Archive for December, 2009

Christmas: God Makes His Appearance on Earth

December 29, 2009

Title: Christmas: God Makes His Appearance on Earth

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 24th, 2009

 

“The virgin shall conceive and be with child and he will be called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It’s amazing how the most important aspect of Christmas is often overlooked by our culture in its celebration of the holiday. With everything we hear about Christmas every year how often do we hear about the Incarnation — or, to state it another way, “God with us?” That is what the Incarnation means — God in flesh appearing. Or as the old Christmas hymn states, “Veiled in flesh the God-head see, hail the incarnate deity.” Now how can it be that in all our culture’s celebrating of Christmas that it neglects to emphasize the Incarnation? Isn’t it because the celebration has become so big and the culture so diverse that there is a conscious effort not to offend anyone who might be offended at the claim Jesus was God in the flesh? For example, to Jews who don’t believe in the truths of Christianity, teaching that Jesus is God is offensive. Muslims also dispute the Incarnation; they deny that Jesus is divine; instead, they make him just another prophet, not even as important as their hero Mohammed. Then there are the secularists who ridicule all faiths who resent all theology of any kind; they wouldn’t want to be obligated to celebrate a holiday which they consider unreasonable or illogical like the Incarnation. God, they say, probably doesn’t exist, but even if he did, he wouldn’t appear on earth, especially as a baby born and then grow up in the typical way. So the humanists and secularists would object to any celebration of Christmas that emphasized the Incarnation of Christ. But as Christians, we must celebrate Christmas for what it really is, not for what is politically correct in a diverse secular culture. The truth is, the Christmas holiday is about the birth of God the Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It’s about the birth of God as man who came to save us from our sins in a way only he could save us. Now that doesn’t mean that his identity was known from the beginning or understood fully even by his Mother Mary or father Joseph or by anyone at the time. The truth of Christ’s Incarnation was slowly revealed little by little. Probably the Wise Men or Magi didn’t understand that they were visiting God-in-the-flesh; they only understood him to be a great king and leader. The shepherds probably didn’t understand that the baby Jesus was the Incarnate Word of God; they only understood him as the Savior Messiah that would save people from their sins. Certainly the people who knew Jesus as a child and young man in Nazareth didn’t see him as the Lord God. All of this would make sense later. But the fact that people didn’t or couldn’t fully grasp his true identity didn’t stop him from being God in the flesh. It’s the same for us today; even though our culture won’t give him his full honor and glory in being God, we, on the other hand, should worship him as fully God and fully man. We should celebrate Jesus for who he really is at Christmas. The Christmas season is for celebrating the Incarnation of God on earth. As difficult as it is to grasp, God visited our planet for 33 years, starting with the baby’s birth in Bethlehem and ending with the man Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Christmas marks the beginning of that Incarnation. Let me say a few things about the Incarnation. (more…)

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Why the Shepherds?

December 14, 2009

Title: Why the Shepherds?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 13th, 2009

Over the last few weeks I’ve talked about the peculiar way God chose the most unlikely characters to use in the fulfillment of the first Christmas. I first talked about Mary, an unmarried, poor, Jewish girl who God chose to be the mother of the Lord Jesus. I then talked about the Magi, men from the East who followed a star all the way to Bethlehem. This week I’d like to talk about another peculiar group God chose to be a part of the Christmas scenario — the shepherds. Perhaps this is the strangest group of all because in the case of Mary and the Magi, at least we can see some logical reasons why God might have chosen them. For example, in the case of Mary, she was a very pious and faithful young woman who would glorify God and not herself in giving birth to the Messiah Jesus. God chose a woman who wouldn’t steal the glory from him and his son by claiming to be something special or great because of her role in the Nativity event. Or in the case of the Magi, God might be making a statement that the Messiah and Savior Jesus is born for all people of all nationalities, not just the Jews. Salvation is offered to the whole world through Jesus Christ, not just the people of Israel. But in the case of the shepherds, what logic is there in choosing these men? God has his own reasons, and we can only speculate as to why they were chosen, but it stretches the imagination to think that God would chose them to be the first to hear of the birth of the Christ child. Luke 2:8-15 describes what happened, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord told us about.'” We’ll stop there; the story goes on a little further. They visit the baby Jesus and leave glorifying God. Now if a committee where assigned the task of notifying people about the birth of the Messiah in Israel there would probably be many individuals and groups that would be notified before shepherds — if a human committee were to make that decision. Eventually, I’m sure, someone would notify the shepherds, or maybe they’d hear about it second-hand, but I’m certain that eventually they would hear about it and praise God in their hearts. But evidently that wasn’t good enough for God; he wanted them to be the first to know. Why is that? We’ll explore that question this morning. In announcing to the shepherds first, a lot of people and groups were by-passed, snubbed, if you want to put it that way; some VIPs were completely ignored. We’ll talk about that also. After looking at God’s choosing Mary and the Magi, we should be pretty used to God doing things his own way, apart from human logic or protocol. We see that again with the shepherds. Let’s look more closely at the announcement to the shepherds and see if we can’t understand it better. What might God be saying by announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds? (more…)

Why the Magi?

