Every Christmas season, we celebrate the incarnation and birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Although not all Filipinos fully understand the theology behind Christmas, most of them at least have a general idea of what they are celebrating. Part of what most people understand about Christmas is that the one whose birth they are celebrating is actually that of Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
But then one may ask, if Jesus is the savior of the world, then why are there people who are not saved? Does this mean that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is not enough to pay for the sins of the whole world?
The Angel and the Shepherds
In Luke 2:8-14 we will see how the Angel of the Lord proclaimed to lowly shepherds of Bethlehem the birth of the savior of all people. In Luke 2:29-32 we will also see how the Spirit filled servant of God, Simeon, confirmed that the salvation of mankind has already arrived when he saw the infant Christ. Also, we will discuss what does it actually mean when we say that Jesus is the savior of all.
In the text that we have read, Mary has already given birth to Jesus in a manger. Somewhere in the same region, meaning Bethlehem, there were shepherds who are watching over their flocks at night. And then suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, causing the shepherds to filled with great fear.
We know that the birth of Jesus is a very important event in redemptive history, and yet we can see here that when God decided to announce the birth of His Son through his angel, he chose as hearers not the Scribes, not the members of Sanhedrin, and not even the King. But God chose as His audience the shepherds who belong to the bottom class of the society.
Because one of the titles of Jesus is that He is the good Shepherd, and because King David, before he became a king, was a shepherd, we have a tendency to romanticize this occupation as if it is a very dignified and respectable job. But actually, shepherds at the time of Jesus are considered outcasts. They are not only poor and dirty, but they are also considered as generally dishonest people. In other words, they are considered as poor sinners in the eyes of the Jewish community.
The angel that appeared to the shepherd was not named, but it was mentioned that the glory of Lord shone around them as well. In the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord manifests in a form of a burning fire, or unapproachable light in the midst of a thick cloud. Upon seeing the angel and the glory of the Lord, the effect in the shepherds is that they were willed with great fear.
In his book The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul said that an encounter with the holiness of God is always a traumatic experience to sinful people. Time and time again, we see examples of people in the Bible who had an encounter with God and are filled with dread and terror, like Isaiah who called a curse upon himself upon seeing God in His throne. The apostle Peter, upon witnessing the miracle of Jesus and after realizing His holiness, begged Jesus not to come near him for he is a sinful person. Also, in Revelation, when the apostle John saw the glorified Christ, he fell at his feet as if he is dead. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after God showed him His glory, the Israelites begged him to cover his face because they can see the reflected glory of God in him and they are afraid that they might be destroyed because of it.
As sinful people, we fear the holiness of God because we know instinctively that the holy destroys the unholy, just like how fire consumes impurities. People may boast and say that they are not afraid to face God in the judgement day, but the truth is, no man can really stand in the presence of an absolutely holy God without dropping dead because of fear and terror.
But even though the shepherds are poor sinners, the angel of the Lord, instead of proclaiming destruction and judgement upon them, gave them reassurance and told them not to fear for he brings good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The good news that the angel is pertaining to is the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Though the encounter of sinful people with the holiness of God filled them with great fear, the good news of the angel brings great joy. And this great joy is not only for the shepherds, nor for the Jews only but for all the people.
When Luke uses the term people in the singular, he usually pertains to the people of Israel. But here, because Luke said that the good news will bring great joy to all the people, he is now pertaining to all other peoples or all other races other than the Jews. This tells us that the scope of God’s plan of redemption is universal, meaning it is not only confined to the Jews but also extends to the Gentile world.
And then the angel went on to say, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This proclamation of the angel echoes the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 which says:
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In verse 11, the angel said that the Savior is born in the city of David and we understood from the previous verses that he is pertaining to Bethlehem because that is where Jesus Christ was born. However, in the Old Testament, the phrase city of David was mentioned 45 times but not to refer to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem. In the New Testament, the term City of David was only used twice but referring to Bethlehem. Because of this, we can say that there are actually two cities of David in the Bible, one is Jerusalem and the other is Bethlehem.
Jerusalem was called the City of David because after David had been made king of Israel, he conquered the city of Jerusalem from its former inhabitants, the Jebusites. After winning the city, David took residence in Jerusalem and made it the seat of his power. Later on, the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem and David made plans for the construction of the temple which will be carried on by his son Solomon. In other words, it is in Jerusalem where his kingdom was fully strengthened and established. Bethlehem on the other hand was called the City of David because it is where King David was born.
But why is there a need for the Messiah to be born in the other City of David which is Bethlehem? Well, aside from this is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Micah, the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem and his eventually death in Jerusalem shows us that he is going to relive and re-do what David has done but in a greater perfection and universality of scope.
Like David, Jesus was also born in obscurity in Bethlehem. Both of them were secretly anointed as king. They are both the savior of their own people. David saved the Israelites from Goliath, the Philistines and its other physical enemies, while Christ saved His elect from the sins, from the works of the devil and from the judgement and wrath of God. David fully established is power and his kingdom in the City of Jerusalem, while Jesus fully established the Kingdom of God by his death and resurrection immediately outside the city of Jerusalem.
So in a sense, we can say that Jesus, aside from being called the second Adam, can also be referred to as the second David. But he is not only the second David but also the greater David that is to come. It is because the first David who walked the earth only became the savior of his own people, but the greater David, Jesus Christ, became the Savior of the world.
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus, he used three important titles to refer to him, these are Savior, Christ and Lord.
Jesus is called the Savior because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 says, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And when we say that Jesus will save his people from their sins, it also means that he will save them from all the other things that comes with sin, like the tyranny of the devil, the death and the judgement and wrath of God.
Jesus Christ is not merely a savior but he is “the Savior of the world”. He is not one of the many ways to the Father, but he is the only way to Him. That’s why in John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And in Acts 4:12 says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Nowadays, Christ is still being preached as savior from many other things, but not sin. We can hear preachers plead to people to put their faith in Christ because he can save their marriages, or Christ can save them from poverty, from low self-esteem, from a mediocre life, or from a life of unfulfilled potential. Most of the time, we hear Christ presented to us a savior who will save us from our personal problems and circumstance.
I am not saying that Jesus Christ is not capable or interested in saving us from our own personal problems. But, if we will present Christ this way, people will miss the whole point of the gospel. In fact, if we present Chris as someone who will only save us from our personal issues in life, then we are not preaching the gospel at all.
Although our personal problems are real and valid subjects of our concern, I would submit to you that the greatest problem that humanity is facing right now is the problem of sin. In fact, the root of all of our personal problems is sin.
Sin is a very destructive thing. Aside from the fact that it destroys our relationships and causes us to suffer different pains and consequences in this life, sin also exposes us to the wrath of God. And we cannot save our selves from sin and its consequences because sin is in our very nature.
But Christ came to save us from our sin, not only from its consequences but also from its influence in our life. The Son of God became a man, and lived a perfect life on earth in order to obtain a perfect righteousness that he will later on impute to his people. Then he went to the cross to bear the sins of his elect and to receive the punishment of God on their behalf.
Jesus was also called the Christ, meaning the Anointed one, because he was ordained by God the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit to be our prophet, priest and king. Prophet because he reveals to us, through his words and his work, the secret plan of God for our salvation. Priest, because he saved us from the wrath of God through the once and for all sacrifice of his body and even after that, he continues to interceded for us with the Father while he is in heaven. And then King because he governs our lives with his Word and Spirit and he guards us and keeps us up to our glorification.
And lastly, Jesus was called our Lord because we belong to him. He is our master and we are his bond servants because he bought us with a price, not with gold or silver, but with His precious blood. If we truly belong to Christ, then we are no longer slaves of sin, but he has already bought us, body and soul to be his very own.
But of course, Jesus is not the only infant that was born in Bethlehem the night the angel appeared to the shepherds. So to guide them which new born baby is the Savior of the world, the angel gave them a sign, and that is “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”. Surely there are not a lot of babies born in mangers at that time because mangers are not the normal place where mothers gave birth to their child.
Furthermore, this sign tells them that the savior that they are about to see is unlike the other so-called saviors or heroes who are usually born in the palaces of royal families. The humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus is a foretaste of what his ministry will look like. We know that the ministry of Jesus will be marked by humility which will ultimately be manifested in his voluntary death on the cross. That is why in Philippians 2:6-8 says that Christ Jesus, though in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Then after the angel finished giving the sign to the shepherds, a multitude of heavenly host praising God appeared and said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” There is seemingly nothing special in the birth of our savior. First of all, Mary and Joseph are just normal individuals. The birth of Jesus happened in a dirty manger and the visitors of Jesus are nothing but lowly shepherds who are also considered as outcast in the society. And yet, behind these not so special circumstances, we will see in the spiritual realm that myriads and myriads of heavenly beings are praising God and rejoicing for the arrival of the Savior in the world.
They said glory to God in the highest because God’s act of sending His only begotten Son to this fallen world for the purpose of saving His people from their sins makes Him all the more worthy to be glorified. And they said peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased because the incarnation of the Savior will ultimately lead to the reconciliation of mankind to God. And this is the reason why the good news that was spoken to the shepherds will bring great joy to the nations, because finally, mankind who was separated from God because of sin, will now be reconciled to Him through the ultimate sacrifice of Christ.
The Blessing of Simeon
Then jumping to Luke 2:29-32, Jesus was brought to the temple by his parents to be presented to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in accordance with the law of Moses. A righteous and devout man named Simeon who is filled by the Holy Spirit is waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah.
