Did you ever miss a great party? Now, I’m not talking about getting drunk or anything like that, I’m talking about a great party with friends and good food and all the things that make a party, a party. Did you ever miss one of those?
I did. It was my Senior year in High School. I was living in Deerfield Beach, Fl., and someone told me about “Senior Night.” It was exclusively for High School Seniors who were graduating in the state of Florida. On a certain night in April, all seniors were invited to one location. . . and not just any location . . . one location. Know where it was? Disney World! That’s right! Can you imagine as a senior being able to join all the other seniors in your state at Disney world for a senior party?
But that wasn’t the most amazing thing! O no! The most amazing thing is that I had actually talked my Dad, who wasn’t usually excited about me going to any kind of party, I convinced him to let me go. The pastor of a sister church in Miami was taking his daughter and a few others, and they had invited me to go, and dad said yes!
I looked forward to this thing for months. I did. I was so excited, but then, I did something. I won’t bore you with the details, but I betrayed my mom and dad’s trust in me and I got grounded. I was so mad and disappointed I thought about running away from home. But how’s a guy with a part-time job, no money and no place to stay, who likes to eat . . . how’s that guy supposed to do that.
So, when everyone else headed to Disney World, this little piggy stayed home. I missed the party!
You ever have the experience? You ever have something that you just know is going to be a lot of fun that you just miss out on? Well, usually, while those times are disappointing, they really aren’t damaging. You miss a party, you’ll live, right? Well, that’s right unless . . . unless God’s the one throwing the party. You miss that one, you suffer real loss. Yet so many do.
And it’s not because they don’t have good excuses. Many are just too busy. Like the Pharisees when Jesus came, they could give you a long list of important duties that make their presence impossible. They are much too busy to spend any time in a stable visiting a little baby. Many of us are like that. We hear God calling us, and we know that we need some change in our lives, but we’re just too tied up to listen.
And being too busy is just a symptom of another problem. You see time priorities are a function of our thinking. The reason we think we don’t have time to be at God’s party is because we just don’t see it as being that important. We make time for what’s most important to us and, since this “Jesus” thing really doesn’t matter to our lives, we decline the invitation.
So, here’s my goal this morning: I want you to reconsider the invitation to God’s party. I want to tell you just what you’re missing out on, and I want to tell you what you must do to join the celebration.
So, let’s start at the beginning, ok? Where’s that? Well, God’s party begins with it’s purpose. God’s not just having a celebration just to have a good time. There’s a reason He’s celebrating. He’s is celebrating because He has something for you. It’s a unbelievable, wonderful gift. You read about that gift in Luke 2:8
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!”
Hey, God’s not like some husbands who give their wives a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. (If you do that, feel free to call me for some marriage counseling, cause you might just need it!) God gives us a personal, expensive gift, which is exactly what we need. I say that because His gift is His Son.
Notice how the Son is described. This baby brings salvation. V11 says that unto us is born a “Savior.” The idea is that of the Knight on the White horse who rides to the rescue of someone who is in great danger. Jesus is a Savior. He rides into the sin and bondage of our lives, lifts that sin upon His shoulders and rescues us. He brings salvation.
But He also brings God’s presence. He is called a “Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is the first time Luke will call Jesus “the Lord,” but it will not be the last. When He calls Jesus “Lord,” He is saying that Jesus is God. Elsewhere Jesus Is called “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” It’s amazing! The creator of the universe, whom time and eternity cannot contain, is literally confined to a hole in the floor, (which is precisely what a manger usually was)! The eternal God came to be with us. Jesus is God’s PRESENT and Jesus brings God’s PRESENCE.
The baby brings salvation and God’s presence but, more than anything else, this great Gift shows us the Father’s love. When the angel choir breaks out into a song, notice what they say. They say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” That last phrase speaks of God’s great love. Literally in the Greek it reads, “and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests. What a statement! The Holy God who should be annihilating man for His sin is pouring out His favor on men. Why? It’s because He knows that this gift He is giving will one day go to the cross, pour out His blood, and take all the punishment for sin. John wrote in His gospel, “For God so loved the world that He GAVE . . .” God’s gift shows us His great love.
And that’s the reason for the party. God’s got this amazing gift He wants to give you, but there is a catch. You say, “O I knew there would be; there always is! Anything that sounds too good to be true always is.” Well, before you just shut me down, will you listen? The rules of God’s party two very simple ones. Let me describe them to you. First
DIV 1 GOD DOES ALL THE GIVING
Now when you hear that, it might just sound too easy. You might say, “No problem. If God wants to pay the freight, great!” But be careful. There may be some implications here you haven’t thought of.
