February 7, 1999
In announcing the birth of Jesus, the angels proclaimed that He would bring “peace on earth.” In contrast to sentimental holiday appeals to “give peace a chance,” Alistair Begg explains that peace with God is not natural for us, nor are we able to bring it about. Instead, Jesus came not only to make peace with God possible but also to bring us personally into His peace, through no endeavor of our own.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, we ask now that as we turn to the pages of the Bible, that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher. We have very little interest at all in listening simply to a man talk, but we do long to hear your voice. And we cannot achieve this, but you can do it. And to you alone we look. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
For those of you who are visiting with us, you may find it rather strange that we’re here at the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel and singing Christmas carols on the seventh of February. I suppose it is a little strange but not as strange as we might think. We are in a series of studies in Luke’s Gospel and not moving as fast as we probably should be. However, I’m quite glad that we’re studying the incarnation on the seventh of February as well as having done so around the twenty-fifth of December. And I hope that the fact that it is unusual will also mean that it is quite helpful.
Because it is, really, fairly striking, at least from where I stand, that despite all the hoopla that surrounds Christmas, both in terms of the things we do and the people we invite and the crowds that come, within very few days from Christmas’s celebration being completed, most of the crowds are gone. They’re all gone, apart from a lingering few—one or two who are intrigued that stay on for a week or two, and some who stay on for good, caught up in the time. And while we’re grateful for the lingering few, we’re concerned about the scattered throng. At least I am.
And my concern is largely this: that while we think in terms of Christmas as a great opportunity for people to come to faith, Christmas also is a unique time for men and women to affirm themselves in their unbelief—for them to be reinforced in the confusion which grips them. So, they’re coming out of a year in which they’ve paid largely little attention to the issues of the Bible or to Jesus at all. Because of the passage of time and because of the events of the calendar, they find themselves swept in amongst the worshipping crowd. Many of them have very little clue what’s going on. They’re not sure; they can’t tell the difference between a Christmas carol and a folk song. And so, whether they’re singing “Ding-dong merrily on high” or “[We] saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the morning,” they frankly haven’t got a clue whether they should be sailing in a ship, ringing the bell, or just exactly what they ought to be doing. And before ever they have time to work it out, it’s the first of January, and they’ll have to wait for another twelve months to get back and consider the subject all over again. And in part we contribute to that by surrounding our events in a form of sentimentalism and by trying at the same time to doctor up Christmas so as to make it just a little more jazzy for the people and help them over the bitter pill of having to read the Christmas story itself.
You say, “Well, I think you’re a little off on that.” I may well be, but I thought I’d mention it in passing. I’m concerned that, absent the commercialism and the sentimentalism which surrounds the twenty-fifth, we might have the opportunity to actually think for a moment about these matters. And I’d like, this morning, to move fairly directly to the heart of the matter, and I want to draw your attention to three aspects.
They’re very straightforward for any couple who have ever taken children to their home: in the first seven verses we have the birth; from verse 8 to verse 14 we have the announcement; and then from verse 15 to verse 20 we have the reaction to the news of the birth and the announcement—which is exactly what happens when a baby is born.
Well then, to this issue of the birth in the first seven verses. The details in the first three verses concerning this census and Quirinius, etc., are simply Luke’s way of explaining why it was that despite the fact that Mary belonged to Nazareth, this baby was being born in Bethlehem—to make it clear as to why there was a transition from Galilee to Judea. And the fact is that God, as he orchestrates all the events of human history, was ordering the events of time so as to ensure that that which he had said through his prophets of old—that it would be out of Bethlehem that one would come who would be the ruler of his people Israel—he is now bringing this to fulfillment.
It’s quite possible that Mary, being pious, devout, knowing the Old Testament Scriptures, must have wondered to herself, after the announcement had been made to her concerning the fact that the child that she was carrying was none other than the Son of God, the Messiah—she may well have said to herself, “I’m not sure just how this is going to work. Because if I understand my Bible properly, I’m not supposed to be in Nazareth when this baby is born. I’m supposed to be in Bethlehem.” And then one day Joseph came home from work, and he said, “Well, we’ll be going up to Bethlehem.” “Oh,” she said, “why is that?” “Well,” he said, “the word is out. It will be coming to us officially in the next few days, but it’s out around the town that there’s a new census being taken, and since I’m of the line of David and my house and family roots are up there, that’s where we’ll be heading.” And whether she said anything or smiled simply and quietly to herself, she knew: “Here we go.” And the stage was being set for the birth.
