December 16, 2015

Christmas and God’s Heroic Sovereignty

by Eric Davis

Christmas eveChristmas is almost here. It’s a time to celebrate what God did. He brought everything together to do what we could not. He brought salvation to ill-deserving humanity in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Like a perfect conductor, God orchestrated all things for the arrival of heaven’s King.

That night, some 2000 years ago, God pulled off a jaw-dropping display of sovereignty. He demonstrated himself the hero as he conducted his plan that he made before creation for the arrival of the God-man. The arrival of the long-ago-promised, long-awaited-Messiah was a stunning demonstration of God’s sovereign grace towards sinful humanity. Despite the obstacles of humanity’s sin and contrary historical events, God was moved by his own mercy to sovereignly orchestrate history in order to bring us the Christmas Gift; the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Consider the majesty of God in his heroic demonstration of sovereignty in bringing us the Person of salvation:

  1. God orchestrated salvation globally.

Among other things at that time, the Roman Republic had transitioned into more of an autocratic type of rule shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar. From the rubble of the Republic rose the Empire, which ruled much of the Mediterranean world at the time. Caesar took the title, “Augustus” (meaning “majestic” or “revered”), which no Roman political ruler ever had. And it’s that title from which a divine-like status came to Emperors, which Christians refused to acknowledge. Even so, Christianity flourished under the eventual tirade of the Empire.

pawnAugustus was a man of great power and political success. It was said of him that he found Rome made of brick and left it marble. At that time, Rome ruled about one million square miles of territory with some 60 million people.

In the course of time, Caesar takes a census, likely to assert his rule (Luke 2:1). Rome ruled and taxes were a painful reminder to the Jews of Gentile rule. So, as one of the most powerful individuals in the world at the time, Caesar is itching to tally his people, furthering his boast in money and might.

Yet his movings are merely serving the sovereign purposes of God. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). God is orchestrating salvation on a global level.

Caesar is not thinking, “Ok, Senate, humanity is hopelessly and helplessly rebellious. But God in his mercy promised in Holy Scripture to send a Savior who would substitute himself for us, so as to divert the wrath of God which we deserve. I control the Mediterranean world, let’s play the right political chess to help this thing come about so forgiveness of sin and heaven is possible.” More likely, he’s sipping Chianti with his angel hair, and thinks, “I wonder how many people I rule? And can tax?”

God made it happen. His plan will not be diverted and the predominant power of man is merely carrying out the predetermined plan of God.

It’s almost frightening sovereignty; God’s plan will not be diverted. It’s also comforting sovereignty; God’s plan will not be diverted. Those through whom salvation would come, the Jews, were in an impossible position to do anything great. The ones through whom salvation would not come, the Empire, appeared to be in a likely position to thwart it.

But human ability to help or hinder God’s plan is no obstacle. Instead, it serves as a backdrop against which God’s strength and ability to save shines bright.

That first Christmas, God is not responding to human might nor playing catch up and clean up. God is creating, controlling, and directing human might, calmly carrying out his plan to bring his love and mercy to the world.

  1. God orchestrated salvation prophetically.

There is a little tension in the story. With Micah 5:2 canonized and Mary and Joseph about 90 miles from Bethlehem, the prophecy of Christ’s birth there seems unlikely.

But God is taking care of it: “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” (Luke 2:4). Bethlehem was king David’s hometown. Joseph happens to be in the line of David. Just like another prophecy says, the Messiah will be in the family line of David (1 Sam. 7:12, Isa. 9:7).

So then, Joseph is (notably) obedient to the Roman rulers and makes the trip to Bethlehem for the census. God is also orchestrating things to ensure that his prophecies are fulfilled. (And we could also mention prophecies like Isaiah 7:14).

  1. God orchestrated salvation biologically.

JNativityoseph and Mary’s trip was not likely without stress. I’ve travelled through this area and it’s not flat. And they are not cruising the 90 miles in a climate-controlled, shock-absorbed modern sedan, but probably a smelly, stubborn 4-legged animal.

What if Mary goes into labor on the road? What if she needed bed rest? What if she was having contractions or early labor?

God handles it heroically, orchestrating things biologically. The most important birth in history was a very normal birth. There are no halos and Jesus does not exit the womb looking like an angry little medieval boy-man giving the peace sign. There is labor, water breaking, contractions, and pain. There is Joseph likely not having a clue what to do; maybe fainting. Yet, there is God watching over it to carry it out exactly how he determined.

  1. God orchestrated salvation humbly.

In my kids’ Big Picture Storybook Bible, this part of the story is captured wonderfully. It says, “Caesar, the ruler of the Roman world, was showing the world how great he was by counting all of his people. But God, the ruler of the universe, was showing the world how great he was by becoming one of his people.”

With this conception and birth, the God-man arrives bathed in humility. Somehow, the baby is fully God and fully man. Yet it is not the beginning of our Lord’s existence, but his humanity. And it’s an unfathomable act of humility on his part which will be crowned by his substitutionary atoning sacrifice on the cross.

