“Watchman, what of the night?”
“…the morning cometh…”
And the coming of this Morning produced a strong impact upon the people of Christ’s time. In fact, there were two exactly opposed results: one of great rejoicing and the other of intense fear.
The rejoicing began even before Christ’s birth. At Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, they both became prophetic and spoke of their great joy in anticipation of the birth of Christ, in anticipation of the deliverance of Israel. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s salutation the babe John had leaped in her womb for joy.
On the very night of the birth, the angels were filled with joy. They came down to earth to sing the praises of God before the shepherds and tell them what had occurred. The shepherds hastened to see it and seeing, they believed, and believing they worshipped, rejoiced and testified to all the world, though they were representatives of men who were dead in the darkness of their sins, until the glory of the Lord shines round about them and they can see their sin and their need of a Saviour.
The wise men also felt the work of the Holy Spirit. They laid everything aside and undertook the hard, two-year journey only because they had seen a star and had been convinced that a King had been born. This Child caused worship and rejoicing in men who were perhaps totally unfamiliar with the Jews’ expectation of the Messiah.
And in Israel herself, there was still an elect remnant which was looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. Simeon was one of the few who was still “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” When he saw the child it brought prophecy to his lips and he rejoiced that he should be allowed to see the salvation of the Lord. And there was Anna, the old prophetess, who also worshipped immediately when she saw Christ. She recognized Him, worshipped Him, and then went and testified of Him to all those who still were looking for “redemption in Jerusalem.”
But on the other hand, the child Jesus was set for a sign that should be spoken against; that the thought of many hearts might be revealed.
And He was spoken against. That wicked Herod, when he heard about the birth of the Messiah, immediately set about to kill Him. He tried to make a situation so he would only have to kill the Christ child. But since the wise men didn’t come back, Rachel was heard weeping in Ramah. He slaughtered the children of Bethlehem in a vain attempt to kill the Christ child. The wicked king was filled with intense fear because David’s righteous Branch, who was to execute judgment and justice in the earth, had become incarnate. And not only was Herod troubled, but all Jerusalem with him.
There was no room for this Baby in the inn. To be sure, the people of Bethlehem didn’t know that Mary was coming, or that the Messiah was going to be born there. But do not rob it of its symbolism. They had no room for Jesus in the inn. Neither does any one of us have room for Jesus in our hearts until He comes with his Holy Spirit and makes room for Himself.
Here we see the two opposing impacts: on the one hand were the elect remnant of God’s people, those who were waiting in eager anticipation of the day; on the other hand were the wicked, who were waiting in dread anticipation.
The attitude of the people of God in their eagerness can be seen in the song of Zacharias. They were looking for a Messiah who would deliver them from the hand of their enemies, fulfill the oath spoken to Abraham, and redeem them from their sins “through the tender mercy of our God.”
The wicked, in their dread, were expecting a warlike king who would begin a revolution and throw them from their power, and, much worse than that, put a stop to all their wickedness by destroying them. King Herod was scared to death because of this potential king, whom, he knew, the prophets had promised would scatter the enemy. Surely anyone, you might say, would at least have let the baby grow up and manifest himself before taking action, but so sure was Herod that this child was the Messiah and so evil was his conscience that he would kill all the children of Bethlehem rather than let the Christ grow up and become dangerous.
But Christ is dealt with in the same manner even today. The people of God experience great joy “by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of God.” But the wicked see in Christ the person who represents – no, who is – “the way, the truth, and the life.” They will have none of Him because they are steeped in darkness, the lie, and death. They do not wish to be removed from it. Nor will they. But we have been. To be sure, we didn’t wish to be removed any more than those wicked but God in His compassion chose us and sent His Son into the world to die for us! And there is always this impact, either one way or the other. For God’s Word never returns to Him void!
Surely, these are “good tidings of great joy.”