“What Child Is This?”
(Hebrews 1:1-9 – Christmas Day – December 25, 2017)
Hebrews 1:1-9 – God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”? But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.” But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
Dear Redeemed in the name of our newborn Savior, Jesus Christ:
The fact that a baby was born that night, long ago in Bethlehem, was nothing out of the ordinary. It is something we humans all have in common; each one of us, since Adam and Eve, came into the world as a newborn baby. When this particular baby was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, out back in an animal stall, perhaps this was a bit different. Most of us entered the world in much cleaner and finer settings. But then again, many babies have been born in very humble and less than desirable conditions, too, when their parents could not provide a better place to give birth. Every day around the world, thousands of babies are born; and every day thousands of birthdays are celebrated. What makes this Baby any different?
What sets apart His birth, that first Christmas long ago, is that He was no ordinary Child. The heavenly messenger made it clear that holy night, announcing to the shepherds tending sheep: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then the very gates of heaven burst open and countless angels celebrating His birth filled the skies, proclaiming: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-11, 14).
What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
He is no ordinary Child. His birth, as the central event of human history, has far-reaching and vital meaning for all people – from Adam and Eve, to the last child to be born of their flesh. “What Child is this?” Our text answers the question, telling us that: 1) He is the majestic Son of God, 2) He is our only Savior from sin, and 3) He is our hope of heavenly glory.
1) He is the majestic Son of God
Our text begins with these words: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”
What is the central message of the Bible? What is the repeating refrain that God speaks to sinners in His Word? It is the good tidings of His Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This message was clear from the beginning, when God found our first parents cowering in the shadows of their sin and guilt, fearful that they must now perish. But at that time, God spoke His message of love and forgiveness – with a birth announcement! He would send the Savior for all mankind, born in the flesh as the Seed of the woman.
And God never stopped speaking His good tidings of love and forgiveness in the name of this Son. At various times and in various ways, God spoke through His prophets, reassuring His people that He was still carrying through in His promise. It was never a new message about how sinners are saved; but it was ever clearer in detail about the coming Savior – describing His nature and the work He must do. He would be born of the Seed of Abraham. He would be born of the tribe of Judah. He would be born as a Son of David. Yet no ordinary Child, He would be born the Son of God, born of a virgin. He would be called Immanuel, “God with us.” All the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices pointed to His coming as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From the beginning, at each stage of history, God continued to speak His Gospel, revealing to sinners all that was needed to give them faith in this coming Savior.
But He “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” God spoke again, and this time: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and He was laid in a manger. As we behold the Child at Christmas, God is speaking good tidings of great joy to all: “Behold your Savior!”
At the birth of a child, loving parents may beam with pride and joy, eager to tell others the characteristics of their newborn – looks, size, weight, and so on. In our text, God the Father beams with pride and speaks of His Son, “whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…”
As the only begotten Son of God, Christ shares all the divine characteristics of His Father. From eternity, He has dwelt with His Father in all majesty and power. Even in taking to Himself our human flesh, it remains true: “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). When you look upon the tender face of the Child in the manger, you see the very face of God: “being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” You could not see it just by looking at the cooing Baby in the manger; but He is the very one who spoke in the beginning and created all things in the universe, by the power of His Word. This nursing infant, who depended on His mother for sustenance, is the very one who continues to sustain all things by the power His Word. Therefore according to His divine nature, He had no need to be appointed heir of all things; all things are His from all eternity! Yet our text tells us that also, according to His human nature, He rules over all things as the majestic Son of God.
What Child is this?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
2)He is our only Savior from sin
Now, as we behold the majestic Son of God, lying in a manger that first Christmas, the next question immediately presses for our attention:
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Why did our Creator and Life-Giver humble Himself to be born in such a poor and lowly way? It is because He is our only Savior from sin. Far worse than the filth of animal dung that surrounded the Son of God at His birth in that lowly stall – far more offensive to the holy God – is the sin of humanity He came to take upon Himself. Our text states the whole reason for His coming into our flesh, speaking of “when He had by Himself purged our sins.”
The Old Testament rites of purification for sin required the blood of animals. In times past, God spoke His Law in no uncertain terms: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). On the Day of Atonement, for example, the high priest would kill a goat as a sin offering, and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat in the most holy place before God. Thus atonement was made for the uncleanness of sinners. Then the priest would lay his hands on the head of a live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the people; and that goat would be sent into the wilderness, never to return (Leviticus 16). Yet, all the blood of beasts could not in themselves purge anyone from sin. As Hebrews 10:1 tells us, all those sacrifices of times past, year after year, were unable to make those who approach God perfect.
But now, God has spoken to us by His Son. He has come into our flesh for this purpose: because His blood alone is worthy to purge us of all our sin and uncleanness before God. He has come to us children of Adam and Eve, cowering in the dark shadows of our sin and guilt, fearful that we must perish under His wrath. But in His Son, God has spoken to us His Gospel:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be born for me, for you.
God’s Son did not come to earth to teach us how to earn God’s goodwill. He did not come to give us a second chance to learn to love better and work our way into God’s favor. Not all our best works before God, not all our greatest sacrifices, could ever purify us of our sin. But God sent His Son into our flesh to take on Himself all the filth of our sin. As our great High priest, Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the once for all sacrifice that cleanses away all our sin.
And “when He had by Himself purged our sins,” our text tells us that He “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The Child born at Christmas – no ordinary Baby! – would truly die for us; yet He would truly rise in triumph for us. No wonder, on the night of our dear Savior’s birth, God sent forth His angels to declare peace on earth and goodwill to men, in the good tidings of His forgiveness and salvation.
3) He is our hope of heavenly glory
Now that He has redeemed us through His flesh, as our God and as our Brother, Jesus lives and reigns at the right hand of His Father. He reigns with all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore in these last days, God continues to speak to us by His exalted Son, declaring that He is our hope of heavenly glory.
Our text now speaks of Jesus’ glory by comparing Him to angels. It says He has “become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Truly the angels are glorious creatures. It says He “makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.” Through times past, we hear of angels serving at God’s Word – now bringing fiery judgment on unbelievers, now ministering with glad tidings to His people. The angels were created to serve God with power we cannot imagine. But here God the Father praises His Son, not as a finite creature; but as the eternal God of infinite power and majesty, saying: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom.” Therefore, when God brought His eternal firstborn into the world, He said: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” And so, on that holy night, the angels filled the skies worshiping Him, singing: “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14)
But all this is to underscore God’s good tidings of great joy to us. Because His Son has come in our flesh to win our salvation, and because He now reigns on high, He will also raise us up to share in His heavenly glory. As the firstborn Son, Jesus gives us the inheritance of His Father’s Kingdom. It says: “God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” Who are Jesus’ companions? It is you and me. It is all who, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, believe the Word God has spoken to us in His Son. It is all who, like the shepherds, come in faith to see the Baby lying in a manger, and worship Him as our Savior.
What Child is this? He is no ordinary Child! He is the majestic Son of God, He is our only Savior from sin, and He is our hope of heavenly glory.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.