[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 2. I trust you have exciting plans for this holiday season both Christmas and New Year. I hope that you will join us tonight as we have a candle light service and next week for our New Years Eve party/service.
Today is not going to be a traditional preaching time. In fact, I’m not quite sure what to call it.
It is topical. Is it Teaching? Perhaps. Definitely not preaching. So we’ll see how it goes. No promises.
It all started when I was studying for two weeks ago’s sermon where Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. At that point I started studying some Christmas verses that talk about Him bringing peace and this entire lesson developed from there.
As I started digging I found even more Christmas verses that we think we understand, but probably don’t quite get the fullest picture of what they mean.
There are two basic goals I feel are necessary for us to accomplish from looking at these verses, and we’ll get to those in at the end.
But first lets pray.
Our first Christmas verse we think we understand is actually more of a passage. It is also the least controversial and easiest to grasp where we got it wrong. So this is our warm up.
I.) Wise men are often pictured journeying to the stable or are even in the stable with Mary and Joseph. But were they there?
a. Matthew is the only book that mentions these wise men.
b. But many nativity scenes include the wise men as attenders of the birth of Jesus. But is that true?
c. Read verses 1-12
d. So even from this – we see in verse 11 that they came into a house. Not a stable.
e. But the clincher is in verse 16. [Slide 2]
f. Herod learned from the wise men the exact point of reference for when the star appeared. He then had all the children 2 and under killed. So we can – probably safely assume – that the wise men showed up on his doorstep, at LEAST a year after Jesus was born. Herod being vicious killed 2 and older just in case they missed it by a few months. But probably Jesus is 2 years old when the wise men show up.
g. So if you have a nativity scene with wise men… put them on the other side of your house and it will be accurate.
[Slide 3 (blank)] Ok so that was an easy one. Let’s take on a really challenging one. Turn with me to Luke chapter 2.
II.) Peace on the whole earth and goodwill to all men or… some men?
a. [Slide 4] Ok, so we have heard this passage a few times this Christmas season – and guess what – you’ll hear it again tonight.
b. But depending on what version of the bible you are reading, the phrases in verse 14 are actually quite different, especially toward the end.
c. If you are reading from the KJV or NKJV– you have “peace on earth good will to men”. The often caroled and well known version.
d. [Slide 5] However, if you have pretty much, any modern version including the ESV, NASB, NLT, NET, NIV or many others – you have something to the effect of “and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”
e. [Slide 6] The primary reason for the difference in the translations comes down to which Greek word this verse should end with, eudokias or eudokia. They both mean good will or favor or perhaps even, approval. But one is saying that that approval or favor belongs to someone, the other is a simple noun that is unattached to someone. The difference would be between the statements – my ball and the ball.
f. So which one is right and does it matter?
i. Well it does matter because the version we are familiar with seems to teach that God’s peace and good will comes to the whole earth and to all mankind.
ii. The other version teaches that God’s peace comes to a specific group of men on whom He has found favor.
iii. So the primary way we interpret scripture is by other scriptures. Is there anything in the bible that either of these would disagree with?
1. [Slide 7] Well, in order for the first one to be true, that God’s peace and goodwill has come to all men,
a. We CANNOT interpret God’s goodwill and peace to mean salvation. Simply because we know that all men will not repent and believe. All men won’t have peace with God.
b. We also know it CANNOT be a Cessation of hostility toward God and man because, as we learned a few weeks ago, Jesus came to make war against the world system and all who swear allegiance to it.
c. So what could peace and goodwill to all men mean if not salvation and not a cessation of war?
d. Perhaps the passage could mean, Glory to God who has provided to all men on earth the potential for peace and favor.
e. But if that is what it means, it seems like Luke or the heavenly host could have been a bit more clear for us. Because that is some pretty fancy footwork to make it say that.
2. [Slide 8] The other one simply says that those whom God predestined, through Christ, He has brought peace.
a. If you are getting hung up on that word predestined… it isn’t a dirty word. In fact it is in the bible. God has predestined and those whom He predestined He gave favor and grace to. Which is what this verse is saying. Glory to God because the Predestined have been given peace and favor from God.
b. And there is no theological inconsistencies at all with that statement.
3. So in using the scripture to interpret scripture tactic, we cannot eliminate an option, but there does seem to be a slightly better one.
iv. [Slide 9] Another tactic we can use is trying to see which Greek word should be the one we use, based on several means
1. The dates of the manuscripts
a. The newer translations rely heavily on 2 very large 4th century manuscripts that tell us “on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests:”
b. The KJV and others relies heavily on a larger number of 6th, 8th, and 9th century manuscripts that tell us peace on earth, good will to men.
c. What is oldest is not necessarily the best, but generally speaking, the one closer to the source material is preferred or given more weight.
