Some have observed that there is an interesting connection between the opening of the gospels and their close, but in this article we will consider the links between the story of the early times of Christ and His closing experiences, and the lessons which can be learned from these.
The Witness of Prophecy
It is interesting to see how often the 0.1. is quoted at the time of the Lord’s conception and birth and again at the time of His death. Both were the subjects of prophecy. As to His birth, it stated that His mother would be a virgin, He would be born in Bethlehem, He would be named “Emmanuel,” and He would be the ruler of His people. His going into Egypt was also foretold. In regard to His death, the Shepherd was to be smitten, He would be numbered with transgressors, He would part with His garments, He would be broken, and He would be pierced. References to prophecy occur throughout His public ministry, but at His birth and death there is a concentration on its fulfillment.
In the case of believers, there is also great stress in Scripture as to our spiritual birth and what occurred in us. Likewise, our association with Christ in His death is fully developed. Perhaps all who are saved will admit that they had but a small grasp of all that had been wrought in them when they were converted, and little apprehended the implications of what was involved in His death in their stead. Only in the epistles are these great matters developed.
Where Both Events Took Place
There must have been a concourse of people in Bethlehem at the time of the Lord’s birth, for there was no room for His parents in the inn. At the time of the Lord’s death, Jerusalem was also crowded. What links these two events, however, is that He was born outside the inn of Bethlehem, and died outside the gate of Jerusalem. The one took place in the shelter for cattle, the other occurred at the place of the skull.
The lesson this would teach is that the world has no place for the Lord, and those linked with Him should not expect any friendship from it. The apostle in Hebrews 13 makes clear that the Hebrew believers should go outside the camp and bear His reproach. Christians are sometimes disappointed that they are given the cold shoulder by the unsaved, but they should expect to be treated in the same manner as their Master.
The Wrapped Babe, and the Wrapped Body
The babe was wrapped by His mother in swaddling bands and laid in the manger, and the body
of Christ was wrapped in linen and laid in the sepulcher. The latter was a stone resting place, and possibly the former was also made of stone. There were just two involved in the first act, Mary and Joseph; there were just two involved in the second act, Joseph and Nicodemus. When the Babe was seen in the manger, it was an object of extreme poverty, but almost immediately afterwards the same child was associated with riches when the Magi arrived with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Some time must have elapsed before their arrival, but this is not noticed in the account). When Christ was taken from the cross, He had nothing, not even His clothes. When placed in the tomb, however, He was with the rich, and again the sweet odors surrounded Him. The wealth of the Magi provided for His going into Egypt, and the wealth of Joseph provided Him with a tomb.
The meeting together of poverty and riches was a feature of our spiritual birth. All who are saved, vividly remember the moments before we were delivered. How poor we felt! We could have sung, “Nothing in my hand I bring.” Yet, as soon as we trusted Christ, wealth uncountable became our portion: “joint heirs with Christ,” and an inheritance possessed with the earnest of it given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul, who “suffered the loss of all things,” not only was made rich, but “preached among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” When the believer is seen as having died with Christ, a fact testified to in baptism, he has nothing of which he can boast, but again being risen with Him means that he has links with the One on heaven’s throne.
The Wonders in the Heavens
At the time of Christ’s birth, a star appeared in the East. This was something distinct from all the other heavenly bodies which had been seen by astrologers, for the Magi were arrested by its appearance. God in His providence would allow the firmament to testify to the great event which had occurred. This star led the Magi to Christ. When the Lord was on the cross for three hours, the heavens again became involved, but this time, not a shining light, but a three hour period of darkness. God allowed creation on both occasions to speak louder than words. Natural science cannot explain either phenomenon, but the God of creation can override His own laws.
During this age, the light of heaven has guided many Gentile sinners to Christ, who, like the Magi, worship Christ. Alas, the Cross has become a scene of darkness to the minds of many, especially the Jewish nation, which has, to a great extent, been left in the dark.
The Welcome of Angels
It is fitting that the heavenly hosts should be interested in the birth and death of Christ their creator. He “was seen of angels,” who in turn directed the shepherds to the manger. They perceived the significance of His incarnation, and announced the blessed results of it. Likewise, they again appear at the time of His resurrection. On the former occasion, they directed men to see the filled manger; on the latter occasion, they directed men to see the empty tomb. The shepherds saw the babe wrapped in swaddling bands; the disciples saw the vacated linen clothes and the head covering, both lying undisturbed.
The gospel preacher, like these heavenly beings, can direct the minds of sinners to the One who came down from heaven, and very especially to the One who is no longer dead, but risen.
The Woeful Three Days
There were two periods of three days when the Lord was absent from those who loved Him: the three days when His parents sought Him sorrowing, and the three days when He was in the tomb. Had His parents known that He was in the Temple, they would have had no sorrow. Had the disciples and the two walking on the road to Emmaus known that He was risen, they too, would not have been sad. It was a tremendous relief to Joseph and Mary when they saw their lost Son in the midst of the doctors, and it was likewise an amazing sight when the disciples saw their Lord in their midst. On both occasions, the Lord made plain that the sorrow was the result of the lack of knowledge.
The Lord was “a man of sorrows,” so knowledge and faith will not banish sorrow from the lives of saints. Nevertheless, there are times when they are sad, but if they knew all and trusted God, joy would fill their hearts. There are times when the Lord is not as close to the heart as would be desired, but the promise still stands, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Saints mourn the loss of loved ones, but if they could apprehend the portion of the departed in glory, much of the pain and distress would be lifted. The words spoken to the two on the road to Emmaus could be fitting to more than them, “Oh fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
The One who sat in the midst of the doctors and in the midst of His disciples, is the One Who is in the midst of those gathered to His name. He is not now visible to the natural eye, but His presence is enjoyed in the souls of His own. He Who answered the doctors has the answer to all our problems. He Who counseled the disciples can still give His counsel to those who give Him His rightful place.
The Worship He Received
Perhaps the wonder of the Magi worshiping a young child has almost disappeared, but only divine direction could have led them to do so. They worshiped Him as king. They were convinced that He was the One Who would have universal domination. When the Lord was carried up to heaven, His disciples worshiped Him. They knew He was gone to His Father, and were filled with joy.
There are those who teach that we ought to worship only God through Christ in the power of the Spirit, but Christ also is One to be worshiped. Not only in this passage, but in Revelation it is clear that He is the object of the worship of His own.
The Witness Borne to Him
The news of Christ’s birth was spread abroad, especially amongst those who were looking for His coming. Anna the prophetess was acquainted with this faithful remnant, and spread to them the news of His coming. The disciples were told to go and preach the Gospel, which they did, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. It is the lot of the saints now to spread the good news, not only in public meetings, but in private contacts. There are still those who have an ear for the message