THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST (11) – THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
During the Sunday service, Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled ‘The First Christmas’. The main scriptures were taken from the Book of Isaiah and Luke. “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel… “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Is 7:14; 9:6, 7). “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. “There were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Lk 2:7-14).
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS – PROPHECY FULFILLED
This is the season we celebrate the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are more than 500 prophesies in the Old Testament that refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Messiah. The Doctrine of Incarnation says that The Eternal Son of God became Man to save man. In Latin, the word ‘incarnation’ means to become flesh. Simply said: “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). The Second Person of the Holy Trinity took to Himself full humanity. Without ceasing to be God, He became Man. He is the only One with Two full complete and perfect Natures, Divine and Human. He did that so that He can die as a Substitute for sinful men, to save them. Jesus clearly may be seen as the eternal Son of God who, in the Incarnation, set aside His privileged position at the Father’s right hand (but not His deity) in order to become a sinless human who rescued us from sin by becoming sin for us on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). The Doctrine of the Incarnation is unique to Christianity. No other religion describes their ‘god’ as becoming man to die to save men. In other words, only God could have invented Christmas. Therefore, Christmas is a miracle! These days there is much business associated with the Christmas season. People spend money to buy food, drinks. and gifts. But let us not forget: Christmas is about the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ! Let us thank God for sending the Savior to men!
This is the story of Christmas! Two thousand years ago, the God of this universe came as a man to live among men. The Creator came to live among His creation. It was a night like any other night. But the Baby was not like any other baby. The Lord Jesus Christ was born as a baby to a virgin girl called Mary. He was Man and God at the same time. When the Baby was born, there was no celebration in the world. Few knew about this Baby. Wise men from the East came to worship Him and bring Him gifts. Some Shepherds received the revelation and came to see the baby. But no royal visitors came. The world was ignorant that God came down from heaven. Even so, the world must accept the fact that Baby Jesus is special. He split time into two: BC and AD. Just this fact is enough to make us bow to this Baby! Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Baby Jesus was born “full of Grace and Truth”. But men did not know the revelation. And even when they knew that there was something special about this Baby, they ignored Him, or they rejected Him. It was like that then. It is the same now. Christmas is a sharp Sword. It divides men into believers and unbelievers. What are you?
All the Jews knew that one day the Messiah will come and free them from all oppression. Isaiah prophesied that He will be born thru a virgin. Every young unmarried girl in Israel dreamt that one day, she will be the mother of the Messiah. They knew that the Messiah will be born in the lineage of King David. But no one knew when He will come. They did not know the time, but they knew the place. The Savior was to be born in a “Bethlehem’, a little town in Judah. The Prophet Micah lived in the eight century BC. He was a contemporary of The Prophet Isaiah. He said this long ago: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Therefore, He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace” (Micah 5:2-5). This prophesy was given about 700 years before Christ was born. Luke describes how Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Except for a miracle, Jesus could have been born in Nazareth where Joseph and Mary lived. But God arranged all events in such a way that Mary delivered her son in Bethlehem, to fulfill prophecy. Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Joseph was from the lineage of King David and Bethlehem was his ‘native’ city. The Romans insisted that everybody should go to the city of their ancestry to be registered in a census. Refusal to obey this edict was to be punished. That is why Mary, heavily pregnant, had to go with Joseph to Bethlehem. The distance between Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 80 miles. (To have a better idea, for the people who live in Nigeria, this is about the same distance as between Warri to Okada city, on the road to Lagos). Without any breaks, it will take them 28 hours to walk that distance. They both walked that long journey. Maybe they used a donkey, for part of the road. Finally, they arrived at Bethlehem. But there was ‘no room at the inn’ for them. They went to a stable where animals were kept. In that humble place, assisted by Joseph, Baby Jesus was born. “And she brought forth her firstborn Son…” (Lk 2:7). They were in Bethlehem just for few days. But God was in charge. Jesus had to be born at that place! You can see that God is sovereign among all people, believers, and unbelievers. In Nazareth, Mary had family and friends. It could have been much easier for her to have the baby there. Why then was it necessary for Joseph and Mary to suffer so much? To fulfill prophesy! God has promised that His Son will be born thru a virgin in Bethlehem. God is faithful to all His promises! He can never fail! May we worship this Faithful God, the Covenant Keeping God!
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS – THE ANGELS PRAISE GOD
“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk 2:14). This is a wonderful glimpse of the glory of the First Christmas. It is the story of Grace, God’s unmerited favor towards men. The story is full of joy and wonder, music, and heavenly display. Four hundred years have passed between Malachi and Matthew. The last time God spoke to His people was thru the Prophet Malachi. His last word was the word ‘curse’. The Old Testament ends with a sad note. For four hundred years God kept silent. Suddenly, the veil hiding the heavens was removed and men saw angels praising God. This is a New Beginning. A new Grace is revealed! The Glory of God descended upon some humble shepherds. Suddenly, the heavens opened, and men saw angels. They brought down the greatest Good News to men. The Savior is born! Messiah has come! God has provided Salvation to sinners. There is nothing greater than that! This is the Proclamation of the Gospel. The preachers were the angels. The congregation was made of shepherds, living in the fields. The Good news was not preached first to Herod or to the religious rulers in Jerusalem. No! Grace located the humble shepherds and called them to see, listen, believe, and rejoice with heaven!
The angels praised God! What was their song? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” They sang about Jesus! They praised God Most High! They preached the Gospel with singing! How the Son of God became the Son of Man. Salvation is of God alone. The Almighty God became a baby. Power became weak. There is no greater power than when power is hidden in weakness. Even now, Christmas is revealed as power in our weakness, as joy in our trials. Listen to Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9, 10). In that First Christmas God’s weakness was confusing the strong men. God’s foolishness was destroying men’s wisdom. For no wise man, philosopher or poet could have imagined that God becomes a baby. Only God could have invented Christmas. The man of the world hates humility. He hates it become he fears it. The wise man of the world takes pride in his wisdom. But Christmas destroyed his wisdom. The wise philosopher rejected the Baby in the Manger. He says to himself: “How can a Baby save me, a famous philosopher? What does a baby have to say? What does a baby have to teach me, the great religious leader?” In Nigeria we sing a chorus about this: “Jesus, na Bigi Man-oh! Who no know-am call-am small boy” Funny but true song! At that first Christmas the wise became a fool and the strong became weak. All babies are foolish, so they say. All babies are weak. God laughs at the wise! Let us laugh with Him!
Jesus was born as a baby. A virgin young woman was His mother. She breastfed Him like any other baby. This Baby called Jesus is the Savior! Why can’t they see His glory wrapped in swaddling clothes? Because The Grace was revealed only to other humble ‘babes’, now called ‘the children of God’. Our Lord said later: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Mt 11:25, 26). Grace revealed but Glory hidden from the wise and the prudent. What a mystery this story of Christmas is! God sent His only Begotten Son to live among men and to die for men. Salvation is totally of God. Salvation is a Family Business. Heaven’s business. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:27-31). God used this Baby to shame and destroy all the wisdom of men on earth. Can you feel the power of God, lying in a manger? No flesh should boast in the presence of God! We glory only in the Lord! All men should bow down in adoration! Jesus Christ is the Lord of all! “Oh, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”
What was the angels’ song? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” There are only three things that concerned the angels that night. Later, the wise men came from the East and brought three gifts to Baby Jesus: Myrrh, gold, and frankincense. But that night, when Christ was born, Grace revealed and released three heavenly gifts: Glory to God, and Peace and Goodwill to men in earth!
