An Old Testament Christmas
The New Testament makes no sense without the Old Testament.
When we think of Christmas, we usually think of the New Testament stories of the birth of Jesus, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, and the star. But did you know that Christmas also has its roots in the Old Testament?
As a matter of fact, the birth of Jesus makes no sense unless you know the Old Testament!
For instance, when Joseph found out that his fiance Mary was pregnant and it was not from him, he was going to break it off.
Matthew 1:20–24 CSB
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her
Joseph’s dad was not named David, it was Jacob - we can read that in 1:16 of Matthew. Why did the angel call him “son of David”
What does he mean by “saving people from their sins”? Why do people need saving?
How is a human baby, born to a virgin, possibly going to be called “God with us” and why does that matter?
While it is a beautiful passage to read, it would make little sense if you did not know what the Old Testament says. Similarly, if you look at Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus we read about another angelic encounter, this time with some shepherds.
Luke 2:8–14 CSB
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!
Why would the angels appear to shepherds?
What is the glory of the Lord?
What is the city of David?
Messiah? What is a Messiah and why is his birth good news of great joy?
How can this Messiah bring peace on earth, and why do we need peace on earth?
To truly understand the meaning of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus, we really need to understand the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of prophecies, promises, and pictures that point to the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In fact, the Old Testament is like a treasure map that leads us to the greatest treasure of all: Jesus Christ. Today, we are going to explore some of the clues and connections that the Old Testament gives us about Christmas.
The Starting Point
Every map, every journey has a starting point. For the Christmas journey the starting point is, well... at the beginning. Not just any beginning, but the beginning of all creation. It is in the first 3 chapters of the book of Genesis that we are introduced to the treasure that once existed and that was lost.
When God created the world, everything was good. Even mankind was good… very good.
Genesis 1:26–28 (CSB)
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
Genesis 1:31 (CSB)
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.
God walked among mankind and talked with them. There was no separation between them. God told Adam what it meant to rule on his behalf, and Adam named all the animals and told God what they were called.
Man sinned and messed that up. You know the story - the serpent twisted God’s words and convinced the woman to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad, which God forbade them to eat from. Eve then gave some to Adam. And they they realized they were naked and they were ashamed.
Genesis 3:7–8 (CSB)
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
God asks them what they had done. You know the story:
Adam blamed Eve.
Eve blamed the serpent.
And the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on...
Their relationship with each other and with God was damaged. God had to punish the disobedience. The ground that we work was cursed. Women were given pain at child birth, and that serpent, that instigated the rebellion was given a death sentence:
God made a promise Genesis 3:15 “15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
However, that sentence was not carried out at that time. Justice had not been served yet. THIS is part of the promise that begins the Christmas story.
Someday, there is going to be a child, born to a woman, who will be a serpent crusher.
In the meantime, there will be a war waged and anything but peace on earth. Mankind was expelled from the garden where God lived, and the distance between man and God grew, and grew. As did the violence and hostility.
Fast forward to the time of Noah and we read...
Genesis 6:5–6 (CSB)
5 When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time, 6 the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and he was deeply grieved.
It is not that mankind was evil, is that their thoughts and actions were evil.
People are sinful and are unable to rescue themselves.
What God created good was still meant to be good, but was corrupted. It would need to somehow be restored. Wiping out mankind except for one family did not solve the problem.
Even though mankind was full of evil thoughts and actions, God still continued to demonstrate love and a desire to be with humans. However, the wickedness in our hearts still kept us distant from God. God then decided to select a specific group of people to call his own, a people who would act and live on the basis of faith - trusting what God says and obeying, just like God wanted Adam and Eve to do.
Genesis 12:1–3 (CSB)
1 The Lord said to Abram: Go from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
God promised Abraham that He would be with him, protect him and bless him. He was even told the PURPOSE of this blessing: to bring blessing to all the nations. The blessing to all peoples will not be completely understood until later, but the only blessing that all peoples need is to be restored back to God - to have their relationships with each other than with God repaired and redeemed.
The serpent killer will one day do away with evil. That promised one, or Messiah, will be a descendant of Abraham
Abraham’s family tree goes crazy and then there is a famine. God uses Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, to save the family from famine and they all move to Egypt where they multiplied greatly.
Things go bad in Egypt because Pharaoh is jealous of the Israelites. He acts meanly towards them and kills off young males to keep them from multiplying any more. Moses is spared.
His first commission was to free people from bondage.
Moses was commanded by God to confront Pharaoh and represent Him. Moses was a spokesperson for Yahweh that was to demonstrate the power of God to the people or Egypt and Israel.
Exodus 6:6–8 (CSB)
6 “Therefore tell the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians and rescue you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.”
Eventually, this does happen - with the last of 10 plagues being the angel of death. It was that night that the Passover was first celebrated. After that plague, the people of God were taken to the wilderness to worship God.
God redeemed Israel from bondage and slavery to a foreign power and demonstrated that some day, he will redeem all of mankind from the bondage of slavery to the foreign power of sin and death.
His second commission was to teach them how to honor Yahweh.
When God raised up Moses, it was also to restore his people to himself, to have a people for his own possession. He gave them “The Law” or “Torah” so that they could live in fellowship with God. The requirement was to keep the Torah:
Exodus 19:5 (CSB)
5 Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine,
God chose to dwell among his people in the holy of holies in the tabernacle - a portable temple where his glory and name could reside. Moses and the people had the presence of God with them, though shrouded in a cloud, but this was the closest thing to having God and man residing together since Genesis.
The system of laws demonstrated that every evil required atonement, a sacrifice to make it right. Something would be sacrificed so that someone could be in relationship with Yahweh.
In all of this, Moses appears similar to the Messiah, but he is NOT the Messiah.
