December 31, 2017 | Randy Smith
Spiritual EagernessLuke 2:15-20
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
This is our final Sunday together in 2017. It's a good time to be grateful for what the Lord did through us this past year. It is also a good time to refocus ourselves and prepare ourselves for 2018. So I begin by asking you a simple question. "What does it mean to be a Christian?"
Since I trust nearly all of you profess faith in Christ, an answer to that question should be rather simple. What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it attending church? Having all the right Bible answers? High morals? Speaking in tongues? Praying? Doing good deeds? Getting baptized? Being religious?
All of these answers are incorrect. So what does it mean to be a Christian? Hold that thought.
Luke 1 and 2 - we've been there over the past few months. Most of the divine drama has concluded. Virgin Mary was already impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Baby Jesus the Savior and Messiah has been born. The angels arrived and, but now have departed.
We have several biblical accounts of people being transported to heaven. Here, heaven came down to earth. But now all of that ended with a sudden departure of the angels. Life returned to the way it was.
This morning we will look at verses 15-20 from Luke chapter 2. And as this passage reveals the initial response to the "Good News" of Christ's birth, it also shows us what it means to be a Christian.
So just as we recently celebrated Christmas and now move on with our lives being impacted by Christ's birth, we recently finished studying the birth of Christ and now learn how people should respond to God's gift. In this passage we'll see what it truly means to be a Christian.
What does it mean to be a Christian? The six sermon points are: Hear, Believe, Respond, Witness, Treasure and Praise.
Let's start off with "Hear."
So verse 15 says, "The angels had gone away from them into heaven."
Heaven appears in dazzling glory, blinding light and beauty and then as quickly as the angels come they disappear. From the angel's perspective, they went from praising God in heaven to praising God on earth back to praising God in heaven. But from the shepherds' perspective, when the angels disappeared, the stars reappeared and it went back to a quiet, dark Palestinian night.
You'll remember from last week we spoke about these shepherds. The shepherds - uneducated, separated from the religious and social life in Israel, despised, regarded as thieves and thought untrustworthy and therefore not welcomed in a court of law. It was to these shepherds that God through the angels first appeared to share the message about Jesus Christ.
Remember last week Caesar Augustus shares a message that a census be taken from all in the world. God has a more glorious message to share. Verse 11, "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." And God sends His message to lowly shepherds whose testimony is not considered valid in a court of law that it might go from them to all in the world.
But these shepherds did the first step that will characterize all the true children of God. Very simple - they heard the message from God. They knew they had a message (verse 15) "which the Lord has made known to us." The Christian life begins with hearing God's voice.
Apart from God speaking, apart from divine revelation, it is impossible to know God and be saved. God must reveal Himself beyond what He does in creation and conscience in such a way that we fully understand who He is, who we are and how we must respond. Without God speaking (in our case today through His Word) and without Him giving us ears to spiritually hear His voice we have no hope of ever being His child. It starts with hearing.
Romans 10, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:14,17). We are talking about spiritual hearing.
As Jesus said, "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear" (Mt. 13:16).
So we need to hear God's Word and second we need to believe God's Word.
This was the big question for the shepherds. All heaven breaks loose on them and we have to wonder if they will react in faith. The same applies for us. God speaks to us through the Bible and all heaven wonders how we will react. Our response should be belief. That simply means we trust God at His Word.
In other words, God's revelation in Luke 2, verse 11 says that Jesus is both Savior and Lord.
Well, Savior from what? He is a Savior that delivers us from God's wrath. Because of our sin we are under the condemnation and judgment from a holy God. But Jesus would take our sin on His perfect self and die on the cross as our substitute. And if we believe in the work of Jesus, God's promise to us is forgiveness and eternal life. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." We are saved by Christ through not our works, but our belief.
And likewise, if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior, He will also be, as 2:11 says, our Lord. That means we will believe His Word and do what He says. After hearing and believing, we will respond by doing. The Bible says "that faith without works is useless (Jas. 2:20). Works do not lead to faith, but faith always leads to works. And that leads us to our third point.
God's children have a desire and ability to respond to God's Word. So the shepherds heard and believed and now let's see how they responded.
The rest of verse 15, "The shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.'"
Now this is interesting. First of all, the angels didn't guide them where to go. They provide no street address. They made the announcement and then suddenly left. All the shepherds had to go by was the sign from verse 12 that this baby will be "wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Responding to God is not always easy. That's probably why many people fail. But God will not give us a command without the ability to fulfill it. It is a dependent responsibility where we work alongside the Holy Spirit. God guided the shepherds, but they still needed to (verse 16) find their way.
Second of all, the angels did not tell the shepherds to go to see the baby. This was a decision they made on their own. There is a duty we have to obey, but the obedience that most honors the Lord is when it comes from a willing heart that delights in doing His will.
And do you see how these shepherds responded? It wasn't an obedience when they felt good and ready to do it. It was immediate. There was urgency. Verse 16, "They came [those 1-2 miles] in a hurry." Delayed obedience is disobedience.