Now, look at the way that Luke describes it. He says in quite straightforward terms, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” Notice: “While they were there.” I’ll come back to this in a moment, in terms of the timing, but you’ll notice that they had actually been up there for some time, it would appear, and then she said to Joseph at some point in the day, “I think I’m having those”—what do you call them, Branson Hicks things?—“I’m having those tremors down below, those sensations, those vibrations, those contractions.” That’s it. I knew it ended in a-t-i-o-n, an i-o-n. But anyway, having never had them, I’d really put them out of mind for some time. But she would have said to him, “Here we go.” And he would have said, “Fine, I guess the time has come.” And that’s just straightforward. That’s what happens to everybody when their time comes.
But of course, the notion of the coming time ought to trigger at least in our thoughts a far more significant consideration of the passage of time. Because the Bible tells us that it was when the fullness of time had come that Jesus Christ was brought forth, that the incarnation took place. And the reference there to the fullness of time is a reminder of the fact that God from the very conception of things has been ordering the events in the unfolding plan of redemption. And the prophets have spoken of one who will be both a Suffering Servant and a great and victorious King. And the people have wondered who this is and when will he come.
The darkness of the intertestamental period has been endured for some hundreds of years now, and the wonderings and the wanderings of men and women have reached a point where it is almost pregnant in anticipation of an answer coming. The forerunner—namely, John the Baptist, of whom we’ve already read—he has now been born, and so he has already been put in place so that he can step out on the stage of world history and declare, “Here comes the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world!” And then the time came: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n! [And] God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.”
I find verses 6 and 7 particularly interesting, insofar as when you consider that Luke’s Gospel has twenty-four chapters (it has well in excess of a thousand verses), here this most crucial event in the whole of human history is summarized in two verses, and with staggering simplicity. Look at the phraseology: “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.”
Now, think for a moment about that in light of the way in which, historically, the church has done all kinds of things to the nativity story—dressed it up, spruced it up, jazzed it up, done all manner of things to it. And yet when you pare it right down to the events as recorded in the Bible, you say, “You know, there’s really nothing particularly dramatic about this at all”—not, at least, in the description. The drama is in the event. The drama is not focused in the sentimental things to which we may be prone to attach significance: “Oh, and isn’t it a shame that this happened?” and “Oh, look at this!” and so on—the kind of things that you say when you go in to see the birth of a child. No, Luke is a master of simplicity. And in both the birth and the death of Christ, he employs the same kind of austerity or brevity in his use of language. So, for example, in Luke 23, describing the events surrounding the death of Christ, this is all he says: “When they came to the place [of] the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, [and] the other on his left.”
So, when we deal with the matters of the birth, there’s no question of how many pounds and ounces. There’s no description of the physical scene. There’s no drama as it relates to the pushing and the shoving and all of the stuff that goes along with that. And when it comes to the other end of his existence and to his death, again there is no gory and graphic descriptions concerning the issue itself. And yet despite the very austerity of Scripture and its carefulness with these issues, we’ve spent the last two thousand years adding all kinds of cultural and mythological accretions to the story and, by doing so, making it pressing difficult for individuals who want to get to the heart of the matter to actually get to the heart of the matter. Because as I said to you a moment or two ago, they don’t know what these ships are that are coming sailing in. And so they’re away off in their cars, thinking about the ships that came sailing in, when they ought to be thinking about the stark simplicity of the arrival of Christ.
So, in other words, his description of the nativity scene is absent all the kinds of detail that we are so tempted to add and which so easily divert us from the real issue. The matter-of-fact approach which he takes clearly pushes the reader to consider the fact of the matter.
Now, it is not merely descriptive. There is some explanation, and indeed, the seventh verse closes with a word of explanation. Because the reader is following along, and he says, “Well, I understand the baby was born. ‘She wrapped him in cloths’—fine—and she ‘placed him in a manger.’” Pause. “I wonder why in the world she placed him in a manger?” Answer: “Because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Now, a little understanding of the times would save us from the average children’s Sunday-school lesson with which we have been brought up and which, probably and sadly—and hopefully you are prepared to confess your sin in this matter—some of you dear folks went through again just a matter of a few weeks ago. And you described the scene where Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem; they were looking for a bed-and-breakfast. That’s the kind of way you put it. And there was absolutely nothing around at all. And so the poor souls were eventually knocking on this door and knocking on that door, and when they had come up completely bereft of hospitality, somebody finally said, “Well, I have got nothing here, but I do have a stable that’s a hundred yards down in the field, and you’ll be very welcome there.”
