South Sydney Anglican Church
22 December 2020

Christmas - The Earthly Story

Speaker: Matt Johnson

Bible Passage: Matt.1:18-2:23

Big Idea:      Jesus Messiah comes in Fulfilment of Scripture

Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and over the next two weeks in the lead up to Christmas – we will be looking at the story of Jesus’ birth, both from the earthly perspective of Matthew 1-2 and the heavenly perspective of John 1. So please pray with me as we prepare for Christmas….

PRAYER:   

Well this year – on the back of coronavirus and lockdowns and general craziness I think I’m going into Christmas wondering if A) it really is happening OR is it B) suddenly going to be cancelled. I mean can we SING carols or not? Can we GATHER with family or not? Can we TRAVEL on holidays? Will there be FIREWORKS? Can we still do Christmas as Christmas OR has Christmas changed too?

This got me thinking along the lines of John Lennon’s song Imagine.

Imagine there’s no Christmas

In 2020 it’s easy if you try.

No God, come to us

above us empty sky.

Imagine all the people, hoping in AstraZeneca (duh, dah, da de da)

Imagine there’s no presents,

Gathered round the tree,

no cake or custard,

no carols in the park

Imagine, all the people crying in the dark

Imagine there’s no holy days,

Just endless work and toil

No model for serving others

No hopes beyond this world

Imagine all the people, left living for themselves

You may say I am demented

But not in this year done.

If we lose the blessings of Christmas,

Our world will be as good as gone.

But truly, can you imagine a world without Christmas? Sure, we have other amazing stories at this time of year – like Jewish Hanuka. HANUKA celebrates the miracle that a very small quantity of oil in 200BC kept the Temple light in Jerusalem burning for eight days. The light of God was not snuffed out. Similarly, for millennia, pagans have celebrated – the WINTER SOLSTICE. The 22nd December is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere and pagans gather to celebrate that the sun does not just fade and go out. Again, Hallelujah THE BIG CANDLE didn’t go out either. But both these stories pale (almost into insignificance) compared to the miracle that the God who said “let there be light” became a baby – so that the TRUE LIGHT OF LIFE would continue to shine…

I believe the loss of Christmas would be tantamount to the end of the world. We lose this story the end comes. Today I want to remind you of 5 truths in the Christmas story that we cannot afford to forget…

Point 1:        There is a God who can work Miracles

Show:                    Matt.1:18-22 (READ)

Well, this story takes place around 5BC. We know that HEROD THE GREAT died in March 4BC. So if Herod is still alive it is some time just before 4BC and a man named Joseph has just discovered his fiancée Mary is pregnant. But he also knows he’s not the father. So Joseph has just decided to divorce Mary quietly. At this point it’s a normal sort of earthly story.

But an angel of God tells Joseph there is another explanation for Mary being pregnant that he hasn’t considered. Maybe God has worked a miracle. If you look down to verse 23 – you can see the miracle explained (READ – Mt.1:23). Now this is actually THREE MIRACLES in one. First, there is the miracle of prophecy, then there is the virgin birth and finally the miracle of God becoming man. When it saysthe virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel” – it is actually a prophecy from Isaiah. 700 years before Jesus was born – the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be born to a virgin. Now the idea of true, verifiable prophecy falls into the category of miraculous because normally people can’t tell the future. But the Bible is full of prophecy & fulfillment. So that is MIRACLE ONE.

SECOND, we have the immaculate conception. Mary was a devout Jewish girl – who was still a virgin when she got married. But God worked a miracle to put a baby in her womb without any earthly father. Now I know that we would normally SCOFF at such an idea. But that’s the very point. This is miracle number two.

But miracle number three is in some ways the biggest. The child miraculously conceived in Mary was no other than God Himself. The word; ”IMMANUEL” means God with us. The prophet Isaiah says this about the child born of a virgin (Slide 2 – Isa.9:6). Notice the titles given to the child – Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The Bible teaches that Jesus was actually God in the flesh.

So the biggest miracle of all is not the prophecy or the virgin birth, but God the Creator becoming a human being. THE NAME Jesus means God saves. This is the miracle of miracles. If God was born of a virgin, in fulfillment of prophecy (and some of these miracles are verifiable) – then it means miracles can and do happen…

Apply:          Friends, our secular world is constantly teaching us (and our children) that everything has a natural explanation. NOTHING (not even life) is miraculous. Life (and all that we experience) is just the product of A)inorganic compounds B) coming together in C) the right quantities and D) under the right conditions to naturally create life. But this is not true. Nor is it many people’s experience. JAMES TOUR at Rice University in Texas is widely regarded as one of the leading bio-chemists in the world today. He is a Messianic Jew with over 700 research publications and 130 different patents. This is what he writes about bio-chemistry (Slide 3). Let me say there are very few people in the world with the credentials to say James is wrong. His point is science is nowhere even close to supporting the claims of atheism or the wild speculations of evolution.

