We worship a big God! He is all powerful, all knowing, eternal, fair, just, and ever present. The God we serve has created everything. He has intricately designed this world and everything in it; He has uniquely created you and me and somehow makes sure everything is works properly for all creation to exist and survive. He is not a God of the concerned only with the “big” details, He is also the God of “little” details.
Francis Chan writes in his book entitled, CRAZY LOVE,
“Have you ever thought about how diverse and creative God is? He didn’t have to make hundreds of kinds of bananas but he did. He didn’t have to put 3,000 species of trees within a square mile of the Amazon jungle, but He did. God didn’t have to create so many kinds of laughter. Think about the different sounds of your friends’ laughs – wheezes, snorts, silent, loud, obnoxious.
How about how plants defy gravity by drawing water upward from the ground into the stems and veins? Or did you know that spiders produce three kinds of silk? When they build their webs they use, they create sixty feet of silk in one hour, simultaneously producing oil on their feet that prevents them from sticking to their own web! Coral plants are so sensitive that they can die if the water varies by even one or two degrees.
Did you know that when you get goose bumps, the hair follicle is actually helping you stay warmer by trapping body heat? OR what about the simple fact that plants take in carbon dioxide (which is harmful to us) and produce oxygen (which we need to survive)? I’m sure you knew that, but have you ever marveled at that? And these tiny poison swallowing, life giving plants came from tiny seeds that were placed in the dirt. Some were watered, some weren’t; but after a few days they poked through the soil and into the sunlight.”
Have you ever sat and thought about the excellence of God? Have you ever thought about his intricacies, his creation, his unfailing love, his sacrifice, his care, his mercy, and his concern with the small details of life? Have you thought about his promises; His promise to never leave or forsake you; his promise of eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ; his promise to be near to you if you draw near to him; his promises of justice; and his promise to take care of you and me?
I have thought about these things over and over and when I think about how great our God is and the specific, wonderful care and kindness He shows, I am encouraged beyond all things. But then, when difficulties arise or the future becomes uncertain, I start to wonder, do I really believe all of this about God? I begin to question; do I believe God is capable of marvelous accomplishments? Do I really believe “God is good all the time and all the time God is good”? Or is this a response I have been programmed to repeat whenever prompted? Ultimately, I ask myself; do I really believe what I believe? Maybe you have asked yourself this same question?
There have been times in my life where my thoughts and beliefs about God do not always reflect what I preach when it comes to worry and trusting God. Intellectually I know God is perfect in all ways, I know He will never leave nor forsake me, and I fully believe He will provide for all of my basic needs in life; so, why do I continue to worry?
Worry, what is it Good For?
Today we are going to look at some Bible passages that I hope will be an encouragement as we seek to live worry-free lives. As believers we are always called to trust God and yet we worry that maybe today is the first day in all of eternity He is not going to pull through. Worry and trust are negating in all ways. The two cannot co-exist. Francis Chan writes again, “Worry implies that we don’t quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what is happening in our lives.” Does that quote sting a little? It should. My first response is to reply, “How dare someone say that me worrying implies that I don’t trust God?” The Old Testament patriarchs worried. The disciples worried. So, isn’t worry a natural response that all humans experience? Sure, it is, but what is worry good for?
Matthew 6:25 – 34
Vs 25 – Jesus says don’t worry about trivial things like what you will eat or wear because life is more than that.
Verse 26 – Do I have trouble believing God is going to take care of my needs? Well look outside see those cute birds flying around outside. They don’t plant or harvest their food, yet they seem to always have something to eat. Hmmm… God provides for those birds. Do I believe that I am more valuable than a bird in God’s eyes? If so, do I believe maybe, just maybe God will provide for me? He cares enough about those winged creatures to provide; then shouldn’t you and I trust and believe that God cares enough about you and me?
Verse 27 – Can you tell me; how much do we accomplish by worrying? Let’s think about this. I spend hours worrying about something and during those hours what am I accomplishing? What purpose has my worry filled? Nothing whatsoever! Was anything accomplished by my worrying? Not a single thing.
Verse 28 – If worry is useless then why bother living your life in bondage to it?
Verses 29 – 32: God takes care of His creation with or without our help, He provides everything that is needed for the plants, the birds, the grass, etc. God knows our needs and He will give us WHATEVER we NEED.
Verse 33 – So, if we don’t spend our time worrying then what are we supposed to do? Jesus tells us to SEEK first Kingdom of God and all the trivial things in life will be taken care of. Jesus tells us that we need to make seeking God and his kingdom our top priority. We are to let him have complete rule and reign over our lives. But when we worry, we do not believe God is going to pull through for us.
Verse 34 – Jesus tells us that since God is going to take care of us let’s stop wasting our time worrying about anything because God has it all under control. Since He has it all under control then we need to live in the here and now because God has provided all we need for today.
So, what is Jesus telling us in this passage? He is simply saying, do not worry because God has taken care of ALL our needs. Now this does not mean that we should neglect personal preparation and planning for the future. No, that is not what Jesus us saying, He is telling us to not spend all of our time planning for the future and what we want to accomplish because God’s plans may (and probably will) be different from the ones you and I make. I mean isn’t this when we worry most? It seems to me that when things don’t go the way I planned them is the time when I start freaking out and worrying about things?
How Can We Live “Worry Free” Lives?
I wish there was a pill or a formula I could give you that would eliminate worry from our lives forever. Unfortunately, there is no such thing available. However, we can turn to the Word of God and let it speak to us today as a daily reminder that God is in control of all things, and I am not.
This passage has encouraged me time and again in my life. In it I find three steps to help us live worry-free lives.
To paraphrase Proverbs 3:5 – 6 and help us live worry-free lives we need to “Trust in God and not your intellect or your crafty plans. Dedicate your life to Him and give Him complete control over your life in all areas and when you do this God will eliminate the power of worry in your life.”
For many worrying is a nasty habit to kick, and it can paralyze you, if you let it. This message today is just as much for me as it is for many of you. We are living in a time where it is easy to give in to our worries, fears and anxieties, but I want to encourage you (and me) to take keep the words of Proverbs 3:5 – 6 close to your heart. I have purposed in my heart for God to have complete dominion in my life so I may live a stress- and worry-free life. I am determined to come to terms with the fact that worrying is useless and a complete waste of time. Time is precious and God does not want me to waste it worrying about things that I have no control over.
