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Sovereign Christmas

Notes & Transcripts

Sovereign Christmas.

Christmas is getting very close! I have an aunty who makes all these wonderful creative cards, so this year I thought that I would have a go at making my own Christmas card. [P] What do you think? A nice traditional snowy picture, a fairly standard Christmas greeting: “I wish you a merry Christmas”. Maybe the picture isn’t that appropriate – it was long ago pointed out that shepherds wouldn’t be out in the field at night with their sheep if there were snow on the ground. And certainly there wouldn’t have been a car, or even a church. But where a large part of the world is celebrating Christmas, it may be something like that. But let’s not be picky, and bar-hum-bug, it’s a nice enough scene. But then I thought about the words …. Well, “I” is a bit self-centred – there can be too much focus on self at Christmas – what “I” am going to get. It would be good to focus more on God … so let’s emend the “I” on my Christmas card and make it: "God" [P]. Then I thought about the “wish” – that is a bit nebulous, a nice sentiment, but it’s not very certain or sure. How about: "impart" [P] – that is giving something that is sure and tangible. Then there is that: “merry” – I have long been uneasy with a “merry” Christmas – a lot of alcohol is consumed at Christmas and people can get merry – but that is certainly not what I wish, or even want to impart. OK, “merry” can mean “happy” – but it is a passing mood. God didn’t impart some transient feeling. Christmas was a sovereign act of God [P] which would change the world, man and even the universe forever! Things would never be the same again! Hallelujah! And that’s another thing – it wasn’t Christmas – Christ’s mass, some religious festival commemorated on the winter solstice – this was God visiting planet earth as a man – God became flesh, a human being like you and me, and lived among us! It is incarnation! [P] "God imparts a sovereign incarnation"! Maybe it doesn’t scan that well, not many people would want a card like that – no, I don’t think I have a future with Hallmark as a designer of Christmas cards. But I do want to bring a Christmas message about God sovereignly imparting the incarnation – God becoming a Man and living here on earth. I have been talking about the sovereignty of God and Christmas is indisputably the sovereign act of God. Sovereignly God chose to intervene in the affairs of man! Praise and glory to His Name. Let us pick up the story we know so well in: [P] [Matthew 1:18-23 Now the birth of Jesus Christ occurred in this way.] This is the way it actually happened, not how it looks in the Christmas card – no snow, no pretty little church with a steeple: [P] [His mother Maria had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.] Maria, or Miriam, found out that she was pregnant. Now she was engaged but they hadn't come together – how come she was with child? Who took the initiative? It was the Holy Spirit – it was God's doing! Miriam was pregnant but she didn't ask to be, she certainly wasn't seeking it. It was a sovereign act of God! He decided to do it. [So Joseph her husband, being righteous and not wanting to disgrace her, intended to divorce her secretly.]  Now here is man's will – Joseph had his idea of what the right thing to do was. He was acting out of concern for what was righteous and compassionate. He was thinking of what was the right thing and at the same time concerned for Mary. You cannot fault him – but it wasn't יְהוָה's will – and it is יְהוָה's will that must prevail, so יְהוָה sovereignly intervenes: He sends a messenger, an angel: [But as he was considering these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Maria as your wife, for what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.] The angel reaffirms that this child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit – that it is a sovereign act of God. [And she will give birth to a son, and you will call His name ‘Jesus,’ because He will save His people from their sins.”] What do you call your first son? – you name it after yourself, or your father, someone in the family. Remember Miriam’s relative, Elizabeth's response when she wanted to call her son "John"? [Luke 1:61 And they said to her, “There is no one of your relatives who is called by this name.”] No, Joseph didn't name the baby "Joseph", he was to call Him "Jesus" – the name was chosen and determined by God. He exercised His sovereign choice over the name of this child. [Now all this happened in order that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “Behold, the virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”] It fulfilled a prophecy. You see? God had planned it all out before hand. He had decided what He was going to do long before and decided what He was going to do; then, at the right time, He did it. [Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.] "Fullness of time" – it didn't just happen. It was carefully planned and took place at precisely the right time in God's sovereign plan. He was in control, sovereignly deciding what He was going to do, then doing it precisely when He decided to. Here was "God with us"! How could this be, how could this come about? – only by God taking the initiative and making that occur – because there was no way for sinful man to come to God. No, God had to sovereingly take the initiative and make the move to man. Of ourselves, we cannot get to God, in fact we don’t even want to. It has to be a sovereign act of God, He decides to do it, then carries it out. The whole Christmas story is supremely the sovereign act of God toward man! That was Matthew's account, let's look at how Luke presents what took place. [P] [Luke 1:26-38 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God] God sent him – He sovereignly acted and sent a messenger. It happened at His instigation. [to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Miriam.] Now, you notice that God was quite specific. It was a virgin – he had already decided that and announced it beforehand in prophecy. And it wasn’t just anyone, it was of the line of David – again, as He had sovereignly chosen and announced it beforehand through His servants, the prophets. God is in sovereign control. [And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Miriam; for you have found favour with God.] Was Miriam especially deserving? No, she “found favour”. God sovereignly decided to favour her – His grace was upon her. And grace is always sovereignly bestowed, otherwise it is not grace; it would be something deserved, your due or right; what God was obligated to do. [“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.] Who decided the name? God, did. He