Unto Us a Child Is Born
A Christmas Narrative
For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.—Isaiah 9:6
Condensed from discourse by Robert Seklemian
One day, in the tiny village of Bethlehem, not far from the old site of the Garden of Eden, a descendant of mother Eve, a young woman named Mary, bears her firstborn son. Whereas Eve hoped that he son Cain was the “man from the Lord” sent to save them; Mary knew her son Jesus was “that man.” How? The angel Gabriel had told her. The child had been supernaturally conceived. The angelic choir joyfully announced him as the “Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds told her all about it. Yes, Eve only hoped; but Mary knew!
The account of the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds is one of the most hauntingly beautiful accounts ever written. The shepherds near Bethlehem were keeping watch over their flock by night. The night was dark and peaceful. Sheep-herding is a lonely occupation and a strenuous one. Grazing sheep range far and wide, and need constant watching lest they stray. Being defenseless creatures, they must be watched over by the shepherds, lest lions, bears, or wolves attack them while they sleep. These shepherds, although humble men, were necessarily rough and tough men. They were almost constantly isolated; unused to the stir and excitement of city life. The account says they were “abiding in the field.” This was their home. Their roof was the vault of heaven. They lived under the stars. There was a sameness and monotony in their lives. Every day was the same. Day in and day out, in silence, broken only by the plaintive cries of the sheep, the rustle of the wind in the grass, and the occasional distant howl of the wolf. Nothing exciting ever happened. That is, not until that night.
Suddenly they saw the most glorious sight that human eyes ever beheld!—”the glory of the LORD shone round about them!” This was no ordinary glory. This was the glory of Jehovah God himself! There is no greater glory.
We do not know the exact form or dimension this glory took; but it was a most magnificent sight! Is it any wonder that “they were sore afraid?” Then came the reassuring voice of the angel of the Lord: “Fear not, for behold, I being you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11). We may think we may have witnessed something wonderful when we attended a great symphony concert or a grand opera performance, but these pale into miserable insignificance when compared with what followed the angels’ announcement that night: “A multitude of the heavenly host praising God!” We sometimes refer to the best music we know as “heavenly music.” This was real heavenly music! Real angelic voices that were exquisitely delightful to the human ear. That is what the entranced shepherds heard; shepherds to whom “nothing exciting ever happened!”
Why to Shepherds?
Why was all this wasted on those simple shepherds? Why was not so glorious an announcement made to the great religious leaders of the day?—to the chief priests, Pharisees, or scribes? Because this was a fine demonstration of God’s established principle: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). These humble shepherds were willing and enthusiastic couriers of the Good News. They did not waste a moment to visit the child. They said, “Let us now go, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass; which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:15, 16).
The sight of the holy child had a peculiar effect on these normally silent and taciturn shepherds. Their tongues were loosed. They talked! And how they talked! They went about, telling everyone they met the glorious things they had seen and heard and about the wonderful child to whom they had been led. We read in Luke 2:17, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning the child.” What was the saying to which they referred? They would never forget that angelic voice and those wonderful words spoken for as long as they lived: “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born, this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” In their enthusiasm the shepherds told many people. Then the record says: “All they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18). The record continues, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (v. 19). She treasured everything said about Jesus; and she would remember them in the days to come.
A Perfect Baby
Every young mother thinks her baby is the most perfect and unusual baby in the world. Mary must have thought so too; but unlike all other mothers in the world, she was right! Her baby was the only perfect baby ever born; and the most unusual baby—the only-begotten Son of the Most High God! Before, Mary had “pondered in her heart” the words of the angel Gabriel to her when he had announced the forthcoming birth of Jesus, saying that her son would be called “the Son of the Highest, the Son of God.” Now she had heard the testimony of the shepherds, that the angel had called her child, “A Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” How beautiful and how natural that she ponder in her heart these things about her precious baby.
What Might Have Been
The account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth are beautifully but cryptically written. All the needful facts are given but the non-essentials are left out. This brevity is necessary, of course, as otherwise the Bible would be too voluminous and unwieldy. At times though it is tempting to speculate about the details that have been omitted.
For example, we read that Joseph, accompanied by Mary, journeyed to Bethlehem to be taxed. The Roman decree was that each person must go to his native city and register for the tax rolls. Though Joseph was a carpenter in Nazareth of Galilee, his native city was Bethlehem. So he went there to be taxed. In the account that is the last we hear about this taxation. Surely, sometime soon after Jesus’ birth, Joseph must have gone to the government offices in Bethlehem to register and pay his tax. If Mary pondered the things concerning her child in her heart, undoubtedly Joseph must have done so also. The record says he was a “just man” and he must have been loving and kind for the Lord to have selected him for Mary’s husband and to be the foster father and protector of Jesus.
