The Lord's Day Evening
December 5, 2010
“Jesus: Adored by Angels”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Turn with me now to Luke chapter 2, Luke chapter 2, and we're going to be reading in a minute verses 8 through 14; Luke chapter 2 and verses 8 through 14.
I've always loved this time of year. Thirty-nine years ago when I first came to know the Lord Jesus, Christmas became filled with another meaning altogether. It isn't, you know it's an interesting question, isn't it — What's at the heart of Christmas? A young teenage girl who learned she's pregnant out of wedlock, it was as fraught with danger then as it would be today.
Or shepherds abiding in the fields at night watching over their flocks - who can't love that story? Or the scene in Bethlehem itself in a manger stall because there was no room for him in the inn. A little child has been born, the baby Jesus. Or later when wise men from the east with all of the mystery that surrounds them and they come with gold and frankincense and myrrh. But what's at the heart of Christmas? And our text tonight is going to answer that question. And I wonder, as we're going to read the passage together, can you answer this pop quiz? It's exam time. What's at the heart of Christmas? Our text will tell you.
Let's go to God in prayer. Let's pray.
Gracious God and Father, how blessed we are to be among the blessed by God. And in joy, we praise You for the endless stream of blessings that have come to us in Jesus Christ because we belong to His people and we pray for further blessing, that You’d come to us in and through Your Word, that You’d help us to find those treasures that are to be found only in Jesus Christ. We pray that we might not just find those treasures but take delight in them and rejoice in them that You’d come to us personally and corporately as a body that we might know that we are being addressed from Your Word. Open our ears, bow our wills, enable our whole being to do what we cannot do apart from grace, to come to You and worship You. Open Your Word to us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now turn with me to verse 8 of Luke chapter 2:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’”
Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant Word.
Now, did you see what's at the heart of Christmas? In verse 10 — “I bring you good news.” The Greek is, I think, “euangelion” - εὐαγγέλιον which is evangel, which is Gospel. “I bring you Gospel.” Christmas is all about the Gospel. It is Gospel-centered in the precise definition of that term and meaning.
Now an angel, verse 10, said to them — a singular angel said to them — there are shepherds and they’re watching over their flocks on the fields of Bethlehem. Some of us have been to Bethlehem and I can't but imagine now these fields in my head because I've been there, seen them, these fields, these undulating hills. I can almost imagine that time has almost stood still at least outside the town of Bethlehem. An angel, one angel. I wonder how much notice he got? You know, our music for Christmas always begins with the choir coming down the aisle. It's a — I was going to say magical, but maybe I can't use that word! — it's a wonderful, blessed moment.
It's reminiscent of course of the famous Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge College, where a little boy, a boy soprano, a chorister, walks down a similar aisle — though a much smaller building than this — and sings those extraordinary words, “Oh come all ye faithful” in almost that pure, boy soprano, voice. But you may not all know this, that that boy has only been told that he is the one to lead them seconds before. There are a hundred, maybe, of these boys who come down in this choir, but the tradition is that the one who leads them is only told seconds before. Can you imagine it? I wonder how much lead time this angel got. I don't know whether or not angels get nervous. They’re filled with awe for sure. “You’re the one. I want you to go.” I just can't imagine the excitement to go to Bethlehem. “I want you to go to Bethlehem to these shepherds and I want you to tell them the Gospel. I want you to preach the Gospel to them. Tell them there's good news for sinners.”
You know, shepherds were so distrusted in the first century that they could not be witnesses in a court of law. If the only person who had witnessed this crime against your person was a shepherd, his witness wouldn't amount to a hill of beans, as they say, because they were untrustworthy. They were unclean. They were not fit for any office. And yet God chose them to be the witnesses of the birth of the Savior. Isn't that Gospel in itself? God chose these, in the eyes of the first century, sinners of the worst type to hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You know, you can't get tired — I don't know how many times I've preached on Luke 2 — dozens and dozens of times I've preached on this passage every year. It's a birth announcement. I attended a function last night, but I was severely underdressed. I miscalculated southern protocol. I beg forgiveness. I was underdressed. You know there's a protocol, there's a protocol to birth announcements. Birth announcements usually go something like this: Born to Mr. and Mrs. So-And-So, a baby boy — so many pounds and these days a length. That's not what you have here.
