THE BIRTH OF CHRIST, OUR KING
Pastor Vernon Kleinig – Guest Pastor
Sunday 11th September, 2016 -THE STORY – 22
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Whose birthday do you look forward to most of all? The birthday of a family member or close friend? The best major birthday celebrations are those looked forward to ahead of time and are prepared for way ahead of the date. We can then look forward to the celebration with joyful anticipation. There’s no birth looked forward to more than that of Christ Jesus our King. We never tire of celebrating Jesus’ birth to His mother Mary. His birth marks the pinnacle of God’s long story for us and our salvation. Its occurrence had been promised and prophesied many centuries earlier so that God’s people might enthusiastically celebrate the occasion. Because it’s too good to confine to just one part of the year, many places celebrate our Saviour’s birth in July, corresponding to winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Jesus’ birth has done more to soften and change humankind than any other event in history. It’s a marvellous blend of mystery and simplicity and of something both this-worldly and other-worldly involving God’s messengers, the angels. Jesus was born into a world as troubled as ours is today. Many people were desperately longing for something that would transform their world and bring lasting peace and a radiant hope. The prophet Isaiah gave God’s people something to look forward to: “for to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given.” This gift from God has your name written on it for your lifelong blessing and benefit. There’s no more wonderful counsellor we can have access to than Jesus Christ. He loves listening to us with a sympathetic ear without prematurely judging us. Throughout the Gospels we see how He has lots of time to spend with individuals who need His wise advice and unsurpassed assistance.
As “Mighty God” He is mighty to save, not by wielding immense power but by His life-transforming love, a love that will never end. The emphasis in the titles Isaiah gives to Jesus lies in the last title: “Prince of peace”. Peace in the Bible is a big word. It means wholeness, well-being, security and reconciliation. Jesus brings peace where we need it most, in our relationships with each other. He wants us to discover the marvellous blessings that flow from our peace-making endeavours. That’s why He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Over the coming months may God bless all your peacemaking efforts as you pray, “Make me a channel of your peace”.
Now for Joseph, who was Mary’s future husband, the news of her pregnancy before their wedding was anything but welcome news. It seemed scandalous. Why would the Messiah’s birth begin in such a scandalous way? He knows Mary, his fiancée, isn’t pregnant by him. He has two options. First, a public divorce that would lead to Mary being publicly humiliated, or secondly, a private divorce where he might feel somewhat vindicated.
Just as an angel appeared to Mary to invite her to have the honour of becoming the mother of Christ, the Son of God, so too an angel now appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him that Mary hasn’t been unfaithful to him. Instead, something immensely profound is about to happen to this young couple from the tiny, insignificant town of Nazareth. Joseph is called a righteous person. He is about to exhibit the new righteousness Jesus shows. Instead of being legalistic and operating strictly according to the letter of the Law, this new righteousness is full of mercy and compassion, abounding in loving-kindness. And this is how God wants Joseph to act towards Mary.
First of all, he is told that Mary’s child–to-be has no human father but is conceived of the Holy Spirit. As the first Adam came into being without a human father, so too for Jesus, the second Adam. Mary is honoured to give birth to God’s only Son, while Joseph is given the honour of naming the baby and thus incorporating Him into the ancestral line of King David. Joseph knew from Isaiah’s prophecy that our Saviour would be born of a virgin. But he never dreamed it would be the virgin he was engaged to! Mary’s baby will be named “Jesus” which means “God saves” or “God to the rescue”. This will prove to be the most helpful name on earth, because “He will save His people from their sins.”
Reporting on other people’s sins is very popular in our magazines and on TV. We don’t mind talking about other people’s sins as long as no-one talks about ours. Remember the letter “I” is right in the middle of the word “sin”. Doing something about my sins is always a much more profitable activity than focussing on the sins of others. Only the Christ-child can give us lasting freedom from our addiction to sin. Jesus saves us from all that would ruin us in this life and in the life of the world to come, and places us in God’s community of His forgiven and forgiving people.
