December 20, 2020
At Christmastime, Advent calendars serve as a tangible reminder of expectation slowly moving toward fulfillment. Likewise, the Old Testament records how the failures and weaknesses of Israel’s earthly kings created a sense of longing in God’s people—a need for a perfect King to come. Jesus’ birth was not an isolated event but the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish His throne and His kingdom forever, teaches Alistair Begg. In Jesus we find our long-expected, perfect King.
I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 1, and we will read from verse 26 to verse 33. Luke chapter 1 and reading from verse 26:
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord …will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”
Well, I invite you turn with me to the Gospel of Luke but to have your finger immediately in 2 Samuel, which would be perhaps of no surprise to many of you. And as you prepare to look to the Bible with me, let’s ask for God’s help:
Thank you, gracious God, that you have given to us your Word. Thank you that everything that was written in the past was written so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. We pray that as we ponder these things now, that you will fill us with the hope that is found in your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, as you can tell, we are reading from the Gospel of Luke, and therefore, we have paused in our studies in 2 Samuel in some measure in order that we might consider the coming of Jesus. I say “in some measure” because I have to be very honest with you and let you know that I’m finding it very, very hard to let go of David at the moment. I find that he emerges all the time in my thoughts. I turn around and I say, “Well, that would be something that David might say or David might experience.” And I would think that many of you find yourself in the same fashion.
And so, when we read this passage, and particularly when we came to the statement that is made after the name that is given to this child that will be born, “He will be great … will be called the Son of the Most High,” and “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,” I said to myself, “Well, that has to be the text for this morning.” Because I want that people are saying when we read that text together, at least under your breath, you’re saying, “Oh yes, we have been expecting this.” “Oh yes, we have been expecting this.” And the reason being that we’ve spent a year constantly saying to one another as we’ve been studying 1 and now into 2 Samuel, we are anticipating the arrival of the one to whom David points, the one whom David foreshadows. And we have only reached as far as chapter 5 in 2 Samuel. And so, I want to ask you, if you would be good enough, to turn to 2 Samuel and to chapter 7 for just a moment, because although we won’t be there for a few weeks, all being well, the section here is important in light of the verses that we’re reading in the first chapter of Luke.
So, 2 Samuel 7, which is the story of God’s covenant with David, the word that Nathan brings to David. We won’t read it all, obviously, but let’s just look at verse 11, for example: “from the time that I appointed judges…” This is God speaking. “… from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” And it’s very interesting. We can’t anticipate our study, but most of the time we are immediately thinking about the house that Solomon is going to build. But the real significance is the fact that God is himself going to build a house, which should get your thoughts going in the right kind of direction. “[And I will,] when [the] days are fulfilled”—that’s David—“and [when] you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” And what you have, then, is the immediate expectation of Solomon, and yet Solomon is only a piece, as it were. He’s only a hill on the journey to the mountaintop where, verse 16, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Now, with that said, I don’t know if you enjoy Advent calendars. I am actually a fan of Advent calendars. I’ve liked them since I was small. I had one at the end of my bed. I used to open the box every night. It just was super. And although I’m older now, I still like Advent calendars. I say that I’m buying them for my children or grandchildren, which I am, kind of—but if they don’t like them, it doesn’t matter, because I do. In fact, somebody gave us a very lovely one to share with our grandchildren, but it’s really fallen to myself. I’ve just been picking the boxes open largely on my own and reading the passages.
I actually enter wholeheartedly into the festivity of Christmas. When the Advent calendar came and Sue lit the tree, I set to enter immediately into the spirit of it all by sitting down at the piano and serenading Sue with a few Christmas carols. Well, I hadn’t even reached the end of the first verse of “See, amid the Winter’s Snow” when a large glass decorative piece fell off the tree and crashed and smashed in smithereens on the floor, only to hear Sue shouting, “What was that?” And I said, “Well, it was a response to my piano playing,” as I put the lid down on the piano.
Anyway, the reason I mention this—apart from letting you know that my piano playing is worthless—but the reason I mention it is because in many ways, the Old Testament is like a gigantic Advent calendar: that as you go through the Old Testament, you’re opening one box after another. And as the boxes are opened, so that which is expected is moving towards fulfillment.
