THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
A SERMON ON
LUKE ii. 15.
Let us now go, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.
The wise man observes, that "the eye is not satisfied with seeing." The truth of this observation is confirmed by the experience of all ages; it admits only of one exception—There is one object, and only one which can satisfy the eye of the mind, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a proof of this in good old Simeon, mentioned in the 29th and 30th verses of this chapter. He had long waited for Christ, "the consolation of Israel," and he lived to see the infant Saviour brought into the temple; when, clasping the holy child in his feeble arms, "he blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Some of the Turks, it is said, put out their eyes, as soon as they have seen Mahomet's tomb, because they would not defile them again by regarding any common object. Does superstition teach them so to admire the grave of a wicked impostor:—O let us, as Christians, hasten to behold a sight of real glory; let us "turn away our eyes from beholding vanities;" let us fix them upon the adorable Jesus; let us say, with the admiring shepherds in our text, when just informed of our Saviour's birth, "Let us now go, even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass."
It was to shepherds: poor, honest, industrious men that the good news was first announced:—an encouraging circumstance for the poor of this world: and encouragement for "such to be diligent in business," for, it was when the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, that these glad tidings were brought them. An angel delivered the message; and a multitude of angels joined in chorus — Glory to God in the highest — and on earth peace — good will towards men. Here humility and glory were joined in their extremes. He empties himself of his heavenly glory; he takes upon him human nature; his mother is a poor woman; a common inn is the place of his birth; he is born in a stable; he is laid in a manger. O deep humiliation of the Son of God, the Creator of the world! And yet behold the glory! A new star directs the wise men of the east to the honoured spot; and a multitude of ministering spirits hymn his birth. Never was the birth of any earthly prince so highly honoured.
God gives us information to put us upon action. When the shepherds were informed of what had happened, and where it happened, it put them upon action. Is the Saviour born in the city of David? Let us go then, said they, and see him. The wise men made the same improvement of their information. They saw his star in a distant country, and they followed its direction till they came to Bethlehem.
Let us learn another piece of instruction from them: "Let us go now," said they. What, at midnight! Cool reason would have said, It is an unseasonable hour, and Covetousness would have said, What must become of our flocks? But these plain men, who had left their beds to attend their flocks, now leave their flocks to inquire after their Saviour. Let religion then be our first business; it is "the one thing needful:" and what we do in it, let us do it quickly; the sooner the better, without a moment's delay.
We may learn another thing from their example: "Let us go," said they: they excited one another to this good work. Let the advantages of society be brought into religion. How many, especially in holiday seasons, will say one to another, "Let us go to such an amusement, such a public house, such a party of pleasure;" let us rather say "Let us go up to the house of the Lord, and he will teach us of his ways." Let us go to Bethlehem and see Jesus.
The shepherds did as they proposed; "They came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." They believed before they came; but now their faith is confirmed by sight. They were gratified and edified by the view; and "they returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard, and seen."
Let us, then, who are here present, imitate these happy and simple hearted men. Let us go to Bethlehem: the name signifies The house of Bread: there, in the contemplation of Jesus, may we find bread for our souls. To excite your serious attention to this divine object, let me inform you what you may expect to see:—
I. Deity Displayed,
II. Man Redeemed,
III. and Satan Ruined.
I. Let us go to Bethlehem, and see Deity displayed. The first promise that God made to guilty man was, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." Jesus Christ, as to the flesh, is the seed of the woman; but he is also infinitely more. St. Paul says, "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." Gal. iv. 4. It was necessary to our redemption, that the Saviour of men should be a man; for the same nature that sinned must bear the punishment of sin. But, had Christ been produced in the ordinary way of human generation, he must have been a partaker of a sinful nature: this was prevented by the miraculous way of his conception, by the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus, that holy thing which was born of the blessed Virgin, was to be called The Son of God, "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners," fit to become "sin for us, because he knew no sin."