The birth of Christ our King is all about the new beginning God makes with the whole human race. That’s why His Son is born of a virgin. It’s God’s way of making a new start with His creation. Love dislikes distances. Jesus’ birth as one of us is God’s way of overcoming the distance between Him and us. By becoming a fellow human being, God makes it easier for us to believe in Him. In His Son Jesus Christ, we’re loved with a love that is both human and divine. Mary is the guarantee that Jesus is as human as we all are. Her obedience to God begins undoing Eve’s disobedience. In her song of thanksgiving, The Magnificat, Mary acts as spokesperson and advocate for the poor and needy, the very people her son will be spending so much time with.
Furthermore, Mary’s son is called “Immanuel”, that is, “God with us” in all of life’s joys and sorrows. What an amazing act of grace it is that our Creator has come to live with sinners! “Immanuel” means that in Christ, God came to dwell first, with the sick to heal them, secondly, with the poor in spirit to bless them, thirdly, with despised tax collectors and other people considered notorious sinners, to lift their spirits with His forgiving fellowship, and fourthly, with the lost, to seek and to save them. As Immanuel, Jesus came to share our grief and sorrow, having experienced grief and sorrow firsthand Himself. Immanuel points forward to our Saviour’s words at the end of Matthew, “I am with you always to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).”
Through Jesus humbling Himself to be born in a stable rather than a mansion, Jesus honours and exalts our human nature. We can therefore say, “Jesus has made it wonderful for me to be a human person as He has shared my need for food, friendship, rest and recreation with me.” His birth has brought to us and our world a greater glory than we lost in the Fall of Adam and Eve. Think of how impoverished our civilisation and culture would be if Jesus had never been born. His birth gave a new dignity to the human race and created a new passion to help the poor and needy. His birth and subsequent life brought a touch of heaven down to our earth in order to create a longing in us to be with Him in heaven forever.
As the only Saviour who can save us from our sins, Jesus and salvation are inseparable. That’s why Jesus can say to Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:9).” Where you celebrate the birth of Jesus in your homes, there salvation is present for you too. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life everlasting, gives us now a foretaste of full salvation that awaits us in the future. In this sacrament, Bethlehem happens in our midst. Jesus, who was born a tiny baby in Bethlehem, comes to us now in our sacramental bread to bestow on us the blessings of His birth among us as one of us.
We thank God that Joseph and Mary obeyed God’s will for them, despite the initial painful situation Joseph found Himself in. Obedience is a virtue that can never be praised too highly. Jesus transformed obedience into a Christlike quality by both obeying His parents and obeying God’s will for Him on the cross.
As soon as Joseph learns that Mary hasn’t been unfaithful to him, he puts Mary’s reputation and dignity ahead of his own and proceeds to marry her immediately, so that there’s nothing scandalous about the birth of Jesus. Joseph doesn’t overtly display his righteousness and admirable suitability to be Jesus’ foster-father. We remember him today because despite his initial traumatic situation, he willingly obeyed God.
Jesus’ birth highlights our preciousness to God, who as “Immanuel”, delights in being as close to us as possible. That’s why we celebrate our Saviour’s birth with such joyful songs.
God has become one of us. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen.
Chapter 22, the birth of the king
Timeless Truth: The Word became flesh.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
Heaven had been very quiet for 400 years. No burning bushes. No splitting seas. No visions. No dreams. No prophets. No message from God…just silence.
Then, in a magnificent yet inauspicious way, a word – but not just a word, The Word came. At the time, the event seemed inconsequential to all but a blue-collar carpenter and his teenage bride. But in fact, the Word of God had taken on flesh and blood and was first heard in a baby’s cry. His birth was unspectacular, yet His presence dispelled darkness and cast an inescapable ray of light across history, past, present, and still unwritten. God’s promises to Abraham and David had found fulfillment at long last. Jesus would bless all nations and would take His rightful place on David’s throne. It is this event to which everything thus far in The Story has pointed.