Life itself is still miraculous and believing miracles is not silly. Years ago, Naomi and I were told by the IVF clinic at Westmead hospital that we would never have children naturally. After years of trying to have a baby we did all the tests and we were told that there was less than 0.1% chance of us having children naturally. Now I believe that IVF (as normally practiced) does raise ethical issues for Christians. So we decided not to proceed. But nonetheless 6 months later Naomi was pregnant with Ethan. Then 20 months later with Sienna. The point is – we constantly hear stories of miracles. Even the origin of life is still miraculous. And Christmas is a celebration that God is a God of miracles. And this is a good thing – because even when the world tells me there is no hope, I hope in miracles. Every year Christmas reminds us that God can and does work miracles when necessary. Do you believe that?

Point 2:        There is a God who fulfills Prophecy

Show:                    Matt.2:1-6 (READ)

Well the second thing about Christmas is that it reminds us that the Bible is different to every other book on earth. What I mean by this is that the Bible contains historically verifiable prophecy and fulfilment. THE MAGI IN THIS STORY are actually shady characters linked to an Old Testament sorcerer named Balaam. Around 1400BC Balaam was commissioned by Balaak King of Moab to curse the people of Israel. But Balaam said “I can’t do it because the true God is with these people.So instead of cursing Israel – Balaam prophesied about a future king. This is what he said; (Slide 4; Num.24:17). Balaam prophesied that a star over Israel (an astronomical feature of some sort) would somehow accompany the birth of a powerful Jewish king.

Now the Magi were magicians with links to Balaam. So from the earliest days of the Christian church – the Magi following a star and coming to Bethlehem has been linked to Balaam’s prophecy. Origen, Tertullian and Jerome all taught that the Magi came to Bethlehem because of Balaam’s prophecy. As magicians and astrologers – they noticed a new astronomical feature over Israel, concluded it might be the star spoken of by Balaam and then found Jesus the most famous Jewish king ever born. It is prophecy and fulfillment.

Similarly, when the Magi come to Jerusalem – King Herod consults with the teachers of the law – about where the Messiah was to be born. And they clearly tell him Bethlehem. Look again at verse 6 (READ; Matt.2:6). This was written by THE PROPHET MICAH IN 700BC. ISAIAH foretold that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. BALAAM foretold that that the Messiah’s birth would be marked by some sort of star. And MICAH said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. How is this possible? The fact is – it is not possible – unless God – was involved in the production of the Bible. The Bible (both Old Testament and New Testament) shows clear marks of prophecy being fulfilled in history.

Now of course other Scriptures like the Hindu Veda’s, the Buddhist Pali Canon and the Islamic Koran – all claim to have prophecy and fulfillment too – because they are trying to keep up with the Bible. But let me show you just a few so-called prophecies from the Quran. (Slide 5).  Now this is the best the Quran has to offer when it comes to prophecy. It’s worse than Nostradamus AND let me assure you that the Hindu Vedas and the Buddhist Pali Canon is just as bad.

APPLY:        The only sacred book that has clear, specific prophecies that are obviously fulfilled in history is the Bible. THE BIBLE INCLUDES DATES and TIMES of fulfillment. It names PEOPLE and PLACES where fulfillment will take place. It has SPECIFIC DETAILS. No other sacred book has this mark – because no other book has come from God who knows the future. All the others are the product of demons designed to deceive, enslave and destroy.

But each Christmas as the world hears the Christmas story it is reminded there is a book that comes from God (and can be verified in history) through prophecy. Only the true God can foretell the future. And just as A) the Bibles words about Jesus’ first coming were fulfilled exactly in history, so the Bibles words about B) Jesus second coming will also be fulfilled exactly. The question is do you have the right book OR are you trusting in lies? If you have been following the Quran or some nonsense in Eastern religion I encourage you to come back to God’s book, the Bible, while there is still time. Trade in the inferior for that which is superior.

Point 3:        There is a God worthy of our Worship

Show:          Matt.2:9-12 (READ)

Friends, the story of Christmas also reminds us that Jesus is worthy of our worship. Jesus is God with us, and through fulfillment of prophecy and miracles Jesus revealed He is the true God. Jesus is God – in human form. The very thing Islam denies most vehemently is the very thing we must cling to most dearly.

Islam denies A) Jesus is God and they deny B) Jesus died on the cross because Satan’s sole agenda is to undermine the gospel. The Quran blatantly undermines the gospel message (while claiming to respect the gospels). That is deceptive and we know who is behind the work of deception. But the Magi – who are servants of Satan – recognize Jesus is God – and they immediately surrender their lives to him.

It says they 1) bowed down, 2) they worshiped and 3) they presented to Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are the SORTS OF THINGS that many of us prize. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that we often worship these sort of material things. Whatever, you DEDICATE your life to, give your TIME and ENERGY towards and make SACRIFICES for – that is the thing you worship. Some of us it is career. For others of us it is family. For some it is fame and for others it is just blatant materialism. Whatever we think will MAKE US HAPPY and GIVE MEANING to our lives is the thing we tend to worship. Think about it – if a person was to examine your life – what you give your time to; your energy to, your money to and what you love – would they naturally conclude that you worship Jesus or something else?