Recent polls have shown that most Americans say that they pray regularly (about 61%) and most of us in this room would probably admit to being a people of prayer at times. I am sure we all pray before meals, maybe before we go to bed, and at church. But when I look at this statistic, I can’t help but wonder, how people are praying, and do they really understand the practice of prayer? Does prayer entail more than asking for things? Does it mean more than just thinking about someone who is having a hard time. We hear on this said all the time “They are in our thoughts and prayers.” Now, I admit there are times in my life when my prayer life is shallow. There are days when I get up and say a quick prayer to help me get through the day or when I am in a bad situation, I pray that God would help me, but is that the essence of my prayer time with God? No, it is not, and I believe God wants so much more from us in our quiet times with Him.
What is prayer? Prayer is the primary means for people to communicate with God and Him with us. Some people are confused about prayer. What is it? What does it mean? What does it accomplish? At the core, prayer is simply talking with God. It involves speaking to God from your heart and actively listening to Him.
Prayer isn’t a method for approaching God as a genie or divine vending machine. Prayer isn’t a way to get God to do what we want. Instead, prayer is the way we come close to Him so we can glorify him and also to find out what He wants from us.
Matthew 6:1 - 8
Today we will be spending our time looking specifically at the Lord’s Prayer. Before we do, let’s first look at what Jesus talks about first. He warns his listeners about making a spectacle of themselves when they did good deeds. He warns about having bad motives for giving and helping people just so they would look good, more holy, and righteous, when in fact they were being self-serving. Jesus says that when we give or serve, we are to do it in humility, and in ways that will bring glory to God rather than self.
Theologian R.C. Sproul writes, “Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God’s glory and for our benefit, in that order. Everything that God does, everything that God allows and ordains, is in the supreme sense for His glory. It is also true that while God seeks His own glory supremely, man benefits when God is glorified. We pray to glorify God, but we also pray in order to receive the benefits of prayer from His hand. Prayer is for our benefit, even in light of the fact that God knows the end from the beginning. It is our privilege to bring the whole of our finite existence into the glory of His infinite presence.”
Jesus uses this same warning with prayer. He begins in verse 5 by saying, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.” There are a few points to observe in this statement and we will look at them together.
Matthew 6:9 – 13
Jesus introduces us to what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer” and in this he gives us a model for prayer. Notice He says, “Pray like this…” He does not say, “Pray this prayer”. He shows that this prayer is an example, a model or a “template” on how one should pray. His prayer contains six components. The components are as follows.
“Our Father in Heaven.” When we pray, we are praying to THE FATHER who is in HEAVEN. Who are we addressing? When we approach God as a Father, we are not approaching any ole Father, we are praying to The Father in Heaven. Some people have difficulty with addressing God as Father and they have various reasons. Some may not like the fact that they had an earthly father, and he brings nothing but painful thoughts, memories, and anxieties to mind. Their memory of their father brings such pain and anguish that they refuse to believe that God as a Father could imply something good. Others don’t like the fact that Father implies that God is a male, and this can open a whole can of worms, some denominations have gone so far as to refer to God as the Father/Mother. Some even go so far as to not even liking the idea of referring to God in human terms. However, the original Greek word for Father in this passage is translated as Pater (Pay – Ayr) which means the originator and transmitter of anything. The authors of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself. One who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds. One who stands in a father’s place and looks after another in a paternal way. No matter how we view our earthly father’s it is good for us to know that we have a God in heaven who stands in the place of our earthly fathers and looks after us as a true father should look after his own children. What does this mean to the believer? As Christians we have been exalted to an especially close and intimate relationship with God, and we no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but we revere him as (our) reconciled and loving Father.
God is our Father, but He is unique in the sense that his abode is not primarily here on earth. We cannot and must not forget the fact that God is always present here on earth (Omnipresent) this world is not his home. His place is in heaven. The word translated Heaven in this verse is ouranas (oo-ran-os) which means the region above the far-out heavens or the constellations. It is the seat of order of things eternal and consummately perfect where God dwells with other heavenly beings. Heaven, this is a subject all its own. I will not be spending time today trying to answer the questions of what, where and why’s of heaven. This is another topic for another time.
So, in conclusion to today’s message and as we look at God the Father, I want to stress the importance of knowing and understanding that we have a God in Heaven who loves us with a pure, holy, and fatherly love. He will watch over, protect, and love us in a way that only a parent could love their child. I personally experienced this kind of love and connection with the birth of all four of my children. When my first child was born the emotion and connection, I felt with my daughter was/is unspeakable. I cannot explain the type of love that I experienced as a new father. I experienced a love that I didn’t know I could possess, and it was a pure love, a protective love and a determining love. Imagine this is the kind of love our God has for us. That’s the best way to describe God’s love for us as a Father. However, we cannot completely fathom or define this love because we love with a human love, and He loves with a perfect, pure, and holy love that we cannot understand or comprehend. But I also need to say that as a Father, he not only loves us, but also has the heart to discipline us, protect us, and to guide us as His children. Because this is what we are… His children. John 1:12 - 13 says what I am saying best, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” Since we have a God in Heaven who loves us and gave his son Jesus Christ and have believed in Him, we now have the right to be called His children and we have the right to also call Him our Father who is a holy, loving, merciful and all-encompassing God.
 R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things?, vol. 3, The Crucial Questions Series (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), 10.
In 1958, Christian missionary Elisabeth Elliot returned to the Ecuadorian rainforest to live with the Waodäni, the tribe who had killed her husband only two years earlier. Her choice to forgive, rather than retaliate, sparked a change in the Waodäni, who left behind a cycle of violence to embrace a life of love. This remarkable story rippled across the globe, inspiring millions to serve God through missions.
Love, God, Love Others AND Love Your Enemies!
In the Gospel of Matthew 25 Jesus is asked by an expert in religious law, “What is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus responds with two commandments.
His response can be simplified into a five-word phrase, “Love God and love others.” This is the central messages of Jesus Christ. Love God and love people. This should be easy, shouldn’t it? Technically, yes. Loving God is the easy part. Loving others… well, this can be challenging at times, but doable” Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew 5:44, Jesus really complicates the command of love when he instructs his disciples and listeners to not only love, God, and love people, but to also love our enemies. This my friends is where the water gets murky.