2. The difficulty of the reading
a. The literal 1 to 1 of the caroled version is “and on earth peace to men goodwill” Which seems relatively straight forward. Earth gets peace, men get goodwill. No problems. So easy even non-Christians can sing about it and kinda understand what it is saying.
b. The literal 1 to 1 of the newer versions is “and on earth peace to men of pleasure or favor” So are these favored men? If so who has favored them? The text gives us no answer.
c. Are these men who offer favor? If so, to whom are they offering it? And why?
d. There is no doubt that the more difficult way to read this comes from the newer translations. But that is actually an argument in favor of the newer translation.
e. How do you figure that?
f. If I am a copyist, faithfully trying to transmit God’s word, but also reading along with what I am copying…
g. Am I more likely to make the text more complicated to understand or easier to understand?
h. I would probably be more likely to say to myself – well that doesn’t make any sense – I probably misheard what the person said or maybe the copy I’m looking at is faulty. You know if it was eudokia instead of eudokias, it would make WAY more sense. That is probably what it should have been.
g. [Slide 10] So bringing all this home, while neither translation is definitively wrong, it does seem that the newer translations have transmitted the most likely to be original. That the angels were proclaiming that God had come to establish peace, not with all men because that is theologically wrong, but with those men whom He favored.
[Slide 11 (blank)] Ok so that one was really complicated. Let’s come up for air on the next one sound good? What about Isaiah 7:14?
III.) Will a virgin bear a child or a young woman bear a child?
a. In the context, King Ahaz, a wicked King of Judah is being given a promise of God that He would judge Judah very soon and within 65 years the northern kingdom would be no more. Isaiah tells Ahaz to pick a sign, any sign he wants, to prove that God is telling the truth. Ahaz, feigning humility, rejects a sign from God citing that it is wrong to test God. Isaiah says – essentially – too bad – giving you one anyway.
b. [Slide 12] That sign is verse 14 which we will read now.
i. A virgin will conceive
ii. Bear a son named God with us
iii. It goes on to say in the following several verses…
iv. He will food that is available to a war torn land
1. Butter in the KJV, but more likely this is talking about Curds or cottage cheese… because fresh milk is not available because the herds have been thinned or killed.
2. Honey because it is food able to be harvested without growing it yourself indicating the absence of crops.
3. Why will he have to eat these?
v. Before he is old enough to be able to choose right from wrong, Assyria will invade the land and destroy all the that oppress Judah, but will also subjugate them.
vi. To the extent that they won’t kill young cows for meat anymore but will only use them for milk. Their vineyards will be overtaken by briers and thorns because no one will be able to tend them.
c. So within this sign – we see that a virgin will conceive and bear a son.
d. The Hebrew word used here is a word that communicates more about the age of a woman more than her relational status.
e. With that it would include the concept of being a virgin, but simply because she is too young to bear children.
f. But if this is simply saying a young woman and not necessarily implying that a virgin would conceive, what is miraculous about a young woman bearing a child?
i. Nothing. It wasn’t a miraculous sign to King Ahaz. It was simply a sign to him.
ii. Because what good is a sign to Ahaz that doesn’t happen for 700 years?
iii. If I were to say to you –the Lions are going to win the super bowl next year. Don’t believe me. Let me give you a sign that I am right. I predict that 300 years from now what we call shorts now will be worn on our heads as hats. And if that comes to pass, it will prove that the lions will win the superbowl next year. Does that make any sense?
iv. Isaiah would essentially be saying the same thing to Ahaz. God is going to judge you. Do you want proof. Well in 700 years Jesus will come born of a virgin. That will show you that I am right.
v. Now perhaps it is possible that God honors Ahaz’s feigned humility by not giving him a sign that he would be able to see.
vi. But more likely what we have here is a dual layer prophesy. Go to chapter 8:3
1. We see Isaiah going in – or having relations with his wife
2. They bear a son.
3. His name – means speed to the spoil and hasten to the booty. So it doesn’t mean God with us.
4. BUT – it does mean that everything that is said from verse 15 on in chapter 7 is reflected in this kids name. That Assyria will come swift to the spoil and will hasten to take what is theirs.
5. If we translate virgin – young woman – the only component that doesn’t fit with Isaiah’s son being the fulfillment of this prophesy is the name, Immanuel.
6. SO – This is the sign for Ahaz.
g. But what about Immanuel. Well, Like Ahaz, the nation of Israel in the 1st century needed a sign that God was coming to sweep away the opposition and make way for peace. He was coming to judge and provide atonement for the judgment. What would be this sign that He would do this? The same sign.
i. God, through providence, 300 years after this sign was fulfilled, led 70 scholars to translate the Hebrew texts into Greek. The Septuagint, which is often quoted by Jesus and the apostles.
ii. In that translation, these scholars, KNOWING that Maher-Shalal- Hash – Baz had fulfilled the prophesy, still translated the word into Greek as Parthenos. A word that is not ambiguous. It means virgin.
iii. Then Matthew makes reference to this 1:23 – that Jesus was born of a virgin, and his name will be Immanuel. And He will be the sign to show that God is coming to save men from sin
h. So there were two layers to this prophesy, half fulfilled in Isaiah’s and Ahaz’s lifetime, the other fulfilled more than 700 years later.
i. Isn’t that kinda cool!
