God’s Good News

Title: God’s Good News

Text: Luke 2:8-11

Time: December 26th, 2010

It’s the day after Christmas and I hope you all had a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Last week I talked about the angels and the shepherds, and I’ll continue to work that same theme this week, the last Sunday of the Christmas season. You may ask, “Why talk about Christmas now, since it’s over for this year?” Well, I acknowledge that Christmas is officially over this year, but since it’s the day after Christmas and since Sunday happens to be on the day after Christmas I thought we’d sneak in another Christmas message before moving on to other things. So today, I’ll continue to bring out the meaning of the familiar passage in 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 people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Now I’ve already covered a lot of territory in this passage, but there are aspects of it that I felt we needed to go over more thoroughly. If you remember last week, I talked briefly about the fact that the angels brought good news from God, but that news wasn’t initially welcomed as good, but instead it was interpreted by the shepherds as hostile or bad.  How do we know that? They were afraid of it. They reacted negatively to it at first. The angels had to explain to them that it wasn’t bad news but instead it was good news. Finally, the shepherds could see the good news was really good news. I mentioned that this is a lot like the situation we find ourselves on earth today when we hear God’s revelation in the Bible, whether it’s the gospel specifically or whether it’s some other biblical teaching – our initial reaction to it is negative. Then, God has to explain himself to us – or more typically, God uses someone or something to explain himself more fully to us – and then we understand and believe. But it isn’t a simple process from the time God announces something to the moment we embrace it and obey it. That process takes different forms in different people. Some people seem to progress steadily from God’s revelation of himself to full obedience, while other people may initially receive God’s message, but later reject it, then later still, they may or may not return to obedience to God. It’s different in each person. But what I want to talk about today is the process of hearing and receiving and trusting God’s word to us today, using the example of the shepherds long ago. Are you receptive to the Word of God today in your life? Now before you answer that question, don’t quickly answer according to how you should answer it, answer it honestly according to how you really do react to God and God’s Word. As a pastor, I never know how people are going to react to the preaching of God’s Word. The most common reaction is apathy and indifference – people don’t care what the message is about, neither do they apply it or live its truth in their life. Then, there are some who hear it, but disagree with what is said, or reject the message from God’s Word. Finally, there are a few people who actually take it to heart and apply it to their life. The ideal reaction to God’s Word would be to hear it and obey it immediately. If we were all where we should be with God spiritually we would do that. But we are all more like the shepherds who react defensively or negatively at first usually, and then only later soften up to the message enough to think about it seriously, believe it, or act on it. Let me look more closely to this process.

First, there is God’s announcement. Luke 2:8-10, “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.’” Notice that it all starts with the revelation of God. Without God’s revelation of himself, we really don’t know anything for certain. Yes, there are many things that we can piece together from nature, but these things are always hit or miss, they are always disputed by others, and they don’t provide us with the certainty we need to find salvation. For example, we can surmise that there is a God, but we don’t know much more about him than that. We might be able to piece together that there is One Almighty God – that’s what some of the Greek philosophers came up with – but even that is not certain from nature and pure reason. We need God to reveal himself to us for clarity. But when he does it’s not always welcome because it comes like something alien into the familiar world we live it. I just watched again the movie Independence Day, about space aliens coming to the planet earth to take over the place. Everything about these creatures was alien, how they looked, what their spacecrafts looked like, how they communicated, and so forth. They were, well, aliens. That’s how God’s revelation appears to us when he communicates himself to us – it appears strange, alien. But when you think about it, how could it be otherwise, because God is so very different from us. For one thing, God is perfect, the absolute perfect being, the only perfect being to ever exist. He’s also all-wise, all-powerful, and present-everywhere. In other words, he’s a being that’s almost completely impossible for us to even conceive of with our own limited minds. So when he reveals himself it makes sense that it would be very strange and odd. I remember when I was a teenager and I started hearing and seeing things pertaining to the Christian faith, like the picture of the crucifixion and Christ suffering on the cross. There was something strange about it, something interesting, but at the same time weird. Here’s a man nailed to a wooden beam with people standing around staring at him. What’s up with that? What does that mean? What’s taking place? Why is it important, if it’s important? Why do people make such a big deal of it? So God’s revelation to me, the gospel accounts, didn’t make sense at first to me. We can understand why people react the way they do when they first encounter God’s revelation about himself to us. It comes as it were out of left field, not at all fitting into the context of what we are familiar with in ordinary life. That’s exactly what happened to the shepherds. The angels brought to them the Word of God and it came upon them all of a sudden and out of context with anything they were used to. It surprised them. I think that is how almost everyone encounters God at first, through some revelation, from the Bible or wherever, that doesn’t seem to fit the life they are used to. But there’s more.

Second, there is man’s reaction. Luke 2:9, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” So here we have God’s revelation, an angelic revelation, and the reaction of the shepherds was terror. Their reaction to God was fright, but others might have reacted in anger, “What do you mean scaring us like that? Don’t you know we could have had heart attacks? And how dare you come unannounced and disturb us like this? And as for the sheep, now we have to go out hunting for them all because you’ve scared them also and caused them to flee.” That last part I just threw in because of course I don’t know for sure that the sheep took off and fled, but it’s a reasonable reconstruction of the whole scene – that the sheep were frightening just like the shepherds were, and when sheep get frightened they run in every direction. But again I don’t know that for sure, so I must make a disclaimer. But some people might react angrily instead of being terrified. We all react a little different to the revelation of God. What was your first reaction to the gospel revelation as given in the Bible? Was it positive or negative? Were you interested in it or bored with it? Did you accept it immediately or reject it or were you totally disinterested in it, ho-hum? We all react a little differently, but my point is that most of us tend to react negatively to God’s revelation because it’s different, strange, out of context, or threatening or intimidating. The shepherds reacted negatively to the revelation of God at first, which is very typical. The gospel is intimidating to most people at first, isn’t it? For example, when someone today is told they are a sinner, that they displease God with their life, that they are separated from God by their sins, that they are headed for judgment and hell for their crimes against God, most people take offense at that, don’t they? God’s revelation isn’t always easy to receive, in fact, it isn’t usually something we’d say to ourselves. We don’t go around telling ourselves that we are such sinners. No, instead we usually try to build ourselves up by telling ourselves how good we are, how much we try, and so forth. Only God’s Word tells us the truth about ourselves, and it’s not a pretty picture. We are part of the shipwreck of Adam and Eve, the original sin, and because we are sinners by birth, we sin in life, and we run from God and God’s will. We strike out on our own and try to live our lives separate from God. We don’t like to hear that unless we turn around and confess and repent of sin we’ll be damned forever in hell. So today, the good news isn’t heard as good news initially, instead it’s understood as bad news by most people today when they first hear it. How do you react to the gospel, all of it, today? Do you like to hear it, or would you rather not think about it? If you are typical, the good news doesn’t seem all that good. But there’s more.

Third, further explanation. Luke 2:10-11,”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.’” But thank God we aren’t left in our ignorance and defensiveness, because God goes out of his way to explain himself to us. The whole Bible is one big explanation of God’s ways to mankind. Why do we read our Bibles? Why should we study the Bible closely? Because it’s God’s explanation of why he does what he does. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains enough for us to understand enough of God to relate to him. But it took the angels explaining further for the shepherds to understand. Aren’t you glad that God speaks to us in sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books and the whole Bible? We need all those words to understand him. That’s why it’s so stupid for people who don’t read the Bible to criticize Christianity. If you don’t understand something you’re supposed to educate yourself, not criticize while failing to learn. A lot of skeptics and unbelievers never make a serious effort to understand the Christian faith while they criticize it. It’s that way with people who reject the gospel. They don’t take the time usually to check it out and try to understand it, before they throw it out and reject it. And it’s important to understand the whole thing before making up one’s mind about whether to accept or reject the gospel. You have to understand that God created mankind good, but through sin and rebellion we rejected God and still do, which is why the world is in the mess that it’s in. We are all infected with the disease of sin. We all are sinners who break God’s law. God is just, so he’ll punish us for our crimes, and that is called eternal hell. That doesn’t seem fair to some people, but that’s the way it is, what can you do? Argue with God? It’s one thing to understand something and reject it, it’s another thing to remain ignorant. Some people know about the gospel but simply reject it. That’s their right. But God does make the effort to explain himself to us. The angels took the time to explain further to the shepherds, they listened to the explanation, and it made a difference. What about you? Do you have problems with some aspect of the Bible or the gospel? Do you listen for further explanation from God or do you form your opinion and leave it at that? Or maybe you have friends and family who reject the gospel. Are you willing to speak on behalf of God and try to explain it to them and answer their questions if you can? We’ve got to be willing to help people understand the Bible so that they don’t reject it based on ignorance. And there is a lot of ignorance today about the Bible. There is a lot of ignorance in Christianity too. Even in the church. Are you willing to take the time to study your Bible and get informed, for yourself, but also for others who may have questions? You may be called upon to play the role of angel to shepherds in your life, are you ready to explain things? If not, make a commitment this New Year coming to be prepared by studying your Bible this year.

There’s no guarantee that people will receive the gospel and be open to the truth of the Bible even if we explain things carefully to them. After all, everyone must make up his or her mind about what they believe and how they will live. In the case of the shepherds, when the angels explained to them about Jesus the Savior, they believed, and they acted accordingly by going to Bethlehem and visiting the baby. But in the case of people today, there’s no telling what their reaction will be – it could be openness, but it could be closed- mindedness. It could be interest or it could be indifference, in other words, they could care less. It could be immediate positive acceptance, that’s rare, or it could be immediate hostility, more common. I’ve seen many kinds of reactions to the gospel by different people in my lifetime. I have to say that the usual reaction to a careful explanation of the gospel is usually polite indifference, or in other words, a mild form of patronizing, “That’s fine if you believe all that, if you feel it works for you, thanks for sharing it with me, I’m happy for you.” Today, religion is viewed mostly as a psychological tool, “If it works for you, fine,” instead of a matter of truth for all people at all times. But the Bible claims to be truth for all people, everywhere, for all times. The angel says, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” That’s not the modern day view of faith, which is a personal psychological belief not for all people but for each person individually as they find it helpful. But the Bible, and therefore God, teaches us that the gospel is good news for all people who are willing to embrace it and trust it and commit to it. It’s good news for all people if only all people would accept it, but unfortunately, if you don’t embrace it, it doesn’t benefit you. But it initially comes across as bad news for nearly all of us because it accuses us of sin, and tells us we’re going to hell. That’s not a positive description, so we usually react defensively to it. But if we can just get beyond our ego and pride, if we can listen to the rest of the revelation from God, we’ll find that God gives us the solution to our sin problem. He doesn’t just point his finger at us and make us feel guilty, but he gives us the means by which to get ourselves out of our dilemma – the cross and faith in Christ, that’s the means out. What will be our next step? Will we believe the message of God, will we take advantage of the offer of salvation, or will we not believe it or not act on it? Where are you in respect to the gospel? Do you accept that you are a sinner – that’s the bad news? Do you accept that apart from Christ you are deserving of hell and will go there? – again, more bad news. Or do you work through the negative news and embrace the good news that Christ died for you to forgive your sins and bring you eternal life? Everyone who has salvation has had to grapple with the bad news to get to the good news, have you done so? If so, let’s share the bad news, which includes the stuff about sin and hell, on the way to the good news about forgiveness and eternal life. Let’s see who God will put in our path to announce his good news of great joy. Let’s be prepared to speak God’s Word when he does.

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