Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

When John saw Jesus incarnate for the Revelation, he saw Jesus as the glorious Man and the glorious God. He saw Jesus, as Jesus will return for His Second Advent. Our Lord has come once and He is coming again!

Joy to the World!

Posted: December 27, 2020 in Revelation
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Revelation 1:9-18, “Joy to the World!”

Surprise! Surprises are common on Christmas morning as we eagerly unwrap the presents under the tree. Sometimes we get what we want; other times we get what we don’t expect. Sometimes the unexpected things can be the best gifts of all.

You might find a similar thing today. To the surprise of many, we find our Christmas Scripture not at the beginning of the New Testament, but at the end, in the book of Revelation. But considering that Christmas is all about Jesus, the book of Revelation is more than appropriate!

Many decades had passed since Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The church had grown and taken on a distinct identity from the typical Jewish traditions. Although both Jew and Gentile are included in the Body of Christ, by this point in history the Gentile believers had become more numerous than the Jewish ones. Additionally, the overall Jewish nation had increased troubles with Rome, to the point that the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, exactly as had been prophesied by Jesus.

In this harsh environment, Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ settled into their own “new normal.” Persecution was common, to the point that most of Jesus’ original apostles were already dead – killed in martyrdom. John the son of Zebedee remained, perhaps alone by now. He was a beloved elder among the churches but not even he was immune from persecution. Legend says that he survived being boiled in oil. Scripture tells us that at the very least, he suffered exile.

To this, many in the church were wondering the obvious question: Where was Jesus? Jesus had spoken of His own return and the apostles (particularly Paul) wrote of it often. If Jesus was returning, where was He? When would He come? If not now, when?

Many people today ask the same question. Nearly every generation in history believed that they would be the last generation prior to Jesus’ return, and ours is no different. The world is in chaos and so much prophecy has seemingly been fulfilled that Jesus’ return appears more imminent than ever. Is it? Yes! We can say with absolute confidence that we are closer to Jesus’ return than ever before.

Question: Why does this matter at Christmas? Because at its core, Christmas is not about a babe in a manger so much as it is about the advent of the Son of God. In famed Bethlehem of Judea, Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid Him in a manger…but that was not the beginning of the Son of God, the Son of the Highest. As the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son has always existed, being in the very beginning with God, being God. Jesus was never created; He is the Creator. There was a moment in time when He took the name “Jesus,” but as God the Son, He has always been. At Christmas, we celebrate the Advent, or the arrival of God the Son. We celebrate the incarnation, that God came to dwell among us, ultimately to go to the cross for our sins and to rise again from the grave for our forgiveness.

But we cut the story short if we stop there. How so? Because there is more than one advent. Jesus has come once but He is also coming again. Although He remains incarnate and will not require a second physical birth, there is no doubt about His physical return. And that return will be glorious! He came first as a babe; He will come again as a King.

This is what we see throughout the book of Revelation and we are given a preview of it in the opening chapter. In it we see (along with John) the Incarnate God, the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. This took, is a “Christmas” experience for John. Not in the form of a classic nativity scene, but in the stark reminder of Jesus’ soon Second Advent, when He will come to the earth in power and victory.

In fact, Jesus’ Second Advent is the subject of one of our most beloved Christmas carols, “Joy to the World.” Just listen again to the lyrics, adapted from Psalm 98 by Isaac Watts:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;

Let men their song employ.

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrow grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make His blessing flow,

Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world through truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love.

To speak/sing of a reigning, ruling Savior, already having conquered sin, death, and the curse from the Garden of Eden – this is to speak of the Second Advent of our Lord. Not to diminish the wonder of His First Advent, but to join with it the anticipation of His glorious return. Our King has come and He is coming again!

This was John’s own wonder as he heard and saw Jesus that amazing day of the Revelation. This was what he described in Chapter 1:9-18. (1) He acknowledged his own weakness, (2) he saw Jesus as the glorious Man, (3) he knew Jesus as the glorious God. How do you respond to Jesus this Christmas season? Do you see only an infant child – or do you see Jesus as the Incarnate God?

Revelation 1:9–18

  • John as the weak man (9-11)

9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

It is only natural that John begins with a bit of background. This could perhaps be seen as the “official” start of the account as the first eight verses of Chapter 1 are prologue and greetings to his readers. With those preliminary words written, John begins his narration with a few words about himself. And considering how much he will say of Jesus, it is not unexpected that John writes of his own relative weakness. He does not describe himself as an authoritative apostle, one of the original followers of Jesus through whom God worked great miracles. That much was true, but it was not what John wrote.

True to fashion for the same apostle who did not even name himself in his own written gospel book, John uses terms of humility in his self-introduction. He is simply a “brother” to those in the church. He was not exempt from troubles, being a “companion in the tribulation,” just as every other believer in Christ faced during the first century. He too awaited the “kingdom,” even patiently enduring his wait while under Roman arrest. Like many other Christians, John was imprisoned for his unbreaking “testimony of Jesus Christ” as he preached the gospel in “the word of God.

This is not at all a description of strength. Other prophets in other religions might write of their own supposed glories, riches, and victories, which would boost their reputations in the ears of those who would listen. Not John. John just told the truth: he was a normal, weak human being…one with a jail record at that. There was not a single thing that John could have done to change or improve his situation. He was completely reliant on the power of God to endure day-by-day.

  • As an aside, this is exactly the place at which we need to be if we are ever partake of the grace of God. We need to see ourselves in our weakness and helplessness. We need to understand our dependence on the Lord, casting ourselves on His mercies in Jesus. Otherwise, we will never experience those mercies. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble!

What was John doing in his weakness? Seeking the Lord. For John to write that he “was in the Spirit” is to say that he was experiencing a specific experience of some sort with God the Holy Spirit. None can say definitively what it was, as John does not give any details. Of course, he was about to experience something even more spiritual in the Revelation – something that would make this initial thing seem relatively minor. Whatever it was, this much is clear: John was already seeking the Lord when the Lord responded in a special way.

  • Does this mean we can each expect something similar during Spirit-filled times of prayer? But there is something to be said for an ongoing habit of prayer – be it on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) or any other day of the week. Do you want to be used by God? Start by spending time with God in His word and in prayer.
  • In this, note that John did not let his tribulations keep him from prayer. If anything, it probably hastened them! Trials have a way of sending us to our knees. We do not wish for them but we can be grateful for how God uses them!

And Jesus answered John! Jesus came to John in his weakness, just like Jesus comes to us in ours, showing Himself to be strong. John was patiently enduring tribulation, being exiled to a remote island. Yet Jesus did not answer in timidity but with a “trumpet.” Jesus called out to John with “a loud voice,” literally, with a “megaphone.” This is no secrecy nor shyness nor shame with our Savior; He does not wait for permission to speak!

What Jesus had to say, He wanted John to record. It was to be comprised of a vision, but this was a vision that all the church needed to know. Jesus was sending His word to real people in the seven churches of Asia, indicative of real Christians everywhere. All the church needed to know of God’s plan to send Jesus in power and glory and to know of the glory Jesus has even in this present day. 

  • Jesus as the glorious Man (12-16).

12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.

Upon hearing the megaphone trumpet-like voice, John turned to see something amazing: a Man standing among “seven golden lampstands.” Although nothing is explained initially, the explanation comes in verse 20 that the seven lampstands were representative of the seven churches. All the specific churches identified by Jesus just moments earlier were symbolized as lampstands, much like the ancient Hebrew tabernacle had a single lampstand within. More important than the lamp was the One who stood among them. Dressed similarly to an ancient priest, this Man was among the lamps, almost as if tending to them. (Being that Jesus is both King and Priest, the symbolism is appropriate.)

Don’t miss the point that this was a real person. John noted that the appearance was “like the Son of Man,” a reference not only to Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself but also Daniel’s description of the Divine Messiah (Dan 7). Yes, it is a reference to Jesus’ deity but it is also inherently a reference to His humanity. Jesus came as a Man, a literal human being.

Again, this is the main point of Christmas: Almighty Infinite God clothed Himself in finite limited human flesh to dwell among us and become a sacrificial substitute for us. The Son of God needed to become a man, that He might be that substitute. If the Son had remained without humanity, there was no way He could step in and pay the price for humanity. It was the human Adam who fell in the Garden of Eden and the Son of God needed to become like Adam (being the second/last Adam) if He was to reverse the fall and redeem mankind.

What Revelation 1 tells us regarding this is that Jesus’ incarnation has not changed. When Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended physically to heaven, He did not shed His humanity upon His arrival. He did not have a temporary physical ministry in the 1st century, only to discard it and go back to the way things were prior to Mary’s pregnancy in Nazareth and Bethlehem. No…Jesus remains incarnate. Jesus is still human today, just as much as the Friday that He died on the cross and the Sunday He rose from the grave. The humanity that Jesus took to Himself, He kept. And He will keep it for all time. When Jesus returns in His 2nd Advent, He will come as a Man. When Jesus reigns over all the earth from Jerusalem, He will reign as a Man. When Jesus institutes the eternal state, He will do so as a Man. Not that He ever stops being God (as will be seen in a moment) but He will forever have His humanity, being the Perfect Man.

  • How wonderful this is! How amazing and gracious! One of the reasons the Bethlehem shepherds were so astounded, marveling at the things they saw was because they realized that they had seen Christ the Lord, God Himself. God put on human flesh to be with us. Yes to save and to redeem us, but also to be with us. We could not dwell with Him in our sin, so He came to be with us. He dealt with our sin, cleansing and justifying us. Now we can be with Him forever! Jesus’ humanity made this possible and it is something that will always remain.
  • Perhaps you’ve never considered the idea that the Son of God loves you so much that He made a permanent change to His existence when He took on humanity. His character did not change (for God’s character never changes), but the mode of Jesus’ existence forever changed. He became human for the glory of God, for the redemption of mankind, and for the love of people like you and me.

The apostle John describes what Jesus’ glorified humanity looked like. Surely this was different than how John had seen Jesus during the three-year earthly ministry. At least, it was different except for one day: the Transfiguration. A the mount of Transfiguration, Peter, John, and James got a glimpse of what John would later see during the Patmos revelation: Jesus in His glory! At the time, the three apostles described only Jesus’ shining (i.e., glorious) whiteness, particularly of His clothing. This time, it was Jesus’ whole personage. His head and hair shone white, His eyes burned with fire, His feet even shone as a kind of unearthly bronze that virtually glowed with brightness. It was astounding in every sense of the word. For as much as John writes, he still seemed to run out of words for Jesus’ appearance. He was a Man, but He was not like any other man; Jesus was glorious.

  • He still is glorious! This is the way our Jesus looks today. As wonderful as they can be, the potential danger of nativity scenes is that people might only conceive of Jesus as a baby. Yes, He was a baby, and it is important to remember how Jesus entered the world in such a humble fashion. But Jesus did not remain a baby – despite the many paintings of the Renaissance or Eastern icons or Roman statues that depict Him that way with Mary. Jesus forever took on humanity, but as with all humans everywhere, Jesus’ childhood was only temporary. Jesus grew into a Man. More than that, He is now a glorious Man in the power and authority of God!

Even Jesus’ voice demonstrated that authority. In the writings of the prophets, it was God who had a voice that sounded like many waters (Eze 43:2). The sword coming from His mouth was nothing less than the word of God (Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12). This is the same sword seen and used during Jesus’ actual 2nd Advent during the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:15). Everything about Jesus’ voice, appearance, and stature shone forth the glory and authority of God even as it was invested (poured into) incarnate Man. This is our Jesus!

  • Is this how you know Him? For many, Jesus is an idea. For others, Jesus is ancient history or even myth. In truth, Jesus is the living, resurrected, glorious Son of God and Son of Man. Unless we know Him in that way, personally and relationally submitted to Him in faith, then we do not know Him at all.
  • Jesus as the glorious God (17-18).

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

It ought to be no wonder why John fell as if he was dead. What other response could someone have to such a sight? When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he declared his own woe, knowing that he had seen the Lord of Hosts (Isa 6). When Ezekiel had his initial vision of the Lord’s throne, he also fell on his face (Eze 1). When it dawned on Gideon that he had a conversation with Almighty God, having seen the Angel of the Lord, he feared for his life (Judg 6). To get a true glimpse of the glorious living God is a frightful thing. How could it be otherwise? The Bible says that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). Such an encounter leaves us trembling…or at least, it should. It should, if we rightly understand our own sin. The moment we come to grips with the fact that our sin condemns us to death and judgment is the moment that we will fear that the mention of a perfectly holy God. And this is good! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this fear is the first step to helping someone seek the refuge and forgiveness of Jesus as Savior!

Even as a born-again believer, the apostle John was right to fall at Jesus’ feet. After all, who should understand the righteous fear of God better than a Christian saved by God’s grace? We are those who have admitted our sinfulness, crying out for salvation. We have received the forgiveness of Christ and should be loathe to take it for granted! Jesus rightly deserves our worship and we should give it to Him eagerly and gladly.

Yet even in John’s righteous fear and reverent act of worship, Jesus reached out to him in comfort. Jesus took His right hand (the one that had been holding the seven stars, representing the seven angels/messengers of the seven churches) and put that same glorious hand upon John, comforting him. Jesus even spoke to John, telling him not to fear – just as did the angel Gabriel said to Mary regarding her pregnancy, or the angels said to the women at Jesus’ empty tomb. This time, it was no angel but Jesus Himself, offering comfort to His beloved friend and apostle, John.

  • As an aside, if there is one more reason why we as born-again Christians should not take Jesus for granted or disregard a righteous fear of the Lord, consider that it was John who fell at Jesus’ feet. If there was anyone who might have grown overly comfortable with Jesus, it would have been one of the original apostles who lived and traveled with Jesus for three years. They ate together, camped out next to each other, probably told jokes to each other, and worshipped side by side in synagogue and during the feats. John was so comfortable with Jesus that he even leaned back against Jesus’ chest during the Last Supper. Yet this John fell in fear, worshipping at Jesus’ feet. If John did not lose his fear of God, neither should we!

Once Jesus calmed John, Jesus identified Himself. This might seem strange considering how well John knew Jesus, but we need to remember (1) Jesus looked very different at the time, and (2) Jesus’ words would be given to vastly more people than to John. Jesus was identifying Himself to all the church, declaring His credentials that the church might listen to Him as He is: the glorious God.

For descriptions are given: (1) The Divine One, (2) The Resurrected One, (3) The Eternal One, (4) The Victorious One.

The Divine One: Jesus is the “the First and the Last.” He was in the beginning with God, being God, and He will be in the end and beyond. There is no period of time that has or will ever exist without God the Son. It emphasizes again how although Jesus of Nazareth came at a specific time and place, being born of Mary in Bethlehem, the Son of God has always been. He has always existed temporally (in time) and He has always existed in priority. He Himself is the focus and goal of creation, as all things were created by Him as God and for Him as God.

The Resurrected One: No discussion of Jesus is complete without a recognition of His death and resurrection. This is true even at Christmas. The babe was born for one reason: to suffer, die, and rise again. There was a reason His birth was first announced to shepherds. They tended the flocks that would be given in sacrifice for the people. These shepherds were blessed to be shown the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Likewise, when the magi finally arrived (up to 2 years later) they brought among their gifts the appropriate spice of myrrh. This was a spice used, not in celebration of life as might be expected with the arrival of a child, but in recognition of death when a corpse was packed with spices. It was an acknowledgement of Jesus’ purpose in dying for the sins of mankind.

Yet Jesus’ work does not end with death, but resurrection. The earthly narrative of Jesus beings with a manger, proceeds to a cross, and culminates with an empty tomb. Jesus “was dead,” with the emphasis being the past tense. Jesus now is the Living One, “He who lives.” The Lord Jesus did not appear to John as a ghost or apparition, but as the living Lord God.

The Eternal One: Not only is Jesus alive, He will forever remain alive. He is “alive forevermore,” or He lives into “age upon age,” “eon after eon,” never to die again. This is an important distinction, symbolized in His physical ascension to the Father. How so? Because Jesus was not the first person ever to rise from the dead. Although it was a rare miracle, it did happen in Israel’s past, and it happened with increasing frequency during Jesus’ own ministry. Most famously, Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead after being four days dead and buried. In fact, Lazarus’ revival was so well known that his life remained in danger – not from renewed sickness, but religious assassination.

