A week from today, next time we meet together, Christmas will be all over. So I thought that it would be appropriate at this time to have a look at the Christmas story. Someone once remarked about the book of Acts, that if you remove the supernatural from the book of Acts you have very little left. The same is true of the Christmas story. We are all wired differently, and unfortunately I tend to be of analytical nature. So, indulge me, and let us analyse together this story we know so well. Of course the story starts, not with the birth of Jesus but with the birth of John, in Luke 1:5.
• An angel appeared to Zacharias [Luke 1:11-20] [P] You all know the story, the old childless priest was taking his turn to minister in the temple. There he was offering incense at the golden altar in front of the Holy of holies when an angel appears to him! That is not normal! Not usual! It is a supernatural event! God at work!
• Prophecy that Elizabeth would have a son [Luke 1:13-17] [P] The angel brought a message from יְהוָה Himself – he foretold that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son and he told about the life the boy would live and his significance. Information directly from God, a future that could not be predicted naturally. It was supernatural!
• Zacharias struck dumb [Luke 1:20-22] [P] Well, Zacharias, understandably, had a bit of trouble believing this announcement – he and his wife were old, well beyond child-bearing age, and furthermore his wife had never been able to have children. He questioned the angel, and for his unbelief he was struck dumb. When he went into the temple he could talk, when he came out he could not – it was supernatural, an act of God!
• Barren Elizabeth becomes pregnant [Luke 1:24-25] [P] But what the angel, what God, said was true. Elizabeth did become pregnant. It was a miracle! Totally supernatural. There we have the first 20 verses of the story, and 14 of them have a supernatural element (70%). Let us move on.
• An angel appears to Miriam [Luke 1:26-29] [P] The scene shifts from Judea in the south, north to Galilee, to the town of Nazareth. There the same angel that appeared to Zacharias appears to a girl named Miriam. Sent from God! Totally supernatural!
• Prophecy, Miriam would bear the Son of God [Luke 1:30-37] [P] Gabriel tells Miriam some absolutely startling things. Again he announces that a child would be born. But this time that the child would be born without sexual contact with a man, that the child would be the Son of the Most High God, that He would be king forever! Absolutely startling mind-blowing! But true! That he prophesied, spoke from God, was supernatural, but the things that he announced were the most astounding conceivable – in fact they are inconceivable! What was going to happen was absolutely and completely SUPERNATURAL!
• Unborn John recognizes Miriam [Luke 1:41,44] [P] Gabriel had told Miriam that her relative was miraculously pregnant and Miriam went to visit her down in Judea. As soon as Miriam walked in the door, the unborn baby inside Elizabeth leapt for joy. How does an unseeing baby inside its mother know that someone else is in the room, know that person is pregnant; knows that baby is the Messiah?! I don’t know what an unborn child knows, but I know that one is just born knows precious little. All they know is that they are hungry, tired, wet, in pain, loved – that’s about it. Yet unborn John recognized the mother of his LORD! Totally supernatural!
• Elizabeth prophesies [Luke 1:42-45] [P] Supernatural revelation first came to the unborn baby, then it came to his mother. Elizabeth prophesied. The Holy Spirit came upon her and she spoke – not words that she thought up, but words from God Himself! An impartation from heaven to man! Totally supernatural! Miriam was barely pregnant – nothing showed yet – but Elizabeth knew that she was pregnant with her LORD! Going to give birth to Him! Astounding! What human mind would have ever known or even conceived that, apart from revelation by the Holy Spirit?!
• Miriam prophesies [Luke 1:46-55] [P] Indeed the Spirit of God was at work – in unborn John, in Elizabeth, then in Miriam herself. She too spoke – a totally amazing prophecy (I wish we had time to look at it more closely). Not words that she thought up, but that were spoke through the Holy Spirit; prophecy, the word of יְהוָה Himself! Completely supernatural!
• John is born [Luke 1:57,58] [P] Then Elizabeth gave birth to John – she was barren, couldn’t have children, she was post-menopausal, it was impossible! But not to God! It was God’s doing! It was completely supernatural! Even the name given to the baby was supernatural – given by revelation, from God, not what they had thought up.
• Zacharias speaks [Luke 1:64] [P] So unexpected was the name, that the relatives questioned it; Zacharias confirmed it in writing – remember, he had been struck dumb. Immediately that he did so, his mouth was opened and he could speak! He praised God! A miracle! He was mute, dumb, incapable of speaking, then suddenly he could speak! It was supernatural!