And then we tell the children: “Isn’t that a dreadful thing to happen to God—that he would have to go and live down there with all that smelly stuff when we have such a nice house?” And then we tell the businessmen that, and the businessmen say, “Well, let me write a check and take care of it.” Because businessmen like to do something for people, and they like to do something for Christ; especially if they can do something for Christ, then maybe he’ll feel very, very disposed to them and take them into his kingdom. But, of course, he won’t.
Now, I don’t want to be guilty of the very thing I’m trying to avoid, but we need some explanation. And the problem with this phrase “there was no room for them in the inn” is because we read it with our cultural spectacles. Most of you see an adjective in front of “inn,” which is either Holiday or Red Roof, or you follow it by the Country Inn at Walden or the Inn at Chagrin Falls. But you’ve got something in your mind. You need to get that out of your mind. I think the most plausible explanation is this—and I don’t want to belabor it, but I’ll just pass it on to you. You’re sensible people; you can consider it for yourselves.
Joseph goes up to Bethlehem because he’s of the house and line of David. There is a possibility that the way in which the census was constructed did not simply have to do with the issue of origins but had to do with the existence of property, and that there may well have been property taxes that needed to be taken care of in relationship to his background. It is more than a little likely that he still had relatives, however remote, in the area of Bethlehem. And so, if you were arriving in Bethlehem and you knew someone to whom you might go, then, presumably, you would go to your relatives. You knock the door, you say, “Hello, it’s Joseph!” and the people shouted, “Hey, it’s Joseph. And who’s this?” “This is Mary.” “Oh, Mary!” “Yes! She’s going to have a baby, and it is imminent. Do you have anywhere at all?”
“Well,” says the relative, “you know that we only have a one-room dwelling here, which is customary. But you’d also know that we were able to build that little inn, that little guest room, up on the roof area, and we’d love you to have that. Unfortunately, your aunt and uncle are in that at the moment, and therefore, you can’t have it. There’s no room for you in the inn.” The word that is used for “inn” is not the same word that is used in Luke , in the story of the good Samaritan, where it says that he put him on his own horse and he “took him to an inn.” It’s a different word. The word that’s used for “inn” is the word that would be translated “guest room” in a context like this. So, “We do have a place up there. Unfortunately, it’s full. But you’re welcome to stay with us in the room.” “Oh, no,” you say, “it couldn’t be in the room, because it was in a stable.” Where is “stable” in your text? Do you see “stable” in the text? No. Where did “stable” come from? Exactly. That’s what I’m talking about.
Now, if you imagine the room, it was a kind of two-level operation. The living level was here, and the lower level was down on the floor, here. And on the lower level, when the evening darkness fell and when it became a little chilly, since the residents in the house were kind to their animals, they did not leave them out; they brought them in. And having brought them in, they then all breathed each other’s air for the night and had a splendid time. And it was customary at the level of the living platform, there to place the mangers, so that the animals who were at the lower level would find the mangers at the living level at head height so that they could eat at will. So when you think of it in those terms, the situation is not Jesus in some dirty old stable, a hundred yards from any kind of hospitality or friendship; but rather, what you have is the provision of the most comfortable cradle that could be improvised in the context of a crowded living room.
That’ll change a few Christmas stories next year. And when we get to heaven, we’ll ask and find out just exactly how it was.
Anyway, that’s the birth.
Secondly, the announcement. When you have the birth, it’s usually fairly private—a few of you present, but eventually somebody says, “Well, shall I put this in the newspaper, or what shall I do?” And it’s here we come to the heart of the matter. Because the drama which now unfolds in the arrival first of a single angel and then in his friends’ is a dramatic encounter that is once again dealt with with a kind of unaffected simplicity. Luke is a master of language, and he is able with great care to ensure that he doesn’t overdramatize the event. He simply states it as is.
