The Gospel Message in Luke's Story of the Nativity - Chapter 5
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This commentary on Luke's story of the Nativity was written by Rev. Harry Colquhoun who has generously given permission for presentation on this site. Copyright ©

Chapter 5 - Jesus Christ: Part 2 

                    We saw in Part 1 how some of the titles that were given to Jesus, and although applied to him in a special sense, were used to designate specific individuals in Israel’s past tradition, so that once again we could say that it is in the light of the past that we are to understand the present—that is, in Luke’s presentation of the Gospel story.

                    We will now see how this notion plays itself out when we examine the savior concept as we find it represented in both the Old and New Testaments. (Let us remember, that the “good news of the great joy” which the angel brought to the shepherds is that of one who is spoken of as a “Saviour.” What, we may ask, would the shepherds and all those who heard this proclamation understand by such a message? In what way would it be understood to be a message of “great joy”? We can find the answer to some of these questions when we see how that term was used to apply to certain individuals in Israel’s history.

Saviours in the Old Testament

                In general, we can say that term saviour when applied to Israel’s past history would be seen to apply to individuals who, in times of national emergency, were sent by God to deliver Israel from her enemies. So it is said, in he time of Jehoahaz, a king of Israel, that the Lord sent them a saviour to enable them to escape from the hands of the powerful Syrians” (2 Ki. 13:5). The book of Nehemiah has much to say about saviours. Nehemiah, we will remember, was highly instrumental in bringing about the restoration of Jerusalem which had stood in ruins for many years after Israel’s long period of the Exile. With the present work of restoration in his mind and surrounded by hostile neighbours who resented the work Nehemiah was undertaking, Nehemiah recalled for the benefit of the people the ups and downs of Israel’s past, looking back in gratitude to God when, in response to the cries of a repentant people, God had given them saviors to save them from “the hand of their enemies” (Neh. 9:27, a phrase echoed in Lk. 1:74). Both Nehemiah and his listeners, we can be sure, would have had the Samson story, among others, in mind when they thought back on those times when God had reached out his hand to relieve his people’s sufferings. In this connection, Deborah, “a mother in Israel“(Judg. 5:7) and Jael, “Most blessed of women” (Judg. 5:24) would also have been thought of as saviors. (It would be fair to say that Mary’s song of praise to God for his saving mercies, the Magnificat, has its pattern in and is a distinctive echo of the Song of Deborah and Barak: Judg. 5:1-31—one more tie between past and present which helps us to realize just how intricately and effectively Luke has woven key elements of Israel’s past into key elements in his story, thus giving the story of Jesus its relevance for his readers.) We note that Deborah’s inspired leadership brought about the defeat of Israel’s enemies, and Jael herself administered the coup-de-gras to the enemy when she drove the tent peg through the temple of Sisera:  (Judg. 5: 26, 27). We will see a close relationship later in our study between the place of women in Israel’s history and the place of women in Luke’s story. In pursuit of our theme, we need to cast a wider net yet on our subject.

                In the final analysis, it was God himself, the Author of Israel’s existence as a people and her Protector and Defender, who was seen to be Israel’s saviour: “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and beside me there is no saviour” (Hosea 13:4). Of this fact Isaiah constantly reminded the people: “I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Saviour” (Isa. 43:3) and again: “I, I am the Lord, and beside me there is no saviour” (Isa. 43:11). God, he says, is Israel’s Redeemer: Isa. 43:14. Behind each of the saviours who arose in times if national emergency, Israel’s prophets said, we should see the hand of God, his mercy and goodness. Only God should be thanked and praised for that. It is in the light of the “savior” tradition, then, that Jesus is presented in Luke’s Gospels story.

Before we look closely at the relevant details we can say that Jesus is, first of all, presented as a Saviour, sent by God. As in the past, it is the hand of God that we should see at work here; in other words, the event of Christ should be seen (through the eye of the faithful beholder) as an authentic manifestation of God’s work on behalf of his people. This is the vital point Luke is making and wishes to impress upon his readers. It is this message that the details of the Nativity, the angels, the annunciation, the miraculous birth, are all given to support and emphasize. To those acquainted with Israel’s history, his message is a clear and forceful one, eloquently told and expressed.

