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‘What Child Is This?’

The Child is God for us, God with us, and God over us.


In the year 1865, William Chatterton Dix, who was a businessman in Glasgow, Scotland, suddenly came down with a serious illness. A near fatal illness robbed William of his strength and he was bedridden for many months. As he lay near death, William began to reflect upon the identity of Jesus and the relevance of the faith that he had grown up with.

Now I don’t know if this has ever happened to you but it’s amazing how physical sickness or infirmities can often lead to a great spiritual awakening in our lives; how a lack of health can be God’s way to bring about greater clarity of what truly matters in life. God uses these times of acute weakness to bless the lives of others. This is exactly what happened with William.

As he was meditating upon who Jesus really is, he wrote a poem. It was largely unknown until an Englishman several years later combined the lyrics of that poem with the melody of Greensleeves. The song took off and became one of the most popular Christmas carols throughout the known world—What Child is This?

That’s the critical question of Christmas, isn’t it? What child is this? What child are we celebrating? What child was born to Mary and Joseph? It’s the answer to this question that Joseph received that I want to consider together.

(Read Matt. 1:18-25)

Are You Ready for Christmas?

Over this past week people have been starting to ask me that very stressful question: You ready for Christmas? Do you have everything ready? Are you ready for the big day? If you’re anything like me, the answer is no.

I take comfort from the fact that Joseph wasn’t ready for Christmas either. I mean think about it, here’s Joseph engaged to be married with all his hopes, dreams, and plans for their future, and all of a sudden, all those plans are interrupted and totally changed when he learns that his girlfriend Mary is pregnant and he knows for certain that the baby isn’t his. Joseph knew he had nothing to do with it.

So, let’s be honest. Joseph’s first question wasn’t, “What child is this?” His first question was probably, “Whose child is this?” Because he knew it certainly wasn’t his. This is why the angel appears to him. If Joseph is going to publicly identify with Mary and this Baby and endure all the ridicule and social shaming that was going to come along with that, then he needed to know the great identity of this Child. So, to get Joseph ready for Christmas, God sends his messenger to teach Joseph who this Child is.

It’s the same with us isn’t it? None of us are quite ready to celebrate Christmas until we really know who this Child is. In this one passage we discover that this Child is none other than God for us, God with us, and God over us.

This Child Is God for Us

We see this in verse 21, “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” You see, the Hebrew name translated from the Greek that the angel gives to Joseph is Yeshua, and Yeshua means “Savior” or more literally “God saves.” So just with this name, Joseph was being told what Child this is. This Child is God for us! This Child is God taking on human flesh to save us.

Think of it like this, how do you know for certain if someone is really for you? Think about your relationships. How do you know if someone has really got your back? If someone has your best interests in mind? What you look for is their eagerness to make incredible sacrifices to meet your deepest needs, even when you don’t deserve it. Have you ever known someone like this? Maybe it’s a friend, a family member? You experience them reaching out to help you, not because of what you’ve done but sometimes even despite of what you’ve done. That’s love. That’s someone who you know is for you.

If you’ve ever experienced that, or you’ve always longed to experience that, that is a tiny glimpse into the heart of God for us in Jesus because in Jesus this is exactly what we see God doing. Frederick Dale Bruner puts it this way, “In Jesus we see God belittling himself for our sake literally be-coming little, humbling himself so that we could be saved.”

Here is God himself in all the grandeur and bigness of his divinity and he willingly becomes small for us. While never losing his divinity, we see God becoming a tiny vulnerable infant for us. What is this saying to us? It’s that in Jesus, God is 100% for you!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned for his part in the assassination attempt upon Hitler. Writing from prison he said it was there inside his cell that he had one of the best experiences of Advent in his life. “Here I am trapped inside a cell, and my only hope is for someone to come from the outside in to rescue me. There’s nothing I can do to get myself out, I need a rescuer.” This is exactly what God in Jesus has come to do for us. He’s come to rescue us from the enslaving, imprisoning, separating problem of sin.

