What Child Is This?Erwin W. Lutzer | December 10, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
Many people say many different things about the Child in the manger. In order to know who He truly is, we must view His whole life and ministry. In Revelation, Jesus Himself states His character as God, Man, and King.
As we enjoy Christmas, let’s not forget that this Child is extraordinary. The God of the universe came in flesh, and divided the world.
Who Is He in Yonder Stall? is actually one of my favorite Christmas carols. But there’s another that is also a favorite that we are acquainted with that we sang – What Child is This? And that’s the agenda for the next few moments – to answer that question at this time of year when Christmas is being celebrated. What Child is This?
But before we look at the text of Scripture, come with me to the corner of State and Madison here in Chicago, and let’s interview some people and ask them, “What child is this?” Well, we’d get a variety of answers but popular culture would say He’s a baby in a manger, and a nice man, and as long as He keeps his distance and doesn’t intervene in my life, He’s fine there. Keep Him there.”
If we met a member of the Islamic faith, he would tell us that Jesus is a wonderful prophet, but He escaped the crucifixion, was taken directly to heaven, and therefore was never raised from the dead. If you talk to a sociologist, he might say that Jesus taught us about relationships. He told us and taught us how to relate one to another. And if you talk to a merchant, he might tell you, “I don’t care who He is, as long as He makes money. As long as our revenue is 5% above last year, that’s really all that matters.”
So what child is this in an age in which Christmas is sanitized? People today want a non-offensive Jesus, a non-intrusive Jesus, and therefore they receive a non-effective Jesus. They want a Jesus that is like a book. You take it off the shelf. You read it, but when you are no longer interested you put it back on the shelf and you know that it will have no authority over you, and it will not affect you in any way because you remain in charge.
Well, how are we going to find out an answer to this question, “What child is this?” Do we do it by staring at the manger? I don’t think so. Just imagine that somebody wanted to find out who Abraham Lincoln was. Do we go and pass around baby pictures and go to the log cabin where he was born and talk about his mother and his father, and the sentimentality of family and marriage? No. All of that maybe is important, but you don’t find out who Abraham Lincoln is by doing it that way. What you do is you look at his career. You look at his character. You look at what he accomplished. You look at who he is, and who he was long after his birth. That’s the way we find out who Abraham Lincoln really is.
In the very same way, when we ask the question, “What child is this?” we simply can’t do it by looking at a Christmas scene, by looking at the virgin and by looking at Joseph and the baby. It’s wonderful to do but that’s not how we find out an answer to the question that is before us. What we need to do is to go into a time machine and look at Jesus in the future. And in order to do that today we’re going to turn to the very last chapter of the Bible – Revelation 22 – because what we will find in Revelation 22 are three metaphors that describe who Jesus is. And these metaphors are actually given by Jesus Himself.
All of us know the importance of last words, so these are the last words of Jesus on the pages of the New Testament - Revelation 22 (last book – last chapter)! Notice before we get to the three metaphors that Jesus says three times here, “I’m coming quickly.” He says in verse 7, “I am coming soon;” in verse 12, “Behold I am coming soon;” and once again in verse 20, “Surely, I am coming soon.”
You say, “Well, He hasn’t come yet.” Yes, but soon to God is quite different than it is to us. And it may also be emphasizing not so much the time frame as the fact that when He comes, He comes quickly, and people are going to be caught unprepared for His coming.
Now, what are the three metaphors here that help us understand the question that is before us? First of all, the alphabetical figure or metaphor! Verse 12: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
The alphabet figure or metaphor!
Alpha and Omega! If we were saying it in English, we’d say, “From A to Z,” and if you are in Canada you say zed. And some of you recognize a Canadian accent because you’ve been (bean) there, haven’t you? (laughter) This is a reference to the alphabet. The Greek alphabet has only 24 letters – Alpha the first, Omega the last!
Jesus says, “I am the beginning and the end,” and what does that represent, that alphabetical metaphor? Well, the answer can be found in chapter 21 of Revelation. Just flip back one page and you’ll notice that God is speaking, and He says in verse 6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” God is represented here. He is Alpha. He is at the beginning, and He existed in eternity past. You’ve heard me say many times that we can’t wrap our minds around it.
If you want to take out five minutes during this Christmas season, contemplate that for just a few moments. Think about it. No beginning, and of course, no end! He is Alpha, and Jesus was there in the beginning of eternity, which, of course, had no beginning. And then He’s the creator. By Him were all things created, both which are in heaven and which are on earth whether they are thrones or dominions, principalities and powers. All things were created by Him and for Him. He was in the beginning in time past. He was at the beginning during the time of creation, and He is the Omega, because He will be there till the end.
