Classic Christianity – Christmas P4 (12-24-20)
As you read the gospel accounts, both in Luke and then now in Matthew, of the events surrounding Jesus birth. You had those unique periods of time, where Mary and Joseph and the shepherds heard from the angels, and of Simeon, an 84 year old man and a widow, who prayed to the Lord day and night, and the Spirit of God revealed Himself to them. They proclaimed that Jesus is the one who will save people from their sins.Then you read about His early childhood, and you see very clearly the fallen world will live in. You see a contrast between the proud and the humble. You have those who were truly looking for the promised Messiah, those who wanted to worship Him. The wisemen certainly sought out to bring gifts to the Messiah, with an attitude of truly wanting to worship Him. Then you have the madman, Herod, and the religious leaders, who only saw Him as a threat, either to their position as king or as a threat to their way of life, as teachers of the law, their way of making a living. They had no room in their heart for the Lord.
And when you think of Herod, images can go through your mind about the beheading of children, of John the Baptist, of the holocaust under Hitler and Stalin and all the evils of such wicked men. At times you may have asked, “Where was God?” Where He has always been. On His throne.
We have to realize that God chose to create the angelic beings and even humankind with free will. With that design in creation, we are not robots. God wanted to create life that can choose to love Him, not robots that can only be controlled like a remote control. With that choice, man can choose to be like God, to want to be in control, to want to know the knowledge of good and evil and decide that for themselves. Well, that is exactly what happened in the garden of Eden, and you know what resulted from that. All creation has been affected. We even read about the first murder between Cain and Abel. God sent Jesus to redeem mankind from such a great fall. His love for us is that great, that even while we were yet sinners God sent Jesus on a rescue mission. That is why He was born in a stable.
Now, we look at men like Hitler, and we think, “we are not so bad. Surely God would accept me”. The root of sin is the lack of faith, or trust in God, who is your creator, who supplies everything you need. We have that same attitude in us, inherited in Adam, that attitude of indifference or rebellion toward God. Our hearts are deceptively wicked, and who can understand it. We have to see our wretched state before God before we can appreciate that He died for me. And knowing that He died for my sin, that He also has extended His hand of grace, for fellowship, to go boldly to Him to receive what He really came to give you, the Spirit of God that left Adam because of sin. He wants to restore that relationship that Adam once had with God. He wants that same relationship with you.
So we look at how God throughout the ages has been at work to turn the hearts of men to Himself. You have this unique prophecy that Jesus will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. There will be those who will respond to God ’ s love and those who will not. There be those who will resist the grace of God and those who will humble themselves, acknowledge their hopeless state and come to Christ for life.
Jesus Himself explains what He meant when He said that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Now, that is a strange thing to say. But He is not talking about a physical sword. He is talking about the truth of the word of God, that divides, that exposes the motives of men’s hearts. See, Jesus has to show us our need for a Savior, that we cannot measure up to the demands of the law. For only then will we appreciate what He came to do when He shed His blood on a cross.
You hear today in some many different religious denominations about unity, about everyone just getting along, and just love one another, as if we are truly able to do that in the energy of our flesh, and that without ever failing. But Jesus is saying the truth shall set you free, the truth about yourself and the truth about who God is and what He alone has provided for you and me. If there is no agreement on who God is, and that Jesus is God in the flesh, then truth must divide. That is what sanctification is, being separate from the thinking of the world.
If someone says homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle, but God’s word says it is perversion, the truth by necessity must divide. How can righteousness and unrighteousness live together, meet together and pretend we are all okay? If you want to help somebody, like what Jesus did, you tell people the truth. No one is ever helped by a lie. If someone says that worry is a healthy concern, do you ignore that and let him live in misery or do you tell them the truth. God tells us not to worry any more than the lilies of the field, who are here today and gone tomorrow, and He tells us that we have little faith, reminding us that we are so much more valuable to God than the grass of the field. There is a way to walk in the Spirit, a way to walk in victory, and overcome the flesh. Where is the attitude of someone’s heart? How does someone respond when they hear the truth? Jesus was gentle and humble of heart to those who wanted to know truth, but He resisted those who were proud of heart.
That is why Jesus wants us to come to Him for life. We cannot love like God loves. If we do not have the Holy Spirit in us, then we do not even have access to the love God wants to produce in us and through us. We must rely on Him, walk by faith in His provision of life, of spiritual life. It is just like Jesus said, “He is the vine and we are the branches” Those who are in Christ Jesus are likened to a branch, so that we can walk in the same manner and attitude of heart as Jesus did, totally dependent on God, who was an example of living by faith as the second Adam for us. A branch does not grunt and groan to produce fruit. Neither do we. We rest in the vine, the Spirit in Christ Jesus, to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace and patience, that quality of who God is, and Jesus is God in human flesh.
So all this truth had to be revealed over time to the old testament prophets and to the Jewish people, the first to hear the gospel, and then at Pentecost, where for the very first time people had the Holy Spirit placed in them. That was only possible after Jesus finished the work He came to do, through His death, burial and resurrection for us. So until the Holy Spirit came, truth had to be revealed over time. Truth was revealed to men in various ways, first through the prophets, and even angels at times, but the Spirit of God ultimately revealed Himself to men, as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the Jews of old, and at last through Jesus. The Holy Spirit reveals truth to the hearts of men, like Mary and Simeon, but then fuller revelation came when the Holy Spirit came to live inside of men, reaching even to the Gentiles through the preaching of the apostles. So when you read the gospels in its entirety, you get to see God’s unfolding plan to bring salvation to all men.
This is something we have to understand, that Jesus said I did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword. He is not talking about that there is no peace for those who possess the prince of peace, but there is a sword that divides lost from saved, sheep from goats. We have to understand that truth.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[Micah 7:6]
What religion tries to do is just get everybody together. Then you have your organization and you hear, “Let us all just get together”. If we are all going to get together so that we all have peace with each other, then you have to water down the message. If you want to get unity, you will have to water everything down in order to get unity. For when you believe something to be true, you are going to separate yourself from the rest of the world. That is just the way it is.
Therefore, you will have some people who will hate you because of your relationship with Christ Jesus. When you young people go to school and you represent Christ, you will have some people who will hate you for that. One of the things you will run into is that we have a tendency to want to be accepted, don’t we? But the issue is there is only one person who will accept you, who will meet that need for acceptance and that is Christ Jesus, not your peers. They will just drag you into trouble. But the acceptance of Christ will keep you on the right pathway.
So we have to understand what he is dealing with here. That is, that your hearts will be revealed. You can go to people and talk about God all day long, but you mention Jesus and you have got a division on your hands. Have you ever noticed that? How easy it is to talk about God, as the big man upstairs or the good Lord. We have all kinds of expressions for God, but say Jesus and see how many say that if you do not know Jesus. See how accepted that is to the people you are mentioning Jesus to.
So we have to understand that Jesus becomes a divider of mankind. You cannot compromise that. There is no compromise in the gospel. Jesus is God or He isn’t God. If you do not think He is, then join the rest of the world. But if you believe that is who He is and that He is the Savior of the world and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt He has come to save you, by that very nature, you are going to be controversial and by that very nature, you are going to be separate from the rest of the world.
This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
What does the thought of God reveal to you and my heart? It reveals to you what you are thinking. Isn’t that fun? But that is what the Spirit of God living in you is for. He shows us when we have stinking thoughts. He points that out to us. That is where the Holy Spirit of God lives. He lives to renew your mind on truth and sets you free from the error on truth. The only thing that will separate me from the error of the world, that is constantly bombarding my mind, is the truth of the word of God. That gives us a plumb line. It gives us something that we can gauge whether this is proper thinking or improper thinking, the word of God. You cannot compromise that. So when the word of God is in you and you internalized this word, you have something, and someone inside of you that is constantly in the process of renewing my mind, teaching me truth and setting me free from the error that keeps me in bondage. That is important isn’t it?
That is what Jesus said, “When I go away, I will send My Counselor to you.” What is a counselor? Someone who is supposed to give advice. Do we need advice? I would think so. We all need advice. Incidentally that is what discipline is. Discipline isn’t going out beating the daylights out of somebody.
