The Advent of Christ the Saviour
(Notes of an address given in Edinburgh in April, 1921)
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for he shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:20-23).
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judah: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel” (Matt. 2:3-6).
“And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall; and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink. And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched Him there; And set up over His head His accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Matt. 27:33-37).
It was thought right that the opening address of this series should have as its special theme the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His coming into the world; and I am greatly encouraged in carrying out this thought by the text that appeared on my favourite Text Calendar this morning; it was—
“Sir, we would see Jesus”; and then followed this simple stanza:—
“We would see Jesus, for the shadows lengthen
Across the little landscape of our life;
We would see Jesus, our weak faith to strengthen
For the last weariness, the final strife.”
Yes, if we are to tread our pilgrim way with confidence to the end, we must see Jesus. If we are to fight the good fight and lay down the weapons of our warfare in final triumph at His feet, we must see Jesus. No Christian life can be right in any department of it if clouds obscure His face from us, and the whole fabric of our “most holy faith” must collapse if we do not hold fast to the truth of His most holy Person.
But not only we who have found secure and eternal rest in His person and sacrifice need Him as the perpetual and all-satisfying object of our hearts, but men need Him, and God needs Him. There can be no peace or true prosperity for the world and no glory to God apart from Him. Consider the condition of the world—of these lands, England, Scotland and Ireland—and tell me, what hope is there for mankind if Christ is left out? and what glory can there be for God in this creation apart from Him? But history is only repeating itself, except that the utter bankruptcy of man’s resources is being more and more disclosed. Yet all was described in graphic terms long ago. Said Isaiah, as inspired by the Holy Ghost, nearly 3,000 years ago, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it: but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (ch. 1:6).
But was it for such a state of things as this that God created the world? or has He been thwarted in His intentions? Let us consider the question. The stars that make the night skies radiant proclaim His power and divinity, and this lower creation makes manifest His wisdom, but His supreme work in creation was man, and His delights were with the sons of men. The persons of the Godhead took counsel together, and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, and “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the earth”. In this last act of creation something more than the almighty creative word was brought into operation; a tenderness enters into it that was not manifested before, as the almighty fingers fashioned every member of the man who was to represent God in the earth. How near God came to the work of His hands, when He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and brought the woman to him to be his mate and helpmeet. With man at the head of it, creation was complete, and God pronounced it ‘very good’, and rested from His work.
But how soon was that Sabbath disturbed, for God’s noble and beautiful creature fell before the first onslaught of His arch-foe, and instead of standing for God, and withstanding that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, Adam turned his back upon his Maker and allied himself with his destroyer. It looked as though God had been defeated, as though Satan had succeeded in His everlasting discomfiture; for he had attacked the vulnerable spot in the man’s constitution and bribed him into becoming a traitor against his God. It looked as though all that expenditure of power and wisdom and tenderness in the creation of man had recoiled upon Himself, and that His choicest work had proved to be God’s undoing.
The shadow of sin and death lay darkly over that fair garden, and hidden behind the trees of it, guilty and afraid, crouched the sinner and his wife, when God came forth to seek them. Not as an avenger came He, not as a Judge, but with tender love in His heart, crying after His lost creature, “Adam, where art thou?”
But how could God, Who had cast Satan down from his high estate for sin, spare the man? If He does spare him, what becomes of His righteousness? And if He executes His just judgment upon him, what of His mercy, His loving-kindness, His purposes of blessing for men? Here was a crisis; was God able to meet it? The man waited, and the devil waited, and the angels of God waited to see what He would do; to see who would triumph, God or the devil. They had not long to wait, for God announced His resource. He was not defeated, His counsels would stand.
“Soon as the reign of sin began,
The light of mercy dawned on man
When God announced the blessed news,
‘The woman’s seed thy head shall bruise.’”
