Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 52, December 24 to December 30, 2006

A Heaven's Eye View of Christmas

By Joe Novenson

Senior Pastor
Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church
Lookout Mountain, GA.

And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne (Revelation 12:1-5).

… the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time (Revelation 12:12b).

And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus: (Revelation 12:17).

The story is told of a man going to his family reunion only to meet a woman there who was not part of his family, but rather a guest of one of his female relatives. This man is struck by the woman and wants to meet her. Being unacquainted with how to begin such a relationship, he walks up and uses a wooden and silly opening line saying, "Could you tell me what kind of men you like?" She is taken aback by his directness but replies, "I love American-Indian men. They are really mysterious. I love their lineage, their appreciation of nature. They are majestic and have a strength of history. But, she continues, "as I think about it, I also deeply appreciate those of the Jewish heritage. They have left an enormous legacy of endurance under trial, tradition and courage. And you know, being from the South, I like the southern redneck. He's so basic, and not complex. So gutsy and direct." And then she says, "By the way, what's your name?" Thinking quickly on his feet, he replies, "Tonto Rosenberg, but my friends call me Bubba Joe."

Such a response, while good for a laugh, of course would not be so humorous in reality. A clear-headed woman or man would not want to date such a man. Why do we veer away from people like this? We do so, because we do not trust people who misrepresent who they are or change according to occasion or audience.

As we celebrate Christ's birth it is essential to remember, while we know God does not misrepresent Himself as Tonto Rosenberg called Bubba Joe, often we are tempted to adjust our view of Him to make God what we would like Him be. How often do we hear the words casually asserted, "My God is not like that." Yet isn't it best to know God for who He actually is, rather than how people may define Him to be?

God's Word is our primary means today to correct our misconceptions about God and transform our minds according to the truth of who He is. The book of Revelation is no exception to this. It is through the book of Revelation that Jesus with great clarity says, "I want to tell you who I am." He so profoundly wants us to see Him through this book that He places great emphasis on the fact that He is the Speaker, the One who gives John a vision to record. (Rev.1:1,2) Jesus is not saying the other books are not inspired, but rather is inserting an exclamation point to remind His people saying, "I am behind this!"

In Revelation 12 we find a cosmic vision that is probably not the first thought that comes to most minds when thinking of the Christmas story. But nevertheless here we have a heaven's-eye view of Christmas. The picture is of a woman giving birth to a child and a supernatural war with an enormous, seven-headed, red dragon. And in this spectacular heaven's-eye view of Christmas (and all of history) we see who God is. Not only do we see who God is, but also we see where His children belong and where suffering and pain fit in His plan.

Who Are You?

If it is God's representation of Himself that is important, rather than our own ideas about who God is, how has God shown us who He is through the book of Revelation? And what does it mean when the images He uses to represent Himself vary—sometimes greatly? Our Lord begins the book by saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega." (Rev. 1:8) In other words He says, "I begin history and I end it." It is an image that leads to thoughts of God as sovereign and big. Then He goes on to describe Himself 29 times as a lamb. Twenty-nine times He reveals himself through an image that is small and sacrificial. We find clues through the book of Revelation to show Jesus is a judge, a warrior who is King of kings and Lord of lords. At the same time He is a baby, who at His birth, a dragon awaits to abuse and eat.

So we have two pictures: humility and sovereignty. Jesus does this all through the book of Revelation. That is part of what makes this book hard to understand. It is like a braid: humility, sovereignty, humility, sovereignty, humility, sovereignty. If you only read one section, you say, "Okay, I know who You are!" And then you read the next line and you go, "Whoa that is different! Maybe I do not know who You are." The question quickly arises: "Jesus, which are You?" He answers from His Word that He is, in fact, both!

Meek or Majestic?

If you look at every other religion, God is always one or the other. He is either so big, so other, so absolute, so out there, that He could never identify with a human being. Or He is so near, so like you, that He could never ever lead, control, or protect you. It is always one or the other.

Depending on the type of personality you have, you will tend to veer toward one or the other view. Some love the fact that the Bible teaches that God is great and mighty, holy and majestic. Others like that the Bible speaks of God as incarnate and close, dear and familial.

Your personality may drift toward one or the other view for similar, dangerous reasons, even though each view seemingly leads in opposite directions. If God is up there and far away, then He is never really going to interfere with your marriage. He is never going to interfere with your character. If He is near and like you, He could not possibly be holy or you would really have to adjust. In both cases the truth is bent so we feel that God is safe and manageable. In C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia he refers to the Christ figure, Aslan, saying, "Aslan is no tame lion." If your God is tame then He's no God at all. The God of Scripture is great and mighty and became a child. He is who He says He is, humble and sovereign.

John, who received the book of Revelation, needed to hear that God is both humble and sovereign and so do we. John passed through at least one of the imperial persecutions. He may have lived through the second persecution under Domitian when 40,000 Christians were slaughtered in public for entertainment. And Jesus gives John a picture to remind him that when He was born, Satan wanted to devour Him. But the meek Christ child was not devoured. He was snatched to God and he went straight to the throne to reign in majesty. Jesus in His humanity faced the threat of the evil one, just as John did and as we do today. Yet He was ultimately saved from destruction. As He reigns in glory we will also spend eternity in glory reigning with Him.

