That's Just the Kind of God He Is
Read Mt. 1:22-2:12
Sometimes in conversation, we find ourselves talking about a great person, and after extolling his/her virtue, it is pointed out that this great person has remarkable humility or compassion to supplement his greatness. The compliment will then be added: “That’s just the kind of person he is.” I remember on several occasions discussing a fantastic Old Testament professor I had in seminary. Dr. R. Laird Harris knew seven Semitic languages and was a scholar of immense proportion. He was as insightful as most of us could imagine—an expert in archaeology, science, the OT, and numerous other areas.
However, our family will probably remember him most for another thing he did while visiting. He visited us in April one year, near the time of my little Megan’s third birthday. It was an honor to have Dr. and Mrs. Harris in our home on that momentous occasion. But what will last even longer is this: When dinner was over, Ann and Mrs. Harris cleaned up the kitchen. Dr. Harris and I retired to the living room to talk shop, and those tiny Hall girls roamed around the house in various stages of chaos, usually with food on their faces or kitchen dishes on their heads. Finally, we cleaned the lil’ critters, and the girls came in to kiss daddy good-night. Dr. Harris, then, wowed my wife by inviting Megan up into his lap, and this absolutely brilliant scholar began to tell my daughter the story of The Three Bears with as much feeling and color as I have ever seen. That’s the kind of man he is: one who is as caring as he is brilliant; and that episode will always remind us of what a wonderful person he was. This was not for show, and there was no advantage to Dr. Harris for reciting The Three Bears. He was simply a gracious, gentle man who wanted to express some love to a 3-year old. That incident told us a lot about this man’s character. It was a snapshot that would remain in our memory.
But I am not so much interested in extolling the virtues of Dr. Harris as I am eager to relate to you that God is like this. We can take snapshots of God at various times throughout the Bible, and each snapshot unfailingly presents him as he really is. Every instance of Scripture is equally a true revelation of the character of God. We see a rich variety of vignettes of God in the Bible. What we should learn is simply this: Every snapshot of God, if studied in detail, unveils the heart of his character. That is as true at the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as at any time. Consider how the work of God in the birth of Christ—if taken alone—is a reliable revelation of who God is.
The Incarnation of Christ is typical of God. His unique fingerprints are all over it. If a person’s fingerprints are unique and non-repeatable, then all the more with God. His signature is inimitable in the following ways.
1. It is planned.
Some pagan religions boast of their worship of chaos. Our God, however, is the God who has a plan and brings it about. Haphazardness and inconsistency are not virtues of God.
We should take seriously what the Bible teaches about God’s plan of salvation having been covenanted before the foundation of the world. Like all the works of God, the salvation presented demonstrates the advance planning of God. Christ’s birth was no afterthought. It was conceived before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 speaks of God’s plan designed before the world ever began. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (Jn. 17), he referred to the love between the Father and the Son before the world began. The final book of the Bible speaks of Christ as the Lamb of God, slain for his flock before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). God’s plan is an eternal one.
The Advent narratives show us how concerned God is to note in his Word that the birth of Christ is a precise fulfillment of the OT prophecies. In Matthew 1:22-23, as soon as the angel has announced to Joseph that Mary will conceive Jesus who will save his people from their sins, the Bible tells us: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet, ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us.’” That was a prophecy given by Isaiah some 7 centuries earlier. The prophecy is founded upon the sure plan of God. Advent was no later development. Like all God’s works, it is planned far in advance.
Several other times, Matthew’s gospel makes it plain that OT prophecies are being ful-filled by Christ’s birth. When Herod interviews the scholars of his day and asks where Christ was to be born, they recall the prediction of an Israelite prophet. Micah 5:2 had predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea. Centuries earlier this plan was in place. A few verses later in Mt. 2:15, following the angelic instruction to Joseph that he was to flee to Egypt, Matthew states that this, too, was in fulfillment of OT prophecy, specifically to fulfill Hosea 11:1. Three verses later is another instance of prophetic fulfillment; this time, Jeremiah 31:15 had foretold how weeping would surround the slaughter of the innocents. Still one more time (a 4th time in Mt. 2), Matthew 2:23 refers to Jesus’ home in this fashion: “He went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: He will be called a Nazarene.”
His purpose is seen, woven through all his works. The birth of Christ models this careful pre-planning. God is not acting randomly in the universe. He is always on schedule and on target. That’s the kind of God he is.
2. It involves the Miraculous.
The Advent narrative is saturated with the miraculous, another signature of God. Advent without the miraculous would bespeak a different god. The scriptural account in no way suggests that random forces of nature or normal processes brought all this about. Miracle is at the center of this event. God frequently acts in Scripture through the miraculous.
In the birth of Christ, we have an abundance of angels. These angels are not the normal creatures of daily existence. Angels are involved in announcing to Joseph what will happen. They lead him every step of the way. Gabriel appears to Mary, informing her that she will give birth to a son who “will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Lk. 1:32-33) The angel tells Mary that nothing is impossible with God; through a miracle, Messiah will be born.