And when they arrived, what did they see? Verse 16, they saw "Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger," verse 20, "just as it had been told them."
Next in the sequence, point number 4, is that true believers once they experience the greatness of Jesus Christ will be compelled to tell others about Him. We are calling this point, "Witness."
Look at verse 17, "When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child."
So put yourself in the sandals of the shepherds. You were "terribly frightened" (Lk. 2:9) when one angel shows up. How do you feel when "a multitude of the heavenly host" appears (Lk. 2:13)? Now you hear about the birth of the Messiah. You are even told in general where He is and how to expect to see Him. This is really exciting news! What kind of a response would you naturally expect? What would you do?
Return to shepherding your sheep and check things out when you are good and ready? Maybe send someone on your behalf? Absolutely not! You respond! You experience the joy for yourself and then you are internally compelled to tell other people the good news!
Let's say you brave the frigid temperatures and you go for a walk on the beach this afternoon. You are out there all by yourself, but you notice a strange older man coming from the opposite direction. He's walking directly at you and asks for a moment of your time. Before you have a change to answer, he breaks out this comment. "I have only a week left to live. I have no relatives so I told myself that I would leave my entire estate to the first person I saw on the beach today. You are now the proud owner of 5 million dollars." He then places all that money in your hands.
After you thank him, what would be your first response? Before you spend or invest a penny, you would have to tell someone the great news, right? How could you possibly keep that a secret? Is free salvation in Christ, eternal heaven in the place of hell, inferior news? You see, if we have truly been gripped by the greatness of salvation we will naturally be compelled to tell others.
But even this beach illustration fall short. Not simply because salvation is infinitely better than 5 million dollars, but if you just received 5 million dollars you'd rightly be a little choosy whom you wish to reveal the details. You wouldn't want to broadcast that to the world in fear of robbers and hundreds of fake friends. But with Jesus Christ, the more we share Him, the more we bless others and the more we are blessed ourselves!
The shepherds "made known the statement which had been told them about this Child" (verse 17).
According to Luke 1 and 2, only a few were given this inside information. The shepherds became the first Christian evangelists. From them the message over two thousand years went through faithful people who brought it to you. How will you continue the chain? You have been given the good news as well. There are many without Christ in our community and throughout the world that need to hear the message from us.
Fifth, that same passion to share God's truth is the same passion that works in our heart to treasure God's truth. Christianity is a religion of the heart. Most of all God wants us to love Him from the heart which means we desire to meditate on His Word, grow in our knowledge of Him, be convicted of our sin and desire to mature into His holy image.
In verses 18 and 19 we see two heart responses from those who heard God's Word.
First in verse 18 we read, "And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds."
Wondering is good. Obviously some reject God's Word altogether. However, wondering shows thought and consideration. It shows curiosity at its highest level, but wondering all by itself is not enough for salvation. Many people around this time of the year wonder over the Christmas story too (as we have been learning from the first two chapters in Luke it is an incredible story), but that does not mean they have really internalized the message for themselves. It's good to wonder and try to figure things out, but wondering for it to be God-pleasing must lead to the personal acceptance of the truth. As one author said, "Wondering [by itself] is a yellow-brick-road to darkness" (Kent Hughes). Figuratively speaking, we need to go to the manger. We need to see the Christ Child. We need to embrace Him as our Lord and Savior.
Now Mary's response in verse 19 is much different. It was a matured response that went from wondering to treasuring, dwelling on these truths in her heart. Look there with me. "But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart."
Christians believe God's Word and evidence of really believing God's Word is a passion to really seek to comprehend the richness of it. Let's not look past the obvious. God's Word is a message from the living, eternal, sovereign, creator God Himself. It comes from the storehouses of His infinite wisdom and is given to us by His incredible grace and mercy. It's understanding that we will never fully plummet the depths, but we find ourselves in an insatiable quest to get our hearts and minds around the truth and the God who communicated it. We are like Mary. When it comes to God's Word, God's children cannot help treasuring and pondering the truth of Scripture.
Can you imagine what might have gone through Mary's mind? Why did God choose me? How will I relate to this Child? Do I really need to teach God? Will He ever need to be disciplined? Will He stand out from the other kids? How will this Child fulfill God's plan? Will I be found faithful? How will God help me? When and how will His life come to an end? It's the same for us. It's mindboggling and deeply rewarding when we really take the time to treasure and contemplate Scripture. If we are truly converted there is never a point of satisfaction in our knowledge of God. This is true throughout eternity with God in heaven.
So a true believer hears, believes, responds, witnesses, treasures and finally, point number 6, a true believer praises God.
We see that in verse 20. How did everything end? "The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."
You know what this is? This is breaking from the natural tendency to glorify ourselves and finding our joy in Him seeking to use us to make His name great. Sure we all fail at times, but the driving life motivation for a true believer is the desire to bring God glory, not just in our words, but also through our lives. When people think of us, what do they think of God? The true believer lives his or her life for the glory of God.
Hear, believer, respond, witness, treasure, praise - those are the traits that define the true believer.