21 December 2007

"God and Sinners Reconciled"

This is the time of year that many stores, many businesses prepare for all year long. No matter how they do during the other 11 months, they always gear up for Christmas. They plan out their sales, they may hold some products back until this time, and get everybody worked up and hyped up about these new things. What is it we start hearing around the end of October, beginning of November? “So, what’s going to be the hot new thing this Christmas?” One year it’s Cabbage Patch Kids. One year it’s iPods. It might be a Tickle Me Elmo, or the new Playstation. But every year, it’s really the same thing: “What is it that you have to get this Christmas?” Why do we let these businesses—who really don’t care about what you want; they only care about making you want what they want you to want so they can make more money—why do we let them tell us what we should want?

These places plan all year to make you want to shop at their stores. For things that will pass away. Things that are but a vapor. Things that really aren’t that important. But guess what? There is someone who was planning something for you even before the earth was formed. Someone who saw you, who knew who you were going to be, who knew everything about you—and who knew what you would need more than anything else in all the world. Before He even formed the Earth. And He planned on giving you a gift that will never grow old, will never go out of style, that cannot be bought, cannot be earned —and cannot be lost, returned or taken away.

That is the gift of reconciliation. We are at that time of year when we celebrate the entrance of Jesus Christ—the eternal, sinless, spotless Son of God; the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—as we celebrate His entrance into this world of corruption, death, sickness, disease, greed, and all other sorts of uncleanness, this subject of reconciliation is one that, if we study it properly, will cause us to look at this as the great gift that it is. Because let’s face it. When it comes to giving gifts, no one is better at that sort of thing than God. Matthew 7:7-11—"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" This reconciliation is something we don’t even have to ask for! Which is a good thing, too, because we don’t know enough to ask for it.

Now, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with Christmas, and Jingle Bells and Ho Ho Ho and all that stuff. That's my point. Celebrating the birth of Christ is not about stuff. It’s not about Rudolph and his shiny red nose. It ain't about Jack Frost and sleigh bells and it sure ain't about no Santa Claus. It’s about celebrating the fact that, as Paul said in Romans 5:8, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That, as he said in Ephesians 2:12-13, we had no hope, and we were without God in this world. And that in Christ Jesus we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. And we should celebrate the fact that, as Isaiah prophesied, a child was born of a virgin, and His name was Immanuel, God with us. We're going to look at this reconciliation, made possible by the entrance of Jesus Christ into this world.

Consider the words of the Christmas carol, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." If you were to just listen to the words—it's like one Bible passage right after another. You know, that's the mark of a great hymn, or a great worship song. It's not about whether it's the right melody or the right musical style, or the right tempo. It’s not about whether the drummer and guitar are in perfect time. If we were to just simply read the words of this song, without the music, we would find the gospel—THE gospel of Christ!

Hark the herald angels sing/"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled (Col. 1:20)"
Joyful, all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies
with the angelic host proclaim/"Christ is born in Bethlehem" (Luke 2:11)

Christ by highest heav'n adored (Neh. 9:6)/Christ the everlasting Lord! (Psalm 90:2)
Late in time behold Him come (Gal. 4:4)/Offspring of a Virgin's womb (Luke 1:35)
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see (Col. 2:9)/Hail the incarnate Deity (John 1:14)
Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel (Isaiah 9:6)

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! /Hail the Son of Righteousness! (Mal. 4:2)
Light and life to all He brings (John 1:4)/Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by (Php. 2:6)/Born that man no more may die (John 3:16)
Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth (John 3:3)
Hark! The herald angels sing/"Glory to the newborn King!"

I think we're done here. There are two lines in that song we should really focus on today, and the first is "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the Incarnate Deity." Let's look at this first chapter that John writes to us. John 1:1-3. This passage, more than almost any other, proves the deity—or, Godness—of Christ. Look at this. Nothing was made that was not made by Him. What does it say in the very first verse in Genesis? Genesis 1:1. What does it say? There are all kinds of mental gymnastics people try to go through to make these two verses make sense according to their own beliefs. I could go on about how Jehovah's Witnesses do that. But there's no getting around it--Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God. That Word created all things. All things were created by God. Put all these together, add them up, do the math, there is only one conclusion you can make—that Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, was indeed fully and completely—God!

Now, look at John 1:4-5. We are, by nature, children of the dark. Ephesians 2:3 says we were by nature children of wrath Many times in Isaiah, he talks about those who don’t know the Lord as being in darkness. But Jesus came to bring us light. And even better, He came to bring us life. And it was that life that was the light of men.