                As to who this Saviour is and what he is, Luke provides us with quite a few hints. He is introduced by the angel as the Son of the Most High, and the one to whom will be given “the throne of his father David” (Lk. 32, 33). In these statements we are introduced to Jesus as a “son of promise,” and in particular as the Messiah of prophetic expectation. We have already discussed the notion of Jesus as the “Son of God” (cpt. 5) and explored the meaning of that term. The subject of Jesus as the messianic redeemer will also be discussed in greater detail as we proceed with our study, and in particular the notion that that the promised child is to be bear the name of Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins,” a significant statement in and of itself that defines to a great measure who and what Jesus is as a Son of Promise. It is readily seen from the Gospel story that the role which Jesus plays, the purpose for which he is sent, contrasts significantly with the earlier representations of the saviour role in Israel’s history. Yet more of this later.

                It can be readily seen from the Gospel story that Jesus, in his life and ministry, turned out to be a much different kind of Messianic saviour than most of the people of his day expected. (More of this later.) Yet in this respect we can say in summary that the Gospels present Jesus as the one who lifts, not the political burden of oppression from the people’s shoulders, but the personal burdens that cripple body and soul (the whole person, body and soul together). In his role as Savior and Liberator, Jesus casts out evil spirits and relieves people of crippling hysterical diseases; he lifts the burden of guilt from people’s shoulders and forgives their sins; he causes the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the lame to walk, all of which give expression to the idea of Jesus as man’s complete Savior, the Liberator of life. It is, therefore, this contrast with past saviors that helps us to see who Jesus is and what he is—and what God’s intention is in him for us.

                There is one particular story that effectively illustrates the role Jesus plays in the Gospel as man’s spiritual Liberator that is well-worth our time to dwell on. The story presents Jesus as a thaumaturge, an exorcist, who casts out the demons that took captive hold and brought destruction upon someone whom we know only as the Gadarene demoniac. (We wish to remind our readers that the events recorded in the Nativity story are just Act 1 of the unfolding drama recorded in the Gospel story, and that it is only in the light of the full story that the significance of the Nativity can be understood and appreciated.) Luke’s Gospel is, after all, a story that is written in retrospect of all that had gone before—written at least half a century after the events it records of the life and ministry of Christ and in the light of the developed Christian thought of his time.

                In this story (and in others) Luke presents us with the image of a Savior who brings inner joy and peace to men and women struggling with their inner passions and the crippling guilt. The emphasis in the story falls on the fact that Jesus was able to help in a situation where other human help had failed.

  The fact that the story is presented as an exorcism tells us that we are dealing with a situation of extreme human need. The destructive tendencies in the man’s behavior suggest that he is suffering from extreme feelings of self-rejection and self-loathing that have their seat in a deep sense of guilt.

It is difficult, though, for those of us who are standing outside a particular culture to completely understand what is going on inside another culture.  Yet we are able to recognize in other cultures that, as human beings, we do share many common types of emotional problems and difficulties, no matter how strangely the symptoms may manifest themselves or be represented in other cultures. (But then again, it is entirely possible that the story of the Gadarene should simply be understood as a parable, for the story has many parable features to it.) In the final analysis, it can be seen quite clearly that the story of the Gaderene has to do with nothing more than an old and familiar problem with which we all, in one way or another, struggle.

The opening details describe for us a man whose condition has become such that it is seen, from a societal point of view, as untreatable. His behavior, it is believed, has deteriorated to the point where he has become a danger to himself and, it is felt, to others. To protect both, the man is bound with chains and expelled from society (a common practice until fairly recently in Western societies). His home is now a cave, a place of deep personal and social isolation (a private hell where he is left to suffer on his own) and his company in the adjoining fields a herd of pigs. In other words, a place of religious taboo, associated with uncleanness and evil.

