In the last stanza of his hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley quite well expressed the idea that Christ was born a king:
Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child, and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
During the Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of One whom the Bible says was born a king. It is interesting to note that the Bible does not say that he was born to be a king. He was not destined to be a king. He was a king by right of birth — whether or not people recognize Him. His kingship is not dependent upon human recognition. His kingship is of divine, rather than human, origin.
It is interesting also to note that the Bible does not say that His was a royal birth. There is no hint that the outward circumstances of His birth would have caused anyone to proclaim Him king. There was none of the royalty of earth in attendance at His birth.
Instead, His birth, which took place in a cave where animals were kept and fed, was attended by lowly shepherds from the Judean hills who had witnessed the angelic announcement of His birth. Nothing of the pomp and ceremony that generally accompanies the birth of earth’s royalty surrounded His birth.
Yet the Scripture says explicitly that He was born a king. Let us consider some of the aspects of His kingship as well as the implications of this kingship for our lives. This may appear to some to be a strange emphasis to give to the Christmas story, but these things are very much a part of the broader implications of our Lord’s birth.
First, let us contrast the kingship of Christ with that of Herod the Great. Herod was not a Jew. He was an Idumaean, and because of this the Jews hated and mistrusted him. He had married a Maccabaean princess hoping that this would cause the Jews to accept his rule, but they only despised him more. He had established his rule through methodical acts of cruelty and cunning. His kingship was based on intrigue, murder, and relentless display of physical power. He allowed no person or group to stand in the way of his tyrannical rule.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was a sickly old man who was insanely jealous, and he imagined that everyone was trying to dethrone him. Not too long before, he had imprisoned and put to death three of his sons. Sometime earlier in a jealous rage he had his favorite wife put to death. The Romans joked that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son, for out of deference to his Jewish subjects he would not kill a pig. However, his sons were in mortal danger.
The strongest desire of Herod’s heart was to be accepted by his Jewish subjects. However, because of his Idumaean ancestry they refused. They never allowed him to forget that he was not a Jew. The syntax of the passage indicated that the Magi spoke of Jesus as one who was king by right of birth.
Herod probably began to imagine all sorts of things when he heard the Magi and their question. Was there possibly a member of the ruling Maccabaean family who had escaped his purge? Who was this infant claimant to his throne? He would do everything in his power to find this rival and kill him before the Jewish people found out about him.
Though Jesus was King by birth, his kingdom was not to consist of any physical realm. Years later, as Jesus spoke to Pilate, he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. … then would my servants fight” (John 18:36, NASB). Herod’s kingdom was transient and temporal, but Jesus is an eternal King, and His realm is spiritual.
Jesus is King by birth because He was begotten by the Holy Spirit of God. Of God conceived and virgin born, He is our eternal King. Though His birth was His entrance into the world, it was not His beginning. It was only the vehicle by which the eternal became incarnate and manifested Himself to men. His birth is unique in all of the annals of human history, and it set Him apart as the Son of God. Because of this He is our eternal King.
Furthermore, He is King by virtue of the fact that in His person resides true humanity and God of very God. In a perfectly integrated personality, He mediated God to man and represents man in the presence of God. Because of the incarnation, He can be called the Son of Man. His solidarity with humanity and all of our joys and sorrows is thus established.
He is able to represent perfectly the needs of man in the presence of God because He was tempted in all points common to man yet without sin. He is Son of Man — Emmanuel — God with us. As the perfect representative of imperfect humanity, He is our King now and forever more.
As King He lays claim upon the lives of men and women everywhere. Whether or not we crown Him as our King does not diminish His kingship in the least. He rules whether we allow Him to rule in our lives or whether we refuse.
During the Christmas season, we are prone to think of the baby Jesus. We even speak of bringing our gifts to Him. However, the first thing He wants from us is our lives completely dedicated to Him. Our material gifts in His name are hollow unless they are prompted by the true love of a dedicated life. Certainly the gifts we lay at His feet have their place in our worship of Him. However, until we give ourselves to Him, we really haven’t given Him anything at all.
He is our King, and because of this we owe Him our allegiance. He desires and deserves more than the lip service which is given to Him all too often. We must be willing for the Christ of Christmas to reign supremely in our hearts and lives.
As servants of the eternal King, obligation is laid upon us to make all people everywhere aware of his royal claim upon their lives. We are to witness to those around us of His saving power. We are to be willing to go abroad as missionaries if He calls us. If He does not call us to foreign lands, we are to be willing to undergird those who do go with our prayers and with our financial support.
We must be willing to give sacrificially and go to the ends of the earth if need be to carry the message of Christ to every person.
Think of the impact upon our world if just one person from everyone of our churches were to go as a foreign missionary. Surely our task is great, but it is not an impossible one. We have been called to serve the King of kings and to take the message of His love into all the world.
The words of the second stanza of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” express the spirit of this call to dedication:
Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

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