• Zacharias prophesies [Luke 1:67-79] [P] Having the power of speech, Zacharias made up for lost time and spoke a great utterance. But it was not his words – he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied! Words directly from God Himself! Again there is amazing insight and revelation in these words. They are indisputably from God and not from human origin. It is totally supernatural!
I think you may be getting the point! We have covered 75 verses from the first chapter of Luke – at least 12 supernatural events. Out of those 75 verses 57 contain supernatural occurrences (76%). If you remove the supernatural, you are not left with much! In chapter two of Luke we move to the account of Jesus’ birth – but before we do let’s pick up some things from Matthew’s account not mentioned by Luke.
•Miriam conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18, 23, 25] [P] Just as Gabriel prophesied, Miriam did become pregnant, but she had never had any sexual relations with a man, it was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Now, various women have claimed virgin conception, but it only ever happened once. A virgin birth! It does not happen! It is impossible. But God does the impossible! Hallelujah! It is a miracle totally supernatural!
•Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream [Matthew 1:19] [P] Well, you can imagine that her fiancé found this hard to swallow. His conclusion, naturally enough, was that the one that he thought was pure and devoted to him; was, in fact, not so. He was going to break the engagement but an angel appeared to him in a dream, explaining what had actually happened. Again, it is supernatural! It does not happen just because you ate cheese before you went to bed!
•Angel prophesied concerning Jesus [Matthew 1:20, 21] [P] The angel explained what had taken place, that Miriam had not been unfaithful, and prophesied concerning the child that would be born. Told his Name and His mission. It is revelation from God! Supernatural! These things are not known by the natural mind.
•Prophecy fulfilled [Matthew 1:22, 23] [P] What God said, what was prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled, a virgin became pregnant. The Scripture came to pass. What God said so long ago would happen, happened. God did what He said He would. It was God’s doing. You cannot make prophecy come true. It is God’s doing and it is supernatural – both the prophecy and its fulfillment
•Virgin birth [Luke 2:6, 7] [P] Now let’s return to Luke, chapter two. As Matthew briefly mentioned, Miriam gave birth to a son, even though she was still a virgin [Luke 2:1-7] – as the Christmas cards love to depict, it took place in a stable because there was no room in the inn because of the influx of people to Bethlehem because of the census that was being conducted. Supernatural virgin birth, as noted is totally supernatural! It is an act of God!
• Angels appear to shepherds [Luke 2:9-14] [P] We know the story so well, an angel announced the birth to some shepherds out in the field. It doesn’t happen! But it did! It is supernatural. There was supernatural revelation by that angel, then a host of angels! When did you last see the sky filled with a multitude of heavenly beings singing praise to God?! We are talking about dramatic, miraculous, stupendous events! This is God at work! This is supernatural!
• Prediction of the angel fulfilled [Luke 2:20] [P] The shepherds went off to see what the angel had told them about – and it was just as the angel told them. Exact prediction – and it wasn’t predicting events of high probability! It described the most unlikely circumstance and it was just as it said. Supernatural impartation of knowledge.
• Revealed that Simeon would see the Messiah [Luke 2:26] [P] We now move to a month after the birth has taken place. Jesus is presented at the temple, and the offerings for Miriam’s purification made. Now there was an old man in Jerusalem who had revelation from God – he had been told that he would see with his very own eyes יְהוָה’s Messiah before he died. How did he know? God told him! Supernatural revelation!
• Simeon led to the temple [Luke 2:27, 28] [P] At just the right time he was led by the Holy Spirit to the temple. How did he know to go? God told him! I related this incident out at the prison. It was a legal requirement for women to make the purification sacrifice, many children were born. There was regular stream of women coming into the temple to make this sacrifice, all with 1 month (or 2 month) old babies. It was a normal occurrence. Yet Simeon knew that this baby was the Messiah! How?! Supernatural revelation! Who, but those to whom God Himself had revealed it, would recognize the Messiah in a one month old baby of poor parents? You cannot account for these events by natural means.
• Simeon prophesies [Luke 2:29-35] [P] Simeon takes this baby in his arms and prophesies over Him – tremendous revelation. Only God could have revealed that to him! Prophecy is not mere enthusiastic speaking; it is speaking the words of יְהוָה Himself! It is not a natural occurrence. It is totally supernatural!
• Jesus revealed to Anna [Luke 2:38] [P] Then there was this old widow who also recognized who the baby was. A mere one month old baby – but this was the redemption of Israel! How did she work that out? It is revelation from God! It is totally supernatural!