In what manner the human nature was united to the divine we cannot tell. It is enough for us that it was so united. The testimony of scripture is most abundant and satisfactory on this head. Let the following texts suffice. His name shall be called Immanuel, which signifies, God with us. Matt. i. 23. In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. John i. 1 and 14. St. Paul assures us (1 Tim. iii. 15, 16), that this is the pillar and ground of the truth; and, without controversy, the great mystery of godliness —namely, that God was manifest in the flesh.
O glorious and pleasing truth, God is manifest in the flesh! Surely it is highly desirable for feeble mortals to know their Maker; and, because we could not ascend to him, lo, he descends to us! Deplorable darkness had long covered the earth, and the wisest of men bowed down "to an unknown God;" but, glory be to his name, "the only begotten Son who was in the bosom of the Father he hath declared him." John i. 18. This is he who is "the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person"—"the image of the invisible God." Heb. i. 3. This is he "who, being in the form of God, and who thought it no robbery to be equal with God," condescends to become a man, a poor man, a servant; that we through his poverty might become eternally rich. By his heavenly doctrine; by his astonishing miracles; in his lovely disposition, and especially in his divine person, God was manifested to man. Shew us the Father (said one of his disciples to him) and it sufficeth us. Philip wanted some visible representation of God, such as was some times granted to the prophets. Jesus, in a way of gentle rebuke, replied—Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? and then added these remarkable words, fully proving that God was manifested in the flesh—He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father. John, xi v. 8, 9. "Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?—henceforth ye have known him and seen him," ver 7, 10. "I and my Father are one." Jesus Christ, then, is God manifested in the flesh. Let us go to Bethlehem, and see this great sight: angels desire to look at it. Glorious mystery! We cannot fully comprehend it. Men may speak and write of it; but it is not so proper to describe it, as to say that it cannot be described. We may speak of it; but the most we can say about it is, that it is unspeakable: And the most we know is, that "it passeth knowledge!" Suffice it, that we believe and adore. Let but "the light shine into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ," and it is enough: we will dwell at Bethlehem all our days, until he shall remove us to Bethel above, where we hope no longer to see "through a glass darkly, but face to face."
II. Let us go to Bethlehem and behold Man redeemed.
The redemption of fallen, guilty, helpless man, was the grand design of the Saviour's birth. God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law. He was named Jesus, because he came to "save his people from their sins." There is something delightful in the name Saviour. Cicero, the Roman orator, said, that when travelling in Greece, he saw a pillar inscribed with this word—Saviour. He admired the fullness of the name, but he knew not its Christian meaning. How much more may the redeemed sinner admire it?—
" 'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace."
It was in this character that the saints of old long expected his appearance. "To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." About the time of his coming, the godly people in Jerusalem were "looking for redemption," and, with Simeon, "waiting for the consolation of Israel." Our Lord himself declares this to be the chief design of his coming —"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life." John iii. 16. Observe, it was to save sinners from perishing; for perish we must, without an interest in him. Do we know this? Why do we call him a Saviour, if we see not our need of deliverance? and from what? —from sin and from hell. If we were not saved from sin here, we shall not be saved from hell hereafter.
"God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and (by making him a sacrifice) for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Rom. viii. 3. Mark how the Son of God appeared—"in the likeness of sinful flesh;" his nature was perfectly pure, but it had the likeness of ours, which is wholly corrupt. "He knew no sin;" none in nature, none in practice. He had "a clean heart, and pure hands." He could challenge his bitterest enemies to convince him of sin; yea, he defied Satan himself, the great accuser:—"The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." Thus he was a pure and spotless lamb, fit to become a sacrifice for sin. Under the law, every victim must be perfect, and without blemish. It was necessary the Lamb of God should be so; for “he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin." 1 John iii. 5.
