Rising Above the Natural at Christmas

Title: Rising Above the Natural at Christmas

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: November 28th, 2010

Today is the first Sunday of the Christmas season for this year, and so I’d like to begin a series of Christmas messages. I haven’t forgotten about the Book of Galatians, and I hope you haven’t forgotten about it either, but we’ll take a break from that and spend a few weeks on holiday themes. Christmas is a great time of the year to be a Christian, and it’s also a great time of the year to attend church because we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Others may enjoy the holiday atmosphere from a secular perspective, but we actually get to celebrate the season and the reason for the season! So Christmas is a special time of year not just in our society but even more so in the church. I’ll be talking about Christmas the next few weeks until the New Year, so I hope it gets you into the holiday spirit. Today, I’m talking about the supernatural announcement that Mary would give birth to a son through supernatural means, and then how Joseph reacted rather naturally to the news – he didn’t believe it. But then finally he allowed himself to believe the supernatural message and supernaturally obeyed and married Mary anyway. Now one of the biggest stumbling blocks people have today – as they have throughout all ages – to the message of the gospel, the Bible and the Christian faith, is the supernatural miracles involved. Thomas Jefferson, for example, didn’t believe in the miracles of the Bible and so edited a Bible of his own called the “Jefferson Bible” in which all the supernatural was cut out. He thought that was more reasonable and believable. But unfortunately, when you edit out the miracles of Christianity there isn’t much left except a few wise saying and a few moral examples. That isn’t the faith. No, Christianity is a supernatural faith and it requires of us to believe in the supernatural. Now nobody said that would be easy, especially in our skeptical modern secular world where science is seen as all-wise. Today, it’s popular to be agnostic or skeptical, or in other words, don’t commit yourself one way or another to any belief, but to sit on the fence and say, “Well, who knows? It’s hard to tell what’s the truth. I don’t know and I doubt anybody really knows if there’s a God, if miracles happen, if the Bible is true, and so on.” It’s easier to take a neutral position and be agnostic. But the Bible actually demands that we decided, whether we believe or not, whether we obey or not. Joseph had to make a choice in respect to his fiancée Mary, to believe or not? She told him a supernatural account of an angel of the Lord announcing to her a supernatural child. She was asking Joseph to believe it too. Would he, could he? God was putting Joseph to the test, just like he puts each one of us to the test – will we believe the supernatural message of the gospel or not? It’s not always easy to believe because there are so many possibilities of doubt. It’s also so different than our every day life experience and observations. How many of us see or hear angels? How many of us see or observe the kinds of things the Bible reports? I’ve had the privilege to see some of these kinds of miracles, but normally we don’t see this kind of activity in a typical day. So God challenges us today living in a secular and modern society to believe the supernatural, to open up our minds and hearts to powers beyond our world and natural logic. Are you a believer? Do you accept and receive the miracles of the Bible, or are you a closet skeptic? Are you really a doubter in God’s supernatural? Today we are challenged by the faith of Joseph to believe in miracles, believe in the miracles of Christmas. Do you believe? Maybe you don’t believe, but God is challenging you to believe. Maybe you believe some, but not all the miracles of the Bible, but God is challenging you to open your heart and mind to them all. Whatever the case, let’s look at how Joseph handled his doubts and finally came to believe. He was blessed because he believed, just like everyone, including us, are blessed by God if we believe.  Matthew 1:18-24 (read).

First, there’s the supernatural activity of God. Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” God acted supernaturally and announced to Mary that she would supernaturally give birth to a child who would be the Savior. An angel announced the news and Mary believed it. But there was another problem – Joseph her fiancé would also have to believe it or things wouldn’t work out. But when Mary told Joseph about the supernatural announcement by the angel he didn’t believe her. That’s natural. Who would automatically believe such a story? He probably assumed that something bad had happened or that Mary had been sinful and unfaithful to him. He was a normal person who at first looked to a natural explanation for everything. The most natural explanation is that Mary had been unfaithful and sinful, or that she had been assaulted, maybe by the Romans, but possibly also by another Hebrew – and that was the natural explanation for it. At first it seems Joseph put faith in the natural explanation not the supernatural account. God has a habit of doing supernatural things and then letting us struggle with believing them. Does a Christian automatically believe all the miracles of the Bible when they trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior? They should, but they don’t always perfectly believe. I’ve talked to Christians who don’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ but believe in Christ. Now if you are a Christian you should believe all the miracles of the Bible, because after all, once you believe in the supernatural, once you believe that nature can be interrupted by a higher power, then different degrees of miracles don’t make that much difference. In other words, what’s harder for God to do, healing a person of cancer or raising a person from the dead who died of cancer? Well, technically, both require the supernatural, so technically one is no harder than the other to perform if you are God and have the power to do the supernatural. So it really doesn’t make much sense to say you believe in one kind of miracle but not another. Some people say they believe that God can create a whale but don’t believe that he could create one big enough to swallow up the prophet Jonah as the Bible tells. But again, once you accept the basic belief of miracles, then the difference between them is really small. The real challenge and breakthrough is to take the step of faith and go beyond natural reason and logic and believe in the supernatural. Once that happens, Christianity and the Bible make sense. Without miracles, the gospel faith doesn’t make any sense. God is challenging Joseph in the account of the first Christmas, but he’s also challenging us today to believe in miracles, believe in the possibility of miracles, and open our minds today to the supernatural still happening in our day. Whenever a hard-hearted sinner repents and humbly believes, that’s a miracle. Whenever a selfish and unloving person is changed by faith in Christ into a loving and giving individual, that’s a miracle. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that God is still doing miracles? God is challenging you and me to believe. How will you respond? How did Joseph respond?