                The close association of sin with uncleanness, is an old one, and, in this case, the physical scene probably says more about the inner world of the man’s feelings than the place itself. (It is, as we have said, entirely possible that the story is simply a parable.) He feels himself to be unclean and so suffers from a state of self-rejection and personal abhorrence. His isolation has exaggerated his condition, and he has grown more and more desperate. (Our sense of guilt often drives us into isolation as we seek to hide from others the terrible truths of our inner selves—as Adam sought to hide from God.) He is now close to suicide and personal destruction; close to throwing himself off the cliff and into the water below. (This, I think, is what is being indicated by the action, later in the story, of the frenzied, demon-possessed pigs which plunge over the cliffs and drown themselves in the water.)

                The chains, we can say, represent this man’s captivity to his inner passions and loss of personal freedom. His ability to break his chains points to the strength of those passions, but while he can free himself physically the chains of the inner passions retain their iron hold over him. He is in a prison from which he cannot escape. .

                Modern medicine would use the therapeutic measures available to it to treat the man’s condition by concentrating its efforts on the root causes of the man’s self-destructive behavior. The method of treatment would include drug therapy to help “take the edge” off the man’s feelings and so create a more favorable condition for treatment.

                Christian based therapy deals with such situations within the framework of the personal relationships, and, in particular, one’s relationship with God. Psalm 51, the “Penitential Psalm,” provides the model. All sin is seen as essentially sin against God (vs. 4). The resolution of the problem, then, is worked out in terms of the individual’s relationship with God, involving God’s forgiveness and grace. It is a well-proven method—as we see in this story.

                Jesus’ immediate reaction is to reach out to this man, totally unconcerned about any religious threat the place of religious taboo may present to himself (re-calling many other instances in the Gospel where Jesus goes out his way to reach “Church rejects” and social outcasts—the untouchables). These were people whom the “Church” of the day, out of concern for its own salvation had avoided and expelled from its midst. Luke tells us that rather than avoid these people, Jesus actually went out after them. It was this behavior that alarmed the perushim, the “separated ones,” the Pharisees, who thought that a good man should do what he could to avoid situations of possible moral contamination (the same people possibly who had driven the demoniac out of their midst) going so far as to avoid the shadow of a perceived sinner from falling on them. In one of Luke’s scenes, we see the Pharisaic response to what they saw as Jesus’ reckless behavior in “hanging out with sinners” (Lk. 5:30). (These stories are a telling indictment on a Church that continually isolates—and alienates—itself from the outside world in the ritually clean environment of the Sunday morning “sanctuary”—a form of cave of its own, to which it repairs to shield itself from the world.)

                With Jesus’ arrival, the previously hopeless situation takes a decidedly hopeful turn, with the first redemptive note being sounded when Jesus, without hesitation, reaches out to the man, re-establishing human contact with the man, and so re-bridging the gap the man’s forced isolation from society had caused. The man is brought back into the pale of society and so to a return to hope. The very fact of Jesus’ presence conveyed to this man his deep personal concern for him. Here was someone who cared whether he was dead or alive, someone whose presence told him he mattered.  

 The Gospels tell us that Jesus brought a special kind of presence to a situation. Those in need sensed that he wasn’t just simply “there,” but that he was there for them. Yet it was more than this. His very presence on the scene was such that he was able to re-kindle hope in those who had all but given up, and even in those who had surrendered to their affliction and closed the door on their own fate. Jesus brought a redemptive and hopeful presence to situations of human need.  For those in need he truly proved to be “the resurrection and the life.”

 Other stories in the Gospel give us a fair idea of the direction the conversation took between Jesus and this man. We can be fairly sure that truth, honesty, and openness would have been major ingredients, yet all carried out in a climate of sympathy, compassion, and understanding. (The model is suggested by Jesus’ redemptive encounter with the Samaritan women at the well). Jesus’ openness allowed persons to be open with themselves and gave them the courage to deal with the problems they faced. This mentally and spiritually distressed man reached out to accept the offer of unconditional love and acceptance Jesus extended.

                Through the miracle of the dialogue that took place between Jesus and this man, the demon (the insidious power of guilt) was cast out and the inner conflicts (the inner trauma) resolved. His chains fell off, his heart was free.

When the man’s neighbors come on the scene, they find a man who is now at peace with himself, sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus. Through the miracle of forgiveness, the man has been restored to himself and to his neighbors. He is truly a liberated man, free to return home and to make a new start in life; a man with a new future.

                In such situations we see Jesus as man’s “personal Savior.” He reaches out in a way that no other is able to do and makes the kind of connections that brings a sense of deliverance to those burdened and crippled with guilt.  “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” he says to them in a gesture of unconditional love and acceptance (in a way that enables them to truly feel forgiven) and so enabled to put the past behind them and be free for the future.

To the forgiven, however, Jesus adds a word of warning: “Go thy way,” he says (enjoy the freedom you have been given to make a new life for yourself) but, take heed, “and sin no more.” (Don’t give the old passions the chance to re-gain hold over you, for doing so will only bring disaster. With the help of God, build a new life for yourself, for if you don’t the demon that was cast out will return again with friends, the like of which you can’t imagine.)

                                The theme of Christ as Savior/Liberator is echoed many times over in the New Testament and is indeed THE message of the New Testament—what theologians call the kerygma, the proclamation of the Apostolic Church; the central element of its preaching and faith. We see, for example that story of the demoniac finds its echo in the journal of Paul’s spiritual journey he records for us in Romans 7. Prior to his liberation in Christ, Paul saw himself as a person sold to the slavery of sin (a man who has no mastery over his own life but is at the back and call of another master). He is a man caught up in the contradictions and agony of his own spiritual nature, desiring the good, but pulled by the law (gravity) of his own nature into the abyss of evil. He is a man, chained against his will, to do that which he earnestly desires and wishes to avoid. Like the Gadarene, he is an alienated man. Like one before him, he met the Savior on the way and cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” In Jesus of Nazareth he found his Personal Liberator. Through the grace of God, through God’s forgiveness in Christ, his inner conflicts were resolved and he was brought into harmony with himself.  Freed from guilt and self-recrimination, he was brought (like the Gadarene) to peace with himself and with God (Rom. 8:1).

                We can begin to see, now, what the Church had in mind when it spoke of Jesus as man’s Savior—and what Luke has in mind when he shares with his readers the good news of the new born Savior (Lk. 2:11). Just as God had acted in the past to save his people, so in Jesus he had acted once more, but in a way that would deliver people in a very personal way from the intolerable burden of guilt that has a strangle hold on their sense of inner peace and wellbeing. Through Jesus of Nazareth God has reached out with saving intent to lift the burden from his people. This is the truth; the reality of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus the God who, through the saviours he sent to lift the political burdens of his people, has in an act of supreme saving mercy, sent us a Savior to help us in a very personal way. He has sent us a Saviour to provide us with inner release and freedom from the strong and personal enemies with which struggle and hold us captive in their power: I Cor. 15:55, 56. Rejoice, Gabriel says, for the help we need is now at hand. Jesus, the promised One, will be passing by (Mk. 10:46-52).

 Jesus himself tells us what he is all about when, in his first public address to the people, he states: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk. 4:18,19). Jesus, the Church proclaims, is the Liberator Extrordinare!