John 11:25—"I AM the Resurrection and the LIFE."
John 14:6—"I AM the Way the truth and the LIFE."

Can a blind man make himself see? Can he open his own eyes, so that he will no longer be blind? Can a dead man raise himself up out of his own grave? Did Lazarus get up on his own? Or did he have to have Jesus call out "Lazarus, come forth!" No man, not even the mightiest of angels, could do what Jesus came to do. He didn’t just come to make a few sick people well. He didn’t just come to make a few blind men see. He could have done that from His throne in Heaven. He came to bring us light. Because what we thought was light was darkness. What we though was life was death. What we thought was salvation was really condemnation. And on that third day, He didn’t have to have someone call Him out of the tomb—He got up and walked out all on His own. John 10:18—“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” And on that third day, He took it again.

Because Jesus came, bringing life, bringing light. Not destroying the Law, but fulfilling it. To show us just how lost we really are. And in John 1:14, we see the entrance of Christ into the world. The Word of God. Very God of Very God. Not made, not created. Having no beginning, and no end. The Eternal God. Became flesh. He did not stop being God. He wrapped Himself in flesh so that He could understand our trials and our temptations and our afflictions. After all, how else could an Almighty, omnipotent, all-powerful, perfect God, who otherwise could never know pain or hunger or temptation—how else could He know these things and understand these things, unless He took on our form, our flesh, to be our King, our Prophet, our Priest?
Hebrews 2:17-18—Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation [satisfaction, reconciliation] for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
Philippians 2:7—but [He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Many people who have lost loved ones dread this time of year. I remember in October 1985, my mom passed away. It didn’t hit me at first. Then Thanksgiving rolled around. I did not know the Lord. I did not know the comfort and consolation He came to bring. I did not know that He has given the ministry of consolation to all who are His.

2nd Corinthians 1:3-5—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

A God that could not otherwise be tempted, or feel pain, or hunger, or any of the things we feel, had to wrap Himself in flesh like us so He could identify with our sufferings. Because we have a Great High Priest who has been a partaker of those sufferings. So when someone says that God doesn’t know how they feel—yes, my friend, He truly does. Because He has gone through the same sufferings. Shortest verse of the Bible? Two words. John 11:35—"Jesus wept." Two words. These two words show that Jesus was not only fully and completely God—but He was indeed, fully human. Jesus wept. Nuff said.

The Word was made flesh so He could reconcile us to Himself. What did we sing in the first part of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"? Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled. Let's look at Colossians 1. Apart from the gospels, the first two chapters of Colossians give us one of the clearest New Testament pictures of just who Christ really was. What the Book of Isaiah did in pointing forward to Christ, Colossians does in pointing back to Christ.

Colossians 1:15-22—He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight…

That's a lot of stuff to think about. God and sinners reconciled. Is there somebody that has wronged you? Is there someone that you haven’t spoken to in years because of some perceived wrongdoing? Or because they hurt your pride? From 1991 until 2004, I never spoke a civil word with my oldest sister. Because of a misunderstanding about something stupid. I would cringe whenever I even thought about her, or heard her name. At our father's funeral, we were in the same room together for only the second time in 7 years. Some said they could feel the tension, that you could cut it with a knife. I hate to think what would have happened if we had crossed the other’s path that day.

Without Christ Jesus that would be our relationship with God. He cannot allow sin to dwell with Him. He cringes, and is unspeakably angered, every time He sees us lie and murder and steal and commit adultery and blaspheme His name. It's like sticking our finger in His eye. And I shudder to think where I would have wound up if He had not revealed His grace to me by causing me to fear Him, and beg for His forgiveness. And just as my sister and I have reconciled with each other, so God has reconciled those who believe with Himself. How? Through the blood of the Cross of Christ. Not through our good deeds. Not through our keeping of the OT Law. Ephesians 2:8-9 is a passage that gets stamped on the head of everyone who joins a Baptist church. And for good reason. Because in these verses, the apostle Paul shows us that the reconciliation he talked about in Colossians did not start on our end. It began with God. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Forget Circuit City. Forget Best Buy, or Kohl’s or Belk’s. God gave us the greatest gift that has ever been given when He gave us salvation through our faith in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And He gave us the gift of our faith, for without God giving us that faith, we could not possibly seek to have peace with Him. No, friends, He sought peace with us, reconciling us to Him through the blood of the Lamb. Through the Cross of Christ.

