The Message of the Angels

Title: The Message of the Angels

Text: Luke 2:8-11

Time: December 19th, 2010

We’ve already had the first big snowfall of the season and I’m feeling like its Christmas already. It’s fun examining all of the verses in the Gospels that relate to the birth of Jesus because it not only gets us into the Christmas atmosphere but it also helps us appreciate the Lord and his activity in our lives.  It shouldn’t be the case that the only time we think of the Lord’s birth is at Christmas time, but when Christmas time arrives we shouldn’t ever fail to think of the Lord’s birth. I know of some churches that hardly mention Christmas at all. You probably already know or have heard that the non-Christian cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t celebrate Christmas at all because they say it’s a pagan holiday. Of course the Jewish faith has never traditionally celebrated Christmas, although more modern Jews join in some of the holiday festivities even though they don’t fully participate. As a counterbalance to the Christian holiday Jews have been elevating the rather minor holiday of Hanukah, or the festival of lights, as an alternative celebration. But what I found fascinating to learn is that early Americans, like the Pilgrims and colonial founders, often skipped any kind of Christmas celebration even though in Europe by that time Christmas had been recognized and celebrated. But one of the reasons why the Puritans in early America didn’t celebrate Christmas was because of the way Europeans had celebrated it – with drinking and over-indulging and behavior unbecoming to a Christian. These Puritans refused to get involved in that kind of feasting and festivities because they didn’t like all the extra-biblical activities that the holiday gathered. There might come a time here in modern-day America when Christians begin to take the same attitude towards Christmas, but I don’t think that day has arrived, at least I hope it hasn’t. Yes, there are some Christmas celebrations that definitely are not worthy of anything Christian, such as some office parties and even some family gatherings that get out of hand. That is a sad reality. But if we use wisdom and conduct ourselves decently and in order, as we should at all times anyway as Christians, there’s no need to boycott the holiday itself on principle. But even if we do make sure the holiday doesn’t become more about the celebration rather than the true meaning, still it’s very easy to lose the meaning and the message in all the other things that go along with the Christmas season. That’s why it’s good to continually go back to the Bible, back to the New Testament and to the Gospels in order to remind us over and over again what the point and purpose of Christmas. Today, I’d like to return once again to the Gospel of Luke, to the angel’s message to the shepherds, because it clarifies the spiritual significance of Christmas, the holiday we celebrate. Luke 2:8-11, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks 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.’” Let’s look at the four points the angel makes.

First, be not afraid. Luke 2:10, “Do not be afraid. . . .” The angel tries to calm the shepherds because at the sight and sound of the angels they were afraid. That’s a natural reaction to something like an appearance from heaven, a visitation or vision from heaven. A few years ago I remember preaching a message about this passage where I explained that one of the things the shepherds were afraid of was they thought that Judgment Day had arrived. It was a prophecy of the Old Testament that the Lord would appear in the heavens to bring judgment upon the earth at the last day. These shepherds were probably thinking that day had arrived, so the angels had to calm their fears and tell them that it wasn’t anything like that – judgment, that they were announcing. Of course, the shepherds were probably frightened because of the sudden appearance of the angels, that probably startled them to begin with. Now how does this angelic announcement relate to us today? How does the assurance to “Be not afraid” speak to us today? I can think of many applications for this word from heaven. For example, we live in complex and often confusing times. While at the same time we live in prosperity and almost material paradise and experience a level of life that few people have ever enjoyed on this planet, at the same time we are going through an economic recession where people are losing their homes and losing their jobs and losing their minds. In many ways, it’s hard to understand why people aren’t fully content and completely fulfilled, because of the high standard of living we enjoy in America. But on the other hand, just as Jesus said elsewhere, “Man does not live on bread alone,” or in other words, all the material well-being isn’t enough because we are made in the image of God and our expectations and needs are not only physical or material, but also spiritual. As Augustine once, said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” But I think what I hear the angels saying to us today, and to all people of the world, in the modern world, is, “Be not afraid to trust and believe and obey God.” Today, for some strange reason, there is a strong mistrust of God, the Bible, faith, the church, and all things connected to believing in the historic Christian message. Wild, new, exotic, new age or alternative spiritual messages are easily and openly received today, but the old-time gospel of Jesus Christ is mostly rejected today. People are afraid to believe it, afraid they’ll be disappointed, afraid it will let them down or fail them. But there’s no need to fear trusting the Bible because it’s been proven true for so long, it’s been the foundation for many a person’s life, even entire civilizations have been built upon it. The Bible is the most trustworthy foundation we can rely on. So the angels would be saying to us today, “Be not afraid to completely trust in the Bible and the Christian faith contained in it.” Are you fully trusting in the gospel this morning? Are you trusting in the Bible? Let yourself believe and trust in it; it won’t let you ultimately down.

Second, this is good news. Luke 2:10, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. . . .” Have you ever noticed that most of the news in the papers and on television and radio is bad news? I’m watching a broadcast of the news of the day and it’s telling me about murders, break-ins, accidents, suicide car bombings, and other such things. It’s almost to the point that I have to be careful to not input too much news of the day because it is almost all negative and depressing. We get a lot of negative and depressing news in the world today. In the past, in ages long ago, there used to be, of course, bad things happening all over the world, except people wouldn’t learn about these things, or maybe if they did learn of them it’d be years later, not right now. But today, we not only hear about bad things happening, but we hear about them while they are happening, sometimes live! So it seems that most of the news we get is bad news. Yes, there are a few good things reported, but not usually. It’s the bad things that draw our attention. It’s easy to fall into a habit of thinking the worse. For example, when somebody says, ‘Did you hear about so and so?” What immediately comes to mind, something good or something bad? If you are typical, it’s probably something bad that you naturally and automatically think. That just shows how we are conditioned today in the modern world to think. But it may be just natural human nature to think the worse. Look at the shepherds when they saw and heard the angels – they immediately were afraid, and they probably thought it was something bad about to happen. That’s why the angels had to reassure them – “No, we bring good news not bad.” What a relief it was to be told that it’s good news not bad news that’s about to unfold. That’s what God is trying to say to all of us in the 21st century, that he’s got good news, not bad. It’s amazing that when most people read the Bible, they view it negatively. When a Christian tries to share the gospel to an unbeliever the typical reaction on the part of the listener is negative isn’t it? Why? Because most people think that the Bible’s plan of salvation is negative – we are all sinners headed for judgment – that’s part of the gospel. But they only hear the bad and not the good. The good news is that God is saving us from sin and judgment through the cross of Christ. The good news is that we can find God and have a positive relationship with him. The good news is that God isn’t coming against us now, but is coming to us to help us find the truth, to find salvation. We need to keep sharing this good news, even though people often react as if it’s bad news. We can’t get discouraged and quit and say, “I’m tired of being rejected and criticized for trying to help people get saved. I’m tired of people seeing a negative where there really is a positive.” We need to keep telling people that the gospel is positive, it’s good news, not a negative or bad news. So I challenge you, I challenge myself, to keep sharing the gospel and witnessing for the Lord. We’ve got good news even though our message comes across negative to someone running from God.

