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WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, December 21, 2008
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“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. A famous outline of Christ’s life was written by an anonymous author. It says,

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 [with no army], conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, and Napoleon.

Or Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao Tse Tung! And yet, without any of this, without any of the things that make men great, Jesus conquered half of the world. It is truly amazing and it comes down to this: there are only three possible reactions to Christ, as 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 the Christmas passage, in Luke 2:7, we learn of the poverty of Christ.

“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).

Yet 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 had spiritual insight and understanding.

The birthplace of Jesus was so humble and low that this very fact 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, known as “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 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, 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, in which animals were fed.

“[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).

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?” by William C. Dix, 1837-1898).

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.” He is the Second Person of the Trinity. John 1:1 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, John 1:3 tells us that “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus created the world and all the universe beyond.

Now look at verse ten.

“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 their 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).

“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 came as 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 did lay 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 had the power to force him to do that very thing, but He did not. He laid aside, not His deity, but His prerogatives of deity. [He laid down His right to be worshipped as a great king. Instead] 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).

The angels said,

“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 and painful 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 upon a cross. He hung there dying between two terrible criminals, who were crucified, one on each side of Him. A full description of the horrible torture and death that Christ went through is given in Mark 15:16-20.

“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).

Then, in Mark 15:24-25, we read,

“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).

And in Mark 15:37-39 we read,

“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).

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 took me to a Baptist church, and I found out the answer from the Bible. In Isaiah, chapter fifty, verse six, Jesus gave this in prophecy.

“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).

Isaiah gave the true reason they crucified Him:

“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).

Then in Isaiah 53:11, 23 read,

“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 the pain of crucifixion to pay the awful penalty for our sins and to justify us and save me from the wrath and judgment of God. The day I was converted 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 and yours. I realized that, 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. It was as simple as that. 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 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? I pray that you will.

And be sure to make time for the Son of God on Christmas Eve, the night before Christmas, here at the church at 8:00 o’clock this coming Wednesday night. Give your full heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and show it by being with His people here in church both on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve! Why be lonely? Come home – to church! Why be lost? Come home to Jesus Christ – the Son of God! Let us stand and sing hymn number 2 and hymn number 5.

#2   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).

#5   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?”
(by William C. Dix, 1837-1898).