This is what we see. It says he will save his people from what? Their sins. Jesus came to deliver us from the very thing that causes us to doubt the goodness of God and turn away from him. He came to deliver us from the sin that causes us to say, “God, I don’t need you.”

I realize that sin is not a popular word today but it’ll always be a relevant word. Because although sin isn’t what people want to hear, it’s what we all need to hear because sin is the underlying problem that ails us all. The message of Christmas is that there is a cure for what ails us, and Jesus is that cure. If we’re ever going to understand the message and meaning of Christmas, then we need to understand the mission of Christ. He came to save us from our sins. Jesus is God’s rescue for sinners! Jesus is God for us!

I’ve heard it said that in every popular Christmas story something happens that turns things around—a foggy storm turns Rudolf’s liability into an asset, the unexpected visit of people from his past turns Scrooge into a generous man, and the unexpected joyful hearts of Whoville changes the heart of the Grinch to finally love Christmas.

In all of these stories we love, there’s typically something that happens that turns people’s lives around. But the one great story, the true story behind all those stories we love, the one surprising thing that can truly turn our lives around is the message that in Jesus God is not against us; God is for us.

This is the truth that’s meant to bring incredible courage into our lives. It was knowing that this Child is God for us that gave Joseph the courage to make the hard decision and identify with Jesus. This is the truth that calls us to endure the hard times of life that we don’t understand, because as the Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” All hell could be breaking loose in our lives, but because we know that God is for us, we know that somehow, he is going to work all things together for our good.

I don’t know what your concept of God is, but one thing that I have discovered is that many people who are rejecting God are rejecting an unbiblical version of God. The God of the Bible is the God of joy and gladness. The God of the Bible is the Giver and the Source of everything good. Jesus said in John 10, that “I’ve come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Let me be clear: The abundant life that Jesus was talking about is not found in the abundance of possessions, it’s found in the abundance of joy of knowing that the God of heaven is for you!

If you’re here and you’re exploring the claims of Christianity, you need to know that this is one of the things that distinguishes Christianity from every other religious system in the world. Every other religious system or spiritual philosophy says that somehow, you’ve got to pay the price to get to God. But only in Christianity do we hear that God did everything that was needed to pay the price to get to you. Every other religious system says essentially—you’ve got to die for God, but Christianity says, God has come in Jesus to die for you.

What Child is this? He is God for us. Part of being God for us meant that he needed to become God with us.

Jesus Is God with Us

In verse 22 Matthew tells us that the birth of Jesus is actually the fulfillment of the ancient prophesy from Isaiah 7, which he quotes in verse 23. That the virgin shall conceive and shall bear a Son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Christmas is not the beginning of the story, Christmas is really the middle of the story. It’s the moment where all of God’s promises to once and for all reunite with his people finally begin to find their fulfillment. Christmas is not just about a rescue, it’s about a reunion. The reunion of God with man.

Several years ago, when so many of our military men and women were serving overseas and were finally returning home, a number of these reunion videos started going viral on social media. Have you seen some of these? I can never watch these without crying.

There was this one where during the half time of a high school football game, one of the military families was chosen to go down in the middle of the field and listen to this message that was being broadcasted on the jumbotron by the father and husband who was serving in Afghanistan. In this message he went on to explain to the crowd all the sacrifice that a military family goes through by being apart from their father for so long, and the crowd was cheering for this family. The father went on to tell his family how much he loved them and how much he did everything that he could to be with them. With tears in his eyes, he told his children “Daddy loves you, and cannot wait to be with you.” Then he said, “And today my prayer is coming true.” Then out of the tunnel this father came walking towards his family. You see his kids instinctively and immediately sprinting toward their dad. There in that moment was this incredible reunion and you could see the joy in his children’s faces that finally their father was with them.