So there is still an anticipation that the snake killer, descendant of Abraham, would rescue people from sin and oppression and restore people’s relationship with Yahweh.
Even when the people whom God wanted a relationship with, rejected him and ask for a new king to rule over them, God was still faithful to pursue them.
God called a shepherd boy, the youngest of his family, to be king.
1 Samuel 16:7 (CSB)
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”
During David’s rule as king over Israel, God blessed Israel. God called a shepherd boy to be a king, and demonstrated how the least can become great and how God can use humble beginnings to do spectacular things.
2 Samuel 7:12–16 (CSB)
12 When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and blows from mortals. 15 But my faithful love will never leave him as it did when I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’ ”
The promise to David was that there would be a descendant from his line that would rule for all of eternity. One of his seed.
Of this ruler it was said:
Isaiah 11:1–5 (CSB)
1 Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—a Spirit of wisdom and understanding,a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight will be in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, he will not execute justice by what he hears with his ears, 4 but he will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land. He will strike the land with a scepter from his mouth, and he will kill the wicked with a command from his lips. 5 Righteousness will be a belt around his hips; faithfulness will be a belt around his waist.
So, the serpent-crushing Messiah will be a descendant of Abraham, from the line of David. He will restore people to God. He will have a humble beginning, but will become an eternal king who will blot out evil.
David’s son Solomon built a temple for Yahweh, the God of Israel. God told him to build it so that God could live among them permanently.
1 Kings 9:3–5 (CSB)
3 The Lord said to him: I have heard your prayer and petition you have made before me. I have consecrated this temple you have built, to put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there at all times. 4 As for you, if you walk before me as your father David walked, with a heart of integrity and in what is right, doing everything I have commanded you, and if you keep my statutes and ordinances, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David: You will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.
Now, through Solomon and David, we have the presence of God in one place, Jerusalem, and we have a system of laws being followed in that temple so they can have the presence of God remain among them. HOWEVER, we know from the history of the Prophets that Israel did not remain faithful to God. Solomon, though the wisest man that ever lived, failed to fully obey God. Solomon is obviously NOT the Messiah. So there is still war, animosity, hatred, deception and murders taking place, and Solomon is not the seed of David that will rule forever. The kings that follow Solomon are more wicked than good. Because of that, God sent foreign armies in to punish Israel. They were carried off into captivity and the temple was destroyed. Much of what we read in the OT is the filling in of that story line. God and mankind were separated, mankind did evil things, but God continued in his amazing love and pursuit of his creation.
So far in this Christmas story line we see:
Mankind chose to disobey God and it caused separation.
God pursued mankind and has always desired to be with and bless humans.
God chose a people to be his own people that would eventually be a blessing to all nations by bringing peace between God and man.
The reconciliation will come from someone born to David, who is also of the line of Abraham.
This Messiah will make a way for people to be carried out of bondage and into freedom.
God will rule over those people with righteousness and will once again live among his creation. This ruler, or king, will have humble beginnings.
ask: how are you doing? Are you tracking this? Any of this sound like the NT Christmas story?
The prophets who came after Solomon talked about all of these things to quite some degree, giving us details about what to look for and what to expect.
Where will he be born?
This ruler would come from Bethlehem:
Micah 5:2 (CSB)
2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me.
His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times.
How will he be born?
Isaiah had a LOT to say about this coming Messiah, or “anointed one.” For instance, he will be called “Immanuel” (God with us) and will be born to a virgin.
Isaiah 7:14 (CSB)
14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
Who will be born?
What type of person will this be? Male or female? (yes, there are only two genders).
Isaiah 9:6–7 (CSB)
6 For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
It will be a son. The Son of God?
So, the Son of God will be a descendant of Abraham, David, and Solomon; he will be born in Bethlehem, and come from humble beginnings, to a virgin, yet be elevated to eternal King. Something that he does will crush the serpent and provide freedom from slavery to evil to all who will follow this king.
The end of the Old Testament leaves that story wide open. It does not end with the Messiah. Instead, there is a 400 year gap without a recorded prophet. There is silence, but there is hope that this Messiah will still come.
The LAST chapter of the OT reiterates this hope: hope for a day when evil will be destroyed and people will be reconciled to each other than God.
Malachi 4 (CSB)
1 “For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. 3 You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies.
4 “Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
I don’t want to take away too much of David’s message for next week, but I want to take that image that we have of this Messiah: the Son of God will be a descendant of Abraham, David, and Solomon; he will be born in Bethlehem, and come from humble beginnings, to a virgin, yet be elevated to eternal King. Something that he does will crush the serpent and provide freedom from slavery to evil to all who will follow this king, and see if you grasp the connections as we read the Christmas story:
Matthew 1 (CSB): An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers, Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Aram, Aram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife, Solomon fathered Rehoboam, Rehoboam fathered Abijah, Abijah fathered Asa, Asa fathered Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat fathered Joram, Joram fathered Uzziah, Uzziah fathered Jotham, Jotham fathered Ahaz, Ahaz fathered Hezekiah, Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, Manasseh fathered Amon, Amon fathered Josiah, and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel fathered Abiud, Abiud fathered Eliakim, Eliakim fathered Azor, Azor fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Achim, Achim fathered Eliud, Eliud fathered Eleazar, Eleazar fathered Matthan, Matthan fathered Jacob, and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, fourteen generations. The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
The real treasure of Christmas is that we can be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. It has been the need and desire of mankind since Adam and Eve in the garden.
We celebrate Christmas because the promised Messiah came as a baby boy, born to a virgin, descended of David and Abraham. He came to crush the evil one and buy our freedom from the bondage of sin. His sacrifice for us does for us what the law never could – it brings peace between us and God if we will place our trust in Him.
NEXT WEEK: You will be looking more at how Jesus did and does that.