For instance, if God does all the giving, then your status means nothing. You see that in Luke’s description of that first Christmas party. See Ceasar Augustus missed the party because he couldn’t accept the “no status” part of the invitation. He actually thought he was god. That’s what his sycophantic people called him. They even burned incense to him and saw him as “the savior of the world.” So, to give up being god? Well, I guess that was just a bit too much to ask.
By the way, you’ll have to come to your own decision on this one. It’s very possible for you to commit Ceasar’s error. O, I know you may not call yourself “god,” but your decisions sometimes show otherwise. You act as if you can actually control your own life and when you discover you can’t you are often prone to get mad at God. Ceasar wasn’t the only person to ever have a “god-complex.” You see, when God does all the giving, your status means nothing.
But that’s also a good thing. Notice from this story, that the message is announced to shepherds. These guys were at the bottom of the totem pole. You see, you can’t be too far down to attend God’s party. It doesn’t matter what you don’t have. It doesn’t matter what your job is. It doesn’t matter what your IQ is, because God is doing all the giving, so your status doesn’t matter.
And since God does all the giving, your goodness means nothing. The Roman senate had declared that Ceasar Augustus was a “savior who put an end to war . . . established all things and . . . when he appeared, exceeded the hopes of all who had anticipated good tidings.” Well, Yea for Ceasar, but I have to tell you that at God’s party He does all the giving and your goodness means nothing. That’s why Ceasar missed it and the shepherds didn’t. See, the shepherds knew they were nothing. All they did all day was clean up after sheep. Not only that, but the church-going people of that day looked down on shepherds. Their participation with sheep kept them from even being able to participate in the religious ceremonies of their day.
But you see, that’s just the kind of person God’s looking for. He does all the giving at the party so your status and your goodness mean nothing!
I ran across a video as I was looking through some illustrations for this message. It came from, of all places, the Chicago Bears website. It’s a clip from their rookie training camp. One of the videos shows Coach Lovie Smith’s orientation talk to the rookie class.
Of course, the biggest thing on each rookie's mind is whether he will make the team. Rookies know that the team roster begins with 80 players who come to camp. After a few weeks the coaches cut the team down to 65 players. Then before the season actually begins all NFL teams are required to trim down to 53 players. Of the 19 rookies who were invited to the 2010 Bears training camp, the team would likely keep only around 7.
The coaches knew that so they told them, “Show us something. We don’t care what your names are, we only care about what we see on the video when we watch the practices.”
Head coach Lovie Smith knew that, and so he addressed the rookies' concern in his talk to the 2010 class. His challenge to them was, "Make us put you on the team."
In other words, play so well in practice that the coaches couldn't imagine cutting you. Make us put you on the team. Take the decision out of the coach's hands. Let your performance make the decision for us.
Most religions and most people of the world think that God makes the same sort of speech about who will get into heaven. "Do you want to 'make the team' and have eternal life? Make me put you on the team. Live such a good life, do so many good deeds, that I could not imagine rejecting you. Take the decision out of my hands."
The counterintuitive truth is that God works on a completely different basis than football coaches do. People who think they can perform so well that they can make God add them to heaven's roster because they are so deserving of it will be rejected. People like the shepherds who have nothing to offer, are the ones who receive the Gift. Why, because this is God’s party and He does all the giving.
You know, in my pastoral experience, I have shared this message with many people, and I think that this is the one thing about Christ that people have the hardest time with. Makes you wonder why, doesn’t it? I mean, God is offering all of this to us for the taking, but we have trouble accepting the gift. Why is that?
Well, for one thing, accepting the gift for free makes everyone powerless and we want to be in control. That’s the biggest reason, I believe, that people opt for atheism. It’s not that they can’t conceive of a God. It’s that they can’t conceive of giving up the control of their lives to a God.
And that’s not the only reason people have trouble accepting the gift. You see, accepting the gift makes them dependent and they don’t want to have to trust anyone other than themselves.
And then there’s the biggest reason: When I accept the gift of God’s Son, it makes me sinful just like everyone else, and, in my pride, I want to be better than anyone else.
Do any of these describe you? Are you here today and you know that you’ve never really turned your life over to God. You’ve celebrated Christmas, and you plan to do it again this year, but you’ve really never been to God’s Christmas party because you can’t quite surrender to the rules. You know that God does all the giving and that makes you powerless, dependent and sinful. Can I just tell you that, while it may seem a little scary or even a bit humiliating, you’ll never know real joy till you give in and go by God’s party rules.