We, of course, are also eternal beings now, aren’t we? But we are eternal only in one way. We will live eternally, and when Jesus says to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” please keep in mind that He doesn’t only mean that during this life. He means that throughout all of eternity we’re going to be together. The Alpha and the Omega!
The Encyclopedia Britannica, if I understand correctly, has something like 30 volumes with information on philosophy, science and history. In fact, I heard an interview this past week on WMBI from someone from the Encyclopedia Britannica. By the way, how would you like to be examined on that, students? Hey, you have an exam. What is it on? The Encyclopedia Britannica! You have to know something about every article. But all of that information is communicated with 26 letters put together in very unique arrangements to make words and sentences, and so forth.
Now imagine Jesus. The Bible says that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Imagine how many volumes that would be if it were written out, this Alpha and this Omega. And by Him all things consist. No, the figure of speech, the alphabetical figure, means that Jesus is God. And that’s why the text can say in the very next verse, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” You don’t get in to the Holy City by climbing over a wall. You have to enter by the gates. Outside are dogs and sorcerers, dogs referring to pagans generally. Sorceries - people who are into the New Age movement, into astrology. They go to fortune-tellers. They try to contact the dead.
“Outside are sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers (There’s a relevant word) and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Wow! Imagine the Holy City! You can’t get into the Holy City unless you are holy.
Now I do need to say, by way of clarification, that there are some people who have been guilty of all of these things who will be in the Holy City, and they are the ones (in the beginning of verse 14) who washed their robes by coming to Jesus and receiving His cleansing and His forgiveness.
You see, because Jesus is God, by the way, He has a right to say who goes into the Holy City and who does not. People want to make those decisions today. Did you know that that decision is not yours but God’s? I sometimes smile at people who say, “You know, my God is more tolerant than yours.” Well thank you very, very much, but I’d like to be introduced to your god. Where did you get him? (laughter) The product of your imagination! Remember Calvin’s words: “Our minds are idle factories spewing out visions of God that we want to entertain.”
God created the Holy City. God has a right to say who goes in, and you have to enter in through the gate, and the gate is Jesus. The alphabetical figure says that Jesus is God, so let’s ask the question: “What child is this?” Well, the child there in the manger is the one who created the manger in which He was laid. He owns the inn that rejected Him, and He is the judge who will eventually come and judge all people including those who nailed Him to a cross. That’s who the baby is in the manger, the alphabetical metaphor.
Well, there’s a second metaphor, and that is a botanical metaphor. Notice we’re still in the text, and it says in verse 16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David.”
Now folks, when I get to this, everybody needs to think. Of course, you always need to think, but there are certain moments when a thought becomes very essential. Think of what is being said here: “I am the root of David,” that is, “I am David’s father – I am the creator of David.” You don’t see the root but David is a branch. “I am the root of David, but I’m also a descendant of David.” Think about that. “I’m also a descendant of David.” Well, wait a moment. How can you be David’s descendant if, in point of fact, you are David’s creator and David’s father? Hang on to that.
If you wish you can take your Bible and turn to Matthew 22. If you don’t turn to it, simply listen very carefully, because this is the very discussion that Jesus had when He was here on earth. Notice it says in Matthew 22:41: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question.” By the way, do you know that Jesus asked more than 100 questions? The best way to do evangelism is to ask questions. The best way for you to get on a good topic at work, or as a teenager in your school, is to simply ask questions. “What do you think of Jesus? Who do you think He is?” Let people talk, and then you don’t have to preach them a sermon, but you have to guide them in a more accurate understanding. Always ask questions.
Now you’ll notice He says, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “Well, He’s the son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit (and now Jesus is quoting David’s word from the Psalms), calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord (two different words for Lord used in the Hebrew Old Testament text), “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’(a footstool)? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” Same dilemma!
And you’ll notice what the text says: “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Why? It’s because if they had answered that question they would have had to accept the incarnation. How can you possibly say that the Messiah is David’s descendant, but the Messiah is also David’s Lord, David’s God? The only way you can possibly answer that is if you say that indeed David’s Lord became David’s descendant and became a man. Rather than admitting the incarnation, they simply said, “Hey, we can’t answer that,” and afterwards they said, “Don’t ask this guy any more questions.” Use questions!