Being thus pure and holy, the sins of the whole church were laid upon him. "He was made sin for us;" "he suffered for our sins;" "the Lord laid upon him our iniquities;" "he bore our sins in his own body on the tree." And thus God condemned sin in the flesh: he condemned our sin in the flesh of Christ; he showed his extreme hatred of it; he passed sentence of death upon it; and executed that sentence in the dreadful death of our Lord. And thus the condemning of sin in Christ our surety, prevents the condemning of it in our persons. And this is the ground of that excellent privilege mentioned Rom. viii. 1:—"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." But this is not all: the end and design of this is, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. Thus the perfect righteousness demanded by the moral law is fulfilled in us. Not in us personally, but by our surety in our nature, and in our stead; and so might be deemed, in legal estimation, to be fulfilled for, and by, all those of us who truly believe, and who prove the sincerity of our faith by a holy walk.
O the grace and love of the blessed Jesus! He the most high God, blessed for evermore, consented to become man. He who was life, and gave life to all, became a mortal man. He was born to die. Because we were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same. O love, beyond example or degree!
" O for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break;
And all harmonious human tongues,
The Saviour's praises speak."
Thus Jesus "delivered us from the wrath to come." Our sin deserved wrath, the wrath that is to come; for God bears with sinners now, and "endures, with much long-suffering, the vessels of wrath which are fit for destruction." But God is reconciled to every believer in Jesus. "He was angry, but his anger is turned away." Those who believe "have passed from death unto life;” those who are "redeemed from the curse of the law, receive the adoption of sons." They are also redeemed from the power and dominion of sin; it shall not reign in their mortal bodies. They are redeemed to God: body, soul, spirit, substance, talents, all they have, and all they are, belong to the Lord: and when they have served him and their generation, during his appointed time, he will take them to himself, and they shall know the full meaning of that comprehensive phrase—Eternal Life. Such are the inestimable blessings which Jesus, the Redeemer of man, came to procure. But let us take another turn to Bethlehem, and see,
III. Satan Ruined.
It was Satan, the head of fallen spirits, who, assuming the form of a cunning serpent, seduced our first parents in the garden. Thus were the flood-gates of sin opened in our world. Thus Satan usurped a sovereign authority over the souls of men; insomuch that, in sacred writ, he is distinguished by the names of "the prince of this world;" yea "the god of this world." He has set up an opposite throne to that of God; he rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience, who are led captive by him at his will. Millions of souls have readily submitted to his chains, and have lived and died in love with their bondage. Cruel tyrant! who shall deliver us from thy destructive power.
It was when our fallen parents stood trembling before their Judge, expecting every moment to taste the threatened death; it was then that a dawn of mercy glimmered in the first gospel promise. Gen. iii. 14, 15. The Lord, turning to the serpent who seduced them, utters this curse—"Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life; and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." The devil is here condemned under the name of the serpent, because he had assumed that creature in order to deceive man. He is cursed; for "everlasting fire is prepared for him and his angels." His power was to be contracted; he was to creep, not fly: his power should be restrained to the dust—that is, to earthly-minded men, or to the bodies of the saints. His head was to be bruised; that is, his power was to be finally destroyed by Jesus Christ; for so St. John expounds it—"The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil." The serpent's poison, craft, and life, are in his head: if this be bruised he is destroyed. Jesus Christ, in his temptation, baffled the tempter in all his cunning assaults. He cast out devils from the bodies of men: he enabled his disciples to do the same, and empowered them "to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy;" and he has promised also to his people, that "he will bruise Satan under their feet shortly."
God also declared there should be "constant enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman," which includes the sanctification of all the elect. Unconverted men are at peace with the devil; but, when grace comes, war commences, and God will make the believer more than a conqueror.