  1. God orchestrated salvation ironically.

God peppers history with irony on purpose. The Nebuchadnezzars turn into cow-eagles. The Hannahs conceive. The Sauls are knocked off their high-horse and converted. The Herods are eaten by maggots. The humble are exalted. The exalted, humbled. It all puts a spotlight on God’s glorious sovereignty. We’re reminded that he sits in the heavens and does as he pleases (Ps. 115:3).

shepherdsIt was no different on that first Christmas. The King’s first place of his human enthronement is a trough. Angels seek, find, and sing to lowly shepherds. These guys were not likely topping out on the glamour scale; probably not the type with societal sway.

And in a crescendo of irony, the King of heaven becomes a suffering, serving Savior.

It’s God’s way of doing things so that no man may boast and he gets the glory.

  1. God orchestrated salvation mercifully.

Mercy and sovereignty go together. No one earns or orchestrates his own mercy. Mercy is mercy because another of superior ranking decides of his own will to withhold and divert deserved punishment. This is exactly what God is doing.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).

The angels are sovereignly sent to proclaim the Savior who is sovereignly commissioned from all eternity. And his title, “Savior,” is telling. It indicates that he is one who delivers the helpless, hopeless, and rebellious from a direct threat. The wrath of God for eternity is our direct threat. Motivated by his own love, God mercifully sends the Savior. This little baby in the manger will grow, obey God’s moral standard perfectly, all so that he can hang on the cross to absorb God’s wrath in our place. It’s mercy at its finest.

  1. God orchestrated salvation limitedly.

The peace will come, but it will only come to those “with whom [God] is pleased” (Luke 2:14). It does not say, “Good will to men, in general.” The angels are not delivering a ’60’s Hallmark card from heaven. They are not saying, “Peace to everybody, whether or not you embrace heaven’s gift, God the Son.” If someone repudiates God by rejecting his Son, God’s wrath, not pleasure and peace, rest on them (cf. John 3:36).

Not everyone is going to be as noble-minded as the shepherds. Many will insanely reject the Savior. Some will even kill him. And if Jesus were here today, many would attempt to do the same. And, if it were not for God’s kindness in our salvation, we would all scream, “Crucify him!”

  1. God orchestrated salvation joyfully.

1364989499_23dd50ae0fWhen the shepherds saw the angelic choir that first Christmas, it lit a fire in them. They heard. They believed. They ran. They saw. They celebrated. It was the thing happening. And Christ is still the thing happening. “To live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).

Christmas did not happen because the human race finally arrived at a certain level of moral elegance such that God said, “Wow, OK, that’s impressive. Now I’ll come to earth.” This was a single-handed orchestration of God’s sovereign grace. God worked in spite of us, yet for us.

The result is that salvation has arrived in the Person of Christ. Here we are two millennia on the other side of that which many prophets longed to see. Christ has come and accomplished what we could not. God is working everything for good. It’s all going to be OK, and better than OK for all in Christ. This Christmas, bask in awe at the loving demonstration of God’s sovereignty in bringing salvation to us.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Cripplegate and may you be filled with the knowledge and love of Christ.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • tovlogos

    Yes, Eric — He orchestrated salvation ironically, as well as paradoxically, which can be frustrating especially in the milk drinking stages.
    The engagement of the Law was one monumental difficulty, until people realized that we will never be perfect in it. Even in the latter stages, under the New Covenant when the Law was to be relegated to the heart (Hebrews 8:6-8), spending time “trying” to get it just right turned out to be futile.
    One thing that Israel and the church had in common was the “flesh”.
    After we walk on the Narrow path for years, the wisest among us must still never take his eyes off Jesus.
    So, by all means:
    “Christmas is almost here. It’s a time to celebrate what God did. He brought everything together to do what we could not.”

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Mark. Bless you brother

      • tovlogos

        God Bless you too brother — the Holy Spirit is so evidently with you.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    I remember reading Eusebius (an early church historian) and finding a passage where he said, “Balaam’s oracle of a star rising was handed down to the Persians who trembled at its sight and news spread throughout the whole east and so the King of Persia sent gifts via the Magi.”

    Think of that! Balaam’s oracle preserved some 1400 years. Starting in Mesopotamia, carried by Daniel into Babylon, combined with Daniels visions, giving the conquering Persians a detailed time frame of when this Anointed One would appear. Can you imagine how they trembled at the sight of this star, understanding that the prophecy was being fulfilled right before their very eyes. Just another example of God’s providence orchestrated in perfect timing!

  • 2corten5

    Thank you for this, Eric. Merry Christmas to all at Cripplegate. I joyfully look forward to all of your posts.

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you for the encouragement, 2Corten.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Thank you, Eric, for all the encouragement and counsel you provide us here on the Cripplegate. It is a gift to us all. Merry Christmas to you and yours!