God was the first Gospel preacher, and He announced in that first Gospel word the coming of a Person, the woman’s Seed, who should undo the work of the devil. How much this promised Deliverer was needed was proved as the centuries rolled by, for “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way”. There was no difference in this, for all sinned alike, and no man was able to deliver himself from the tempter’s power. The eyes of those who looked for salvation must have failed them through sheer disappointment if God had not constantly lighted up the gloom with words of hope and promise, and of these there is none greater than those given by that Gospel-prophet Isaiah. “Behold,” said he, “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
I boldly speak of this as the greatest of all the prophecies spoken by the prophets, for it is the first of them all that is recorded as being fulfilled in the New Testament. By it is declared what God would do. He shows that He Himself would intervene, taking the cause of fallen man’s redemption completely out of his weak and sinful hands. How the critics of Isaiah’s day must have mocked at his words. A virgin conceive! That is an utter impossibility! And the man who dreamed such a dream as that was a demented man! Yes, most truly he was, if he was not inspired by the Holy Ghost, in which case it is no dream, but the sure word of God. Such a thing would outrage the whole course of nature, it is impossible!
Yes, it is impossible with men, that is the very lesson that God would teach men by the manner of His intervention. This was the sign that He would give. It was the sign of man’s complete impotency for his own redemption, but it was also a sign that when men were hopeless, God would undertake their cause; but, also, that this should all proceed from Himself and not from man at all; in this matter man must stand aside, “A virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son”. THE WOMAN’S SEED shall bruise the serpent’s head.
In the 1st chapter of Matthew this astonishing word is fulfilled; the virgin-daughter of David’s royal line brings forth the promised Son, and lays Him in a manger, and His Name is Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, GOD WITH US. God had come to visit men. But we ask the question, If God, who is absolutely holy, comes into the midst of men who are altogether sinful, what will the result be? will not men be inevitably destroyed?
There is a wonderful story in Exodus 3. Moses was watching the flocks of his father-in-law in the backside of the desert, when he saw a strange sight. There was a bush, and that bush burned with fire. That was nothing strange in that sun-parched desert, but what was strange about this bush was, that though it burned with fire it was not consumed, and Moses looking upon it said, “I will draw near and see this strange sight”, and as he drew near to that burning bush he heard a voice from out of it saying, “Take off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place on which thou standest is holy ground”. And Moses found that he was in the presence of God; of God come down to deliver His people and not to destroy them. That bush shall speak to us tonight of humanity, of you and of me, and of all our fellow-men. Poor dried withered humanity! No fruit, no freshness, no life, no love for God! Nothing but sin and hatred of His holy will, a dried, withered, sun-parched desert bush! And the fire burned in the bush and the bush was not consumed. The fire was God Himself, for “our God is a consuming fire”. But if God who is a consuming fire comes into the midst of mankind, so dried and withered and fruitless, what must be the result? Surely we say there can be but one result, and that mankind will be consumed with the judgment of God. That is the natural thought; but when we come to the 1st chapter of Matthew, we find that out natural thoughts are wrong. God comes into the midst of men and He does not come to destroy them; for “God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”. And so Emmanuel has got another name, and that name is JESUS, and Jesus means the Saviour.
I am glad that here in the first chapter of our New Testament that lovely name—the sweetest name that our ears ever heard—is given to us twice in capital letters, so that we may not miss it. It stands there upon the title page of the New Testament as the title of the Book. But Jesus is Emmanuel, and Emmanuel is Jesus. God has come to us, none less than He could save us. If men were to be saved, God must come down to men to do it. He must come as a Saviour, or His heart will not be revealed, nor His grace made known.
In the person of Jesus, God is with us, and is with us still, for we Christians have the closing words of this Gospel for our constant comfort, words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end”. Hence we can with confidence follow the lowly, rejected Nazarene; and carry out His word, for God is with us.