And incidentally, since Luke tells us, as a careful doctor who would have done his research well, in verses 3 and 4 of the opening chapter of the Gospel, since he set out “to write an orderly account” so that they might know with certainty the things they had been taught, Luke would have gleaned this information by doing his own research. And probably a great chunk of it came as a result of his being able to talk with Mary and get from her the details of what was going on.
So, what do we read? Well, somewhere “in the fields” of Bethlehem, where David many centuries before had also kept sheep, these men were going about business as usual. They were watching “over their flocks at night.” And “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, … the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” “Terrified.” This, of course, is the standard response in Scripture, as you would note—unlike the standard response at the end of the twentieth century, where people like to go on Christian television and tell everybody that they’ve seen an angel and let them know just exactly who he was and how he was doing. A very unbiblical sort of approach, and whatever they say we have to deal with, but it’s unlike the biblical record.
The angel’s greeting, you would recall, is fairly standard by this time. In verse 10, he says, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” Now, if it’s the same angel… I like to think it is. Of course, there’s no reason to believe that it is except because I want to. But we know it’s an angel. If it’s the same guy, we know that this is his standard pattern. He shows up and goes, “Don’t be afraid.” He knows he doesn’t come in and go, “Hi, it’s your angel.” He goes in, and he goes, “Don’t be afraid.” Why? Because the response is obvious.
There is something downright scary about the unknown. Natural men and women have got no conception of the spiritual world. We don’t understand what it is that’s up there that’s dark and difficult and perhaps dangerous. And if for a moment some manifestation of this world were to come and make a dramatic appearance, I think we would be honest enough to say we should be terrified too. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. “I bring you good news, great joy for all the people.”
Incidentally, our friends and our neighbors and some who are present today who are living with great fear and would love to make the discovery of great joy need to be told in a kind and straightforward manner that you cannot move from great fear to great joy without a discovery of the good news. “I know you’re greatly terrified. You shouldn’t be, because I want to tell you something, and it’s good news. In fact, it’s the best news. And this news is so good it’ll put all your other news in perspective.” Don’t you think we would agree this morning that we would like to hear again this kind of news? Don’t you think that this would have a compelling impact on the culture of our day, in a society that is bedeviled by a continual stream of bad news, sad news, horrendous news?
We need to get it in perspective, in much the same way that the young man, in anticipating coming home after his term in the university for his Christmas vacation, wrote to his parents along these lines. He said,
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch with you. But a number of things have happened I thought to let you know. Number one, my apartment burned to the ground, and in seeking to rescue a few things from it, I broke my leg and ended up in the hospital. While I was in the hospital, I met a rather wonderful nurse. She and I were married on Saturday afternoon. My friends assure me that despite the fact that she is twenty years older than me and doesn’t speak the English language, that it shouldn’t be an inhibition in any way to the development of our relationship, because we are so much in love.
Paragraph break, start of the new paragraph:
Everything you have just read is untrue, so don’t worry. However, what is true is that I have failed my exams badly. And since I wanted you to be able to get this in some kind of perspective, I have written the letter as is.
Now, we do need to get things in perspective, don’t we? We say to ourselves as we read our newspapers, as we face our lives, “Is there no good news around here?” I feel an Anne Murray song coming on, but “we sure could use a little good news today,” right? That’s what the person says. Bombs here and chaos there, and disappointment on this hand, and pain here. And if we’re honest about our lives this morning, many of us are not coming to worship out of the fullness and enjoyment of a job well done and of life well lived, but we are, frankly, in trouble. And we’re wondering if there is any possibility of getting perspective on the framework of our lives.
And here we discover out of the angelic message this wonderful story—good news, great joy. “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever [know]”—that God has a plan for the world that he has made, and that God has a plan for you this morning, as an individual, even though the person sitting next to you doesn’t know you and wouldn’t understand. God knows you, made you, and purposefully brought you to this place. And in the face of all that you are experiencing, he comes by his Spirit through his Word to put your life in perspective and to bring you good news—the best news!
Now, hardly surprising, in light of the content of the announcement, that God should then choose to illuminate the night sky by the provision of these celestial beings and also by this striking, miraculous phenomenon: “Unto you is born this day … a Saviour, [and he] is Christ the Lord.” He is the Messiah.
Now, in the arrival of Jesus, a Savior has come who knocks into a cocked hat all the other pretenders at saviorship, including the Roman authorities and their great Caesars and proud Augustuses. And the angelic chorus sings of a peace which is vastly different from the Pax Romana that had been such a great thing and was to continue to provide an opportunity for the spread of the gospel and which was directly linked to Augustus and to all of his might and his power. But that peace is dwarfed before the wonder of this.