Or, if you like, the Bible itself is like a book with answers at the back, so that if you start at the back, you find answers, but you don’t know what the questions are. Charlie Brown, remember, Schulz’s wonderful piece, and Charlie’s holding a sign that says, “Christ is the answer,” and down in the bottom right-hand corner, Linus is holding a sign that says, “What is the question?” “What is the question?” So if you start at the back, you have answers, but you don’t know what the questions are. If you stop halfway through, in the Old Testament, then you have questions, but you don’t have answers. And so it is well said that it takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian—hence my comments about “It’s good to have a New Testament, but we really need the whole thing.”
So, with all that said, what I want to do is not try and expound the text of Luke 1:32–33, but rather, the way a schoolteacher would often do for us towards the end of term in order that she knew or he knew that we would be gone and we wouldn’t be thinking about it for a couple of weeks, but what they did was they said, “Now, I’m just gonna go back over this with you one more time so that you might understand where this fits in the big picture—so that you might discover not only what it means but also why it matters.”
So, that is our study now. And I have three points. Point number one: we want a king. Point number two: we need a perfect king. Point number three: Jesus is that perfect King. All right?
So, first of all, we want a king.
If we begin, we have to begin somewhere. We could begin in Genesis, in Genesis 3, but we would be here well into the afternoon. What we want to do is remind ourselves, in beginning, of the refrain which runs through the book of Judges. You don’t need to turn to it now, but you remember when we began 1 Samuel, we did so with the refrain from Judges in our minds: “In those days Israel had no king; [and] everyone did as he saw fit.” And that is the refrain which runs through the book of Judges. And the repetition of it is there in order to make the point.
The judges, of course, were raised up by God. They were servant leaders. Their time period was relatively short. They were able to make a dent, as it were, in the darkness of the time, but their influence was spasmodic, and even though sometimes it lasted for some forty years, when they finally passed the baton to somebody else, they left things largely the way that they had found them. And so the story is one of religious and political and moral and social disintegration. That’s the context at the end of Judges.
You then have that lovely little vignette in the story of Ruth, and then you come to the request that comes from the people—the people down at street level, as it were. They have seen who these people are. They have listened to them. Some of them have been good for a while, but the thing has just remained the same. So they’re around, and they’re saying to one another, “I think what we need to do is go to Samuel. He’s getting old. His boys are obviously not picking up the story from him. We need to go to Samuel and say to him, ‘We need a king. We want a king.’” And that is, of course, in 1 Samuel chapter 8.
Now, what they were saying in saying that—and you remember they said, “We would like to have a king so that we could be like the other nations.” That was not actually a good indication. Their request for a king was an expression of their lack of faith in God. They were saying, “You know, we know that Yahweh is a powerful King. But nevertheless, what we really think is that if we’re gonna deal with the chaos of these days, if we’re gonna find security, if we’re gonna discover prosperity, then we need to have a king. We need to have a monarchy.”
So in other words, their design was not to look to God but to look to an institution. We could pause on that, couldn’t we? Because the history of the United States is largely that kind of idea: “We do not want a monarchy. We want a republic. If we could get rid of this institution and produce a new institution, then perhaps that would be the answer to all of our challenges.” And yet here we are: social unrest, moral corruption, religious confusion. “Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s try a different leader. Let’s try a different philosophy. We can work this out!” That’s the mentality. We want a king.
Well, of course, we know how the story unfolds. They were given a king. They were given Saul, the big, tall, handsome fellow that everybody admired—and yet, in the end, no good. David, the one upon whom God had set his heart, started off tremendously well, but within a couple of weeks we’re going to watch the beginning of his collapse, if we haven’t already seen it. Solomon, he eventually was paralyzed religiously as a result of how many wives he took to himself. And in each of these key characters, whether it’s Saul or David or Solomon, what we discover is that their qualities and their position—and there was significant position and important qualities—their qualities were eventually outweighed by their weaknesses. Eventually, it became apparent that they were men of clay, that they in themselves could never be the answer. No human being is ever going to be the answer to those great dilemmas.