I. Born in the City of David.
Five things appear in this birth announcement. The first is that He is born in the City of David, born in the City of David. You see, there's a segue here from 2 Samuel. Perfect! That's where we've been for the last two months. This is not the City of David, Jerusalem, which David adopted after he had conquered the city, but his birth city, Bethlehem, Bethlehem, the house of bread. This was David's home turf. This was his home town. A thousand years before, David had roamed these same hills, looked after similar sheep to these shepherds. All these shepherds knew David. David was a great king of Israel. He was one of them. They could identify with David, a shepherd boy who’d become a king, a great king.
You remember just a few weeks ago we were in 2 Samuel chapter 7, and in 2 Samuel chapter 7 you have the covenant that God makes with David. It's a great moment in the history of redemption. I think I said something like, it's the most important chapter in the Messianic expectation of the Jews. Whatever the Jews thought about the coming Messiah was molded and fashioned and formed by the words of that covenant with David in 2 Samuel chapter 7. And in that chapter, you remember what God said to David? “I will establish David's throne, the throne of his kingdom, forever.” Forever.
II. He is the Messiah — Christ.
Now that was all very well and good when there were kings sitting on the throne in Jerusalem, but for the last four hundred fifty, five hundred years, there’d been no kings in Jerusalem. They don't even have a land that they can call their own anymore. For five hundred years, Babylon and Persia and Greece and now Rome — “I will establish the throne of David and his kingdom forever.” You know, maybe one of these shepherds remembered. “Didn't that ancient prophet, what was his name, Micah? Didn't he say something about Bethlehem Ephrathah? That out of Bethlehem will come a ruler, a king in Israel?” And now an angel has come and he's giving this birth announcement - of the City of David, born in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ.
That's the second thing — He's Christ. He is, you know, Christ, Christos in Greek is the translation of the Hebrew “Messiah.” Christ is a title. It's not so much a name, it's a title. The one who is born in the City of David in Bethlehem is the Messiah. He's the long expected Messiah.
You know, from the very beginning of Scripture, from Genesis 3, from the first Gospel promise of the seed of the woman bruising the head of Satan, there's been a Messianic expectation.
A Messiah would come and this Messiah — it means “Anointed One.” Anointed One. Kings were anointed to rule. Prophets were anointed to speak. Priests were anointed to perform ceremonies in order to enact the forgiveness of sins, but a king had never reigned who ruled over our hearts. A prophet had never spoken so as to speak right into the heart. A priest had never performed his actions in a way that could actually forgive sins. But such a Prophet and such a Priest and such a King, an Anointed One, a Messiah is born in Bethlehem tonight.
III. This Messiah is also the Lord.
And He's the Lord, verse 11 — He's the Lord, “Christ the Lord.” Now in the context of Luke, you understand, what has been the dominating authority in this second chapter? It is in the rule and reign of Caesar Augustus. He had issued a decree that all the world, imagine, all the world - the Roman Empire was the world — that all the world should be taxed. That one decree, that one statement from the emperor had now reached this little town of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had made their way from Galilee, Nazareth, and they had made their way down to Bethlehem, to the home city where they would have to register in order to be taxed. They were there because the most powerful authority, the most powerful lord of their day had issued a decree. But a greater decree had been issued in the councils of eternity from the throne of Amighty God. A decree that said, “Through My Son, the Gospel, the Good News for sinners, will be proclaimed.”
There may be an authority in the city of Rome, an emperor, but this little child who has been born in Bethlehem, He is Lord. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the one before whom emperors bow and presidents bow and nations bow and authorities bow. “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and tongue confess that He is Lord of all.” It's a birth announcement of a baby born in the City of David who is Christ, Messiah, the Anointed One, who is Lord.
IV. He is born for us
But perhaps, perhaps the strangest thing about this birth announcement — you see, we would expect this birth announcement to say: Born to Mr. and Mrs. Smith — but you notice, “unto you is born.” It's startling, isn't it? It's not what you were expecting. “Unto you” for you and you and you and you and you — “unto you is born.” This birth, this birth announcement is for you. It's the difference between understanding Christmas, it's the difference between understanding Christmas and some vague celebration of Christmas. Unto you, a Son is given. Unto you, a Child is born.
In the seventeenth century — actually the sixteenth century — Cardinal Bellarmine, who did not like the Reformers or anything to do with the Reformation, said that the greatest of all Protestant heresies is — what? Fill in the blank. The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance. Assurance. You see, in a system of theology whereby you have to perform rituals and enact deeds of performance you can never have assurance. There can never be enough of them. But Protestants believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and they were saved. They knew they were saved. They had assurance that they were saved. The Spirit witnessed with their spirits that they were the children of God.