Second, there’s the natural tendency for us humans to doubt. Matthew 1:19, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Now he was kind about it, but by Joseph’s action – or rather his intentions – it clearly shows that he didn’t believe in the supernatural message of the angel, or that Mary was going to give birth to the Savior. It doesn’t come out and say that he called Mary a liar, but by the description of what he was planning to do, his response, it clearly shows that he didn’t believe her. The story was just too crazy, too far-out, too unbelievable. That’s how many people act in response to the gospel message today, even the Christmas account today. A lot of people are like Thomas Jefferson, they politely disbelieve. They don’t want to cause trouble for people, but they just don’t believe in the supernatural birth and miracles of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead, eternal life, and so forth. They refuse to venture further than natural human logic will carry them. They think if they go beyond reason then they’ll fall into some form of fanaticism. They are unwilling to take the step of faith – and especially, they are unwilling to make the leap of faith in order to believe in the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. People today, more and more, doubt everything about the gospel message. They doubt that Adam and Eve fell into original sin. They doubt that there is a heaven and hell. They doubt there is a penalty for sin or Judgment Day. They especially doubt there’s a hell. They don’t believe Jesus died for sinners, or that he offers forgiveness. They doubt that faith in Christ saves anyone from anything. They doubt the Bible or that prayer helps at all. So how can we reach out to people if they don’t believe? Do we just sit back and wait until they open up their hearts and minds? Do we try to speak to them? Do we just pray? Well, first of all, you can’t ever talk someone into believing the gospel. That doesn’t work, it never has worked for anyone. If a person refuses to believe, there’s nothing you can do about it. Yet we must be patient with them and try to explain the gospel to them as best we can. Then, we need to try to be consistent in our Christian lives so that we don’t give anyone an excuse not to believe. Of course, we need to pray that God opens their eyes, because unless the Holy Spirit opens up their heart they will only accept what their natural reason and feelings tell them. That’s where Joseph was at first, he was going on his natural reason and understanding. He was planning on quietly releasing Mary from the marriage covenant. That was the logical thing to do. We are all tempted to reduce life to logic, but life is bigger than logic. Not everything will make sense. If we try to squeeze reality into our limited natural understanding we are going to distort reality in the process. That’s what atheists do – they assume only natural forces exist and then try to explain everything naturally. That’s how they come up with evolution, that complex life can come from an accidental collision of material forces. But there is a better explanation – that a supernatural being created and has a will for all existence. God has a higher power and intervenes in the world on occasion to assert his authority and superiority over it. Do you recognize a higher power? Do you yield to the authority of one greater than yourself? Joseph was confronted with these questions, as we all are.

Third, faith yields to the supernatural power of God. Matthew 1:20-25, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” In the movie “The Nativity” that came out in theaters a few years ago, it shows Joseph tossing and turning in his bed at night trying to figure out what to do about Mary his fiancé. He was really confused and conflicted. He was planning on releasing Mary from the marriage vow because that was the natural and logical thing to do. Anyone in his situation would have done the same probably. But in the end, with the help of a dream, he came to believe in the supernatural account Mary told him. Now when I look back at the journey that most of us take to come to faith in Christ, it usually involves some struggle at times. I don’t know your story but if you are typical you went through some struggle in believing the supernatural message of salvation in the Bible. Some of you may still be going through struggles to believe it. Some of you still might not believe it. So people are on different journeys at different places in their journey to faith. But struggle is normal and natural because we are full of conflicting forces within ourselves. We are all born sinners, with the corruption of sin through our first parents Adam and Eve. So we tend to be selfish and rebellious toward God and God’s will. We struggle against God and try to assert our own independent will against God’s will. When we hear about miracles in the Bible we are inclined to disbelieve them naturally because we can use any excuse we can find to get out of acknowledging and bowing to the will of God. It may take a crisis in our lives to bring us to God willingly. It may take a tragedy or trouble before we’ll open our hearts and minds to someone greater than ourselves. Still today, most people struggle to resist the will of God because they want to do their own will instead. But fortunately, God doesn’t give up on us and opens our eyes to see the truth and the error of our ways. This leads us to repent of our sins – which is a miracle in itself, that is, repentance. Where we say, “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I want to change.” Then we open ourselves up to God’s will and find that we are able to believe in the supernatural also. It really is an issue of the will, not the mind. If I humble myself before God and bow my knee to his authority to tell me what to do in life, then I find myself able to not only believe but to obey. Let’s use this Christmas season as a time of surrender to God. Let’s use this end-of-year as a time of getting right with God. How many of you here need to get right with God today? How many of you have neglected prayer, neglected God’s Word, neglected to love as you should? We all have to some extent. Let’s make this Christmas season a time to return to full fellowship with the Lord. Are you willing to surrender fully to God this morning like Joseph did? Let’s pray.

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