But Jesus’ resurrection was different! Jesus was the first one risen from the dead to never die again. Lazarus and all the others faced death twice. Jesus faced it once and conquered it forever (which is seen in the next part of the verse). For this reason, Paul can say that Jesus is the firstfruits of those risen from the dead (1 Cor 15:23). His resurrection is thus far unique in history, and will be echoed by all those who believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

The Victorious One: Jesus is God, the living God, the forever alive God, and the God who has the power of life. Jesus told John that He had “the keys of Hades and of Death,” having personally conquered death in His own resurrection. In fact, it is this goal to which all of Scripture points. This is the reason for Christmas and everything about the life and ministry of Jesus. Genesis shows how life was lost in the Garden of Eden with death reigning over every man. Yet in the tragedy of the Fall, God gave the hopeful promise of One who would come, born of the seed of the woman who would crush the head of Satan and take away the sting of death. This is Jesus, born of a virgin (the seed of the woman), crucified to death but risen from the dead, having all power and authority over death itself. Though He bore all the sin of mankind, all of it carrying the penalty of death for every human that ever lived, Jesus’ one death was sufficient for all. He paid the whole bill! He conquered our most persistent enemy, the foe from which none of us can escape. We find our escape in the glorious victory of Jesus. Though we may face physical death, we who believe will never face eternal death. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and our eternal lives are in His more-than-capable hands!

This was how Jesus appeared to John: as the divine, resurrected, eternal, and victorious Lord. He showed Himself to be the glorious God – the One to whom all praise is due – the One in whom all our hope and faith rests.

Conclusion:

Put it together and what do we find? John was in his weakness when the Son of God graciously came to him, showing Himself to be the glorious Man and God. Jesus came in power and glory demonstrating Himself to be God Incarnate.

This is the gift of God we celebrate at Christmas. But may we remember that Jesus’ incarnation spans far more than Christmas! Just as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and 1st Advent, so should we celebrate and wait with anticipation Jesus’ 2nd Advent. As the song says, “The Lord IS come.” He has come, and He is coming again. Next time it will not be as a babe in a manger; it will be as Jesus is right now, right at this moment: the glorious incarnate God who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, invested with all the power and glory of God.

For those of us who are born-again Christians, it can be easy to lose sight of this at Christmas. So much attention is put on a Bethlehem baby that all we think about is the birth and the Child. And yes, it is an absolutely essential and beautiful part of the story. It just is not all of the story. For us as believers, we can look back on the fulfillment of Jesus’ 1st Advent as not only the prelude to the cross and resurrection, but also as the guarantee of His 2nd Advent. Because Jesus came once, we as Christians can be certain that our Lord is coming again, exactly according to His word and promise.

Are you to ready to see Him? Are you looking for His coming and advent? Are you listening for His call, with the assurance that you are one of His own? 

To see the living God in all His glory is a fearful thing. Even the apostle John fell on his face as though dead. It is shocking for believers and unbelievers alike. Know this: one day (perhaps one day soon) you will see Him. The Bible tells us that it is appointed to man once to die, then face the judgment (Heb 9:27). For those who today know Jesus as Lord, we (like John) will experience and receive the comfort of God. We will be received into His presence, given a home in the place that Jesus has personally prepared for us to dwell with Him forever.

For those who do not know Jesus – who have rejected Jesus as Lord, choosing instead to live for themselves and their own glory, your fate is dramatically different. You too will see Jesus in His incarnate glory, but you will not receive His comfort. Instead, you face the judgment of the One who holds the keys of Hades and Death. To whom will you appeal in that day, when you have already rejected Jesus? There is no hope for life apart from Him. Turn to Christ in faith today.

Christmas Eve 2020

Posted: December 25, 2020 in Luke
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Christmas Eve 2020

Luke 1:26–38 (NKJV) — 26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Try to imagine the situation. It is ancient Judea in the Roman Empire. Although the Pax Romana brought a relative “peace” allowing for travel, it was a peace brought about by violent force, enemy occupation, and oppressive taxation. The Jews were no longer a free kingdom of Israel – and apart from a few brief years under the Maccabees, they had not known true independent freedom since the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 500 years earlier.

To our ears, this sounds natural and normal, for we read it in our history books. For the ancient Jew, it was anything but normal. For them, “normal” was what they experienced during the Davidic dynasty when there was a king on the throne and prophets of God in the land. Now the only king was a Roman puppet and the prophets had been silent for centuries. Any Jew could look in the Scriptures and read repeated promises about a victorious King and everlasting kingdom. But where was He? Where was any indication He was coming? Had God forgotten about His people? Had God forgotten His word and promise?

God had not forgotten anything, which was plain through Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. Not that this was yet made known to the nation. The majority of Jews would know nothing of Jesus for another three decades. And they certainly would not have paid much attention to Mary, either. A poor girl from the backwater town of Nazareth was not newsworthy…at least, so they thought. How wrong they were! If they only knew.

Not that Mary thought too much of herself, either. She was just a normal girl from a normal town, expecting to have a normal life. All of that changed the moment she met the angel Gabriel. Unlike her betrothed husband Joseph who was asleep when he received his later angelic message, we are not told what Mary was doing when Gabriel appeared, greeting her. Whatever it was faded to obscurity, as her life was forever changed.

Why? Like Christmas itself, it is all about Jesus. Mary would give birth to the King of the Jews who was destined to be the King of the world and the Savior of mankind. God would do the impossible and the world would be turned upside down.

Luke shows it to us in four brief sections: (1) Salutation, (2) Proclamation, (3) Explanation, (4) [Mary’s] Affirmation.

Salutation (26-30)

Here, we are told all the necessary information for us to understand the background of this angelic encounter. We get the “who, when, where, what, and how” of the event. It was in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (something that was later explained to Mary by the angel) that Gabriel appeared to the young virgin girl Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. That she was betrothed (engaged) to a man descended from King David did not carry with it the promise of kingly riches (Mary herself had Davidic ancestry through a different line), but it did mean that the ancestry was known and hope for a future king remained.

To this virgin girl, the angel appeared and spoke, declaring Mary to be highly favored of God. The Almighty God was with her in a special way and this was something worthy of joy. Question: Did Mary see any of this coming? Had she known? Of course not. But just because she did not know God was working did not mean that He wasn’t. Just because she did not know God was with her, favoring her, planning to use her, did not make it less true. This is the reason Gabriel told Mary to rejoice. He informed her of the grace already given her by God.

  • Is this not what we do when we tell others of Jesus? Yes, we need to tell them the bad news of their sin, guilt, and deserved judgment. But we also get to tell them about God’s undeserved favor and grace, already available to them in Jesus Christ. We get to tell them what God has already done so they can rejoice.
  • Can you rejoice in the good news of Jesus? Can you rejoice in the grace that God has made available to you?

Mary was not sure what to make of all this, being understandably frightened by this supernatural activity. That was when Gabriel moved to his proclamation of what was going to happen.

Proclamation (31-33)

The angel calmed Mary’s fear, giving her the good news about God’s favor and grace upon her. What was the sign of His favor? A Son. Never mind that she was a betrothed virgin. Never mind that this was humanly impossible and personally scandalous for the girl. Put that aside for a moment and for now, just hear the good news: a Son would be born of her, and not just any son: the Son of the Highest, i.e., the Son of God. And His name? Jesus – Yeshua = YHWH of our salvation, or “the LORD who saves.” By no means had God forgotten His people. He knew their suffering – He knew their need (just like He knows ours), and He brought forth His salvation in the Person of His Son, Jesus.

  • How badly we need to be saved! How desperate is our own situation! We are not enslaved to the Roman empire but to sin and death. And into our desperation, God offers His holy Son – He gives us Jesus the God who saves. He gives us Immanuel, God with us. He gives us life when He gives us Jesus!

Not only did Gabriel promise a baby boy, but he declared how the boy would grow into a man and that Man would be the King of all Israel. The ancient promises made to David and his descendants were not made in vain. The prophecies about a future Davidic kingdom would not go unfulfilled. The baby born through Mary would be the fulfillment of those things. The reign of this Man (known as the Messiah / the Christ – the Anointed One of God) would reign not only over Israel but over all the earth. And His reign would not last only for a few decades, but for all eternity: “of His kingdom there will be no end.

  • How wonderful was the proclamation of Gabriel regarding Jesus! Mary would bring forth a baby who would grow into a King – the best King – the King who had been promised since the Garden of Eden. Praise God for His indescribable gift!

How would all this be possible?

Explanation (34-37)

As a virgin, Mary understandably had questions how it would all work. She was not rebelling against God’s will for her or doubting His promise, but there was no question that this would require the miraculous. She asked a question that almost anyone would ask: “How?” Interestingly, she did not ask “why.” All too often, we question the reasoning and motive of God as if we have the right to do so. Not Mary. If she had not already understood hers and Israel’s need for a King and Savior, she at least trusted that God knew what He was doing. Instead, she asked “how,” to which Gabriel’s response lay in the infinite power of Almighty God. God the Spirit would come over her in a holy way, making it possible for the virgin to become pregnant and give birth to a Child unstained by the hereditary sin of man.

That it was possible could be seen in Mary’s own family, with her elderly cousin Elizabeth. Just as it seemed impossible for the aged to give birth, so it was even more impossible for the virgin. Yet what do we know of God? There is nothing impossible for Him. There is nothing too hard for his hands, no problem too difficult for Him to solve. He can do anything.

  • That includes saving people like you and me! What could be more difficult than erasing the bloody stain of sin? What is harder than making sinful traitors into sons and daughters of the King? Yet God does it in Jesus. He does the impossible through the gift of His Son, for nothing is impossible for Him!

Mary’s response?

Affirmation (38)

How Mary responded to the angel (and ultimately to the Lord) was so simple and pure. She affirmed the word and surrendered herself as a slave into the will of her Master and God. There was no argument, no dialogue, no objection – not even a fear raised, though she had reason to fear what might happen to her as a suddenly pregnant unwed Jewish girl in 1st century Judea. She had only faith and submission. She believed the promises of God concerning the soon-to-be-born Jesus and gave her own life into His merciful hands.

  • How do we respond to the news of Jesus, be it during Christmas or any other time? Through faith-filled affirmation of the word of God! We dare not ignore Christ, seek to replace Christ, or argue against Christ. Instead, we believe God’s word regarding God’s Son and surrender ourselves into His hand. We have faith, affirming everything that God said is true, and we give ourselves to Him as His servants, slaves, and children.

Conclusion:

“Wait a minute! Where is the Christmas message? Where is the celebrations of love, hope, white Christmases, and Santa Claus?” Go to Hollywood and the Hallmark Channel for that. There is love and hope at Christmastime, but it is not found in romance and good feelings; it is found in the Savior sent by God to be King of Israel and King of the world. The Biblical response to Christmas is not found either under the mistletoe or under a fir tree, but under the gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we too can rejoice at the news of God’s favor, that He has graciously brought forth the Son of the Highest to be Savior and King through nothing but His own power, which makes the impossible possible. Thus, we believe, surrendering ourselves into the hands of Jesus Christ, rejoicing in Him forever!

The Best Gift

Posted: December 23, 2018 in John, Uncategorized
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Christmas Sunday 2018

John 4:1-10, “The Best Gift”

Gifts! For many, Christmas is all about the gifts. Although the Christmas shopping season officially begins with the close of Thanksgiving, some people plan their Christmas giving all year long. They carefully plan out who is going to receive what, and they hide their purchases away like squirrels hiding their nuts, all until the gifts can be given in December. For children, it isn’t so much what they give, but what they are given. They can’t wait to run to the tree on Christmas morning and rip off the wrapping paper to see what they’ll find. [I typically got things started around 2am!] When talking about marathon racers, many participants say “It’s all about the bling” (the medals) – for Christmas, it’s all about the gifts.

Although there’s much we could say about the overabundance of materialism & the cultural problem of selfishness – to a large extent, the saying is right: it is all about the gift…as long as we’re talking about the right Gift. Christmas is not about Santa, decorated trees, eggnog (non-alcoholic!), parties, or any other fun family traditions (though some of that can be good, in its own regard); Christmas is all about Jesus, and Jesus is the gift of God.

That was the news to the Samaritan woman at the well. Although this isn’t the typical Christmas story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, it deals with the Christmas theme: God’s gift of a Savior. Remember what it was the angel proclaimed to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem: Luke 2:10–11, “(10) Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. (11) For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  A Savior had been born – a Savior had been given to all the world. The promises of God had come true: God had given the Jews a new son of David, the ultimate King of Israel, and this Man was bringing salvation and tidings of great joy to all nations all over the world. Mankind needed saving, so God gave a Savior. Truly, Jesus is a marvelous gift!

Out of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke deal with Jesus’ birth at all. Mark launches into Jesus’ adulthood, whereas John starts with his famous prologue declaring Jesus as the eternal Word (logos) of God. But that’s not to say that John doesn’t write about Jesus as God’s wonderful gift. As early as John 1:12, Jesus is the one who responds to those who believe upon Him by giving us the right to become the children of God. Only a few verses later, the gift of Jesus is said to reveal the glory of God (John 1:14), and the one who gives us the grace of God (John 1:16-17). The apostle John fills in the gaps left out by the other gospels, showing the specific ways Jesus called His disciples to Himself, and how His ministry of miracles began. There is even a conversation included between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus, where Jesus is famously described as the gift of God: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Again, it may not be the traditional Christmas story, but it is the Christmas message!

That all brings us to this conversation between Jesus and a woman of Samaria. The apostle John will set the background for us in his writing, but suffice to say that this was a conversation that wasn’t supposed to take place. To nearly everyone in the surrounding culture, Jesus and this woman ought to have had nothing to do with one another, barely exchanging greetings (if even that!). Yet Jesus takes the initiative to speak with this woman, and open up a conversation for her which turns out to be life-changing. Today, we’re only looking at the first 10 verses, but John dedicates 42 verses to what happened that day in Samaria, the testimony & experience of this woman being a key reason why so many of her neighbors came to faith in Christ. Her life was changed because of the gift of Jesus. Her soul thirsted for God’s forgiveness & life (though she didn’t initially realize she needed it), and Jesus offered her living water. The gift of God gave to this woman, life.

We, too, are thirsty for eternal life, yet many people don’t realize it. They go through their days doing everything they’ve always done, and find little to show for it at the end. Like many kids around a Christmas tree, they rip open their presents taking in all they can, and 60 seconds later they’re done, exhausted, and bored. People go through life trying to take in as much as possible, but at the end they find they have nothing. Why? Because in ourselves, we are doomed for death. Like the woman at the well, we’ve lived lives of sin, and all that remains for us is death. This is where the gift of God comes in. God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gives life. He gives us the life we never knew we needed, and His gift lasts forever.

Jesus is the best gift. Believe! Receive the gift of God!