decides, He rules, He is in control. [“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”] Absolutely astounding! Did you hear it? This obscure village girl was going to have a son, and this baby would be the Son of the Most High! He would be King and rule forever! No one would dare dream it up or could even conceive it! Certainly there is no way that Miriam could conceive such! And she knew it!: [Miraim said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.] The angel repeats, so that there can be no mistake – this Child will be the Son of God. And Miriam was right – she could not do it. It had nothing to do with her and any physical relationship with Joseph. What did it say?: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you”; “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”! It is God’s doing. Miriam becomes pregnant – now she didn't do it. She was a virgin. Both Joseph and Miriam were known to be pious law-abiding Jews. There was no way she could be pregnant unless God did it. God took the initiative. The "holy child" was born of God. A sovereign act! He sovereignly acted and caused a child to be formed within Miriam’s womb. It was solely the sovereign act of God! [“And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Miriam said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.] And there is the free-will of man – Mary submitted to what the Lord decreed, as his bond-slave. She could have said “no” – but the LORD knew His girl – He knew her heart, knew how she would respond. But what if she had resisted, had questioned? Remember Zacharias had been sceptical that His wife Elizabeth could have the child that the angel prophesied – but she became pregnant with John all the same. His stance did nothing to prevent God’s will being carried out just as He intended. An amazing thing: God sovereignly took the initiative and formed a child in the womb of a girl from Nazareth, Miriam, or in Greek Maria. Here was God being born as a human being! The incarnation! Have you ever had “chilli con carne”? It is chilli with meat. A carnivore eats meat. Carne is meat, flesh – the incarnation is God in fleshly form: “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” – God who is spirit appeared in a body, became a man! He who is LORD over all, Creator, became a mere human being! Confined to a span! God sovereignly sent His Son, imparted the incarnation. It can only be the work of God! Conceived and planned in His mind and brought into being by His sovereign will and action. But He was not only acting in those who were willing and seeking to serve Him. He is in control of all – even those who don’t even acknowledge His existence: [P] [Luke 2:1-7 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Miriam, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.] Political leaders are important men, powerful – the emperor was top, accountable to no one! He had his plans and agenda – he wanted to tax his empire, so he carried out a census, to register all the citizens of his realm. Caesar Augustus ruled! Or so he thought! Isn’t it amazing – Caesar, though he didn’t realize it, was carrying out יְהוָה’s plan! A godless, heathen idolater was carrying out God’s will and purpose! God had chosen Miriam to be the mother – she and Joseph were of the royal line of David, as required by His plan. He had prophesied that His Messiah would be the Son of David. But He had also prophesied that this Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the David’s town. But Miriam was living in Nazareth. So He needed to have her move to Bethlehem for the birth of this child that He had placed in her womb. Now there were many ways He could have done that – but the way He chose really appeals to me: He had the most powerful man on earth, at that time, direct Joseph and Miriam to Bethlehem just exactly at the time the child was to be born! Now who is in control?! Who is sovereign?! Caesar was under the illusion that he was, but in fact he was carrying out יְהוָה’s will and plan! Fantastic! It is the sovereignty of God! Yes, God rules over the mighty. Perhaps he notices the important and the powerful, but what about the ordinary blokes, little people like you and me. Apologies to Murray, but you don’t get much more ordinary than a shepherd, guys who look after sheep, particularly at that time in Israel: [P] [Luke 2:8-21 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. Ordinary blokes just getting on with their ordinary, every-day, job. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; (how come he was there? – God sent him. God sovereignly decided to send an angel to a group of shepherds and make a display of His glory to them) and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” How did they know? The Lord sovereignly made it known to them, and no one else. So they came in a hurry and found their way to Miriam and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Miriam treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. ] I always think it is rather neat that it was these ordinary common people that were there just after the birth, that these were the ones that God has chosen to be the ones to worship His Son when He came into the world. There were the most glorious angels of heaven, and the lowliest of common working folk. People like you and me. They recognized Him when all the wise and noble, the leaders and the religious experts missed it! Fantastic! [Luke 10:21 At that very time Jesus rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.] Who does the hiding and the revealing? Why? I don’t know – that is His business – He is sovereign and that is the way He delights to do it. How come that these shepherds were there worshipping? Because God chose to reveal what had taken place to them. They hadn’t worked it out for themselves. It was God’s sovereign choice. They were in on it and others missed out. He ordained that praise and glory be given to him by these shepherds. It was only those that God sovereignly chose that knew who this baby was. There was another to whom God sovereignly revealed the identity of His Messiah: [P] [Luke 2:25-32 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (he didn’t work it out, sovereignly the Holy Spirit revealed it to this man). And he came in the Spirit into the temple; (he just happened to come into the temple at just the right time. Coincidence? No, he was sovereignly directed by God there: he came “in the Spirit” into the temple) and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” ] It was a prophecy – an amazing revelation! – that the light would come to the Gentiles. This incarnation was not just for the Jews, it was also for us heathens! We are Gentiles, not God’s people, spiritually we were out to it, we had no claim on God