There are some things I wish Jesus would have never had said and this is one because it is far easier to not love someone who has done us wrong, harmed us, or betrayed us in ways that sometimes feels unforgiveable, and it can be very challenging to realistically embrace this commandment from Jesus. It is easier to love those who love us and treat us with respect and dignity. Jesus affirms this in Matthew 5:46 – 47, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”
Loving others is easy when others love you. Even people who do not follow Christ can do this. But it is verse 44 that can make some of us cringe, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
Romans 12: 1
In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul expands on the idea and command of loving one another and loving our enemies. In verse 1 the Apostle Paul makes an appeal to his readers (those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) to present themselves as living sacrifices to God. This means is that they are declaring themselves not their own (denying self) and belonging to God. Denying of self-desires sets the stage for loving others and showing forgiveness because natural desire or flesh wants to hate our enemies but living according to the flesh does not entail living for God and He commands that I love those whom I deem unlovable.
Romans 12: 9 - 10
Paul says, “Don’t pretend to love others.” This means our love must be genuine, sincere, undisguised, without hypocrisy. We are told to love one another sincerely, not so we get something but to love one another with “brotherly affection.” This means that we have a love that has a strong bond that connects us and causes us to stand with and by one another no matter the circumstances. It is the true “friend until the end” mindset. Serve and love one another in ways where you can outdo one another, not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of showing genuine love, honor, and respect. This is an amazing love, and it is the kind of love we are commanded to have for one another. As believers we are bound together by the cross of Christ and our love and care for one another should put to shame the kind of love the world shows or defines. My desire should be to love, honor, and respect you in such a way that will lift you up and edify this body of Christ.
So far, so good…Right? Now comes the part Jesus talks about in Matthew 5 that some of us could do without. “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. You mean I must do what Jesus said, “love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me?” How in the world do I do that? Not in your own power my friend. Our first response when anyone hurts us may be one of two reactions retaliate or retreat or more commonly known as fight or flight. Usually my knee jerk reaction to someone hurting me is retaliation… I say, “They can’t get away with that, I’ll show them!” But I am reminded of the words of Paul in Romans 12:19, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Retaliation is not my job, my job is to bless, love, and pray for that individual. But not only am I to do that I am also called to serve or minister to my enemy in return. WHAT!? It’s enough I can’t retaliate now I have to minister to them. Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;” How do I do that? Not in your own power my friend. When we respond the way Paul commands the result will be like “heap(ing) burning coals on his head.” I’ve often wondered what this “heaping coals” meant. I always thought it was an “I’ll show them” type of attitude. However, according to John Walvoord, “The coals on the head may refer to a ritual in Egypt in which a person showed his repentance by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head. Helping rather than cursing an enemy may cause him to be ashamed and penitent.” Your kindness may cause your enemy to see what he/she has done and bring him/her to repentance for his/her wrongdoing. It is not a guarantee that this will be the end result, but this is what we are commanded to do.
Does this seem hard? Well, it should because it is. Loving enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, and praying for those who abuse us goes against every fiber of our nature. We cannot do this in our own strength, we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to enable us respond accordingly. Some here may have experiences where someone did unspeakably horrible things to you that were devastating and life changing and only the Holy Spirit was able to enable you to show love and extend forgiveness. There are some who have sought the power of the Holy Spirit and He is working in you now to show you how to love, bless and pray for those who have hurt you. There are some who cannot even begin to entertain the idea of forgiveness, blessing, and loving their enemy.
I want to encourage you and me today in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your life right now. The first step for all of us is to realize and accept that we cannot do this in our power we need the Holy Spirit. When we come to this realization and start down the path of forgiveness and healing then we can truly experience the life, forgiveness, and love that Christ calls us to have.
Hope Initiative for February
Before we close out the morning, I want to take a few minutes and talk about something that I would love for everyone in this room to consider and it’s called The Hope Initiative.
According to research, 91% of church leaders have said their church needs revitalization. It was found that most churches do not actively engage in intentional opportunities to share the gospel. The Hope Initiative is one way that we, as a congregation, can get on board with what God is doing in the church. In the American Church we are facing declining attendance. The median church size in America is 45 and this has left churches and pastors discouraged. Both pastor’s and members are looking for hope and this hope is only found in Jesus. Jesus says in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” This neighborhood, city, and your neighborhoods are filled with people who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I imagine every person in this room has a relationship, at the very minimum, of one individual who is not a follower of Christ. And I understand that sharing the Gospel with unbelievers can be intimidating, but we can do it with the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is great news for us. We can share Jesus with our unbelieving friends because God has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to do so.
So, I want to issue a challenge for us all that in the next four weeks of February that we be intentional in prayer. That we would daily or weekly walk our neighborhoods and pray for our neighbors and neighborhoods. If a someone moves into your neighborhood, then we have gift bags for you to give and invite them to Southside. And starting in the month of March, every person starts praying for one person who is not a believer and asking God that in the remaining nine months of the year that God give you the opportunity to share the gospel with the person you are praying for.
Homer’s Odyssey is a poem believed to have been written near the end of the 8th Century B.C. The Odyssey is the sequel to Homer’s poem “The Iliad,” which chronicled a few weeks of the Trojan War. The Odyssey centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. His journey takes ten years to reach Ithaca (his home) after the ten-year Trojan War. Throughout the story, the hero encounters many dangers, pitfalls, and mythological creatures. One story that stands out to me is Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens.
On his journey, Odysseus is warned by Circe (a minor goddess of magic) about encountering the Sirens, these are mythological creatures that are half female and half bird who are “enchanters of all mankind and whoever comes their way; and that man who unsuspecting approaches them, and listens to the Sirens singing, has no prospect of coming home and delighting his wife and little children as they stand about him in greeting, but the Sirens by the melody of their singing enchant him.” They are known for their enticing song that lures men on ships passing by as they are engrossed with these creatures. In their enchanted state, men either plunge to their death trying to reach them or their song so tempts them they forget about everything such as eating, drinking, and manning the ship. Ultimately, in Greek mythology, if one faces the Sirens, one is almost certain of death.
Circe instructs him to get beeswax for all the shipmates and plug their ears so they cannot hear the luring voices. She then tells Odysseus to have the men bind his hands and feet so as the ship approaches, he cannot be physically tempted away. As the ship draws near, the bound Odysseus screams to his men to set him free so he can go to these beautiful creatures, but they only reinforce his ropes the more he screams, thus overcoming the tempting song of the Sirens and continuing his journey home.
The story of temptation is age-old and one that, I believe, resonates with us all. We see this in today’s passage that even the Messiah, Jesus Christ, faced temptation and he was victorious, thus giving us a great model for us today in facing temptation.