With this in mind, let us see what might have happened. All new fathers are insufferably proud; and as Joseph made his way to register for the taxation his mind was full of the wonderful events surrounding the child’s birth. He could not keep the thing to himself. He probably told the man ahead of him in line, as well as the man behind him: “My wife Mary just had a baby! A fine boy! A most beautiful child! Absolutely perfect! I’ve seen many great babies but never one like this. And they predict great things for him too.” The men would laugh and congratulate him, winking at one another. “That’s the way they all feel about the first, they would say, “but come on, let’s keep this line moving.”
Getting to the Roman registrar Joseph might have said, “I am Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth in Galilee. My wife Mary is with me. Now there is another member of our family to register. My wife has just given birth to a boy! A most beautiful and unusual child.” “The child’s name, please? impatiently the registrar would ask. “We are going to name him Jesus,” Joseph would reply. “But let me tell you some wonderful things about him. Some shepherds in the field . . .” “My dear man,” snaps the registrar, waving him off, “don’t you realize you are delaying Caesar’s business?”
How astounded that Roman agent would have been had he realized that this baby he had no time for was the only begotten Son of God. He was God’s agent for the whole of creation: “without him was not anything made that was made.” He was the Savior of the world, Christ the Lord, the King of kings and Lord of lords, much greater than Caesar. His life, death, and influence would shake the mighty Roman empire to its foundations and eventually cause its disappearance. He would be the ransom for all mankind and would be raised from the dead and be highly exalted to the right hand of God. His teachings would be written down in all the languages of the world and would spread from nation to nation, from continent to continent, until it covered all the earth. Eventually, together with 144,000 kings and priests, each one far greater than the mighty Caesar Augustus, he would establish a kingdom on earth, raise the dead, and bring mankind to perfection and harmony with God.
Centuries before the birth of Jesus the prophet Isaiah had been allowed to pierce the veil of time and see this happy occasion of the birth of Jesus. Seeing it, he wrote with exultation, “Unto us a child is born!” But Isaiah saw further than this. His prophetic vision leaped another thirty years, and now he saw, not the babe, but the perfect and mature man, Jesus, offering himself as the corresponding price for the perfect man, Adam, who had sinned, adding in almost the same breath, “Unto a us a Son is given!” In other words: “This is the Son of God who became the Son of man in order to become the Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
When the redemptive work of the Son is complete, Mother Eve will have had her sweet vengeance, which will be God’s vengeance, upon the serpent who beguiled her, for it will be the promised seed who will “lay hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan,” and bind him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:2); and after that, exterminate him (v. 10).
“Unto us a Son is given.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him would not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). What a precious gift!
After saying: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given,” the prophet says: “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” There is a great fallacy in the Christian world today. Taking as their authority the mistranslated scripture, “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), some teach that Christ rules only in the hearts of men—that when a man accepts Christ, Christ comes to that man; and that when all men have accepted him, he shall have fully come. This, they teach, will constitute the Kingdom of Christ.
Even the pagan Roman ruler, Herod, knew better. He was a hard and realistic man. When he heard from the wise men of the East that someone had been born king of the Jews he gave no mystical meaning to the words. He considered the new king to be a threat to his physical rulership of a segment of the Roman Empire. Believing in direct and decisive action, he went right to the highest Jewish authorities he knew—the chief priests and scribes—and demanded to know where, according to their prophets, this new king would be born. They quoted to him from the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel” (Matt. 2:6). In other words, “the government shall be upon his shoulder.”
Herod did not ascribe some symbolic meaning to the prophecy. He did not limit it to a mere spiritual rulership in the hearts of men. On the contrary, he considered his worst fears confirmed. Here was a definite threat that, unless he acted, the government might be wrested from the Roman Empire and vested in another king.
At that time it was the policy of Rome to rule as benevolently as possible—with “kid gloves,” so to speak. Yet the cynical Herod was so thoroughly convinced that Jesus imperiled the rule of Rome that, when his efforts to locate the child were frustrated, he abandoned discretion and brutally “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16). Would he have taken such drastic action if he believed that Jesus was destined to rule only in the hearts of men?
In those days the Jews were in great expectation of their Messiah. They expected him to be a powerful leader who would literally reestablish the throne of David and break the Roman yoke, right there in Palestine. They had no spiritual or heavenly hopes.