John 4:1–10

  • Background; Jesus given according to the promise (1-6)

1 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

  1. Remember that the ministry of John the Baptist preceded that of Jesus, and the two overlapped just a bit. John’s primary purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah (Jesus), having been sent by God as a “voice crying in the wilderness,” (Jn 1:23) in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3. As John prepared the people to see their Messiah, he called them to repentance. They were to turn away from their sins & humble themselves before God, and the way John symbolized this was through the act of baptism. Just like a Jewish priest would go through ritual immersion prior to offering sacrifice, and just like new converts to Judaism would get baptized as a sign of their new beginning, so did John baptize the people who came to him in response to his message of repentance. What better way to signify their humility towards God, than by going through the symbolic act of cleaning & newness?
  2. With that in mind, when Jesus first began His ministry (having been recognized and baptized by John as the Passover Lamb of God), Jesus initially did the same things as John. He preached the same message (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Mt 4:17), and He (or rather His disciples) also baptized those who came to Him, responding in humility and repentance. Soon enough, more people responded to the ministry of Jesus than that of John – something which made perfect sense to John. He had come to prepare the way for Jesus, and he knew that Jesus must increase while he himself must decrease (Jn 3:30). John the Baptist was more than willing to step out of the way so that his people could see Jesus as their Messiah. — John may have been happy with it, but the Pharisees were not. The Pharisees now had this new preacher and prophet to check out, Someone who taught the people with an authority they had never before heard. At this point in His ministry, Jesus didn’t want the extra scrutiny, so He left the region in Judea where He & His disciples were baptizing, and headed north to His home region of Galilee.
  3. That’s a lot of background. What does it tell us about Jesus and the original Christmas gift of Himself? Jesus was given to the Jews. Jesus was ministering in the areas He was supposed to minister, being among the people He was called to seek out and save. Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is a holiday celebrating the birth of the Jewish King. Again, remember what the angel said to the shepherds: Christ the Lord was born in the City of David. “Christ” is not a name; it’s a title: Anointed One (“Messiah”). Basically, the angel was saying that in David’s hometown, the Person who had been prophesied to come from David’s ancestry had been born: the Anointed/Chosen One, designated by God to be Lord/Master/King of Israel. The same thing had been said to Mary, nine months earlier when she was first miraculously made pregnant: Luke 1:32–33, “(32) He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. (33) And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s child was born with the specific purpose of being the King of Israel, sent to the Jews to reign over the Jews forever.
    1. Question: If that’s the case, then why isn’t Jesus reigning? If He was born King of Israel, why did He live in poverty for 33 years, and why was He rejected & killed by His nation? Shouldn’t He have sat on a throne at some point? No…at least, not then. The prophecies of the glorious reign of Christ are not the only prophecies regarding the Messiah. There were also many prophecies of His rejection & death, being sent as a sacrifice for Israel & for all the world. In Jesus’ first coming, He fulfilled the prophecies of His suffering; when Jesus returns, He will fulfill the prophecies of His glorious kingdom.
    2. To the point, Jesus was preaching & ministering to the Jews. Those were His people, and that was His primary ministry. It just wasn’t His only ministry…

4 But He needed to go through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

  1. Interestingly, John writes (literally) that “it was necessary He go through Samaria.” Although the road through Samaria was the quickest road to Galilee, it was by no means the only road. Due to prejudices between the Jews and the Samaritans, most Jews chose to go around Samaria when heading north. Yet Jesus “needed” to do it. Why? How else would Jesus minister to Samaritans unless He went to Samaria? Jesus needed to do it because there were people there who were ready to be saved, and Jesus had come to save them. [] Although the Samaritans were hated by the Jews (and vice-versa), they had a common history. After all, the region known as “Samaria” was formerly known as “Israel.” Back in the days of kings Saul, David, and Solomon, all 12 tribes of Israel were united into one kingdom, but in the days following Solomon the kingdom split in two. The southern kingdom was known by the name of its largest tribe, Judah (i.e. “Jews”), while the northern kingdom (and the other 10 tribes) were known as Israel. Over time, its capital was moved to the city of Samaria, and the northern kingdom was eventually known by its name. Their identity changed even more when Israel/Samaria was conquered by the Assyrian empire, and the Assyrians engaged in a process of interbreeding the people, in an attempt to dilute the national character of the people they conquered. The northern kingdom had always struggled with idolatry, but by the time the Assyrians got done with them, the Samaritan religion was a strange mix of the Hebrew faith and the pagan beliefs of the cultures surrounding them. Hence the animosity between the Jews & the Samaritans. The Jews viewed the Samaritans as defiled, whereas the Samaritans saw the Jews as religious bigots.
  2. As to the city where Jesus arrived, “Sychar” had a significant background among the people of Israel. Long before the kings of Israel existed, the patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt in the land, and Jacob (for a time) settled near the town of Shechem. Although the names of the towns changed over time, the town of Sychar was close to the historical Shechem, and it may have been the very place where Jacob lived (Gen 33:18-19). Before Jacob died, he promised the land to his 2nd youngest son Joseph (to whom he had given the firstborn blessing), and after centuries of Hebrew slavery the bones of Joseph were brought to the land by Joshua & eventually buried there (Josh 24:32).
  3. Again, that’s a lot of background regarding some tiny seemingly insignificant town in Samaria. Does it tell us anything about Jesus as the gift of God? Jesus was given through the patriarchs. It wasn’t by accident that the apostle John mentioned Jacob & Joseph by name, nor was it by accident that Jesus went to the place where they had lived. It was necessary that He go to Samaria, among the Samaritans, for they were also descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they had also received the promise of the Messiah, although by & large the people had abandoned those promises. The Samaritans may have forgotten, but God did not. God had promised the patriarchs that in their seed, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Gen 12:3), and that blessing came in the gift of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the of the promises made to the patriarchs, and Jesus was intentional to act upon them.
    1. What a comfort it is to know that God does not forget His promises! When God says He will do something, He does it. It may not come in the timing or the manner we might expect, but when God fulfills it, He fulfills it perfectly – He fulfills it faithfully. There is not a single promise of His that falls to the ground. He promised Abraham a Messiah; He sent one. He promised David a Son to be an everlasting King; He gave him. Better yet – the promises of God are not given only to people of the past; God makes promises to us, too! Through Jesus’ death on the cross & His resurrection from the grave, God promises to forgive us our sins and make us His children…He does it. Because Jesus conquered death and rose to new life, God promises that we too will rise from the grave and live with Him forever in heaven…He will do it. Because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples, He promises that all His disciples can be empowered by God the Holy Spirit, including us…He does that, too. God keeps His promises! God gives His gifts. He does not tease us with false ideas & deceptions; what He says He will do, He does. Have you ever had someone tease you with a gift, only to take it back? Perhaps a promotion or a raise, or a trip, but not actually give it? God isn’t like that. What God promises, God delivers. What God says, He fulfills. And there is no greater proof of that than the gift of His Son!
  4. We see a bit more about this gift when Jesus arrives in Sychar…

6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

  1. Natural sort of response and picture. “Sixth hour” = either noon or 6pm, depending if John was using either the Jewish accounting of time or the Roman one. Either way, the sun was hot, the journey long, and Jesus was tired. Sychar was approximately 30 miles from Jerusalem, a trip that could be completed in a day of walking, though it meant a long day. It’s no wonder that Jesus would be “wearied from His journey,” and ready for a rest and a drink of water.
  2. It might seem like a minor detail, but it shows us one more thing about the Gift: Jesus was given as a Man. Jesus, though being God of true God, the eternal Word/Logos & God the Son, is also a normal human being. Consider the enormity of this! The most incredible miracle that took place at Christmas wasn’t the star overhead or the angel’s message to the shepherds; it was the incarnation of Infinite Almighty God as a human baby boy. When Jesus came to earth, He didn’t come as a superman or a demigod along the lines of the fictional Hercules – He didn’t come in such a way that His physical body would be unaffected by the things of life. He was fully God (no question!) with all of God’s supernatural abilities and attributes, but He was also fully human with all our weaknesses and frailties. Think of Christmas in Bethlehem, for example: the God who knew Mary before the foundations of the earth – the God who designed her in her own mother’s womb, allowed Himself to be placed within hers. For 9 months, the prenatal Jesus grew within Mary just as every human baby grows, being fully dependent on her health for His own. Then in Bethlehem, He was born. The God who provides for our every need had to have His own needs provided. He needed to be swaddled, fed, comforted, and cared for. Baby Jesus was dependent on Mary’s milk, and on her attention to His cleaning & constant need to be changed. That alone ought to astound the mind: God the Son, the Almighty Logos/Word of God needed to go to the bathroom. What humility – what condescension to mankind! Paul put it this way to the Philippians, exhorting them to follow Jesus’ example of true humility & selflessness: Philippians 2:6–8, “(6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” This is what Jesus did for us. He put His own glory aside to be a human just like every other human, to endure the indignities of human weaknesses, even to the point of suffering and death.
    1. To what end? Unto our salvation! If Jesus had not come as a Man, He would not have been able to serve as a substitute for mankind. If Jesus had come only as God, He would not have been able to stand in our place to receive the punishment for our sin. If He had come only as Man, His death would not have been sufficient to cover the sins for us all. So He did the only thing He could do: He came as God and Man, providing Divine perfection to fully atone for all our human weaknesses. God gave the gift of Jesus as the gift of a human.
    2. What this mean for us, individually? First, it means we have access to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. (Which alone, would be enough!) But it also means that we have a Jesus to whom we can relate. God does not demand that we know Him from His being locked away from us in an ivory tower – He does not reveal Himself in some bizarre multi-armed form, or some half-animal half-human like the imaginings of other religions. Instead, God comes to us as one of us. During creation, God made mankind in His own image; in the incarnation, God comes to mankind in that same image. He is relatable, and we can know Him.
      1. The amazing thing is that God wants us to know Him, and invites us to know Him!

Jesus’ travel to Samaria demonstrates how He was given according to the promises of God, from God’s promises to the Jews, to the patriarchs, to the way in which the Messiah would come as a man. That is how the gift of God would come. To whom would He come? That is seen next.

  • Encounter; Jesus given to the least (7-9)

7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

  1. With Jesus sitting by the well, it would seem like a totally natural thing for Him to ask the next available person from town for a drink. Yet, there’s more to it than that. First, Jesus was a Jew in Samaria – something which would have been obvious from His clothing. Not only that, Jesus probably would have some sort of clothing distinction as a rabbi. Jewish rabbis did not normally speak to women, much less Samaritan women. Plus, a Jew (especially a rabbi) would never share a drinking vessel with a Samaritan. It would defile them, in their eyes. On top of this, the particular person of whom Jesus asked a drink of water really stood out from the crowd (literally!). There was a reason this woman went to the well by herself: due to her lifestyle of promiscuity (vss. 17-18), no one else wanted to be around her. She was an outcast among a nation of outcasts, and all of a sudden a Jewish rabbi is speaking to her, asking her a favor. Shocking! Scandalous! (At least, in her eyes.) What was He doing out here, all by Himself? Normally Jesus was surrounded by people, or at the very least, accompanied by some of His disciples. Now they had left (looking to bring back some lunch), and Jesus is left alone when the Samaritan woman arrives. This had “scandal” written all over it! – And it provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the grace of God!
    1. Sometimes the situations that are most unexpected and most uncomfortable are the ones that can be most used for the gospel. We need to be willing to move past our comfort zones and look for how Jesus might be made known!
  2. So much of this shows us about the gift of Jesus! First, Jesus was given for everyday people. We see this in the disciples. What were they doing? Grocery shopping. The disciples were just like anyone else, needing to go buy food. Although Jesus is the Son of God, He didn’t come in lavish riches. He was born King of the Jews, but He did not live in a palace. Jesus did not wear the most expensive clothing, travel in luxurious chariots, nor have staff servants at His beck & call (unlike many of the so-called “prosperity” preachers today!). Jesus lived the life of a regular person because He came for regular people. He was neither super-rich, nor super-poor, and He could relate to everyone. And everyone came! Normal men & women (rich and poor, sick and healthy, religious or not) came to Jesus and was ministered to by Jesus. He came for all people, regular people.
  3. Second, Jesus was given for women as well as men. Culturally, this was huge! In the Jerusalem temple, Jewish women could enter the courtyard as they came to worship, but they eventually reached a place they could go no further. Men were simply granted more access than women. Men had more privileges in the community, more opportunities in the synagogue, and more standing in the family. Women were often pushed to the side, treated little better than servants. Not with Jesus! Jesus came for men and women, and in some cases (like this) women received far more privileges than any men around. Think about it: how many men (other than the 12) had the opportunity to have such an extended conversation with Jesus? How many men were there who Jesus talked with so plainly, explicitly telling them that He was the Messiah sent by God (vs. 26)? Beyond this encounter with this woman, consider the privilege given to the women who believed in Jesus at His crucifixion and death: they were the first to see Him risen from the grave! Jesus smashed through all kinds of cultural barriers in the grace that He extended to women! – Again, Jesus came for all
  4. Third, Jesus was given for Samaritans as well as Jews. We’ve already discussed the animosity between Jews & Samaritans; Jesus crashed through this as well. The gift of God goes beyond racial and national prejudices. For the person who met Jesus, it wasn’t their background that mattered; it was their humility and faith. Granted, at this point in the encounter between Jesus & the Samaritan woman, she had neither humility nor faith…but that would soon change. But her racial background was not a barrier to Jesus’ willingness to go to her. The gospel of salvation was sent first for the Jews, but it was always intended by God to go to all the world. Speaking of the prophesied Messiah to come, God says through Isaiah: Isaiah 49:6, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ It would have been easy for God to limit the gift of His Son to Jews alone, but that’s not what He did. God sent Jesus for the Jews, but He sent Jesus for more than just the Jews; God sent Jesus for Samaria and for all the world. (God sent Jesus for you!)
  5. Lastly, Jesus was given for sinners. Later in the conversation it is revealed that this Samaritan woman had five husbands in the past and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married (vs. 18). Although we are not told the reason for her multiple husbands (whether she was widowed or divorced), there is no doubt she was promiscuous. The fact she was living with a man outside of marriage described the sin of fornication (both then & today!) meant she was currently living a lifestyle of sin, which was probably the main reason she came to the well when no one else was around. Guess what? Jesus knew all of this, and still came for her. There was a reason He showed up at this well in this town at that time of day. Jesus had come to find her, to seek her & to save her, because she was someone who needed saving. Jesus has come to save sinners, and we are all
    1. Maybe your sin is fornication, maybe not – it could be pride, addiction, lying, disrespect, violence, selfishness, gluttony (lack of self-control), or anything else. Name the sin, and Jesus died for it. Jesus died for sinners, which means that Jesus died for each and every one of your sins. There is a not a thing in your past you’ve done that Jesus cannot forgive. Jesus was given for sinners, thus Jesus was given for you.

Sum up so far: we’ve seen how the gift was given (through the promises of God) – we’ve seen to whom the gift was given (those considered the least of all the world) – now Jesus gets to the detail of the gift itself. What is the gift of God? What does He give? 

  • Gospel; Jesus given to give life (10)

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

  1. Here it is – the statement of Jesus that sparked the rest of the conversation. What Jesus said here was so unusual to the ears of the Samaritan woman, she couldn’t help but ask for more. This is what caught her attention to where first she questions, then she scoffs, soon she is convicted, and finally she is convinced and converted. This one statement from Jesus ended up changing her life.
  2. What made it so unusual? Culturally speaking, “living water,” simply referred to running water. Well water was not running water; where would Jesus find it? How would He draw it? This is how the woman went on to object. Would this strange Man somehow find better water in the area than the Patriarch Jacob? Was this Man claiming to be better than Jacob? Yes & yes! As the conversation continued, Jesus spoke of water far better than could be found in any well or natural spring – the water He gave causes people never to thirst again & eternally springs up in their souls. And yes, Jesus is greater than Jacob, for Jesus is the Messiah that was promised to Jacob – Jesus is the One who wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32:24-29) – Jesus is the One who taught Jacob, just as Jesus was now teaching this woman. And she believed! What did He say? That’s the best part… 
  3. Jesus is a gift! He is “the gift of God.” Jesus gives gifts, but He doesn’t only give other gifts; He is the gift. We wouldn’t have any gifts relating to salvation if Jesus wasn’t first given. He had to be given for everything else to come. Remember that this wasn’t the first time Jesus referred to Himself as the gift. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Jesus is the gift that makes all other gifts possible. How important is this to keep in mind? It’s crucial! Salvation doesn’t come without there first being a Savior. Christmas doesn’t matter if Christ doesn’t come. As much as we might enjoy certain Christmas songs, many of the old standards don’t have anything to do with Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christ, so much as they celebrate winter. “Winter Wonderland,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” – not even “White Christmas” has anything to do with Christ. What good are the holidays if they have nothing to do with what is holy about the day? If Christmas is only about presents, trees, feasts, and Santa Claus, it might make for fun family traditions, but there’s nothing about it that’s life-changing. Actually, that’s one reason Christmas is so disappointing for so many people every year. There is all kinds of build-up to the day, with people shopping from November-on & radio stations playing Christmas songs 24/7, but in a flash, it’s over. All that’s left are dishes to clean, trash to clean out, and naps to take. Where is the meaning? Where is the significance? That’s the problem: those things aren’t significant, not in any lasting way. What makes Christmas so grand is the gift of Jesus! That we celebrate His birth in winter is purely an accident of history, as the Bible never says when Jesus was born. It isn’t winter that makes His birth special; it’s because Jesus was born at all that the day is special! Jesus is the grand gift given by God to all the world – a Savior sent to save us from our sin. This was the news spoken by an angel to Joseph when he learned (with a shock) that his wife-to-be was already pregnant: Matthew 1:20–21, “(20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”” The salvation of God has come! In fact, that is the very meaning of His name, Jesus (Yeshua): “Yah (YHWH) saves.” If we celebrate Christmas without celebrating the gift of Jesus, we’ve missed the point!
  4. Jesus invites us to receive the gift. Notice what He did with the woman at the well: He proposed the possibility that she could have been the one asking Him for a drink, and Jesus would be willing to give it. Jesus made Himself completely approachable. He didn’t talk about a grand gift only to say it was out of reach. (“A new car! But not for you…”) He spoke about a gift she could receive. All she needed to do was ask.
    1. Question: Is it really that simple? Yes! What does someone need to do to receive the gift of Jesus? Ask! The apostle John wrote in the prologue to his gospel, that “as many as received Him, He gave them the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name,” (Jn 1:12). Paul wrote to the Romans, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Rom 9:10). When Peter was asked by the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost what they needed to do to be saved, he told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38). Notice what all of that has in common: simple faith-filled request. Just ask! Believe in sincere faith, turn away from your sins, and ask Jesus to forgive you – ask Jesus to be your Lord – ask Jesus for His grace, and He will give it! You don’t have to sign a card, you don’t need to go to seminary, you don’t need to buy a ticket or bribe a priest; all you need to do is surrender yourself to Jesus in humble faith asking Him to save you. He will do it!
  5. What does Jesus do when He answers? Jesus gives life. The Gift is also the giver. Jesus told the woman that He would give her water that would forever quench her thirst, water that would give everlasting life. That was exactly what she needed! She was a woman of Samaria, with some traditions that potentially pointed to the Messiah but having no real access to the truth of the Scripture. She was a woman drowning in sin, seeking to get from various men what they could never satisfy. All that she had done in her life left her with nothing but the judgment of God and death. What she needed was forgiveness & eternal life, and that was exactly what Jesus promised to give.
    1. We need what Jesus gives! We may not have the same sins as the woman (or maybe we do!), but we all have sin of our own. We are all lost without access to God, surrounded by a culture that teaches lie after spiritual lie. We thirst for truth & thirst for life, being parched without it. Jesus gives the truth, and He gives life. He gives the forgiveness of God we could never earn, and promises the eternal life for which we could never dream to hope. The greatest Gift of God, Jesus, gives amazing gifts of His own. Receive what He gives!

Conclusion:

What gifts are you expecting to receive on Christmas morning? This Christmas, receive the best gift: the gift of God, the Lord Jesus! He was given according to the promises of God – He was given for all people, including the least of us – He was given for you. Rejoice in the gift of God, Jesus, and receive Him to yourself as Savior and Lord.

What do we do after we have received the Gift? Pass it on! The Samaritan woman received the living water of Christ, and immediately told everyone in town about the Man who knew all the things she ever did. The wonderful thing about receiving the gift of Jesus is that He is a gift we can never lose as much as we give Him away. So give the gift of the gospel – give the news of Jesus to your family, your friends, and to everyone you know.

In the often-remade Charles Dickens’ tale, “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning to find he is still alive, and that he still has time to redeem himself as a kind person. He’s incredibly excited and rushes out to help those he had offended. Sadly, Dickens’ story doesn’t focus on the real meaning of Christmas (Jesus), nor does it teach the right message (because no one can redeem him/herself; we must be redeemed by Christ). But think about Scrooge’s excitement. He was overjoyed for the chance to be kind, unable to restrain himself from telling others his joy. We have far better news than Scrooge! Our joy is real because what we have to share truly does change lives! In Jesus, we’ve found the true meaning of the word “Ebenezer” (God is my help), because He is the one who has been given to save us & to forgive us, and all people everywhere can experience that same salvation and forgiveness. How much more excited should we be to tell others?

So let us tell them! Share with others what is so holy about the holiday – share with people the very best gift, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God with Us: The Best Gift

Posted: December 24, 2017 in Isaiah, Uncategorized
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Isaiah 7:14, “God with Us: The Best Gift”

Ask any kid, and the best part of Christmas are the presents. They’re checking the tree every day to see what’s new, and what name tag is on the packages. They’re examining the size & weight of the boxes. They’re staying up as late as possible on Christmas Eve, and coming down as early as possible on Christmas morning. For most kids, the food may be nice, and it’s always great to have time off from school, but in the end, it’s all about the gifts.

It’s often said that the best gifts are the ones we make. After all, when we put time into a present, we give a little bit of ourselves. Maybe you write a letter – record a song – paint a picture – or give an experience of some sort in which you can spend time with your loved one. Those things are what bring the best memories – those are the gifts that will be treasured & long-remembered.

But all of this leads to an obvious question: Why do we give gifts at Christmas, anyway? When looking at the Christmas story, we might think of the wise men (magi), who brought presents to the Baby Jesus. As far as we know, they were the first to present gifts to the Christ Child and the Holy Family, bringing with them gold, frankincense, and myrrh (symbols of Jesus’ royalty, priesthood, and death). Even so, the Magi weren’t present at His birth…they likely didn’t see Jesus until He was 2-3 years old, arriving when He was a “young child” (Mt 2:11). Actually, if we’re looking for the very first Christmas gift, the first gift wasn’t given by men at all. The original Christmas gift was Christ. God gave His Son to the world, and thus gave Himself. The only begotten Son of God was not “made,” but He certainly “made” Himself into a Man, and came to live among us.

This had been prophesied long ago, and was quoted by an angel to Joseph when Joseph was struggling in his heart what to do about his betrothed (engaged) wife-to-be, Mary, who was found to be suddenly pregnant before she and Joseph got married. In a dream one night, an angel of God appeared to Joseph, telling him not to fear, but to walk in faith.

Matthew 1:20–23, “(20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (22) So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: (23) “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.””

Of course, we know the history: Joseph did take Mary as his wife, and she did bear a Son, whose name was Jesus. (“Jesus” = Yahweh saves)

But what about that original prophecy? The apostle Matthew notes that this had been done to fulfill God’s promise through the prophet – but what was that original prophecy? The angel quoted it directly from the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

Of course, no Scripture comes out of nowhere, so we need to know the original context. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry began the same year one of the very best kings of Judah died. His son and grandson who followed in his footsteps were not nearly so good, and the current king (Ahaz) had no trust in God, and did not fear/worship God at all. 2 Kings 16 tells us that Ahaz was so evil, that he even engaged in child sacrifice and other pagan ways of the people who lived in the land before the Hebrews. Even so, he was the king of Judah, and the heir of King David. So when the kings of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria) made war against Judah, God offered to help King Ahaz, as evil as he was. God would honor His promise to David, even if David’s descendant was unworthy.

Of course, Ahaz wasn’t looking to God – he was looking to his own ability to make a deal through political alliances, and sent to the kingdom of Assyria for help. (This would end up being his downfall.) But God did offer to help Ahaz, and as a guarantee, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign that would confirm God’s work on his behalf. Ahaz refused, pretending that it was sinful to ask God for a sign…but really, he just lacked the faith. Ahaz didn’t want to trust God, so he didn’t want any reason to trust God. That’s when God said He would give Ahaz a reason, even if he didn’t want one! God Himself would give a sign: the Child Immanuel…the promise of Isaiah 7:14. Because God would do this, Ahaz (and all of the kingdom of Judah) could know that God would deliver Judah from Syria. Judah would survive, because the Messiah (Immanuel) would need to be born. God would be good to all of His promises.

Of course, in the gift of Immanuel, God looked to something far bigger than the temporary deliverance of Israel from Syria: He looked to the deliverance of mankind from sin & death. Political enemies are temporary; death lasts forever. Sin carries eternal consequences, and it is from those things we need saving. God provides His salvation through Immanuel. (Which was affirmed again from the angel to Joseph.) What is included in this promise of the original Christmas present? Four basic things: (1) God gives the gift, (2) God gives proof, (3) God gives a miracle, (4) God gives Himself.

First, God gives the gift. His personal involvement is emphasized. When the prophecy says that “the Lord Himself will give a sign,” the Hebrew is emphatic on the “Himself.” God doesn’t outsource the work – He doesn’t delegate His salvation. When it comes to the most important work in the history of the world, God is personally involved. To put it another way, when a Christian says “God saved me,” that’s exactly what happened: God saved you. The Almighty Creator God – the One who knows every star by name and has the number of hair follicles on your head counted – that God personally did what was necessary to bring about your salvation. He knew what needed to be done, and did it.

Second, God gives a sign, meaning that He gives proof. When it came to the earthly ministry of Jesus, He performed all kinds of signs, providing abundant proof that He is exactly who He said He is. The only way a Man can turn water into wine, calm a stormy sea, create bread and fish from thin air, raise the dead, etc., is if He is a Man who is also God. All those signs are proofs. Likewise here with the sign of Immanuel. Just as Ahaz didn’t have to guess at the fact that God would deliver Judah, the Hebrew people as a whole didn’t have to guess at the fact that God would bring forth the Messiah. In the same way, we don’t have to guess at the sufficiency of His work for us. How do we know that God conquers death & sin? Because He provided proof – He provided a sign.

Third, God gives a miracle. What was the sign? A virgin would give birth to a Son. Many women have given birth through history – a birth by itself is not unusual in the slightest. Yet all of those births require basic biology: there needs to be a mother and a father. For this particular birth, in order for it to be a sign, there would be only a mother. She would be a virgin, having no physical relationship with a man. The only Father would be the Heavenly Father: God Himself.

  • This actually goes back to an earlier promise…all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden after their temptation by the serpent (Satan), God not only pronounced the death that was the earned wage of sin, but He also pronounced a curse upon the Devil. Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” The “seed” of the woman is a subtle reference to a virgin birth. Normally, offspring is listed as that of the father (and “seed” carries with it biological implications). For the focus of the prophecy to be upon the woman’s seed, it leads directly to the later prophecy of the virgin birth. 

Fourth, God gives Himself. The promised Son was the gift. He is “God with us.” Although we call Jesus “Immanuel,” as a direct transliteration from the Greek (Ἐμμανουήλ), the Hebrew is literally two words that make up the phrase “God with us,” (עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל). He is the Creator God of all the Universe, but He did not stay remote from us in the universe. He is not the “Divine Watchmaker” who set everything in motion and then set it all aside, nor is He a cruel taskmaster who plays with His creation like a bunch of toys. He is God-with-us, come to be among us, that we might forever be with Him.

  • God with us: as Man. The Incarnation never ceases to amaze me. Almighty Infinite God became flesh. The Perfect God in the midst of His glory put all of it aside to come be with us in all the discomforts of this world. The God who never gets hungry needed to be fed. The God who never slumbers needed to sleep. God the Son humbled Himself to the point that He put up with even the gross stuff of humanity. Prior to Bethlehem, when did the Son ever need to go to the bathroom? He came to be with us…He came to be one of us…amazing!
  • God with us: as Savior. As the angel announced to Joseph, the Son of God was to be named “Jesus” because He would save people from sin. We need saving, and Jesus does it! There was no way we could be saved, unless Jesus came, so He came. How so? The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, so that means our sin has earned each & every one of us death sentences, because we have committed treason against our Creator God. It’s impossible for us to pay the price and live – animal sacrifices merely postpone the inevitable, pushing it off until later – another person cannot die in our place because he/she has sin of their own to deal with. Only the perfect Son of God can do it! Jesus came to be with us as a Man in order that He might go to the cross as an exact substitute, standing in the place of every man, woman, and child in history. The only Man who had no sin became sin in our place, that we could receive the gift of life. He came to save!
  • God with us: as Lord. Jesus humbled Himself in order to be born – He continued His humility to the point of torturous death on the cross…but three days beyond that, He rose to life in glory! Jesus lives today, and He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus sits today at the right hand of God the Father, preparing for the day in which He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. A day is coming in which He will first call His church home to be with Him personally, and then the world will experience the wrath of God in a way it has never known. It will conclude with Jesus’ physical return as He sets up an earthly kingdom that will last for 1000 years, transitioning into a new heaven and new earth that will last for all eternity. King Jesus will rule over it all, with us forever at His side. He will always be human, and He will always be God-with-us, and we will always be with Him.

Conclusion:

How amazing that God would come dwell with us! We need to be with God, but can’t. So instead, He came to us. He came as one of us, to save us, in order that we might forever be with Him in His kingdom. There’s a word for that: grace. Grace is a gift, and at Christmas, we celebrate the best gift given to all mankind: the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is a gift (THE gift), and He is a gift with a purpose: life.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Though our sin earns the wage of death, God doesn’t want us to die. He doesn’t desire that anyone perish. God’s desire is that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth of Jesus. Anyone can be forgiven of his/her sin – anyone can be saved and have God’s own personal guarantee of going to heaven in eternal life. All we need to do is believe upon Jesus, the Son of God. 

Repent: turn away from your sins, admitting them for what they are, but leaving them in the past. And as you turn away from sin, turn to Jesus in faith. Believe Him to be the Son of God who died for your sins at the cross and rose from the grave in victory. And then tell Him…receive Him into your life as your own Savior & Lord. Just like any present needs to be opened to be received, we need to respond to the gift of Jesus, by telling Him of our faith and asking Him to save us.

Have you received the original Christmas gift? Have you received Jesus? Don’t let another Christmas pass you by without knowing the true reason for celebration. In the end, it’s not about Santa Claus, brightly wrapped gifts, Christmas trees, or even Christmas dinner; it’s about Jesus. The Gift has been given…you just need to receive it.

Receive “God with us,” Immanuel!

Luke 2:10-14, “The Greatest Birth Announcement Ever”

Luke 2:10–14, “(10) Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. (11) For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (12) And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: (14) “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!””

It was the greatest of birth announcements for the greatest of births!  Baby announcements are always fun & special occasions.  Women immediately want to know the size and weight of the baby, and men (at least in my experiences) are generally overwhelmed by it all.  And no wonder: a child has come into the world!  A miracle has once more taken place, as the infant once rolling around in the womb of its mother, has now come into the fresh air, and he/she can be seen by all the world.  It is always amazing & always a miracle!

And that’s for “normal” births.  Obviously every baby is special to his/her family, but some babies have a bit more impact than others.  Royal babies are celebrated, as their whole kingdom looks on.  Even celebrities have their pregnancies followed by thousands, and some fans rejoice as if it was their own personal family involved.

If that’s the case among humans, how much more with God?  If we rejoice over our children, should we not expect God to rejoice over His Son? If we set out yard signs & send out birth announcements, should we expect God to do less?  God didn’t merely post Jesus’ birth stats on Facebook; He sent out a heavenly choir!  No baby ever received the kind of announcement that Jesus received – and for good reason: He was unlike any other baby.  Jesus was royal, but He is more than royal; He is divine.  He is God in human form, and that is something worth celebrating.

In fact, that is exactly what the angel declares to the shepherds outside Bethlehem.  These men had been minding their business, doing what they ordinarily did at night while outside tending their flocks.  They had no reason to expect the appearance of an angel, and (to no one’s surprise) were terrified upon seeing one.  Who were they to receive such a glorious visitor?  Had they done something for which they were about to be judged?  Thankfully, the angel quickly put them at ease: “Do not fear.”  They were naturally afraid, but had no reason for it.  In fact, they had reason to celebrate!  The angel brought to them three things: (1) a message, (2) a sign, and (3) a response.

The Message
Good news!  That was the message of the angel, and the reason the shepherd need not fear.  He brought good news…great news!  How good?  Mega good!  Literally, it was good news (glad tidings) of “mega-joy.”  In other words, this wasn’t simply something to smile about, as if the shepherds needed cheering up.  This was something deserving of a party!  This was going to be the very best news the shepherd ever heard, or were ever going to hear.  Think back to the last time you were joyful – maybe even this morning around the Christmas tree.  How happy were you?  Think back to the most joyful time in your life – perhaps the day your children were born, or the day of your wedding.  Now multiply that.  Make it mega.  Super-size it.  That was the kind of joy that the angel brought to the shepherds.  They had all had good days in the past, but this was more than good – it was mega-great.

What made it so good?  The birth announcement.  There was a Child who had been born.  He was a stranger to the shepherds, but He was still Someone of great importance.  This birthday was better than any other they had ever known.  How so?  The identity makes all the difference.  It’s one thing to hear stories on the news; it’s another when your own family is at the center of them.  Identity matters.  It was the same thing here, except more joyful.  This Child had an identity that mattered to the shepherds – that mattered to the whole world.  Who was He?

  1. A Savior.  Mankind needs a Savior!  We’ve all sinned against God, and we’ve all earned His righteous judgment.  Every sin we commit is an infinite sin against an infinite God, and a price must be paid.  If we lie to a police officer or in a court of law, there are consequences.  How much more when our lie (or our lusts, or our rebellion) is against the Holy God?  We’ve all done it, and we’re all guilty.  We’re doomed for judgment unless we’re saved…and God sent a Savior!  What great news!  If we were lost at sea, stranded in the ocean, then the sight of a ship or an arriving helicopter would be wonderful.  We have a Savior!  We have been lost, and a Savior has been sent to rescue us!
  2. Christ the Lord.  The Savior wasn’t just anyone – He wasn’t a random stranger in Israel.  He wasn’t even simply a prophet, as great as prophets are.  This baby was “Christ the Lord.”  In other words, He was the prophesied King of Israel.  “Christ” = “Messiah” = “Anointed One.”  The idea is that this Babe was chosen by God and set apart for His purposes.  Specifically, the term was used in reference to the past kings of Israel, those of the family of David…and Israel hadn’t had one of those for many generations.  They did now!  This was the Savior who was born that night.  A King had been given to God’s people: the very Christ they had expected for centuries.  In fact, this “Christ” was expected long before the kingdom of Israel ever existed – He was expected from the very dawn of time.  Back in the Garden of Eden, God promised a Man who would come to defeat the works of the devil.  This Man is the God-Man, the Christ, the Savior of the world.  This was good news indeed!

