What sort of Jesus are you expecting this Christmas?
That might sound like a puzzling question, granted. When you think of Christmas and of expectations, you probably think of gifts and of wish lists. That’s because sadly, in so many Protestant churches, you have been conditioned against observing the Advent season.
Thanksgiving comes, and then – bam! It’s Christmas. No reflection, no preparation, no consideration of the enormity of what you are about to observe: the coming to earth of God Himself … for you.
And so we begin our Advent series entitled “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” taking a look at how several groups observed “Advent,” as it were – how they prepared for the coming to earth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Messiah.
Today we specifically will examine the OT prophets Moses and Isaiah, each of whom foretold the coming and the work of the Messiah hundreds and even thousands of years before Christ actually was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
They expected Jesus the Savior. So should you!
Specifically, Moses and Isaiah teach first that Christ would come into a world that wouldn’t be very receptive to him – in fact, it would reject him. Second, the prophets teach that Christ would come into this world to suffer untold agony in humility. And third, the prophets teach that Christ would come into this world ultimately to win the greatest victory that space and time have ever known: the victory over sin and death.
The Christ of Christmas came to suffer so that you might be healed from your sin; so this Christmas, look with loving obedience to the Christ who alone can heal you.
First, the OT prophets expected that when the Messiah came, he would be met with hostility and with outright rejection.
Moses makes the very first promise that Christ would come and set his people – those who look to him in faith as their Savior – free from their sin and from death. You probably have read the passage, but you might’ve missed the promise!
It’s tucked away in Genesis 3:15. Moses says the seed of the woman, Eve, would come one day and crush the head of the serpent, Satan. But before he crushed Satan’s head, there would be a mighty struggle between good and evil. Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, says the serpent, Satan, would bruise or crush the Messiah’s heel.
Jesus delivered the death blow at Calvary, but he would be met with hatred as he came into a humble estate into a rebellious world. And he would have to suffer a painful, cold, alienating death on the cross before he secured his victory.
Now to be sure, Moses doesn’t say all this to us in so many words. But Isaiah, also under the guidance of the Spirit, tells you and me a lot more about the reception Jesus would get upon his coming to this world. Isaiah begins this passage, perhaps the most heart-wrenching in all of Scripture, with a question: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord (OT-ese for the salvation of God) been revealed?”
Isaiah says God’s people, who should have welcomed Messiah with open arms, because they had suffered in exile for their sins, hid their face from Messiah. He was like a tender root shooting up out of the ground – not with great fanfare, but quietly, he grew. They saw that his face was disfigured; he suffered terrible anguish and was stricken and crushed and oppressed by God. They assumed he must’ve earned all the punishment himself.
THIS WASN’T THEIR IDEA OF A KING. They held him in contempt, looked down on him, didn’t think much of him and didn’t even look at him.
Their king, their Jesus, would be regal and majestic, with flowing robes and impressive earthly victories in his possession. This Servant? Not for us.
Messiah came to a rebellious world that didn’t want him.
The OT prophets, specifically Moses and Isaiah, also taught that Messiah would come into this world to suffer agony in a humble estate.
It wouldn’t be glorious, in other words.
As our Catechism teaches, Christ came into this world being born a man, made to suffer, born in a manger to frail human parents. But even at the joy of the coming of the King, the clouds were gathering around him.
Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, Isaiah says. Yes, as a human being you can assume safely that Christ laughed and enjoyed his friends and family just like any other person.
But unlike any other person, he – true God of true God, the King and Ruler of Creation – went to a cursed death on a tree. He was pierced. He was spat upon. He didn’t say anything, mind you; like a sheep before its shearers doesn’t open its mouth, neither did Jesus.
The King of Kings rode into Jerusalem, St. Matthew tells us, on a donkey. Where was all the pomp and circumstance? Where was the glorious Jesus who defeated all of Israel’s earthly enemies and brought the Jews to everlasting world supremacy?
He came in the form of a humble man, made to be beaten and afflicted in his body as the perfect sin offering for his people. This king won a victory, all right, but not before he endured the wrath of God poured out at the Cross.