Returning for a moment to the subject of Jesus as man’s Liberator/Savior, one cannot help but feel disturbed that Jesus, in a strange ironic twist of ideas, is being presented in some quarters today as a social and political liberator and little more—filling a role which in its most important respect is alien to the Jesus of the Gospels—for, as we have seen, Jesus is presented in the Gospel as man’s Personal Liberator, as the one who has the authority to expel the demons of man’s inner nature and bid them depart. It is a rather sad matter to know that what some pulpits are offering is more of a Samson figure, a social and political liberator, than Christ himself, the Liberator of the soul. The consequence of this kind of “secularizing” of the Christian Faith, is that the Church comes to be seen as little more than a social organization, with a social and political agenda to match, big on justice, but with little to say about the primary thing that concerned the Apostolic Church: the personal life of the individual in his/her relationship and standing before God. What is being offered today may help a few folks gain a little fairer treatment for themselves in the world, but it is still cold comfort for hungry hearts and people alienated with people dealing with their own very personal devils.

                This is not to say that the Church should not be interested in social justice, or seek the liberation of people from the blight of disease, hunger, malnutrition, and political tyranny. It should be at the forefront of  the endeavours that are underway throughout the world to alleviate the unimaginable suffering and social injustice that is being inflicted on millions throughout the world. Yet we need to recognize that the Church’s concern for social justice and human wellbeing flow out of or are the fruit of the transforming grace of God that liberates us from our ingrained selfishness and egoistic self-absorption; the grace of God that frees us to be a neighbour, a Samaritan to the wounded and needy. We learn to love as we have first been loved by God: Eph. 5:1. What this means is that our interest in the neighbour, although it involves our interest in his physical and social wellbeing goes far beyond this; our interest in him as a neighbour will concern itself with that upon which true happiness and a true sense of wellbeing depend: heart and soul set at rest. And for this we refer him/her (in our personal ministry) to the Physician of the Soul: Jesus Christ, man’s Personal Saviour. We can give a person a cup of tea and alleviate, on a temporary basis, his present hunger and thirst, but if we are going to truly minister to the true need of the individual, to that on which his/her ultimate happiness depends, then we will have to offer him/her of the Water and Bread of Life, that of which, if a person eats and drinks, he/she will never hunger or thirst again (Jhn. 6:35). “Be not afraid,” says the angel of the Lord, “for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10, 11).

                The Gospel message is an old message, yet one that is “old, yet ever new.” Those who open up their hearts today to the message of personal deliverance the angel of God delivered two thousand years ago will find a near-at-hand Saviour to hear their cry, for indeed he is “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever” (Heb. 13:7).

Jesus as Messiah

                Although we have spoken of Jesus’ Messianic role as that of a personal Saviour, it will be helpful to us in our reflections to look at some of the Messianic expectations of the time, for indeed it is against the Messianic expectations of the time that the role of Jesus is contrasted. The truth is that Many, probably most, people were expecting a Messiah of a different kind than he came to represent for the followers of Christ, although it is also true to say that at the time there were competing ideas in regards to the nature of what the Messianic Kingdom would be, with most of these being seen as more secular in nature than spiritual. A popular belief (based on a particular understanding of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies) was that the Messianic Kingdom would be of a triumphalist, nationalist kind: under Messianic rule, God would restore Israel to a place of prominence among the nations; the Messiah would rule with the kingly elegance and splendor of David, the idealized king of Israel’s past, yet his rule would be much greater yet, in that it would be a rule without end and world-wide in its scope. In other words, it would be a rule that would establish the sovereignty of God, and his Kingly rule over the nations of the earth; God would in truth and reality be enthroned above all the nations (Ps. 113:4; 145:11, 13). See also Isa. 9:6, 7.

                Interestingly, it is expectations of this kind that we find being expressed in Luke’s Nativity narrative. Gabriel, for example, speaks about a promised Son who is to be given the throne of his father, David and reign over a kingdom without end (LK. 1:32,33).  We also, hear Zechariah, John’s father, giving thanks to God in that he has fulfilled his promise to his people raising up “a horn of salvation” to save Israel from its enemies, and from the hand of all who hate her (Lk. 1:67-79). Zechariah’s cause for rejoicing seems to directly reflect the fact that Israel was at that time, once more in its history, in a state of servitude to a foreign power, and could only move by the good graces of Rome. Such a state of subservience and servitude was not borne lightly by a people whose God was the “God of the nations” and “Ruler of the Universe.” He alone was to be worshipped, and he alone served. Mary’s words can be understood to reflect the hopes of her people at that time for political deliverance. She gives thanks to God that “he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Lk. 1:52). In exalting his people, God himself will be exalted (enthroned) among the nations: Ps. 46:8-10.