Well, what happens from there is that the period that follows is a long period. The dynasty of David, incidentally, was about four hundred years. But later on—and we won’t come to this maybe ever, so we should know now that under Solomon, the kingdom was then divided, and so you had kings in the North, you had kings in the South—kings to my left, and kings to my right, and here, stuck in the middle with you. And so, that’s really the position. And this is what would happen: every time another king was enthroned, the people would then be saying, in light of the promise that had been given to David, “There’s gonna come one who will reign on your throne, and his kingdom will be an unending kingdom.” So you can imagine that every time there was a coronation, the people found themselves saying, “Maybe this will be the one! Maybe this will be the one who will bring in the golden age.”
And so, as that happens, as successive generations live and die, you will find quite interestingly, if you choose to read in 1 and 2 Kings, that the kings were often then compared in reference to David, who, for all of his frailties and his faults, was still the sort of model exemplar. I mean, he was the one. So, for example, you’ll find that in the reign of Amaziah, it says of Amaziah that “he did what was right … yet not like David his father.” So David is still, if you like, the standard by which the kings of Israel and Judah are being assessed.
And eventually the idea began to emerge: “You know what? We’ve had a lot of kings. If only David would come back. If only David could come back.” And, of course, in a sense, he was coming back, in one dimension. The people of God reached the point where they were saying to one another, “There has to be something better than this. There’s got to be something better than this. We need whoever that person is.”
So, from “We want a king” to, secondly, “If only we had a perfect king. If only we would have this one of whom we’ve read, ‘And your house and your kingdom shall be sure forever, and your throne shall be established forever.’”
Now, the prospect is found, in this promise of forever, in the one who is Son of David, the offspring of David. And although we have an element of it in Solomon, Solomon is not, obviously, the end of the story. The Lord is going to make the reign of David’s offspring absolutely secure.
And so, what actually then happens is this—and let me quote my dear friend, who was partly in mind as I prayed earlier, Alec Motyer. Motyer, in just a sentence or two, puts it perfectly. This is what he says: as time passed, “the promise … outgrew the capacity of any foreseeable member of David’s line to fulfil it.” As time passed, “the promise,” which was passed from generation to generation, “outgrew the capacity” of anybody that was gonna come in the line of David to fulfill it, “but also [outgrew] the capacity of any mere human being [to do so.] It never lost touch with reality but it became [much] larger than life.” It became much larger than life. It left the people saying, “Who will this be, and where will he come from?”
Now, if you keep this in mind, it will help you as you read through the Old Testament—for example, as you read through the Prophets and as you read through the Psalms, and you read these kind of statements about the one who is the King, and you say to yourself, “Well, whoever is that King? Who was that King? Who is he now?” So, for example, the King who is opposed by the rulers of the world, Psalm 2: “Let us break his bands, and let us be free.” The opposition. Who is the one? Who is this King who is opposed by the leaders of the world? Who is this King who makes the nations his heritage, that the nations of the earth will be his heritage? Who is this king in whom prosperity abounds “till the moon is no more”? “Oh,” I said, “there we’ve got it! Psalm 72:7: ‘Till the moon is no more.’” Now, those of you who are alert will say, “I know that thing.” That’s right:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
So you’re reading Psalm 72, and you say to yourself, “Who is this King whose prosperity is that? Will extend, as it were, beyond the moon? The one who will save the children? The one who will provide for the needy? The one who will crush the oppressor? The one whose name will endure forever and ever?”
Now, I say that to you so that when you’re reading in the Psalms, you’re able to think in this way. When you come to the work of the prophets, and you read some of the great statements, for example, in Isaiah, you find yourself saying, “How is this possibly going to be? This is enigmatic.” Because we’re introduced to one who is a Mighty Warrior and who is simultaneously the Prince of Peace. How can you be a Mighty Warrior who crushes all the enemies and be known as the Prince of Peace?
Actually, the way in which the Old Testament works is it provides us with lots of questions that remain unanswered. It provides us, if you like, with an enigma that is in need of solution. Not a riddle, but the idea is there, you know: that there’s an answer to this. The more you open the boxes, the more you find yourself saying, “Who, and where, and when?”
So, we want a king. We need a perfect king. And then we come to Luke chapter 1, and Jesus is the long-expected perfect King.