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST
The birth of the Savior gives all the glory to God! The angels are heavenly beings. They have seen God at work. They have seen Him create the planets. In their presence God created the earth, planted the Garden of Eden, and made Adam and Eve. All was good. There was peace in the Garden. The angels were happy with God’s work. But they were not amazed as it was during that first Christmas. When Baby Jesus was born, they exploded into praises! They could not keep quiet anymore! Why this joy? It was in their presence that Man fell. God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden. Two of their colleagues, the Cherubs, now blocked the way. Man cannot go back to the Garden. That shut gate to paradise remind everyone, men and angels, that dreams died, and hope was lost. The Angels did not know how God will end the love story with man. But now, something wonderful has happened! Behold! God has not finished with man! The Love story did not fail! God became man!!! The holy romance is revived. The praise continues. The praise is even getting stronger. The glory of God is revealed in every flower and in every sunrise. But in this story, God becoming a man, the glory of God is revealed like never before. The Angels knew that highest praise is expected of them! “When He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Heb 1:6). The birth of Baby Jesus shook heaven with praises. It could have been a sad song. For the second Person of the Trinity will miss heaven for thirty-three years. But this sacrifice was necessary for man to be saved. It was the will of God to save man! What a Love! The angels did not lecture men. They sang! With loud voices! They preached the Gospel with singing. Glory to God in the highest! Have you heard of the angels? They are messengers and servants to the elect. They protect the children of God. We are not to worship angels, but we should recognize their ministry and love them for that. Please observe that the angels were not jealous. They saw that God came down to save only men. Jesus did not die to save the fallen angels, their rebellious colleagues of old. Jesus did not come to earth using the glorious body of an angel. He became a man. He wrapped Himself in human flesh. Even then, the angels were not angry. They saw the glory of God in the Baby and praised God for this wonderful Grace given to men!
ON EARTH PEACE
The second revelation was that God sent peace to earth! Since the fall of man, there was no peace, only pain, betrayal, and hatred. Death reigned on earth. Wars killed millions. Just the way Cain killed his brother Abel, many good men died. The earth is soaked with the blood of the innocent. Sinful man on earth knows no peace. Man is troubled and worried. The devil takes pleasure to torment men. But now, this Baby comes with Peace. He is the Prince of Peace. He came as a Man so that one day, He will die on the Cross for sinful men. Thru His death, Christ reconciles man to God. Heaven’s peace has come to earth. The Lord said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn 14:27). The price for Peace is the Blood of this Baby. Herod tried to kill Him, but he could not. For no man could take His life. He was born to die but His hour did not come. Thru the Cross, man has now peace with God, and peace with other men. Man has peace with himself. His conscience does not terrorize him again. “Peace like a river attended my way… It is well with my soul, it is well…” Man can now sing “On earth, Peace!” Shalom!
GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN
The third gift from heaven was God’s ‘goodwill towards men’. Sin has separated men from God. Men were afraid of God. They ran away from Him. But the angels say: “God is Gracious towards you! Come back! Come Home!” Goodwill means God’s pleasure, satisfaction, and kindness. Goodwill means God’s desire for friendship, for fellowship with men. God wants to help man! That is Goodwill! God’s favor and help has come as a newborn baby, in the little town of Bethlehem. Strong men looked down on the Savior. But humble men, like these shepherds, look up to Him! They believe what the Spirit says. They see the glory hidden. May we join the shepherds in their search for the Savior. They saw the Baby Lying in the Manger. They saw His humble earthly parents, grateful to be a part of God’s story. They saw Grace! They saw and they marveled. They praised God. They preached the story! The Gospel. Let us join the angels and praise God! Let us give all the glory to God for our salvation! Let us honor the Prince of Peace by forgiving others. Let us show goodwill to all men. Let us be kind and helpful to others! This is Christmas!
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS – UNTO US, UNTO US
Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah eight hundred years before it happened. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of many prophesies. This is God’s Word: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given!” (Is 9:6). Our Lord is a Child and a Son! Baby Jesus was a child born of a woman. We are told that this Child was born ‘unto us.’ Not every child born into this world is born ‘unto us.’ But Jesus was a child born ‘unto us.’ What does it mean? Jesus is the Son of God. He was born as a Child. He was born for a particular purpose. To become a substitute and to die for our sins. If you believe this, you are saved. Then, baby Jesus was born ‘unto you’. If you do not believe, He was not born ‘unto you’. If baby Jesus was born ‘unto you’ then you too become a child like Him. God shall become your Father. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:12, 13). Even after our Lord died, He was still called ‘The Holy Child’ (Ac 4:27). This is the good pleasure and purpose of God. It is the manifestation of the Grace of God. In the natural, children grow and become adults. They die as adults. In the realm of Grace, time is reversed. The adults become born again and they become children. Our Lord said that salvation is not by effort, money, or education. It is by faith and by grace. “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Because of sin, adults are complicated. They are self-conscious. Adults doubt the Word of God. But children believe without doubting. They rejoice even when they have little in this world. They are not ashamed to sing, dance, or talk about Jesus. Are you a child of God? Are you born again? Then Jesus is ‘a Child born unto you.’ You are a Child of God! Praise the Lord! Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Baby Jesus is ‘a Son given unto us.’ Jesus was born as a Child. But He was also the Son of God. As a Son, He was not ‘born’. He was ‘given’ unto us by God. He came to earth sent by His Father. The Father sent His Son with a special work to do. He was sent to be the Savior of men. He came to live and die for sinners. God the Father sent God the Son. He came for a peculiar work only Him could have done. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). The Father gave His Son. The Son was given. He was given ‘unto us.’ If you have received Him in your heart, then He was given ‘unto you’. If not, He came but was not given ‘unto you’. If you have received the Son, then you have become a son of God. We the believers in Christ are the brethren of Jesus! We are now family! God Almighty is our God and our Father. Heaven is populated with this new creation. All the citizens of heaven, the redeemed, they all resemble Jesus. We are in that number! Hallelujah!