You say, Ok, Rusty. I get it. God does all the giving. But what does that mean for me. What does God want from me. Well just this
DIV 2 - GOD EXPECTS YOUR RESPONSE
There are three basic responses to the message of Christ. Of course some reject Him. They hear the claims, consider the offer and say, “No thank you.” I must be honest and tell you that most people do not respond like that. While there are many fewer real believers than non-believers, most non-believers are not rejectors.
Some reject Christ, and some accept Him, but the biggest group of responders are those who respond by doing nothing at all. They hear the message and decide to stay on the sidelines. They may even mentally agree that Christ was a good person and that He deserves their allegiance, but that’s as far as it goes. They never do anything about it.
By the way, that’s not the response that God expects. No, the response that God expects is the response the shepherds had. If it had been the average church member in North American they’d have shrugged it off. You know they’d have been like the judging panel on Ameican Idol, grading the heavenly choir for their performance, but not getting involved. Not so for the shepherds. Notice what they say immediately after the last note is sung: v 15 says:
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
Hey, the shepherds didn’t sit on what they heard. They were not passive. They, in fact, did three things: They investigated. They went to Bethlehem on a baby-hunt. Now they didn’t have a star like the wisemen did, so they had to look. They evidently went from stable to stable, looking for a feeding trough holding a baby.
And as they looked they were talking. That was the second thing they did. They told everybody they met what they had seen and heard. They were causing quite a stir in that quiet little town, I’m sure. Can you imagine it? You’re sitting in your home in about 10 pm at night, in Bailey, North Carolina. All of a sudden, there’s a knock on the door and when you answer it, there are a bunch of farmers, dressed in overalls, and they look at you and say, You got a baby in your barn?
You answer, “Well, I don’t think so. Whose baby you looking for?”
“Well,” they answer, “the angels said there’d be a baby lying in a manger, wrapped up in swaddling clothes. We just wondered if you might know where we could find him.”
“Well,” you answer, “I haven’t heard of a baby, much less a baby who has angels passing out birth announcements. Why are you so excited about this baby?”
“O,” they say, “It’s because this baby isn’t just an ordinary baby. The angels said that this baby was our Savior. He is Christ the Lord and He’s come to bring peace.”
Hey, these shepherds didn’t sit on the news. They told it! They responded with active faith! They had enough faith to believe that what they had seen was real and they did something about it.
And may I just tell you that this is exactly the response God demands. You see, God demands more than your mere agreement with the facts about Jesus. So many people know the gospel. So many of you here today have heard the Christmas story so many times, you can tell it in your sleep, but knowing the facts isn’t enough. You must have a faith that acts. You must have a faith that calls you out of your sideline sitting, and your self-focus, to repentance and a commitment of your life to Christ.
Maybe this story will show you what I mean. Imagine for a moment that you are on a cruise in the Carribean. (Kind of sounds good right now, given the temperatures we’ve been having around here!) All of sudden, in the middle of the night you hear a huge explosion. You leap up and get your clothes on as the emergency sirens begin to sound. By the time you make it to the main deck, you feel that big ship beginning to list to one side, and you realize that this thing is going down. You get on a life boat, and are eventually rescued along with your wife. But on board that boat are three other groups of passengers. The first group somehow do not know about the life boats, so they go down with the ship. The second group of passengers know about the life boats, but because they are petrified by fear, or perhaps because they lost their mates in the initial explosion and are so despondent, they refuse to get on the boats. The third group of people are folks like you who actually get in the boat. Now watch carefully. In the case of the first group, they do not know the truth, so they cannot get on a boat. In the case of the second group, they know about the life boats and they even know that the lifeboats can save their lives. They can mentally assent to truth, but they still drown. It’s only the third group: those who don’t just know and believe the truth, but who actually act on the truth and getting into the boat; only these are actually saved.
That’s a picture of saving faith. It’s more than just knowing the life boat will save you and agreeing with all the facts about life boats. You have to actively trust the boat, if you are to be saved.
So let me ask you this morning. Have you ever put that kind of faith in Christ? Have you ever actively trusted Him with your life and committed yourself to Him? Have you ever come into a relationship with Christ that completely changed you from the selfish, all-about-me person you are to genuine follower of Christ?
You see, God expects you to respond and not just with active faith. He also expects continuing worship. When I was studying for this message I discovered a contrast in this story that I had not seen before. It is between Mary, the mother of Christ, and the other people who heard all that the shepherds had to say. V 17 says
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
You see the contrast in v 18, where it says that those who heard what the angels had told the shepherds were amazed by it, then v 19 begins, “But.” Now the Greek construction is such that it seems Luke is making a value judgment here. Whereas the people were amazed, Mary, on the other hand “kept all these things and ‘pondered’ them.” The word for ponder is a figure of speech which means she mulled things over. She contemplated all she was experiencing in order to try to make sense of it all.