I’m reminded of a friend of mine, a very godly man, who was attending a seminar where a man was standing up and saying, “I can perform surgery even without cutting your skin. I can pull bad things out of your body - and phew! - there’s even no cut where it happened.” So here’s this friend who’s a theologian. He’s not a medical doctor. So he puts up his hand and says, “You know, in the New Testament Jesus said that unless you are born again you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. What do you think of that, and what exactly does that mean to you?” And the man took all of his wares, and took his lecture notes and shoved them into his briefcase and walked off the stage. (Chuckles) Don’t you love it? Just asking them questions… The man didn’t want to deal with God’s Word.
But I have to ask you that, by the way. Jesus did say that unless you are born again you are not going to enter into the heavenly city, so my question to you today is, what do you think of that? Do you have an answer for that? The best answer is to say, “I’d better be born again.” Well, anyway, here we have two figures of speech. You have the alphabetical figure or metaphor, and that shows the deity of Jesus.
Now we have a botanical figure of speech, the metaphor that shows the humanity of Jesus. He was indeed a man. Who is this child? This child is God, but this child is also the descendant of David. This child is also a man, the incarnation.
Let’s go on to a third figure of speech. You’ll notice it says there in verse 16, “I am the bright and the morning star.” Astronomy has to be interesting. I never had a class in astronomy. I’ve read a couple of books. At least I like to read about how they believe that the stars are formed, and I have my eye on the clock here because I don’t want to go off onto this, but I found this very interesting.
The Young Oxford Book on Astronomy agrees with the late Carl Sagan that in the very beginning of the universe all matter and radiation were concentrated into a tiny region of space, much smaller than the nucleus of a single atom. Then it all began. And now I’m quoting: “By the time the universe was about a millionth of a second old, much of the energy had been converted into protons. In the next millisecond electrons formed and these collided with the protons to make neutrons. Neutrons survive only a thousandth of a second as independent particles so the next few minutes were very crucial. (Yeah, I think so.) What happened next within the first quarter of an hour is the protons reacted with the neutrons, which were fast decaying to make the nuclei of helium atoms in a race against time. As the universe continued to cool and expand, the universe managed to convert about a quarter of its matter to form hydrogen into helium. The remaining hydrogen was used to make the stars.” Then it says, “Was the universe created out of nothing? No, but from something next to nothing.”
Well, I also could quote Stephen Hawking on this, and there was here a physicist in Chicago at a conference who said that humans seem to have hit the jackpot because he says, “A few moments into the ‘Big Bang’ more than 15 million years ago, the splitting could have happened in many different ways, only a few of which would have resulted in the present universe that we have.”
I don’t know. I’m not going to debate the issue, but I don’t have enough faith to believe that nothing times nobody equals everything. (laughter) I just can’t seem to believe that. (applause) Jesus, though, in the figure of speech in the metaphor as the bright and the morning star, which is probably Venus, heralds the fact that the day is about to come. It’s the brightest of the planets beyond the moon and the sun. And so Jesus says, “I am the star.” Now, of course, He’s the creator of all the stars, but what is the metaphor that is being used here? Well, don’t you think immediately of Numbers 24, verse 17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” It’s a reference to the kingship of Jesus, that Jesus is King. So what child is this? Well, the answer is He is God, He is deity, He’s a man, but He’s also King.
Now let’s read the rest of the book of Revelation – just two or three verses here. You’ll notice that it says that Jesus is a coming King. He’s going to come. So the Spirit says, “Come” most assuredly because the wrap-up of history is of interest not only to us but to the plan of God. And the bride, we who are the church, we say “Come,” because we love Jesus and we want to see Him. And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
What’s going on there in the text? Remember that years ago, when the book of Revelation was written in about 90 or so A.D. and it was read in the different churches, most people did not read. And because they did not read, they had it read to them. That’s why it always says in the book of Revelation, “Blessed is the person who reads and those who hear these prophecies.” So those who hear are the ones who heard the book read, and they are believers, and they are saying, “Come also, King Jesus.” And then it suddenly switches and says, “Let the one who is thirsty come.”
He’s using the word come in a different way. First of all, “Jesus, you come please,” and then he turns to the congregation and he says, “Is there anybody here who is thirsty? You come to Jesus, and you come and you receive the water of life without price.” You come. This is still your invitation to be ready so that you might go into God’s Holy City, so here we have an answer to the question of who is Jesus. He’s the King. He has the right to exclude people from the Holy City. He has the right to include them. He has the right to give the water of life to those who want to receive it, and when they receive it, it is without price. You bring nothing to the table except your need. Your contribution is your sin. His contribution is His righteousness, which is credited to your account when you receive Him as your Savior. So that’s the story of who is this child?
