What Child Is This?

What Child Is This?

Sermon Transcript

By the world’s standards, William Chatterton Dix was just an obscure nobody.  He enjoyed reading and studying poets, classical literature, and writing his own poetry. Why did he get into poetry? He developed a love for it because his father loved it and encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps.  His father went so far as to name his son after Chatterton, one of England’s greatest poets.

By his twenty-fifth birthday he managed a very busy and successful marine insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland.  Wow.  He was an insurance salesman.  Talk about obscure.  When’s the last time you heard about this occupation leading a person to fame?

His insurance career, however, hit a major speed bump as he became extremely sick and was forced to consider his own mortality.  This adversity caused him to start studying theology and the Bible again since he had left them behind so many years before.  All of this study, of course, caused him to start asking and seeking answers to some of the greatest spiritual questions of life.

One evening, as he contemplated the person and work of Jesus Christ, a wonderful and insightful poem flowed from his pen to the page.  Stepping back and looking at his work, he devised the perfect name for it, “The Manger Throne.”

Eventually, God providentially moved the song across the Atlantic where Union and Confederate soldiers gained much insight and hope from its biblically-based words about Jesus.  At some point, an unknown Englishman who loved music came in contact with the moving, thoughtful poem.  He wasted no time wedding “The Manger Throne” to the old secular English song known as Greensleeves, and changing its title from a statement to a probing and timely question, “What Child Is This?”

How interesting are the ways of God.  He took an insurance salesman with a love of poetry and sent adversity his way to force him to slow down so he could, in turn, ponder and find answers to the life’s biggest questions.  That young man’s adversity and gifting have now been used for some 159 years at Christmas to cause millions of people to consider the question of all questions: Who was that innocent baby in the manger?  Perhaps God has arrested your attention this Christmas with a dose of personal calamity and trial.  Perhaps you are looking at your life and your mortality like never before. And just perhaps you, like Dix, crave some answers to the he posed: What Child is This?

Thankfully, the song just doesn’t ask the question, it answers it in a definitive, three-fold fashion, leaving you with a clear challenge to either worship the Babe of Bethlehem or not. For those who are searching for those answers regarding the identity of this unique baby, we must start where Dix did with a question:

What Child Is This?

In the first two verses, Dix provides three answers to this question, and he concludes his answers with a clarion call to for you to do something with the information.  The divine data points are not just supposed to pique your interest and satisfy your curiosity about this person called Jesus,  they, conversely, shout at you to move from unbelief to belief in His person and salvific work in your behalf.  The last verse, in my view, merely takes the three pictures Dix gives us of Jesus purpose and weds them altogether in a grand melodic, lyrical climax calling for you to worship the eternal One who came to that dusty, dirty, and noisy barn 2,000 years ago. Based, therefore, on the structure of this famous Christmas carol, we will focus the majority of our attention on verses 1 and 2 where the answers to the question of all questions is given in three pictures of just who Jesus really was and is.

Jesus Is The Christ 

Basically, two times in this opening verse, Dix poses the questions any thinking person wants to know, especially at Christmastime.

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Yeah, of all of the babies ever born, what makes this particular baby so important to human history? Why in the world did angels take time from their plethora of divinely ordered duties to stop and celebrate this baby’s arrival on planet earth? And why did the arrival of this baby arrest, with a little angelic assistance, the attention of the shepherds near Bethlehem who raised sheep specifically for sacrifice in Jerusalem?

Answer? This innocent little Jewish baby was no ordinary baby.  Far from it.  This baby was, as Dix writes, was the Christ.

This, this is Christ the King,

I’m sure he added “this” two times to emphatically stress the utter importance of this baby’s identity.  No baby ever born to a woman could rightly claim the coveted title, Christ, or the Messiah.  Only one baby fit that prophetic bill and that was Jesus.

The Greek, Christos, is built on the Hebrew, Mashiahמָשִׁיחַ . Literally, the word means “to smear,” as you would smear a color on a wall with a paintbrush (Brown, Driver, Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Brigss-Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic Lexicon: 603:1).  In Jewish history, the word became used in a theological sense of smearing, or anointing, either people or things with olive oil for the purpose of setting them or it apart for the special work of God.  Hence, we are not surprised to discover God mandated every piece of the Holy Tabernacle to be anointed with holy oil in order to set it apart for worship in His ominous, lofty presence (Ex. 30:26-29).  And it was only logical for the priestly line of Aaron, who would serve in God’s presence in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, to be anointed with special oil for a unique opportunity to guide others in worship of the living God.  Davidic Kings, who stood as God’s representatives on earth, also had to be anointed before they could serve (1 Sam. 9:16; 15:1; 16:12).

