The Triumph of Christmas

The Triumph of Christmas

By: Keith R. Keyser

The story of the Word becoming flesh is about the victory of God’s love, mercy, righteousness, and sovereignty. Through many twists and turns – not to mention much adversity – the Son of God came as the Son of Man. What is called “the Christmas story” is a true account of divine conquest, inspiring believers with hope in a fallen (decidedly broken) world. The Lord Jesus came to this same scene with all of its attendant problems and experienced the same troubles that His creatures face. As “God manifested in the flesh” He took on Satan and the demonic hordes. He came to destroy the devil’s works, free humanity from slavery to sin, and exalt His Father’s peerlessly righteous character. Through His incarnation, He forever linked Himself with mankind. Comprehensively tested in His humanity, yet unblemished within and without, He was perfectly outfitted to be our Mediator, Advocate, High Priest, and Savior. Matthew’s account of His birth and young childhood demonstrates the great triumph of Christmas.


As befits a claimant to Israel’s throne, the Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy establishing Jesus’ royal lineage. Whereas the complementary genealogy in Luke 3 links Him with the first Adam, Matthew 1:1-17 pays special attention to His connection with two great Old Testament heroes: Abraham and David. Both of these illustrious men were given covenants by God, with promises that encompassed Israel and – eventually – all of the nations of the earth (Gen. 12; 2 Sam. 7.) But scanning the list of names, one quickly sees that there were numerous skeletons in the ancestral family tree. Our Lord’s coming was preceded by a great deal of human dysfunction; nevertheless, God orchestrated events to bring about God the Son’s incarnation.

The patriarchs furnish several embarrassing episodes of sin and failure (e.g. Abram going to Egypt and lying about Sarai; the Hagar incident, Jacob deceiving his father, etc.) As if those incidents were not bad enough, the genealogy mentions four Gentile women[1] who were associated with great sins in the family line:

  1. Tamar, whose incestuous progeny were the product of Judah’s failure as a father and father-in-law (Gen. 38.)
  2. Rahab, a harlot from the condemned city of Jericho (Josh. 2.)
  3. Ruth, a Moabitess, a nation that was Israel’s perennial enemy (Ruth 4.)
  4. The wife of Uriah – also known as Bathsheba – seduced by David, and made a participant in adultery and the subsequent cover-up that led to her husband’s death in battle (2 Sam. 11.)

Three of these four incidents reflect badly on the men: Judah, Mahlon (and by extension, his father Elimelech, who chose to flee to Moab during the famine), and David. Although the women were not primarily to blame, these stories were hardly the stuff of proper royal behavior.

The genealogy lists Solomon, whose life of unequal yokes led him into idolatry; as well as rakes like Manasseh and Amon. Under the kings, Judah’s moral and spiritual decline necessitated severe national discipline in the form of the Babylonian captivity. During those seventy years and the ensuing centuries of the restored remnant, the Lord continued to faithfully preserve His people. Of course, the culmination of the line coming down to a humble carpenter and his young betrothed wife might seem mundane, if not positively inglorious. Israel was a subjugated people, under the Roman empire’s domination. What possible importance could the birth of Joseph and Mary’s child have for Judaea, Israel, or the world at large?


Even Joseph initially had his doubts about Mary’s pregnancy. Contrary to the frequent assertions of modern sceptics, the ancients were not credulous simpletons. They understood human procreation: one needs a woman and a man. If his affianced wife was suddenly expecting, than the logical implication was that she was an adulteress. In reality, her purity was intact, and she was God’s chosen instrument for the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. To know this, however, Joseph needed divine disclosure. God must reveal His will to Joseph – and by extension, to modern readers as well.

Matthew recounts the revelation: “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:20-23.) Joseph’s doubts were dispelled, and fear was replaced by faith. Using a seven-century old prophecy from Isaiah, and revealing a new name in the dream, the Lord explained the source and goal of Mary’s pregnancy. The virgin womb played host to the incarnate Son. From now on, the two names Immanuel and Jesus assured humanity that the Almighty is with us and saves those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In chapter two, the eastern wise men come seeking the king of the Jews in the palace at Jerusalem. God used general and special revelation to lead them to Christ. One sees the former kind in the use of “his star”; the latter is demonstrated in the use of prophetic scripture: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Matt. 2:6; quoting Micah 5:2.) Man’s search often begins with general revelation such as God using creation and conscience to channel human thinking towards their Maker. But the Bible is the vital final step in God manifesting Himself to mankind. “. . . Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17.)