Now, notice how the book of Revelation ends: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” No wonder John adds: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
Think about this. Every false cult in the world, and there are plenty of them… There was a time when a new religion was being formed in California every day. I wish they had as their requirement to begin a new religion that you have to be put to death – certified death – and then be raised from the dead. That would at least lessen the number, but what you find is that all the false cults have their book. They’ll say, “Oh, the Bible isn’t enough. We’ve got a book over here.” They are adding to the Word of God.
Now, it’s true that this is a reference to the Book of Revelation, not necessarily to the New Testament as a whole because the Bible didn’t fall out of heaven already totally complete with all 27 books. There was a process there of recognition of inspiration, but it is a very fitting conclusion to the New Testament that you add to the book and you begin to say that works are a part of salvation and that you don’t get the water of life freely. You begin to add to the book and you accept another prophet on the same basis and having the same authority as God’s Word, and God will add to you the plagues that are written in this book. If you want to know what they are, then read the book and you’ll be astounded at the plagues. And if you subtract from it and say, “Well, I don’t like this part; my God is more tolerant than yours,” well, what does it say? You subtract and God will take away your share. It’s not as if you were on your way to heaven and then you are told that suddenly you aren’t, but rather your share, your opportunity, what you could have participated in, that will be subtracted from you, and you will be outside the gates.
Well, as you know, I always like to give the bottom line. What is the bottom line? First, let’s think about this now. We had one figure of speech, the alphabetical figure – His deity. We have the botanical figure – His humanity. We have the astronomical figure of speech, that metaphor that emphasizes His Kingship and His return. What is the bottom line? Would you keep in mind when you go through the Christmas season that a very ordinary woman gave birth in an ordinary way to a very extraordinary child? Very extraordinary!
Don’t be fooled by the ordinariness of it all. You see the Christmas story played out. You see the manger scenes, which are in store windows. You see the hustle and the bustle. Don’t be fooled by the ordinariness of it. We have someone who is born here who is God, who is man, who is King. And so what you do is you know that when you approach that manger you can’t see all that He is as He lies there. You have to take the far range point of view.
There’s a second bottom line, and that is that this extraordinary person divides the whole human race. The human race is not divided racially, educationally or geographically. At the end of the day, the most important division has to do with this question. What do you do with Jesus who is called the Christ? And I’m asking you that now.
Sometimes when preachers preach, they’ll say something strong, and they’ll say, “Don’t take it personally.” Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m asking you a question, and I want you to take it very personally. Who do you think He was? A good prophet? A wonderful man who taught us love? Or is He God and man and King and divides the whole human race? “He who believes on Me has everlasting life. He that believes not on me shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him.”
I would urge you today (if you are in the balcony, or if you are on the lower floor, or if you are watching by the Internet or listening to the radio or by other means of communication) to face that question with honesty. Who is He to you? Who is the one in yonder stall? What child is this?
And you’ll notice to those who come He gives the water of life. At last your thirst is slaked. All the watering holes of the world are dry. They are very dry. The world of sexuality - sexual looseness - in the end is very bitter and very dry. The world of alcoholism and drugs is very bitter and the well is dry. The idea that somehow I am master of my fate, and captain of my soul – you pursue that long enough and you discover that there’s just one more dry well lying against the landscape. All the wells are dry.
Could I urge you today to come to Jesus, the water of life? Receive forgiveness, receive acceptance and the inner assurance – get this – that someday when you die you will be invited into the Holy City because you’ll be qualified by Christ to come through the gate.
David Becker was a guide in a desert. He tried to keep people from going to a mirage, but they believed it was water, and because an altercation ensued he was killed. But they all went. “We’re going our way. That’s water!” Well, they all discovered how wrong they were. The mirage looks like water, but it’s not the real deal. I guess what I’m trying to say to you today is when you get Jesus you get the real deal. (applause)
And so, I look at the congregation today – as many as I possibly can – looking into your eyes and asking you, “Who is this child to you?” Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we thank You today that Jesus was born. Thank You that beyond the stable, beyond the story of Mary and Joseph that we love, thank You that beyond all of that Jesus is God, Alpha and Omega, man, root in the offspring of David, King, Star, and we receive Him today as such. And may those who are struggling in their spirit, who tried to put off the work of the Spirit, convict them and lead them until they bow and receive Him as their Savior and their substitute. But we can’t do that. Only You can cause them and give them the strength to do that, so do it even as we sing. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.