There are those who deny that the Deity of Jesus is taught in any Gospel but that by John, and that that Gospel cannot be relied upon; but here, in the opening of the New Testament, we find the blessed fact of the Deity of Christ definitely, most definitely, asserted, and we could not read the Gospel without seeing it perpetually coming before us. It is woven into the very texture of it, as the gold was woven into the ephod of the High Priest, along with the blue, the scarlet, the purple, and the fine twined linen. Take just one instance: He stood in the midst of men, in their sorrows, their sins; and extending His hands to them He said, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest”, and His word stands. He says to a world, devil-ridden, sin-burdened, sorrow-blasted, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest”. Come as you are; come with your sins; your questions, your difficulties, your burdens; come, and I will give you rest. Could the greatest of men thus stand up and thus speak? He knew all the sorrows of men, every tear on every cheek had come under His notice, every sigh had entered His heart. He looked upon the world through eyes that saw all and comprehended all, and He offers to relieve all; and we Christians can bear witness to the fact that His deed is as good as His word. He has never promised that He cannot perform. That invitation alone proves that He is indeed the Everlasting God who opens His hand in infinite kindness to satisfy the needs of the creature that He has made, and that in His bosom there throbs a heart that longs to relieve the sorrows that sin has caused.
But His life and His words alone could not have effected that which had to be accomplished, and so we read in the 27th chapter of Matthew that He was nailed to the cross. They led Him to the place which is called Golgotha, and there they crucified Him. Jesus, whose name is Emmanuel, was taken by wicked hands and nailed to the cross, and over His sacred, thorn-crowned head, was this accusation written, “THIS IS JESUS”. Ah, Pilate wrote truer than he knew when he penned with his official hand that indictment, it seems as if the Spirit of God was determined that all men should understand that this is Jesus, and apart from that cross He would not have been Jesus, for apart from the cross He could not have been the Saviour. He might have gone to the glory of God from the mount of transfiguration, as far as He personally was concerned, but if He had done so He would not have been Jesus. The only way in which He could establish His right to that Name, which is above every name, was by going to Golgotha, and there giving up His life in sacrifice for sinners.
It is popular in these Gospel-rejecting days to preach Jesus as a great leader of men, a reformer, a socialist, or anything you like except a Saviour from sins. But such a Jesus is no Jesus at all. Do you say, “Sir, we would see Jesus”? My answer is, Look at the centre cross on Calvary. THIS IS JESUS—the thorn-crowned Nazarene, despised and rejected by men, crucified upon the cross of a malefactor; this is Jesus, and beside Him there is none other. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name, under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved.”
The first prophecy which the New Testament records as fulfilled tells us of the greatness of the Person whose name is Jesus. The second prophecy, telling us of the place of his birth, declares that He is to be the Ruler, the Governor of all whom He saves, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel” (Matt. 2:6). It should be clear to all that if the Creator comes into His creation He must eventually be supreme in it. We scarcely need the Scriptures to tell us that, though they do tell us it most emphatically. This prophecy had very special reference to His Messiahship, but tonight we look at it in its wider application—Christ is Lord of all. If it is true that you cannot know the Saviour apart from His cross, it is equally true that you cannot know Him apart from His Lordship. He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). The Spirit of God links up these two things together. The One whose name is Emmanuel is the Lord, and if these two things greet us at the very threshold of the Gospel, at the birth of the Lord, they are also proclaimed from the cross, for the accusation written thereon was, “This is Jesus, THE KING”. And faith read the writing and embraced the truth, and cried, “Lord, remember me, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”. How blessed will that kingdom be when it comes, and there can be no peace for this world until it does, men will continue to strive, selfishly, covetously, sinfully, hateful and hating one another, until the universal sceptre is put into the pierced hand. But when Christ does arise as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings,
“He’ll bid the whole creation smile
And hush its groans.”
And then under His beneficent rule men will make haste to beat their swords into ploughshares and call everyone his neighbour under the vine and fig tree. The reason why lockouts and strikes, turmoil and strife continue to this day is because the rightful King is rejected, the Prince of Peace is not owned, men will not own Jesus as Lord.
How blessed is the sway that He exercises in that life that owns Him. We do not look for peace in the world that will not own Him, but we may have it, each of us every day, by yielding to His gracious claims, for He has said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”. God grant that while we pray “Thy kingdom come”, we may know the peace of it before it comes, by yielding a glad obedience to Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ.