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WHAT CHILD IS THIS? - A CHRISTMAS SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, December 21, 2003


"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).


You may be seated.

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpentry shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. When the tide of popular opinion turned against him, his friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. He was tried and convicted. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompanies greatness. Yet all the armies that ever marched, and all the governments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected life upon this earth as powerfully as that One Solitary Life ("One Solitary Life," author unknown).

The famed historian Dr. Philip Schaff said,

Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, and Napoleon.

Or Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao Tse Tung!

And there are only three possible reactions to Christ. C. S. Lewis said,

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.

In this marvelous Christmas passage, in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we learn of the poverty of Christ. Please stand with me and read Luke 2:7 out loud,

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit placed Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary.

"The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God"
      (Luke 1:35).

But the Son of God was not born in a great palace. He was born in a very poor condition - in a stable. The Bible says that He

"…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men"
      (Philippians 2:7).

Christ was born in this poor condition to conceal the greatness of the event from a thoughtless and sinful world, and to reveal the greatness of it to those who were spiritually minded.

The birthplace of Jesus was so humble and low that this, in itself, was given to the shepherds as a means of identifying Him,

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

The swaddling clothes themselves would not be the sign. All Jewish children, when they were born, were washed in water, rubbed with salt, and then wrapped in strips of cloth, or "swaddling clothes." Not only would He be wrapped in strips of cloth, but He would be lying in a "manger," in a box of straw that donkeys ate from in a barn. Dr. Gill says, "This sign would distinguish the newborn Saviour from all others" (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint of the 1810 edition, commentary on Luke 2:12). And Dr. Lenski observes that this was

Not 'a sign,' but positively 'the sign,' the sure and certain sign…Some other babe had perhaps been born in Bethlehem that night; but this divine babe will be discovered 'having been wrapped in swathing clothes…and lying in a manger'… Both participles form 'the sign,' and both are such together… Where in all the neighborhood would an enswathed babe be lying in a manger - hence in a stable, not in the house proper, and even in the stable not in anything like a bed but on hay or straw in a manger? (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel, Augsburg, 1946, commentary on Luke 2:12).

And Matthew Henry says,

When we saw him wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, we were tempted to say, "Surely this cannot be the Son of God." But see his birth attended, as it is here, with a choir of angels, and we shall say, "Surely it can be no other than the Son of God…" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1996 reprint, commentary on Luke 2:12).

A newborn baby, wrapped in strips of cloth, placed in a manger, a trough used to feed animals. Even these poor shepherds had never seen a baby placed in a feeding trough for cattle! "This shall be a sign unto you"!

Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See within a manger laid Jesus, Lord of heav'n and earth!
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, With us sing our Saviour's birth.
      ("Angels We Have Heard on High," source unknown).

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky look down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
      ("Away in a Manger," source unknown).

Jesus came down from the glory of Heaven to be born in a stable and placed in the dirty straw of a cattle trough.

"[He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"
      (Philippians 2:7-8).

The Son of God, the Lord of creation, was born in a stable. He lived His life in poverty. He was stripped naked, and nailed to a cross. Why did He allow Himself to go through such humiliation? The Apostle Paul explained it well when he said,

"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (II Corinthians 8:9).

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

It is a strange mark by which to identify one born to such lofty tasks and dignities, that He…unlike the child of the poorest [person], lies in a manger. Humiliation is the sign of majesty, the depth of lowliness, a witness of the height of glory. The cradle that was too poor for a child of man is fitted for the Son of God (The Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, note on Luke 2:12).

What child is this, who laid to rest, On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?
      ("What Child Is This?," author unknown).


What child is this?

Please turn with me to John, chapter one, verse one. Let us remain seated and read it aloud.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3).

Look up, please. These verses tell us that Jesus is "ho logos" - "The Word." Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity. Verse one says that Jesus "was with God" and "was God." From eternity past, He has always been with God and has always been God, co-existing with the Father.

Moreover, verse three tells us that "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." Jesus created the world.

Now look at verse ten. Let us stand and read it aloud.

"He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" (John 1:10).

Jesus created the world, yet when He was born as a baby, the world did not know Him as its Creator and Lord. Now read aloud verse fourteen.

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

You may be seated. "And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." That is the incarnation. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, was made flesh in the womb of the virgin, Mary. He who made the world was born in that stable in Bethlehem.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
      ("O Come, All Ye Faithful," translated by Frederick Oakeley, 1802-1880).

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

Jesus came down from Heaven to this earth. But He did not come the way they expected Him. He did not come as a great king. He came as a little baby. He was born in the lowest condition. They laid Him in the straw, in the midst of cows and donkeys.

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

This shows that Jesus was fully human. He was fully God and fully man at the same time. Dr. McGee said,

He came in the weakest way possible, as a baby. George Macdonald put it this way:

They all were looking for a King
      To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam'st, a little baby thing
      That made a woman cry.

That is the way the Saviour came into the world. He did not lay aside His deity; He laid aside His glory. There should have been more than just a few shepherds and angels to welcome Him - all creation should have been there… [The Roman Emperor] Caesar should have been in Bethlehem to worship Him. Jesus Christ could have forced him to do that very thing, but He did not. He laid aside, not His deity, but His prerogatives of deity. He came a little baby thing (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Nelson, 1983, volume IV, page 253).

Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang, Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But in lowly birth didst Thou come to earth, And in great humility.
      ("Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne" by Emily E. S. Elliott, 1836-1897).

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

The poor and lowly birth of Jesus in that stable foreshadowed His humiliating, lowly death. They arrested Him for preaching the truth. They blindfolded Him and beat Him in the face. They spit on Him, and pulled out chunks of His beard. They nearly beat Him to death by flogging His back. They stripped off all of His clothes and nailed Him stark naked to a cross. He hung there dying between two common criminals, who were crucified, one on each side of Him. For a full description of the horrible torture and death that Christ went through, turn with me to Mark 15:16-20. Let us stand and read it aloud,

"And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him"
    (Mark 15:16-20).

Drop down to verse twenty-four. Read it aloud.

"And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him" (Mark 15:24-25).

Drop down to verse thirty-seven.

"And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:37-39).

You may be seated.

When I was a very little boy I used to wander into a Catholic church nearly every afternoon. They kept the doors open all day back then. I always went to the same place, to a life-like statue of Jesus carrying His Cross to the place of crucifixion. Blood ran down His face from the crown of thorns on His head. Oh, I know that the Catholics make an idol of statues like that. But it made a profound impression on me as a little boy. I thought, over and over, "Why did they do that to Him? He didn't do anything wrong. Why did they kill Him? He was so harmless and good. Why did they torture Him and kill Him?" I never knew the answer. There was no one to tell me. But a picture of Jesus' awful humiliation and death was imprinted on my childish mind and never left me. I thought of it often as I grew older, "Why did they do that to Him? Why did they kill Him?"

Later, the people next door, Dr. and Mrs. McGowan, took me to a Baptist church, and I found out the answer from the Bible. Please turn to Isaiah, chapter fifty, verse six. Jesus said this in prophecy. Read it aloud.

"I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Isaiah 50:6).

Now turn to Isaiah 53:4-5. This is why they killed Him. Read it aloud.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Drop down to verse eleven. Read it aloud.

"He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11).

I found the answer to my childhood question, "Why did they do that to Him? Why did they kill Him?" Jesus, Lord of Heaven and earth, suffered crucifixion to pay the awful penalty for my sins and to justify me and save me from the wrath and judgment of God. The day I got saved we were singing Charles Wesley's song.

He left His Father's throne above, So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam's helpless race;
'Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me.
    ("And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

Jesus was humiliated and died on the Cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I knew it, and I trusted Him, and He saved my soul.

Dr. Watts said,

When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
    ("When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" by Isaac Watts, D.D., 1674-1748).

That was one of my favorite songs as a young person, and it still is. When I think of the horrible suffering and agonizing death of Jesus, the Son of God, "My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride."

I came to Jesus and He saved me. You can do the same thing.

"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).

He is not in that manger today. He is not on the Cross today. This Christmas Sunday He is risen - physically from the dead. He has ascended to the right hand of God, in the glory of Heaven above. You can come to Him, like those shepherds did. You can bow before Him and He will cancel out your sins and give you a clean record, and save your soul.

Will you come and trust Christ, the Son of God? Will you be saved by Him from sin, death and the grave? Will you receive eternal life from Him?

The great Reformer Martin Luther once said,

Christ had neither money, nor riches, nor earthly kingdom, for He gave the same to kings and princes. But He reserved one thing peculiarly to Himself, which no human creature or angel could do - namely, to conquer sin and death, the devil and Hell, and in the midst of death to deliver and save them that through His Word believe in Him.

The Apostle Paul said,

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"
    (Acts 16:31).

Will you believe on Him fully? Will you trust Him with your life? Will you be saved by Him?

And please make time for Him this Christmas. Please come back tonight for the Christmas Sunday banquet at 6:00. And be sure to make time for the Son of God on Christmas Eve, the night before Christmas, here at the church. Give your full heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and show it by being with His people here in church both tonight and on Christmas Eve! Why be lonely? Come home - to church! Why be lost? Come home to Jesus Christ - the Son of God!

Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.
Come, adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
    ("Angels We Have Heard on High," author unknown).

O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
    ("O Come, All Ye Faithful," translated by Frederick Oakeley, 1802-1880).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 2:8-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "What Child Is This?"