Few events change the lives of a married couple more than the birth of a child. You take a stable relationship of a husband and wife and suddenly insert a baby, and everything's different. Noel and I discovered that. Our life was pretty predictable, fairly routine. We had dated through high school, and when we finally did get married, we waited another seven years to have our first son. When Nathan came I was amazed at the changes that took place. I used to control my schedule. I determined when I would go to bed and when I would get up. I determined if I would go to bed and if I would get up. Suddenly this little screaming child was in control of my schedule and my sleep habits.
Everything changed with the introduction of Nathan. I used to spend my time and money on books and things academic. That was my interest. That was my passion. Suddenly, when Nathan came my finances were altered significantly. I discovered department store sections that I previously didn't know existed. I was introduced to strange, little toys that made weird sounds—things I had never seen before. I found myself looking at Reebok shoes for babies that had full supportive air cushioning. Nathan couldn't even stand yet. But my wife explained to me that they matched his outfits. I learned to say, "Yes, I agree that would look marvelous," so Nathan had Reeboks. I remember one time late in the evening when Noel and I said to each other, "You know it's been ages since we have been out for coffee. That's a great idea." We grabbed our jackets, went outside, and got the car. We started backing the car up, when suddenly we looked at each other and said, "We've got a baby now! We can't leave him!" I said we should bring him along, but Noel said he'd wake up and it'd be too much of a problem. We went back inside and made instant coffee.
Everything changes when a child comes into a relationship, and it doesn't stop after they're babies. As they get older, they have things like music lessons 18 times a week and soccer and hockey and football. On and on it goes. You come to understand why all those minivans have that sticker that says "Mom's Taxi" on the back. Life profoundly changes with the introduction of a child.
Jesus transformed Mary and Joseph.
But of all the children ever born, no birth has so profoundly altered the lives of more people than the birth of Jesus Christ. All children change lives, but Jesus changed everyone's life. His arrival was quantitatively and qualitatively different than the arrival of any other child, and you can see that in the events surrounding his birth. The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew gives us the events surrounding the birth of Christ. Look at the difference Jesus immediately makes: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (Matthew 1:18-19).
Mary and Joseph's lives were very predictable. They knew how it was beginning, and they knew how their life together would end. They were from the same, small town; chances are good that they grew up playing together, until, as they got older, they began to look at one another differently. Suddenly Mary was pretty as she never had been before, and Joseph wasn't quite the geek he'd been just a little while earlier. Their parents probably arranged that they should join together in marriage, and so they were betrothed. Betrothal was a public event; it was a formal and public announcement that they would be husband and wife. There would have been a tremendous village celebration. Joseph probably had the job of preparing a house to which he would eventually take his bride. I'm sure in the midst of all of those happenings that there was great love. I'm sure that they enjoyed the times when they could appropriately be together alone, when they could chat about what tomorrow and the day after would bring for them, when they would share their love for each other. Perhaps there would have been a moment when their hands might have touched—that electricity of excitement filled their bodies and minds.
And then everything changed. What had been so predictable was turned on its head, because Jesus invaded Mary's womb. I don't know how Joseph found out. Maybe they were together on the equivalent of a 1st century date, but Mary was clearly distracted and not herself. Joseph prodded her on the way home, "What's wrong, honey? What can I do for you? There seems to be something bothering you." Maybe it was then that Mary turned and looked him in the eyes and said, "Joseph, I'm pregnant." Pregnant? I can imagine the rage and bewilderment and hurt that Joseph must have felt. "You're pregnant? How can that be? I have loved you. We are betrothed. Our future is planned. How could you have betrayed me? How could you have gone and slept with another man? How could you be so unfaithful? How could you ruin our life together? All the things we said and everything we had planned—was it all for nothing? Was it all a lie?"
You can imagine the look on Joseph's face when Mary turned and said to him, "It's not what you think. I haven't been with any other man. God got me pregnant." Of all the lame excuses ever offered for how someone became pregnant, Mary comes and says, "It wasn't me. It was God."
Jesus attracted the Magi.
You can imagine Joseph running through the ramifications of the situation: This will affect me socially—no one's going to believe I wasn't the father. This is going to affect me in terms of my business—who's going to want a contract with a man who appears obviously unfaithful to his marriage vows? And how will I ever show my face in the synagogue? How can I lead God's people in worship? The introduction of Jesus changed Joseph's life. He set his mind to divorcing Mary. What choice did he have? What other options were open? It would never be the same again.