The Virgin Birth is certainly miraculous. Other religions don’t even dare to act as if this happened. Typical of God, he chooses a spectacular, unimagined miracle to bring his son into the world. Mary does not have a sexual relationship with Joseph to begin the life of Jesus; nor was any human father involved. Only the Holy Spirit by a divine miracle!
Other miracles, like the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, the guiding star that led the wise men from the East, the divine protection of the newborn Jesus from Herod’s ire, and the wise men’s discovery of the birth of Christ—all these and more are signs of the miraculous. God shows his power when he trumps the normal processes of nature. Miracle is typical of the kind of God the Lord is.
3. It employs vessels of Grace.
It is said about some sports fans that their blood bleeds the color of their favorite school. Cut this person anywhere, and he bleeds orange; in this state, it is red and black, or gold and black. God is that way in terms of grace. Any slice of the character of God oozes grace. Even in his wrath or justice, there is grace. And flowing from that, God uses vessels of grace. That is to note that God uses grace in his normal operations. Frequently, we see that God uses those that others might not.
In fact, 1 Cor. 1:26-28 notes that God did not choose many people who were wise, powerful, or noble. Instead, he chose the weak things of this world to shame the powerful. He chose “the lowly things of this world” to confound those that trusted in their own ability or accomplishment. God frequently employs methods that do not appear too wise in order to confound the world in its pride of wisdom.
Look who God chose in this case. He called a common carpenter, a man who worked hard and did honest labor with his hands. Joseph, as we see from the narratives, was perfect for the tasks that God had for him. However, he followed God without the support of a large estate behind him, devoid of powerful benefactors, and with an ordinariness of situation played one of the most exalted roles in human history.
Mary was the same way. She did not come from a powerful family. She may have been beautiful, or possibly not. We do know that both she and Joseph had hearts for the Lord, and they were obedient. God used ordinary people for extraordinary tasks. He still does that today, although he may not call us to do the same things that Mary and Joseph did. God’s grace is seen in his selection of common people to be the parents of Jesus.
The shepherds were also unexpected heroes. This group of vagabonds would not impress any director from central casting. Shepherds were rough, uncouth, and generally looked down upon. They were considered lower class, uneducated and hardly would have been considered to be the first evangelists. But that is what they were. God used unexpected people to be the earliest heralds of the good news. That is typical of his work.
Of course, there were some people in this Christmas narrative who were wealthy and influential: the Wise men from the East. These God allowed to be in the parade of those who worshipped Christ. God does not exclude a person from the kingdom merely because he is rich or intellectual. Of course, neither do those natural benefits give a person a better standing with God. God employed a range of people to do his bidding in the birth of Christ. He normally does. And that operates contrary to some human expectations.
God’s grace works above the principle of merit, utility, or economy. It surprises us in its choices. It confounds the proud and exalts the humble. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” would not only be taught later by Jesus; it exemplified his very birth.
4. It defies opposition.
God’s work is irresistible. There were definite opponents of God, however, who tried to keep him from completing his plans. God’s work is so wonderful and strong, and it is impossible to prevent him from accomplishing his will. Even the most ardent of human foes cannot keep God from doing his will.
Consider the enemies of God who tried to thwart his plan at the Incarnation:
a. The arch-enemy was Satan. Since his own fall, Lucifer had been the sworn enemy of God. He opposed God at every possible turn and desired to eliminate the work of Messiah. He would do anything he could to prevent Jesus from doing his work.
b. The earliest human villain was Herod. When Herod learned of the commotion caused by the wise men, he tried to find where the Messiah-child was so that he could destroy him. Herod wanted to eliminate his opposition, and when he was denied that opportunity, he slaughtered all male children under the age of two. Had our Sovereign God not been in control, the opposition could have triumphed.
c. The same was true of Caesar Augustus and his plans. In Luke 2, his census could have prevented Christ’s birth from occurring if God was not in charge. This only serves to remind us that no human system or governor can thwart God’s will. When God wants something done, he is even capable of hijacking a census to get the parents of Jesus exactly where he needs them. Rather than a human governor preventing God’s work, they are employed in it—even above their own awareness.
One of the hallmarks of God’s works is how powerfully he reduces his opposition to nothing. He wouldn’t be much of a God, if these people or demons could alter his plan. No human force or group can prevent God from performing his plan of salvation. At Christmas, he was certainly never in danger of having the opposition thwart him.
5. It results in awe.
Awe is not the norm in our lives. It is unusual. Indeed, many of us are beyond shocking. Awe results when we are confronted with something out of the ordinary and far greater than ourselves. That is a frequent reaction by characters in these Advent accounts.
The wise men “bowed and worshipped” (Mt. 2:11), bringing their finest gifts. Will you? The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God. Will you reflect the awe?
Each of these things are like the DNA of God. They point to his identity through and through. They are clearly part of the Incarnation narrative, and they are the heart of our God.
He presents himself in these ways in the opening chapters of the Gospel. That’s the kind of God he is. You are invited to know him as he truly is! Don’t accept any other substitute. These are among the first truths of the first gospel.