The Grand Story of Christmas
For those who know me well, it’s no secret that I absolutely love this time of year and all that the Christmas season entails. One aspect that I look forward to all year round is the music. So much so that I cannot wait until December to begin listening to it—it’s just too good. I can’t even wait until just after Thanksgiving. This fall, Christmas tunes were sounded forth from my car in mid-October.
Yet another aspect I love about the Christmas season is how it gives us a window into the gospel. I’m not just talking about the cross and the empty tomb, to which Christmas points, but the meta-gospel story that the whole of Scripture masterfully unfolds to a degree equal to the eternal glory of the hero of the story—Jesus Christ. So this Advent, I’ve been pondering, musing, and meditating on this grand story of our great Savior.
The Grand Story of Christmas as a Song
I remember well how, a few years ago, I sat down to journal, my heart bursting with awe and wonder after being struck by a section of Scripture that amazingly—yet concisely—reveals the grand gospel story (the grand story of Christmas) in four movements.
The Scripture is 1 Timothy 3:16:
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”
As we unpack this text today and over the next four weeks, I want to invite you to think of these four movements in musical terms. As I mentioned, I love the music of this season, so I am going to frame each of these four movements as verses of a song, being sung in the full scope of this message. Yet, like any good song construction, there is a chorus. A chorus is introduced after the first verse and then repeated after each succeeding verse, and often as the conclusion of the song. As we unpack each of these gospel movements or verses, I will also be weaving in lyrics from some of the best Christmas classics.
One of the convincing reasons we are looking at the movements of this message in musical terms is that the construct Paul uses when writing these verses is likely the quotation of an ancient church liturgy, confession, or hymn that was sung. We might even think of this verse as one of the first Christmas songs!
As with many other songs, a chorus is introduced that often becomes the title. So before we do an overview of the four movements or verses, let’s learn the “chorus” together.
The Grand Story Chorus
The chorus of the grand story of Christmas comes from the opening line of 1 Timothy 3:16, which emphatically proclaims:
GREAT IS THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS!
Let’s briefly unpack this chorus so we can grow in our appreciation of it as it resounds throughout the rest of the song. You likely noticed that it’s slightly shortened from what the text says. Here’s why: we need to emphasize “great” because the text does.
GREAT: The reason why “indeed” is mentioned is to show that this statement or confession is emphatic. Furthermore, the word for confess here in the Greek is what’s called a hapax legomena, or a word that is only used once in the New Testament. While it was a common phrase in other literature around the time of the writing of Scripture, it’s used here to emphasize the deep assurance and certainty of conviction of this confession. It’s a way of saying that most certainly, beyond all question, this confession is unlike any other confession. The word also holds the idea of something that must or should be acknowledged publicly. It speaks to an undeniable matter or something that must be admitted. Therefore, we make the word GREATly emphatic, unlike anything else, because the chorus points us to our infinitely good, gracious, and great God and Savior—Jesus Christ!
MYSTERY: As one biblical commentator put it, this refers to God’s “counsel, or secret plan, which God shares only with His people. In most biblical passages it relates to the wise counsel of God in His guidance of history to its destiny.” This mystery (of godliness) has now been perfectly and fully revealed in Christ for us to behold with eyes of faith and wonder.
GODLINESS: This brings to light the whole of our life in Christ. Our faith, affection, dependence, and obedience. Godliness refers not just to words we declare, but the lives we demonstrate as those who can fully experience and faithfully express God’s presence. How can a wicked sinner, a sheep that has gone astray, a rebellious stubborn enemy of God be counted as godly? The gospel. The gospel makes godliness possible!
The Grand Story Verses
Now that we have a sense of the deep and rich meaning behind the “chorus” of this ancient, divinely-inspired hymn, here is an overview of the four “verses” which gives the context for the grand story of Christmas that we will be exploring together over these next few weeks.
- From the Throne to the Cradle: This “verse” speaks of the marvelous, mysterious, and wondrous incarnation.
- From the Cradle to the Cross: This “verse” points us to the purpose for which Christ came, that He might “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
- From the Cross to the Tomb: While this “verse” is not specifically mentioned in the passage, it is certainly implied and well testified to in other Scriptures. This “hidden” verse speaks to the tragic reality of Christ’s death, yet points to the triumphant truth of the fourth and final verse of the song.
- From the Tomb back to the Throne: This “verse” wraps it all up. In between leaving the throne and returning to the throne, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died a criminal’s death on the cross, rose victorious, defeating sin and death and securing redemption, and now is seated at the right hand of God making continual intercession for us.
This next week, take some time to prayerfully ponder the truths from this magnificent ancient “Christmas” hymn. May it produce in your heart and mind a fresh awe and wonder over our Savior who has come and is coming again.
Copyright © 2023 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved.