The Greatest Gift of All

[The LORD said], “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. . . . I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:6–10)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Some time ago on the blog, we discussed four women who each, in their own ways, asked the question, “Does God see me?” (“The God Who Sees”, 5/11/21)  In this post, we’re going to follow up on that discussion. Though we often know all the songs to sing at Christmas (such as “Immanuel”), few seem to really grasp the real impact of the birth of Christ. In fact, more and more people, it seems, are asking that same question: Does God see me? Before we get there, though, we’re going to set the answer in perspective.

Another Cry For Deliverance

It has now been 400 years since Israel (Jacob) and his people entered Egypt. All of that generation had, of course, passed away. Scripture tells us that “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Joseph, the one who had been used of God to save Egypt during the famine had been forgotten. By this time the people of Israel had grown tremendously, so much so that the Egyptians feared them. So, they made slaves of them. They had now been in bondage as slaves to Egypt for 400 years. 

And God calls a man named Moses to deliver them. Reluctantly, he goes to Egypt. You probably know the story. The ten plagues, culminating in the Passover. The blood of a lamb was smeared on the doorpost of every Jewish home, and the angel of the Lord “passed over” Israel as every firstborn in Egypt died. Not only did the Egyptians let Israel go, but they drove Israel out, because they were afraid they would die. God had certainly seen the suffering of His people and delivered them with a mighty hand–so much so that Israel would speak and sing about it for generations to come in the Psalms.

What part of that really made Israel’s deliverance from Egypt possible? The Passover. Israel belonged to God from the moment the lambs were slain and the blood put on the doorposts. In the law of Moses, we read that God has a claim on every firstborn, whether human or animal. The Hebrews were told to either sacrifice or redeem every firstborn. (And the law further said that every firstborn child must be redeemed.) 

Now fast forward through history. We see time and time again Israel breaking the covenant that God had given to them. Time and time again, Israel breaks the covenant, repents and sacrifices, and then sins again. In fact, the very sacrifices they offer for sin (including the Passover) simply remind them of their sin (Hebrews 10:3). They were still struggling under sin because 1) it had not been put away and 2) its power over them had not been broken. They were still in bondage–a more terrible bondage than the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, or even Romans could inflict.

A Silent Night

Fast forward again. It’s now around 4 B.C. The people of Israel are once again in bondage–in fact they have been for the last several hundred years. Now it’s the Romans. Again the voice of the Lord has been silent. For 400 years, no prophet of the Lord has arisen. And again the cry of Israel goes up before Israel, as people wonder where the Lord is with His mighty promises. (They often wonder in private, mind you, for fear of exposing themselves to shame from the religious folk.) And again the Lord hears their cry, sending a deliverer.

This time is different though.

In previous times, He sent other people. Moses. Gideon. Samson. Deborah. Samuel. Saul. David. Some were good people, devoted to Him. Some turned out to be not so devoted. Yet, they were all His instruments. And they delivered Israel and gave her peace for a time–until she fell again.

This time is different. This time, the Lord decided to deal with the real bondage that enslave His people. And He decided He wasn’t going to send someone else to do the job.

He sent Himself.

His arrival follows a theme found even in the Old Testament–using those who seem the least likely to be picked (Moses, Gideon, Deborah, and David are a few examples). He arrives as a baby! Think of it: The God of the universe becomes human and lives among His sin-stained creation. Not only that, but this baby is born to a virgin who is betrothed (though not married) to a man. They were lower-end of the income scale (they could only afford two pigeons at the baby’s dedication). And finally, the family settled in Nazareth–can anything good come from Nazareth?

When Jesus grows up to manhood, what does He do? Organize an army to kick the Romans out? No. In fact, He tells people (including Pilate) that though He is a king, His kingdom is not of this world. There will come a time when His kingdom will invade the earth, but that time is not now. What He is here to do now is to deal with the real problem. That problem is the problem of their bondage to sin.

Did Jesus come to identify with our pain? Absolutely. We are told that He has suffered and been tempted in all points as we have. Where does that pain come from? The pain comes from the deepest cry of the human soul (which is to know and belong to God) that is bound in sin. Jesus came first to save us ultimately from our fallen selves. 

God sent Himself to us to tell us, “I see your pain. I hear your cry. And I hear the cry that you may not even recognize.” That is the greatest gift of Christmas.