LESSONS FOR US AT CHRISTMAS
*Humble yourself! Remember the price the Son of God paid to come to the earth and live among sinful men! He did not insist on His ‘status’ as God. He did not say: “Must I go to the earth? Must I suffer in their hands? I am God! My glory is Mine!” He did not say so. He humbled Himself more than any man. God the Father rewarded His Son’s Humility by exalting Him above all others. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5-7). Child of God, be like Jesus! Humble yourself! Stop being so sensitive to the insults of others. Trust God for your promotion in life! God is faithful!
*Repent and change! If the Son was given ‘unto us’, then we must change. We must repent of all know sin! In Christ, we become saved. Grace will work inwardly. We start to hate the worldly things we once loved. We start to love the godly things we once hated. The difference will become clearer with time. Child of God, you will know that your heart has changed. Others will notice the change too.
*Be bold and courageous in Christ! Preach the Gospel and Praise God! Have faith in God! Fear Not! Doubt not! If you do not show the fruit of the Holy Spirit, then your religion is useless. It means that the Son was not given ‘unto you.’ But, if The Holy Child Jesus was born unto you, and the Son of God was sent unto you, then why do you fear? Why do you doubt? In Christ, you have overcome the world. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4). Stand and preach the Gospel without fear and without shame! Acknowledge the Grace of God in locating you. Sing to God! Praise Him with songs!
*Be kind to others! This is an attitude of goodwill to men! Be like God! Kindness is a sacrifice God approves and blesses!
*You are a fruitful Branch in the Vine! If I believe God’s Word, then my life can never be barren. I declare that in Christ I shall eat the fruit of my labor! I am a fruitful vine! My children shall surround my table! I will see my grandchildren! I will live and die in peace! (Ps 128).
*Love one another. Be generous and be hospitable! You may invite the Christmas angels one day! (Heb 13:1,2)
*Give God all the glory, for your salvation, your life, your family, for all your gifts, and all the blessings! Many ignore Jesus. But the Grace has opened your eyes to see the truth that set you free. Say it until you believe it! “Jesus Christ was born for me! Jesus Christ was sent unto me!”
Finally, let us remind ourselves that the Christ of Christmas is coming back again! We do not know the say or the hour. But we have His sure promise! And we trust Him! Our Lord came as a baby. He will come as the King of kings! He came in humility, born to a poor family. He will come as the Lord of lords! When He came the first time, men ignored Him! When He comes again, men will admire and worship Him! He was despised and rejected of men. When He comes again, He will come as the Judge of the universe! He will judge angels and men! When He came the first time, men crowned Him with a crown of thorns. When He comes again, He will be crowned with many crowns! If all we have is Christmas, and The Lord Jesus does not come back again, that will be a tragedy. It will be like falling in love and not getting married. It will be like hoping for the best and receiving the worst. But the truth is that Jesus will come again! We should be encouraged! We should look forward to His second coming, when He will make all things right! Christmas is the seed of life and hope! His second coming is the fulfilment of Christmas! The seed has now become the tree of life! God keeps the best for the last! He said: “”Behold, I am coming soon!” Our hearts respond: “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:7, 20). To God be all the glory! Worship the Lord!