During this holiday season, we will focus on a familiar account from the Gospels: the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. We will focus most of our attention on what the angel says to the shepherds in verses 10-11. But in order to provide the whole context, I will read Luke 2:1-18. That text says:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all the people were on their way to register for the census, each to his own city. Now Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And so the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen Him, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it were amazed about the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
When the shepherds became aware of the angel in their midst, the text says the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. Fear, of course, is the expected reaction that men have in the presence of the divine because His holiness exposes our sinfulness. This is what explains what the prophet Isaiah said after having a vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with seraphim saying, “Holy, holy, holy.” The prophet then says in Isaiah 6:6:
Woe to me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of armies.
To a sinful, earthly creature, the Lord’s holiness is traumatic. This is why a creature needs a mediator to stand in the gap and bridge the chasm that separates God and man. Accordingly, prior to the birth of Jesus, what the faithful knew best wasn’t God’s nearness. Instead, the holiness of the Lord exposed the distance between God and man; it exposed that God is not like us and that, because of sin, our relationship with Him was fractured.
This all changed when God drew near and broke into our reality. And so, in Luke 2, the angel did not come to proclaim the same old story. He did not come to bear bad news of great sorrow. Instead, he was sent to proclaim something fresh: the good news that the Messiah is here and that He will redeem fallen man. Truly, this was good news of great joy because the one thing man could never achieve for himself—salvation—would now be gifted to him.
To accentuate the good news, consider that the first thing the angel gives the shepherds are words of comfort. In Luke 2:10, the angel begins by saying, “Do not be afraid.” Of course, these words of consolation were necessary because, without divine reassurance, men have every reason to be full of dread in the light of pure holiness. The next thing the angel says in verses 10-11 is:
[F]or behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
That little child would grow up as all men do, yet Jesus is also fully God. As a grown man, the Lord would spend His earthly ministry preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God. He taught us that it is already here in His first advent and will be fully consummated with His return. He taught us that the kingdom of God is 100% incompatible with the kingdom of the world, but the former will one day be no more. The kingdom of God is righteous and eternal; the kingdom of the world is sinful and temporary.
What Jesus also told us is that He hates sin, but His love for His elect compelled Him to die for their sins. And so, roughly three decades after His birth, Christ would go to the Cross in order to make a substitutionary atonement for sin. In other words, you should have died for your sins; it should have been you on that Cross, but Jesus took your place. By itself, this is good news, but it is only one component of Christ’s redemption. Every believer is not only graced with the benefits of Christ’s death but also gifted with the benefits of His life by the imputation of His righteousness. The imputed righteousness of Christ is one of the highest reasons in the world to rejoice in the good news of great joy. You see, before the Incarnation, there was no concrete security that a believer could look to as an assurance of redemption. They could look to animal sacrifices or the Mosaic Law, but they only perceive groans for something greater. The first Adam was their representative, and he failed. But now, after the Incarnation, we can look back on the life, death, and Resurrection of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Consequently, every believer is in a more blessed and happy estate in Christ’s righteousness than Adam was in his innocence. Adam’s righteousness was uncertain and vulnerable. But for those who have faith, Christ’s righteousness is certain and impossible to lose. The good news of great joy is that while Adam sinned away his righteousness, a blood-bought believer can never sin away the righteousness of Christ. Truly, the gates of hell shall never prevail against the soul clothed in Jesus. Such a marvelous gift could have only been wrought by God Himself. What good news of great joy this is!
The Christian’s splendid hope is that their righteousness in Christ is in our Father’s keeping. And so, although we may encounter many disruptions in this world, it is certain that we will come into full possession of eternal life. You see, because God became a Man in Christ, He is therefore united with man forever. Thus, neither Satan, the world, nor our own flesh can separate us from the crown of life that God has prepared for us through His Son (Revelation 2:10).
This holiday season, meditate on the excellencies of Christ. How can what you or I ever do—the righteousness of man—ever be compared to the righteousness of God? Yes, the world will rejoice in money, power, and pleasures, but the child of God keeps their eyes fixed on the excellence and fullness of Christ; all the glory of the world is nothing compared to Him. The birth of the Messiah was indeed good news of great joy.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal