The Prince of Passion, Part II
Topical December 12, 2004
The message I brought last week reminded us that the reason Christ came was to ignite our passion for the things of God. His call to repent was a call to passion – a passion that must continually be sought and exercised lest it be lost in the clamor of the world. Christ is not only the Prince of Peace that we celebrate during the Christmas season, but also the Prince of Passion for the things of God through which peace comes. The depth of our love relationship with God is our only source of true and lasting peace. Our love, indeed passion, for God will lead us in continuing repentance. But there is more that we can learn about passion and so we continue with today’s message.
When a man and a woman marry and then a child is born into that relationship, everything changes. Some of you younger parents out there can testify to this best because the experience is so fresh in your lives.
What changes? You aren’t free to focus just on each other or your own interests anymore. You can’t count on sleeping through the night anymore. You can’t go out without arranging for childcare. All your habits must change such as grocery shopping, meal times, laundry duties, type of furniture required, clothes needed, play times, efforts at education, travel times, potty breaks, patience.
It is possible that one would hate this intrusion except for the fact that the child is your flesh and blood, and so you love this child. Indeed, you have a passion for this child’s welfare. Others not of this child’s family probably don’t have the same passion for him or her that you do. And your passion for anything else is somewhat diminished as you learn to divert your passion to what really matters in your life – because this child is now your life.
In a sense, the birth of a child brings division. You must now be separated from others and toward this child. It would be an unnatural thing not to respond to the God-given call to divert your devotion.
So it is with the birth of Christ. The moment of his birth divided the world at that time and continues to seriously divide the world. The birth of the Son of God was the most momentous occasion the world has ever witnessed. His existence demands a decision ultimately to be made by every person alive at the time and every person born after him.
If you are a part of his family (of faith) you love him. You are filled with passion toward him. He is your life. Everything about you is changed because of him.
“Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:11-17 NivUS)
If you are not a part of his family (of faith) then you are ambivalent toward him or perhaps even hate him.
“"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."” (Lu 12:49-53 NivUS)
Indeed, Jesus came to incite a passion that would divide the world, even the families of man.
ILLUS: Tom Cox and his 3 sons in MICU at the West VA Hospital.
We will all be divided. But if you think the cost of that is high here, consider the cost to come.
“"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."” (Mt 10:32-42 NivUS)
“"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Mt 25:31-36 NivUS)
“"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” (Mt 25:41-43 NivUS)
“"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."” (Mt 25:46 NivUS)
This was all spoken of at the beginning of Jesus’ life.
“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."” (Lu 2:34-35 NivUS)
It was the prophecy of his life even before his coming.
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” (Isa 9:1-3 NivUS)
His life was, true to prophecy, announced with a heavenly light.
“"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.” (Nu 24:17 NivUS)
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Mt 2:9-10 NivUS)
He who was to be, and is, and is to come, the Light of the World cannot coexist with darkness.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."” (Joh 3:19-21 NivUS)
The division is stark and it was immediate. Consider the characters and events surrounding the Christmas story.
Those on the side of light:
The family of John Baptist:
His mother, Elizabeth:
“In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"” (Lu 1:42-45 NivUS)
His father, Zechariah:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."” (Lu 1:76-79 NivUS)
And John himself:
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."” (Joh 1:29-34 NivUS)
The family of Jesus:
His mother, Mary:
“"I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.” (Lu 1:38 NivUS)
“And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (Lu 1:46-50 NivUS)
His father, Joseph:
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."” (Mt 1:19-21 NivUS)
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Mt 1:24-25 NivUS)
The family of man:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."” (Mt 2:1-2 NivUS)
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Mt 2:11 NivUS)
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Lu 2:15-18 NivUS)
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Lu 2:20 NivUS)
The saints in the temple:
“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."” (Lu 2:27-32 NivUS)
“--- She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 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.” (Lu 2:37b-38 NivUS)
All these were members of Jesus’ family by faith. But contrast these with those who were not.
Those on the side of darkness:
The family of King Herod and many others with him in Jerusalem:
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Mt 2:3 NivUS)
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."” (Mt 2:7-8 NivUS)
“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 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."” (Mt 2:12-13 NivUS)
“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.” (Mt 2:16 NivUS)
“So he got up (from Egypt), took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,” (Mt 2:21-22 NivUS)
“Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you." And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" "The head of John the Baptist," she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.” (Mr 6:21-28 NivUS)
“At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day— for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’"” (Lu 13:31-35 NivUS)
“Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.” (Lu 23:11 NivUS)
The division brought about by the birth of Jesus was made even more distinct by the ministry of Jesus when we consider the continuing saga of the gospel account (Pharisees, chief priests and elders, Judas, etc.).