Matthew 4:1 – 11
In the Desert
After the Jesus’ baptism, we read that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It is in the desert where Jesus begins his earthly ministry and is the place of the first showdown between competing rulers of two very different kingdoms, but both are vying for the hearts and souls of humanity. This was not a meeting of happenstance but one orchestrated by God. The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness, and we will see throughout his public ministry Jesus will get away from the masses to be alone with God and prepare for a momentous event. It was here that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and naturally, Jesus was hungry. Fasting was a routine to focus on prayer and discipline by uniting the body and soul. It was a time of connecting with God and preparing for something significant. In this instance, Jesus is readying himself for his public ministry. However, Matthew informs us that Jesus is not only going to the desert to fast and prepare for his ministry but also to engage the enemy.
Now, in this account, Matthew gives us some insights as to what is going on in the first two verses.
It is important, now, for us to distinguish between a test and a temptation. A temptation is an enticement to get someone to go against God’s will, and this is what the devil tries to do. On the other hand, a “test” is a means to get a person to prove one’s faithfulness to God and his will. It is very important for us to understand that God does not tempt anyone to sin. James writes in his epistle that when one is confronted with temptation, one must understand that God is not the source of temptation. He writes in 1:13, “God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.” He does allow tests and trials that could lead to someone being tempted to sin, but he is never the source of temptation to sin. According to Bible scholar and commentator Douglas Moo, “For every trial brings temptation. Financial difficulty can tempt us to question God’s providence in our lives. The death of a loved one can tempt us to question God’s love for us. The suffering of the righteous poor and the ease of the wicked rich can tempt us to question God’s justice or even his existence. Thus, testing always includes temptation, and temptation itself is a test… But while God may test or prove his servants in order to strengthen their faith, he never seeks to induce sin and destroy their faith.” Tempting and testing are flip sides of the same coin. In this instance, the devil is tempting Jesus to go against the Father’s will, but in the same regard, the Father uses or allows Satan’s temptation for a good thing in strengthening Jesus for his messianic role. So, at the end of the day, Satan does not act independently of God. God is in control of both the tempter (the devil) and the circumstances (temptations). Thus, the temptation is intended by the devil to cause Jesus to go against the Father, but instead, God uses the temptation to establish Jesus in the Father’s will.
This temptation encounter establishes two accomplishments of Jesus over the devil.
The devil approaches Jesus three times, and all three times he thwarts those temptations. We should note when and how the devil tempts Jesus. We see the devil approaching Jesus after forty days. Jesus was tired, hungry, and vulnerable, but the Spirit was upon him. This is how the devil works. The devil utilizes situations where individuals are at their lowest point. Giving in to temptation often happens when one is either tired, vulnerable, hungry, or feeling worthless or useless. He capitalizes on these situations. Think about this in your life. When are you most susceptible to sin? Yet, the key to all of this is the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus. This is important for us as well. We need to be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people in order to resist temptation.
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
At Jesus’ baptism God spoke and confirmed the identity of Jesus Christ as “My son…”. The devil does not doubt Jesus’ identity, nor is he necessarily trying to get Jesus to doubt it, instead he is tempting Jesus to misuse his privilege as God’s Son. Jesus has the power to perform this miracle, because he does such a miracle in multiplying the fishes and the loaves, but it’s not God’s will that he should perform this miracle. The temptation is to try to get Jesus to go contrary to God’s will.
Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses reminds the people of Israel that God had led them to the desert to humble and test them. One test was through hunger. The people complained of hunger and God provided manna. The point of the test was to teach them the importance of God’s promises and provision. In this temptation of the devil Jesus speaks that he will trust what the Father has willed for him. He maintains the essence of life is God’s Word (promises).
“If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ”
Again, Jesus can do as the devil says, because later in Matthew Jesus informs his accusers that he can call on the Father to rescue him by sending angels (Matthew 26:53). Yet, the O.T. (and the N.T. for that matter) does not imply that God will send protecting care during harmful situations. Here the Devil is trying to get Jesus to test his Father by putting himself in harm’s way. Ultimately, the Devil is tempting Jesus to prove that the Father really does love Him. As stated already, the Father has declared His love for the Son so no further confirmation is needed. Once again, Jesus refutes the temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy (6:16) “You must not test the Lord your God.”
“I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”
The kingdoms that the devil speaks about to Jesus are the very ones he laid aside his glory and came to gather the nations into the Kingdom of God. However, before he can be enthroned as king, He must face Calvary and here the devil is offering Jesus an easier solution. This would require Jesus giving up the will of God and worshiping the devil. The will of God is the cross of Calvary and the devil tries to distract him from this mission. Jesus vigorously proclaims, “Get out of here, Satan,” “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Deut. 6:13). This is the key point of Jesus; God alone is worthy of worship.
The temptation of Jesus shows that Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed, and his example can show us how we can succeed in our temptations.
So, when faced with temptation it would serve us well to start with these questions, “Is this what God wants for me? Can I do this and truly love God and delight in him?” If the answer is “no” then it is imperative to resist the temptation to go against God’s will and plan for you. The honest truth is, that not all temptations are inherently evil but rather something that is good but used for the wrong reasons. The nature of temptation is that it can be subtly a good thing but perverting it for bad use. Thus, the final consideration for us all is determining what God wants for you in the situation you are in? Remember when facing temptation to use 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a guideline, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” In this we can draw on all of God’s resources to gain victory over temptation in our lives. Being tempted is not a sin. Yielding to temptation is when it becomes a sin. Consider this for your life today: temptation in the hands of Satan can become a test in the hands of God. He can and will use temptation as a test and strength to our character and relationship with him.
 Moo, Douglas: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, p. 72, 73
In the Summer of 2004, my family and I witnessed a presidential motorcade in the City of Erie, PA. I remember it quite well, as the amount of preparation and security that went into this short visit was extreme but necessary. Security measures were put in place months in advance, and a plan for the motorcade’s route was put together. The arrival of the most powerful man in America was a big deal. The president of the United States of America was coming, and the city needed to make the necessary preparations for this visit. We waited in anticipation as a sea of flashing lights from police vehicles came over the horizon, lines of busses, and dozens of black SUVs approached. We stood on the side of the road waiting for the coming of the man of the hour. It was quite a sight, as dozens of black SUVs with secret service agents armed with semi-automatic rifles, guns, earpieces, and helicopters hovering overhead. It was truly awe-inspiring. I remember thinking, “This is all for one man.”
I share this memory with you because when God incarnate came to earth there was not even close to this amount of preparation for his arrival. This account is a good reminder of the importance of preparing for the arrival of THE King, not only for his earthly visit, but for when He comes into our lives as well.
