Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free
From our sins and fears release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
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
INTRODUCTION – A BRIEF HISTORY
Merry Christmas! What a gift it is to celebrate Christmas as a gathered church on the Lord’s Day. We’re here to rejoice together in the fulfillment of centuries of promises, the coming of the long expected Messiah, the birth of the second person of the godhead, the highest expression of the love of God, the Savior and saving of the world, and the fact that the One born on Christmas day will come again to set all things right!
There are very few things written by men that better capture the glory of these things than the hymn we just sang, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Before I pray, I’d like to give you just a bit of background on the hymn and then explain why I’m preaching a sermon on it this morning.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” was written by Charles Wesley in 1744. Charles Wesley was an Englishmen who lived from 1707-1788. He was converted to faith in Jesus at 31 years old (in 1738). He became a leader within the Methodist movement, founded by his brother, John, within the Anglican Church. Both he and his brother were known for their evangelistic preaching and earnest desire to promote holiness among Christians.
Charles wrote more than 6,000 hymns including, “And Can it Be,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” was first published in a collection called “Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord.” For many years, however, it went largely unnoticed. Two things contributed to it becoming one of the most beloved Christmas songs in the world. First, in 1830 (86 years after it was first written) it finally found music that did the lyrics justice—a tune written by a man named Rowland Hugh Pritchard. And the second thing that helped it spread was that Charles Spurgeon referenced the song in one of his sermons in 1855.
Although all of that is somewhat interesting, none of it is why I’m talking about it right now. This sermon is tied to the text of the hymn for one main reason: it captures well many of the glories of Christmas. For that reason, we’ll look a bit closer at a number of lines, alongside the biblical texts from which they came. Lord willing, when we sing the hymn together again after the sermon, we’ll be able to do so with a deeper and more profound sense of awe and wonder and gratitude and longing.
My aim is to come at the Christmas story in a fun and fresh way in order to help us all see its glory in greater detail and measure, and that in order that we might respond in greater gladness, worship, and obedience. With that, let’s pray and then consider twelve glorious, biblical truths proclaimed in this familiar Christmas hymn.
At Christmas, we are celebrating one of the three most significant events in human history (creation and the resurrection being the other two). As I try to do often when I stand in this pulpit, I want to encourage you to slow down and consider that for just an extra few seconds. The claim that God became man, that the divine nature took on a human nature, and that this was done in love to rescue the world from sin and death, is not a normal claim. It is in every sense of the word, extraordinary. If it isn’t truly true, we’re fools for having anything to do with it (even simply on the commercial level that is so common in our culture). But if it is truly true—and it is!—then it’s worth celebrating in the highest!
I read a book recently that said this even better, “[Christianity] is either everything or nothing, either the world’s stupidest lie or the world’s ultimate truth; … if Jesus is not literally everything to you, then He is nothing at all” (How to Destroy Western Civilization, Kreeft, 66).
You’re most likely here because you have joined millions upon millions over the past two millennia in believing that it is truly true. You’re here because you know it’s worth celebrating in the highest. You’re here as one manner of doing so. Again, we’re so thankful for that.
At the same time, however, you’re probably not only here to celebrate the glories of Christmas. You, like me, are probably here for help in celebrating the glories of Christmas as well; in having Jesus as literally everything to you. It is my sincere and earnest hope to provide you with a bit of that. In particular, and once again, I mean to do so by taking a closer look at twelve remarkable claims of the hymn we just sung, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Please find one or two to grab onto today and use it as fuel for gladness, worship, and obedience.
- Come thou long-expected Jesus (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:25-32; Acts 1:9-11). This is at the same time a plea for the Messiah to come and return. It is simultaneously the cry of the world from the garden promise in Genesis 3 until the incarnation, and the cry of every Christian since. Countless souls longed for the day when the Messiah would come, even as countless souls now long for the day that He will return.
Passages like Micah 5:2 promised the coming of the Messiah/Christ. Likewise, passages like Acts 1:9-11 promise that Jesus will return as well. And passages like Luke 2:25-32 describe the kind of longing that marked the faithful people of God.
Luke 2:25-32 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation…
The simple, yet profound reality is that to know the nature of Jesus, what He accomplished in His suffering, death, and resurrection, and His everlasting promises, to know the nature of Christmas, is to long for Jesus to come and come again. May this line in, and title of, this song spur us on in our longing to be with Jesus. Grace, we glorify God most on Christmas when it produces in us a greater longing for His return.
- Born to set thy people free (John 3:16, 8:36; Romans 5:8; Galatians 5:1). Born thy people to deliver. Given where we’ve been in John’s Gospel recently, it’s hard not to think of these lines as simple echoes of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Likewise, in Romans 5:8 Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And in Galatians 5:1 he declared that “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
Ultimately Jesus came to glorify the Father in everything He did (John 12:27-28, 14:13). But passages like the ones we just read tell us that Jesus would do so in large measure by dying in the place of sinners. He was born to glorify God by setting all that the Father gave Him free from sin and death, and to deliver us from the condemnation we were under.