December 14, 2009

Title: Why the Magi?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: December 6th, 2009

Last week I talked about why God might have chosen Mary out of all the Jewish women at the time during the first century in Israel. He chose her primarily because of her faith and obedience to him, but also in order to make a statement to the world that God doesn’t operate according to the system of man. He doesn’t follow earthly, human protocol; he doesn’t follow the worldly chain of command. The VIPs of the world aren’t necessarily important in the sight of God. He operates on an entirely different standard. That should give us comfort because not many of us are important in the eyes of the world. But even though we aren’t classified as special in the eyes of man, to God we are beloved and chosen by him for special treatment, including eternal salvation. The Apostle Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'” God purposefully chooses the lowly so that they don’t get the glory or seek the credit themselves for greatness, but rather they give God the glory and boast of his greatness. Now in the case of the Magi — or wise men as they have been called elsewhere — God is up to the same thing, only with a little different twist. He goes outside of his chosen people the Jews and instead chooses outsiders, foreigners, to be some of the first to worship the baby Jesus. Now why did God go outside of Israel and bring in Gentiles to among the first to recognize and glorify the Savior? Again, God is confounding the wisdom of the world and acting outside the box; he’s acting in a way that no educated Jew would understand. But what was God trying to say in picking the Magi? What kind of statement was he trying to make in selecting people from outside of Israel to come and worship the Messiah? We’ll explore that question today. Next week, I’ll ask the question, “Why the shepherds?” I’ll try to explain why God might have chosen the lowly shepherds to send angels to and announce the birth of the baby Jesus. Again, God’s wisdom transcends all human thinking; we’ll talk about that more next week. It just goes to demonstrate the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” Isaiah 55:9. But today, we’ll look at the Magi in Luke 2:1-12 (read). Let me mention a few observations about this passage. (more…)

Why Mary?

December 14, 2009

Title: Why Mary?

Text: Luke 1:26-38

Time: November 29th, 2009

As we approach the Christmas 2009, I’d like to take a few weeks and reflect on three questions that come from the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ. First, why Mary? Or in other words, why among all the women at the time was the virgin Mary chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus? Second, why the Magi? In other words, why were these foreigners chosen by God to visit the baby Jesus? Third, why the shepherds? Why was this group selected by God for the angelic announcement? As we begin to think about these three questions we’ll begin to wonder just why God did it the way he did. There were other options, other alternative possibilities that he could have used rather than these three groups or individuals. In fact, there are other choices that would make better sense — that is, from an earthly, human standpoint. For example, just to touch on one point that I’ll talk about more later, the shepherds in fact seem very unlikely, if you were to try to come up with a group to announce the birth of an important person. Why not some important social group — Jewish leaders, the ruling council, the leading social leaders or business leaders. In other words, VIPs. But to make the first announcement of the birth of Israel’s Messiah to a group of shepherds, men who were sleeping outside with animals in the field, men who weren’t typically wealthy or influential or movers and shakers in society, why make them the first to know of the Messiah’s birth? In modern times, when movies show aliens from outer space visiting the planet earth, the first thing the aliens do when they meet earthlings is say, “Take me to your leader,” meaning, “Let me talk to someone who is responsible and who is influential and who is important.” But when God Almighty — who is by the way alien in many respects, who lives in a foreign location in heaven, who comes from outside the earth and visits the earth — when God visits the earth in the form of the baby Jesus, instead of making sure the news reaches the ears of the “leaders” he instead tells it to the shepherds. Why is that? We’ll explore that question further. There does seem to be a pattern developing in the way God is operating on the first Christmas. He seems to utterly disregard man’s hierarchical standards and chain of authority. He seems to totally forge his own protocol in dealing with people. He doesn’t follow earthly, human chains of command. Why should he, he isn’t under any man’s authority? Why should he work within the boundaries of man’s order? And he doesn’t; he makes his own agenda and follows it, and let’s humans deal with it. But this activity of God isn’t just limited to the events around the first Christmas. Throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, God consistently chooses outside of man’s typical protocol. And that’s good for us, good for most of us, because there are so very few people on earth today who are wealthy, famous, powerful, privileged — and all the important things the world teaches are necessary in order to be influential and a leader among men. It’s good for us that we don’t have to be those things in order to get the attention and affection of God. God is making a statement in picking regular, ordinary people. He’s showing his unconditional love to all, not just those who are called “important” on earth. We need to remember that each Christmas, God reminds us that we are all important to him just the way we are, and that we don’t have to be or do anything to earn his love. But let’s look at how God shows this in choosing Mary in Luke 1:26-38 (read). (more…)