Now this is significant. What Luke seems to be saying is that the people that heard the Shepherd’s message were temporarily amazed, but that was the end of it. What they heard was kind of like a fireworks show on July, 4th. While it’s going on, it’s really exciting, but it’s faded by the time you’re pulling up to the drive through at Dairy Queen. It just doesn’t last.
But that’s not the way it was with Mary. She chewed on it and thought about it and ran it over in her mind trying to make sense of it all. And that’s the point: God expects more than temporary amazement! He is after continuing worship.
I run into people all the time who, if you ask them if they are Christ-followers, they will point you to some point in the distant past when they made this or that “decision” for Christ. But even though it may have been very real to them, and even though it may have even caused great emotion, it did not bring continuing worship.
I used to be the Minister of Youth here at Peace, way back in the ‘90's. A lot of our current teens were not even born then, but that’s another story for another day. When I first came to this church, we were having a cycle of kids who were . . . shall we say - DIFFICULT. OK, some of them were pretty much hoodlums.
But that would all change for about one hour every year. No it wasn’t at Christmas time, it was during Camp. Now you’ll have to understand that we had gotten into the habit back then of having a big bonfire on the last night of camp. Which was pretty ridiculous when you consider that it might be 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, and we’d be sweating around a campfire.
Now the reason we had a bonfire was because we had a testimony service on the last night of camp. Kids that had made decisions for Christ during the week would stand up around the campfire and tell everyone what the Lord was doing in their lives. That was all great.
But the amazing thing was that all the trouble makers wanted to participate too. Now, it would be one thing if God had really gotten ahold of their hearts and really changed them, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I say that because within an hour of that campfire service, when they got back to their cabins, they were causing all kinds of trouble again.
I remember one particular guy, whom I love to this day, would stand up and give a testimony. ON this one year, just one testimony wasn’t enough. We would kind of go around in a circle, so this one guy wanted to testify so much, he’d actually stand up here, then while someone else was talking, he’d walk around to another position so he could testify again.
There was only one problem: Nothing changed. Within an hour, my radio would crackle with the news that he was causing trouble again. You see, He was moved, but he wasn’t a continuing worshiper. The response God expects to His party is Active faith and continuing worship.
So what response has He gotten from you? Do you have an active faith? When you came to Christ, did your life change? Are you different in the way that you think? Are you different in the way that you act? Is your direction different, or did you just pray a prayer to ease your conscience?
And has your worship continued? Is Jesus Christ the center of your life, or is He just a third-rate after-thought? You see, when Jesus really saves you, your life changes.
James Bakker discovered that. This is a picture of Jim Bakker, not the televangelist, the diplomat. He was the Secretary of State under Bush and Reagan. Jim is a lawyer form Houston, Texas, an Episcopalian who knew some things about the Bible.
But by his own testimony, He said he never really paid much attention to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Then his first wife came down with cancer, and he really began to think about death and eternity and God. Why was he being left alone with all these children? He still couldn't find the key to eternal life.
His second wife, Susan, came to know the Lord Jesus. She began to teach community Bible studies and pray for Jim. Soon some of the Senators who know Jesus Christ began to pray for him. And then one day he said he understood. All his life he had thought he had to earn the love of God. He said, "I realized I could never earn the love of God. God loved me before I was even formed in my mother's womb. God loved me when Christ died on the cross." And James Baker bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and opened his heart to the Savior.
The immediate result was this: As Secretary of State, he was dealing with the foreign secretary of the USSR, Eduard Sheverdnadze. Baker liked Shevardnadze. As soon as he became a believer, the first thing that crossed Jim Baker's mind was "I've got to win Shevardnadze to Jesus Christ."
Baker has a ranch in Wyoming, and after a diplomatic event in 1989, he invited Shevardnadze to his ranch. At dinner Baker presented his guest with a pair of Western cowboy boots. Then Shevardnaze presented Baker with a surprising gift: an enameled picture of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Then Shevardnadze said to Baker, "You see, Mr. Secretary, even we Communists are changing our minds about spiritual things."
Later when the two went fishing, Baker began to share his faith. It wasn't long before Shevardnadze opened his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. In diplomatic circles, you're not supposed to meddle in personal religion, but when you're filled with the love of Christ, you can’t be passive. Your faith moves you to act and it moves you to worship.