                Some of the disciples appeared to entertain such Messianic dreams involving their Master and hoped for a place of prominence in the Messianic Kingdom. James and John, the “sons of thunder” were anxious to secure for themselves the place of secondary power at the “right hand” of Jesus (their Messianic King; Mk. 10:35). Judging by the kind of jealous response this request created in the other disciples, it appeared that they, too, shared much of the same dreams of aggrandizement. Christ’s death, however, shattered such expectations and dreams and left the disciples of Christ disillusioned and distressed. Their hope, they confessed, had been that Jesus would have proven to be the Messianic redeemer of Israel: Lk. 24:21. Their dreams of deliverance and personal glory died with the death of Christ. Then, of course, there was the charge that was brought against Christ by the Jewish religious authorities that he was setting himself up as king to lead an insurrectionist movement against Rome. But this was seen even by Pilot as a trumped up charge put forward by people who would stop at nothing to convict Christ, using even their own secretly cherished dreams of Messianic emancipation in a perverted way to destroy Christ.

                In contrast to the idea of a political Messiah who would bring freedom and glory to the nation, we gather from the New Testament that there had been emerging in society—perhaps for quite some time--Messianic expectations of a quite different kind, ideas of a less political and more spiritual nature. As the people pondered the Scriptures new understandings began to emerge and suggest themselves and Messianic hopes took on a different color. From the New Testament we gather that Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant was giving a new shape to people’s expectations and ideas. His words of promise are: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying know the Lord: for they shall know me from the least to the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33,34). This, in New Testament terms, is the new covenant in Christ; the Christian Gospel of God’s forgiveness in and through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:6-13).The Messiah is seen as one who suffers for his people and brings about reconciliation between God and man. An important Scripture in this connection is Isaiah’s prophesy regarding the “Suffering Servant” (Isa. 53). While no New Testament writer quotes directly from this passage, there is constant allusion to it throughout the New Testament and a distinctive reference to it in the Epistle of Peter: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Pet. 2:24,25). That the Church used this prophesy in its proclamation of the Gospel is clearly shown in Acts when Philip the Evangelist uses it to proclaim “The good news of Jesus” (Acts. 7:26-35).

                Such ideas accord well with the words of Jesus himself regarding the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or “There!’, for behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst” (LK. 17:20,21). The emphasis is upon, not outer, but inner change and a personal knowledge of God. The rule of God will be in the human heart.

                 We also have to say that, while there are some ideas of a political messiah being expressed in the Nativity story, there are others that reflect a different focus altogether. Zechariah’s prophesy that his son, John, would “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk. 1:76, 77) reflects ideas that harmonize with and fulfill the promise of the new covenant of grace prophesized by Jeremiah.

Then again, it is only reasonable to suppose that in Luke’s Gospel (written about A.D. 80 + or -) all prophesies relating to Jesus had long since been “emptied” of their political nuance and given a strictly spiritual interpretation. One of the soundest principles of Biblical interpretation is that “Scripture should be interpreted by Scripture.” In other words, we need to avoid isolating a text and divorcing it from the larger context of Scripture, since it is from this larger context that a particular text derives its meaning. This principle accords with what we said earlier, that the Nativity story finds its meaning in the context in which it is set; that is, the context of the Old Testaments. So we can say that the “good news of a great joy” that the angel brings is not that of an earthly Shangri-La; not of a political emancipator (deliverer) but that of an Emancipator of the soul.