Prepare the Way
Matthew 3:1 – 17
It has been about 25 years since Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to Nazareth, and now the time has come for John, referred to as “the Baptist,” to appear and fulfill his purpose. Interestingly, John the Baptist appears at the beginning of all four gospels, thus making him an important historical figure in the biblical account because he is the link between God’s saving activity in the Old Testament and Jesus’ saving activity through his ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
John the Baptist – So, who is this John the Baptist? We don’t know much about Him, but we do know this.
John preached about the coming Kingdom of God, or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven, and preached baptism for the repentance of sins. The religious leaders of this time didn’t understand what John’s purpose was and who he was. Today, we will look at five aspects of Matthew 3:1 – 17 that I want to discuss to help us better understand what is happening in the passage and how it speaks to us today.
Since Jesus is God incarnate, the Holy One of Israel, the King, and the Messiah, he did not need to be baptized for the remission of sin since he is sinless. He did not need to be converted, and there was no need for repentance since His Kingdom was coming. So, why does Jesus get baptized? Jesus’ baptism has far more significance than we think. Jesus tells John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all God requires.” Or the NIV states, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” The word “fulfill” continues a theme that started at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ conception, birth, and infancy all fulfilled specific and general prophecies. Jesus says he must be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” This most likely means that God’s saving activity in the Old Testament is now being fulfilled with the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry through the death on the cross of Calvary. It is Jesus’ expression of his obedience to God and his plan of salvation revealed in the Scriptures. Thus, this public baptism is an endorsement of John’s ministry and message and links Jesus’ cause to John’s. So, as Jesus goes down into the waters of baptism, he identifies with his people in their need; ultimately, he identifies with the sinful humanity he came to save and, at this point, with the believing remnant of Israel who came to be baptized. Jesus now brings fulfillment to the ministry John began. When Jesus comes up from the water, three things happen…
John the Baptist’s whole ministry (and life, for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He knew his place in life. He had a humble (and vital) spirit to him. He was not about self-promotion; he was about Christ's promotion. He did not have a personal agenda; he had God’s agenda. His purpose was to be the voice calling out in the wilderness that the Messiah had come, and he desired that people be right with God by preaching a message of baptism, repentance, and forgiveness of sins. He wanted to show people a new way of life and an authentic relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ). May we be like John in this manner.
Jesus’ connection with sinners, demonstrated through His baptism and crucifixion, is a model for His followers. We are called to follow His example by standing in harmony with the less fortunate and being the light in the world, just as He illuminated the world. Like Jesus, who shouldered His cross, we are also tasked with carrying our own. By following Jesus, we adopt a more profound unity with His body, the church. Despite having no entitlement, Jesus imparted upon us boundless gifts. Similarly, we are called to selflessly offer everything, even our lives, for His sake, without expecting anything in return from the world.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 158.
When someone comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, inevitably the first questions asked are, “How do I learn more about Jesus?” and “Where do I start reading in my Bible?” Some encourage, and I believe wrongly, to start at the beginning, Genesis, and read chronologically to the end, Revelation. Few point them to the writings of Paul and his epistles. Even fewer direct new believers to applicable books like James, Psalms, and Corinthians. Dreadfully some push new believers into the deep end starting with the apocalyptic books like Daniel or Revelation. However, the majority point people to the Gospels and I believe this is the best place to start. Why? Because it is in the Gospels, we can grow in our understanding of Jesus’s life, ministry, and message. Now, today will serve as a general introduction of Matthew’s Gospel. If you are one who is a listener then you are encouraged to either sit back and take in all that I talk about or if you are a note taker, then write away as there will be plenty to write down. But ultimately, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you, challenge you, and transform you to become more like our Lord, savior, and King, Jesus.
The Gospels are the first four books of the New Testament and all four are accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry through his death There are two-types of Gospel accounts, both are canonical (authoritative) they just have different structure.
None of the gospel writers states their name explicitly within the text of their Gospel accounts. All the evangelists were compiling stories of Jesus for churches of which they were active participants. So, naturally there is debate among scholars as to the true author of Matthew that I will not discuss.
Nevertheless, the authors of the Gospels likely stood in the assembly of believers to read their Gospel accounts themselves, so to attach their names to their account as authors would be unnecessary. So, it is wise to look back at church history to determine the authorship of the Gospels. Regarding Matthew’s Gospel the earliest church traditions undeniably ascribe the first Gospel to Matthew the Tax collector, and it is commonly believed he wrote this Gospel in Hebrew. Early Greek Apostolic Father Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60 Ad to 130 AD) is believed to be the one who is the earliest to mention Matthew as author, he writes, “Matthew wrote down the sayings in the Hebrew dialect, and each man translated as he was able.”
The disciple Matthew was a tax collector called by Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:9). He was also known as Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27). As a tax collector he would have been trained in secular scribal techniques, and as a Jewish Christian he would have been able to interpret the life of Jesus from the Old Testament expectations.
Now, we read in Marks Gospel that there were among Jesus’ followers many tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:15 – 15). Jesus was criticized for his association with tax collectors and sinners. But in this account Jesus not only associates with tax collectors but he calls one Matthew to follow Him as a disciple. In response to the criticism he faced, Jesus informs the religious leaders it is not the healthy who need healing, but the sick (Mark 2:16 -17). When Jesus called Matthew, he rose and immediately followed him and leaving his life behind to follow the savior.
We do not know much more about Matthew. We can make some strong assumptions about him.
Matthew does not write this gospel to have people engage with his theology, but rather to engage with Jesus He tells his story of the fresh and decisive action of God in and through Jesus. In his genealogy Jesus is introduced from the beginning as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel’s throne through King David and the promises of blessings through Abraham. His gospel becomes a manual, of sorts, on discipleship, as both Jews and Gentiles begin to follow Jesus and learn to obey all his commands.
This morning has served as a general introduction to our series and to the Gospel of Matthew. I am excited for this journey we will take together as we look at the life of Jesus Christ through the writings of the disciple Matthew. This will not be a verse-by-verse series, but more of a detailed overview of Gospel account. My encouragement to everyone today, me included, is that we take on the attitude of worship during this new series and new year. This worship is not just the mindset of singing worship, but the posture of giving worship to our King, our Lord, and our Savior, Jesus Christ as we honor him, obey him, and proclaim him Lord and Savior of our lives. As we journey through the Gospel, we will skip past the nativity story and start with Jesus’ earthly ministry from his early ministry to his death, resurrection, and ascension and circle back to the beginning during Advent and Christmas to conclude from the beginning.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 38.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 39.
