Born to be Adored
December 24, 2006 | Randy Smith
Born To Be AdoredMatthew 2:2
Sunday, Decmber 24, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith
Nothing can compare to what I experienced on August 15th, 1997 and October 1st, 1998 and January 28th, 2001. On those unforgettable days I witnessed the birth of my three daughters. These children woven together by the hands of God, growing in my wife's body for nine months and now entering the world in dramatic fashion. I will never forget the wonder and the appreciation and the responsibility that gripped my heart those three days. Gifts from God and known only to God would be the joy and heartache these three living souls would bring into our lives.
I have been told that new dads in earlier years were required to sit in a waiting room with a television and magazines while their wives delivered the child. I am glad the times have changed! Witnessing the births of Hailey, Kayla and Natalie were the three greatest days of my life and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Now this following comment might surprise you. As great as the births of my three children were, there is another child whose birth brings far greater meaning and excitement. It is probably hard for you to imagine any parent making such a comment. And even though I have never seen this child and I have been told that His birth was surrounded by rather ignoble circumstances, this baby has changed my life and the face of the world as we know it.
It has been said, "Without money and arms, (He) conquered millions (more) than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, (speeches), discussions, learned vocabulary, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times" (Philip Schaff, The Person of Christ, American Tract Society, 1913).
Another individual remarked, "Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this one (man)" (James Allan Francis).
I wish to think many share an inflated opinion of this child. It's evidenced by the fact that most have chosen to celebrate His birthday. Songs have been written announcing that it is the happiest time of the year. Houses are decorated, families get together, gifts are exchanged, emotions are heightened and good will toward others is promoted.
Now there is nothing wrong with these activities; they are all fine ways to celebrate a birthday, but when they are conducted without one special ingredient, it is possible to entirely miss the birthday of this special child. Parents would never dream about missing the birth of their children, but sadly most miss the birth of Jesus Christ, the most significant child to ever enter the human race.
So I ask you, is there any child in your heart whose birth rivals that of Jesus Christ? And in the midst of all tinsel and festivity, have you missed His birth? Have you overlooked the true meaning of Christmas?
Now I am not intending to be a "Grinch" by saying we should avoid all the traditions associated with Christmas. Our family decorated a tree and we too will enjoy exchanging presents tomorrow. I am not implying that these activities are evil in and of themselves. What I am trying to say is that these activities have the potential to distract us and deceive us and divert our attention away from our primary response to the birth of Jesus Christ. From God's perspective, do you know what that primary response is?
Let's go to the Word of God. I believe examining a few characters from the first Christmas will help us out.
1. THE WRONG RESPONSE TO CHRISTMAS
We know from Scripture that Caesar Augustus required everybody to return to his or her place of birth for a census (Lk. 2:1-4). Being great with child, Joseph and Mary made their voyage to Bethlehem (Lk. 2:5-6). Upon arriving in Bethlehem they looked for a place to stay, a place to deliver the child. But due to the nationwide pilgrimage, the Bible tells us that all the lodges were full (Lk. 2:7). "We have no room for you here," said the Innkeeper. Consequently, baby Jesus was born in a place where animals were kept and laid in a manger (Lk. 2:7).
Imagine being that Innkeeper and turning away the young couple. There is no doubt that he missed a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ. The Son of God could have been born on his property! There is no indication that he was hostile or unsympathetic toward Mary and Joseph. He was just distracted by all the activity in the town. After all, he had an inn to run and a family to feed. Other important things just seemed to preoccupy his attention. In turn, King Jesus was given a dirty stable.
The Religious Leaders
Or how about the religious leaders of the first century? They claimed to have a great love for God. They knew the Scriptures well. As a matter of fact they knew the Scriptures so well that when the Magi came seeking the birthplace of the Messiah (Mt. 2:1-2), they seemed to spit out the exact text and location without hesitation. Quoting Micah 5:2 they said, "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Mt. 2:6).
After receiving this information, the Magi immediately departed for Bethlehem, but the religious leaders simply returned to their ivory towers of theology. Despite all this information that they knew and all they had just experienced, there is no indication they made the short trek just a few miles to the south to check it out for themselves. After all, how could a small baby contribute to their sophisticated self-righteousness? They too, due to their blinding false religion, missed the first Christmas.
One more - let's consider the actions of King Herod. How did the mighty king respond when he learned about Christ's birth? All we need to know is Herod identified himself as the "King of the Jews." It was a title given to him at his coronation by Caesar Augustus himself. Factor in Herod's jealousy and paranoia and you can well imagine his reaction when he heard the Magi ask, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him" (Mt. 2:2). In Herod's eyes, there was a rival. In Herod's heart, there was only room for one 'King of the Jews.' The Bible says in an effort to protect his throne, Herod had every male baby under two slaughtered (Mt. 2:16). Baby Jesus was protected, but due to his fear and wickedness, King Herod also missed the first Christmas.
These people all allowed something else to get in the way that caused them to overlook the arrival of Jesus Christ. For different reasons, they were so caught up in their own activities that God's greatest miracle and God's greatest gift to humanity was lost in some obscure barn. They were spiritually blind as if they were intoxicated with first century eggnog that left them totally unaware of the momentous events that were unfolding before their very eyes. And it is easy for us to sit back and ask, how in the world did they ever miss it?