Jesus' birth changed life for the Magi as well. Matthew 2:1-2 says, "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'" These were men who had come from the Mede-Persian Empire. They were the scholars and scientists of their day. They were also the priests of their country. They were the intelligentsia. They were the best educated and had the finest minds. They were the go-to people in times of crisis. And like many of the highly educated people and cultures of this day, they had profound interest in astronomy, in the heavens and the stars that they saw every night. They were amazed with the precise movements of those stars, the mathematical precision with which they moved. They honestly began to believe that those stars effected and perhaps determined what happened in the lives lived beneath them. One day they saw an unusual star that was so brilliant and so amazing that the only conclusion they could come to was that the Christ had been born.
How in the world do foreign, non-covenant people look at a star and say, "This is Jesus." I'm not sure, but I have a theory. Six hundred years earlier, Daniel lived among these people. One thing I know about Daniel is that he was not a shrinking violet when it came to sharing his faith. He was a man of God, and he wasn't afraid to tell people about the God that he served. We know that Daniel was put in charge of all the wise men that were there. And I wonder if there wasn't a time in one of their weekly meetings when Daniel would have given the wise men some good theology and told them about the true God, the God of Israel, and maybe even given them a prophecy about the Messiah who was to come. Then suddenly, in that instant when these men saw that bright star, they put together what they'd been taught. They wondered without hesitation, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" The arrival of Jesus immediately disrupts their lives and changes it radically. They travelled 1,000 miles in order to get to where Jesus was, a journey of probably three months, where they sat on top of ugly, smelly, spitting camels and walked through some of the worst land there is anywhere on the planet. They had to get to Jesus. Jesus changed their lives.
Jesus repelled Herod.
The birth of Jesus also changed Herod's life. Herod's life was never the same because of the arrival of Jesus. Verse 3 says, "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." This is Herod the Great. He was in many ways deserving of that title. He was one of the greatest builders of all time. Not only did he take the temple and its ruin and give it tremendous splendor, but he rebuilt whole cities, and people came from miles around just to look at the architectural wonders that were formed by his command. He was great also because of his political abilities. In a land that was fraught with war and conflict, he was able to establish a kind of peace. For many years there were no wars because Herod the Great was in control. Herod so distinguished himself that the emperor gave him the title of king—King Herod.
But if there was a flaw in poor Herod, it was that he was jealous, almost insanely jealous, for power and position. He was king and he would not share that power or glory with anyone. Anyone who got in his way he eliminated. His wife Maryanne rose in popular opinion. She began to assume a level of political power and influence that threatened him. He had her killed. Not long after that his mother-in-law began to enjoy power. He had her eliminated. As time went on, he had a series of his sons killed because they were threatening his power and position. And so when the Magi came and said, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" Herod was paying attention. The birth of Jesus caused Herod to be greatly disturbed. He was furious. And Jerusalem was upset, because when Herod got upset, people could die. Everyone was on pins and needles. The birth of Jesus changed Herod's life.
Jesus is the child who changes everything.
What kind of a child is this? Children are born all the time. Oh, they change the lives of their parents, to be sure. But to change all of those lives? The lives of Mary and Joseph, yes, but also the lives of distant Magi and the life of a king? What is it about the person of Jesus that demands worldwide response and generates instant action? Look back at chapter 1, at Joseph and his dilemma. He had in mind to divorce Mary quietly. In verse 20 we read:
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, (which means, God with us)."
The reason why the birth of this child elicits a response, a reaction, a change in the lives of everyone, is because he's different from every other child ever born. He's not just a regular child. We read here that he is Immanuel, God with us. He is a child. He is human. He is a man. But he is God, very God. John is right when he says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). In the most amazing event of all history, God condescends to take upon himself the form of a man. The God-Man arrives. That had never before happened, and it elicits a powerful response. The poet Simon Jenkins says that like Beethoven lining up for a ticket to his own concert, like a principal having to sit in the corner, like a good architect living in a slum built by a rival, like Picasso painting by numbers, God lived among us. That's what happened on that day, and that's why the response was so great.
This is no ordinary child. This is the one of whom Paul wrote to the Colossians: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:15-17).
And at this moment Paul's words to the Philippians come true, because it was in this moment that Jesus, who, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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" (Philippians 2:6-8).