 The emphasis away from the idea of a political Messiah is also seen in that the King we meet in the Gospels as the lowly King who rides into Jerusalem (the City of the Great King) seated upon the foal of an ass (not some earthly potentate in gleaming armor riding down the main street of Jerusalem on the back of a white charger). The Gospels give us a glimpse into Jesus’ vision (and therefore the Church’s vision) of life in the Messianic Kingdom in that revealing incident where Jesus girds himself with a towel and proceeds to wash his disciples’ feet—setting the pattern of service for all those seeking to enter the Messianic Kingdom (effectively barring the door on all power trippers). Jesus is a Messiah, “meek and lowly in heart,” giving us what we need most: inner peace and rest to our souls. As Messiah Ruler and King, the enemies he has come to destroy are not specifically political or social, but mankind’s oldest and strongest: sin and death. And indeed “he will reign until he has put all his enemies [i.e. man’s personal enemies] under his feet,” with death itself—and its threat of personal annihilation--the last enemy to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:24-28).  

                For the sake of some of our readers, we should perhaps make some personal comments on the book of Revelation where we meet with some cryptic notions that some have latched on to with a particular tenacity, particularly in respect to the millennial rule of the Messiah. Revelation, for example, makes reference to a Messianic rule of a thousand years: Rev. cpt. 20. It also presents us with the picture of a Messiah with a “sharp two-edged sword” issuing from his mouth ( Rev. 1:16) and of one whom John describes as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “root of David” (5:5). In respect to such representations one should realize that the Revelation of John is a very specialized type of literature with special connections to the (literary) apocalyptic tradition, most of which stands outside the mainstream of Biblical thought. It is a very specialized type of literature that concerns itself with the political fortunes of the people, and in particular the subjugation of the people under the heel of large nation-states. It is a language John draws on when speaking about the persecution of Christians at the hands of her enemies and detractors. As such it introduces the cryptic language of the apocalyptic, using a great deal of symbolic ideas that need to be interpreted in the larger light of the Old and New Testaments. In the final analysis we can say that whatever the book has to say in its own cryptic and specialized way can be seen ultimately  to harmonize very effectively with what one finds elsewhere in Scripture. Its picture of a Messiah is not that of one who batters his way into the world and into people’s lives, but who stands at the door of the heart, knocking and inviting entry, offering the consolation of his presence to those who open the door: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). This is the Jesus of the Gospels who calls out to his listeners: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 12:28-30). 

It is not without significance, then, that Paul should affirm that it is one of the greatest ironies of all time that it is in weakness of the crucified Savior that the strength of God is revealed. It is also of little wonder that the message of the cross should have proven such a stumbling block to those whose heads were filled with notions of the politics of power and national aggrandizement:1 Cor. 1:23-35. In the light of the cross, it can be seen that the weakness of God is stronger than men in that the little that man accomplishes by strength, has been far outdone by the overwhelming and incalculable good God has accomplished for his children through the weakness of the cross. (God’s strength is in his self-imposed weakness.)

                In Jesus, then, we have a Savior of surpassing worth; One who, in his person, transcends everyone and everything to which the term savior applied. He saves man from that which he is most in need and delivers him from all those passions that enslave and imprison him. As much as many stand in grave need physically, socially, and politically, mankind has no greater need than this, and, indeed, the reality is that in the message of the Gospel we will find the true answer to the great and grievious problems with which we struggle globally: our reconciliation with God we find brings about our reconciliation with our neighbours. So then, whatever we might count as of value to us, is but refuse in comparison to our inheritance in Christ (Phil. 3:7-9). Christ offers mankind a salvation that is full and complete and a deliverance from the hostilities that pit neighbour against neighbour. He is man’s complete Savior; in all that he does, he does well (Mk. 7:37). Such is the Gospel message. Such is the news of the “great joy” and “peace on earth” that the angel brings, and it is of such a Savior that the angels sing.

Introduction  |  Chapter 1  |  Chapter 2   |   Chapter 3   |  Chapter 4   |  Chapter 5   |  Chapter 6   |  Chapter 7

This commentary on Luke's story of the Nativity was written by Rev. Harry Colquhoun who has generously given permission for presentation on this site. Copyright ©