The early disciples also believed in a literal earthly government, headed by Jesus. The only thing they were confused about was the time of its establishment, hoping that it would be immediately inaugurated. Later, when the holy spirit was given, they understood that it was to be in the future, but they still anticipated a kingdom on earth with Christ the king, and they hoped to live, as spirit beings, and reign with him a thousand years. They anticipated that Millennial kingdom to solve all the world’s problems. They believed that “there shall be a resurrection of the dead” and a “restitution of all things,” including the Adamic paradise.
It was after the death of the Apostles and other early disciples that errors began to creep in. Men became increasingly impatient at the delay and sought to establish the kingdom ahead of time. A false system was set up and the truth of Christ’s kingdom on earth all but disappeared. After the reformation there was a tendency to give purely spiritual connotation to the earthly kingdom promises. It was then that the translation was rendered “The Kingdom of God is within you,” when it should have actually read, “God’s Royal Majesty is among you.” In other words, “Christ is here, the king is present, he is in your midst.”
Now we see that the full manifestation of God’s kingdom is near. It is to be a literal and actual kingdom on the earth. The signs are numerous and unmistakable. With the nation of Israel an established fact, the “fig tree” of Matthew 24:32 is budding. Men’s hearts are “failing them for fear. While there has always been fear, the present prospect of atomic warfare has brought heart-failing fear to men as they plainly see approaching “a time of trouble such as never was” (Dan. 12:1). False prophets have arisen and deceived many, showing great wonders, seemingly wonderful accomplishments—publishing millions and millions of books, bringing tens of thousands of converts into their organizations, with armies of people baptized.
There are many other significant signs. Luke summarized, “when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your hears, for your redemption draweth nigh” (21:28, 31). Then he adds: “When ye see these things come to pass, know ye [absolutely no doubt about, `know ye’] that the Kingdom of God is night at hand.”
That is the government that shall be upon his shoulder. It will be a visible government, taking strong, physical control of earth’s affairs. It will bring such wondrous blessings that men will say, “This is what we have always wanted!” As Isaiah 25:9 expressed is, “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. “Be glad and rejoice,” the prophet said. “Good tidings of great joy,” the angel said that night in Bethlehem. And when that government which is to be upon his shoulder shall have done its work, it will come to pass “that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow . . . and that every tongue shall confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father” (Phil. 2:10, 11).
In the Land of Beginning Again
Many years ago someone, out of the longings of his heart, wrote a poem entitled In the Land of Beginning Again. The poet imagined a land where one could starts his life all over again, from the beginning, while retaining every memory of his previous life. Thus, every mistake of the past could be rectified; every decision that had proven wrong would be reversed. Sins of omission and commission which, in the previous life, had resulted in injury and grief to one’s self or others, would be avoided. In this “Land of Beginning Again” one would know how to live and love and serve God because of the rich experience of the past. Life would be meaningful and full and satisfying; free of doubt and corroding worry. The way would be clear. No matter what he made of his life before, one would have another chance. All the troubles and tribulations of the past, instead of being worse than useless torments, would now be valuable guides. Remembering the lessons of the past, one would walk serenely and confidently in the right way.
It was a sad poem because it seemed so utterly impossible. It was just a desire, a cry of the soul. And practical persons knew such a thing was impossible. Yet the heart fervently wished that it could be true—that the experiences of the present life, the lessons learned at the cost of so much pain and heartbreak, should not be wasted. These lessons, somehow, should be useful in reliving and in reforming one’s life! Death should not be the irrevocable end of human existence. There should be a “Land of Beginning Again!”
These are universal longings. How many times have we heard the expression, “If I only had my life to live over again!” Or again, “If I only knew then what I know now!” Or the despairing cry, “I know I was wrong; but now it is too late!”
Adam and Eve may have used that very expression: “Oh, to have another chance! Please give me just one more chance!” This is a universal desire. The Bible says, in Haggai 2:7, “The desire of all nations [or all peoples] shall come.” “The Land of Beginning Again” is exactly what the kingdom will accomplish. The permission of evil has been for man’s experience. It will have been futile and useless torment unless man is given an opportunity to use his experience. This is the significance of Job 22:23-25: “If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth.” That will be “The Land of Beginning Again.”
“Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:16). The present evil world, under Satan’s rule, has been “the land of the enemy.” The grave, to which it has led, is also :the land of the enemy.”
But they shall return to another land—to God’s kingdom on earth under Christ, to the government that shall be upon his shoulders, to the “Land of Beginning Again!” “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head. They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isa. 51:11). “They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:23, 24). “And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:17, 18).
What a wonderful plan! What “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!”