Family Ties

But where do you fit as God paints this picture of a cosmic woman, more important than the sun, the stars, and the moon? Both leading up to the birth of Christ and afterwards, Christians are described as either offspring or are represented by the woman herself. We know He is talking of Christians when he refers to offspring because He says they are the ones who obey His commands and keep the testimony of Jesus. And the woman herself can represent Mary, but in a larger sense she represents believers over the course of time who were the remnant leading up to the birth of Christ. It is through this remnant Jesus is born.

Either as the woman or the offspring, Christians are described as family. We, the church, are the mother who birthed Him from the Jews, or we are the offspring from the woman who has birthed Christ our elder brother. We are family, humans related to Him. You fit in the family of God's people and by implication in His plan for His people. He refers to you here. This has tremendous implications. Consider the simple account of Christ's birth to see these implications.

The first Christmas, when Jesus Christ was born, would have looked to our eyes as if history in general was very chaotic. There is a father, a stepfather to be accurate, and a mother, Mary, coming into Bethlehem as poverty-stricken people. Some great arrival! It is clear that they are poor because they offer the smallest sacrifice that could be offered in the temple. This is the arrival of God? Yes. Because this is God's way. It looks meager and small, but the Lord is designing all of it. He is absolutely in control.

In Revelation 12 we gain even more insight into God's action at Christmas. We see that the prince of darkness is powerful leading up to the birth of Christ and wants to snatch the baby. Satan is also powerful afterward, powerful enough to war against those who obey God's commandments. It looks like defeat is at hand—there is an enormous, seven-headed, red dragon on the prowl. The woman and her offspring look so poor. Who is winning here when it looks like heaven is losing? But God reveals that it is all absolutely under control. When it appears that all hell (literally) has broken loose, heaven is not surprised. Put another way, when you see all kinds of evil, never forget that God has a plan to use it and exploit it. This is what happened at Christmas.

But what difference does that make for me in the next five minutes? The one who is sovereign over all is born humble and ascends to the throne. He comes through suffering and you now live in suffering while still under His sovereignty from the throne. What does this mean? It means at least this: it means that every Christian should do little things as if they are great things because of the humility and majesty of the One on the throne.

Veteran Evangelist Vance Havner put it this way: "There are no trivial assignments in the kingdom of God." Every act of kindness from a mother, every bit of patience with an unbelieving spouse, every struggle against evil when you feel so downtrodden, fits in familial connection with the God who came to the earth.

You may have a tough assignment. Perhaps you are living in the middle of a nail-biting anxiously difficult family situation. Perhaps it feels like an interruption in sovereignty. But, it is not. You may have to struggle with forgiving a very bitter enemy, and it may feel like an interruption in sovereignty. But, it is not. This picture painted before you is a picture of history in general, and it is a warning telling us "I'm sovereign and I'm serving." Both. You are familially connected to Him in this huge scheme. And even though it looks like the prince of darkness is winning, God gives the whole book of Revelation to tell you he is not.

When the Bite Comes

That brings me to the last point. It shows you we are suffering. Jesus came to this earth through, in spite of, and even because of Satanic attack. Jesus will return in, through and in spite of Satanic attack. That attack is now against you, Christian. God points right here at suffering. He paints no candy-coated picture of the way believers are to live.

Let me pause and mention that if you are reading this, and you are not a Christian and think you want to become a Christian in order to avoid pain, please do not do that. God's Word says often, for the believer, the struggle is greater because now God's opposing battle with evil becomes ours. We hurt over injustice when we did not before. We are in hard places where we would not have gone. This is not because we are masochists, but because we now identify with Him.

However, if you are a believer, you need to understand that every time it looks like good is defeated, it is nothing but the design of God or the delay of God. God has either delayed in His patience or He has designed for our good. A friend of mine says, "God's ‘no's' are always His mercy to the believer."

The apostle Paul faced the dragon of Revelation 12, but Paul calls the dragon a thorn. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says he was caught up into a third heaven and heard inexpressible things. Paul does not talk about it for 14 years. Instead, he admits, he becomes conceited. So he writes, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassingly great revelation, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me but he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" Here we see that the dragon bit Paul, but the dragon bit Paul by God's design. Therefore, when the bite came, Paul got better, not worse. This is the greatest kick in the teeth to the prince of darkness! God says "I will work through evil instead of removing it."

Whenever we face the tragic news of a plane crash we also hear that the search has begun for the black box. We look for answers. What happened? Are there any answers as we face this trial? In essence, Revelation is the black box of Jesus, saying, "I'd like to show you what happened when it appeared that the universe crashed. The serpent dashed stars out of the sky and waited to devour me at my birth. But instead I revealed my sovereignty and my servanthood. You may feel lost—but you belong to me, and I am guiding all of history — your history. Even in suffering when the dragon bites I'm in control. It won't crash finally." We ought to study that Revelational black box recorder the way the FAA and the FBI look at the black boxes before them. We can look and look again until our faith grows and we see not only what we see, but also what God sees and shares with us.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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