The arrival of Jesus changed the life of everyone. No one can be the same. Jesus was man. He knew what it was like to be tired and hungry and thirsty and lonely. But when he walked passed water it blushed in his presence and turned to wine. When there was a leper at the side of the road, Jesus stopped and healed him. When Jairus came to him so upset and said, "My daughter has died," Jesus went to her and took the lifeless hand of that girl in his own and said, "Talitha cum, Little girl, I say to you, arise." And she got up! Because Jesus was more than man. He was God, very God, different than any other person who ever lived.
Mohammed will say, "I am a spokesman for God." But if he claimed to be God, that would be blasphemy for him. But Jesus claims to be God: "He who has seen the Father has seen me" (John 14:9). Buddha will say, "I'm just a man, but I have found the way to enlightenment." Jesus says he is the way to enlightenment: "I am the way, the truth and life. No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). Jesus is different from every other person who ever lived.
Jesus' presence demands a response from us.
Because he is the infinite God-Man, Jesus' very presence demands a powerful response. All of humanity must ask: What will we do with this Jesus? You can ignore me. You can ignore your neighbor. You can ignore 1,000 or 100,000 people in history, but you cannot ignore the towering figure of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Everyone must decide what he will do with Jesus.
Joseph had to decide what he would do with Jesus, when suddenly he learned that the cockamamie story that Mary had been giving him was not merely a story at all. It was his story. And it was God's story. Jesus, the child inside Mary's womb, was the Savior of the world, God incarnate. When Joseph sees that, he decides to marry her. He submits to the will of God; in essence, he bows before him. Joseph recognizes who Jesus is, and he responds with full submission.
After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
These guys weren't on their way to a baby shower with a card they'd picked up at CVS. These men were profoundly moved to the core of their beings by who this Jesus was. They knew that this was the one about whom Micah had prophesied, and they came and gave their best to Jesus. They prostrated themselves before him. They worshiped him and gave gifts fit for a king to this child. They responded to the person of Christ in submission and worship.
Herod had the opposite response. He had heard the same seminar. He knew who Jesus was. He was under no illusions. But Herod responded with fury and anger. He tried to deceive these wise men so that he could go and kill the child. And when his plans were foiled by God's intervention, he murdered every child in the area who could possibly fit Jesus' age description. He murdered hundreds of children, because he would have no rivals. He would not bend the knee to Jesus.
What kind of a person could elicit such powerful and opposite responses? Worshiped by some; hated by another. Only the person of Jesus Christ could elicit such responses, because only Jesus is the God-Man. In fact, all throughout his life, Jesus elicited tremendously different responses from people. He preached and performed miracles; throngs came to listen and wonder at him, and many loved him. But others were in the background wondering, How can I kill him? How can I get him murdered? The question we must all answer is: What will we do with Jesus? You can love him or hate him, but there's no neutrality with the person of Jesus Christ.
On the cross we see this so clearly. A few of his followers sit at the base weeping and crying and loving the One dying there for them, while others mock and jeer, glad that he's gone. Whatever you do with Jesus, don't patronize him. Whatever you do with Jesus, don't marginalize him. Jesus was a great teacher and a great moral example, but he was more than that. He was God, very God. And his very being demands that we respond to him, either in love and adoration and worship or in hatred and rejection. You can't be in between; it's one or the other.
The question that's asked of us is the question that's asked of old—What will we do with Jesus?—because Jesus is the great polarizer. It's as if all of humanity were iron filings laid out on a sheet of paper, and Jesus is the magnet. Every single filing lines up either with the North Pole or the South Pole. Every person is either attracted to or repelled by the person of Jesus Christ, because he's a magnet. The power and influence of his very being cannot be ignored.
There is a great divide that goes through all people and all places and all time, and the issue is, Who is Jesus to you? There are some who reject and some who rebel and some who respond, like Herod, in fury. They are the enemies of Jesus, and they will be enemies for all eternity. And then there are those who respond in worship and adoration. They will enjoy the presence of God for all eternity. Have you submitted? Have you worshiped? Have you acknowledged Jesus Christ as God? Or have you responded in hatred and anger and rebellion? The choice is yours. Which will you do?
We live in a time of political correctness. We're told that all religions are essentially the same, that all paths eventually lead to the same God. But they don't. Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," because only he is the God-Man; only he is Immanuel, God with us. The question of the hour—the question of eternity—is this: What will you do with Jesus?
Kent Edwards is professor of preaching and leadership, and director of the doctor of ministry program at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and author of Deep Preaching (B&H).