Mary was the first to hear the news. In the midst of wedding plans and setting up house, the angel Gabriel pronounced that she had been chosen to give birth to the Son of God. Nothing could have been further from her mind…or her to do list. Mary was engaged and a virgin. The power of the Most High would take care of everything, he said. So Mary rejoiced. She accepted her position as God’s servant and praised Him with purest trust in His plan. Joseph was the next to know. He considered pursuing a legal dissolution of their relationship to save them both from the humiliation of an illegitimate pregnancy. But he received his own angelic visitor, who confirmed Mary’s innocence and gave his blessing on their marriage. Joseph married Mary and soon after made the journey to Bethlehem to pay his taxes as required by law. The town was bustling, and the inn was full – so the Son of God was born in a stable.
Angels delivered the birth announcement and shepherds became the welcoming committee for the King of Kings. They hurried to see for themselves, and found a surprisingly unassuming setting for a king: a baby in a feeding trough, accompanied by his mother, earthly father, and the local livestock. God also sent signs in the stars and faraway wise men charted their course with gifts in hand. King Herod felt threatened by the birth of another monarch, so he ordered the massacre of all the baby boys in the surrounding areas. God sent angels again so His redemptive plan would stay its course. They warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return.
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel only after Herod’s death and they made their home in Nazareth. Jesus grew up there as the precocious son of pious Jews. He and His family traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover. When Jesus was 12, He stayed behind in the temple unbeknownst to his frantic parents. They found Him sitting with the teachers who were amazed at His words. Jesus grew up as all boys do and Scripture tells us that He increased in wisdom and favor with God and with people.
God’s Upper Story intersects with His Lower Story at the birth of Jesus Christ, the God-man. God’s redemptive story approaches its climax as the Son of God from eternity past becomes the Son of Man for eternity future. Messiah has finally come.
Icebreaker Question: What is your favorite part of the Christmas story and why? If you were in a Christmas pageant as a child, what part did you play?
- These verses in the Gospel of John reveal one of the most important beliefs. How does page 309, or John 1:1-14, 18, help clarify the relationship between God and Jesus? Why is this so important?
- “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (p. 309, John 1:4). Look up John 5:21-29, 6:47-58, 10:10, 11:25, 14:6, 17:3, and 20:31. What does it mean, that in Him was life?
- List some of the names of Jesus and their meaning or significance (see also Isaiah 9:6-7).
- What things did Mary know about her child even before she conceived (p. 310)? Why was this important?
- In response to her situation, Mary offers a song of praise (p. 310-311). Compare Hannah’s praise song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. How these songs are similar? Did Mary see herself as part of God’s Lower Story or part of His Upper Story?
- What do you suppose Joseph thought and felt about Mary’s pregnancy before and after the angelic visitation (p. 311-312)? What is the difference between having faith in people and having faith in God?
- Joseph was “faithful to the law” (p. 311, Luke 1:19) but was not necessarily considered to be so by others (John 8:41). What examples can you find of his faithfulness?
- Herod was not the first evil ruler to commit, or attempt, infanticide against Hebrew babies. What other examples can you recall? What does this teach you about God’s Upper Story plan of redemption?
- The text tells us “all who heard [about Jesus] were amazed” (pg. 313). What do you suppose it was that surprised them?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
For Next Week……
Chapter 23, jesus’ ministry begins
Journal your answers to these questions as you read through the chapter this week. You may wish to read one day and journal the next, or spread the questions over the whole week.
- Review the temptation of Jesus (p. 322). Look up Hebrews 2:14-18 and 4:14-16. How does Jesus’ temptation benefit you personally?
- John the Baptist pointed two of his own disciples toward Jesus (p.324). They “went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him” (p. 324). If you could spend the day with Jesus, what would you ask?
- Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman struggled to understand what Jesus meant by eternal life. What do these passages teach you about eternal life? How would explain eternal life to someone else?
- “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (p. 329). What do you suppose she said and why do you suppose it was so effective? Practice sharing your testimony by writing a brief paragraph of what Jesus has done in your life. Finally, pause and pray that the LORD will give you an opportunity this week to share it.
- What do you learn about the heart of God from Jesus’ interaction with the sick, the seekers and the sinners (p. 329-332)? Which group of people could you cultivate a greater compassion for?
- John began to doubt Jesus when he was in prison (p. 333-334). How have doubts actually strengthened your faith?
- During his ministry Jesus interacted with followers, doubters, and mockers. If you had met Jesus at this time, which do you think you would have been? Why?