The mystery of God’s incarnation through Jesus is vital to our understanding of redemption because we are saved only through the acts of Christ’s life and death. In the encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel, we see God’s perfect plan of redemption comes through the incarnation of the Son. We also see Mary, the one whom God chose, who submitted to God and became an active member of the Kingdom of God. She was the recipient of God’s grace as she was told that she would give birth to the savior of the world. Because of Mary’s response, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” humanity can rejoice in knowing that our Lord has come to redeem us, to dwell in us, and so that we may know that we can live in the anticipation that he will come again to rule and reign as King, Lord, and Almighty God.
Mary and the Angel
Vs. 26: “In the sixth month”- This is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s (Mary’s cousin or aunt) pregnancy.
“The angel Gabriel was sent by God…” The name Gabriel in Hebrew means “Man of God”. According to the Bible, he is the angel who brings revelation or messages. In Jewish noncanonical writings (Enoch), he is called one of four chief angels (Raphael, Uriel, and Michael). In these writings, he is described as an intercessor, destroyer of the wicked, one who is set over all powers, and sits at the left hand of God. According to Luke 1:19, He is the angel who stands in the presence of God. Michael and Gabriel are the only two angels mentioned in the Bible, and it is believed Gabriel is God’s messenger who executes His will on earth.
We also know him as the angel who appears to Daniel when the LORD instructs him to give Daniel clarity to the message he received.
He appears first to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, to tell him that Elizabeth is pregnant with a son. Six months later, he comes to Mary to give her the great news that she will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.
Mary and her fiancé lived in a small town called Nazareth. It was about 70 miles north of Jerusalem. The town was surrounded by three hills making it a town located in a valley. There would be trade routes that would pass near the town but never through it. The town was small and insignificant in many ways, so it was not a city that was viewed favorably. Nazareth is the town where Jesus grew up.
Vs. 28: “Greetings, favored woman!!” These are powerful words. God has chosen this young virgin named Mary specifically to be the mother of the Savior of the world. The word favored means to show kindness to someone, with the implication of graciousness on the part of the one showing such kindness— ‘to show kindness, to manifest graciousness toward, kindness, graciousness, grace.’ She is the direct recipient of God’s grace. There is nothing that we read in the Bible that indicates there was anything uniquely special about Mary. Thus, we see her as a recipient of God’s grace in its full effect. God chooses or favors her directly from grace. What we do know about Mary is she is an ordinary young girl, and that is it. God simply chose her because that is who He chose. However, we should note, she is a model saint as she receives the grace.
“The Lord is with you!” – Some translations add, “blessed are you among women.” The angel spoke this to her because, as we will see, Mary is frightened by this encounter with the angel.
Vs 29: “But she was deeply troubled… wondering what kind of greeting this could be.” This is strange because it does not say that she was troubled or afraid because an angel appeared before her (which would have been understandable) but it says she was troubled with the kind of greeting it was.
Vs 30: “Do not be afraid” – The angel assures her that there is no need to be afraid. God is with her, and he has chosen her to be the recipient of God’s grace; thus, he has chosen her to be the vessel through whom he works to bring about His will of redemption through the Messiah.
Vs 31: “Listen” – The Angel tells her why she is highly favored. His wording is remarkably like the prophetic “virgin” passage found in Isaiah 7:14.
Mary will conceive a child, a boy, and his name will be Jesus. This was a common name in the OT and remained popular throughout the first century.
Matthew 1:21… The angel tells us the meaning of his name and indicates that he will save people from their sins. His name in Hebrew is Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves” (Yahweh is typically rendered as “LORD” in the OT).
Vs 32 – 33: The angel declares the destiny or purpose of the coming Messiah. He will be called the son of the Most High, In fact, He will be called the Son of God. He will be a King, like David, over the house of Jacob, pointing to his relationship with Israel. He will reign as King forever because his Kingdom is eternal and will remain forever. These expressions point to Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, even though the angel does not say this directly.
Vs. 34: Some think Mary’s response, “How can this be?” is a bit puzzling because Mary was obviously betrothed to be engaged, and having a child after marriage is certainly not out of the question. All Mary knew so far was she would have a child someday. Until now, the angel did not specify how or when the pregnancy would happen. So, some have suggested, and I agree, that Mary saw this encounter and promise as an immediate conception. This was not something, obviously, that was not going to happen a year or two down the road; it was going to happen soon.
Vs. 35: Mary questions the angel, and he indicates that this will not be an average pregnancy and birth. First, she will not conceive by natural means. This is a divine act of the Holy Spirit. She will conceive supernaturally by God. “The Most High will overshadow you.” The word for “overshadow” carries the sense of the holy, powerful presence of God, as in the description of the cloud that “covered” (“settled upon”) the Tabernacle when the tent was filled with the glory of God.
Vs 37: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Reading this does not make logical sense, but God works beyond our logic. He does not need to be logical because He works outside our realm. Isaiah 55:8 – 9 reads, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” God does not do things conventionally. He works and moves on His terms, not ours, so when we do not fully understand how something so illogical or incredibly impossible to some is, we must be reminded of Isaiah 55:8 – 9 and that nothing is impossible with God.
Vs 38: We see Mary’s true heart and character in this verse. We see that which, I believe, makes her special and unique. She replies, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” In her response, she acknowledges her position as a servant to God and then proclaims her faith as she submits her will and life to God. She understood what was going on. She knew her fiancé could potentially divorce her, her reputation would be marred, her son would be ridiculed and ostracized, and she knew the potential and the consequences of being accused of adultery in this Jewish society. Yet she accepted the call and submitted to God.
As we conclude this morning, may we be reminded that in this Christmas season, God showed His love to humanity by becoming a human. Let us consider Philippians 2:5 – 11. Through his incarnation, the Son gave up his “divine privileges” to become human and dwell among us. In the incarnation, he became completely dependent on His human mother as an infant and child. He was subject to death at the hands of humanity so that he may be crowned with glory and honor, and at his name, every knee shall bow in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. Amen.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 748.
Angels play an important role in the Christmas story… God doesn’t send one but a multitude of angels to proclaim the birth of the Savior of the world. Their proclamation that the Savior of the world had come was something the angels had anticipated since the beginning of time. As humble of a setting that the birth of Jesus was, God sent his angels to come and proclaim that the Lord had indeed come.
There are hundreds of passages in the Bible that mention angels. In fact, 34 out of 66 books reference them, and yet we still don’t know much about them. The word Angel translated n both Hebrew and Greek means “messenger”. Angels are created beings who are sent to minister to God’s people in various ways, but they are specifically sent to serve God’s people for his purposes.
