“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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Good tidings of great joy!
To the shepherds, and to all people!
Not to Herod, nor to Caesar were the good tidings brought. Not to the nobles and the rulers of this world was the message directed. Though such might be the fast to hear, should the direction of the good tidings be determined by men. For did not the message contain the news of the birth of the King? And should not the great ones of the earth be the first to hear? Such undoubtedly would be the reasoning of the wisdom of man. But not so was the wisdom of God, Who always reveals His wisdom in the foolish, and His power in the weak.
But to shepherds, that simple, humble folk, were the good tidings brought!
And mark well, not to all shepherds! But expressly to those who were keeping watch over their flocks by night in the hill country of Judea, near to the little town of Bethlehem, the city of David. God-fearing shepherds they were whom God selected to be the very first to hear the glad tidings of great joy. Men, who, by the grace of God, were able to receive the message. Men, who undoubtedly were looking for the hope of Israel and the fulfillment of the promise which somehow they must have surmised was soon to be realized.
And to all people!
Again, not to all people of the world head for head! Nor even to all Israel! For in respect to the latter the saying is true: They are not all Israel that are called Israel; and at the moment when the good tidings are brought, the majority of them, being steeped in spiritual lethargy, are wholly unable to receive the message. And as far as the former is concerned, also here, as is always the case in Scripture, “all” never means each individual, but all classes of people. For, indeed, not merely to a handful of godly shepherds are the good tidings brought, but to God’s people as they are to be found historically in all nations, tribes, and tongues.
O, indeed, there was cause for fear! Who of sinful men will not fear when he is confronted with the manifestation of the glory of heaven? Not only do the wicked fear when they are brought into proximity to the radiance of God’s glory, and therefore call to the mountains to cover them; but even the sinful saints cry out: “Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips . . .” And do we not read in the context that the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid?
But how gracious is the address: Fear not!
Indeed, there is no need to fear when the announcement is about to be made that the very cause of fear is about to be taken away; namely, the cause of sin and guilt. And how wonderful that as many times as there are books in the Bible, so many times does this comforting expression appear on the pages of Holy Writ: Fear not! And this is one of them The good tidings about to be expressed must assuage all fear, and cause the recipient of the message to leap for joy.
Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord! This day!
And what a day, and what a night it was!
Of all the days and nights that followed the very first at the dawn of history, there was none like this one. In fact, it is safe to say, evening and morning in their successive interchange have no significance except as they proceed to produce this day and night. Evening and morning which God created in their succession set the pace for the eras of history in which creation and fall, the development of sin as well as the development of the promise, run their course under the direction of the eternal counsel of the Almighty. And they all find their end purpose in this day and night. On this night and day all the world is astir to realize the promise of Jehovah. Unwittingly, of course, even the emperor of Rome sends forth his decree that all the world should be enrolled for the tax. Joseph and his wife, heavy with child, wend their way over the rugged terrain of Palestine to the little town of Bethlehem. The teeming city of David, which fills up the inn and pushes as it were the saintly couple which had just arrived, to the periphery of the world and into a smelly cattle stall. The meditative shepherds musing on the promises of God while they watched their flocks by night—all worked together to realize this wonderful day and night.
Yet, how wrong would be the observation that only in these last days all was astir to usher in this day. All the days, from the very first, when God said: “Let there be light . . . and God saw the light, that it was very good: and God divided the light from the darkness; and God called the light day, and the darkness he called night; and the evening and the morning were the first day”—from that day unto this day when the angel spoke to the shepherds, God unraveled the things of His counsel, and realized in history those things which in one way or another were related to the manifestation of His Son in the flesh.
On this day is born a Saviour!
One Who is come to deliver us from the greatest possible evil, and to make us partakers of the highest possible good!
Not did He come to be a reformer, who by His example and teachings would seek to improve the conditions found in our corrupt society, to correct the relationships among men which through avarice and jealousy, greed and pride, set them at variance. Nor did He come to destroy disease, and to remove the common ills and pains that follow us from the cradle to the grave. And surely not did He come to establish an earthly kingdom in which peace and prosperity would prevail after He had brought all the kingdoms of the world into submission to His principles.
Rather, the greatest possible evil is sin and guilt, corruption and death; hatred and enmity against God, and the slavery to the power of the Devil, under which we are conceived and born. The greatest possible evil is to be subject to the eternal and righteous wrath of God.
And to be partakers of the highest possible good, is to be cleansed from sin and guilt, and to be clothed with God’s righteousness. It is to be made to stand once more in the image and in the favor of God. It is to be made to taste His loving-kindness, which is better than life. It is to be made heirs of the kingdom of heaven. It is to dwell near unto God.
And such a Saviour is He, in the first place, because He is Christ the Lord!
The One Who was ordained and anointed of God from everlasting, and therefore appointed and qualified to save us. Who, as God’s Friend-servant, would reveal unto us by His Word and Spirit the Father, and His secret counsel respecting our redemption, Who, as the great High Priest would bring a sacrifice that could really cover all our sin and guilt, and atone for us; while at the same time, on the basis of His perfect sacrifice, He could intercede for us with the Father as our Advocate. Who, as our eternal King, would bring all His and our enemies into subjection and destroy them, while He establishes in our hearts the principles of His eternal and heavenly kingdom Thus becoming our Lord, Who governs us and defends us in the preservation of that salvation which He has purchased and accomplished for us.
Such a Saviour He is, secondly, because He is born.
Not, you understand, was He born of the will of man. For then He would be like us, guilty and condemned, and therefore unable to deliver us.
Born He was by the will of God, and conceived by the Holy Spirit! Yea, He was the very Person of the Son of God, Who through the Holy Spirit was conceived in the womb and born of the virgin.
Born He was, not just anywhere in the world. But in the city of David. Which implies that He was, according to the flesh, out of David’s royal seed. Not of a virgin in China or Africa was He born, but of a virgin of the royal and elect line of David, as that line finds its culmination in Mary, the last of David’s house, whom our confessions call the Mother of God.
What a wonder of grace!
God manifested in the flesh!
The Saviour, which is Christ the Lord!
Don’t you see then, beloved reader, how this constitutes good tidings of great joy?
Understand well, the good news is not that the messenger from heaven speaks to the shepherds and to all people, of a possible Saviour—a Saviour Who is willing to save you. and is able to save you if you will only let Him. Such a Saviour would be no Saviour at all, Who must wait for you to act before He can save. Surely it is no good tidings of great joy at all that would inform us that God in Christ will save us if we only accept Him. The simple reason being, that there is not a shepherd, nor any of all the people that is able of himself to do this.
But here is indeed good tidings which afford us everlasting joy—that whereas we were utterly lost and undone in ourselves, God prepared and sent forth from His own bosom His Son, promised by Him from of old, and in the fulness of time conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary, a complete Saviour!
Here is the good news, that David’s royal Son is, indeed, the God of your salvation!
Who saves you and me unto the uttermost!
In this we rejoice now, according to the measure we have tasted His saving grace!
In this we shall joy everlastingly, when we shall appear in body and soul, without spot or wrinkle, before Him.
In the house of His covenant!