You see, it’s important for us to get this clear in our minds, especially as we speak to people: that the story that we find as we come to these days is not some isolated event that has just popped out of nowhere; not some kind of solution that was all of a sudden hurriedly planned; not, as some people say, as a result of the fact that God’s plan, when he planned it in the beginning, didn’t seem to work, and so he tried another approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why you need your Old Testament. What is happening here is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15: that there is one who’s going to come, and in the great battle with the Evil One, the serpent in the garden, that this one will crush the serpent’s head; the serpent will bruise his heel. So the idea of a sort of sentimental Christmas or the idea of it being an isolated plan, you can’t get to that with the Bible.
Now, I could keep you here for a long time tracing lines through. But I decided, let’s allow someone better than I to do that for us, and let’s just dip into one of his talks and let his words clarify this for us. In order to follow with me, you need to turn to Acts chapter 13. In Acts chapter 13, the apostle Paul and Barnabas have arrived in Antioch in Pisidia. They have gone into the synagogue, and in the synagogue, they “sat down.” And “after the reading from the Law and the Prophets”—this is in Acts 13:15—“after the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.’ So Paul stood up”—and Luke does this all the time in Acts, I love this—“and motioning with his hand…” “Motioning with his hand.” That’s eyewitness stuff, isn’t it? You know. And he said… Very good.
Now, this is what he said. Now, think about this as I read it, with your ears along the lines of “We want a king, we need a perfect king”:
Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out …. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.”
Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God…
In other words, “Jews and God-fearing gentiles, men and women,”
to us has been sent [this] message of … salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. … God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, [so] also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, [for] today I have begotten you.”
Well, there you have it, from the pen of one who was himself convinced that a king would come but who was equally convinced that Jesus was not that king until Jesus made himself known to him, and Paul bowed his knee.
It’s really straightforward, isn’t it, that the people longed for restoration and for salvation. And that restoration and salvation is found only in Jesus, in his kingdom, which is both present and future; a kingdom which has come first in the person of Jesus; a kingdom which then is extended through the preaching and teaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. And then and only then will that kingdom come finally and universally. Entry into the kingdom, in case you’re wondering? How do you get in? God brings you in. Entry is by new birth: “Unless, Nicodemus, you are born from above, you will never see, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” Entry is by new birth.
What’s it like in that kingdom? Wonderful and full of conflict. What do you do in that kingdom? You go and tell everybody who as yet has never heard the story of the kingdom that the kingdom of God has come, and the door of entry has been opened wide to all who will believe.
Hymn writers, as I’ve told you so many times—it’s the reason I quote them so much—hymn writers have done more for me in crystallizing things than probably anybody else at all. In 1744, Wesley wrote what was to be a terrific song. It didn’t catch on. He’d written “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” That was a hit. But in 1850, about a hundred years later, Spurgeon preached a Christmas sermon in London. And in that Christmas sermon, he quoted from Wesley’s other song. And that song will be our closing song.
And the reason that we sing it is because it is an invitation to the Lord Jesus to come—not only that he would come at the end of time but that he would come to us, that he would come and release us from our sins and fears. Do you have sins? Of course. Have you been released from your sins? Do they wake you in the night and burden you and terrorize you before the rod of God’s judgment? Where are you planning on finding release?
Lord Jesus, you are the one who releases us from our sins and from our fears. Release us. Let us find our rest in you. Lord Jesus Christ, come and reign over all the affairs of our lives as King and Savior.
Well, that’s it.
A brief prayer:
We thank you, gracious God, as we began, that we have the Bible, to which we can turn. We thank you for the unfolding clarity in it. And we thank you that when we come to you, as it were, in the attitude of inquiry and seeking faith, that you meet us. Thank you that Jesus is the perfect King, that he’s the joy of all the nations, that he’s the answer to the quest of the nations, and that he’s the “joy of every longing heart.” O give us those longing hearts, Lord, and satisfy us always and only in Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 See Romans 15:4.
 Judges 17:6; 21:25 (NIV 1984).
 1 Samuel 8:20 (paraphrased).
 2 Kings 14:3 (ESV).
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 31.
 Psalm 2:3 (paraphrased).
 See Psalm 2:8.
 Psalm 72:7 (NIV).
 Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (1719).
 John 3:3 (paraphrased).
 Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (1744).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.