Mark’s gospel is often said to portray Jesus as the one who comes not to be served but serve (Mk 10:45). If this is true then it is understandable that there is no account of his birth; the origin of one who serves is of little consequence; Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1;1) but is so as one who serves (the rest of the chapter is Jesus strenuously serving), indeed as God’s suffering servant (as the gospel goes on to demonstrate).
John too says little of his birth. He sums up the birth in the terse and pregnant words, ‘the Word became flesh’. For John, Jesus is above all the incarnate God. His origins are not in Bethlehem but from everlasting; in the beginning when all came into being the Word already existed. He is not made but is the Maker of all things (Jn 1:1-5). He is the Son who images and exposits God in the fullest sense (he that has seen me has seen the Father) for he is God (Jn 1:1).
Luke’s gospel stresses that Jesus is the Saviour of the World. Jesus is, to be sure the Jewish Messianic Son of God (Lk 1:35) but his deliverance is for all. He is ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’ and proclaims a gospel that is for ‘all nations’ (Lk 13:10). He is the mysterious Son of Man, a title that stretches his domain beyond Israel embracing the wider stream of humanity (Ps 8). Thus his genealogy stretches back to Adam; Jesus is ‘the son of Adam, the son of God’ (Lk 3:38). Adam, God’s son, failed. But a new son arrived, the last Adam, the second man, and in this son God finds unadulterated delight (Lk 3:22). He will bear and display the divine image, in a way that excels that of Adam.
Matthew’s concerns are more specifically Jewish. Matthew wishes to show that Jesus, the Son, is the fulfilment of Jewish promise. Jesus is Messiah, the son of David (Matt 1:1) and thus the son of promise, Abraham’s son (Matt 1:1). His genealogy is traced through three sets of fourteen generations, from Abraham to David, from David, to the exile and from the exile to the Christ (Matt 1:17). Matthew’s point is that with the coming of Jesus the Messiah who would deliver his people had arrived. In one sense the exile had finished many years before but in another sense it hadn’t. The people were still in bondage, not merely to Rome but to powers much more enslaving and destructive. All previous Davidic sons had failed, hence the exile. But this son of David will not fail. Messiah, David’s son, had arrived, to save ‘his people’ from their sins (Matt 1:21). All God’s promises will find their realization (their Yes and Amen) in him. He is Jesus, the Lord saves. He is Immanuel, God with his people in blessing and salvation, and with them in a more profound and immediate sense than had been expected. In him, all exile is over and, in him, God’s Kingdom arrives for God, the divine King, has arrived.
The gospels invite us to see the refracted glory of God in the Christ. They invite not simply admiration and amazement but adoration and worship. Mark’s gospel concerns ‘the Son of God’ (1:1) but a Son who serves as Mark indicates by the conflating of two OT texts (this is my son… in whom I delight) the former refers to the Davidic king-son and the latter to Isaiah’s servant who will not fail (Mk 1:11; Isa 42:1). Davidic kings were God’s sons (and servants). Israel was God’s son (and servant). Adam was God’s son (and servant). Christ is the rightful heir of all; all promised to them is inherited by him for where they failed he will triumph. He is ‘son’ in all these senses and is ‘Son’ in a sense that eclipses all; he is Immanuel, and those with eyes to see beheld in him the Shekinah glory that dwelt in the tabernacle and temple, the glory of the Only Son with a Father, the one of whom John the Baptist said, ‘he is preferred before me for he was before me.’ As with manna and vine the anti-type surpasses the type, the fulfilment exceeds the promise; Jesus is son ‘par excellence’, the Ultimate Son, son not simply in a granted and nominated sense, but in an intrinsic and essential sense; his Sonship is not merely honorific but inherent, not titular but trinitarian. He is not only the Ultimate Son but also the Unique Son, God-the-Son (the Only Son). He is the image of the invisible God and divine fulness dwells in him bodily. Failure is impossible and worship is mandatory. And so it is said, ‘let all the angels of God worship him’ (Hebs 1). And we may say, not angels only, and wise men, and shepherds, but the whole of creation, since ‘for him are all things’ (Col 1:16).
We may add that the gospel that begins by announcing the arrival of Immanuel (God with us) ends with Immanuel himself in resurrection power and authority declaring to his disciples, ‘lo I am with you always even to the end of the age’ (Matt 28) for to Jesus, declared to be Son of God in power in resurrection, God himself says,
‘“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebs 1)