Was the primary purpose of Jesus’ birth to save the world?
No, not according to an angel in Matthew 1:21, who told Joseph that Mary would “give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Not save the world; save his people. His people being? Acts 13:23, “From David’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.”
Jesus himself said in Matthew 15:24 that “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” And to his disciples he said, “Do not go among the Gentiles…Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel,” Matthew 10:5-6.
And one Christmas carol caught that, in its cry O come, O come, Emmanuel to “ransom captive Israel.” The focus isn’t on Jesus coming as Saviour for the whole world, it’s a cry, in the words of the carol, for “the Rod of Jesse” to “free thine own from Satan’s tyranny.” Not free the whole world through the Saviour Jesus, but free Israel through the “Rod of Jesse,” Jesse being King David’s father, and the ancestral lineage that would lead to the birth of Jesus.
But why would the Rod of Jesse freeing Israel be so important? Because it harks back to the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 that one day a shoot, or stem, would grow from the stump of Israel, and branch out into a tree bearing fruit again.
It was an amazing prophecy because Israel was down to a mere remnant after the Assyrian hordes had dragged them off as captives into exile. And that’s where they’d remained, in the words of the carol, as “captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.”
Until, that is, “the Son of God appear” (verse 1 in the carol) to “reach out his hand a second time to claim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria” (verse 11 in Isaiah 11).
It’s a marvellous promise that Israel will be rescued from their exile in a second Exodus. And the carol picks up on that as the reason for Emmanuel coming. Emmanuel, the rod of Jesse, comes first and foremost to free his OWN people, Israel. He’s coming “to thee, O Israel,” to save them, in the words of the carol, “from depths of hell,” and to give them “victory o’er the grave.”
It is the rescue of Israel a “second time” from slavery, therefore, that is the primary focus of Jesus being born. And it’s that story God wants us Gentiles to grasp, because it tells us what we need to know most about him – that he’s utterly faithful to his promises, and he’s forever merciful and kind.
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Regarding Matthew 1:26, “His people” are all those who believe on Him, both Jew and Gentile. They are the “elect,” the “remnant,” the “Israel of God,” which is His body, His spiritual temple.
“He came to His own, and his own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13)
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)