There is, obviously, a marked and striking difference between the works of God (particularly as the God of our salvation) as they were manifest in the old dispensation, and as they are revealed at the time of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. These works of God in the old dispensation are generally of a spectacular character. There is, first of all, the Scriptural account of the flood as recorded in Genesis 6-8. What a spectacular display of the saving love of God for His church and the wrath of God upon a wicked world that had become ripe for judgment, having filled its measure of iniquity, which, means that it had attained unto the greatest manifestation of sin whereunto it was capable. Forty days and forty nights the rain of God’s judgment had descended upon that wicked world, until the waters arose some fifteen cubits above the highest mountain. Then, we would call attention to the work of God which He performed upon the wicked land of Egypt. Ten devastating plagues were visited upon that godless nation, culminating in the death of the firstborn of man and beast. And Pharaoh knew that these plagues were no accidents, but visitations by Jehovah in His wrath upon his ungodly land directly through Moses. The king of Egypt could not possibly have any doubt in regards to the origin of these plagues. And these plagues are followed by Israel’s spectacular deliverance through the Red Sea, narrated for us in Exodus 14. Jehovah’s right arm brings deliverance unto His people. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow all that night, causing the sea, we read in verse 21, to go back, and He made the sea dry land and the waters were divided. Then, when the last Israelite had been led upon the opposite shore, with all their cattle, and the last of the Egyptians had followed them into the sea, the Lord caused the waters to return and Pharaoh and all his host were drowned. Finally, we would call attention to the Lord’s spectacular display upon Mount Sinai, recorded for us in Exodus 19. We read that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the voice of the trumpet exceedingly loud, and all the people that were in the camp trembled. And we also read in verse 18 that Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. No living creature among Israel, man or beast, was allowed to touch this mountain; contact with it would mean instant death. Indeed, what a spectacular display of the presence of the living God of Israel!
In connection with these Old Testament displays of Jehovah, the God of Israel, we would make the following brief observations. First of all, as far as the flood and Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea are concerned, two events occur: the deliverance and saving of the church of God and the destruction of the world. These two facts always occur simultaneously, in the old dispensation and also in the New Testament when Christ comes into our flesh and blood, dies upon the cross of Calvary, and returns presently upon the clouds of heaven. How true this is of the flood and Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea! The salvation of the church and the destruction of the world always go hand in hand. Secondly, these mighty events (the flood and at the Red Sea) speak loudly of Jehovah’s sovereignty. It is the Lord Who revealed to Noah that He would destroy the world with a flood. True, the apostle Peter speaks of Noah in II Peter 2:5 as a preacher of righteousness, implying not only that Noah preached in God’s Name of the coming of the flood, but also that this flood would be a divine visitation of His righteous judgment. But God revealed it to Noah; God visited the deluge upon the wicked world; and it is Jehovah Who reveals to Moses the feast of the passover and Israel’s deliverance by the Lord’s mighty arm; in fact, the plague of the slaying of the firstborn is withheld from wicked Egypt. Thirdly, need we call attention to the obvious truth that these events in the old dispensation are displays of the Lord’s mighty power? Fact is, according to Romans 9, God is the Potter and Pharaoh is but clay in His hand; in His might the Lord sends a deluge upon the wicked world, delivers Israel through the Red Sea, drowns a wicked and obstinate Pharaoh in the same sea, gives His people bread out of heaven and water out of a rock; and then displays His awesome power upon Mount Sinai. And, finally, these events speak loudly and clearly of God’s holiness and justice and righteousness. Noah, friend of God, to whom the Lord reveals the secrets of His heart, walking in faith, is saved with his family, and the wicked world, having filled its cup of iniquity, is destroyed by the same water that saved the church of God. Israel is delivered through the Red Sea, because of the blood of the lamb of the Passover, type and symbol of the Lamb of God and of Calvary; and the wicked and obstinate Pharaoh is drowned by the living God with all his wicked host. And Mount Sinai speaks of the dreadful majesty of the Lord, His awesome holiness and righteousness, to Whom no man of himself can approach. Our God is a consuming fire.
Indeed, all these events of the old dispensation are awesome displays of the living God. This is understandable. Types and symbols, being earthly, can be revealed. And when they are revealed as types and symbols of the alone living God, the result is the spectacular displays of the old dispensation. Such is the character of these events in the Old Testament.