I think you get the point! Shall we look further? Well, Briefly:
•Revelation to the Magi [Matthew 2:1-2] [P] Back in Matthew’s account. There is that other well known story associated with Christmas – the visit of the wise men from the East, the Magi. They had travelled all that way to see the King of the Jews. They had studied the stars. How had they worked out that the king of the Jews was to be born? They used their skills – but the answer they came with was from God – because He alone knows the future and what will take place. Plenty of others looked at the stars, they didn’t see it – it wasn’t written in giant letters, joining dot to dot. How exactly they worked it out, I don’t know. But it was revelation from God! He revealed what was going to take place – wrote it in the heavens! That is supernatural – an arranging of the cosmic order to announce the message!
• Star appeared in the exact place [Matthew 2:9,10] The wise men saw a specific star which was associated with the King of the Jews. And when they went to Bethlehem there was that exact same star and it was standing exactly over the place where the child happened to be! Now that is miraculous! A controlling of the heavenly order! It is utterly supernatural!
• Magi warned in a dream [Matthew 2:12] You recall that the wise men had not been too wise, they had let slip to Herod, the king, that a competing dynasty had been born! Herod wanted them to return and tell him where the child was, but they were warned in a dream not to go back to him. It says that they were warned by God in a dream. God Himself interfered with their dream life to impart instructions. It is supernatural! It is God at work and cannot be accounted for by natural means.
• Angel warns Joseph to flee [Matthew 2:13] The wise men were not the only ones warned. Herod was livid when he found out that he had been deceived. So furious that he set out to kill all boys under two years old in the region of Bethlehem. An angel warned Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt. Specific detailed instructions given by God through His messenger. It is supernatural!
• Prophecy fulfilled [Matthew 2:15,18] In Matthew it quotes two prophecies that were fulfilled – the flight to Egypt, and the killing of the innocents. Supernatural prediction of what took place, and supernatural fulfillment of exactly of what was spoken hundreds of years before. You cannot account for it by natural means. It is totally supernatural!
• Angel tells Joseph to return [Matthew 2:19] Yet again an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him to return from Egypt because Herod was dead. Supernatural intervention, God speaking to men supernaturally.
• Joseph warned by God in a dream [Matthew 2:22] And again, this time not just His angel but God Himself, spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him to go to Galilee and not back to Judea.
Then, of course, there is the greatest miracle of all in Christmas! THE WORD BECAME FLESH! [P] God became a man, took on human form and lived among those that He had created! Totally mind-boggling! Wondrously supernatural! I think you may have begun to discern a pattern! CHRISTMAS IS SUPERNATURAL! [P] If you remove the supernatural from the Christmas story, you are not left with much! You know, a few years ago I had the tragedy of attending a service around Christmas time at the local Wesleyan church. There were some lovely believers that I met there – but then the minister got up and preached his Christmas message, explaining how the virgin birth didn’t really take place, how it stemmed from a mythology common to ancient religions. I was seething! I looked around at these people who had a simple traditional faith and here was this minister rationally, with all his intellectual knowledge, setting about to systematically destroy these people’s faith. He was intent on removing the supernatural – and what are you left with?! We come to Christmas again, and everyone knows the story so well. The images are all around us in nativity scenes, in shops, on cards. But it is a sanitized story – some angels, a stable, a manger and a baby. Where is the supernatural power of God that is so integral to the story? The whole guts of the story have been removed, leaving an inoffensive comfortable story that challenges no one! The supernatural has been removed from Christmas! We would never do that, we hold firmly to those fundamental doctrines. But can I share my heart? I have a deep concern that we may go a similar way! My concern is that we can have a doctrinal correctness that is so settled, rational, water-tight and comfortable; that the Spirit of God is completely squeezed out! Our God is SUPERNATURAL! [P] We carry on with our Christian life as normal, never expecting any supernatural intervention. There is a doctrine that holds that God did things in the past, He may even do things in the future, but in the present He has left the universe to carry on according to natural laws. But if God is not supernatural, then He is natural, and He is not God! But God does intervene! Hallelujah! He is constantly at work! I could testify to numerous examples. I suffered, apparently really badly, from infantile eczema – in those days Mum and Dad attended a little Church of England fellowship – no Pentecostal or charismatic goings on – but a group of old ladies decided to pray for this poor baby, and I was healed – a miracle! Perhaps you remember my Dad hobbling around with a wrecked back a few years back – there was instant, miraculous healing. Remember Kirsten Gordon broke her leg? The family was off to America to go to Disney Land or something and she would be left behind. Some from this fellowship prayed, she was healed and went with the family on the trip. Mum and Dad occasionally would