[Slide 13 (blank)] Alright let’s end on an easy but also interesting one. Turn to Isaiah chapter 9.
IV.) Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
a. The context of this passage is roughly equivalent of the passage we just discussed. In fact, in verse 6 Isaiah makes reference to the child again. This should have been an indication to all who would read his words, that his son is the sign which he overtly says in verse 8:18, but that there would certainly be a greater child that would be a greater sign to deliver a greater victory by a greater kingdom on which the child would sit upon the throne.
b. [Slide 14] So what is it about verse 6 that we tend to get wrong? Well there are a few things.
i. There is parallelism in the titles of the Messiah mentioned here.
1. Mighty God
2. Everlasting Father
3. Peaceful Prince
4. Therefore, and as some of you may already know, the first two titles sung in the Hallelujah chorus, seemingly as two titles, are actually 1 title.
5. He will not be named wonderful and counselor but rather – Wonderful Counselor.
6. If that is accurate, then we have parity between all the titles
ii. But there is something else that we miss when we look at this verse that I’d like us to see. It is not all that difficult for us to see if we read verses 1-7. Let’s do that now.
1. Perhaps after reading it, it may become more clear, that the context of this verse is surrounded both before and after by the coming war of God on the wicked. His justice and judgment reign supreme.
2. Therefore it stands to reason that these titles must in some way fit in with this idea.
a. Wonderful Counselor – To be wonderful is to be shocking in a good way. When something is wonderful it is overwhelmingly good. A counselor is not someone sitting in a chair asking you how you feel. Rather this word means advisor or strategist. Therefore, given the context, this title could be easily translated – Exceptional Military Strategist. And fitting in with what we know of God, His will governing the world even against the sin of men – we can agree that He is an exceptional strategist, weaving everything together to accomplish all that He Wills.
b. Mighty God – This title does not speak to the general power or strength of God. It isn’t an abstract look at his greatness. Rather it speaks more specifically to the overwhelming nature of His ability to see His will accomplished. In a military context then, we could rename this title, Warrior God. And indeed, later Jesus says He did not come to bring peace but a sword. He came to bring war.
c. Everlasting Father – Everlasting is eternal. Without end or enduring. We could be backed into a corner if we conclude that Father is speaking to the First person of the Godhead, because although they are 3 in 1 – Jesus is not the Father and if you call Him God the Father you are technically wrong. In a military context though, the title of Father would adopt more the role of a father to protect. So then we could easily rename this title, Eternal protector. And indeed there are other passages in the scriptures that talk about God being a fortress and a rock. A bastion of hope
d. Peaceful Prince – Prince indicates royalty and the right to lead the army. But then we have this word, peaceful. Now what is peace doing in a context of war? I think the secret is as you read on into verse 7. We notice there, that HIS government, compared to the forces that were in control before His, will establish eternal peace. It will be ruled with justice and by His own passion. So He will be a prince who brings the most complete peace that has ever been. But how? By the destruction of all other governments. All the governments will be controlled by Him. And in that – there is no more war.
[Slide 15 (blank) (End)] So what was the point of looking at all these verse that we mess up the interpretation of? Just to rile us up? Well maybe.
The first application we take from this is a very practical application. Do not assume you understand any passage of scripture without submitting yourself to the Spirit’s leading, researching and studying for yourself. If you think it means something because you were taught it by your parents, a song tells you that is what it means, or even if a pastor preached that is what it means – don’t accept it hook, line, and sinker. Go and study for yourself. That includes what I have said today, or any day. I’m just a man. I can make mistakes. Just be sure that when and if you disagree with what I say – you are not also disagreeing with what God says. Because if they are the same… then you are wrong.
So in looking at these passages of scripture this morning – well known Christmas verses – we were able to see more layers to what they mean, beyond what the carols tell us. And that is great! Because it shows us that we can keep learning. It shows a humility to the text of God’s word – that we never arrive but continue to allow Him to show us what He meant and why He said it.
The second application is really this… that the meek and lowly baby lying in a manger, is less than half the story.
Through His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection He has defeated the Kingdom of this world and brought us to a bright and peaceful future.
And one day – He will take up those titles – Exemplary Military Strategist, Warrior God, Eternal Protector and Peaceful Prince – And He will rule and we will reign with Him and the world will truly know peace. That God, that Prince, That Strategist, That Protector – that is the King lying in the Christmas manger.
And perhaps with that backdrop we can transition naturally into remembering not just the manger, but also the death and resurrection through the Lord’s Supper.