“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters].” (Romans 8:29)
Over the years, I have unfolded and heard other people unfold the Christmas story in many ways. The stable and manger, the angels and shepherds, the Persian magi and the working-class Jewish couple, the many prophecies fulfilled: for us as for Mary, there is so much to treasure and ponder in our hearts. (Luke 2:19)
However, I have never before now felt so led to focus on the awesome scriptural revelation that Jesus was the “firstborn”.
Luke reminds us that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son. This is an important reinforcement of the essential truth that Mary was still a virgin. (Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14) She had not yet had other children and she had not yet known a man sexually. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Liberal Christian theologians discount this biblical revelation because it is supernatural, contrary to science, and in their opinion, unnecessary to the story. As to the supernatural element, I will for the sake of space urge all of you to read the terrific new book by Lee Strobel, “The Case for Miracles”. As to the issue of necessity, I urge you to remember that the Lamb of God, like the Old Testament lamb of Passover, had to be unblemished. (Exodus 12:5; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:17-19)
Biblical theologians call it the doctrine of atonement. If you don’t believe it, you don’t really understand Jesus. It is best summarized in scripture at Romans 5 and Hebrews 9. All mankind since Adam and Eve have sinned. Sin separates us from God, the source of life, and therefore leads to death. God loves us and wants to save us, but just as sin could not be ignored or allowed to remain in the Garden of Eden, sin cannot be ignored or allowed into heaven. (Genesis 3:22-24; Revelation 21:4, 8) Sin must be dealt with and paid for by someone without sin, and no man born of man qualified. But “God so loved the world ….”
John 3:16 leads us to the equally important revelation that Jesus was not just His mother’s firstborn. He was also His Father’s firstborn. The collaborating testimonies of Colossians 1:15-20 and John 1:1-18 reveal that in the beginning, long before the baby Jesus laid in the manger, He was with God, and He was God, and the firstborn of creation through whom all things were created.
There is great mystery here. Is the Son of God “begotten” when God speaks the Word that brings creation into existence? Do we say God is love because the Father, Son and Spirit have loved each other even before the beginning of creation? For now, we know many things only in part. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
But we do know from these scriptures that all things were created through the Father’s firstborn, and that when creation was broken, the Father’s firstborn was sent into creation to reconcile all things back to God and “make all things new”. (Revelation 21:5; Philippians 2:5-11)
This leads us to our third important revelation. After the birth of Jesus as her firstborn, Mary bore several other children, both sons and daughters. (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3) And the reason the heavenly Father sent Christ to earth as His firstborn was so the Father could have more children to be brothers and sisters of Jesus for all eternity! (John 1:12, 3:3-8; Romans 8:29)
Please pause in amazement with me to see how the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb correlates to the way in which followers of Jesus are born of God. Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. (Luke 1:35) Jesus later told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)
Just as Jesus arrived on Christmas as both God and man, something totally new to creation, so we also truly become “new creations”. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We are still works in progress but already born again as God’s children because God now lives in us! (John 14:23, 17:22-23) This is not religion. This is reality.
When you look in the manger this year, I invite you to first see the baby Jesus: the firstborn. But then look deeper and see yourself. See your loved ones. See all of those who are not yet in the manger, and then go lovingly share the truth of Christmas with them.
Happy Birthday, Jesus!