But this is nothing new. This same error has perpetuated for 2,000 years. Think about it!
Some people have tragically done everything they can to eliminate the recognition of Christ's birth. They, like Herod, don't want another King to rule their lives. Maybe they strive to keep Christ out of Christmas. "We don't say 'Merry Christmas' around here!" Definitely they strive to keep Christ out of their hearts. Just mention the name of Jesus and you can see the hair sticking up on the back of their necks!
Others like the religious leaders are indifferent to Christ, deceived by their false religious systems. They may acknowledge Jesus as "a way," but not "the way" to eternal life (Jn. 14:6). Moreover, why would they need a Savior when God is obligated to accept them based on their own righteous deeds? Jesus may be good, but He is far from being great and the primary object of their devotion.
But I am persuaded most people are like the Innkeeper. They have nothing against Jesus and even joyfully celebrate the holiday, but in the midst of the shopping and parties and kid's activities and decorations and a billion and one other activities that occur throughout the year, the true meaning of Christmas seems to get lost in all the clutter. Often their appreciation of Christ never extends beyond a cute baby in the manger.
So after presenting all these folks who missed the birth of Christ, what is the response expected of us from God? I believe a few more first century illustrations from the Bible will reveal that answer.
2. THE RIGHT RESPONSE TO CHRISTMAS
Possibly no other figure in the Christmas story has brought more speculation and myth than the Magi, a better title than Wise Men or Kings. In all probability there were more than three, and they visited Jesus not at the manger, but in His home when He was already one or two years old (Mt. 2:9, 11). We do know they came from the East and they followed a star (or bright light) that directed them to Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-2).
These Magi were most likely from the priestly caste of the Medes. They were highly trained in knowledge and wisdom. They were the leading experts in astronomy. Yet they worshiped a hodge-podge form of religion that combined everything from Jewish monotheism to sorcery and astrology. As a matter of fact, our English word "magic" is derived from their title.
It is amazing that God would reveal Himself to these people. It is incredible; Gentiles from a distant land involved in occult activity were called by God to acknowledge the birth of Jesus. They were unlikely characters, but is there a lesson for us in their response?
In just a quick reading of this account in Matthew's Gospel, their response to the Christ child is accented. Upon seeing the baby, the Bible declares they instantaneously "fell to the ground and worshipped Him" (Mt. 2:11; cf. 2:2). Then the Scriptures go on to say after giving their hearts, they gave their possessions (cf. 2 Cor. 8:5). They opened "their treasures, (and) presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Mt. 2:11).
Most scholars agree that each of these three gifts had added symbolic meaning in God's providence unknown to the Magi. Gold was an acknowledgment of His royalty. Frankincense applied to Old Testament sacrifices and identified Him as an offering - possibly even alluded to His deity. And myrrh commonly used for burial foreshadowed His death.
What we must also remember is the fact that all of these gifts were very valuable. The Magi in an act of worship gave Jesus their hearts and out of pure adoration the very best and possibly the only gifts they had available. Additional, was the sacrifice of these men to travel a long distance through the dangers of the desert to see and worship Jesus. A quite different response than the ones we studied earlier. Let's keep going.
Another popular cast of characters that first Christmas was the Shepherds.
They were not despised Gentiles like the Magi, they were despised Jews! They were considered by other Jews near the bottom on most social lists, just a notch or two above the lepers. The account in Luke's Gospel tells us that an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them as they were watching the flocks (Lk. 2:8-9). In tremendous fear they heard the angel declare, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Lk. 2:10-12).
It is important to observe how they reacted to the announcement of Christ's birth. First we read of them dropping everything and "in a hurry" running to "straight to Bethlehem" to see the baby (Lk. 2:15-16). With great joy and expectation, witnessing the birth of Jesus was their priority. Second, once they saw Jesus the Bible says, "They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child" (Lk. 2:17). They could not conceal the good news. They had to tell others. There was no external prodding. Out of the overflow of their hearts, they became the first New Testament evangelists. And third we read, "The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them" (Lk. 2:20). After their encounter with the Christ child, their lives were filled with genuine praise, worship and adoration all to the glory of God.
Possibly one more story will help frame for us the proper response toward Christmas. The Magi, the Shepherds and now Mary.
Mary, the birthing mother of Jesus, must have been dramatically affected by these events. After all, she knew what the angel Gabriel said to her earlier. "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Lk. 1:30-32).
Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing in the Scripture that says Mary should receive our worship. Such an action goes against everything we have said this morning, as it would only steal glory away from Christ. Mary did not want any attention; on the contrary, we see her in the Bible adoring God for bestowing on her such a blessing of honor. Mary was not a "worshipee," she was a worshipper! Mary was grateful that she was used as the Lord's vessel. She said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word" (Lk. 1:38). Later she expressed her heart in praise to God in what is commonly called the "Magnificat" (Lk. 1:46-55). "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior" (Lk. 1:46b-47).