Now, let's turn to Galatians 3. At the time when Jesus came, there were those who believed that to be blameless and perfect, you had to keep the Law. But the Law—the Old Testament Law, the Ten Commandments and all the rest—was not EVER meant to make ANYBODY perfect. The Law of the LORD is perfect (Psalm 19:7). But it does not MAKE US perfect (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:28; Hebrews 7:19). You see, the Law was not meant to show us how SINLESS we COULD BE. It was given to show just how SINLESS we SHOULD BE, and how SINFUL we REALLY ARE.

Galatians 3:19-25--What purpose does the Law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made…if there had been a law given that could have given life, righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined ALL under sin…before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith that would come. Therefore, the Law was our tutor, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith…we are no longer under a tutor."

This is what Christmas is about. It's about celebrating the fact that one day, about 2000 years ago, God the Father sent His Son; this son, who was one with His Father, wrapped Himself in flesh, in order to do what no other human being in the entire history of the human race has ever been able to do. That is, keep the Law—perfectly; never, ever once, ever even wanting to be disobedient. 1st Peter 2:22 says that Jesus ...did no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth. That is the great Gift of Christmas. Isaiah 9:6--For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. Think about that. Jesus was the Son of God, but He was born unto US! Of all the gifts that anybody could give, look at the gifts God gave us through Christ:

Romans 5:17—For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 2:8—For by grace are ye are saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…

Even the faith that we need in order to believe has to be given to us by God. And when we were lost, and without hope, when we were sinners, and enemies of God, He sent His Son, born of a virgin, to dwell among us, to show us the grace and truth of God.

Christ by highest heav'n adored/Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come/Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel

Then look a little further on in this passage in Galatians. Galatians 4:4-7--But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Now, before I get to the adoption part, we need to look at this part in verse 4 that says He was "born of a woman." This is extremely important. Extremely important. There are many, many misunderstandings, and perhaps even more heresies being taught about this aspect of Christ's birth. Some people are trying to say that the word "virgin" is a mistranslation, and that Mary was not a "chaste" virgin. Again, Scripture is very clear on this.

Why is this so important? Why is the virgin birth of Christ a doctrine that we should never, ever compromise on? Well, in Genesis 3, when Eve is deceived by Satan and eats the fruit, that was NOT what brought sin and death into the world. When you read this passage, it is only after Adam eats that their eyes were opened, and they saw they were naked, and were ashamed, and THEN sin came into the world. It was Adam's sin that caused the fall of all mankind. Now, that sin was passed down from ADAM, not Eve. That sin is passed down through fathers. Because "seed", in the Bible, comes from the father.

But in Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent, I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. This of course is the first prophecy about Christ. In order for Christ to be born without sin, He could not be the seed of a MAN. He had to be the seed of a WOMAN. Otherwise, He would have been born with a sinful nature. In Matthew’s account of the gospel, he lists the earthly ancestors of Jesus through Joseph's side of the family. Now if you read the genealogies in the Bible, they all say that the children were begotten by the father. But listen to what the apostle says in Matthew 1:16—And Jacob begat Joseph--the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Jesus was born of Mary, He was not begotten of Joseph. He was the only begotten son of God. He was born with no earthly biological father. Therefore, He did not have the sinful nature we are all born with.

Another gift He gave us in all this was not just that He came to dwell among us as a whole. He came that He may dwell within each one of us individually. God did not just come to walk in this whole mass of humanity. He came—and continues to make entrance—into this world of corruption, and finds His way into the hearts of every single individual that belongs to Him. 1st Corinthians 6:19—Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

Forget the shopping malls, forget Wal-Mart—they're overcrowded. Don’t worry about how much money you have to spend to give your kids a "good Christmas." Because it's not about stuff. It's not about lights. It's not about material things at all. Christmas is about the Word made flesh, who dwelt among men, full of grace and truth. He came to bring us the light of life. He came—the one who is the image of God, who created all things, who holds all things together—when mild He laid His glory by/Born that man no more may die. To reconcile all things to God. To fulfill the Law, which could make no man perfect. That Law that was given so that when the promised Messiah would come, we would know Him. That Law was a teacher—but Christ has come, we are no longer bound by that teacher. We don’t become perfect by keeping the commandments of that Law, but if we are perfect we will seek to keep the commandments of that Law.

I love to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Of course, the best part is when Charlie Brown screams, "Is there anybody here who knows what Christmas is about?!!" Linus comes up and says, “Sure I do, Charlie Brown. Lights please.”—

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men."

That's what Christmas is about, Charlie Brown.

It's about Jesus.
He was King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet He came as an infant.
He was the King of Glory in Heaven. Yet He was born in a stable.
He had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
Had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.

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