tell us of an incident, and they did so with reticence because I think it scared them because they were confronted with GOD! It was early on in their marriage, and in those days you didn’t do your budgeting on a spreadsheet, they had a series of baking powder tins …. I have witnessed numerous things that cannot be accounted for by natural explanation. I was telling John the other day about a guy at church called Adam, from a rough background but gloriously saved – a biker who named his son Harley. Adam was illiterate – he could not read. Furthermore he had a terrible stutter. But when the Spirit of God came upon him he prophesied completely fluently. He would read from His King James Bible – I stumble over that Elizabethan English. He may not be able to read anything else, but He could read that Bible. Now I want to be careful here because I have seen two extremes. People have been so eager to see and experience the supernatural that they sought it for its own sake. They were so hungry for the supernatural that they chased it and ended up following that which was supernatural but not of God. And, tragically, I have seen that – fellowships where the demonic was unwittingly embraced and they were deceived. They sought the miraculous, signs – they did not discern the source. Jesus said a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign. We should not be seeking signs – but God! We cannot dictate what He does and force His hand. But there is the other extreme where the supernatural is ruled out all together. But if God is amongst us, should it be surprising if He actually does something?! Why pray, if you don’t expect God to do something, to supernaturally intervene?! We sing: “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart” Is there? The Bible says that [2 Corinthians 5:17 if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.] A new creation! Only God creates! It is not attending a church, joining the club! It is a work of God! Totally supernatural! But we have redefined what it means to be in Christ: someone who has said a particular formula prayer, or put their hand up, or come to the front. If someone is not supernaturally changed, if they are just the same as before; surely one must question if they are truly a new creation! I think only Miriam, Robin and Pauline are the only ones here who knew me before I came back to the LORD. It is good sometimes to remember – because God has done great things. I was a mess! I was pathologically shy and introverted – as can be the case when yourself is the focus of your life. I mean, if Mum and Dad had someone around home (and I was living at home), I would creep around the back of the house, go up the side and climb in the bedroom window – I could not face people. When I came back to the LORD and was baptized a miracle took place! I was freed from things that I had no power to conquer but had enslaved me for years – miraculously instantaneously – but the first indication to me that God had done a miracle, and made me a new creation, was that after I came out of the water, I could face people, look them in the face, talk to them! I was changed! It was God at work – supernatural! I’ve told stories from the past – but what about now? [Isaiah 63:15 Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me.] It is good to consider יְהוָה’s deeds of the past: [Psalm 77:5-15 I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders: Will יְהוָה reject forever? And will He never be favourable again? Has His loving-kindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Then I said, “It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”(NEVER!) I shall remember the deeds of יְהוָה; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.] Do you remember when Elijah departed to heaven, there was Elisha following him, he wouldn’t be deterred. Elijah struck the Jordan River with his mantle, and it parted and he crossed over. Elijah was taken up, his mantle fell upon Elisha, then Elisha returned to cross the Jordan: [2 Kings 2:13-14 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is יְהוָה, the God of Elijah?” [P] And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.] Where is the God of Elijah?! Do you come along here to sing a few songs, sit through a sermon and have a cup of coffee afterwards and chat with some friends? Is it going to be much the same as last week, or is there an expectation that you are going to meet God, that He is going to do something. I remember when it was like that for me. There was an excitement and expectation when you went to church. Maybe it is just me; perhaps I am not where I once was. But do you know what Paul said? [1 Corinthians 2:3-5 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.] I have preaching here now for some 15 years. Where is the demonstration of the Spirit and of power? Where is God confirming His word with signs following? I need to ask myself, “Am I preaching His word at all?” Where is the God of Elijah?! Where is the presence of the supernatural God amongst us? Let us not settle for the norm that we have been accustomed to, but let us press on to know our God! For He is, indeed, supernatural! [Psalm 68:28 Show Yourself strong, O God, who have acted on our behalf.] [Habakkuk 3:2 O יְהוָה, I have heard of what you have done, and I am filled with awe. Now do again in our times the great deeds you used to do. Be merciful, even when you are angry.] [Isaiah 64:1-4 Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence— as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil— to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.] Let us not settle for things the way they are but wait expectantly for the One who acts in the behalf of the one who waits for Him. May I wish you all a very supernatural Christmas.