Where in the Bible is the Christmas story to be found? Understandably, the instinct of most Christians is to turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the historical accounts of the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah, are to be found. Matthew grounds the story of the birth of Jesus in the genealogy of the Messiah, the king born as a baby in Bethlehem who would rule on David's throne forever. Luke tells us of the story before the story, the account of the promise of the angel to Mary and then the birth of Jesus. Matthew tells us of the magi, and Luke tells us of the angelic host appearing and the angel of the Lord announcing to the astonished shepherds, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." [Luke 2:10-11]
Both Matthew and Luke tell us that the Christ child was conceived by the Holy Ghost. In his gospel, John reaches even further back, declaring that Jesus the Christ is the Word become flesh, who was in the beginning with the Father, but who was not only with God, but was and is God, the divine Word through whom the world was made. John will tell the Christmas story in the most climactic prose: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." [John 1:14]
But Matthew, most emphatically, takes us back to the prophets and to the promise of the Messiah, down to minute details, as revealed in the Old Testament. In the truest sense, the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the Christmas story. Rightly understood, there is no text in all of Holy Scripture that is not related to Christmas as promise, fulfillment, gospel, and future promise.
Consider just nine verses from Isaiah chapter 11:
"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
In that beautiful prose, almost poetry, the Prophet Isaiah tells of the promise that will come from the stump of Jesse. Israel, like a dead forest, will be saved by a branch from Jesse who will bear much fruit. Isaiah is speaking of Christ, the messianic king, who will reign forever from the throne of Jesse's son David. No one but God can bring new life, new hope, and salvation.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, even as we know of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, resting on Jesus, and the voice of the Lord declaring: "this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." [Matthew 3:17] We are told of three dimensions of what it means for the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon him: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Do you not hear the refrain of Isaiah 9:6-7? "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord, the awesome knowledge of the one true God and the reverent worship that such knowledge produces. His delight shall be the delight of his redeemed people, and the fear of the Lord will be made known to all.
He will judge in perfect righteousness. Every human judge is limited to what he sees and hears, but the perfect judge, the messianic king, will judge in perfect righteousness. For the wicked, his judgment will be a terrible swift sword. He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
You are not likely to find this messianic promise in a Christmas card: "He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Merry Christmas." This text is not sung in Handel's Messiah, but this promise is central to the promise of the Messiah -- perfect judgment, perfect righteousness, and perfect peace. The Messiah Israel was promised will wear righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. Always. Forever.
And what of the peace he will bring? How perfect will it be? How will we know it when it comes?
The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat, the calf and the lion are all in the peaceable kingdom. Through the Prophet Hosea, the Lord made a promise to Israel: "And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety." [Hosea 2:18]
Let that reversal of the curse of sin settle on your minds. God will even make a covenant with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and even the creeping things of the ground. They are here in Isaiah 11 -- even the creeping things of the ground. Indeed, even the creepiest of the creepy things of the ground.
Until the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ comes, the lamb had better not trust the wolf. The young goat had better know that the leopard is not his friend. The fattened calf had better understand that the lion is looking for calories, not companionship.
On the other hand, nothing but the messianic reign can explain the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the young goat, the lion and the calf in common rest, common peace, common trust. On that day, carnivores will kill no more. The world will no longer be divided between predator and prey, living by the law of eat or be eaten. The bear will graze, just like the cow. The lion will eat hay, just like the ox. Their young shall lie down together.
And what of those creeping things? The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. Please do not try that at home -- not until the Lord comes to establish his kingdom in fullness. In this age, keep your babies away from cobras and from the adder's den. We are not yet in that peaceable kingdom, but one day we will be.
On that day, Jerusalem will be safe. No one will hurt or destroy on the Lord's holy mountain. All will be well. All will be safe. All will be home.
And a little child shall lead them. Remember the promise of this child? "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." [Isaiah 9:6-7]
But notice how our text ends: "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
The absolute climax of the passage is a vision and promise of the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Utterly filled. Totally filled. Awesomely filled. Perfectly filled. The earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Remember a crucial point here. We stand on the other side of the coming of the baby lain in Bethlehem's manger. We stand on the other side of the birth of Jesus Christ. We look back to the birth of Christ, not forward. But we are still looking forward to the fulness of these promises, to the coming again of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are truly in the time of "already, but not yet."
But do not miss that we can already see the kingdom coming. We see the kingdom every time a sinner comes to saving knowledge of God, to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to know redemption and the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of life everlasting. We see the kingdom coming. We see the knowledge of the Lord filling the earth.
Today we are gathered for a commencement ceremony, a graduation service. Before us we see the incredible sight of these graduates, arrayed in their academic robes. Most commencement ceremonies are ceremonies in name only. There is a minimum of ceremony and a rush to hand out diplomas, to do a bit of congratulating, and then get on with it, whatever it is.
Not so here . . . but why?
Because we are witnesses to something glorious. We are witnesses to God sending forth preachers, giving pastors to Christ's church, scattering missionaries to the end of the earth. Let me tell you something that will warm your hearts. Here among us are friends who have come from Croatia, from China, from Korea, from Africa, from Columbia, from Canada, from Germany, and from parts unknown -- all here to witness something this glorious. We are even today seeing the promise of what we know will come, when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Graduates, we celebrate with you today. Yet, we are even eagerly the witnesses to the promise God is fulfilling through you. Go into the pulpit, go into the nations, go into the highways and byways of life, go into the hospital, go into the homes, go into the graveyards and let the whole earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Preach the Gospel, to everyone, everywhere. Use words.
Christ sends his own out as sheep into wolves. Go anyway. Some of you will never see each other again in this life, so look each other in the eye and take each other by the heart. Go wherever the door is open, so long as it is day. Preach the Word, in season and out of season.
As you go, you leave this campus with the hopes, the prayers, and the love of this faculty and this family. You are always at home here, but here we are never fully home. Run the race set before you, until that day when, by God's grace, we are finally, fully, truly home.
And this we know: On that day, the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Go in God's grace. Go in our hopes. Even so, Lord come quickly.
This is a commencement message preached today, December 7, 2018, by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The entire service will be streamed live at www.sbts.edu/live at 10:00 a.m. EST.