Logically, then, did the term come to be the term for the One who would be set apart to accomplish and consummate God’s redemptive and kingdom plan for mankind.  As we discovered in our analysis of Psalm 2 this year, the second person of the Holy Trinity would come and be not just an anointed one of many anointed ones, but He would be THE Anointed One, the One set apart by the Father to bring all prophetic utterances regarding God’s plan to fruition and realization.  Here, David, an anointed king, asks the question of the day,

1 Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed (Psalm. 2).

“Anointed” is rightfully capitalized here because it speaks, not of David, but of the Lord, who was rightfully, the Anointed or the Messiah.  Only He, unlike all other Davidic “anointed” kings, would be totally qualified and able to overthrow all the forces of evil once and for all.

7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 'Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware'" (Psalm 2). \

True, every Davidic king was ideally a “son of God,” however, since this passage is applied specifically to Jesus when He returns to earth as the Conqueror at His glorious Second Coming (Rev. 19:15), we know the inspired passage speaks ultimately of Him, the Christ, or the Anointed One set apart to accomplish the defeat of evil as He ushers in His kingdom of peace (Isa. 9:6-7).

Based on this prophetic word from Psalm 2, we are not surprised to read of how people in Christ’s day were anticipating His arrival:

3 And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, (Matt. 2).

31 But many of the multitude believed in Him; and they were saying, "When the Christ shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?" (John 7).

22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me (John 10).

Here Jesus minces no words in telling them, “Yes, I am the Christ.”  They asked the right question, but they didn’t, like so many, like the answer, choosing rather to remain in their unbelief.  Is this you?

And then we have this exchange between Jesus and an inquisitive crowd after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to His arrest and crucifixion:

32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. 34 The multitude therefore answered Him, We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man? (John 12).

Rightly did the Jewish crowd say they had been taught the eternality of the Messiah’s mission. Many Old Testament prophecies gave them this inside information (Isa. 9:6-7; Ezek. 37:24-25; Dan. 7:13-14).  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around how the Messiah could be a forever king and also die.  They, obviously, chose to downplay the import of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53, opting to think about the positive hope of the Messiah’s defeat of all of their enemies. But in any event, all of these texts show how the people looked for the coming of this Anointed One who would finish God’s redemptive and regal promises to Israel and mankind.

The question this Christmas, then, couldn’t be clearer: Do you know, by faith, the Christ? If you realize that the babe on Mary’s lap was the promised Anointed One, then, how can you not bow down before Him in rightful worship?

In addition to Mary’s baby being THE Christ, the song also earmarks a second facet of His role in the Father’s purposes:

Jesus Is The King

Dix rightfully places Jesus’s second role as King after the role as Christ for, as I have said, Davidic kings were anointed and set apart as God’s chosen rulers over Israel (Jer. 23:2, 5; Isa. 40:1). But the Christ was the King par excellence.

This, this is Christ the King,

All of this is why Dix supplied the article “the” before the word King.  Jesus wasn’t “a king,” but “the King,” really “the King of Kings.”  Consider the Old Testament evidence.

The Davidic Covenant, first given by the prophet Nathan to David, divinely promised several things to David and the Davidic line.

12 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 "And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever"'" (2 Sam. 7).

God promised David three things: One, that he would have a regal posterity; two, that the Davidic throne would be eternal; and three, that David’s kingdom would be established forever. God never promised that a Davidic king would, from this time forward, occupy the Davidic throne.  What was promised, and what played out as many Davidic kings lost the throne, was that the Davidic regal lineage would not be lost so that One could come who would be the eternal Davidic king.  You might need to read that sentence one more time.

Isaiah came along later and prophesied that the coming Davidic king would be born of virgin and be called Immanuel, or God with us (Isa. 7:14).  He gave us further prophetic clarification in chapter 9 concerning the identity of this coming king to end all kings:

6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Isa. 9).

One is hard-pressed here to argue against Isaiah’s statement that the Davidic King will be every bit divine, or God himself, ruling and reigning over the world He created.  He will be the most skilled political counselor who has ever walked the planet, capable of addressing any and all complex, troubling, thorny geo-political issues with wisdom, skill, and jaw-dropping insight.  He will also be the “mighty God,” or as the Hebrew reads “God warrior,” el gibbor, which IS a title of God in the OT (Isa. 10:2; Jer. 32:18; Deut. 10:17; Zeph. 3:17).  As such, He and He alone will be able to deal with sin, sinners, and Satan as prophesied so His kingdom of peace can be established.  He will also be the “eternal Father,” which underscores He divine and eternal nature.  And, of course, while some earthly leaders attempt to bring some semblance of peace and stability to this sin-stained earth, only He will be capable to establish world-wide peace in a lasting, eternal format.  Again, He can do this for He is the eternal One.