In fact, what I’d like to do is spend the rest of the time that I have just thinking about this one word, “peace.” Peace. Because I said I want to get to the heart of the matter. Let’s think about peace for a moment, a word that is familiar both in Hebrew and in Greek: shalom in Hebrew and eirḗnē in Greek. Those of you as ladies who are called Irene, I’m sure know that your name means “peace.” I trust you’re living up to it, because it will definitely be mentioned at lunchtime by somebody, probably one of your children. So, do your best, Mom.
What is this “peace,” then, “on earth”? Peace on earth. I’ve heard a number of sermons on this in the course of the last forty-six years, many of which are totally fatuous.
First of all, let’s just say what this peace is not. The peace referred to here in the angelic song does not mean that there’s going to be no more war. No more war. Now, it’s customary to go to certain churches around Christmastime and hear somebody say, “And peace on earth and good will towards men,” and then launch into a big thing about the Northern Ireland crisis and about the West Bank and everything else. Totally off the point. Jesus himself tells his disciples, he says, “Nation will rise against nation. There will be wars. There will be rumors of wars. There will be dramatic signs in the heavenlies. There will be earthquakes. There will be floods.” He says, “When these things emerge, don’t get worried about it. Those are the birth pangs. Those are the indications of the fact that I am going to come again.”
But the angelic throng was not suggesting that as a result of the arrival of this baby in this manger, there was going now to be peace on earth. And yet that’s the Harry Belafonte Christmas, is it not? That “man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day,” and he will live in this place of wonderful peace. If that actually was the message, we’d have to say that Christianity is a downright failure. Because two thousand years after the message has been announced, there’s war all the time. There’s bloodshed everywhere. So if the message was the end of war, then we’d have to say, “Christianity is a flop. We’d better move out of the road and let somebody else come in and try and make a go of this.”
Well, of course, we do know that in the second coming of Christ there will be peace. The prophets wondered at the Suffering Servant and how that would be manifested, and they wondered about the victorious King and how that would come about. And here in his incarnation, we see all of the expression of the Suffering Servant, and when finally he comes in the clouds and in great glory, we will see every indication of him as a victorious King. And then the lion will lie down with the lamb. But not today.
So it doesn’t mean that. Nor does it mean some dimension of personal or psychological tranquility whereby individuals are removed from life’s disappointments, shocks, and tragedies. Again, we’d have to be honest and say that if that were the message, then it was a downright mess. Because we still experience fear. We still experience disappointment. We still experience pain and illness and retribution and all these other things. Now, undoubtedly, Christ makes a difference, and we’ll see that in just a moment. But he doesn’t remove us from that realm.
Well then, how can we get our hands around this notion of peace? Well, we’ll be helped by going back into Zechariah’s song for just a moment and reminding ourselves that when he talks about the people’s feet being guided in the path of peace in verse 79, that is in relationship to the light shining on those in darkness and in the shadow of death. That is on account of the one who has come as the rising sun from heaven. That is on account of the tender mercy of God. And that is a result of forgiveness of sins, which, of course, is the nature of the knowledge of salvation. The peace of which the angels sing is peace with God. Says one ancient commentator, “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.”
Now, let me try and tie this all together by saying three things about peace.
First of all, peace with God doesn’t exist naturally. Peace with God doesn’t exist naturally. Despite the endeavors of men and women to press, for example, the Christmas story to that conclusion, it just isn’t so. In fact, when we read the Bible, we discover that while God loves us, at the same time, his wrath is revealed from heaven against all the wickedness and ungodliness of men. And when we take that big phrase, “wickedness and ungodliness,” and we put ourselves into it, we say, “I think I’m somewhere in that.” And the fact is, we are. And God’s wrath is revealed against that.
So there is a hostility, a divine hostility, in the equation of a holy God and sinful man. And at the same time, there is an innate human hostility towards God. Oh, we don’t usually find this by people walking around with the signs that say “I am totally hostile to God,” nor even in polite conversation will people volunteer the fact of the same. It comes out in different ways. We’re talking with them about the nature of the gospel, and all of a sudden they will say—they might even lean forward on the table—and they say, “I can never forgive God for that.” And suddenly, you see in their eyes and from their lips that their heart is hostile towards God. They are angry at God—illegitimately, but nevertheless angry.