The Sign
This was incredible news given to the shepherd, but how would they enjoy it?  How could they see this baby – this gift – for themselves?  That’s why the angel gave them a sign – something to look for to verify which baby was THE Baby.  What was it?  Humility.  This incredible Savior-King would be laying in a manger.  He would be dressed as all Hebrew babies were dressed, in swaddling cloths.  No royal robes for this King – no gold-trimmed plush cradle for His bed.  The greatest Man who ever lived began His life in the most humble of surroundings: as a baby born into poverty, placed in an animal’s feeding trough.

This itself was a symbol of the entire event behind Jesus.  The Son of God left the glories of heaven to come live among men.  He adopted the most humble of appearances when He deserved the most magnificent glory.  Why did He do it?  Love.  He loves you & me.  Jesus understood that we would forever be lost in our sins if He remained in glory.  So He gave it up…at least for a time.  He set aside His privileges & divine prerogatives in order to come to earth as a humble servant – to be the sacrifice for all men & women everywhere.  Again – this is wonderfully good news!

The Response
That kind of news demands a response, and the angels gave it when the one single angel gave way to a multitude of the heavenly host, which broke out into song.  For a moment, try to imagine the sight.  The appearance of a single angel was enough to frighten the shepherds…it’s enough to frighten anyone!  A single angel is powerful enough to destroy thousands of army soldiers in a night – it’s no wonder why people fear to see them!  These shepherds had already been scared to see the one angel, and now the entire night sky was full of them!  Angels as far as they could see – a visible manifestation of the power and glory of God.  And what did they do?  Sing!  Praise their God!  The powerfully proclaimed God’s glory and announced His peace that had come to men.

What was so good that could bring out the angelic armies in this kind of praise?  Jesus.  His birth was so great, so mega-joyful that a single angel was not enough.  Heaven had to be emptied of its ranks before a glimpse of God’s goodness could be seen.  The arrival of Jesus is that good.

Conclusion
So what’s your response to Jesus?  For many, Jesus sits in the background for Christmas.  Sure, there is the occasional nativity scene, and the carol that speaks of the Savior’s birth, but for the most part Jesus is just a supporting character in the larger Christmas season.  The big things for many people are gifts, family, parties, and general good feelings.  None of those things are bad, but none of them are the main thing.  They aren’t the main event.  The main event is the birth announcement – it is Jesus Himself.  A Savior has been born: Christ the Lord.  God came to earth in humility so that we might join Him in glory.  And that is a reason for great joy!

Be joyful this Christmas Day!  Your Savior has come.  God loves you so much that He did not want you to perish in your sins, so He gave His Son as a humble sacrifice for you.  Because Jesus was born, lived among us, died on the cross, and rose from the grave, we can be saved.  We can know God just as assuredly as the angles, and even better: we can know Him as His own sons & daughters. All through the work of Jesus Christ.

So praise Him today.  Be joyful with mega-joy.  If you’ve never done so, turn to Jesus today in true faith.  Let this Christmas be the day you receive the best & the original Christmas gift: Jesus.

Christmas 2015
Matthew 2:1-12, “Seek the Gift”

As a kid, Christmas was all about the toys.  As a Christian, I learned that Christmas is all about Jesus.  It’s still about a gift, but the true & best Gift is Christ Himself.  But just like kids seek out their presents, so do people seek out the gift of Jesus – and the Bible contains one of the most famous gift-searches in history when it gives us the account of the Magi (the Wise Men).

Typically, I try to avoid referring to the Magi during Christmastime for a simple reason: they weren’t there at the birth.  Despite all of the nativity scenes, classical artwork, movie depictions, etc., the only witnesses to Jesus in the manger with Joseph & Mary were the shepherds (and perhaps whoever else happened to be present at the location where the family stayed).  The Magi did eventually arrive, but it wasn’t for months (or possibly a few years) following the night of Jesus’ birth.  They simply weren’t at the manger.

So why talk about the Magi now?  The Magi may not have been present the actual night we celebrate at Christmas, but they are still a part of the Christmas story.  After all, Christmas is vastly more than a birthday celebration for Jesus – it is the celebration of the Incarnation of God.  God the Son clothed Himself in flesh to dwell among us, die for our sins, and offer to us forgiveness & new life.  He came to be the King of the Jews who is also the King of the World.  This is something of which the Magi testify, all as a part of their visit to the boy-Jesus.  Wise men traversed from afar, following yonder star – why?  They came to worship the King.  They came seeking the gift of God.  The best gift in all history had been given, and He was worth travelling vast distances, even if He could be glimpsed and worshipped for only a moment.  Jesus was a gift worth seeking.  He still is.

Matthew 2:1–12

  • An honest search (1-2)

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

  • Several characters are introduced here, and we need to take the time to look at them a bit, if only to set the context.  First, of course, is the Lord Jesus.  Please note that at this point, He has already been “born.”  Right from the start, we see that the Magi did not arrive on Jesus’ birth night, for their story doesn’t even begin until after “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”  This is in keeping with Matthew’s focus of the birth narrative.  Whereas most of us are familiar with the Christmas story from Luke 2 and the perspective of Mary, Matthew’s gospel takes us to Joseph’s perspective & covered it extensively in Ch. 1.  In fact, Mt 1 concludes with the statement that Joseph’s wife “brought forth her firstborn Son.  And she called His name Jesus.” (1:25)  Chronologically at this point in time, the Incarnate God had been born, His birth had been announced by angels, and shepherds had already come as witnesses.  Joseph had brought Mary to Bethlehem in obedience to a command to be counted in a census.  That journey had been dangerous enough for him & his (very!) pregnant wife.  It’s no wonder that the family remained in Bethlehem a while following the birth until it would be safe to travel with a child.
  • Secondly, Matthew introduces us to “Herod the king.”  Out of all of the Herods mentioned in the Bible, this is the one history knows as “Herod the Great.”  “Great” being a relative term.  Herod was an effective king, but he certainly wasn’t a good/moral one!  He was politically shrewd, and skilled enough to not only receive the title of “king of Judea” from the Roman Senate in 40BC, but he was able to keep his title through the successive leadership changes & political transitions through the years.  Herod was also known for his vast construction projects (which reflected his ego), but even that paled in comparison to his cruelty & paranoia.  This was a man who not only killed off one of his wives (supposedly a favorite), but also at least two of his own sons when he suspected they were a danger to his reign.  Not a nice guy!  Also, not a Jew.  He may have been called the “king of Judea,” but he was actually an Idumean – an Edomite, a traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  The Jews hated being ruled by him, hated his taxes & more, but they were left without much of a choice in the era of the Roman empire.
  • Finally, there are the famous “wise men.”  The Greek word is μαγοι, and is probably better translated “magicians, astrologers, sorcerers.”  The word was used generally to apply to those who practiced divination & other magical/superstitious arts – but it was also used in regards to a priestly class of people who lived far to the east, in Babylon & Persia.  Centuries earlier, the Jewish prophet Daniel was actually promoted to be the chief among the Magi in Babylon (Dan 2:48).  Although Daniel was an orthodox Hebrew, the rest of the Magi were basically pagan priests who heavily relied upon astrology for their help and insight.  Was it superstitious?  Yes.  But God can even use superstition to bring someone to a proper knowledge of Himself.
  • Now that we know the players, what was it that happened?  The Magi, while in the east, saw a special star that they interpreted as signifying the birth of the King of the Jews, and they made a long journey to come and worship Him.  That’s really all that Matthew writes.  Notice what is not there: any number of men, any designation of them being kings, any mention of names, or any country of origin.  The vast majority of things most people think they “know” about the Magi are not included in Scripture at all.  Most of the legend that surrounds them was written in the 14th century by a Germanic friar named John of Hildesheim.  He wasn’t the first to write about the Magi, but his account got the most traction by far.  The Magi were imagined to be kings from three different lands (India, Babylon, and Persia) who each set off on their own when seeing the star & they miraculously met on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  Named Melchior, Balthazzar, and Gaspar, they worshipped Jesus, returned their own countries but agreed to meet once a year to recall the event.  They willed to be buried together & their bodies were “discovered” by Helena (the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, who supposedly found all sorts of Christian sites and relics).  The corpses were put into a golden chest, which eventually made its way to Cologne, Germany.  The story is mystical & romantic, and there’s a technical word for it: fiction.  It’s a bunch of pious imagination, with no basis in history & history is what is recorded for us in the pages of the Bible.
    • Be careful not to confuse traditions with Scripture!  Whether it’s regarding the wise men or any number of things, it’s so easy to get caught up in tradition & lose the historical basis we have for our faith – to even have our theology skewed because we’ve held more tightly to tradition than Scripture.  This is how whole sections of Christianity end up bowing to saints, praying to Mary, or believing that the gift of salvation can be earned through our good works & the number of times we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Rosary, etc.  The tradition of man has replaced the written word of God.  Scripture alone is our guide and our final authority.  Whatever it is you hear, take it back to the Bible to determine whether or not it’s true.
  • So there’s much that we do not know.  Is there anything we DO know?  Yes.  The Magi (however many there may have been) saw something in their studies of the heavens that caused them to think that the King of the Jews had been born, and they came to see for themselves, in order that they might worship.  What was it they saw?  It’s called a “star,” but just as it does in English, that word could refer to any number of heavenly objects.  (Shooting star = meteor, Morning star = planet, etc.)  For them & their culture, any shining object in the night sky other than the sun or moon could be labeled a “star” and the term would still be perfectly accurate.  Theories have run the gamut from a meteor to a supernova, even to a combination of planets.  Famed mathematician & astronomer Johannes Kepler calculated that in 7BC there was a conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn within the constellation of Pisces (a constellation that ancient people associated with Israel) – something that would have been extraordinarily bright & thus stand out to astrologers attaching special significance to these particular bodies.  In the end, the star could have simply been a supernatural event.  Considering God is the One who initially made the stars, it would be no problem for Him to create a special celestial object for this most special of events.  Whatever it was, it was enough to catch the attention of these star-gazers, and draw them out of their home country for what was likely an incredibly long journey to Judea.
  • Of course the best part of their journey is not the star that guided them, but the reason for which they came.  The star was merely a sign – an announcement that the “King of the Jews” had been born.  How would these Babylonian/Persian pagans know?  It is not unlikely that they had access to the Hebrew Scriptures, especially considering the 70 years the Jews had been in Babylonian captivity & the number of Jews that remained behind & did not return to Jerusalem.  In addition, they had a legacy of one of their own (Daniel) who would have certainly have taught others about Jewish Messiah yet to be born.  When they saw the star event, they may have remembered the prophecy they had read.  Numbers 24:17, "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult."  A literal interpretation of Balaam’s prophecy would have no doubt caused them to seek out a Jewish King.  Whatever it was that caught their attention, they knew this much: the newborn was already a King.  Kingship did not have to be bestowed upon Him; He did not require the recognition of the Roman Senate or anyone else.  This babe was inherently a King, by virtue of His birth.  That is simply what He is.
    • That is no less true today than it was for the Magi.  Jesus IS the King, whether or not we choose to recognize Him as such.  His kingship & authority is not up for debate.  Obviously only Christians worship Jesus as the King, but people’s choice whether or not to worship Him does not change the reality of His identity.  We might as well argue whether or not humans need to breathe in order to live – that’s simply a fact. Likewise with Jesus.  Jesus is God the Son made incarnate – Jesus is the King of the Jews & the Savior of the world – that is simply a fact…it is who He is.  And because Jesus is God the Son, the King, He is worthy of our worship.
    • Have you worshipped Him?  Have you given Him the honor He deserves as the King?  Keep in mind that even if Jesus had done nothing at all for us, He would still be worthy of worship by virtue of being God.  Yet Jesus DID do something for us!  The King of the Universe served us in marvelous ways when He went to the cross, dying in our place for our sins.  Jesus is doubly, triply, infinitely worthy of worship!
  • So these astrologers/priests set out from their home, made the journey westward (which likely took months), and eventually made it to Jerusalem.  It was the most likely stop for them.  After all, if you’re looking for the home of the Jewish King, then you could go to the place of the Jewish throne.  Unfortunately, it was already occupied by a cruel Idumean: Herod…
  • A deceptive inquiry (3-8)

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

  • It’s unclear how the Magi first asked their question.  Perhaps they inquired among the people first, and the news made its way up the grapevine to Herod’s throne.  But however Herod received the news, Herod was “troubled,” and it’s easy to understand why: he didn’t want the competition.  Here he was, the proclaimed “king of the Jews,” by title of the Roman Empire, and now here are these strange men from a foreign land asking about some other King – one who didn’t have to depend on the Romans for title, but who was simply born King.  This would be the rightful King of the Jews; not someone imposed upon the people.  For all of the threats that Herod had faced to his kingdom in the past (even among his own family), the threat posed by Jesus was the worst.
    • That’s also the case for many people today.  They don’t mind hearing about a generic God, or talking about generic spirituality – but mention Jesus, and all of a sudden they’re threatened.  This is especially on display at Christmastime.  Singing about Frosty or Rudolph or Santa is fine – singing about winter itself is OK (“Let it Snow,” “Winter Wonderland”) – singing about Jesus can be controversial.  Put up a bunch of snowflake lights in a city square & you’re OK – put up a nativity scene, or even a tree known as a “Christmas” tree & you can find yourself slapped with a lawsuit.  Jesus is the issue – Jesus is the threat.  And on one hand, they’re right.  After all, if Jesus IS God Himself, then that means the message of the gospel is true.  If Jesus IS God, then that means our sins against God have earned for us eternal death & the only way we can be forgiven is by repenting of our sins & placing our faith in Jesus as our Savior. 
    • As it was for Herod, that is a troubling aspect for many.  They don’t want to give up their sin – they want to be the king of their own lives.  What they don’t understand is that what they give up pales in comparison to what we receive.  What is it we give up?  Sin, misery, & eternal death.  What we receive is forgiveness, joy, eternal life.  We receive a relationship with the Living God, made into His own children, indwelled by the Holy Spirit – we receive grace beyond measure!
  • Herod wasn’t the only one troubled – the whole city of Jerusalem joined with him.  Why?  It’s doubtful that the people of Jerusalem feared the arrival of their true king – after all, this was someone they were eagerly expecting.  They wanted deliverance from the Romans, which also meant deliverance from Herod.  What they didn’t look forward to, was all of the violence that was sure to come as a result of it all.  Jerusalem knew better than the rest of Judea how cruel Herod could be, as well as the firm hand of the Romans that could come down upon them all.  Thus Jerusalem was also troubled by the news of Jesus, but for a different reason.  They feared the change that was going to come.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

  • Herod may have been troubled, but he was shrewd.  He knew what to do, and he knew who to ask about all of this.  Faced with the news that true King of the Jews had been born, Herod did the logical thing & tried to determine where the king was born.  If he figures that out, then he knows where to concentrate his efforts.
  • Called together “the chief priests and scribes,” which is basically a reference to the Sadducees (priestly class) and Pharisees (scribal class).  To the ancient Jews, the scribes were more than mere copyists.  These were experts in the Hebrew law.  There would be no better person to ask a question about the Scripture than the scribes.   Surely if the Bible contained clues about the birthplace of the Messiah, the scribes & priests together would be able to figure it out.  And they did…

5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

  • Not only did Herod ask the right people, he received the right answer.  There’s no indication of how long the priests & scribes consulted, but if they were truly versed in Messianic prophecy (which they were), it’s doubtful that they would have needed to roll out their Old Testament scrolls at all.  They go straight to the prophet Micah, where the answer is found.  Micah 5:2, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."  Matthew does not record the scribes quoting Micah exactly, which is perhaps an indication that they not only knew the answer of the top of their heads, and they also provide a bit of interpretation & commentary along with it (adding a bit from 2 Sam 5:2 about the promised Ruler also being a caring Shepherd).
  • So what was the answer?  Bethlehem – specifically from Micah’s prophecy, Bethlehem Ephratah (distinguishing it from a different Bethlehem in the north).  This was the hometown of David, and thus the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah, the Son of David.  Despite its honor of being the hometown of the king, it was a tiny town on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  It was not thought of as much by the people, but it was highly favored by the Lord!  (Which is so often the case!)  The name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” and from this house of bread would come the Bread of Life, the One who gives life to all who believe.  Bethlehem would produce a Ruler, who was vastly more than a mere governor & certainly no despot or dictator – He was to be a Shepherd, a caring pastor of the people of God, whose ultimate origins stretched much further back than Bethlehem, but to the everlasting recesses of historical time itself.  This is quite the description!  In this brief prophecy of Micah, already we see the anticipated Messiah to be both God & Man, righteous King & caring Shepherd.  This is our Jesus, if we would care to seek Him & see Him!
  • In fact, it’s quite amazing that the chief priests and scribes did not do exactly that.  Apparently all Jerusalem was abuzz with the news of this newly born King, and Herod had specifically called this meeting of the minds to determine where the King might have been born.  Didn’t this raise any questions among the religious scholars?  Were they not curious to go and see for themselves?  How could they leave the greatest discovery among the Jewish people to these Gentile astrologers?  And yet, that is exactly what they did.  There is zero mention of any interest among the priests & scribes, and no record of them ever visiting the holy family.  News of the potential birth of their awaited Messiah had been brought to them, and they simply didn’t care.
    • Beware apathy!  These Jews had every reason to seek the Savior, and they ignored Him.  They had all of the prophecies at their fingertips – they had all of the intellectual knowledge that they required – they simply didn’t have the desire.  They didn’t want to know Jesus – they didn’t want to receive the gift graciously offered them by God.  We can so easily do the same thing!  How many Christmases have we celebrated without truly seeking Christ?  How many times have you heard the gospel, and never responded? Don’t let it happen again!  Hell will be full of people who weren’t consciously antagonistic toward God, but certainly apathetic regarding Jesus.  God offers life – this is His wonderful gift through Jesus…take it!

