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A Special Christmas Revelation for Children

Christmas wonderfully brings into focus the first advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into the world. Long ago, in the little town of Bethlehem of Judea, the eternal Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the virgin Mary. He who is the radiance of the glory of God was wrapped in swaddling cloths. He who upholds the universe by the word of his power was lying in a manger. Wonder of wonders, in the incarnation, the Son of God truly took to his divine person a real human nature, so that, as the God-man, he might save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

While his coming was like a warm winter fire for a world frozen under the icy reign of sin, it nonetheless marked for him his entrance into his estate of humiliation (cf. Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 46). As the surety of God’s covenant of grace, he freely subjected himself in his assumed human nature to the curse and demand of the law in the stead of his people to fulfill all passive and active obedience. He came for this very reason. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” explains the apostle Paul, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). From the moment of his conception on, his life would violently cascade in ever-deepening humility until he finally crashed against the jagged rocks of crucifixion, death, and burial.

For such was the end toward which we were falling headlong in our sin. But he came to raise the sons of earth. In his poem “Nativity,” Geerhardus Vos captures this gospel truth of Christ’s suffering,

His smallness laden with our sin;
Born that his birth-cries might begin
Full thirty years of tragedy,
Each step a step toward Calvary.1

In his estate of humiliation, the true nature of Jesus’ person and work was hidden by his Father, Lord of heaven and earth, from the wise and understanding (Matt. 11:25). It was veiled behind weakness, poverty, and outward insignificance, which kept those bent on possessing the kingdoms of the world and their glory (4:8) who trusted in their own righteousness before God and loved the praise of men from coming to any true knowledge of him. “Seeing they do not see” (13:13). Yet, Jesus’ true identity was revealed by his Father to little children who thereby came to know both him and his Father unto eternal life (11:25; 13:10; 16:17). Humbling oneself like a child is a prerequisite not only to know and enjoy the truth of Christmas, the humble birth of heaven’s high king, but also, relatedly, to enter his kingdom of heaven (18:3, 4). Who can be proud when the heavens are humble?

In other words, special revelation is necessary not only for finding the entrance into the kingdom of heaven but also perceiving rightly the crown prince of heaven in his humble estate from Christmas to Good Friday and beyond, until he comes again in the full splendor of his glory. The apostle Matthew underlines this necessity of special revelation by telling the marvelous story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of Joseph. Not being told beforehand but only after the fact, Joseph would have to humble himself like a little child to receive God’s special revelation regarding the child in Mary’s womb. Only in so doing could he rightly perceive that the child in Mary’s womb was not to her shame but to her honor, even to the highest honor ever bestowed upon any woman.

So, the story begins, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18). That this child was “from the Holy Spirit” was not immediately evident to Joseph. So, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, [he] resolved to divorce her quietly” (1:19; cf. Deut. 22:23–24; Matt. 5:31–32). “At once we see that Mary’s great honor was likely to be regarded as her shame,” notes Herman Ridderbos.2 He then draws this insight,

Christ’s birth already contains a hint of the offense of the Cross. The miracle that stood behind it was hidden and unprovable, and it could be recognized only by the light of special revelation. To one who was not thus enlightened, the Son of God seemed an illegitimate child. Mary had to suffer the consequences of this. The sword that would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35) began to wound her deeply already before Jesus’ birth.3

What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is applicable by extension to the miracle of Christmas: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Not only the obscurity of his birth but also the appearance of illegitimacy, indeed, contains a hint of the offense of the cross. As Adam needed special revelation to know that the fruit of a particular tree that appeared good for food would bring about his certain death (Gen. 2:17), so too, positively, in redemption, special revelation is needed to know that the Savior who appeared powerless to save could bring about a certain new life.

We see this, for example, in the answer to the following question: What brought about the change of Joseph’s determination to divorce Mary and instead to adopt this child as his own with all the inheritance rights of a son of David? It came about by means of a special revelation from God gifted to Joseph in the wrapping of a dream by an angel of the Lord. Matthew writes, “But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (1:20–21). Ridderbos comments, “The angel’s revelation to Joseph also had deeper consequences for him, however. To his surprise once God had told him the truth, the shame that Mary had had in his eyes was turned into the highest honor.”4

Joseph, humbling himself like a little child in full obedience to this special revelation from God, rightly perceived and so received the miraculous child in Mary’s virgin womb as indeed the promised Son of David, who would save him, Mary, and all God’s people from their sins and restore them to true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness in fellowship with God in his kingdom forever (28:19). The Christmas miracle is not only unto the cross but beyond it through resurrection into the new creation for all who believe.5

Matthew specifically describes Joseph as a “just” man in terms of his willingness to do what God’s word required of him from the heart, at first to divorce his betrothed in fear, but then to receive the child in her womb as his very own (1:19). This being just is the kind of righteousness that Jesus came to fulfill, a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, who for the sake of their traditions made void the word of God (5:20; 15:6). In this we see the connection between Jesus’ requirements of righteousness (5:20), doing the will of his Father (7:21), and humbling oneself like a child (18:3–4) to enter the kingdom of heaven. These, while required, are ultimately gracious gifts from Christ himself, the king of heaven and earth.6

Christ can only be received and rested in by faith. The Belgic Confession states, “We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him” (Article 22). Joseph believed God’s special revelation concerning the child in Mary’s womb and so received and rested in him as his own. Now risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Christ as God’s special revelation must be believed so that those who humble themselves like little children might also receive and rest in him as their own. Christmas is for little children who in the kingdoms of earth may be disregarded but in the kingdom of heaven are, indeed, the greatest.

“Yes, it is well that we should celebrate the Christmas season,” says J. Gresham Machen, “and may God ever give us a childlike heart that we may celebrate it aright.”7


  1. Geerhardus Vos, Western Rhymes (Santa Ana, CA: Geerhardus Vos, 1933), 1.
  2. Herman Ridderbos, Matthew, Bible Student’s Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 26.
  3. Ridderbos, Matthew, 26, emphasis mine.
  4. Ridderbos, Matthew, 27.
  5. Matthew links Jesus’ genesis with Genesis.
  6. The debate over whether righteousness in Matthew is a requirement or a gift or both is resolved by Vos who observes that the basis for the crowning structure of Paul’s doctrine of righteousness—as something wrought out in Christ and transferred to us by imputation—was laid by Jesus. See Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI: The Reformed Press, 1922), 43.
  7. J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2002), 203.


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