So the notion that what you need to do is go to church and have somebody tell you something that you didn’t know—namely, that this peace of God and with God and with each other is actually there; you just have to kind of grab hold of it, you know. And you all hold hands and go, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” you know. “It’s just there. You just have to give it a chance.” It’s not there!
And secondly, the peace of God doesn’t exist naturally, and the peace of God does not come about as a result of our endeavors. In other words, we can’t make peace with God.
Now, think this out for a minute. There is a hostility between the Creator and the creature, and we cannot fix it. Now, that has got to equal “problem” in the mind of a logical thinker. If the God who made us has an appointment with us which we must inevitably keep, as the Bible says, and we are at the moment in a place of dispeace with God and we cannot effect peace with God, then what in the world are we supposed to do?
Well, of course, the answer of religion is “Try a little harder.” I remember a Glen Campbell song, “You’ve got to try, try, try, be a little kinder.” What was that thing? “Shine your light on everyone you meet. And if you give a little kindness, you’ll find a little kindness, and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” you know. And you’re singing along with that, and then eventually you go, “This is bogus. This is stupid.” Oh, it’s true to a measure. You know, if you hold the door open for somebody, the likelihood is that if there’s another door eight feet from the first door, they probably hold the door open for you. A little kindness here, a little kindness there. But at the level of the need for peace, we can’t do it. And yet religion says try. Every false system of religion says to the listening congregation, “Come on, now, you can do it!” Says to the person, “Come on, now, you better do it! You must do it!” Because every religion is prepared to acknowledge that this thing is wrong.
I was at Hopkins Airport in the last ten days or so, diving in and out of the washroom, washing my hands, paying attention to nobody at all, looking mainly at my hands, and I was conscious that the person next to me was apparently doing something that was unusual. But as I looked out of the corner of my eye, I felt that he was doing this, standing in front of the mirror. And as I turned and I looked, that is exactly what he was doing.
So now he has me hooked. And he reaches in, and he gets water, and he gets soap on his hands, and then he starts, and he’s washing his shoes, like this. And I looked, and his shoes were cleaner than mine. I thought maybe the guy had tripped and fallen and needed to wash his shoes. His shoes were fine. He’s washing his shoes.
Then I said, “Muslim?” And he said, “Yes.” And he said, “God is very gracious to me,” in a broken, Mideastern accent. “God is very gracious to me, because when I’m in public, I don’t have to take off my socks and shoes. I can simply do it by washing my shoes.” And I said, “Five times each day?” He said, “Five times each day.”
There was no context created to be grabbed, but I wanted to say to him, “Sir, you don’t need to do this. And if you spend the rest of your life doing this, you will be no closer to God at the end of your life than you are right now.” On what authority could you say that in a world, in a culture, that embraces pluralism and is syncretistic to the max? Look at the presidential Prayer Breakfast. On what authority can I say that or even think that? Only on the authority of this book! I want to say, “Hey, there’s good news of great joy that is come to all the people. You don’t have to do this!”
And some of you are sitting there, and you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I’m glad I’m not a Muslim. I’m free from that.” Ah, but you’re an American, aren’t you? Cursed with the same issue. What, washing your feet in public? No, not at all. Congregations all around Cleveland this morning are sitting waiting for the end of the sermon as you are waiting for the end of this sermon. And when they take their leave of the speaker, either literally or metaphorically, they will go with his hand on their back, saying to them as he launches them out into Monday, “On you go now, and do the best you can! On you go now, and try a little harder. On you go now, and do your best!” And they think that’s the gospel! That you come as a kind of messed-up freak; you find out how it’s supposed to be, descriptively; you psych yourself up for it; and then you go out to try your best to make peace with God!
No wonder people are in such futility! No wonder there is no joy in religious convocations! No wonder there is such a sense of death and mothballs in the average sanctuary into which we go for worship! Why? ’Cause this isn’t the gospel. Do you understand what the gospel is?
That’s my last point. This peace with God doesn’t exist naturally. This peace with God cannot be created by our own endeavor. That’s a problem. But here’s the solution: Christ’s mission was to establish this peace.
