“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy! A baby has been born who is saving people from their sins!”
This is the announcement of Heaven that is an overarching theme for the Christmas story. What many fail to realize is the underlying theme of the context which can cause the overwhelming goodness of the story to miss its substance. The Good News should ALWAYS be the substance we see from but we must not ignore the context in which Jesus was born to save the world from its dysfunction. The Good News in its context is more intense but brings about a deeper reality into the hearts of those who listen.
Baby Jesus was born into one of the most violent times in the history of the world. He is born under Roman Occupation that had caused many people to live under an oppressive regime. Jesus was also born into a religious system that would kill you if you committed certain sins. Many people at the time of Jesus’ birth were expecting their cherished prophecies of a Messiah to come true in their day but they did not know what it would actually look like. Some were looking for a violent messiah (Because of the way they interpreted their Scriptures) to come and free them from roman occupation/oppression, while others simply wanted the Messiah to come to see what He would do.
A political ruler heard about the prophecy of Jesus’ birth and how he was to be a “king.” This political king named Herod knew any “king” would be a threat to is throne and so he ordered for all the male kids 2 years and younger to be killed throughout the land in order to kill this promised king. It didn’t work.
Jesus grows up and begins to teach people about the Kingdom (the reign) of God in the midst of a culture filled with religious and political corruption. Ancient prophecy foretold of a type of judgment that was going to come upon this corruption, which had now infiltrated Israel who was supposed to be the light of the world but continually rejected God. Jesus was now on the scene to try and help Israel and its leaders see who God really was in order save them from an impending destruction that would come upon Israel for their insistence on rejecting God in the name of God. I can’t go into it here but Jesus was actually going to fulfill Israel’s story for them in order to usher in the much larger story of God’s love for the world that was God’s plan all along.
This context is sometimes hard for people to grasp if they get lost in the negativity of it without keeping the overarching theme of God’s goodness in front of them. What we must realize is that God constantly taught people they would reap what they sow and so much of this “judgment” that was coming was not from a stoic God wanting to kill evildoers as much as it was evildoers getting what they wanted. We see this clearly in Jesus’ compassion over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-44. God was trying to teach the ways of peace on earth but we see many refused it and even would go on to kill the Prince of Peace himself. God’s love was constantly trying to get people to see the Light of Love in the midst of their darkness.
Again, the negativity of this context should not supersede the beautiful context of the nativity but it should be understood in order to see the Light shine brighter against the darkness that can’t overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This brings us to the prophecy of Malachi Chapter 4, which sets up more context surrounding Jesus’ birth. Malachi speaks of the type of judgment that would leave neither ROOT nor branch to those who did not turn from their wickedness and the symbolism is people being burned by FIRE. Malachi also speaks of Jesus’ birth He was the One would rise with healing in His wings that will cause those who listen to overcome darkness and be saved from their dysfunction. Malachi also says that Elijah the prophet would come in this time and turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers and if there was not a repentance in Israel, the land would experience destruction because it was basically reaping what it was sowing.
This leads us to John the Baptist in Matthew 3 who is baptizing people in the wilderness when a group of religious hypocrites came out to see him. John see’s them and clearly knows the prophecy of Malachi as he was preparing the way for Jesus’ coming and he knew there was an impending judgment on the religious leaders who pretended to know God but led people into deeper darkness. His words exactly match Malachi’s language when he says:
“You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come! Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “The axe is already laid at the ROOT of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the FIRE.” (Matt 3:7-10)
I underlined the imagery for you to see the language he used is exactly that of Malachi.
The other thing to point out is the clear distinction of Israel’s rejection of God by trying to use their race, bloodline and political status to say they were true followers of God but John clearly calls them out saying this is much bigger than their ideas of nationalistic promises in their ties to Abraham. Jesus was doing something far greater for them and the world. We see Jesus clearly make this distinction elsewhere to the religious leaders in John 8. Both John and Jesus were were trying to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.
Further we see Jesus talking about John the Baptist in Matthew 11 where he clearly states the present understanding of Malachi’s prophecy as happening in their midst. Remember people in Israel were expecting the promised Messiah to come around the exact time it was happening but they did not know what it looked like. Other places in the Gospels clearly show people constantly asking John and Jesus if they were the Elijah to come. This takes us to Jesus talking to a crowd about John the Baptist he says:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT, JOHN IS THE ELIJAH WHO WAS TO COME. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matt 11:7-15
Jesus clears up any confusion about the timing of Malachi’s prophecy and who the Elijah to come actually was IF PEOPLE WOULD ACTUALLY ACCEPT IT. Many still have a hard time receiving this today but hopefully you are starting to get it.
This concludes Part 1 of the Christmas context but in Part 2 we will talk more about Jesus’ words to Israel’s leaders and what was coming upon them as he kept hitting on a major theme that really ticked them off. That theme would be the destruction of their beloved temple, which was the main center by which Israel ordered its life around. We will see the temple and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed as Malachi, John and Jesus predicted but even more we will see Jesus had a much better plan as He was shining Light in the midst of all this darkness that could not be overcome!
This is Good News!