There was the world of darkness and there was the world of light – there still is. The question we must all consider is whether we are a part of Jesus’ family of light or Herod’s family of darkness.
“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Joh 1:9-14 NivUS)
The world of Jesus’ time has still not changed today. Even the church through the ages has been divided over Christ himself.
We watched an interesting two-part series on PBS Thursday night about the search for the most representative image of Christ. The church fought battles over whether or not images of him should be allowed. The conclusion of the documentary was that all peoples who have received Christ have invariably cast him in an image of themselves – a perfected image of who they themselves could be in God. There is no one image that is correct – or recorded by any means.
We are not to worship his image, but his person. That is why Scripture says:
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2 NivUS)
But here we need to be careful, because even though we must not worship an image, a supposedly representative image of him can propel us into the worship of his Person. The image is not the problem – it is our hearts. It is who he is as the Son of God that we must worship. The image is supposed to remind us.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3 NivUS)
Indeed, there are many today who do not esteem him. Their hearts are dark.
I stopped at City Wide Fire Extinguisher Company Thursday to pick up a fire extinguisher bracket, and one of the young men who work there said he wanted to know what I thought about a question he had.
He asked me, “Why do you think there is so much effort today in trying to take Christ out of Christmas?”
I explained that, in our country, there have always been those who have been opposed to Jesus and not part of his family. In large part they have not had a large influence because we had a majority Christian culture and the church had a significant voice. But with the increasing immigration of people from other nationalities, cultures and religions, it has given America a much more secular flavor. In part, it is not so much that there aren’t still Christians or that the church doesn’t still have a voice. It is just that the kingdom of darkness has been made bolder because they now have what seems the perfect excuse to silence us. We have to be supposedly sensitive to those of other beliefs lest we risk offending them. The question is whether we have the passion to match their boldness – whether we have passionate faith in a light that can dispel the darkness. Whether we will stand by and let Christ be offended.
Will the goodness of America and all that the Statue of Liberty stands for be our undoing? Will our people forget the foundation of the freedoms we enjoy?
Much of the battleground seems to be in the public schools where the minds of our children are molded. A recent Christian news release said there is strong statistical evidence that the secular onslaught in the public schools is outweighing the teachings of the church, resulting in children from solid Christian homes and churches leaning toward the secular propaganda – and we are not winning them back.
Teacher in CA not permitted to teach Declaration of Independence because of references to God.
AZ public schools secularizing Christ out of Christmas.
Spring Grove Elementary, McHenry Co., removing references to Christ.
Target disallowing Salvation Army bell ringers.
Macy’s Dept. Store (Miracle on 34th St.) removing Christ from Christmas advertising.
Denver AT&T Parade disallowing church float as offensive – but church finds way around the restriction.
NC pastor taking out newspaper ad advising Christian shoppers to avoid stores not including “Merry Christmas” in their advertisements.
Iranian pastor scathed by media for comparing Christianity with Islam.
We can see from these news reports that even though the situation is serious, there are actions that the church can take, and that God is still in the picture when we do act. There are still some with passion. There are still some set out from the rest.
One thing should ask ourselves this Christmas season is whether Christ and his church is for us a “pleasant weekend diversion” (Dec. 11th Daily Bread) or the driving passion of our lives ---
A friend was looking for a church to join and told me she had found just what she was looking for: ‘I like this church because I don’t have to change my lifestyle of partying. It doesn’t make me feel guilty or require anything of me. I feel good about myself when I’m there.”
Her story makes me wonder how many people are in that type of situation. Their “Christianity” is what author W. Waldo Beach calls “a pleasant weekend diversion.”
Beach says, “No amount of air-conditioning and pew-cushioning in the suburban church can cover over the hard truth that --- discipleship is costly; that, for the faithful, there is always a cross to be carried. No one can understand Christianity to its depths who comes to it to enjoy it as a pleasant weekend diversion.”
Being a Christian means that we know Jesus personally. We have received Him by faith as our Savior from sin, and we present ourselves to Him. We deny our will and choose His instead. He transforms our thinking, our values, and our priorities to reflect what is acceptable to God.
He gives us a passion that divides us from the rest.
Perhaps the remedy for our rapidly encroaching secularization will be the degree of our passion for Christ that divides those who are comfortable from those who are uncomfortable. How comfortable will your Christmas be?
Only our passion for Christ will cure the curse of our comfortability.
Here is how we must worship the Christ-child – it’s a family thing.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Ro 12:1-2 NivUS) Now that is passion!