Gospel Birth Announcements
Other than the Holy Spirit, they are the most pivotal players in the drama that we know as the Christmas story; they are the most pivotal players in the accounts God gave us about the birth of Jesus our Lord.
Matthew the Evangelist tells us that it was one of them who brought the announcement of the upcoming birth to Joseph. Luke the Evangelist tells us that it was one of them who brought the announcement of the upcoming birth to Mary. And Luke again tells us that it was a host of them who brought the birth announcement to shepherds.
I’m referring, of course, to angels. Their role in the Christmas drama has been practically immortalized by our hymn writers. Think of the hymns we’ll be singing at this time of year:
- “Angels from the Realms of Glory”
- “It Came upon a Midnight Clear”
- “Angels We Have Heard on High”
- “The First Noel”
- “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
- “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
To hear the hymn writers tell it, the angels had a lot to say about Christmas, and, biblically speaking, those hymn writers are right. You may not have realized it, but it is principally from angels—yes, angels—that we learn the significance of Jesus’ birth. But why should we care about what these beings say about Jesus’ birth? What is it about them that makes them reliable sources to listen to? Very simply, it was they who came from the very presence of God in heaven and, with birth announcements patterned after those of the Caesars, it was they who declared to us on earth all that is important for us to know about Christmas, about Jesus’ birth.
So ask yourself: have I learned and do I remember what these heavenly messengers have told me about Jesus and His birth? And, having learned and remembered what those birth announcements say, do I share their joy at the birth of Jesus?
What is it that the Gospel birth announcements tell us about “Christmas according to the Angels”? The Evangelists record four key ideas for us that we want to explore in this three-part series.
Good News of Great Joy
First, let us focus on the fact that the birth announcements of the angels bring “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10; all citations are ESV unless otherwise stated). But who needs “good news of great joy”? Why, those who know themselves to be lowly and humbled by sin, suffering, and death—they need good news of great joy. Those who are casualties of the world, the flesh, and the devil—they need good news of great joy. Do you know anyone like that? Of course, you do.
So did the Evangelist Matthew. Of all places, he found a number of them in the genealogy of Jesus Himself. For example, the Evangelist reminds us that among Jesus’ ancestors (by adoption, of course) was Judah. You remember him: he was the one who led his brothers to sell Joseph their brother into slavery and was otherwise known in Scripture as conniving and promiscuous. There was also a woman named Tamar in Jesus’ line. She was the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah, who, because of Judah’s negligence, took the desperate measure of posing as a prostitute to become the mother of two sons by Judah, all to save from extinction the line from which the Messiah was to come.
Matthew also found a woman named Rahab in Jesus’ genealogy. Yes, that Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who believed in the God of Abraham and was saved by Joshua and his spies from the destruction of Jericho. Even Ruth, the Moabite widow from the shamed line of incestuous Lot, was in Jesus’ lineage. And so was King David, who became the father of Solomon by committing adultery and being an accomplice to murder and who late in life presided over the collapse of his kingdom and the disintegration of his family. Toward the end of Jesus’ genealogy Matthew highlights even Jeconiah and his brothers. You say you don’t remember them. Little wonder: they endured the infamy of being the last royal family of Judah before the exile, taken as prisoners by Nebuchadnezzar their captor.
You see, even as the Evangelist reviewed Jesus’ genealogy, he saw many who needed to hear good news of great joy. Jesus’ (adopted) ancestors were swindlers and usurpers, harlots, daughters of incest, and adulterers, exiles and prisoners: casualties of sin and death, one and all. Even in Jesus’ genealogy there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But that is just the point of the angels’ birth announcements. It is to sinners such as these that the angels bring good news of great joy.
It has been well said that good news is good news only to those who know they’re in a bad way. So again I ask, do you know anyone who needs good news? You and I should know at least one person like that, at least one person whom sin, suffering, and death have made lowly and humbled: that person goes by the name “Me,” “Myself,” or “I.”
The angels’ birth announcements brought good news of great joy to those who know themselves to be sons and daughters of sin and death. If we are to join the angels in rejoicing over the birth of Jesus, we must have ears to hear what the Spirit said through them.
