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The Message for the Shepherds (And You!)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve noted how each of the different Gospels draw our attention to different characters within the Christmas story. For example, Matthew draws our attention to the wisemen and King Herod – whereas Luke draws our attention to the shepherds and the angels. Both Gospels are telling the same true story of Jesus’ birth, but they each draw your attention to different aspects of the story.

The same is true even concerning Jesus’ parents. We see that Matthew writes his story from the viewpoint of Joseph and Luke writes his story from the viewpoint of Mary. It’s the same story – but we see it play out from totally different perspectives.

And so for the last three weeks, we’ve approached the Christmas story from three different angles – we’ve read from three different Gospels which have focused on three different characters – Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus Himself.

We started by looking at Jesus as he is introduced in the Gospel of John. And John doesn’t spend much time talking about Jesus’ birth, per se, but he focuses on how Jesus existed before he was even born! He talks about how Jesus has existed eternally as the second person of the Godhead and how He is our Creator. What’s more, out of his great love for us, Jesus choose to become one of us, born as a human being, so that He might live a human life and one day die a human death in our place so that we could be saved from our sin. We don’t always focus on that aspect of the story at Christmas time, but that’s really what Christmas is about!

From there, we turned to the Gospel of Matthew who focused on the character of Joseph. We saw that, while Joseph was indeed a descendant of King David, he did not live a life of royalty. He was just a regular guy – working in the trades, doing his best to provide for his family. But what’s impressive about Joseph is His godly character! Even when he believed that his fiancé Mary had been unfaithful to him and had committed adultery – because she was now pregnant and Joseph knew that child wasn’t his – but even then, Joseph determined to do what was right and to act in a loving way towards Mary even when it seemed that she had been unloving to Him.

Furthermore, we were impressed by Joseph’s immediate and constant obedience to God. Every time God gave him some instructions – even ones that were pretty difficult follow –  Joseph did it immediately and without arguing or complaining or anything. All we see from Joseph was immediate obedience to God. What a great example for us!

And then last week, we looked at the Gospel of Luke to see things from Mary’s perspective! And Mary is another impressive character! Even though she would have been very young at the time – probably 13-16 years old – she displayed some incredible spiritual maturity when God revealed to her that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. I’m sure Mary realized the negative social consequences of having a child out of wedlock and that having this baby now would completely change the course of her life – but like Joseph, all we see from Mary is immediate submission to the will of God.

Luke 1:38 sums it up well:

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38a

Mary’s willing submission to God was clear evidence that she knew the character of God – and if God was going to ask her to do this very difficult thing, then she could trust Him. Even though she didn’t fully understand what God was up to, she could trust that God was doing something good – because that’s just who God is.

Again, what a great example for each of us. As I said last week, it is no wonder that God chose this couple to raise His son Jesus.

And so that’s a brief summary of what we’ve been going through for these last few weeks. Now today, I want to continue looking at the different characters of the Christmas story – specially, I’d like us to look today at the shepherds.

Now the shepherds may not be ‘essential characters’ in the Christmas story – after all, Matthew, Mark, and John all leave them out of their Gospels entirely – but yet, Luke does include them – and their part of the story has been recorded for us in the pages of Scriptures, so there is obviously something important about them. There is something that God wants to communicate to us through the story of the shepherds, and so today we’re going to see if we can dig some of that out!

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Mary – Eagerly Submitting to the Will of God

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the key characters of the Christmas story. And I’m not talking about Rudolph or Santa Claus – that’s a different story all together! I’m talking about the original Christmas story – the historic events that actually happened some 2000 years ago and are still packed with meaning and significant for us even today.

And I expect that most of us are familiar with the events of that first Christmas – how Jesus was born and laid in a manger – how the angels appeared to the shepherds and how the wisemen brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those are all the traditional Christmas scenes that we sing about in our Christmas carols or we display in our nativity arrangements. 

And of course, if you’re not familiar with those events, I’d invite you to come to our Christmas Eve service this Friday as those events will be the focus of our Christmas celebration.

But for our Sunday morning messages as Christmas approaches, we’ve been taking a deeper look not at the events of Christmas, but rather at the characters of Christmas.

