“The Staggering Mystery of Christmas” (Part 2) by J.I. Packer
Who Is This Child? The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us in some detail how the Son of God came to this world. He was born outside a small hotel in an obscure Jewish village in the great days of the Roman Empire. The New Testament has two thoughts to convey about the identity of the baby.
The baby born at Bethlehem was God.
More precisely, putting it in Bible language, he was the Son of God, or, as Christian theology regularly expresses it, God the Son. The Son, note, not a Son: as the Apostle John says four times in the first three chapters of his Gospel, in order to make quite sure that his readers understand the uniqueness of Jesus, He was the only begotten or one and only Son of God (see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).
John wanted to make it clear from the outset that the Sonship which Jesus claimed, and which Christians ascribed to Him, was precisely a matter of personal deity and nothing less. Hence his famous prologue (John 1:1-18). The Church of England reads it annually as the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, and rightly so. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the nature and meaning of Jesus’ divine Sonship so clearly explained as here.
See how carefully and conclusively John expounds his theme. He does not bring the term Soninto his opening sentences at all; instead, he speaks first of the Word. There was no danger of this being misunderstood; Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God’s Word in the Old Testament is His creative utterance, His power in action fulfilling His purpose. The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of His purpose, as having power in itself to effect the thing purposed. Genesis 1 tells us how at creation “God said, ‘Let there be’ … and there was … ” “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made … He spoke, and it came to be” (Psalm 33:6, 9). The Word of God is thus God at work.
John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word.
(1) “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning of His own; when other things began, He—was.
(2) “And the Word was with God.” Here is the Word’s personality. The power that fulfills God’s purposes is the power of a distinct personal being, who stands in an eternal relation to God of active fellowship.
(3) “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s deity. Though personally distinct from the Father, He is not a creature; He is divine in Himself, as the Father is.
(4) “Through him all things were made.” Here is the Word creating. He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed. Here, incidentally, is further proof that He, the Maker, does not belong to the class of things made, any more than the Father does.
(5) “In him was life.” Here is the Word animating. There is no physical life in the realm of created things except in and through Him. Here is the Bible answer to the problem of the origin and continuance of life, in all its forms: Life is given and maintained by the Word. Created things do not have life in themselves, but life in the Word, the second person of the Godhead.
(6) “And that life was the light of men.” Here is the Word revealing. In giving life, He gives light too. That is to say, all people receive intimations of God from the very fact of being alive in God’s world; and this, no less than the fact that they are alive, is due to the work of the Word.
(7) “The Word became ﬂesh” (1:14). Here is the Word incarnate. The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God.
And now, having shown us who and what the Word is—a divine Person, author of all things—John indicates an identification. The Word, he tells us, was revealed by the Incarnation to be God’s Son. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (1:14). The identification is confirmed in verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (KJV). Thus John establishes the point at which he was aiming throughout. He has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God. The Son of God is the Word of God.
When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of His distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was—God.
(Devotional credit: J.I. Packer, Written for BGEA)