Instead of the Messiah’s arrival being welcomed, Herod and the denizens of Jerusalem were “troubled” by this news (Matt. 2:3.)[2] Why were they so disquieted? Apparently, they did not want to relinquish their personal control – whether over the city’s throne or their own individual lives. Not much has changed. Many people today are troubled by Christ and His gospel, for they want to retain sovereignty over themselves. They dread or resent His authority over them. Some even assume that getting saved would ruin their plans and pleasures. They are accustomed to the dysfunction that flows from sin. But what would it be like to receive[3] the Lord? Everyone who has met the Savior can attest that He wants to make us spiritually, morally, and incorruptibly beautiful through His work of new creation (2 Cor. 4:16-17; 5:17; Rom. 8:17-18.)


Herod was too wily to show his true feelings towards the new king. He declared his desire to worship the child, when in fact he was already plotting to assassinate Him (Matt. 2:8, 13-15.) His deceit cloaked his rapacious nature, which wanted to retain power at all costs. Other members of his family would later interact with John the Baptist (Matt 14), Peter (Acts 12), Paul (Acts 26), and even the Lord Jesus Himself (Lk. 23.) Sadly, none of them converted to the Lord in those passages. It is a solemn thing to encounter the light of the world and then turn one’s back on Him (John 12:36.)


The wise men were once more guided by the star to the place where the young child was staying. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:10-11.) Despite their exalted standing as scholars, on seeing the young king they instantly prostrated themselves in worship. Clearly, they had no reservations about confessing His superior greatness and authority over them. They gave the child three gifts attesting His royal standing: gold, so often associated with deity in the Old Testament (e.g. in the Tabernacle and its furniture), frankincense, speaking of the sweetness of His character and actions (ultimately shown is the sweet smelling savor of His sacrifice on the cross), and myrrh, a resinous gum frequently used as perfume, but also employed in embalming.


The wise men apparently had little time to commune with the young monarch and His family, for they were divinely warned in a dream to return home by another way without tipping off the wicked usurper Herod. Likewise, God put Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into protective custody by sending them to Egypt (think of it as the beginning of the witness protection program.) Of old, prophets like Elijah had to flee for their lives; and from the first century onwards Christians have been dispersed by persecution and exiled to foreign lands. When Stephen was murdered as the early Church’s first martyr, the ensuing attacks on His brethren scattered them like seed in a holy diaspora that eventually bore spiritual fruit (Acts 7:59-8:4; cf. 11:19-21.) Many believers in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are experiencing similar treatment in the twenty-first century.


After the escape of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Herod could see that he had been duped: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived[4] by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16.) Though he could not surgically strike Christ, he vainly attempted to annihilate him by vicious wholesale slaughter. One describes this atrocity as “. . . the greatest and most horrific memorial to Herod the Great. In it all, heaven overrules.”[5]

The Scriptures foresaw this outrage (Matt. 2:17; Jer. 31:15), and the Idumean usurper will be recompensed for his wanton cruelty at the judgment before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15.)[6]

Meanwhile, Joseph’s family sojourned in the comparative safety of Egypt; this is ironic given Israel’s history as slaves in that nation. Yet even the Exodus has prophetic echoes of God’s higher purposes through His Son (Matt. 2:15; Hosea 11:1.) Like his Old Testament antecedents, the Lord Jesus would be a stranger in a strange land. But like the Conquest generation, He would be recalled from exile into the promised land. This is all part of His preparation as our perfect great high priest: “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18.) Later Hebrews adds: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14–16.) Even from His earliest days, Jesus was being prepared for an eternal ministry, especially equipping Him to serve the dispersed and downtrodden. His identification with the lowly was augmented by His relocation to Nazareth after His return from exile. Growing up He would be derogatorily known as “the Nazarene,” hailing from a despised town (Matt. 2:23; John 1:46.)[7] The “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” would live and breathe trials, adversity, and ignominy from His earliest days (Is. 53:2-3.)

Herod, whose name was synonymous with wickedness, is long dead. By contrast, the Lord Jesus has risen, and shall never die again. John noted this in these dramatic words: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:17-18.) He will outlast and triumph over every tyrant and form of oppression in this world. Christmas shows that God is in control of history, and that He works all things after His all-wise will (Eph. 1:11.) His childhood gave way to an honorable and perfect manhood (Lk. 2:51-52.) This in turn led to His sacrificial death on the cross, which was followed by His victorious resurrection. Subsequently, He ascended on high leading captivity captive and gave gifts to men. He entered into heaven and sat down on the Father’s right hand – the place of authority and power. Ultimately, He will return for His Church, and after the Tribulation, restore Israel to Himself. His second coming to earth will begin a thousand year reign on the throne of David until all enemies are vanquished and God is all in all. The Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants will be fulfilled, and the New heavens and New earth will displace the current creation. In light of all of this, the events of Christmas are the beginning of God’s great triumph over evil.

  1. To the first-century Jewish mind these would have been shameful examples: for neither women, nor Gentiles were highly esteemed in their culture.

  2. The HCSB and CSB render this expression “was deeply disturbed.” The NET has “was alarmed.” The same Greek word is used in Acts 17:8, to describe Jews who were antagonistic to Paul and the gospel, and so stirred up the authorities against the apostolic band. One commentator remarks: “It is not surprising, again we say, that Herod should be troubled when he heard the news, for here was apparently a rival claimant for his throne. We read however that ‘he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.’ So the advent of the Saviour produced not jubilation but consternation amongst the very people who professed to be waiting for Him! Evidently then something was terribly wrong, since it was as yet just the recoil of their perverted instincts. They had not seen Him; He had as yet done nothing: they just sensed that His advent would mean the spoiling of their pleasures instead of the fulfilment of their hopes.” F.B. Hole, Matthew; electronic ed. accessed here: [Emphasis mine.]

  3. John 1:12-13.

  4. Emphasis mine. This word is alternately translated:

    “was mocked” Geneva, KJV, RV’81, ASV;

    “had been mocked” JND, Rotherham;

    “had been tricked” RSV, NRSV, NAS’77, ’95, ’20, ESV, NET;

    “had been outwitted” NIV’11, HCSB, CSB.

  5. Jim Flanigan, “September 10th: Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1–9, 16–20),” in Day by Day with Bible Characters, ed. Ivan Steeds, Day by Day Series (West Glamorgan, UK: Precious Seed, 1999), 270.

  6. Herod’s wickedness increased exponentially as his days drew to a close; two historians detail his latter depravations: “After becoming very ill, Herod drew up the fifth will, in which he bypassed his oldest sons, Archelaus and Philip, because Antipater had turned Herod’s mind against them, and chose his youngest son, Antipas, to succeed him as king (Josephus Ant. 17.1.1–6.1 §§1–146; J.W. 1.28.1–29.32 §§552–646).

    It is against this background of palace intrigue that Matthew recounts the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus . . . Shortly before Herod’s death, magi arrived in Judea looking for the newborn king of the Jews. . . . Soon after Joseph left Bethlehem, Herod killed all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under (Mt 2:16). Herod steadily grew more ill. He received permission from Rome to execute Antipater, which he promptly did.

    Herod wrote his sixth will, making Archelaus king, Antipas tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and Philip tetrarch of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea and Paneas. Five days after Antipater’s execution, Herod died at Jericho in the spring of 4 B.C. The people made Archelaus their king. Herod’s reign of thirty-three or four years had been marked with violence, not unlike those of most of his contemporary rulers.” H. W. Hoehner, “Herodian Dynasty,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 321. [Emphasis mine.] “Realizing his end was imminent, Herod ordered that upon his death the men whom he had locked up in the Jericho hippodrome should be executed, thus ensuring general mourning at the time of his death (Ant 17 §173–75).” L. I. Levine, “Herod the Great (Person),” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 169.

  7. No single Old Testament prophecy says: Nazarene (one should not confuse the term with “Nazirite” as in the vow of Num. 6:1-21. The following excellent comments are helpful: “. . . it refers not to a single prophet but to the prophets, and it concludes not with ‘saying’ (legontos) but with ‘that’ (hoti). This suggests that it is not meant to be a quotation of a specific passage, but a summary of a theme of prophetic expectation. Thus it has been suggested that Matthew saw in the obscurity of Nazareth the fulfilment of Old Testament indications of a humble and rejected Messiah; for Jesus to be known by the derogatory epithet Nazōraios (cf. John 1:46) was not compatible with the expected royal dignity of the Messiah, and thus fulfilled such passages as Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 11:4–14.” R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 93-94. [Italics original; boldface mine.]

    “The expression by or through the prophets should be noted. It indicates that the evangelist is not referring to any one prediction in particular. He is rather gathering together several prophetic statements, and translating their import into the peculiarly significant phraseology of his own time and locality. To be called a Nazarene was to be spoken of as despicable.” James Morison, Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew (London; Glasgow: Hamilton, Adams & Co.; Thomas D. Morison, 1870), 26. [Italics original; boldface mine.]