesus was adopted into the line, so the legal heir of David but not a physical descendent of Jechoniah.

Second, this would mean that Heli, from David through Nathan (Luke 3:31), not Solomon, down to Mary, would mean that Jesus was also physically a son of David, just not through Jechoniah. So Jesus’ legal father and His earthly mother were both from David. Jesus is from the bloodline and the royal line of King David.

Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah, and the house of David. He was born as King. The shepherds worshipped Him as such, the magi recognized Him as such, and Herod feared Him as such.

Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus came to save sinners. He came to redeem, to ransom, and through His holy and perfect obedience He was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice so that we might be forgiven and have peace with God and know freedom from sin. He is the atoning Lamb, He is God’s gift to us.

But if we are keeping the Christ is Christmas, if we understand that Christ means King, then Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus came to sit on a throne. He came to rule, to lead and judge in righteousness and peace. He is the anointed Lion, He is God’s gift to us.

In this joyous strain, listen again to the prophetic word of Isaiah:

> For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Christmas reminds us of His authority not just His humble birth.

It cannot be coincidental that King David’s last words were about the glories of being ruled well.

> Now these are the last words of David: the oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: … When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. (2 Samuel 23:1, 3b-4)

Christmas reminds us of Christ who makes life bright as our Ruler, of Christ who governs and makes justice grow like grass.

Conclusion

While Jesus is King of the Jews, it will be for all nations, King of kings.

> Joy to the world the Lord is come > Let earth receive her King

Here are three things I’ve been thinking about, asking myself, and planning to try.

I’ve been thinking about how to do more than just think about Jesus’ birth as King. I hope you’re not offended when I say I’ve been thinking about the paper lanterns that an entire city set off at dusk in Tangled to remind them of the lost princess. It was a cultural symbol, an annual ritual. It reminded them of the king’s daughter and perhaps caused some to long for her to be found. Certainly it didn’t mean that much to everyone; everyone didn’t care, even if they participated. But can we decorate and feast and gift-give in such a way that reminds us of the King? “Let men their songs employ.”

I’ve been asking myself throughout the day this past week or so, not just “What would Jesus do?” but What would the King have me do?. It’s not as quick as WWJD, and WWKHMD isn’t going to catch on. But as clearly as ever in my adventing, I’m putting next actions and decisions about what’s best next in light of the King’s pleasure.

What I’m planning to do, and you’re welcome to try this if you want, when I’m out and about, in my mask or without, and especially if I’m greeted with “Happy holidays,” I’m aiming to reply with, instead of “Merry Christmas,” with “The King was born!”


Charge

Jesus’ genealogy was over 2000 years in the making from Abraham (at least 4000 going back to Adam). It’s very unlikely that any of us are going to be successful in tracing our family lines 40-50 generations back to Jesus’ day, even four or five might be a challenge. But how about giving some effort toward four or five generations from now? Be a beefy branch on the family tree known for asking questions like, What would the King have me do?

Benediction:

> Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. > To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:4–7, ESV)