If it be true, as it is, that the Lord’s revelation of Himself, particularly as the God of our salvation, was spectacular in the old dispensation, being the dispensation of the symbols and shadows which can be revealed, how different is the Lord’s revelation of Himself in connection with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ! Then, at the time of Jesus’ birth, nothing is spectacular—i.e., nothing is spectacular as far as what the human eye can see is concerned. Of course, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is surely awesomely spectacular. Is it not beyond all human comprehension that a virgin conceives, brings forth a son and remains a virgin? Are not all the events wonderful when Jesus is born, such as the various announcements: the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist by Gabriel to Zacharias in the temple, the aged priest who with his aged wife, Elizabeth, were beyond the age of bringing forth a child; the announcement by the same angel to a virgin, Mary, at Nazareth; and the subsequent announcement of Jesus’ birth to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock in the fields of Ephratah? Indeed, all these events are tremendous and awesome. But, nothing is spectacular as far as the human eye is concerned.
Everything appears to be routine. There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, or that the whole world should be registered for the purpose of taxation. In Palestine this meant that everyone would go to his own native city. There was nothing unusual about this. Augustus was the emperor of Rome, the world empire at that time. He had decreed that all the world over which he ruled, should be taxed to support his world empire. Hence, Mary and Joseph must go to the city of Bethlehem, the city of David, inasmuch as they were of the lineage of David. Of course, this was according to God’s decree—the Son of David must be born in the city of David. But, as far as appearances are concerned, everything appears normal and routine. And when Mary’s firstborn Son is born, He is born in a cattle stall and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. The little village of Bethlehem was crowded and the travelers from Nazareth had arrived too late to find lodging in the city. And there the Firstborn of Mary is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Nothing spectacular except that the Heir of all things is born in abject poverty! This is surely spectacular, but it cannot be seen with the human eye. Everything is so routine. That there was no room for them in the inn was certainly not because of any animosity toward them from the world. The world did not even know these weary travelers from Nazareth, and they surely did not know the identity of the Child that would presently be born. How spectacular the works of God may have been in the old dispensation, so completely different is the coming of our Lord into our flesh and blood! And when this Child grows up in the city of Nazareth, except for Scripture’s recording of His wonderful visit to the temple at Jerusalem when He was twelve years old, nothing is recorded of all those years in His city of Nazareth.
How must this be explained and understood?
First of all, why should the announcement of Jesus’ birth be made to the wicked? How can it be declared to the ungodly that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord”? Besides, why should this announcement be addressed in the city of Jerusalem, a city that would presently be replaced by its heavenly fulfillment, the heavenly Jerusalem? Besides, the wicked would never be able to receive this announcement of the Savior, spiritually and gladly.
Secondly, there is indeed nothing of man in this wondrous event in Bethlehem. How true is the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest.” All glory is to God alone. This Jesus is born of a virgin who remains a virgin. Here we have the Incarnation, Jesus, the Son of God, Immanuel, born in our flesh and blood. This is the wondrous fulfillment of the promise of God as declared by Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:14, that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a son, and His name shall be called Immanuel, God with us. There is nothing of man here because it is all of God.
Thirdly, there is nothing of the earth here because it is all heavenly, the birth of the King of the kingdom of heaven. From the earthly point of view, all we have here is the sign of the swaddling clothes and the manger. Shall we remove these swaddling clothes and the manger? Shall we clothe this baby in royal apparel? Shall we replace the manger with a crib in a beautiful and gorgeous palace? However, how out of harmony this would be with reality! Fact is, this Babe of Bethlehem is a heavenly King to Whom the ends of the earth have been given as an inheritance. “My kingdom,” He will presently declare to the Roman governor, “is not a kingdom of this world.” Presently they will even remove from Him the swaddling clothes and the manger. Presently they will call Him a rebel, an insurrectionist; they will inflict upon Him all that their devilish hearts can concoct, finally crucifying Him. But, then, in the way of the cross He will suffer and die for His own, pay all their guilt, merit for them everlasting life and glory, seal the condemnation of the world. He will establish, in righteousness, the Kingdom of Heaven, be raised from the dead, ascend to heavenly glory at the Father’s right hand, and then realize His kingdom through all things, establishing His Kingdom in everlasting glory and heavenly immortality. Indeed, there is nothing spectacular here from the earthly point of view, because this Jesus is the promised Messiah, David’s Son and Lord, God’s King in the heavenly sense of the word. “Glory to God in the highest,” for unto you, unto God’s people throughout the ages is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.