It says “when disciplined by the Lord”, everyone shutters. Discipline is discipleship. That is where the word discipline comes from, discipling someone. So what is this word of God continually doing to you and me? Disciplining us, disciplining our minds by teaching us truth up against what we are trying to hold onto as truth, which is nothing but error. Do we understand that? It is not a bad word. Now is discipline something that comes on you? Discipline is something that remains upon you. You and I are continually, if the Spirit of God lives in us, are under the discipline of the Lord. He does not sleep. He is always there. He is always teaching you and my mind truth that is setting us free against the error that is also bombarding our mind. I do not think Satan is sleeping either.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Let us go from there over to Matthew 2.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
In the synoptic gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only in the book of Matthew are the next events picked up. That is what took place in between the time Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the law. Jesus had been born, went back to Nazareth. We know that there is now a two year period we are going to deal with here. Approximately a two year period. It was customary to the Jews to return back to Jerusalem on a yearly basis. I am assuming that this would have been about a year later when Joseph and Mary would have gone back to Jerusalem, and probably stayed in Bethlehem, which is just outside Jerusalem. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are just neighbors. This is a possibility that this was a year later. Whenever it was, it was at a later period after the birth of Christ.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
So they were inquiring of people in regard to where is this one who has been born king of the Jews? We also have to see that there is no place in scripture talking about there being three wise men. We sing We Three Kings of Orient Are, but that is tradition, because there is nothing in scripture talking about how many Magi were there. It could have been three. It could have been thirteen. We have no clue how many were there. We just made it up. The fact is we do not know how many are there. But we do know Magi were there, but as far as how many, we do not know.
They called him Herod the Great but he was the most vicious man who ever lived. If you ever wanted to pick an antichrist, he was one. He was a horrible, mean, detestable, vicious human being. So he heard this and he was disturbed. He was also a maniac.
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
Do you think the people who lived in Israel at that time were familiar with the scriptures. They knew what it said. Did they believe the scriptures are reliable? Absolutely. They quoted it. They asked where the Messiah is going to be born. They did not go to Jerusalem magazine or Jerusalem digest. They went to where it told the Messiah was going to be born, and that was in the old testament. So they quoted to Herod out of the scriptures.
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’[Micah 5:2,4]”
Now was that good news to Herod? This egomaniac? “Some kind of king is going to replace me.” What is it that killed Jesus? Job security. “If we allow this man to continue, before long everyone is going to follow him and we are going to lose our place and our position. If this man Jesus, if we let him go on, we are going to lose our position.”
Number one, their position was as teachers of the law. “He is teaching grace. If He is teaching grace, who needs a law teacher? So if we let this grace teaching go on, then we are going to lose our jobs. I am not going to teach grace for I know nothing about it. Besides that if you teach grace, you have to humble yourself and to put aside your education. As Paul said, I have to consider everything as dung in comparison to Jesus Christ. I am not about to do that. I got my pHd from Jerusalem U, and I know the scriptures and I am going to act on those. Do not tell me that is dung. I am proud of those degrees.” We have to understand that job security is much stronger than you and I think. In these particular cases, these were religious rulers who were saying if we allow Jesus to continue, we are going to lose our place. Now, Herod is saying “if there is supposed to be a king, and it is prophesied in scripture, then that means I am not going to be king”.
“If anyone thinks they are going to take their kingship from me, even God”, and that is in essence what he is saying. “If this God of these Jews, think that God is going to remove me from office, He has got another thing coming.” So he developed a plan.
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly
That is how people like that always deal, secretly.
and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
What a hypocrite. “Go find him so I to too can go worship him.” You can just hear him saying that, with such hypocrisy.
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
We can sit here all day long, and pretend that is just a normal star. And you can hear people talk about all the planets line up, and all that kind of thing, but I do not care how you line up the stars, a star does not lead you to a place. So that star was something special that God put up there. It was not something that can be explained by the study of the stars. It was a unique thing in the sky. But that star, or whatever it was, it was something up there that led them to the place of Christ Jesus, and then it stopped. Stars do not stop and start. It stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
Jesus was not born in a house. He was born in a manger, wasn’t he. Then it said that Joseph and Mary returned back to Nazareth after they completed all the purification rites. Now, for some reason, and scripture does not tell, they are back in Bethlehem, we do not know why. It could be they moved back there after being in Nazareth. They moved back in order to be close to the temple, recognizing the fact their son was someone somewhat special, and recognizing Jerusalem was the holy city. It could very well be that we need to go live there close to Jerusalem, and educate this boy in Jerusalem. We do not know those things, and we do not need to know them. What we do know is they were back in Bethlehem, for some reason or another, living in a house. This is after the birth. This was within a two year period. So we do not know when within that two year period, but as we read on as to what Herod did, I would assume it was closer to the one or two year period we are going to talk about in a moment.