That's what the angel is saying — “unto you” for you, this birth is for you, this Savior is for you, this Anointed Prophet, this Anointed King, this Anointed Priest is for you. This is Gospel. This is Good News for you. You can take it; you can imbibe it; it can become yours; it can become your testimony. This is my belief. This is my faith - that Jesus came for me. He came for me. Not that He came generally in some vague way, but He came for me. Can you say that tonight? Can you say that tonight in your heart of hearts? He came for me. He veiled His glory and took the form of a servant and was found in fashion as a man for me.
I want you to try and enter into the councils of eternity as the Father and the Son are having a conversation together and the Father says, “Son, it's time. The time has come.” And He looks down and it's not River Oaks Hospital. It's not the best obstetricians and gynecologists, but a stable in Bethlehem. It's into the darkness of the womb of a young virgin girl. And it was for me. He came for me. As Ligon was saying this morning, He came inexorably to go to Calvary. The incarnation was a doorway to Calvary. For me.
V. Jesus came to glorify God. We also should give God praise and glory.
And suddenly, suddenly, as the shepherds are trying to take all of this in, they’re looking at one another — “What in the world has this angel just told us?” And suddenly, there's two, three, ten, hundred, thousands, ten thousand, I don't know, a multitude of the heavenly host and they’re praising God and they’re saying, they’re saying, “Glory to God in the highest.” They’re repeating the answer to The Children's Catechism tonight. These angels know The Shorter Catechism question 1: What is the chief end of man? To glorify God; to glorify God. And these angels have been listening to this one angel giving this message of Gospel and good news to sinners.
You know, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, when he was young, he was a preacher for a long time, but as you look through his sermons you can trace the young Spurgeon from the more mature Spurgeon, but the young Spurgeon could sometimes say things perhaps the old Spurgeon wouldn't quite have said in the same way. But the young Spurgeon, preaching on this text said, “These angels were Calvinists because they refused to give the glory of salvation to the will of men. It was all to the glory of God.” Glory to God in the highest.
Now Richard Ridgeway, who I can see sitting in the back there, gave me such a hard time last year for saying that these angels didn't sing but said, “Glory to God!” And he's right. I love that about our elders, love that. They’re always checking their Bibles. I love that! I love that, Richard. But you know, I've been thinking about this for a whole year (laughter). It does say, “Praising God and saying,” but Richard, I can't imagine ten thousand angels in monotone voice in unison saying — no, I can't take it in.
You know, there's only one thing you can do when you hear the Gospel. You know when you really understand the Gospel, that it's good news for sinners, it's good news for the undeserving, that God is so, so lavish in His goodness, in His provision. He sent His Son for us. More than Prince Charming. Ten million times more than Prince Charming — His own Son. And not in a carriage of gold but into this manger in Bethlehem. There's only one thing you can do when you hear the Gospel. You've got to give God the praise and the glory.
Now that's the test my friends. That's the test. That's the test. Do you really understand Christmas? Because if you really understand Christmas, the first thing you want to do is to give thanks to God. You can't hold it in. You've got to praise Him. You've got to praise Him with all of your being because He has done something without which we would have no hope. We would have no hope. God gets all the praise. And do you see, do you see what it says? “And on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased.” You know those who have received grace are in a condition of peace. You know, when you give praise to God, everything else falls into perspective, no matter what. I know some of you have mess all around and trouble and trial and difficulty and Christmas is a difficult time. I understand that. But when you see the true meaning of Christmas it's not about Christmas trees and tinsel and presents and all the rest, and I love all of that, but that's not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about God's gift of His Son — the Gospel — and when you understand that, there's peace. It's the peace of the Gospel. It's the peace of justification. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God.” Now, do you have that peace in your heart - the peace that comes from the Gospel, the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of justification?
Father, we begin another season of reflection on the incarnation of the Lord Jesus and we want tonight to do what the angel did - give glory to You. You did it all. It was none of us. It was all You. It wasn't ninety percent of you and ten percent of us, it was one hundred percent You. Your initiative, Your enablement. Good news, great, great news for sinners like us. May we know that Gospel peace in our hearts tonight for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord's benediction. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
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