To All the People
In our first installment in this series, we learned that the Gospel birth announcements of the angels brought “good news of great joy” to those humbled by sin, suffering, and death. In this our second installment, we focus on two more truths: 1) the birth announcements of the angels were sent to “all the people” (Luke 2:10) and 2) those birth announcements spoke of Jesus’ person and work. Let’s look more closely at each of these points.
When we reflect on the angels sending birth announcements to “all the people,” we need to appreciate that the angels were not saying here that the God of the Bible is a universalist. No, God is not a universalist, either in judgment or in salvation. Here our focus is on God’s saving work and will. The God of the Bible does not save or intend to save every sinner without exception. He saves only those sinners who repent and believe. What the birth announcements of the angels are saying, then, is that the God of the Bible shows no partiality in saving sinners.
In the Bible, God has revealed Himself as impartial to sinners regardless of the social categories into which we may distinguish them. He saves all sorts of people. He saves those who are not in authority as well as those who are in authority. He saves females as well as males, the poor as well as the rich, the powerless as well as the powerful. He saves non-Jews as well as Jews, Turks as well as Iraqis, Palestinians as well as Israelis. He saves Native American Indians as well as South American mountain Indians, Africans as well as Europeans.
In other words, the angels tell us that, when it comes to saving sinners, the God of the Bible is partial to no nationality, language, status, gender, or other distinction made among mankind. None of these distinctions counts against us sinners. None of them excludes us from God’s saving work and will.
How do you respond to God’s impartiality? The OT prophet Jonah was very displeased with the prospect that God’s impartiality could include even those notorious evildoers in Assyria who repented. Jonah even went so far as to say to God, who had just relented from judging the Assyrians who repented, “O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). Would you rather die than see God’s saving work and will reach even to exceedingly wicked evildoers who repent in our day? If that’s your attitude, don’t forget what happened to Jonah. Better yet, remember that the Gospel birth announcements of the angels were sent to “all the people.”
Some of us count “all the people” according to carnal standards, not according to spiritual standards. The angels who brought the birth announcements of Christmas teach us how to count. They tell that the “good news of great joy” comes to people in bondage to their sins, regardless of any other social category into which we may distinguish them.
Titles Used to Describe Jesus
The birth announcements of the angels that came to “all the people” also spoke of Jesus’ person and work. Notice the titles the angels used to describe Jesus.
He is “Savior” (Luke 2:11). In fact, because He will save His people from the bondage of their sins, the angels from heaven directed Joseph and Mary, his earthly parents, to name the Christ child “Jesus” (Matt 1:21). His very name, a Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua,” signifies the truth that “Yahweh (Jehovah) saves.” In Jesus, then, there is a “Joshua” who brings a deliverance greater than that of Moses, of Joshua, and of David. They had delivered the nation from their Gentile enemies, but Jesus will deliver His people from their sins, and in so doing, He will show Himself to be God Himself, for it is God alone who redeems His people from their sins (Ps 130:8).
The Child in the manger is not only “Savior”; He is also “Christ” (Luke 2:11), the Anointed One of God. Jesus is the final Prophet anointed to lead God’s people to spiritual liberty, the greater Priest anointed to offer that one sacrifice of Himself to take away the sins of the world, the true King anointed to conquer sin and death and thereby make His nation secure and pure for fellowship with God.
The Child is also “the Lord” (Luke 2.11). Indeed, He is “God with us” (Matt 1.23). He is God, absolute Sovereign over all, from Whom, to Whom, and through Whom are all things. He is the Son called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” whose government and peace will never end as He reigns on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:6). As Lord of all, this Jesus will lift up the lowly and humbled by faith, even as He will bring down the proud and mighty in their sins.
What is the bottom line here? When the angels speak of Jesus’ person and work, they tell us that there is hope for those who live in the land of the darkness of sin, in the land of the shadow of death. They tell us that there is hope because someone greater than Abraham is here, someone greater than Moses and Joshua is here, someone greater than David and Solomon is here. Jesus exceeds them all in His person and His work.
What “good news of great joy” to “all the people” this is!