We watch these videos, and we may not be able to put it into words, but we know there is something very sacred happening in those moments. I believe it’s because it’s touching the very heart of God. It’s capturing God’s desire to be reunited with his lost children.

We see this all the way back in Genesis. When Adam and Eve had sinned and were hiding from God, there was God seeking them out to be with them and to show them that he was for them. The whole purpose of the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Old Testament was to communicate that the “Above us God” is the “With us God.”

All of God’s heart and desire to be reunited with his people finds it’s fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Jesus Christ came into this world to be God with us. It was Dale Bruner who pointed out that here in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is given the “God with us title” and then at the end of his Gospel, Jesus gives us the “God with us promise”—"Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

If you’ve been hanging around in Christian circles for some time you’ve probably heard this before—that God is with you. It’s a true statement, but it’s sort of one of those Christianese things to say that can sort of lose its practical meaning in our lives. A lot of times we can forget some of the practical implications of what God with us really means.

One of the sweetest things about this doctrine is that it teaches us that God is incredibly understanding. If God truly became a man, then, as C.S. Lewis put it, “This earth truly is the visited planet.” What this means is that God is not a distant God. This God not only is deeply concerned about our world and our lives, but he knows what it’s like to suffer.

This doctrine shows us that the true God is incredibly sympathetic and understanding. Have you shed tears? Jesus wept. Have you been betrayed by a close friend? Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver. Have you ever felt alone and forsaken? He was despised and rejected by men. Have you faced temptations? So has he. Have you faced poverty? So has he. Have you faced challenges and trials of various kinds? So has he. In Christianity you discover a God who truly understands you because he is not just God for you, he has come to be God with you.

However, one of the hardest things about this doctrine is that it makes Jesus incredibly necessary. If Jesus is God, then you can’t go around Jesus to get to God. I recall a conversation I once had with a gentleman in our neighborhood and throughout the conversation when I had asked him what he thought of Jesus he told me, “Oh, Jesus, yea, I’m ok with Jesus, I believe that he was a very good man.”

Now of course I agreed with him, but don’t you see, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus wasn’t just a good man, Jesus was the God-man. What that means is that if you reject Jesus, then you’re rejecting God. This is Logic 101—if Jesus is God, you can’t avoid Jesus and get to God. What child is this? This child is God for us, this child is God with us, and then …

This Child Is God Over Us

This is why in the carol, “What Child is This?” we sing the lyrics “the King of kings, salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.” But how do we enthrone him?

Look at what we find in verses 24-25, it says that “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Joseph didn’t just take notes. Joseph didn’t just say “Ah what a wonderful dream!” No, he treated the Lord as his King even at the cost of his reputation. He publicly identified with Jesus even when he knew that it was going to cost him socially.

How do we enthrone him? In other words, how do we treat him as a King? We do what he says. We take him at his word even when it’s going to cost us.

The real struggle with taking Jesus at his word and obeying him is when we know that that obedience is going to cost us in some way. But this is what we see with Joseph. He recognizes and demonstrates that this child is none other than God over him. You see, Jesus didn’t grow up and earn the right to become King, Jesus was born King. In the carol, “What Child is This,” we sing “This, this is Christ the king.” Are you treating Jesus as your King? Are you taking him at his word? What Child is This? He is none other than God for us, God with us, and God over us!


When Jesus was approximately around two-years-old, the Wise Men show up bearing gifts. They give Jesus the three famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What do they symbolize? Exactly what we just learned.

Gold was the present for a king, indicating that Jesus is God over us. Frankincense was the incense offered in prayer to God indicating that Jesus is God with us. Myrrh was the spice that was used for people’s burials, indicating that Jesus was born to die, that he is God for us.

The Wise Men were ready for Christmas. Joseph was made ready for Christmas. Are you ready? If you can answer that critical question: What child is this? Then no matter how much buying and wrapping you still need to do, I’d say you’re more than ready.

Jeremy A. McKeen is the Planting Pastor of Gospel City Fellowship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire..

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