At the time that Jesus was presented to the temple by his parents, Simeon was also there. Upon seeing the infant Jesus, Simeon took him and blessed God saying, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Here Simeon is saying that he can now die, just as what the Holy Spirit told him because he has seen with his own eyes the Savior that God has promised. However, even though we can read in verse 25 that what Simeon is waiting for is the consolation of Israel, in his blessing to God he mentioned that what he has seen is the salvation that God has prepared not only in presence of Israel but that of all peoples. Not only the Jews will see the Messiah but also the Gentiles as well, and later on when the earthly ministry of Jesus begins, we will see that he will not only go to the lost sheep of Israel, but also to the Samarians and the Gentiles. So here, by special revelation of the Holy Spirit, Simeon knew that the Savior that he has seen with his own eyes is not only the Savior of Israel but the Savior of the whole world.
Simeon said that Jesus will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles because these people who knew nothing about the promises of God and His plan of redemption will know about God’s salvation in Christ. Then he said that Jesus will be the light for glory to the people of Israel because unlike the Gentiles, the Israelites are aware of God’s promise of deliverance to them, only that, they don’t fully comprehend yet how these promises will be fulfilled. In Christ, the Israelite who are given the oracles, the prophesies and the laws of God will witness the full manifestation of the glory of the promises that was given them as they are fulfilled in Christ.
Jesus, The Savior of the All
One thing that the angel who appeared to the shepherds and Simeon said in common is that Jesus Christ will be the Savior of all peoples. But what does that actually mean? If Jesus is the Savior of all, then does this mean that all people are saved already? If Jesus is the Savior of all, then does this mean that his atoning sacrifice applies to every single people as well?
Well, we have to make sure that we understand this verses in light of the other clear teachings of the Bible. In John 3:16, we can read that although God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, it also says that only those whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. So, it is clear that not all people will be saved but only the recipients of God’s grace through faith in Christ.
But if that is the case, why then did the angel and Simon call Jesus the Savior of all peoples? When the Jesus was referred to as the Savior of all peoples, it meant that Jesus will be the savior of all people without exclusion, but not without exception. Meaning to say, Jesus will be the Savior not only of Israel, but of all races, and nations. He will be the Savior of all people regardless of gender, social status, ethnicity and social back ground. But this does not mean that everyone will be saved without exception, because again, only those who truly believe in Christ will be saved, and those who will truly believe in him has been determined already from before the foundation of the world.
So, in effect, we can also say that Jesus is not the savior of all the people in the world but only of the elect in the world. And we can also say that Jesus did not actually die for the sins of all the people in the world but only for the sins of the elect. We call this as the doctrine of limited atonement, but most theologian prefer to call it the doctrine of definite atonement.
Among the 5 doctrines in the Doctrines of Grace, Limited or Definite Atonement is the most controversial and the most resisted by the Arminians and the incomplete Calvinists (the four points or three points Calvinists). To them, it’s as if we are limiting the value and the scope of the sacrificial atonement of Christ with that doctrine. But if you will think about it, if Jesus really paid for the sins of the whole world, then why don’t we believe that everyone is saved already?
Others will say that yes, Jesus paid for the sins of the world but it is still up to the person whether he will accept the gift of the grace of God. Usually, the analogy or symbolism of receiving salvation as a gift will be used here, that unless you received first the gift of salvation of Christ, you are not saved yet.
But the problem with this kind of teaching is we make Christ an incomplete savior. It’s as if Christ went to the cross to only make salvation possible and after he resurrected and ascended to heaven, he now sits on his throne while looking down on us with crossed fingers hoping that somehow, people will avail the salvation that he only made possible. That my friends are not the kind of Savior that we worship. Christ is not an incomplete savior.
When Christ decided to die on the cross to purchase our salvation with his own blood, he is already certain that there are people who will be saved by his sacrifice because he is the one who chose them. He is the one who decided how their lives will go and when and how will they hear the gospel and receive the grace of God that he purchased by his own blood. In other words, Jesus did not only procure the salvation but also applied it to his elect, through the Holy Spirit. And after applying this salvation to them, he continuously intercedes to the Father on their behalf to make sure that they are preserved up to the time they are called home in the eternal presence of the Triune God. Truly, Jesus Christ is not only the author but also the finisher of our faith. He is a complete Savior who can save his people to the uttermost, and he is so in control of the salvation of his people that not a single strand of hair will fall from their heads without the will of the Father.
So ZCRC Imus, this Christmas season, let us join the heavenly host in glorifying God, for unto us is born in the City of David a Savior who saved his people from their sin. In Christ, we have a complete savior, who does not only purchase salvation for us but also applies it to us and sees it through that we will be saved until the very end, for he is able to save to the uttermost.