We started by looking at Jesus Himself. Who is this baby who was born and was laid in a manger? And what is so significant about that child that we continue to celebrate his birth even 2000 years later!? To find those answers, we looked in the Gospel of John and saw that Jesus was not just an ordinary baby, but was in fact, the second person of the Godhead – the eternally existing Creator of the world – now born as a human being. He truly is Emmanuel – which means God is with us. And what’s all the more amazing is that He came to be with us so that we could be with Him for eternity.

Then last week we took a closer look at Joseph. We don’t read a lot about Joseph’s life in the Bible – he kinda comes across as a minor player in the pages of Scripture, but as we saw last week, Joseph really was a spiritual giant – truly a model of righteous character and faith in God. He is perhaps one of the best examples for us to follow in how to be a godly father and husband.

Now today we want to look at a third major character in the Christmas story – and that of course, is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Like Joseph, she too, is a pretty amazing example of someone who displayed an absolute trust in God. When you consider all that she went through – especially considering how young she was at the time – her faith and obedience to God are truly remarkable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I mentioned last week, when Matthew writes his Gospel and records the birth of Jesus, he focuses almost exclusively on Joseph. He begins with Joseph’s family tree, he talks about Joseph’s dilemma when he discovers that Mary was pregnant before they were married, and he records the four different visits that Joseph had from the angel. But he really doesn’t say anything about Mary. 

In contrast to that, when Luke writes his Gospel, he hardly mentions Joseph at all. He focuses his attention primarily on Mary. And that’s why it’s so great that we have four different Gospels. Each Gospel tells the true story of Jesus, but they all tell it from a slightly different perspective. That really helps us get a well-rounded understanding of really happened.

And so now, having looked at Joseph through the eyes of Matthew last week, today we’re going to look at Mary through the eyes of Luke. So if you have your Bibles with you, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 1.

However, we’re not going to start at verse 1 because Luke doesn’t begin his Gospel with Mary – he actually begins with Mary’s relatives – specifically, a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.

And I don’t want to spend a lot of time going through their story this morning, but let me just quickly summarize it for you so you know what’s going on when we get into Mary’s story. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth have been unable to have children and the Bible describes them now as “both being very old.” Obviously too old now, to have any expectation of still being able to have children.

But one day, an angel named Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a baby and that their baby would be the one to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Of course, every Israelite had been waiting for the coming of the Lord for quite some time now. In fact, for the last several hundred years, God had promised through the prophets had that he would send a Messiah – a descendant of King David who would save the Israelites and would rule Israel forever! 

So this was pretty huge news for Zechariah and Elizabeth – not only where they finally going to have the baby that they had always wanted, but their baby would prepare the way for the future King of Israel!

Oh and one more thing, their baby was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth – and his name was to be John – we would eventually come to know him as John the Baptist.

So with that as the backdrop, Luke begins to tell the story of Mary in Luke chapter 1, verse 26.

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The Character of Joseph

Last week we began turning our attention towards Christmas – and we started, not by looking at the events surrounding Jesus birth, but rather by looking at Jesus Himself. We wanted to answer the question: Who exactly is Jesus?

And so to find that answer, we looked at the first few verses of the Gospel of John which remind us that before Jesus was even born, He existed as “The Word” – the eternal, all-powerful, second-person of the Godhead who is directly responsible for creating everything in the universe!

That in itself is a pretty astounding thought, but then we read John 1:14 which completely blew our minds! It says…

14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. John 1:14a

That is simply amazing! The infinite God of the heavens permanently fused his deity with our humanity and became human. We call Him Emmanuel because He is God-with-us. He became human like one of us. Even today in his resurrected state, Jesus is both fully God and fully human. And why did he do that? He came to be with us so that we could with Him forever.

I kinda like how the message Bible puts that verse. It says…

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14a MSG

What an incredible thought! That God would love us (his created beings) so much that He chose to move into the neighbourhood to be with us!

But yet sadly, most people, both then and now, choose to reject him… As John stated in verse 10,

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:10-12

And that’s really what Christmas is all about! Christmas is about God coming into the world so that those who believe him and accept him might become children of God. John 3:16 puts it quite simply….