What Do Angels Do?
If Angels had a job description, what would it look like??
Angels in the Bible
We do not know the number of angels in heaven and on eart, we only know there are a lot. In fact, Jesus mentions in the Gospels to having access to thousands of Angels to rescue him at his call.
What Do Angels Look Like?
Some seem to have human qualities about them but distinct in their appearance. Many times, people would be talking to angels and would not realizie they were talking to an angel. Oher angels have a unique appearance and were frightening. Some portray themselves as angels of light. Some are described as grotesquely glorious creatures.
Matthew 28:3: Appearance of lightning and raiment of white
Isaiah 6: Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Ezekiel 10: And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Daniel 10:5, 6 - a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.
What Do the Angels Teach Us About Christmas?
When the shepherds encountered the infant Jesus, they left changed men. They met the little Lord Jesus and departed praising God for what they heard and saw. We see this throughout the life of Jesus. Whenever anyone had an encounter with Jesus they left changed in some way. This should be true for us today. If you have encountered Jesus how are you changed? When you came to saving faith in Christ did you receive a new heart and become a new creation in Jesus? If Jesus hasn’t impacted your life in some way, then maybe he hasn’t impacted your life at all.
Early church father Saint John Chrysostom said this about the nativity:
“The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decrees that the ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of this word; taking my flesh, he give me his spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life.”
The miracle of birth is just that… a miracle and the birth of Jesus Christ (the incarnation) is the greatest miracle of all. The incarnation is a mystery that has not been solved for millennia but has always ended up attributed to God’s miraculous and mysterious work. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “The incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.” This is an amazing statement because Tolkien had one of the most creative minds when it came to writing fantasy stories. I believe Tolkien may have implied that the reality that Jesus became a human so that he may identify with us, including what Psychologist call the most painful event in life – birth and this is something that even in his vast and wild imagination could ever conceive or write about.
The incarnation is not just a great mystery because it is about a baby being born. The mystery is in God becoming human and dwelling among us. The mystery continues in the way he came into the world through a young, unmarried virgin mother named Mary. The great reformer Martin Luther wrote, “The virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that the maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen by God.”
Matthew 1:18 – 25
The account of Jesus’ birth is a miracle in itself. As I mentioned in a previous sermon this life of Jesus began and ended in humility, but the humility is encapsuled in a miracle. The miracle begins with a young virgin receiving the news and promise of giving birth to the Messiah (savior) through unusual means. The Greek word for virgin is Parthenos which means an unmarried female of marriageable age. Both Matthew and Luke state that the young girl was a virgin at the conception of Jesus and remained a virgin through full term.
“She became pregnant…” Let’s go back 2000 years…imagine a young unmarried girl, at the age of 15 getting pregnant, this would not have been widely accepted in society. There were harsh laws and punishments for young women who gave birth out of wedlock. This pregnancy was unusual because Mary was a virgin. We are told that she became pregnant “through the power of the Holy Spirit.” The mystery deepens…We do not know how this happens. We are not given the details. All we know is that this is a work of God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a divine mystery and an essential mystery because it is through the divine conception that Jesus will be called holy – The son of God (Luke 1:35)
Mary was engaged to Joseph. We do not know much about him, but we do know he was considered a righteous man. At first, he determines to break the engagement quietly because he didn’t want to embarrass his fiancé publicly. Upon this consideration the angel of the Lord visits Joseph and encourages him to not be afraid, and that he should Marry Mary. Why? Because God is moving and doing a great thing, the Holy Spirit was at work, and he needed to stick this out, because what was happening is way beyond his understanding. The angel also instructs him … “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew tells us what is happening so that the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 would be fulfilled.
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
They will call him Immanuel – “God with us”, or “with us is God”. This is the Prophetic Messianic name or title of Christ. This is the great mystery revealed. God will come and dwell with his people.
John 1:14 - 18
Vs 14- 18: The Word became flesh: The incarnation. The eternal God, Creator of all, and the light of the world took on the form of a man and dwelt among humanity. He came to bring the light of salvation to all who believe. He came to dispel the darkness and bring life.
John was an eyewitness as he walked, talked, and touched the living God in human flesh. John himself bore witness to Jesus’ glory. The word glory means “the most exalted state or kingly majesty”, so that all humanity may see the light of the World is the true light of all.
The word dwelt literally means tabernacled or “pitched a tent among us.” To better understand this meaning, we need to understand what the tabernacle was and what it represents. The tabernacle was the precursor to the temple. It was literally a portable worship space that the Israelites would set up and take down as they wandered through the desert until they reached the Promised Land. The tabernacle contained the Ark of the Covenant and was the meeting place between God and Israel. The Tabernacle was a constant reminder of God’s presence among the people.
The tabernacle essentially has no meaning apart from Jesus Christ. The purpose of the tabernacle was to point to the coming Messiah. To show that one day God himself will dwell among his people. God established the tabernacle thousands of years before Jesus came to show that one day the Messiah would be the tabernacle for us. So, when it is said, Jesus dwelt or tabernacled among us, we can see Jesus as the fulfillment of the tabernacle and the temple. How so?
The Tabernacle and Jesus
The tabernacle was the place where people would meet with God. Jesus is the way to God.
John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
The tabernacle was the center of Israel’s camp and the gathering or meeting place of God’s people. Likewise, Jesus is the center of Christianity, and all humanity is drawn by Him and to Him.
John 12:32: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
The tabernacle was where people offered sacrifices for their sins. Jesus is the one true, perfect sacrifice for forgiveness of sins to all who believe.
Hebrews 10:12: “But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor under God’s right hand.”
The tabernacle was a place of worship. The church, or the body of Christ, is where we gather to worship today.
The incarnation is the fulfilment of God’s plan and prophecy to save the world. God at an appointed time sent Jesus, born of a woman, to set humanity free from those who are slaves under the law and adopted us as His children.
Galatians 4:4 – 5: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”
D.A. Horton writes, “Through the incarnation, God the Son entered into our fallen world in order to place Himself under the law of Moses.”
Hebrews 2:9: “What we see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position ‘a little lower than the angels’; and because he suffered death for us, he is now ‘crowned with glory and honor.’ Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.”
Through the incarnation we see not only the importance of the life of the savior who dwelt among us, but also in his death that he died. Though the incarnation Jesus dwelt among us and he was subject to death by the hands of humanity so that we may be crowned with glory and honor.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we will talk about the birth of Jesus Christ and look at the historical and biblical significance of his birth and his life as He came to earth in the flesh. Mostly, we will look at the meaning behind the Nativity Story, a story of humility.