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.

  • Notice how the setting changed from public to private.  Herod had called an assembly of priests & scribes – men who normally were on different sides of the theological aisle, but who came together probably due to the very public fear and worry of the people.  That Herod asked about the location of the birthplace was publicly known.  Yet when he called the Magi to a meeting, that was done in private.  This is the shrewdness of Herod on display.  Already he is plotting how he might assassinate the newly born competitor to the throne.  After all, it’s one thing to know where the Messiah was born; it’s another thing to know when.  If Herod could get a general idea of the time, then he could narrow down the suspected population.  He could figure out which specific people he needed to kill.
  • Not only does this give us a peek into Herod’s evil plan, but it shows quite the contrast between Herod and the religious scholars.  After all, Herod actually took Micah’s prophecy seriously.  The priests and scribes read the words to him, but didn’t care to actually check to see if it might be true.  Herod assumed it to be true, and started his evil plans accordingly.  At this point in time, the only people in Matthew 2 who put any faith into the Bible are the Gentiles!
    • As an aside, the same thing can be said regarding the way the devil views Scripture & many Christians do.  The devil actually believes the word of God, even though he doesn’t like it.  Many supposed Christians don’t believe the Bible for what it says. They might read the words & get a nice moral nugget for the day, but they don’t truly apply it as the very word of God.
  • Once Herod got the information he wanted, he put his plot in motion.  Vs. 8…

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

  • We can almost imagine the sneer on his face & hear the duplicity dripping from his words.  Of course that’s a bit easier for us to do, with the benefit of history.  We look back with 20/20 vision & know that Herod lied through his teeth, being the snake that he was.  For the Magi, it’s difficult to say whether or not they had any reason to distrust him.  After all, they were strangers to this part of the world, not likely having many dealings at all with the Romans of the region of Judea.  For all they knew, they may have enjoyed the hospitality of a local king & thought him to be sincere in his desire to worship this fulfillment of prophecy.
  • Historically speaking, Herod’s lie was obvious.  He didn’t want to worship the Child; he wanted Him dead.  No doubt his language was nice & pious, but his heart was depraved & evil.  (People can use religious language & still be evil!)
  • Evil plot or no, Herod’s encounter with the Magi still helped them on their journey.  After all, now they were able to proceed to Bethlehem with the blessing & permission of the local king.  God can use even His enemies for His glory!
  • A joyful discovery (9-12)

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

  • Apparently, the Magi left at night, for the star was once again visible.  Question: if the Magi were following the star, was the stop in Jerusalem even necessary?  After all, they could have just followed the star all the way to Bethlehem.  Yes – for a couple of reasons.  (1) From a practical standpoint, the stop in Jerusalem confirmed a final destination of Bethlehem.  The magi would not need to guess how far to go when they saw the star’s location.  (2) From a prophetic standpoint, Herod’s persecution of the boy-Jesus proved to fulfill two Scriptures, one of which sent the family to Egypt & the other which showed the weeping over lost children (Mt 2:15, 18).
  • In any case, with the stop in Jerusalem ended, the journey to Bethlehem continued, and finally concluded in success.  Somehow the star gave confirmation as to the Child’s location (perhaps an indication that this was a supernatural event), and the men rejoiced.  And did they rejoice!  “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” – or we might say with “vehement mega-joy.”  The Greek is laden with emphasis, so however you translate it, it was a lot!  They were overwhelmed with the joy that they had in their discovery.  The joy came “when they saw the star,” but were they rejoicing over the star?  No.  They rejoiced because the star led them to the Gift they sought.  Their joy was for finding Jesus.
    • Do you remember the feeling you had when you first came to faith in Christ?  Do you remember what it was like to first receive the Gift of Jesus?  Joy – adulation – wonder – overwhelming gratitude, or any combination of the above & more! 
    • You had it once…do you still have it today?  What changed?  There is joy in knowing the Lord Jesus! 
  • Of course it would be one thing to stay on the outside, with the star shining down on the location where Jesus was – it was another thing to actually go inside to see Him.  A gift isn’t truly received until it’s opened & seen.  They had to go inside to “unwrap” the Gift.  So do we…we need to respond to Jesus and actually see Him for ourselves through faith.  Vs. 11…

11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  • Their response at seeing Jesus?  Worship!  Mary was there as well (no mention of Joseph), but Mary wasn’t worshipped.  Only the boy-Jesus was worthy of worship, because God alone deserves to be worshipped.  The wise men “fell” to the ground, and worshipped the young Lord Jesus as best they knew how.  Some may wonder if they truly worshipped Jesus as God, or if they were falling to the ground before Him as someone might do before a normal king of the day.  Considering the overall context, it’s difficult to think of it as any other way, apart from the true worship of God.  They travelled hundreds of miles to see Him – they were led by a miraculous star along the way – they lay prostrate on the ground in front of a toddler.  Nothing about this sounds like someone giving homage to human king; but all of it is quite normal and expected if they are bowing before God.  They saw Jesus for who He is, even as a young boy, and these Gentile astrologers gave Him the worship that even a handful of Jews would not give Him for decades yet to come.
    • When we see Jesus, worship is the right response.
  • The Magi did not just worship through their posture – they worshipped through their offerings.  They brought gifts to the Greater Gift of Jesus.  When they came inside the house (not a stable…again, this was not Christmas night), they did not come empty-handed.  They brought offerings of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  It was the three types of gifts that caused earlier Christians to imagine only three wise men being present that day, but Matthew never makes that connection.  It could have been two men bringing three types of gifts, or ten men who together brought three types of gifts, perhaps duplicated among each other.  The number isn’t the important part; it is the offering itself that matters.  They brought what they had, and they gave to Jesus all that they could.  These were gifts of wealth, an indication of the sacrificial sort of giving of the Magi.  They didn’t give out of their spare change; they gave sincerely out of their hearts – they gave something that came at a personal cost.  (Which is the best God-honoring sort of giving.  It’s not the dollar-value, but the heart in which it was offered.  That’s the giving that pleases God.)
    • What did the gifts symbolize?  Looking back, we can think of several important things – things perhaps ultimately intended by God, but most likely not realized by the Magi themselves.  They were just bringing costly treasures to this King they desired to worship.  These were gifts that they themselves might have liked to receive.  Yet from a bigger perspective, we can see a deeper meaning to each of the three.  (1) Gold, symbolizing royalty & deity. (2) Frankincense, as a spice used in priestly service & worship. (3) Myrrh, a particular spice used in burial rites.  Jesus came as God & King – He came as the True High Priest – He came to die, offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
    • How the gifts were used was of more practical importance at the time.  Remember that to this point, Joseph & his family were extremely poor.  Luke tells us that when it came time to have Jesus circumcised (8 days after His birth), Joseph and Mary brought two birds to the temple (Lk 2:21-24).  Two turtledoves or two pigeons was the sacrificial requirement for those who were poor & couldn’t afford a lamb or something greater.  (Which is one more proof the Magi weren’t present for the birth!)  With these gifts from the Magi, the holy family was now quite wealthy in comparison to their neighbors.  This wealth would be quickly needed as they fled to Egypt away from Herod, staying there for years until it was safe to return to Judea.  God perfectly provided for the needs of His Son & Jesus’ earthly family, doing so through Gentiles who travelled hundreds of miles as a special delivery. (God is sovereign!)
  • After all this time, the Magi finally did what they came to do.  Now what?  They go home.  Vs. 12…

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

  • Apparently they were prepared to return to Herod, just as they were instructed, but God intervened.  We do not know how God warned them in their dreams – whether an angel appeared to all of the men, or if some of them (or just one of them) had a specific dream, or what – but however it happened, the Magi got the message.  They were guarded by God (as was Jesus & the holy family), and they took an alternate route home.
  • Can you imagine the stories they had to tell when they got back?  They had gone to worship a King, and guided by God, they found Him – they saw Him – they worshipped Him – and now they could tell the world.
    • It sounds an awful lot like what we have the privilege of doing as well.  It is. J  Those who have heard of Jesus & have sought Him out in faith have seen Him.  Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."  Those who seek Jesus in faith do not seek Him in vain – God rewards the seeker with finding!  BTW – this is one of the major differences between the Magi & Herod.  The Magi had faith in the message they were told, sought out the King in sincerity, and found the Gift of God.  Herod sought Jesus, but he didn’t seek the Gift.  Faith makes all of the difference.
    • Now, go tell the world!  Tell everyone Who it is you’ve seen – tell of the gift you have received, so that they might do the same.

Conclusion:
There were several that sought out the gift of God that was given in Jesus, but only one group did it the right way.

  • There was King Herod.  He was certainly interested in seeking out Jesus, but he didn’t seek the gift of God; he sought to destroy it.  He may have put on a good act for the wise men, but he couldn’t fool God.  No matter what kind of religious show he displayed or pious words he used, inwardly he was an enemy of God, rebellious to the end.
  • There were the priests & scribes.  They were made aware of the Gift, but they just didn’t care.  They knew much about the promised King, but they never put the knowledge to use.  In the end, they were just as lost as Herod.
  • There were the Magi.  They began their journey fully lost in paganism and superstition, but because they responded to what little they knew of God in faith, God revealed to them more & more.  They earnestly sought the gift of God, and God used their own superstition & the evil plotting of Herod to bring the Magi to a true knowledge of Jesus.  And once He did, they responded rightly: they worshipped Him.  They received the Gift that was offered, and they were able to rejoice immeasurably.

How do you seek Jesus?  How do you seek the gift of God?  Maybe like Herod, you put on a show for others, but in your heart you have no desire to truly worship Jesus as your Lord.  You may as well be honest with yourself, because although you might fool others, you surely do not fool God.  Understand that the sin you cling to is the sin that will kill you.  One day you will have to look into the eyes of the God against whom you rebelled, and you will have to tell Him why you rejected His gift of grace.

Maybe like the priests and scribes, you know a lot about Jesus, but you have never personally sought Him for yourself.  Churches are filled with the same sort of people.  They come, they participate in the worship services, they might even serve in a ministry.  They have all the right answers to all the right questions, but they have no real relationship with the Living God.  In their apathy, they are just as lost as those who are in willful rebellion.

The good news is that no one has to stay in either of those two camps.  No one has to remain in rebellion (like Herod) or apathy (like the scribes).  Instead, you can be like the Magi and seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity and faith.  Jesus has made Himself available to you, as He has to all the world, and His gift of forgiveness and grace is available to anyone who repents from sin & believes upon Him as Lord.  This Christmas, receive the gift! 

If you already know the Gift that is Jesus – rejoice in Him!  Be renewed in the mega-joy you had when you first came to faith.  Worship Him, sing, shout, respond to your King with all of the reverence and joy that you can muster.  And then…tell of Him.  Kids sometimes don’t want to share their gifts because they’re afraid of losing what they have.  The good thing about sharing Jesus is that no matter how many people we share Him with, we never lose what it is He’s given to us.  Share Him with all the world!  You never know who you personally might start on their own journey of faith.  There are more “magi” out there waiting to hear & to respond…you are the one to tell them.

Christmas Eve 2015
Galatians 4:4-5, “Just Right”

So far this evening, we’ve lit candles representing (1) prophecy concerning Christ, (2) Bethlehem as the birthplace of Christ, (3) angels as the proclaimers of Christ, and (4) shepherds as the witnesses of Christ.  With the final candle, we are reminded of the Person of Christ Himself.  Jesus came, incarnate, exactly as He was supposed to come according to the plan of God.

Galatians 4:4–5, "(4) But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

This may not be the traditional Christmas story as contained in the gospel of Luke (which we read), but this definitely is the Christmas story!  God picked a point in time to send His only begotten Son to walk among & be one of us, in order that we might be saved.  We remember that singular act at Christmas.  This is the time of year that many people (Christians or not) give gifts to one another, attempting to show our love for one another.  Who started the giving?  God.  He gave the original gift of His Son.  He did it at just the right time, in the right way, and for the right reason.  That’s exactly what Paul wrote to the Galatians.

Jesus came at the right time
But when the fullness of the time had come…”  Have you ever wondered about the timing of Christmas?  Not necessarily the date itself – the history behind the choice of December 25 is rather random and perhaps a bit convoluted, as early Christians and pagan Romans tussled over various celebrations.  But what about the timing itself?  Whatever the exact calendar date of Jesus’ birthday may have been (perhaps even in late summer or fall), there was a day that Jesus was born.  There was a moment that Mary gave birth to a baby boy, and she & Joseph named Him “Jesus.”  There’s no doubt it took place.  It took place at a specific point in time, and the Bible calls it “the fullness of the time.

The idea is that the time was just right.  The word for “fullness” (πληρωμα) speaks of something that’s been filled to completion, such as an overflowing jar.  There’s nothing more that can be placed inside.  How that relates to time is that it was all just right.  There wasn’t a single day left out, nor a single minute too many.  The time was complete – it was totally fulfilled.

Keep in mind that the Bible spoke of this day from the very first chapters of Genesis.  When Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden, God immediately told them of a Person yet to be born who would make everything right again.  All of humanity was to look for a single Man, one sent by God who would crush the head of the devil.  Years passed – centuries passed – thousands of years went by.  All along, the prophecies were repeated & humanity (specifically the Hebrew people) were told of the Messiah (the Deliverer) who was to come.  And finally, He came.  The moment had arrived for Him to arrive, and He came just in time!

He did not come too early.  Before Jesus could come, mankind needed to know to expect Him.  God set up the nation of His own people, gave them the perfect law, and provided them prophecy after prophecy for them to know what to expect when they finally saw the Messiah.  Nor did Jesus come too late.  He fulfilled every one of those prophecies, and arrived at the perfect moment for the gospel message to spread throughout the world that was known to the Jews (thanks to the Roman Empire), and beyond as the church rapidly grew.  Jesus came at exactly the right time.

Jesus came in the right way
Paul describes two ways in which Jesus came: as God, and as man.  First, He came as God, as “God sent forth His Son.”  The Savior could not have been any less, or else He could not save.  Remember that the angels told the Bethlehem shepherds that a Savior had been born, Christ the Lord.  If the Savior had been only a man, He would not have been a Savior at all.  What we consider to be good news would not have been news at all.  What good could a mere man do?  There have been many millions of men & women born through history, some more charitable & loving than others – but none of them have been able to save.  The best of the best of mankind is useless when it comes to eternal salvation, because all of us are under the same curse.  Mother Theresa’s compassion could not earn her salvation, nor Albert Einstein’s brilliance, nor Bill Gate’s riches.  Nothing that men & women can do can earn our own salvation, much less the salvation of anyone else.  That is something that can only be granted by God, and that is the reason that God came.  Jesus, the Son of God, IS God.  He proclaimed Himself to be such, and demonstrated it both through miracles during His life & the ultimate miracle following His death when He rose from the grave three days after the cross.  Jesus came in the right way, as God.

Secondly, Jesus came as man in that He was “born of a woman, born under the law.”  In other words, God the Son didn’t merely appear on planet earth (as He surely could have done) – He was born.  Just like every other human being in history, Jesus was born.  His mother Mary (though a virgin) became pregnant, and gave birth that miraculous night, and laid her newborn Child in a manger.  Ultimately, that Jesus was born of a woman is a fulfillment of the very first Christmas prophecy in all Scripture, Genesis 3:15, when God tells the serpent that his head would be bruised (crushed) by the seed of the woman.  The day was coming that a Man would be born of a woman (without the help of a father), and this Man would be totally victorious over the devil.  That seed of the woman is the Man Christ Jesus!

That Jesus came as a Man is essential to His mission.  Just like Jesus could not save us apart from Him being God, Jesus could not serve as our sacrifice apart from Him being human.  We humans deserve death.  We sinned against God, and without God’s forgiveness, we face an eternity of death and torment.  (That’s the bad news!)  What we need is a sacrifice – Someone who can perfectly stand in our place & receive the death sentence we deserve.  That’s what Jesus did (which is the good news!).  A Man needs to die in place of men and women, and that’s exactly what happened when Jesus died upon the cross.  He became our perfect substitute & sacrifice.

That Jesus is both God and Man is precisely what we celebrate at Christmas!  He is the God-Man, the Creator made Incarnate – God dwelling with us – the Perfect Sacrifice, our Savior.

Jesus came for the right reason
We’ve already seen that Jesus came as a sacrifice.  Paul tells us what that looks like in the next phrase: “…to redeem those who were under the law.”  Jesus came for redemption – He came to redeem when He came to save.  Remember that Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law.  He was born into the same conditions & culture of everyone else.  Among the Jewish people from which He came, He was born as a Jew.  But it’s more than that.  All people everywhere are under the righteous law of God, even if Gentiles are not included in the specific covenantal system of Moses and Abraham.  The law of God is written upon our hearts & embedded within our consciences.  Deep down, we know when we’ve sinned.  None of us need to be told that lying is wrong, or that hurting someone else is sinful.  We might make excuses for ourselves, but we know those things are wrong.  We too (apart from Christ), are under the law.  And because we are, we are under the penalty of the law, which is death.  We are enslaved to it, with no hope of freeing ourselves from its clutches and demands.

That’s where our Savior comes in.  The Babe who was once laid in a manger, now lays aside our slavery when He provides our redemption.  When something is redeemed, it has been purchased.  When a slave has been redeemed, he has had his freedom purchased.  That’s what Jesus did for us at the cross & through His resurrection.  The Son of God, born of a woman, born under the law, redeemed us from that law.  He purchased our freedom & paid our redemption price through His own blood.  Our glorious Redeemer is none other but the Lord Jesus!

Not only did Jesus come for redemption, but He came for adoption: “…that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  Jesus is the Son of God, and guess what?  So is everyone else who believes upon Him as our Lord & Redeemer!  It wasn’t always that way.  Once we were estranged from God, even acting as His vile enemies.  We fully deserved the death and slavery we faced.  But in the infinite love and grace of God, He offered us a way out of His wrath.  He sent His Son to be our sacrifice, and Jesus paid the debt that we never could.  But that’s not all.  We don’t just have freedom from the wrath of God – we don’t just have eternal life instead of eternal death – now we are brought near to God, given the right to be in closest fellowship with Him, even as His own children!  Consider it for a moment: we were treasonous enemies, at war with the Creator who gave us life.  But instead of giving us the punishment we deserved, He brings us near, showers us with love, and declares us to be His own children.  Through Jesus, you have been adopted by the Lord God of the Universe.  There can be no measure of grace that is greater!

Conclusion:
What was it that happened during that night in Bethlehem?  The fulfillment of the plan of God to save the world!  Galatians 4:4–5, "(4) But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."  Jesus came at just the right time, in just the right way, for all of the right reasons.

It was perfect, just as we might expect it to be.  We were perfectly lost, and God perfectly intervened, granting us the perfect salvation we required.  THAT is the Christmas message.  It’s not gifts or food or decorations, or even family and friends.  Christmas is about Jesus.  Christmas is about the Savior we desperately required, and who was wonderfully and graciously given by God.

Do you know Him?  Jesus is not an idea or philosophy, or even a religion – He is a Person.  And this Person is alive & well today, seated at the right hand of God, awaiting the day of His glorious return.  For now, all people everywhere have the opportunity to receive His gift of grace, the forgiveness of sin.  He has already done everything that is necessary; all we need to do is respond.  Turn away from your sins of the past, believing upon Jesus Christ – that He is everything the Bible claims He is, and has done everything the Bible claims that He has done.  Cast yourself upon Him as the true God-Man who died for you & rose from the grave, and Jesus promises to save you, too.  This might be the very first Christmas you celebrate as a true Christian.  I can think of no better way to celebrate!

For the rest of us, may our hearts be overwhelmed by the wondrous Savior who has been given to us!  From before the foundations of the world, God knew our needs & set His plan in motion to send us His Son – our perfect God & Sacrifice – our glorious Redeemer.  The Son of God became a Man so that we all might become sons of God.  Glory be to His name!  Praise God that He came!

Behold the Savior

Posted: December 25, 2014 in Isaiah, Thoughts
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Christmas Eve 2014 – “Behold the Savior”

Isaiah 42:1–9, "(1) “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. (2) He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. (3) A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. (4) He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” (5) Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: (6) “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, (7) To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. (8) I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. (9) Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”"

We read the Christmas story tonight – now put yourself in the place of the people who were there.  Can you imagine being with the shepherds that night?  There you are, doing the things you’ve always done on the outskirts of town (because no one really wanted you around in the first place), when all of a sudden the night sky explodes with light as an angel appears, telling you of the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord.  He would bring good news of glad tidings to all people (even you, as a shepherd!).  The bright light is joined by a symphony of sound as a multitude of angels begin to praise God.  The heavenly chorus blasted through the still night air, echoing through the Bethlehem countryside.

The angel told the shepherds to go see the Child, and they did.  How could you NOT go see this thing for yourself?  It’s doubtful the shepherds could have been held back if someone tried.  Coming with “haste” (an understatement in the Bible if ever there was one), the group of shepherds found the Holy Family and saw the Child spoken of by the angel.

Surely the words of Isaiah rang true at that moment: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!”  There they were, beholding the Elect Servant of God – the one that would bring the salvation of God to all the world. As they gazed upon the newborn infant, they were gazing upon the eternal Son of God.  As they wondered at this helpless babe, they looked upon the Omnipotent God.  What wonder!  What amazement!  To “behold” the Servant chosen by God to save the world.

In this prophecy from Isaiah, God told Isaiah several things about this Servant – the One whom God has chosen and upheld.  Some of these things were only barely evident about Jesus as He lay in the manger, but they were nonetheless true and would prove themselves over time.

  • God “delights” in Him.  The Servant sent by God is not one whom God despises; it’s one in whom the Lord delights.  Keep that in mind when Jesus is hanging from the cross & cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  For God to send His only Son into the world to die for our sin is an amazing sacrifice.  The Father loves the Son more than we can possibly imagine…He delights in His Son.  And yet He also was willing to give the Son in whom He delights as a substitution and sacrifice for us.
  • God’s Spirit is “upon” Him.  The Man Jesus was not simply any other man; He was the God-Man, the Incarnate Son of God, and God the Holy Spirit rested upon Him in a way that was unique in the history of the world.  Jesus was empowered by God to do the work of God, and He has the authority to give that same power to all who follow Him in faith.  Because God the Holy Spirit was upon Christ Jesus, God the Holy Spirit can also come upon Christians.
  • He is righteous.  Isaiah wrote that “He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.”  The Servant of God is one who is utterly righteous in every respect.  He shows no partiality to the Jew or the Gentile, and one day His righteous justice will be known in every nation, land, and language all over the earth.
  • He is meek and humble.  Jesus would not “cry out” nor would He break “a bruised reed.”  His humility is exquisitely seen at His birth in Bethlehem.  There He was, the Almighty Son of God, through whom God the Father created all the universe – lying as a Babe in a manger.  Jesus had created the tree that had been cut down and formed into the very lumber that held Him.  Jesus had created Mary, knitting her together in the womb of her mother – all the while knowing that one day He would be formed together incarnate in her womb.  Truly this is the humility of God the Son!  And His humility would not stop with His birth.  As He grew, He continued to live in meekness, tenderly calling sinners to Himself who were in need of salvation.  He still calls sinners today.  He called you & me – not in fierce condemnation, but in loving meekness, offering to save us from our sin and give us new life.  Praise God for our meek Savior!
  • He establishes justice by His might and rule.  Jesus is humble, but that is not all that He is.  He also has great might and power that will be seen when “He has established justice in the earth.”  Jesus came first in humility, but He is coming back in victory.  He began the kingdom of God when He walked the earth and went to the cross, but the kingdom will come into full fruition when Jesus one day walks the earth again, having defeated the devil and every other enemy of God.
  • He is called by the Creator God. The prophecy given by God to Isaiah goes into great detail of how God “created the heavens and stretched them out” – why?  Because it is this God who “called [the Servant] in righteousness.”  When Jesus was sent into the world, He came with all of the power and authority of God.  The Son of God had been given a mission by His Father, and the Son saw it through to perfect completion.  The Creator God sent Jesus to restore fallen creation, and it is all made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection from the cross.
  • He fulfills God’s covenant promises to the Jews.  The Servant was given “as a covenant to the people” – which people?  The Jews.  Which covenant?  The One stretching back to Abraham.  Jesus fulfills all of the covenant promises made by God to His people.  From the very beginnings of the Hebrew people, God promised to send Someone through whom all the world would be blessed.  That Someone is Jesus.
  • He is the “light to the Gentiles.”  The Jews had the revelation and light of God given to them in the Scriptures; the Gentiles had only the revelation of creation around them.  That was enough to convict them of their sin, but not enough to bring them to salvation in Christ.  Jesus gave them (gives us) that revelation.  He shines the light of God’s love upon the people who are utterly lost in darkness.  Have you seen the light of Christ?  Have you rejoiced in the light that He gives?
  • He gives true sight and true freedom.  When Isaiah prophesied that the Servant of God would “open blind eyes” – that was true literally and figuratively.  Jesus did indeed heal the blind.  But far worse than blindness of sight is the blindness that is brought on by sin.  Someone can be physically disadvantaged and still go to heaven through faith in Christ; someone who is spiritually blind is left eternally doomed, unless God intervenes.  The good news of Christmas is that God DID intervene.  We were blinded by our sin – we were imprisoned, left as slaves unto death, but God sent Jesus to change all of that.  He sent Jesus to give sight to the blind, and lead us out of the prison of sin and death.
  • He receives the praise and glory of God.  God will not give His “glory” to another, nor His “praise to carved images,” but He will certainly give His glory to the living Lord Jesus.  He shares in the name and praise of God because He is God.  He is Jesus, “Our God is salvation.”  He is Immanuel, “God with us.”  He is glorious!

What a description of the Babe in the manger, and Lord of all the universe!  Christian, behold your God & Savior!

Tonight, we celebrate His birth, but the reason we do is because of what His birth makes possible: His life, His death, His resurrection, and ultimately our forgiveness from God and salvation.  When we behold the Babe in Bethlehem, we do not look upon just another baby.  We don’t even look upon just the hint of a promise of something more.  No, when we look at the One lying in the manger, we are beholding the Servant of God – the Savior sent by God – the very Son of God Himself.  We behold the Lord Jesus, the light of the world and the greatness of the glory of God.  This is Who we see and Who we worship.

Is this Who you worship at Christmas?  Christmas is more than gifts, traditions, and reindeer; it is the revelation of the glorious Son of God to all the world.  You can worship Him tonight.  You can behold Him as the Lord by faith.  This Christmas, receive the best gift that has ever been offered: eternal salvation.  From the moment you were born, you were facing death separated from God.  Every one of us is condemned in our sin because we have (at some point) loved evil rather than good.  Every one of us has a death sentence on our heads.  The good news of Christmas is that God gave His Son to change all of that.  God loves us and wants us to be saved.  He doesn’t want any of us to perish, so He gave us Jesus that we would not perish, but live.  So live!  Receive this gift of grace by believing upon Jesus as your Lord and God.  Behold Jesus with new eyes tonight, knowing that He died for you and rose again from the grave.

Christmas Sunday 2014
Isaiah 9:6-7, “The Lord Is Come, and Is Coming Again”

Merry Christmas!  Just the word “Christmas” brings to mind thoughts of joy.  We all have our favorite traditions, desserts, gifts, and songs.  For many, it is their very favorite time of year.  It’s a time to get together with family and friends, and to rejoice in all kinds of celebrations.  Of course, that’s all the window-dressing.  That is all of the obvious stuff that surrounds the holiday, but it is by no means the stuff that makes it a holy-day.  The very reason all of that other stuff is there (and some of it is very good) is because of the birth of Jesus.  God sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the Savior of the world, and Jesus is both the miracle and the true gift we celebrate at Christmas.

How good of a gift is Jesus?  The gospel of John says it best: John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  Salvation from eternal death and the receipt of eternal life is a good gift indeed!  And it is available to any and all who would believe upon Jesus as Savior and Lord. (Be sure to come back next week for more on that statement from John 3!)  Christmas is the time we celebrate that glorious gift of God.  We remember when the Son of God first came into the world as a babe in a manger, born in Bethlehem.

But Bethlehem was only the beginning.  One of the most famous Christmas carols in the English language really has very little to do with the events at Bethlehem.  Listen to the words penned by Isaac Watts in 1719:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing.

            Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Does that sound like a Christmas song to you?  Isaac Watts based his words upon the latter half of Psalm 98, which is anything but a song of the Messiah’s birth; it is a song of praise for the Messiah’s future reign and judgment.  So, why do we sing it at Christmas?  Because without Christmas, we have no Christ.  Without a humble birth, we would have no death upon a cross, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sins, and thus no kingdom.  What good would it be for Jesus to come as a King, if He had no subjects over which to reign?  Without His death and resurrection (i.e. without His earthly ministry), NO human anywhere would have any forgiveness, and there would be no kingdom. 

Thus Bethlehem was absolutely necessary, but it was only the beginning.  God always had something more in mind for His Son when Jesus came to earth.  There was to be a restoration of all things.  Jesus would right every wrong in the universe, and He would rule over this restored Creation as its glorious King.  The 1st Coming of Jesus directly points to, and makes way for His 2nd Coming.

That’s the subject of our text today. Isaiah’s prophecy in Ch. 9 contains some of the most famous words about the birth of the Messiah in all of the Old Testament.  But the birth itself is only briefly mentioned.  Most of the prophecy speeds past Jesus’ birth, ministry, cross, & resurrection, and proceeds straight to His reign as King.  For all of the things that Jesus has already done in the past, some of His greatest work still lies ahead in the future.  As we celebrate, we do it not just by looking backwards in thankfulness, but also by looking forward in anticipation and hope.  We will personally see the glory of King Jesus with our own eyes.  Just as the shepherds and people of Judea could look forward to the coming of their Messiah, so do we look forward to His return.  That is worth just as much celebration at Christmas as was His birth.

Isaiah 9:6–7
6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah’s prophecy doesn’t begin with verse 6 (obviously); it comes in a greater context.  “For…”  What’s the “for” for?  God had given Isaiah a prophecy about the coming Assyrian invasion of Judah.  The king of Assyria would come through the nation of Judah like a river overflowing its banks (8:7-8).  People would be understandably distressed, and though they should turn to God for comfort (as Isaiah would in 8:17), the people overall would not.  They would be altogether in darkness (8:22).

That’s when God would intervene.  He would certainly deliver the southern kingdom from the Assyrian threat, but God looked forward to a greater deliverance: one from darkness itself.  The whole land of Israel (both north and south) would have the light of God shine upon them (9:1-2).  God promised to take His people from a time of mourning to a time of great joy and freedom (9:3-4).  How would He do it?  Through a “Child.

That’s where the prophecy in vss. 6-7 picks up.  A “Child” – a “Son” would bring this deliverance that God had promised.  Simply the existence of this Son was a gift in itself.  His birth was the ultimate fulfillment of another prophecy given by Isaiah that previewed this one.  God had told Isaiah to go to King Ahaz and have Ahaz ask God for a sign that God would fulfill all of these future things.  Ahaz refused (out of false piety and false humility), and God declared that He Himself would give a sign.  Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."  This miraculous Son would act righteously in a way that Ahaz had not, but most importantly, this Son would be the sign that God had come.  His very name is “Immanuel”: “God with us.”

All of this was given to the historical King Ahaz as a way of confirming the judgment of God.  But God’s judgment upon Ahaz is grace upon us.  At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of this Promised Son.  We rejoice in Immanuel, born of a virgin, exactly as God promised.  Immanuel isn’t merely the promise of God (which would be grand enough); He is the Person and presence of God.  “God with us.”  Hallelujah!  We who were estranged from God in our sin are now brought near…better yet, we are approached by the One whom we could never dream of approaching ourselves.  He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16), and yet He drew near to us.

God came to us when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  God dwelt among us…not just fulfilling the promise He made to Ahaz through Isaiah, but fulfilling the promise He made to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3:15, "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."  Immanuel IS the seed of the woman.  The virgin bore a Son (the only way she could have “seed”), and the result was the Son of God, Jesus – our Immanuel.

All of that takes us back to Isaiah 9:6.  The “Child is born” – the “Son is given.”  Immanuel/Jesus is the greatest gift imaginable!  The Son of God came unto mankind as a newborn Child.  He was born according to the plan and prophecy of God, and He was born for a purpose.  This Son would bring the brightness of the glory of God among His people (9:2), and even among the Gentiles (9:1).  Upon this Son, all the eyes of the world would be set.  He had been sent to rule and reign over every nation of the world.  Thus the “government” of God would “be upon His shoulder.

Objection!  Wait a minute!  Isaiah’s prophecy skips over the cross.  Jesus did come to be the King, but first He came in humility.  He came to be our substitute at the cross, bearing the righteous anger of God that we had earned in our sin.  Jesus came humbly as the Passover lamb, so that we might be saved when we put our faith in Him and in His resurrection from the dead.  Yet Isaiah doesn’t say anything about that.  He just leaps ahead to the victory of the Messiah, without looking at His sacrifice.

That may be true in Ch. 9, but Isaiah will write of the sufferings of the Messiah in great detail later on.  He will write of this same Immanuel King who will also be the suffering servant of God.  The One who will bear the government upon His shoulders would first bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (53:4).  He would be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (53:5).  All of this as a part of His substitution and sacrifice for us.  That was THE primary purpose of Jesus’ 1st Coming, and it was perfectly fulfilled.

But the Son of God has more than one coming.  The first time, Jesus came to suffer and die.  The second time, Jesus will come to rule and reign.  It is His 2nd Coming that is primarily in view in Ch. 9.  This prophecy does briefly address the 1st Coming, but only in how it relates to the 2nd Coming.  The Child would be born – the Son would be given – amen!  And it is because this is true, that the 2nd Coming is made possible.  After all, when is the news of a Jesus who reigns good news?  It’s good news when we are included in His reign.  If all we had to face from a victorious Lord Jesus was judgment, that would surely be BAD news (at least for us).  That would mean we would have to face Jesus while we were still in our sin, and we would be held responsible for every blasphemous and rebellious thought & deed against God.  We would have no hope for forgiveness, because Jesus would never have died on our behalf.  Without coming in humility, going to the cross and being raised from the dead, we would have no chance of forgiveness, and we would be utterly lost in our sin.  Without the 1st Coming, the 2nd Coming isn’t good; it’s terrifying!

But that’s not how Isaiah describes it.  When Jesus comes in His glory, the gloom of the people disappears.  The people are brought out of darkness into light.  The people experience exceeding joy and freedom.  The coming reign of the King is gloriously good news!  Thus Isaiah doesn’t skip over the cross; he presumes it.  At this point, the sacrifice has been made – sin is forgiven, and the people can rejoice in the coming of their King.  The Child had accomplished the purpose of the 1st Coming, and now moved on to something more.

Now that sin has been forgiven, what is it that the people of God can experience?  They can know Jesus in all of His glory.  He is described here by four names: (1) Wonderful Counselor, (2) Mighty God, (3) Everlasting Father, (4) Prince of Peace.

  1. Wonderful Counselor.  Despite the comma that may exist in your translation (and the way you might be singing Handel’s “Messiah” in your head), we need to remember that the original Hebrew did not have modern English grammatical markings.  Each of the other titles for Immanuel has a description, and so does this one.  Obviously Jesus is truly wonderful as a whole, but here He is specifically a “Wonderful Counselor.”  His wisdom is infinite – His plans are perfect.  A person has no better advisor than when his adviser is the Lord Jesus.  Truly He is a wonderful counselor!
    1. The primary context here is the military strategy of the Lord, as King Jesus defeats every foe – but the principle is true in every other area.  His counsel is better than any other.  Do we receive Him as the Wonderful Counselor, or is His voice just once more among the crowd?  Is His voice one that can be ignored?  There is no one more knowledgeable than Jesus.  There is none more wise or more discerning.  Who better to be your counselor than the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, and who knows you better than you know yourself?  The person is no fool who relies upon the Lord Jesus for wisdom & counsel!
  2. Mighty God.  This Child & Son is far more than a human babe; He is the all-powerful God for whom nothing is impossible.  He has the authority and power to work whatever He wills, thus whatever God wills will be done.  All the plans He made known to Ahaz and the nation of Judah would come to pass.  After all, it was the “Mighty God” who was doing the work.  Likewise, all the plans He makes known to us in the Bible will come to pass.  Jesus is the Mighty God – there is nothing He cannot do.
    1. Do you trust Him as the Mighty God?  We obviously celebrate Jesus’ human birth as a baby, but it would be a tragedy to think of Jesus only as a baby.  Yet that is what many people do.  The only way they think of Jesus is as a participant in the nativity scenes.  He is confined to the manger & nothing more.  But Jesus is infinitely more!  Even while wrapped in swaddling clothes, Jesus was still the Mighty God.  That is who Immanuel is, and who He will always be.
  3. Everlasting Father.  Out of all the names given to Jesus-Immanuel, “Everlasting Father” seems the most unusual.  After all, Jesus is the Son; not the Father.  As an adult, Jesus declared that He and the Father are one (Jn 10:30), and that the person who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn 14:9).  All of this goes back to the unity and inner relationship of the Trinity.  Biblically, we know the Son is NOT the Father, and should not be confused with the Father.  After all, it was the Son who died for us upon the cross; not the Father nor the Spirit.  They are different in their Persons, but not in their substance.  IOW, the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit) is one God.  It is that unity within the Godhead that is emphasized here.  The Son shares the same power and glory as the Father because the Son is God.  The Son is everlasting, just as the Father is everlasting.
    1. What a glorious contrast!  Jesus is the Son, born into the world as a Child.  His humanity had a beginning, but His Deity did not.  The Son of God has always existed, from everlasting to everlasting.  He is everlasting in His existence, and He is everlasting in His glory.  When Jesus comes back to rule and reign, His is a kingdom that will never end.
  4. Prince of Peace.  Contextually in Isaiah, the Promised Son comes in the midst of war, and He breaks the symbolic staff of those who would oppress His people.  How can this Warrior-King be a “Prince of Peace”?  Easy.  It is through His massive show of power that peace is ushered in.  There is no peace without the power of Jesus.  This is seen in abundance in our salvation.  Because of our sin, we were at war (enmity) against God.  We had rebelled against Him and made ourselves slaves to sin and death.  Yet through the cross and resurrection, Jesus removes the enmity.  We now can have peace with God.  We now have peace and freedom away from the slavery of sin.  None of that was possible apart from the power of Jesus.  His mighty work made our peace possible.  His omnipotence and victory that crushed sin, Satan, and death make Jesus the ultimate broker of peace: the Prince of Peace.
    1. Sometimes we think of peace as an absence of conflict.  That is a form of peace, but it’s not the fullest extent.  True peace is experienced when conflict is reconciled – when it is made right.  That is what Jesus did in His 1st Coming between God and Man, and that is what He’ll do in His 2nd Coming among the entire created universe.  All of creation will be reconciled with God.  Jesus will right every wrong, and the peace of God will flood every corner of the universe.

 

All of that has spoken of the person of the Son.  The Child who was to be born wasn’t just any Child; He is Immanuel, God with us.  He has all of the characteristics of God and all of the glory of God.

But the prophecy doesn’t stop there.  What makes Immanuel so amazing is that He is God WITH us.  Jesus would dwell among His people not only at His 1st Coming, but also at His 2nd.  The 1st time He came as a Servant, to seek and to save that which was lost.  The 2nd time, He comes as a King, and it is His kingdom that is described in vs. 7.

7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Put yourself in the position of the famous wise-men (the magi) for a moment.  Although we normally remember them at Christmas-time, they actually weren’t anywhere near Jesus at the time of His birth.  In all likelihood, they left their home around the time Jesus was born (perhaps Persia), and didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until Jesus was a toddler.  (If we really want our nativity scenes to be accurate, we need to place the wise-men on the other side of our house…)  Timing aside, why was it they came to see Jesus?  Matthew 2:1–2, "(1) Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, (2) saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”"  They had come looking for a newborn King, and they were ready to worship Him.  From the very beginning, people were looking for their Messiah to be a King, and to rule over the nations from Jerusalem.  This was still the expectation of the disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, right before Jesus ascended back to His Father in heaven.  They asked Jesus, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  To which Jesus responded it wasn’t for them to know the timing of those things that were in the Father’s authority, but they were supposed to be witnesses of Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:6-8)  But it was no doubt a literal, physical kingdom that the magi and the disciples looked for…and for good reason.  The prophets declared that the Messiah would rule a kingdom, and this is something Isaiah specifically writes of regarding Immanuel.

The Child was born – the Son was given – but He would not remain a Child.  He would grow and receive a position of authority.  Isaiah already wrote how the government would be upon His shoulders; now he describes what Immanuel’s kingdom & government would look like.

First, Immanuel’s kingdom is ever-growing and everlasting. “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.”  Kingdoms and nations are sometimes defined in terms of boundaries.  We know where the kingdom ends because that is where the boundary line is drawn (or negotiated).  Yet what is the extent of Jesus’ kingdom?  The universe.  The King of Israel rules over far more than Israel alone.  All power and authority under heaven and earth has been given to Him (Mt 28:18).  At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow – of those in heaven, upon the earth, and under the earth (Phil 2:10).  There is no corner of the universe over which Immanuel will not reign supreme.  His kingdom is vast!  It is infinite in scope.  Interestingly enough, astronomers believe that the universe is ever-expanding.  Truly, the government of King Immanuel is “increasing.”

Of course better than an increase in square mileage is an increase in population.  Through the power of the gospel, the Kingdom of Christ is expanding every day.  Every single time a person trusts Christ as his/her Savior and is born-again by the Holy Spirit, that person is born as a new citizen of the Kingdom of God.  It’s no wonder the angels rejoice over sinners who get saved!  People are given new & eternal life, and they are given citizenship in the eternal kingdom of Jesus.  And this happens every single day all over the world.  Granted, it can be difficult to see at times…especially here in the Bible Belt.  It seems like the gospel is shared repeatedly, but few actually get saved.  But that’s not the case elsewhere.  Other countries are seeing revival break out – even in the midst of great persecution.  People all over the world are leaving false religions and coming to the truth in Jesus.  Jesus’ kingdom is continuing to increase, and we need to pray that it will continue to do so.  “Lord, Thy kingdom come!”

Second, Immanuel’s kingdom is a restoration of the kingdom of David. “Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom…”  Long ago, God promised David that God would build him a house (a family & a dynasty of kings) that would never end.  The throne of the Son that would come after David would be established forever (2 Sam 7:13).  Jesus/Immanuel is that Son & that King.  When His kingdom is set up upon the earth, it will remain for eon after eon.  We often call it the Millennial Kingdom, because the initial phase of it will last 1000 years (after which God has more in store – Rev 20:6-7). But the rule of Jesus will last far more than 1000 years – it will go into eternity!  Jesus is the King, and He will always be the King.

The interesting thing is that when this prophecy was given, David’s kingdom had already diminished somewhat.  David and Solomon each had ruled over a united kingdom, but after Solomon, the kingdom split into north and south.  Land was lost to the northern kingdom of Israel, and eventually to the Assyrians when the northern kingdom was conquered.  For the kingdom of David to increase, it would need to be restored.  Yet far more than the northern kingdom would be lost.  Though Judah was still strong at the time of this prophecy, it would also be conquered, and the people taken to Babylon in captivity.  From that time, it would only regain its freedom once for a brief time under the period of the Maccabees, but the kingdom would remain gone for thousands of years.  (Even until today.  The nation of Israel is independent, but it is not a kingdom.)  But God promised a kingdom…and not just any kingdom, but “the throne of David.

From an outside perspective, this would seem to be impossible.  How could the throne of David be restored?  Beyond the troubles of remaking the modern nation of Israel into the kingdom of Israel (in the midst of a Muslim land), how would you first even discover the rightful heir – the person of David’s line to sit on the throne?  Far too much has happened in history – there would be no way to identify a person of David’s physical descent, much less the exact line that should inherit the throne in Jerusalem.

Yet this is exactly what is promised by God, and this is exactly what God will perform.  This is not something that was fulfilled at Jesus’ 1st Coming, but it was certainly previewed.  The King was born, in that the Son had been given.  The magi knew a King had been born, though they likely knew very little about Him.  The King HAD been born, and He was of the correct lineage of David.  Jesus is a physical descendent of David by Mary, and He is the legal heir to the throne through Joseph’s adoption.  It would be impossible to find the rightful heir today, but God has already done it.  The King of Israel has been born, and He still lives.  All that awaits now is the timing of God for this King to return and re-establish His Kingdom.  That is exactly the promise of the 2nd Coming.

Third, Immanuel’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness. He will “order and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.”  This was quite the contrast with the kingdom of Ahaz.  Ahaz was a political compromiser who attempted to bribe his enemies.  He had no respect for the holiness of God, and even built a pagan altar within the Jerusalem Temple.  Not so with this future King.  Immanuel would be the very picture of justice and righteousness.  His kingdom would not have a hint of falsehood in it, from its foundation even into eternity.

This can be difficult for us to imagine today.  Can you a picture a nation led by Someone perfectly righteous?  Someone who cannot be bought with a bribe, nor willing to compromise His principles (which perfectly reflect the righteous judgment of God)?  It doesn’t matter which political party you most agree with, a person like that is difficult to find!  Yet He has already been found.  His name is Jesus. 

And better yet, this perfectly righteous King is not only the King of the Jews, but He is the King of all the world.  What Isaiah describes is a kingdom in which WE will live.  Those who believe upon Jesus now will live in the kingdom of Jesus later.  We already know this Righteous King through faith, but one day will experience the reign of this Righteous King in our flesh.

How will it all take place?  That takes us to the end of the prophecy. 

Fourth, Immanuel’s kingdom is instituted by the power and will of God.  “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”  Again, this kingdom is impossible to set up by the will of men.  There would be no way to find the heir, nor any way to realistically remake the modern Middle East into the expansive Kingdom of Israel.  It would have to be done by God, or it would not be done at all. 

But that is exactly God’s plan.  He will do the work, and He will receive the glory.  And keep in mind that this isn’t something that He is indifferent about, or is half-heartedly doing because He has no other choice.  This is what God wants to do.  His zealous will is to bring about the righteous kingdom of His Son and to establish Jesus’ throne forever.  If we long for this time in our hearts, think for a moment how God must long for it in His.  When Immanuel’s kingdom is established on the earth, it will be the grand fulfillment of His plans and promises given to Israel throughout the pages of the Bible.  After the first thousand years, it will be the grand consummation of all things in all the universe.  Everything that went wrong in the original Fall will be made right again.  Every sin will have been answered – every death will be done – every evil will be abolished as God Himself dwells with us and wipes every tear from our eyes.  It’s no wonder that God is zealous for that day!  And it is no doubt that He will do it, and perform the work.

Conclusion:
No doubt some of you are thinking, “OK – this has been nice and informative.  But what on earth does this have to do with Christmas?  Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.”  True – but it’s really more than that, isn’t it?  Christmas is when we celebrate the arrival of the Son of God.  The Son has existed from eternity past, but there came a moment in time when He stepped into time and He came to earth as a Man.  He did it once, and He will do it again.  Of course Jesus has never stopped being a Man – He has remained incarnate since the moment the Holy Spirit conceived Him in the womb of Mary.  But He most definitely will come again.  He dwelt among us once, and He will dwell among us again.

That’s part of the joy and hope of Christmas.  It’s not only looking at what Jesus has done in the past, but it’s also looking forward to the hope that we have with Him in the future.  As Joseph and Mary looked forward to that first Christmas, they looked forward with hope to the Messiah’s coming in humility (His advent).  As we look forward to the next advent, we hope in the Messiah’s coming in victory.  That’s what Isaiah wrote about regarding Immanuel, and that’s what Isaac Watts wrote about in “Joy to the World.”  We look forward to that day when all the earth can sing: “He rules the world with truth and grace / And makes the nations prove / The glories of His righteousness / And wonders of His love.”

This Christmas, you can share in the same hope as the shepherds and the magi: that you will soon see the Messiah with your own eyes.  You will know the glories of His kingdom, and the wonder of the majesty of Jesus.  As a born-again believer in Jesus, you will experience these things for yourself when King Immanuel comes back and sets His kingdom upon the earth.  What a glorious privilege we have!  What a wonderful hope!  Christian: this Christmas, worship with your eyes up, looking for our Lord Jesus, and trust in His soon return.