The Grand Story of Christmas, Part 2: Throne to Cradle
As we continue exploring the grand story of Christmas from 1 Timothy 3:16, we come upon the first of four movements—or verses—of what could be called an ancient Christmas song. This movement would be called Throne to Cradle. (If you missed the first week of this advent series, click here to read an overview of this profound Scripture that summarizes the grand story of Christmas).
By way of reminder, we are unpacking the four movements of 1 Timothy 3:16 in musical terms, as this was likely composed as a hymn that the early church sang, and the resounding chorus comes from the opening line that emphatically declares, GREAT is the mystery of godliness! To see Christmas in the context of God’s eternal plan and the full history of salvation, we need to first remember where Jesus came from and where He came to.
To see Christmas in the context of God’s eternal plan and the full history of salvation, we need to first remember where Jesus came from and where He came to.
The Grand Story of Christmas Verse 1: From the THRONE to the CRADLE
First Timothy 3:16 simply says, “He was manifested in the flesh…” The motif of this movement is one of waiting.
I like how the Apostle Paul summarized this movement in Galatians 4:4-5 by declaring,
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
We recognize at Christmas time that Jesus didn’t come in a vacuum or at a random arbitrary time in human history. No, He came at just the right time, when the fullness of time had come. Yet where was Jesus before He came? On the THRONE. Which throne? The throne of thrones, because He is the King of Kings, and always has been. Jesus is GOD. Uncreated. Eternal. Self-existent. Immortal. Immutable. Sovereign. Or as the Apostle of John, the beloved disciple, said:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
This verse is about eternity breaking into space and time. Between the throne and the cradle we have the creation of all things in Genesis 1-2, the fall of humanity to sin in Genesis 3, and a seed of promised redemption planted in the soil of Genesis 3:15, which would continue to be watered towards full fruition.
Promise and Fulfillment
The first verse of this song is about promise and fulfillment. The reason Jesus came was to fulfill God’s promises. Christmas exists because God is faithful in keeping His promises and is sovereign over all of human history to fulfill them. The nature of biblical prophecy can be likened to God setting up a cup that symbolizes His promises, into which He begins to pour everything that He said He will do. So in effect, there is a progressive filling that takes place that sometimes is stretched out over decades, centuries, and even millennia. Once the cup is fully filled, the prophecy becomes fulfilled.
Christmas exists because God is faithful in keeping His promises and is sovereign over all of human history to fulfill them.
God sets up the cup of promise back in Genesis 3:15, where He states that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. Genesis 12 goes on to reveal that the seed of Abraham would be the source of blessing for the whole earth. Exodus 14 continues to fill the cup, showing at the inauguration of the Passover that the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world would one day come and be the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. The Levitical priesthood is set up by God to pave the way to the one who would be the Great High Priest, forever interceding for our souls. Deuteronomy 18 shows that a prophet like Moses will rise one day, functioning as God’s ultimate prophet through which He would speak. And 2 Samuel 7 further fills the cup by promising a coming king through the line of David who would be the one true king of Israel and reign over a kingdom that knows no end.
Matthew chapter 1 chronicles the filling of this cup by laying out the human genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy is full of men and women, prostitutes, idolaters, murderers, prophets, priests, and kings. It is a brutally honest look at God’s relationship with His people throughout thousands of years of ups and downs, heartaches and victories, destruction and rebuilding, exile and return, brokenness and restoration.
After telling his version of the birth of Christ, Matthew sums it up by saying in Matthew 1:22-23:
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).”
God With Us
God with us. These three words became a reality in human history when God fulfilled His promise in sending Jesus to earth. These three words sum up the meaning of Christmas after the fulfillment of hundreds of messianic prophecies. In the person of Jesus, eternity stepped into time and into our lives. At Christmas, Christ entered into our mess and began a work—a saving work, a restorative work, a make-all-things-new kind of work.
At Christmas, Christ entered into our mess and began a work—a saving work, a restorative work, a make-all-things-new kind of work.
From the throne to the cradle, Jesus was manifested in the flesh. Deity and humanity, fully existing in perfect harmony and oneness. Again, as John testified,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Or as another cherished Christmas hymn declares,
“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.”
Yet, while there was much expectation in the waiting for Jesus, when Jesus did come, He didn’t meet most people’s expectations. Instead, He thwarted them. Earthly expectations are an unfit container to hold the grandeur of heavenly expectations. People expected a military Messiah; Jesus came in meekness. People expected a political messiah; Jesus came and brought power to the poor and peace to the oppressed. People expected a Messiah to liberate them from the tyrannical grip of the Roman empire; Jesus came to bring freedom to those enslaved to sin and restore them from the inside out.
When Jesus was manifested in the flesh, when He came from moved from throne to cradle, He revealed the full majesty of God!
When Jesus was manifested in the flesh, He revealed the full majesty of God!
What a mystery, inspiring us to cry out with the chorus:
GREAT IS THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS!
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