Believe it or not, Jesus’ birthday is not December 25, 0 A.D. He was most likely not born in a barn, He most likely did not have a halo around his head, there were not necessarily three wise men, and there was no little drummer boy we know of. In fact, his birth was less glamorous. It is commonly held that Jesus was born in September or October in Bethlehem (but some scholars argue it was in Nazareth), but the precise date and location are debatable. Contrary to popular thought, history has shown he may have been born in a cave or a room in a house. The Bible also does not disclose how many Magi (or wise men) were present it only states there were the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Unfortunately, tradition has painted a picture of the scene of Jesus’ birth, and it is most likely incorrect.
According to theologian D.A. Carson, It is probably true Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem during this time because the Romans reorganized their administration in several parts of the empire and were carrying out fresh censuses for the purpose of taxation. The execution of such an imperial decree in Syria (with which the area of Judea was associated) brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, which was prophesied long ago as the Messiah’s place of birth (according to Micah 5:2). There was no room for them in the inn, but as I stated tradition also holds that Jesus may have been born in a cave or room in a house near the inn and most likely not a stable.
There are more misconceptions about the Christmas story that I could talk about, but I do not want to focus on them. Instead, I want to talk about humility as it relates to the Christmas story and the life of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I am floored when I think about the creator of all things coming to this earth in the flesh of humanity. One would think everything about his entrance into this world would be spectacular, and his birth would be heralded among all the nations. However, everything about our Savior, including his birth, points to humility and service to others.
Luke 2:1 - 20
Jesus’ life began and ended in humility. We see this in his birth, his life, and his death. One would think the purpose of God coming to this earth would have been to straighten humanity out and set things on the right course, but it was much more than that. Jesus had a destiny. Looking back at Luke 2:1 - 20, you can see his destiny. The angel proclaims that Jesus will be great and called the Son of the Most High, He will receive the throne of David and reign over all of Israel, and there shall be no end to His kingdom. However, before we can recognize Him as the King of Kings and Prince of Peace, we need to grasp the humility of our God in the flesh. While on earth, He was God in the flesh living a life of humility, showing others the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We see the humility of Jesus in His birth. There is nothing spectacular about his entrance into this world. It all begins with our God coming into the world in the form of a baby… a weak, helpless, and needy baby. Not a strong warrior or mighty king, but a baby. We read that He was born in a little town called Bethlehem, and this is significant because Micah 5:2 prophesies this, but the town is so insignificant that it is not even listed in the list of Judah’s towns in Joshua 15. Not only was he born a weak little baby in an insignificant town, but he was born to a simple carpenter and a young mother. Then to top it off, the angels do not proclaim the birth of the savior of the world to the masses. Instead, they proclaimed the Savior’s entrance into this world to a group of Shepherds. Yes, smelly, stinky, and insignificant shepherds! Don’t you think Jesus could have had better PR than that? Wouldn’t it have been better to announce the birth of the Savior of the world to the city of Jerusalem? Or maybe they would send a wire to the Jerusalem Times that the long-awaited Messiah had come, and now He would start the process of setting up His eternal Kingdom? Maybe they could have called JNN Jerusalem News Network and had an anchor come and report on this event for the world to see. No, God chooses shepherds.
We have in the Biblical account… The Savior of the world came to the earth in the form of a weak, helpless baby, born in a small insignificant town to a young mother and a Jewish carpenter father (who wasn’t his biological father). Angels heralded his birth to a group of stinky, smelly shepherds who were tending to their sheep, and eventually (probably one or two years after his birth), some wise guys came along and gave Jesus some sweet gifts. There is certainly no glamour in all of this!
Jesus had a rather humble beginning to life; certainly, things will get better as he gets older, right? Wrong! When we glance at Jesus’ life, we will see the opposite is true. First, Jesus was tempted by Satan as an average ordinary man. You can read the account in Matthew 4. Why was he tempted? Isn’t He God? Couldn’t He have just told Satan to take a hike and got on with his life? Hebrews 4 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." He was tempted so he could sympathize with our weaknesses and yet show us that we do not need to give in to temptation. Why would a king allow this to happen if He didn’t truly love and care for his people? Secondly, Jesus was a carpenter from an average family. Mark 6:3 says the people questioned Jesus’ wisdom by asking, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. The leader's question implied, “He is a common laborer, not a King, and most certainly, not the Savior.” His immediate family—mother, brothers, and sisters—were known to the townspeople as ordinary people. Thirdly, we see Jesus’ humility in the fact that He didn’t even have a home.
In Matthew 8:20, a Scribe told Jesus He would do whatever it took to follow Jesus, "And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” As Lord of the universe, He could have lived in mansions created for glory or even a semi-decent house, but the Bible tells us He had no home. Fourthly, Jesus did have a moment where He accepted worship as a King. However, it wasn’t as a valiant knight on a white steed parading into town as a victorious warrior. Instead, He came into town on a colt, a simple work colt. Fifth, he refers to himself as a servant, and a servant King is what He was. Philippians 2:5 – 7 says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." This tells us a lot about Jesus Christ. He made himself nothing and became a servant. How many leaders or kings do you hear who believe that’s their calling in life? Lastly, we see the humility of Christ in the way He died. He did not die of old age or die during battle as a warrior. No, He was crucified and died an excruciating, painful, and dishonorable death. That He gave himself over to death is an act of humility. He has the power to defeat death, yet he becomes subservient to it. Yet He did this because this was the plan from the beginning, and He needed to make a way for man to receive salvation.
What’s the point I am trying to make? Jesus was born in humility and lived a life of humility as a servant, who, tempted to sin, did not give in. He had no home; he was eventually hailed as the Messiah but on the back of a donkey and was killed a week later as He hung on a cross. We can see and understand that our Lord lived a life of humility on this earth. Of course, today, He is seated at the Father's right hand and will someday return as a triumphant King. But for now, we wait and anticipate and look to him as our example of how we should live our lives here. Our Lord lived as a humble servant. He served the needs of those who had needs, He became subject to earthly leaders, and He didn’t put His own needs before the needs of others.
What does this show us today? As we enter the Christmas season, let us humbly serve one another. Yet, not just our own families or church but truly seek ways that we can serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. I am not sure how you will do it, but it could be as simple as assisting someone less fortunate, buying a gift for a child whose parent(s) are incarcerated, dropping off some cookies to a neighbor, or inviting someone to worship with us this Christmas season. Be creative, think outside yourself and your family, and seek ways to serve others in humility in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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