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What Does it Mean ‘For unto Us a Child Is Born’?

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, but he was also born “unto us,” the spiritually bankrupt; the lost and broken. If Jesus was a regular child, the verse would read “unto Mary and Joseph a child was born.”

Manger on top of a Bible

The Old Testament features hundreds of prophecies about Jesus’ life, his death, and how he rose from the grave. He fulfilled all of them, including Isaiah 9:6, which foretold that Jesus would be born as a human baby and that he would also be equal with God.

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Jesus would not only be a human being, but also “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father;” The Holy Spirit, our Helper (John 14:26) who is our “Wonderful Counselor.” Our awesome Savior chose to walk with us as a human being. What does Isaiah 9:6 mean?

Born unto Us

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, but he was also born “unto us,” the spiritually bankrupt; the lost and broken. If Jesus was a regular child, the verse would read “unto Mary and Joseph a child was born.”

The King James Bible states several times that a child was born “unto” someone specific such as Abraham, Enoch, and Eber. Jesus was not born unto Joseph and Mary. He is the world’s Savior and servant King. He was born unto us because he came to save us.

A Lowly Infant

Patrick Mabilog writes “our Saviour chose to come in the form of a baby born in a stable laid on a manger. If that’s not the perfect picture of humility, then I don't know what is.” Jesus’ human birth represents helplessness and humility.

Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, knows what it feels like to rely 100% on his parents. The King of Kings came down low so that we could reach him. The weak and weary seeker finds an approachable King in the manger, inviting all people to acknowledge their frailty in his tiny form and to cry out to him.

That lowly infant represents submission to God. One must acknowledge his or her total need for the Father whose tender love all believers inherit as sons and daughters through Christ.

A Child with Two Fathers

Jesus was both Man and God, but he was raised by two real human beings. Russel Moore reminds us that “Jesus would have said ‘Abba’ first to Joseph.” He was obedient to his earthly parents, “obedience essential to his law-keeping on our behalf.” For a time, he lived the way all children live, but his purpose was unique.

Jesus became a carpenter like his father, but Scripture would become his greatest defense against darkness when Satan tempted him. “Jesus almost certainly learned those Hebrew Scriptures from Joseph as he listened to him at the woodworking table or stood beside him in the synagogue.”

After Passover, as Joseph and his family returned to Nazareth from Jerusalem on foot, something had changed for young Jesus. Mary and Joseph suddenly realized their eldest child was not with them.

They had to return to the city in search of their son, where they found him in his Father’s house (Luke 2:49). Mary asked Jesus why he had treated his parents so badly. Mabilog asks “when you think of our Lord, do you often see Him as an arrogant God who is self-absorbed or as a humble servant who has no trouble being brought low most especially for the world that He loves?”

Jesus was “submissive” to his parents (Luke 2:51) and went with them back to Nazareth. David Mathis wrote “in our modern age, taught to despise the ideas of submission and obedience, the Son of God himself, worthy of limitless worship and praise, shatters our shallow conceptions of value and worth. Jesus’ obedience to his parents challenges the insecurities in us that often make us averse to submit and obey.”

This episode in Jesus’ life suggests that perhaps Mary and Joseph forgot their son was not born unto them; he was born unto us. The shepherds had told them what the angels said, but that was 12 years earlier. Jesus had learned to obey God’s law, which Joseph had taught him — “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Yet, Jesus was transitioning into a new chapter of his life.

Last Year of Childhood

At 12, Jesus would have been preparing for “full participation in the religious life of the synagogue.” Joseph would have taught him “the commandments of the law” until at 13, during his bar mitzvah, Jesus would officially become a man or “son of the commandment.” He was undoubtedly the most apt pupil ever to have entered a place of worship but still learned at the feet of his human father.

As John Piper tells us, Jesus’ “insight into the commandment was more profound than ordinary men, and his relation to God was unique.” Speaking to Luke with the advantage of hindsight, one might wonder if Mary recognized how her eldest son had been transitioning into a new phase of life, becoming poignantly aware of the Lord’s purpose for him.

A hand-over of sorts was coming, when Joseph’s job would, in a sense, be finished, and the work of preparing to obey his Heavenly Father was about to begin. During those three days in Jerusalem, the pre-teen Jesus was not protected by his family. Where did he sleep? Who fed him? Was he cold, hungry, tired? His father was absent, so Jesus trusted in his Father.

For the Christian, this pivotal time in Jesus’ life demonstrates how one can be a child —  dependent upon and obedient to the Father — but also grow. Believers are always God’s children, yet the Father does not wish for his children to continue as newborns for their entire lives.

Paul wrote, “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). A decision for Christ comes with expectations, and continuous growth through learning is one of them.

Learning with Jesus

The synagogue incident in Luke 2 emphasizes that Jesus was a willing learner. New life in Jesus Christ launches a lifetime of learning for his followers also. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).

But he also soaked up God’s Word. “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers,” where Mary remembers observing her son “listening and asking questions” (Luke 2:46).

Wise Jesus, Son of God, was not an insufferable know-it-all, but instead was teachable. When God’s children love him and his Living Word, they want to learn his tenets and become more like his Son. This episode in Jesus’ life teaches the Christian three things:

1. Jesus was teachable. The heart that yearns to be more like Christ will also be teachable.

2. Christ sought teachers. All believers need to ask for help from those more mature than they are. Learning without direction from trusted teachers tends to bend itself to one’s personal agenda and perspective which skew the meaning of God’s Word.

3. Christ went to the synagogue. While not all preachers teach the truth, this is no excuse to avoid church. Every Christian is also a child of God, including every pastor, but pastors are specially called to lead those “children” wise enough to be teachable and to seek out teachers just as Jesus did.

Reading Scripture and seeking advice from mature Christian friends will help a believer discern where to find solid gospel teaching.

Children of God

Jesus, as a child, obeyed his parents and relied on them fully during his formative years. He enjoyed the privilege of being a child and seeing the world as a regular child sees it. During his three-year ministry, Immanuel told his listeners “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17).

The opposite would be to live dependent upon one’s self. A child living this way would suffer starvation, abuse, slavery, or murder and this happens in the fallen world when parents are not wise or loving. Children are vulnerable. The good news is that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

He gave believers the right to enjoy their Heavenly Father’s tender love like a frail, curious, imaginative, and awe-struck child at any age. Meanwhile, God looks after the unseen details pertaining to his wider purposes and the life of each individual, the way a parent handles matters a child does not notice or understand.

Believers are free to retain a sense of wonder at the Father’s mysterious ways while also growing to be more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/jchizhe


Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.