and no way to come to Him: [Ephesians 2:11-12 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.] – dead in our trespasses and sins. We were not interested in God, we were opposed to Him, we didn’t want Him because He would only condemn  us – TOTALLY HOPELESS AND GODLESS! And that is how it would forever be; but for the sovereignty of God! Hallelujah! That He decided to step into human history as one of us, and not just for His own people but also as a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Without that revelation we would not even of known of our need, our desperate situation. He showed us our need and then provided the means to meet it – it is all in the sovereign work of God, the INCARNATION! But for what took place at that time we celebrate at Christmas, we are totally lost, without hope, dead! There is every reason to celebrate at Christmas – more than over the fact that you were given a new pair of socks, or that there is ham for diner! The Jews were looking for a Messiah to deliver Israel, to rule them; but this light to the Gentiles – this was beyond what they were expecting – where did Simeon get this idea? It was sovereignly revealed to him by God. Now a year or so passed: [P] [Matthew 2:1-12 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” – I mentioned this when I dealt with God’s sovereignty over inanimate things in the heavens: there was a star – it wasn’t one that was normally there. These men who studied the heavens recognized it as different and significant. Who put it there? God is sovereign over the stars in the heavens! [When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” – there was a prophecy foretelling that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem. Now I intend to speak on this more at a later date – but prophecy doesn’t work unless God is sovereign, in control. The only way He can foretell what is going to happen in the future is by being in control of it and ensuring that what He has said, does indeed take place. [Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” (now we know that is not what he intended at all!) After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Maria His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.] Who warned them? God warned them, intervened in their thoughts while they slept. God was directing the whole affair from beginning to end. The story we know so well is supremely a record of God’s sovereign intervention, His action, His direction, His control. Remove His sovereignty from the narrative and it just doesn’t happen! Look, man tried to intervene – Herod was so determined that the prophecy not be fulfilled that he had all the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem killed: [Matthew 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.] But did He prevent God’s will being carried out? The laugh is that he actually carried out what God had prophesied, what God had said would happen [Matthew 2:17-18 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.”] And Herod didn’t stop this new king – again God sovereignly intervened, ensuring Jesus survived and at the same time fulfilling what He had foretold years before [Matthew 2:13-15 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”] Again God sovereignly sent an angelic messenger and again fulfilled what He had foretold in prophecy – He carried out His predetermined will. How many times did He send angelic messengers? I counted 5! (excluding the story of John’s birth) [P] – sovereign acts of God! How many times did God speak through dreams? I counted 5! [P] How many prophecies did He fulfil? I counted 6! [P] – and that is just those actually quoted within the narrative. The sovereign control of God! Caesar’s decree causing Jesus to be born in Bethlehem [P] – God’s sovereign control! Causing Miriam to become pregnant [P] – a sovereign act of God! The star announcing Jesus’ birth [P] – a sovereign act of God! God appeared in fleshly form – the incarnation [P] – a sovereign act of God! Only as a man could He take the place of man, bear the judgement upon man’s sin; thus redeeming men back to God. Everything hinges upon the Incarnation! The sovereign act of God! Look, we each of us gets on with our lives; go to our jobs, collect our pay. Try to get on with life, get ahead – we have our plans and aspirations. We seek to direct our life in the way we choose or desire. All around us we are told that that “you control your destiny”. Around us things “just happen” – we are in the midst of random circumstances, and we try to go ahead in the face of what circumstances throw at us. We are told that things ‘just happen” – natural forces, in complex interactions form the situations we are in. It is just natural mechanistic forces – there is no Divine intervention. Virgin’s don’t become pregnant. God does not visit man and dwell among him. There is no supernatural intervention. There is no sovereign God – all is natural forces at work. But Christmas, or the Incarnation, puts a whole lie to that point of view!! [P] Praise God! God does intervene! Hallelujah! Where would we be if He didn’t?! God sovereignly acted and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us! God living in human flesh! Divine intervention! God with us! A miracle! No one was seeking it. No one had thought it out. No one could make it happen. No one could even conceive it. But God did it! Hallelujah! He sovereignly took the initiative and intervened in the history of man. He still does! Hallelujah! Pity the poor man who only sees what the natural eye can see and measure – to whom there is no supernatural, no God, no direction, no purpose! We believe in a supernatural God – furthermore He is mindful of man and intervenes in His affairs. That is what the incarnation is about. Francis Schaffer wrote a book called: “He is There and He is Not Silent” – I would go further and say “He is there and He is not inactive”. God intervenes in the affairs of men! He came down in Person! Jesus made the Unknowable known [John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.] Incarnation – the very concept was born in the heart and mind of God. It was a sovereign act. No man would ever have conceived it; dared to think it – God taking on human form! Yes, there were those looking for the Messiah, the redemption of Israel; but no one was asking for God to appear in human form, to take on flesh and blood. It was conceived, initiated, and put into action solely at the will and the initiative of God. It is His sovereign act. He chose to do it. It was His will. It is completely from Him. [P] [Romans 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counsellor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen!]

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