Apply:          With the coming of Jesus – the Magi recognized there was someone bigger than Satan and more important than gold, frankincense and myrrh they needed to bend the knee to. Someone to whom they must surrender their life – the Lord Jesus. Have you done this? OR are you still giving yourself to the worship of something else, something less meaningful and less satisfying? Perhaps you need to come back and lay down your treasures once more, sincerely declaring; “Jesus I need you more than anything this world has to offer.” Christmas reminds us that of all the supposed Messiah’s of this world – Jesus alone is the true object of our worship and God the Father is most pleased when we bend the knee to Him and Him alone. 

Point 4:        There is a God putting an end to Evil (& wiping away every tear)

Show:          Matt.2:16-18 (READ)

Christmas reminds us that there is still much evil and sadness in this world because of sin. King Herod was a psychopath. We have no external historical record of King Herod killing the babies of Bethlehem. It’s only recorded in the Bible. But it is true to form. Herod killed several of his own children and some of his wives. On his death bed – he was so worried Jerusalem would celebrate his death – he ordered that all the leaders of Jerusalem be rounded up and killed (as he himself died) to ensure there was mourning in Jerusalem to mark his death. Thankfully, that order was not carried out. But Josephus tells us it was given. Herod was a narcissistic, evil man who didn’t want to surrender the throne even to the true king.

Herod would sooner kill all the babies of Bethlehem than surrender the throne to the rightful King. Sadly though, Herod is not the only evil narcissist in this world. The Bible says that all of us are prone to selfishness AND this selfishness leads us to inflict suffering on others in our desire to get ahead or stay on top. But Jesus is God’s plan to solve this very problem. (GOSPEL) Ultimately, as Jesus grows up – he goes to the cross and dies – for the sin of the world. The penalty for sin is eye for eye, tooth for tooth and life for life. For every hurt we have caused to others there should be a corresponding hurt given to us. But Jesus died on the cross to take the penalty for us. He died to save us. He died for us because he loves us. And as you truly grasp what Jesus did for you – the problem of narcissism is gradually solved. As you gaze upon the cross (and grasp what Jesus did for you) self-love is replaced with love for Jesus. (And in that instant the whole problem of humanity gets a whiff of hope, a whiff of fresh air). Thankfully, the story of Jesus ends in Revelation with God wiping away our every tear – for the old order of narcissism is gone. Each year – the story of Christmas lifts my spirit and gives my soul reason to hope (as I am reminded God thinks of others more than himself). The birth of Jesus reminds me that God is committed to fixing the problem of narcissism.

Point 5:        There is a God who wants a Relationship with us

Show:                    Matt.2:19-23 (READ)

Well I NOTICED SOMETHING in the preparation of this sermon that I’d never seen before. In Matthew the story of Jesus’ birth is given entirely from JOSEPH’S perspective. 1) The angel appears to Joseph and tells him to marry Mary. 2) It is Joseph who is told by God to take his family to Egypt and 3) it is Joseph who is told by God when it is safe to return. In each case Joseph trusts and obeys God – in pretty extraordinary circumstances. By contrast Luke’s gospel is all MARY. 1) The angel appears to Mary and talks immaculate conception. 2) It’s Mary who goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. 3) Its Mary who wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes and after the shepherds worship Jesus – we are told 4) Mary stored up all these things in her heart. Matthew emphasizes Josephs relationship with God and Luke emphasizes Mary’s relationship with God.

Now I need to give this observation more thought. But the first thing I notice is that both Joseph and Mary had a real relationship with God. God guided both of them through difficulty. God told them both to do certain things – and they obeyed Him. And God used two hillbillies from Galilee for His glory – as they trusted Him. Joseph and Mary may have been nobodies, but they both had a dynamic, living relationship with God – where they were guided by knowledge of God’s Word and promptings of God’s Spirit.

Apply:          The Christmas story reminds us that the God of the Bible wants to have such a relationship with all His children. He wants us to WORSHIP Him. But He wants us to also TRUST Him, LISTEN to Him and OBEY him. In fact, the very reason God became the man Jesus Christ, lived amongst us, died for us and then rose again – was to restore us in real relationship with Himself. What Joseph and Mary had with God (as faithful Jews) is now available to everyone through faith in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to be afraid of God anymore – because your sins have been paid for.

And we don’t need dreams and angelic visitations to know what God wants us to do – because God has now revealed what he wants us to do in Jesus. He wants you to trust Jesus and follow Jesus. Friends, do you believe Jesus is God? Do you believe He died for you in fulfillment of prophecy? Do you love Jesus for saving you? Will you lay down your life in worship of Jesus? Do you want a relationship with your Creator, that begins now and lasts forever – as you trust in Jesus? This is the story of Christmas and herein lies the hope of humanity. This is the true light that cannot go out – until all that Christmas promises gives way to all the fulfilled hopes of man. Imagine there’s no Christmas – no thankfully, I can’t…

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