Glory to God and Peace for Man
Finally, we contemplate the truth that the birth announcements of the angels celebrated “glory to God” and “peace for man.”
Consider first that the angels celebrated “glory to God” (Luke 2:14) in their birth announcements for Jesus. In those words, what did the angels tell us but that in Jesus the full weight of “the Godness of God,” the perfections and excellencies of God, has been revealed? In Jesus, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). In other words, in Jesus, the “beauty of the LORD” (Ps 27:4) has become incarnate.
Ponder God’s beauty for a moment. The word beauty is not a word we often use about the Lord, but we should use it more. The Hebrew word in Ps 27:4 carries the idea of the utter delightfulness of God, the profound desirability of God. The point is that God is the sum of all desirable qualities. In God alone we find all moral and spiritual perfections. In Him these excellencies are found in impeccable proportion and harmony—all are found in delicate balance, stunning brilliance, and full integrity. As Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb 1:3), He is Himself altogether excellent, exquisitely splendid, supremely lovely, and radiantly wonderful. With the angelic host, let us also praise God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest” indeed (Luke 2:14)!
The angels who celebrated “glory to God” also celebrated “peace for man.” In Jesus full reconciliation with God has been made available to those on whom His pleasure rests. Does God’s pleasure rest on you? It rests on all who receive and rest upon Jesus alone for salvation as He is presented to us in the Gospel, even by the angels. With the Apostles, the angels at Christ’s birth could have proclaimed to us who have repented and believed the gospel, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:33-34).
Is your conscience restless and unsure before God? Again with the Apostles, the angels of Christmas could have declared to us,
Therefore, since [you] have been justified by faith, [you] have peace with God through [your] Lord Jesus Christ. Through him [you] have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which [you] stand” (Rom 5:1-2). Therefore, “come boldly to the throne of grace, that [you] may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16, NKJV).
By faith look full in the face of Jesus, our Savior and God. In Him, you will find all moral excellencies in impeccable proportion and delicate balance, all spiritual perfections in stunning brilliance and full integrity. On the authority of God’s Word, I assure you will find Christ the Prince of Peace, with the Father and the Spirit, altogether excellent, exquisitely splendid, supremely lovely, and radiantly wonderful.
The Gospel birth announcements tell us about “Christmas according to the Angels.” In those announcements we find “good news of great joy” to “all the people” as they speak to us of Jesus’ person and work and as they celebrate glory to God and peace for man.
The Joy of the Angels
To bring this to a close, reflect with me for a moment on the joy of the angels. There’s more to their joy than our everyday garden-variety joy. You see, their joy is not in their own salvation, for angels will never know the joy of their own salvation. The joy they know is a joy in our salvation, a joy that has been welling up for literally millennia, since the beginning of time, way back to Genesis.
Yes, the angels who sang during creation week (Job 38:4-7)—the cherubim, the seraphim, the archangels, and all the other ranks of angels—they were all present at the birth of our first father Adam. They were also there at the fall of Adam. In fact, it was one of their very own, a cherub named Lucifer, who rebelled against God, took the form of a serpent, and tempted Adam into sin, bringing judgment on the whole human race. They were also there as God banished sinful Adam, Eve, and the serpent from the garden. Those angels—the ones who remained obedient—took their stations as guardians of the way to the tree of life, and they watched as God drove the man, his wife, and the serpent out of the garden.
They were there in the tabernacle and the temple, their likenesses woven into the furnishings, emblematically guarding the holy of holies against the defilement of sinners. There they stayed, looking, watching, longing to see the triumph of God’s grace come to pass in the birth of that Savior who would deliver His people from sin and death.
They were there in Bethlehem, speaking to Joseph, to Mary, to shepherds. To this day, they speak to us as the Holy Spirit speaks through their words in Scripture. And still they are watching to see the triumph of God’s grace in us who will receive and rest in Jesus alone for salvation.
This Christmas, be sure that you have learned and remember what the angels, messengers from heaven that they are, have told us sinners about Jesus and His birth. This Christmas, be sure to share the joy of the angels, but share it in the knowledge that by grace through faith Jesus has saved you from the bondage of your sins.