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV

And so to answer our original question of “Who is Jesus?”…

Jesus is the Word – the eternally existing second person of the Godhead – our Creator. He is also Emmanuel – God with us – born on earth as a human being so that we might become children of God and be with Him forever.

So that’s what we looked at last week. This week, I want to continue looking at the characters of the Christmas story and this time, I want to ask the question: who is Joseph?

For being such a central figure in the Christmas story, Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, is a little bit of an enigma. We don’t really read a lot about his life story and in fact, as the Gospels go on to record Jesus’ adult life, we actually don’t hear anything further about Joseph – even though we often hear about Jesus’ mother, Mary.

But despite having very little information about him, from the information we do have, we can see that Joseph was a pretty exemplary husband, father, and follower of God. He was a man that we would do well to model our lives after! So this morning, I want to look at the brief snapshot that the Bible gives us of Joseph and see if we can pull some things outta there that we can learn and apply from his life.

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The Word Became Flesh

I had originally planned to wrap up the book of 1 Samuel this morning, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to put that off for today, and instead, I’d like to begin turning our focus towards Christmas. I think Hope and all the kids have done a great job of starting that already as they take us through the progression of advent.

As we enter the season of Christmas, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves of it’s significance. Christmas is not just another holiday. It is foundational to our faith. Without the reality of that first Christmas, we truly would have no reason for hope, joy, or peace! The physical birth of Jesus Christ is central to our understanding of the Gospel. And so this morning, I want to remind us of the significance of Christmas.

Now the passage that I want to look at today isn’t one of your typical Christmas passages. It’s not directly related to the story of Mary & Joseph or the wisemen or the shepherds or even one of the many prophecies in the Old Testament that point us towards the birth of the Messiah. But it is very much related to the birth of Christ.

Each of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) – all tell the story of Jesus, but they are all very different in how they approach the story of his birth. For example, Matthew tends to focus on Jesus’ father, Joseph, and he spends a great deal of time explaining the visit of the wise men and how King Herod reacted to the birth of this new born king! In contrast to that, Luke focuses more on Mary – and doesn’t even mention the wisemen, but he includes the details of the shepherds who were out in the fields and how the angels announced Jesus’ birth to them. Then, in contrast to both of Luke & Matthew, Mark skips over Jesus’ birth entirely and jumps into the story after Jesus was already an adult.

And that leaves us with the Gospel of John – which presents Jesus’ birth in yet another way. John doesn’t really give us any specific, historic details of Jesus’ birth, but rather, he gives us a brief summary or introduction to who Jesus is and then explains why Jesus was born – rather than giving us all the details of how Jesus was born. It’s a bit more of a big picture view rather than a detailed series of events.

And so that’s what I want to look at this morning. In the weeks ahead, we’ll go through the stories and events of how Jesus came to be born, but I want to start with the more foundational issue and that is “Who exactly is this Jesus who was born some 2000 years ago and what is so significant about his birth?”

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A Future of Hope

Over the last three weeks we’ve been looking at all the background of the Christmas story. And we’ve discovered that this history of hope goes all the way back to the beginning of time when God created the heavens and the earth. 

You see, God had set up the perfect system for the perfect life – He would be the source of everything mankind would ever need. He gave them life, He provided delicious food to eat, He gave them an amazing place to live, meaningful relationships, purpose in their work – everything they needed, He would provide. 

And as their source, He would also be their authority. Of course, He certainly gave them incredible freedom – as well as authority and responsibilities of their own, but He was to be the ultimate authority. He was the one to determine right and wrong. 

And that was God’s setup for the perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as their source and as their authority, life would be amazing!

And it worked great! With this setup, Adam & Eve enjoyed life to the fullest as God intended it – and it was sweet. They had everything they wanted. Their relationship with God and with each was perfect and beautiful – Never any conflict or never any strife – it was exactly what you might describe as heaven.

But something happened. Sin happened. Adam & Eve rejected God as their source and as their authority and they took that role for themselves and as a result – everything fell apart. Their relationships with God and with each other was broken. The sweetness of life turned to bitterness and life on earth became painful and difficult. In fact, life for all of mankind has been a struggle ever since.

