The message of the angel is “good news of great joy.” It is important to put this phrase into biblical context. The angel starts out by saying: “Fear not.” He tells them this for two reasons: first, his appearance is frightening and startling; second, in a greater sense he is speaking to generations of us who because of the sentence of death, live in fear. Is there any human alive who has not at some point thought of their own death, and fearfully pushed it aside. The older you get, every pain, new itch, discoloration or twitch becomes a Fred Sanford moment. “It’s the big one, Elizabeth.”
The message to the angels is a universal message of the gospel, not a message about temporal anxiety, the fears of life that God can help us cope with and overcome. It is about the certainty of the military campaign he wages in the coming of Christ, but won in the bowels of eternity past.
The good news is not…
sale at Walmart
You got the job!
Gas prices drop!
The boys are coming home from Iraq!
Fear not, the good news is…
Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
1 Corinthians 15:55-58 55 “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
2 Corinthians 9:15 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
This good news of salvation has a military flavor to it. Maybe not to us who read it traditionally and christianized, but if we were to read it historically in context, we might get another flavor. The word the angel uses for “good news” is the Greek word euvaggeli,zw (euangellizo) which means to proclaim good news, or bring good news. It relates back to the Old Testament word rf;B’ (basar). The root meaning of this word is to bring news from the battlefield. In OT times when the battle took the decisive turn, a messenger would be sent home to bring the news to the city. He would travel alone, their would be a watchmen waiting and the news would be spread throughout the town by the women who were anxiously awaiting word from the battlefield. Then the army would return in splendor and victory, rejoicing and celebrating the victory they had achieved.
(Look up the following verses to capture this picture: Psalm 68:11; Isaiah 52:7; 2 Samuel 18:25; Isaiah 40:9; 41:27;60:6; Luke 4:16-21; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56; Colossians 1:5-6; 2:13-15). The gospel is seen as a battle with spoils.)
Good news here is the good news of a messenger from the battle field. He would come first (the angel) and precede the army in victory (the host of heaven). The angel is announcing the victory, the army is glorying in the victory, but the anachronism of their proclamation is seen in the fact that the battle is yet to be fought, and the incongruity is that the warrior lies as a baby in a manger, helpless and alone.
The picture here expresses the distinction between flesh and spirit. Jesus comes not to emphasize the physical kingdom, but the eternal, spiritual kingdom. But because most modern people believe in materialism, the notion that the material world is the ultimate and real world, we have difficulty seeing the greater spiritual realities. Henceforth, we discount passages like Ephesians 1:19-20 which tell us that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the father, far above all rule and authority, looking to some future physical expression of the kingdom of the singular nation of Israel in Jerusalem as being more significant than the kingdom he rules over now.
The cross and the empty tomb are a reality at this announcement – the announcement precedes the event – the message to the shepherds is anachronistic – it happens before it happens. The apostles spoke of it this way in their preaching:
Acts 2:22-24 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know– 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Acts 4:25-28 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 ‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
The doctrinal arena of this discussion is the discussion of Decree and Predestination. God decrees the future and it comes to pass as a result of His providence and power. He works all things together for good, sparrows die and he knows, our beginning and end have been determined.