Now, you see, that’s the significance of two verses given to the incarnation. Because these fellows were not writing biographies. They were writing Gospels. They weren’t concerned with all the minute details of everything. They were concerned to make clear to those who were prepared to listen the nature of the gospel. So they take just a couple of verses to say, “And she brought forth her son, she wrapped him in cloths, she laid him in a manger, and then the angel showed up, and the angel said this.” Why? Because what the angel said gives to us the explanation for this dramatic occurrence.
Now, how does this Jesus in a manger make peace? Well, he doesn’t make peace in the manger. He makes peace by his blood shed on the cross. You can read that in the whole Bible, but in Colossians 1:20. And he has established peace. He has made
A way back to God
From the dark paths of sin;
There’s a door that is open
[That] you [can] go in:
[And] at Calvary’s cross,
[That’s] where you begin,
When you come as a sinner to Jesus.
Now, let me finish and spend a moment by asking a question of you: Do you know this peace? Do you know this peace? If “there’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin,” if “there’s a door that is open” that “you may go in,” if the door swings on the hinge of the cross of Christ, have you as an individual entered through that door?
Every so often, when you’re driving and you get hopelessly lost, as I do from time to time, you seek out somebody to point you in the right direction. And just once in a blue moon, somebody puts their head in the driver’s side of your car, and as they see the blank expression on your face, as they explain to you, “Well, go down there, and ignore the first on the left, but take the second on the right, and take that south, and so on”—and they know in looking at your face that you are about to burst into tears, because you feel yourself more lost now than you were when the guy started to explain how to get where you’re trying to go!
And that’s how some people feel when they come to church. They come to church, they feel lost. And then the guy tries to explain to them how they can get to their destination. Then they want to burst into tears, ’cause it sounds even worse than when they arrived! And then the guy says to you, “You know what? I can tell you’re not getting this. Why don’t you just let me get in the car with you? And I’ll take you where you need to go.” “Why don’t you just let me get in the car with you? And I’ll take you where you need to go.”
You see, that’s what Jesus says. In all the profundity of the plan of redemption, in all of the immensity of the description that is contained for us here, Jesus comes to you, as it were, and he says, “Listen, I know you’re lost. Why don’t you let me get in your life with you? And I’ll take you where you need to go.”
And people say, “Well, what kind of church is Parkside? I mean, what denomination is it? What do you believe?” This is what we believe. We believe that peace with God is not natural existence. We believe that man cannot put himself in a position where he knows peace with God. We believe that Jesus came to make possible that peace. And we believe that every individual needs to come to Christ and take as a gift the provision that he has made, trust him as a Lord and a Savior, and, every day that he or she lives their lives, thank him for the amazing provision that he has made for them, since they could never, ever do it for themselves.
Do you understand that this really is the source of joy? You ever seen more gloomy-looking people than religious people? “I’m a very religious person. I’m doing my best,” you know. I’ll tell you what: I would not stand for two seconds in front of you for the privilege of putting my hand at your back and saying, “Go on, now. Try your best.” But I’ll stand all day and all night for the privilege of saying to you, “Take Jesus Christ into your life, and allow him to take you to your destination.”
Father, write your Word in our hearts, we pray. Bring us from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, from fear to faith. And fill our hearts with a genuine desire to make known the wonders of what you have done. If there is to be glory in heaven on account of you making peace possible on earth, then grant that our voices may be added to that great chorus of song. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 George Ratcliffe Woodward, “Ding-Dong Merrily on High” (1924).
 See Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6.
 See Galatians 4:4.
 John 1:29 (paraphrased).
 Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (1868).
 Luke 23:33 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:34 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 1:3–4 (NIV 1984).
 Tommy Rocco, Charlie Black, and Rory Bourke, “A Little Good News” (1983).
 Frederick M. Lehman, “The Love of God” (1917).
 Luke 2:11 (KJV).
 Matthew 24:3, 6–8, 33 (paraphrased).
 Jester Hairston, “Mary’s Boy Child” (1956).
 See Isaiah 11:6.
 See Luke 1:79–80.
 See Luke 1:78.
 See Luke 1:77.
 Commonly attributed to Epictetus.
 Romans 1:18 (paraphrased).
 John Lennon, “Give Peace a Chance” (1969).
 See Hebrews 9:27.
 Bobby Austin and Curt Sapaugh, “Try a Little Kindness” (1970). Paraphrased.
 E. H. Swinstead, “There’s a Way Back to God.”
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.