A Savior, Christ the Lord
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A Savior, Christ the Lord

From Series: Good News, Great Joy

Luke 2:8-12  (ID: 2995)

The supernatural events surrounding Christ’s birth are not products of man’s imagination, but of divine revelation, intended to convey God’s power and purposes. Looking at Luke 2:8–12, Alistair Begg demonstrates how God used the unusual angelic announcement to the unexpected audience of shepherds to communicate a crucial message: God has provided salvation, in Christ alone, for all people. The reconciliation of the world through Christ is good news of great joy, even for us today.


Sermon Transcript:

Well, before we turn to the Bible, we turn to God, who gave us the Bible:

Lord, gracious God of heaven, who has spoken and your word has come to be, grant now that by the Holy Spirit you will speak into our lives, granting to us clarity and understanding and faith, so that like those who rejoiced at the discovery of this good and great news, we might do likewise. For we humbly pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, the words to which I should like to call your attention begin in the eighth verse of Luke chapter 2. Luke 2:8: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke has now recorded for us, in verse 7, the event of the birth of the Lord Jesus, and now, in verse 8, he tells us of the announcement of this birth that has been made by the angels and to the shepherds.

Let’s begin where we left off last time: by reminding one another, and doing so very purposefully, of the fact that we’re dealing here with real historical events. We’re not dealing with stories or with myths or with fables. The work of Luke, as we saw in his introduction last time—that’s the opening four verses of his Gospel—the work of Luke is not to tell stories but to record history. It’s certainly more than history, but nevertheless, it is historical. And the narrative that he gives us is, essentially, interpreted history. It is history condensed, because he couldn’t write it all down, and not only condensed but also explained, so that we have not only the events as they have unfolded, but we have also the explanation as to the nature of these events. And as I say to you, it’s very important that we keep that in mind.

We realized last time that Luke, who was not himself an eyewitness of that which he describes, nevertheless had deferred to eyewitnesses. He had made sure that he conducted his investigation, as he says, very thoroughly, very carefully, in order that he might “write an orderly account,”[1] and in order that as a result of his orderly account, that those who were the readers of it would actually be brought to certain convictions concerning the good news that he proclaimed.[2]

And so it is that we are entirely dependent on the work of the eyewitnesses. Therefore, we’re entirely dependent on the testimony of the apostles. And so, if you are wondering about these things—if you find yourself on the fringes of the Christmas story, as it were, marginally skeptical, diffident about whether it is worthy of wholeheartedly committing to this kind of thing—then I would say to you that it is very, very important just to read your Bible, just to read the New Testament records and see the claims that are made by these people. And then ask yourself, “Does the data reinforce the claims that are being made?”

For example, Peter. Listen to how Peter puts it when he’s writing to folks who are being pressed in upon by all kinds of myths and intrusions—many of whom perhaps were beginning to say, “I don’t know if this Christian life is worth it. Goodness gracious, when I signed up for this,” they might have said, “I didn’t think that we would face the Neronian persecution. I didn’t think that people would be getting killed just for following Jesus.” And they might even have had occasion to just say to one another, “I wonder if we’re really on the right track? I wonder if this is actually believable?” And some of you might have been having those thoughts this week. Well, listen to how Peter puts it: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”[3] That’s pretty straightforward: “We want you to know that we didn’t make this stuff up. We actually were there, and we saw it.”

John does the same thing. When John begins his first epistle—first letter—he starts off by saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, which we have touched with our hands, that is what we declared to you.”[4] In other words, “All of our sight, all of our senses, have been involved in this. We were present, we saw Christ, we heard Christ, we obeyed Christ, and some of us are going to die for this Christ. We’re not involved in mythology. This is exactly what took place.”