Rightly, then, does Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three trace Christ’s genealogy.  Since Solomon’s line was eventually cursed because of sinful activity (Jer. 22:30; 36:30), Luke traces Christ’s genealogy through Mary, who was the blood descendent of David.  Her lineage came through David’s son, Nathan.  Matthew, conversely, traces Christ’s legal Davidic genealogy through Solomon’s polluted line down to Joseph.   Both genealogical lists, therefore, clearly and definitively prove that Jesus was, in fact, of the Davidic line through His mother and father.  You couldn’t get more Davidic than Jesus. The Davidic eternal king, therefore, had finally arrived.

The Magi knew it because God supernatural led them to the baby King (Matt. 2:1).

  • King Herod knew the king had been born. That’s why he sought to have Him eliminate by killing all the male baby boys two years old and downward (Matt. 2:7-8).
  • Jesus set the tone for His triumphal entry by equating himself with the Davidic King (Matt. 21:5) which Zechariah has prophesied about (Zech. 9:9).

As Jesus walked around Israel, He was living proof that He was the long-awaited king.

From Luke 14, we learn that Jesus offered the kingdom to the people in the Parable of the Banquet:

16 But He said to him, "A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;

17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' 18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' 19 "And another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' 20 "And another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' 21 "And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame' (Lk. 14).

The king’s subjects, the Jews, didn’t like what they saw in Jesus as their “king,” so they made all kinds of excuses as to why they would not want to be part of his festive kingdom dinner.  The king responded by turning and offering the kingdom also to the Gentiles.

With the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:10ff), Jesus demonstrated that the Davidic kingdom would be post-poned until a future date.  In the meantime, His subjects were tasked with investing well with what He the king entrusted to them individually:

10"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. 11 And while they were listening to these things, He went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, "A certain nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 "And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business with this until I come back.'

14 "But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us.' 15 "And it came about that when he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him in order that he might know what business they had done

(Lk. 19).

The King came as prophesied, offered the kingdom to His people, but was rebuffed. He turned to offer kingdom entrance to Gentiles as well, and He next moved to put the kingdom realization in abeyance until He returned to settle accounts at the end of the age (Dan. 7:13-14; Zech. 14).  We now live between His first coming and departure and His second coming.  It’s the age of grace.  Have you experienced it yet?

The King of Kings is going to return.  The question is, Are you ready for His glorious, magnificent arrival?  How do you get spiritually ready, “You, like the Pharisee, Nicodemus (John 3), must be born again by your faith in the Messiah to be your King and your Redeemer.”  Are you ready to make this life-changing decision? When you do, when you personally know Jesus as your Christ and your King, you will do exactly what Dix wrote into the closing words of this old Christmas carol:

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Yes, you will waste no time bring Him your praise and adoration for who He is.

What child is this?  He is the Christ. He is the King. But there is one more office to consider.

Jesus Is The Savior

The second verse says as much when you read it in its entirety:

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The opening question is most fitting: Why did the Christ and the King lie in a lowly, smelly, dimly lit, and noisy place like a stable?  Answer?  Everything Isaiah prophesied about the coming messianic Servant dripped with humility, meekness, and simplicity.

1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isa. 53).

Physically, the Christ and the King would be nothing like Saul, Israel’s first king, a king known for his physical prowess. No, the true King would be known for His simple, unassuming looks, coupled with His tender, compassionate approach to life.  How fitting for Him to be born in a stable.  Had He been born in a palace it would have completely undercut His persona and mission.  Amazing, isn’t it?  He left the splendor of His heavenly throne to be born in a dark, dank stable.  But what better place for Him to be born for He would one day go one to become the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of all lambs.  How ironic.  How fitting.

How should Christians respond to Christ’s humble redemptive mission?  Dix tells you:

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

We should be reverential because the Christ, the King, and the Savior, who is the Word, is quietly pleading with sinners to come to Him this Christmas. He’s whispering to you, “Do you realize who I am now? Do you know why I came to earth? Don’t you want to be part of my spiritual and physical kingdom?”

How does one become a member of the King’s kingdom?  The closing lines tell us all we need to know:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;

These moving, graphic words take us to the heart of the matter as sinners.  He, the Christ and the King, was born to be sacrificial Savior, the One who’d bear our sin upon the cross so that we would have the opportunity to be saved.  The author of Hebrews summarizes the Savior’s work well with this statement:

9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Heb. 2).

Amazing. He tasted death, death related to your sin, not His, so that you could have the opportunity to taste life, eternal life at the moment you turn to Him in faith.  What a gift and it is certainly one worthy of receiving this Christmas. Yes, He is the only One qualified to lead you out of godlessness to glory.   Thank you Mr. Dix for reminding us in this memorable, moving song just What Child Is This.  He is the Christ, the King, and the Savior for sinners who become saints.

What should your response be to Him?  The last two lines tell you all you need to know:

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

As a believer, this is the logical response to the person and work of Jesus.