Grace, when we sing these lines again, let’s do so with a greater sense of gratitude and wonder that we get to glorify God, along with Jesus, in trusting that He was born to die in our place and be risen from the dead for us.
- From our sins and fears release us (1 Peter 1:4-5; John 14:27). The two are perfectly and inseparably intertwined. Apart from release from sin, while we are still under divine condemnation, fear is the right response. In our sin we do not have the promises of God to be working for our good. Bad things are bad and good things are temporary before we get ultimate justice one day in hell. Grace, we’re fools not to be afraid of the wrath of God, which remains on us until we are released from our sins.
However, to be to be set free from sin, and to truly understand all that means, is also to be set free from fear. What is there to fear when God is for us? What is there to fear when we have the promises of God in 1 Peter 1:4-5 for an, “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”? What is there to fear when we know that all things are working together for our good? What is there to fear when death is gain?
The coming of Jesus is a promise that nothing can cause true harm to anyone who is trusting in Him. That is why Jesus Himself could say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, (in John 14:27).
- Let us find our rest in Thee (Matthew 11:28). Just as being released from fear follows closely and necessarily on the heels of being released from our sins, finding genuine, true, transcendent, eternal rest follows on the heels of both. To be freed from sin is to be freed from fear, and to be freed from fear is to be brought to a place of rest. That is what Jesus meant in Matthew 11:28 when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
In a season more known for stress and chaos, may God be pleased to remind us from this simple line in this simple song of the promises of God to make us people of rest and peace in Jesus—now and forever. Grace, there is a kind of rest available to you right now because Jesus came to earth to bring it, and Christmas is the celebration of that. Would you turn to Him now that you might know His rest?
- Israel’s strength and consolation (Luke 2:25; Philippians 4:7). We just read the verse that this line comes from, Luke 2:25. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The key to this great truth is that just because we are free from sin and fear and just because we have rest in Christ, doesn’t mean that hard things won’t come our way. Indeed, Jesus even promised that they would. How, then, do we continue to walk in peace when hardships come?
This line highlights what the Bible says over and over. Those who belong to Jesus always have God’s strength and comfort, and especially in times of trial. It is because Jesus is the strength and consolation of all of God’s people that Paul could write, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). It doesn’t make sense (it’s beyond understanding) that we can be at peace when the most severe trials hit…unless Jesus is our strength and consolation during them. And Christmas is the good news that He is for all who believe.
Again, let that line sink in and wash over you if you’re in a hard season. If you’re lonely or sick or frustrated, remember and sing with great joy of Israel’s Christmas-born strength and consolation.
- Hope of all the earth thou art (Matthew 12:18-21). Can you think of the last time you found yourself in a really difficult spot, one that had significant consequences and you weren’t sure how to get out of it? What you wanted in that moment was hope. Hope that somehow you would find your way out unscathed. Hope for some kind of rescue to trust in. Hope for some promised solution to provide an escape.
Biblically, when hope pertains to the promises of Jesus, there is no uncertainty about it. When our hope is tied to a specific promise in God, it is as certain as if it already happened. Hope relates to future things, to the desire for something not yet, but Christian hope will come to pass just as certainly as the events happening in front of you right now. We find this in Matthew 12:18-21 (which is a quote from Isaiah 42:1-3)
Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him…
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
What a sweet line this is, then, for all who recognize Jesus as the only, but certain source of hope…hope for deliverance from sin and death, and more remarkably still, hope for everlasting fellowship with God. Let us sing with confidence and certainty that Christmas is good news for realized hope for all the world.
- Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11). Because of all the great truths we’ve already considered, Jesus really is the greatest treasure of all. And for those with eyes to see, He is the greatest desire and deepest longing of our hearts. To know and be known by Jesus is to be filled with fullness of joy.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And this fullness of joy and everlasting pleasure is found in Jesus.
Likewise, in John 15:11 Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And don’t miss the fact that it is Jesus’ full joy (“my joy”) that will fill every longing heart.
The greatest lie Satan has ever perpetrated is that the joy of Jesus can be found outside of Jesus. For that reason, the world has been filled with people, since Adam and Eve, who seek alternative sources of genuine joy and satisfaction. Jesus offers everything, but He also demands everything. Again, because of that, there has always been a thriving market of counterfeit goods promising the same satisfaction that Jesus offers but at a much lower price.
But Christmas is the coming of the only true, full, and lasting Satisfaction. And the Child of Christmas, therefore, is the dear desire of people from every tribe, tongue, and people group, the greatest longing of every heart that is spiritually alive, and the everlasting joy of all who believe.
