God here, but I didn’t know it!
It is good to be out here again, for what might well be the last time for the year. We come out at the end of the month and it seems that we miss out on coming in December as things wind down for Christmas/New Year. So I thought I’d take a look at a bit of the Christmas story tonight – it’s a bit early but they’ve been advertising it in the shops for weeks already. But first I want to tell the story of a couple of rather insignificant people – I like stories of ordinary people. Often we hear of the heroes, the mighty, the brave, the skillful, the super-intellects; the people with power and influence who have changed our world. I like the stories of ordinary people – because that is what I am. Someone said God must love the poor because He made so many of them. I reckon the same is true of the ordinary – that is what most of us are. We are not going to be prime-minister, be well known – most of us just get on with the business of living – we are not out to make and shake the world. These two were ordinary people, furthermore they were old – and don’t we overlook the elderly? – their time of significance is over, they are just finishing out their days. One was a man and the other was a woman. Both were ordinary but both were godly. They loved the LORD and had been faithful to Him all their life long.
The man was a good man, he feared God. He had read God’s Word and took seriously the promises that were written in it. He was a Jew and his people had suffered – at present they were under military occupation. Here they were supposed to be God’s special people but they were down-trodden and oppressed. But he wasn’t despondent because God had promised that He would send a deliverer, a King would come who would restore the nation of Israel and rule it with justice and righteousness. Evil would not always have the upper hand. The Messiah was coming! – God had promised it in His Word. This old man believed – everything looked to the contrary but he believed that what God said was true. He held to the promise and he held God to His promise. And God spoke to him! He heard from God and God assured him, that old as he was he would see this Messiah with his very own eyes before his days on earth were over! This had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He may have been old, he may have just been an ordinary person but God’s Spirit spoke to him. Just as He can to ordinary people like you and me. In fact He seems to delight in ordinary people. This old man was godly and in the habit of going to the temple to pray and worship his God. God had told him that the fulfillment of His great promise was imminent – within his life-time! As I said, this man heard from the Holy Spirit, was sensitive to the Spirit, and Spirit prompted him to go to the temple – so he went. He came into the temple – the temple was a busy place, not like church where you sit down for a meeting and listen to someone speak. There were people coming and going, sacrifices being made. And there happened to come a husband and wife with their 1 month old baby to offer a sacrifice. This was routine – every woman had to offer a sacrifice after child birth, for ritual cleansing. Of course many women had babies so every day there would be women coming in to have this ceremony performed. This was no special or unusual thing – but this man knew that this day there was something special about this family and in particular about this baby. He took the baby into his arms and gave a prophetic utterance over this child. He knew it was the One! The long promised One, the Messiah, the One that God had told him that he would see before he died. How did he know?! It was just a one month old baby – and despite medieval paintings to the contrary, He did not have some golden halo hovering above His head! Simeon saw this baby and recognized that it was the Messiah, God’s promised Deliverer! This was God Himself! God had come and was born as a baby. God appeared as man on earth! In human form! Staggering! Amazing! There he was holding God Himself in human form in his arms! This is the Son of God! The One who was there from the beginning with God – not one thing was made without Him! The One who has dwelt from eternity past in glory – the One who is God! This is what John said of Him: [John 1:1-4 In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. Through Him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without Him. The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to humanity.] Philippians 2:6 says: He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. Colossians 1:15-17 says: Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the firstborn Son, superior to all created things. For through Him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through Him and for Him. Christ existed before all things, and in union with Him all things have their proper place. Hebrews 1:2-3 says: In these last days he has spoken to us through His Son. He is the one through whom God created the universe, the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end. He reflects the brightness of God’s glory and is the exact likeness of God’s own being, sustaining the universe with His powerful word. Jesus Himself said: “I and the Father are one” Make no doubt, this was God! Right there in their midst! This is totally amazing! We have got used to the Christmas story – but what actually took place blows the mind! God actually living as part of His creation, as a human being! But who, that day recognized Him? Who saw that this tiny baby was God? This old man had an inkling. So too did an old lady. She too heard from God – she was a prophet. She was totally devoted to God – she never left the temple – day and night she was there worshipping God. Tragically her husband died only a few years after they were married – ever since then she spent her time in the temple, delighting to be in the presence of God. She was now 84 years old. Funny thing, she too turned up exactly at the time that this family arrived at the temple. She gave thanks to God – He had given what He had promised. She told other people who were also waiting for this hope. Let’s read the account of this story: [Luke 2:22-38 The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord. At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God: “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at the things Simeon said about him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only seven years and was now 84 years old. She never left the Temple; day and night she worshipped God, fasting and praying. That very same hour she arrived and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free. ] But look! – here was God and only two old and insignificant people recognized who He was. What about the priests, the experts in the Mosaic law, the scribes the rabbis? Nope! None of them recognized Him. Here was God in their midst and they didn’t know it!! None of the spiritual heavies, none of the political leaders, the nobles, the somebodies – none of them got it! That is one thing I love about the Christmas story – it was for the humble, the nobodies, the ordinary: some shepherds, a backwater town of Bethlehem – a couple of years later there were some wise men – but they were not from the chosen race, they were outsiders. God revealed Himself to the most unlikely – people like you and me! But think about it – would you recognize God in a 1 month old baby of poor parents?! God was there and most people did not get it! “He is here and I didn’t know it!” [P] Those are the words from the lips of the man from whom the nation of Israel takes its name – but at that time he was called Jacob. Here is the story from [Genesis 28:10-16 Jacob left Beersheba and started towards Haran. At sunset he came to a holy place and camped there. He lay down to sleep, resting his head on a stone. He dreamt that he saw a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him. “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac,” he said. “I will give to you and to your descendants this land on which you are lying. They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants I will bless all the nations. Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised you.” Jacob woke up and said, “The Lord is here! He is in this place, and I didn’t know it!”]. Actually Jacob was on the run, his brother wanted to kill him! He was in a heap of strife but God met him as he fled to his relations in the north. He was not seeking God like Simeon or Anna, not a godly man, spending his time in the temple. God had to give him a dramatic vision to arrest his attention. He had this amazing dream, a vision of heaven and of God Himself in all His glory! He realized that the LORD was there! I think I might, if there was something spectacular like that. Is that what you seek? Is that what it takes for you to acknowledge God? Some people have a craving for supernatural experiences. Like the unbelieving Jews of Jesus day, they will not believe unless they see a sign – some miraculous, supernatural thing. If that is the pre-condition you set, you would never have recognized Jesus, there in the temple that day. Here was a far greater revelation of God to Simeon and Anna – and what did they see? – a 1 month old baby – nothing spectacular. God was there and they recognized it! But the thing is, that the LORD is here – here tonight, in this place – if only you have eyes to see Him. Does it have to be spectacular? If so you may miss Him, even though He is here. Does He have to arrest you by force? Well, He can do that, and He may do that; but He can be speaking to you tonight and you might miss it because your heart is not sensitive to what His Spirit is saying. Some set preconditions on believing God – they will only accept it is God if …. There was a disciple like that, remember? His name was Thomas. And forever after this incident he is known as “doubting Thomas”! The other disciples had seen Jesus alive after He had been killed and been buried for three days. But Thomas wouldn’t accept their word – he said: “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Well Jesus was gracious and did appear to him, and he no longer needed to see: [John 20:26-29 A week later the disciples were together again indoors, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then stretch out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Do you believe because you see me? Blessed are those who believe without seeing me!”] The evidence of God is everywhere around us, He is speaking through all He has made [Romans 1:19-21 What can be known about God is plain to them, for God Himself made it plain. Ever since God created the world, His invisible qualities, both His eternal power and His Divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. So those people have no excuse at all! They know God, but they do not give him the honour that belongs to him, nor do they thank him. Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness.]. But if you set preconditions, you may never see Him. God is here, He may be found by ordinary men like you and me, by those who faithfully seek Him as Simeon and Anna did [Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek Me, and you will find Me because you will seek Me with all your heart.]. Christmas is a time when we remember a stupendous event that took place – but like the majority on that first Christmas day, most people miss it! They are oblivious to the fact that God Himself has come to earth as a man – so that as a man he could tasted death for every man. He came with a human nature like us [Romans 8:3-4 What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending His own Son, who came with a nature like sinful human nature, to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature.]. Here is God in a form that we can comprehend [John 1:14 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. (right in our midst, but doe we realize it?!) We saw His glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known. ]. May you this Christmas see who the baby really is; for He is the only way to know God.
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.
As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.
God is here, if you would only open your eyes, if only you would realize it. And you can meet Him in the Person of His Son, who is the only way to the Father – a way He opened by dying as a sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. Through faith you can meet the One who is here right now.