But all this is in consequence of the birth of Jesus. He is most eminently "the seed of the woman." "The Son of God, made of a woman." By the merit of his death, and by the grace of his Spirit, he destroys the power of the old serpent. Satan was, indeed, allowed "to bruise his heel:" and he did so, by his agents, when he prevailed to procure the crucifixion of our Lord; but it was then, even then, that "he bruised Satan's head," and laid the foundation of his everlasting destruction. Never before did fallen spirits discover so much opposition to Christ. They were aware probably of Christ's design to overturn their empire; therefore they mustered all their forces, employed all their skill; and, as all was at stake, made one strong effort in a kind of decisive engagement. They armed every proper instrument, and set every engine at work —temptations, persecutions, violence, slander, treachery, and the like. Our Lord, whom they opposed, made no formidable appearance; he was despised of men, a worm, and no man. But this made the event more glorious. It was a spectacle worth the admiration of the universe, to see the despised Galilean turn all the artillery of hell back upon itself: to see one in the likeness of men, wresting the keys of hell and death out of the hands of the devil; to see him entangle the powers of darkness in their own net, and making them ruin their own designs with their own stratagems. They made one disciple betray him and another deny him; they made the Jews accuse him, and the Romans crucify him. But these were the very means of spoiling and triumphing over themselves. Col. ii. 15. The cruelties of devils and their instruments was made subservient to the designs of infinite mercy, and the sins of men overruled for "making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness."
Thus was "the prince of this world judged." Christ, by his death, "hath destroyed him that had the power of death," and rendered this evident, by the miracles that attended his gospel, and the power of his grace in the experience of all believers. All the effects of Satan's usurpation shall finally be abolished. Christ shall reign universally through the earth. Satan shall be bound for a thousand years; and, though loosed for a short season, shall be utterly cast out, and confined to hell. The grave shall resign all its dead, and Jehovah Jesus shall reign for ever—"The Lord God omnipotent." Glory, Glory, Glory be to him!
Having been to Bethlehem, to see this thing which is come to pass, let us now, like the shepherds, "return, glorifying God for all things we have heard and seen." We have learned that in the incarnation of the Son of God we may see Deity displayed—Man redeemed, and Satan ruined. How vast and glorious are these designs of a Saviour's birth? The angels knew this when they sang—"Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men." But, are these purposes of his appearance answered as to us? Is God, in all his glorious perfections, manifested in the person of Jesus? Does this attract our notice, and engage our souls to adore, and love, and praise him, "magnifying the God of Israel?" "The Lord hath visited and redeemed his people." Are we among his redeemed? Are we actually redeemed from the guilt and power of our own sins, and from the follies and vanities of this world? The throne of Satan is shaken; but is his power in us abolished? Are we "delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son?"
This is the way in which we are to consider this grand event; and, if the ends of Christ's birth be answered in our own experience, we have abundant cause for joy. But then it will not be the vain , frothy, carnal joy of the world. The manner in which some pretend to celebrate the birth of Christ, at the season called Christmas, is a disgrace to a Christian nation. They contradict, as much as possible, the design of his coming. He came "to destroy the works of the devil;" they try to keep them up. What have cards, dancing, songs, gluttony and drunkenness, to do with the birth of Jesus? He came to save his people from their sins, not in them. O let young people guard against the temptation of such a season; for there is more sin committed at Christmas in a few days, than in many weeks at other times; and the sin is the more aggravated, as it passes under the notion of religious joy. But it is an affront to a holy God, a reproach to the Christian name, and ruinous to the souls of men.
Let us rather go to Bethlehem: Let us, like Mary, "ponder these things in our hearts." No sooner did the shepherds hear of him, than they ran to inquire after him. Let us also say, "We would see Jesus." And where shall we seek him but in his house, in his word; and if we seek him earnestly, we shall find that the church of God is still a Bethlehem, "a house of bread." God will feed our souls with "the bread which came down from heaven, and which endureth to eternal life."
We may also see and serve him, in his poor members. "The poor we have always with us." As Christ was found in his stable, so we may find some of his in a cottage, in a garret, forsaken and destitute. Let us go and visit poor families, sick persons, fatherless children, in honour of him who was "wrapt in swaddling clothes, and lay in a manger;" he will accept the kindness, and say, "In as much as ye did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me."