Third, this is a joy. Luke 2:10, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. . . .” People today are everywhere looking for joy and happiness. In fact, because of the way our country was founded, because of our Declaration of Independence, with the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” it’s almost a national obsession to chase after happiness the way you’d search for a hidden treasure. People are searching here and searching there, all looking for the elusive thing called “happiness.” But what they don’t realize is that happiness is not something you can find like some object, but instead it’s something that only God can give us. The angels came to bring the shepherds a message of great joy. The shepherds didn’t get joy by running here or running there. That’s the error of our age – thinking that we can get whatever we want, whatever we need, like purchasing a product at Wal-Mart. Imagine a huge store that had products like happiness, fulfillment, contentment, peace, joy, love, and so forth. Well, that’s ridiculous isn’t it. But that’s how people today go after these things, as if they were simply products to be bought. This topic is a whole other sermon, and one I’ve given before in another time and place, but to summarize the message – you can’t get happiness, joy or contentment by pursuing these things directly. You get them as a side-benefit by pursuing God and God’s will. If we live our lives according to the will of God we don’t have to worry about happiness, because whatever we need we’d be given to us by God as we follow after him. For example, the disciples when they followed Jesus weren’t all the time asking Jesus, “Now if we follow you, will we be happy, content, fulfilled?” Theses things just happen and come our way as we do what God tells us to do. We trust that as we are doing the will of God he will supply us with these things as well. But the error of our age is trying to obtain happiness apart from God, by trying to by-pass God in the process. That won’t work, it never has, it never will. Would you like peace and joy this Christmas? Would you like happiness in your life this Christmas and beyond? If so, stop trying to position yourself or manipulate things in order to get happiness or joy. Instead, pursue God and God’s will for your life and low and behold you’ll find yourself happy and joyful in that context. Again, the shepherds were given joy from God by listening to God’s message and then following the directions and instructions to go to Bethlehem. Have you been trying to obtain joy and happiness directly? Have you fallen into the pattern of the world, trying to go after these things as if they were items on a store shelf? A lot of times when people go to a counselor or therapist, they are trying to go as if to buy something like happiness, peace or joy, but it ultimately won’t work, because these are gifts from God to be received not something to be purchased. Let’s remember to find our joy in God this Christmas and not try to pursue it apart from God.

Fourth, this is for all people. Luke 2:10, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” In our world today, lots of people, maybe even most people think that all religions are basically the same. The common view of faith is that it’s totally personal, whatever works for each person. In this view, faith is mostly or totally psychological. So then, under this thinking, all religions of the world, all philosophies, are only as good as they work for the people who believe them. “Does it make you feel better about yourself and the world?” Then it’s working. “Are you tired of your religion, then switch to a new religion that makes you feel better.” But this is not the message of God in the Bible, and it’s not the message of the angels to the shepherds. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news and salvation to everyone, everywhere who believe it. It applies to all people of all cultures. Why? Because it describes the state of humanity. We are all sinners in rebellion against God. Some of us are more obviously rebelling, but others of us are most subtly rebelling, but all of us are in opposition to God. Because of this, we all, every one of us, is headed for judgment and condemnation. The reason I can say judgment and condemnation together is that we don’t even have to wait for the verdict of the judgment because we already know we are all guilty of sin. Therefore, as guilty sinners, we not only deserve judgment, we’ll receive judgment in the form of eternal punishment apart from God. There is only one hope, one prayer – that God saves us from our natural destination. But this is the good news! Christ died for us as sinners on the cross. Through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we are saved from judgment and condemnation. We are saved to eternal life. Why wouldn’t we believe and accept such a great thing? Again, there are many objections, but one of the most popular is that in order to receive salvation we must humble ourselves before God and confess and repent of our sins. People don’t want to do that. We also must give up control of our lives to God. Many more don’t want to do that. Still others are afraid to trust in the gospel because they are afraid they may be disappointed, they may become disillusioned. But again, like the angel said to the shepherds, “Be not afraid. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith and grasp the only hope of the world, Jesus Christ. He will never let us down.” It takes going slightly beyond reason, and using a little faith, because the gospel does take us beyond pure reason. But that’s ok because that’s the way God designed it. Have you taken the step of faith and surrendered your life to God? Have you confessed, repented and given up your sins? Have you cried out to God for forgiveness and mercy? The gospel is good news. This Christmas is a perfect time to receive and believe if you’ve never done so. If you are a Christian already, are you living the joyful life of salvation in Christ? Why not rededicate your life anew to him today?

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