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Thu Dec 05, 2013
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Tue Dec 03, 2013
by Andrew Lisi
And this will be a sign for you
God’s use of signs throughout Scripture served to reassure his people that his plan could be trusted.
Old time symbols and signs
Just try to read the words of Luke 2:8–14 without picturing Linus van Pelt and his blue blanket reminding Charlie Brown of the true meaning of Christmas. I dare you.
Many of us are so familiar with this passage that we miss the subtleties in the angel’s announcement of the Messiah’s arrival. But if we can push familiarity aside, we’ll discover the rich Old Testament background of the angel’s good news as he offers the stunned and skeptical shepherds proof that his words are true: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
In the Old Testament, God regularly provided his people with tangible signs and physical symbols to confirm divine revelation. In Judges, Gideon needed reassurance after God called him to deliver Israel from the Midianites (Judg. 6:17). God gave him a sign using a fleece and the morning dew (Judg. 6:36–40). Similarly, after God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, Moses questioned him. God’s reply resembles the angel’s words in Luke 2:12: “This shall be the sign for you” (Exod. 3:12). The prophets often used similar language when they delivered messages received from God (1 Sam. 2:34; 10:7; Isa. 7:11; 37:30; 38:7). Sometimes the prophet himself acted out the sign, symbolically reinforcing the divine message (Isa. 20:3; Ezek. 4:3).
The message and sign go hand in hand
These signs never make much sense on their own—and they’re not supposed to. For the shepherds, the newborn lying in a manger would have been unremarkable without the angel’s description of what the sign represented. In seeing it fulfilled, they gained confidence in the rest of the angel’s declaration. The message and the sign went hand in hand: the message was necessary for understanding the sign, and the sign confirmed the message and proved the messenger could be trusted.
We too should be pointing to the truth revealed by the sign: Jesus.
God’s use of signs throughout Scripture served to reassure his people that his plan could be trusted. He would bring deliverance just as he promised. Those tangible signs often made a significant difference for people trying to understand God’s seemingly illogical and unexpected ways of working out his purpose. The shepherds responded in praise when they found the baby just as the angel said they would. In doing so, they realized that the angel’s message was trustworthy.
The Savior is our sign
The sign pointed to a reality greater than the sign itself: the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah, had been born. His birth marked the next stage in God’s great plan of salvation. The Messiah was here, but he symbolized something greater than even Mary or the shepherds could have realized. His advent began the countdown to humanity’s future deliverance from all sin. His coming was the sign that all of God’s promises of salvation were about to be fulfilled. The fulfillment of one small sign for the shepherds pointed ahead to the ultimate sign, the great truth of God’s plan of salvation culminating in the death and resurrection of the Savior. Just as the shepherds declared the truth revealed through the sign, we too should be pointing to the truth revealed by the sign. It’s not about us—it’s all about Jesus. He is the sign for you.
And that is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
This adapted excerpt, courtesy of Logos Bible Software, is from Mary: Devoted to God’s Plan. This eight-week self-study program on the life of Mary comes with graphics, reflection questions and “fill in the blank” boxes where users can record and save their answers. Mary can also be purchased as a complete church curriculum which adapts the study material for small group study and preaching. Purchase the book or the curriculum today.