When we sing these lines, then, may they serve us well as both a desire-check (testing our greatest desire and longing) and a desire-recalibration (reminding us to turn our eyes upon Jesus alone).
- Born a child and yet a king (Colossians 1:27-29; Philippians 2:6-11). Have you ever really considered how strange it is that God chose to send the Savior of the World into the world as a baby. The very One who was with God eternally, through whom the world was made and is sustained, the One to whom all things belong, the One with authority over every earthly and heavenly being, set all of that aside in a sense to be born of a virgin in a lowly manger.
As staggering as this is, it has always been God’s way. Colossians 1:27-29 says this plainly and explains why, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Philippians 2:6-11 helps us to see that there is no greater example of this than in Jesus.
… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…
One remarkable aspect of the glory of Jesus is that His excellencies are diverse to the point that many seem contradictory. He is a lamb and a lion. He is gentle and lowly and able to silence and slaughter every enemy. In Him is infinite justice and infinite grace. He is majesty and meekness. He is perfectly obedient and perfectly sovereign. And He is born a child and yet a heavenly king.
Sing, Grace. Sing with greater breadth of glories. Sing with greater brokenness and comfort, with greater humility and confidence, with greater weight and freedom, with greater sorrow and rejoicing, with greater contentment and longing, and with greater freedom and obedience.
- Born to reign in us forever; Now thy gracious kingdom bring; Rule in all our hearts alone (Matthew 28:18; 1 Timothy 6:15-16; John 1:14). Jesus is not merely a king, but He is the King, the eternal King, the eternally gracious King, the eternally gracious King of you and me.
In the familiar passage in Matthew 28:18 we read, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” Jesus is the King who has all authority.
Even clearer still, these lines in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, celebrating the eternally gracious King Jesus, come from passages like, 1 Timothy 6:15-16, “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality…”.
This kind of power is good news in Jesus alone, since He alone possesses “glory as of the only Son from the Father,” even as He alone is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He is King with all authority, but He is also all-good, all-gracious, and all-loving. Limitless power is a terror unless it is paired with a holy and merciful nature like Jesus…and so we celebrate and sing of the birth of this truth (that Jesus is the eternal, gracious king) and this prayer (that we, along with the whole world, would gladly and entirely bow before Him, as our one and only King).
- By thine own eternal spirit (John 1:1; Revelation 1:4, 6, 8). As was highlighted in the last lines, every good thing that we sing about Jesus is without expiration. All of the glories of Jesus this song highlights, along with all the rest in God’s Word, are everlasting. They will never end. We sing about them because they are true, and because they are eternally true! Indeed, Jesus is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4). He is the “alpha and omega” (Revelation 1:8). He is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” and therefore to Him will “be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:6).
We praise God that Jesus was born on Christmas and that He will come again because His love and kindness and salvation and glory are eternal.
- By thine all sufficient merit (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:26-28). Just two more lines. This one celebrates the fact that Jesus’ merit, His worth, His glory, His majesty are entirely enough to accomplish everything assigned to Him by the Father.
Romans 6:10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all…
Hebrews 9:26 But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Jesus is the only man who has ever lived who possessed intrinsic merit. All other merit is borrowed. It is by Jesus’ all sufficient merit that we are made right with God. And it is at Christmas that we celebrate the birth of the all sufficient One. And this line in this song captures this simply and beautifully.
- Raise us to thy glorious throne (2 Timothy 2:11-12; Revelation 3:21). In light of everything we’ve already covered, it should not surprise us to find that the end of all things includes us coming before the throne of Jesus in the new heavens and earth. It is true that we will bow before Jesus, acknowledging Him as the rightful King. But it might be surprising to learn that we will not only bow before Him, but also reign with Him. This final line of this great hymn acknowledges and calls us to sing of both. We will be raised to Jesus’ throne to bow before Him and to reign with Him!
2 Tim 2:11-12 If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him…
Revelation 3:21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne…
This is almost too much to imagine, but it is true. Mankind was created to reign with God (exercising dominion) in the first Garden. Rather than delight in that privilege, however, mankind wanted to rule even God. In the new heavens and earth we will be brought to a new and eternal Garden to reign as we were made to do. Oh what an awesome thing that will be. And what an awesome thing it is that Christmas marks the birth of the One who won all of this for us.
We’ll sing these verses along with two additional ones that have been added since Wesley penned the original. In the new verses we’ll sing of even more of the glories of Christmas as we consider the heavenly hosts proclaiming the birth of Jesus, Jesus tasting our sadness, and the temporary setting aside of infinite riches that Jesus chose at Christmas.
May God drive these truths down deep in us, may they ring in our heads for the rest of the day even as they will for eternity in heaven. And may we go forth now to celebrate and declare the Hope and Joy of all the earth with greater clarity, zeal, and courage until the final Christmas comes upon us. Come again Thou long expected Jesus.