But one of my favorite sayings regarding Mary and the birth of Jesus came as she was witnessing all the events unfolding. As people were praising and singing with joy to God in the presence of angels, while beholding the face of a child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us, "But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart." In all the commotion, we see the young teenager demonstrate extraordinary faith with thoughtful meditation on the divine events transpiring.
Specifically what she pondered is known only to God. Was it the virgin birth? Was it how she would mother the Son of God? Was it how this child would be like no other child? Later did she ponder how the prophecy would be fulfilled that "a sword will pierce even (her) own soul" (Lk. 2:35)? Did Mary have any idea that she would watch this son of hers get nailed to a Roman cross and die not only in a general way for the sins of humanity, but also her own sins as well?
I believe one author summarized this well. "Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant's head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die" (MacArthur, God With Us, p. 116).
Did any of these thoughts pass through Mary's heart as she pondered the birth of God in the flesh and yet at the same time, the birth of her first-born child?
I hope it has become clear to all of you by now the contrast between the right and wrong response to Christmas. Are we like the Innkeeper confining Jesus to a dirty stable because there is no room for Him in our hearts? Or are we like Mary, witnessing the birth of Christ and deeply pondering these welcomed thoughts in our hearts? Are we like the religious leaders who can recite much information about Jesus but never budge our wills an inch to celebrate it? Or are we like the Shepherds who run with haste to worship Jesus and take great privilege to tell others about the good news? Are we like King Herod who had no place for another King? Or are we like the Magi and fall down before King Jesus and present Him with extravagant and sacrificial devotion?
Here is what I am getting at: The purpose of Christ's coming and the biblical response to Christmas is worship. As a matter of fact, God's chief aim in saving sinners through the gift of Jesus Christ is to seek for Himself "true worshipers" (Jn. 4:23; cf. Lk. 19:10). We have been wired to worship. All of us are worshipping something. Yet instead of worshipping God, too often our hearts gravitate to worship idols. That is why I believe all the events that surrounded the first Christmas framed the birth of Christ so as to highlight and not distract from the main attraction.
Listen to this description: "He is the King of kings, the radiance of His glory, the Lord of the spaceless, fabulous, infinite universe, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, unspeakable holy, dwelling in light, unapproachable, changeless ... and yet He condescended to be enclosed in lowly human flesh, to be born a despised Judean, in a filthy stable, in the womb of a simple Israeli woman and without fanfare or pomp" (Author Unknown).
It was a humble birth that was seen by humble people like a poor teenage girl and lowly shepherds and despised Gentiles from a distant land. And while many failed in exercising the proper response, these humble servants were overwhelmed with adoration and rightly celebrated His coming into the world. Unlike so many, they did not miss the birth of Jesus.
A humble worshipping heart is the proper response to Christmas. So I ask once again as I did earlier in the sermon, are you missing the birth of Christ - Immanuel - God with us?
My friends, unlike any other baby, Jesus was born into this world to die for our sins. Even His name means "Savior" (Mt. 1:21). We are all sinners deserving an eternity separated from a holy God. Only Jesus came to take away our sin and grant us through our faith total forgiveness by His sacrifice on the cross. That is why the Bible says, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Ac. 4:12). The external home for our souls hangs in the balance as to what we do with this Person.
We only have three responses to Jesus Christ. Only one is acceptable. We can hate Him. We can neglect Him. Or we can fall at His feet and worship Him. It is not about stained glass windows or emotional songs. It is not about a certain location or special day of the week. It is about having an attitude of honor and adoration directed toward God.
"Worship God," said John MacArthur, "That is the everlasting gospel, the message that God has given from eternity to eternity. It is the theme of Scripture, the theme of eternity, the theme of redemptive history - to worship the true and living and glorious God. Before the creation, after the creation, in eternity past, in eternity future, and throughout all time in between, worship is the theme, the central issue in all of creation" (The Ultimate Priority, p. 31).
Are you a true worshiper? Are you giving your life for the One who gave His life for you? Is Jesus Christ your first love? Are you able to step back from all the fanfare this time of the year and give your heart completely to Christ? Is your heart so warmed by God that it boils over with wonder and adoration? When is the last time you have been so moved by God that you shed a tear or it took your breath away?
I remember the time when I was first interested in my wife, Julie. The only problem was that she was not interested in me! So I kept pursuing her and one day I came up with a wonderful idea. It was about this time of the year and I made a snowman. It wasn't created out of snow, but rather two large white (clean) garbage bags stuffed with crumpled newspaper. Late one evening I drove the snowman to downtown Chicago where she lived and left it on her doorstep. I put a shirt on the snowman and wrote on the shirt, "My heart melts for you!" Julie will tell you that on that day, everything changed!
Do we have that kind of zeal in our pursuit for Christ? Does our heart melt for Him? When we give Him that kind of adoration, everything changes!
It is hard to imagine I can say that the birth of another child is more significant than the birth of my own. Those were the three greatest days of my life, but I never worshipped any of my three children. It is also hard to imagine that someone in America could actually miss Christmas. Yet by God's standards, most do. May we not be those who misunderstand the true reason for the season. May we worship Christ this time of the year and always!