Sunday, December 16, 2012
“The angel said to them, ‘. . . I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” -- Luke 2:10.
Christmas is about even more than the wondrous nativity scene. Some key details in the accounts of Jesus’ birth highlight God’s desire that His salvation “be known on earth . . . among all nations” (Psalm 67:2).
For starters, an angel said “all the people” to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem. That night, the angel could have said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” When he added “for all the people,” he anticipated two thousand years of world evangelism efforts.
Following the nativity scene, Luke’s gospel describes Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. Taking six-week-old Jesus in his arms, the elderly Simeon prayed over Him using Old Testament phrases: “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:30-32, with wording from places like Isaiah 49:6, 52:10 and Psalm 98:2-3). Simeon’s expressions of joy at seeing the infant Messiah underscore God’s heart for world missions.
As for Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, the genealogy in chapter one lists two women, Ruth and Rahab. Having two women in the genealogy might be unexpected since the other names in the list are of males. However, what is startling about the two female names is that both women were Gentile.
Matthew’s gospel was likely originally written to show Jews that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For what reason would Matthew insert the names of Gentile women -- including one of dubious character -- in the Messiah’s genealogy? Did the Holy Spirit intend for this most-Jewish of the gospels to strongly emphasize that Jesus was to be the Messiah for all peoples?
Some Christians seem uncomfortable having a hated Moabite and a Jericho prostitute as Jesus’ ancestors. It has therefore been argued that both women were really Jewish and that the Rahab of this list is not the one we encounter in Joshua 2. Of course, if the two women had been Jewish, and it was a different Rahab, there would be little reason to put them in an all-male list of ancestors.
Matthew is also the Gospel which tells the story of the visit of the Wise Men. In this very Jewish gospel, it was not Jewish VIPs who showed up to pay homage to Jesus. The visit of Gentile Wise Men from the East, like that of the names of Ruth and Rahab in the genealogy, signals that Jesus is the Messiah for all peoples.
A concern for world evangelism does not emerge only at the end of Jesus’ earthly life with the giving of the Great Commission. The idea of “all” -- all people, all nations, all the earth -- resounds throughout Jesus’ earthly life, beginning with some details in the Christmas story.