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Maybe that is why they get the three wisemen, one of them had gold, another one had frankincense, and the other one had myrrh. That is just like us to come up with that. But at any rate, they all had those things and they laid them at the feet of Christ.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
What you assume took place there is they were in Bethlehem, and instead of going back from Bethlehem through Jerusalem they took an alternate route and escaped Jerusalem for fear of their lives.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[Hosea 11:1]
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Here was Herod, and he learned the time from the Magi as to the approximate time of the birth of the Messiah, the time when they had seen this star leading them to the Messiah, and he knew that if he set a rule to kill every boy under two years of age, he would be sure to get this one. So in an attempt to kill one child, he ended up killing every boy under two years of age.
How many of you have a child under two? How would you like to take that baby and have someone rip him out of your arms and cut their heads off? Can you imagine the lament and heartache of mothers and fathers seeing their children dragged from their homes and killed, for no reason. Just killed! Why? Because of this madman that was so egocentric, that he said, “no one is going to be king with me”. So he goes out and kills everyone. Every one of us who have had children can imagine the taking of a one year and almost a two year old and having them snatched out of your home to be murdered by a maniac. That is what took place.
You ask yourself a question sometimes. Where was God in all this? Where was God when John the Baptist was beheaded. Where was Jesus? These were his relatives. The answer to that is that God was exactly where He has always been. On his throne. When God created man, He created man with a free will. Did he not? He could have created us as a robot. We would just be little robots running around down here. If you were a robot, could you love God by free will? No. If God was going to create a creation in whom He could love and interact, then He had to create a creation in such a way that He could respond to that love and interact with that love. In order to do that, in the foreknowledge of God and His creative work, He created man with a will. He also created the angelic beings with a will. Some of those, one third, chose to follow Satan to this earth, in rebellion to God, right out of heaven. Angels were not propagated. They were created individually by the hand of God, yet with a will, chose to turn their back on God.
So you and I were created with a will. I have to say “Thank God for that”. If I did not have a will, how could I be choosing to love God. How could you make choices? The answer is you could not, just like a robot, just like these things you turn a remote control on. Is there a gamble with that? Is there a gamble with giving man a free will? What is that gamble? The gamble is that even though we are created by the hand of God, we can choose to rebel against God? Is that right or wrong? We have a will today, don’t ww? I can choose to live a life that is commensurate with who I am as a child of God. I can also choose, on occasion, contrary to that. That is some of the things James is talking about.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
True, that should not be. But is that possible? Yes. Why? For one day I choose to praise God and in another moment I choose to blast you? Is that true or not? So free will was given to man. God had to do that.
If free will is given to man, then can people like Herod choose, “Who needs God?” Can a man say, “I want to be God”? If Lucifer said “I want to be God”, then for sure we can too, can we not? Is not the temptation given in the garden of Eden, that you could be like God? You can choose. The temptation presented is, “You do not need God to teach you right from wrong and good from evil. Choose it yourself. You do not need God for those things. You determine right from wrong and good from evil. You control what is going on.”
I am absolutely convinced that is what indwelling sin is, nothing more or less than that propensity inside each and every one of us to control everything. We want to control, do we not? “I want to be in control. After all, if I am the center of the universe. I want the universe to flow around me. Is that not how we are? I am at the center. I want everyone to please me. I want everyone to do what I want them to do. I want everyone to treat me the way I deserve to be treated, wonderfully.” Is that not right or wrong, folks? We are self centered, egocentric and we want to control everything. That is indwelling sin. Is that not what God does? Does He not control the universe? We say, “I could do it better”. I love that song that Tony Bennet did years ago, “If I ruled the world, what a wonderful place it would be”. “If I just ruled the world.” I look at that and say, “That is a good song”. “It kind of describes me”. That is the way we are. We have to understand that. That is a desire that is in your flesh and in my flesh, that is there, and it raises it’s ugly head anytime you let it.
17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”[Jeremiah 31:15]
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