Medical doctors have written some compelling descriptions of what it would feel like to die of crucifixion. Death finally came in the form of asphyxiation – not being able to breathe. All the heaving, all the muscle spasms, the thirst – you almost can’t bear to read what happened to our Lord.
But worse than the physical horror of his death, even worse than the humility of being rejected by sinners and laid in a grave as though he were a sinner, was the turning away of the Father’s face from the Son. The Father, we are told, couldn’t bear to look at the horror of His Son, the perfect sin offering, and He turned His face. Now Father and Son, infinitely more intimate than any human relation you can know or experience, were alienated for a moment in an emotive sense.
That’s why the most horrifying aspect of the crucifixion was Jesus’ cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Moses and Isaiah expected a Messiah, a Christ, who would be bruised by the serpent in his heel, hurt in his struggle with and victory over evil. A Christ who in body and especially in spirit was wounded and chastised so that all who believe on him might have peace with God the Father through the perfect sin offering. The prophets knew God’s holiness was serious and Israel’s sin was serious. They knew it would cost the Lord to redeem His people.
And so they anticipated a Servant who had to suffer to pay that price, to satisfy God’s wrath, that they might have life.
But there is a third expectation about Messiah that the OT prophets had, one that is so critical to grasp if you’re to understand who Jesus was. And that expectation was that Messiah would win the victory as he made intercession for those who believe in him.
The serpent’s head would be crushed. Jesus would see his seed, a prolonging of his days, and he would share the spoils of his victory over sin with the faithful. Isn’t this what Paul teaches when he quotes the OT, saying, Christ led captivity captive and GAVE gifts to men?
Yes, the Messiah suffered horribly – but he did so with the purpose of winning the victory over sin and over eternal punishment and hell, and he did so that by the knowledge of him – literally, if you know him as your Savior – you would be made right forever with your Lord. There’s lots of suffering in this world … but none as unjust as Christ’s death, and none as glorious as Christ’s death.
So man people in OT times – and still today – look at Jesus and say, “He must have done something wrong, else his was the most inappropriate suffering of all time.”
But Isaiah teaches that each of us – you, me, Moses, Paul – EACH OF US like sheep has gone astray. Yet God didn’t leave you and me. It PLEASED Him – pleased the Lord! – to lay upon the spotless Lamb the sin of you and of me and of all the faithful. Those lashes he endured from the soldiers? For you.
That mocking he took? He did it for you.
The rejection by men and finally, for a moment, by his holy Father? For you.
Jesus Christ, as predicted by the prophets, was chastised by rebels whom he could have crushed in an instant. But he endured it. Why?
For your peace. Peace with the God who created you to know and to love him. Peace that the world and its stuff can’t give. Peace that satisfies. Peace that points you to glory, your eternal reward in Christ. And Christ has seen his seed for all time, a great blessing in Hebrew thinking. He has a ast heritage: everyone who believes on him as Savior.
He suffered mightily so that you might live in splendor with him eternally.
And so again, what sort of Jesus are you expecting this Christmas?
If you’ve never before observed Advent, now is the perfect time to start. And if you don’t know the true Jesus of Christmas, if you long to know this Jesus, then behold him in the Word today. He’s not a Jesus the world wants to know. He’s not the Jesus of PhDs and wine-and-cheese circuits, the Jesus who has nothing to do with sin and with suffering, not the Jesus who throws out money-changers in the temple and convicts you of your rebellion against God.
For the OT prophets’ part, he is a Jesus who was ugly and rejected, average-looking and humble. He was a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief and with suffering and with sadness.
But all the pain was for you. All the suffering was an act of intercession for you. You stand in the way of this suffering, because you deserve it. You like a sheep have gone astray.
Look to your loving Redeemer in faith today, because in his sacrificial love is the heart of Christmas.
And if you do know this Savior as the one who has suffered for you and healed you by his wounds, then rejoice in his peace. Focus on Christ, whose love for you is so brilliantly and clearly shown in this passage. Worship and serve him in obedience.
This is the Long-Expected Jesus of the prophets: the Christ who loved you and gave himself for you.