But of course, God had a plan. God knew this would happen even before He created the world, so all along, God had a plan. And this is what we’ve been looking at for the past three weeks – God’s plan to put things back to the way they were when He first created them.

And all along the way, we’ve seen that God has given us hints of His plan – He’s given several different people several different promises that all point to the same thing. 

But in case you missed the previous three Sundays, let me give you just a quick summary of some of the promises that God had given to various people throughout the Old Testament: 

  • On week one, we learned how God promised Adam & Eve that one day, one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan’s head and defeat sin and death for all time. 
  • On week two, we learned how God promised Abraham that one day, one of his descendants would be a blessing to every single family on earth. 
  • On week three, we learned that God promised King David that one day, one of his descendants would be King for all time.

And as we looked at some of the old testament prophecies, and then as we looked at the Christmas story as recorded in Luke, we came to realize that all these promises were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was the one that God had been promising for some 4000+ years. He was the one who would crush Satan’s head. He was the one who would be a blessing to every family on earth. He was the one who would be King forever.

And that’s what made that first Christmas such a big deal – its because finally, after years of hoping and waiting for God to fulfill his promises, finally, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ was born as a human being and He would make things right again.

But here’s the big question that we were left with last Sunday. If you look around at the world today – it doesn’t really seem like everything’s right again – does it? There’s still pain. There’s still suffering. Satan seems as active as ever. Sin is still around in bountiful supply. Our relationships with God and our relationships with each are far from perfect. 

So… what happened? Did God’s plan fail? Did Jesus not accomplish everything He was supposed to do? Did we somehow misunderstand God’s promises? Or is it just that the story isn’t over yet? Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. 

In our progression through this History of Hope, we left off last week with the angel Gabriel declaring to Mary that she was about to have a baby. And perhaps you came here, on this last Sunday before Christmas, expecting to hear the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wiseman and the manger and all that good stuff. 

But I’m guessing that you probably already know that part of the story and if you don’t, you can tune into our Christmas Eve Zoom party later this week and we’ll be reading through all that part of the story – complete with visual aids provided by all the kiddos! But this morning, I’m going to fast forward a little bit. I actually want to focus on what happened after Christmas – so for now, we’re going to skip the whole birth of Jesus part of the Christmas story.

I won’t spend much time talking about Jesus’ childhood either. In fact, apart from one incident from when He was about 12 years old, we don’t hear anything about Jesus until He was about 30. That was when He started doing all those miracles and teaching the crowds and training his disciples and doing all those things that you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of what happens in the Gospels happens within a period of about three years when Jesus is probably in his early thirties. But that’s still not the part I want to focus on – let’s fast-forward just a little further.

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The Fulfillment of Hope

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is actually  the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus Christ the central figure of the Bible. He’s the central figure in world history. All of history is HIS STORY.

And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Just by way of a quick recap: Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He setup mankind to have a perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. 

But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their source and to reject Him as their authority – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. Life became very difficult and painful for them – and all of us. The consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, but God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.

Then last week we fast-forwarded to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

But the trouble was, everyone of the Israelites was already born with a sinful nature. Every single one of them was already naturally inclined to reject God. Sin was their default. And with that sinful nature, there was NO WAY that they, (or anyone else for that matter), could possibly obey all of the terms of that covenant that God had just made with them. Our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to fully obey God.

But of course, God knew that, and so in that covenant, He gave the Israelites another glimpse of hope. Even though the penalty for sin was death, God allowed the Israelites to bring an animal and offer it in place of the person who had sinned. Instead of the person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), the animal would be put to death in their place. It would take their punishment and it’s blood would temporarily cover their sin.

Of course, the blood of those bulls and goats couldn’t take away their sin, but it served as a symbol of hope – hope that one day, God’s promised Messiah – the Lamb of God – would come and would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.

So that was last week – now again today we’re going to be doing a lot of fast-forwarding – we’ve got about 1000 years to summarize and nearly 35 books of the Bible to go through – so let’s jump right in.

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