“Well,” someone says, “yes, but that’s old. This goes back a long, long way.” Yes, it does. It’s old, but that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. The prophecies that came in the Old Testament, that were fulfilled in the New Testament, did not come about as a result of Micah or Jeremiah or Isaiah sort of sitting down and scratching out with a pencil on a pad conjectures about potential that may transpire in the future. No, Peter also addresses that. He says, “For no prophecy was … produced by the will of man.”[5] The prophecies didn’t come about as a result of the cogitations of these individuals. They themselves were surely surprised by many of the things that they wrote. And indeed, Peter says that they were like men standing on their tiptoes, looking down through the corridors of time to see in what way the things they had actually written down were actually going to be fulfilled.[6] What was happening to them? Well, he says that they were caught up by the Holy Spirit. They “spake” from God “as they were [led along] by the Holy [Spirit].”[7] In other words, what we have in their record is not the product of a fertile imagination but is the product of divine revelation: that God has spoken, that he has disclosed himself, that we are reading history; we’re not reading poetry. And don’t let anybody tell you differently, especially if they have not considered, along with you, the New Testament record.

If you think about it just for a moment from the other side, as you study these narratives, these birth narratives, it would become, I think, fairly obvious to you that if someone were inventing the coming of a Messiah, surely they would not do it in this way. Thomas Watson, in his Body of Divinity, says, “One would have thought, if Christ would have come into the world, he would have made [a] choice of some queen or some personage of honour to have descended from; but he comes of [poor] obscure parents.”[8]

Mary’s a wonderful example of hearing from God and then doing as God asks her to do.

“Let’s invent a Gospel. Let’s invent this.” And so they all sat down together and said, “Where do you think the Messiah should be born? This is the great, momentous event of all time, God incarnate. Well, why don’t we have him born in a cattle shed?” “No, no one will ever believe that if you wrote that down. You couldn’t have a Messiah in a cattle shed—with animals as his companions, with cobwebs for his curtains. No, we’d better not write that down. No one would believe that at all.”

Well, that’s exactly what’s written down. It doesn’t smack of mythology to me. I mean, mythology has haloes and everything. We added all that later, all the stuff with big lights around your head like you’ve got a large globe sticking out of the back of your head. And people look at that, say, “That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, you know. I don’t believe that stuff.” I don’t believe it either! I don’t believe they had all those things around their head. Those are the inventions of fertile imaginations. But when you get to the raw data, it doesn’t feel like that. In fact, it feels very strongly that they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing—that is, they’re reporting the event.

The demeanor of Mary was quite remarkable, wasn’t it? When she received the news of the birth, in verse [38], her response was to say, “‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord’”—that’s of chapter 1. “‘Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” So in other words, she’s a wonderful example of hearing from God and then doing as God asks her to do. But I’m not doing her a disservice when I suggest that as she and Joseph made their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, that she might have had occasion just to say to him in passing, “You know, Joseph, this is a little bit weird for me. Because apparently, the baby that I’m carrying is going to sit on the throne of his father David, and his kingdom will never come to an end.[9] And you can’t even get me a decent hotel reservation. There’s something wrong with this story. But let it be as the Lord has said.” Hey, truth is stranger than fiction. Truth is stranger than fiction. You don’t invent this.

Well, as we consider this—and we’ve got a couple of Sundays left to do so—we should keep in mind that Luke, not only in this section of his Gospel but throughout his entire Gospel, is essentially making known three things. One, he’s making known salvation itself—the good news, the gospel, salvation. He’s declaring salvation. Secondly, he’s saying that salvation is found in Christ alone; and thirdly, that salvation is good news for the whole world. So if somebody said to you, “What is Luke on about?”—you can tell them, “He’s on about salvation, he makes clear that that salvation is only found in Jesus, and thirdly, that the salvation, this good news, is for everyone—for black, for white, for rich, for poor, for dumb, for smart, and so on. It is the good news of great joy which shall be for all people.”[10]

Now, with that said, let’s look at this birth announcement. Because that’s essentially what we have here, is a birth announcement. And birth announcements are big business. I don’t remember having a birth announcement for our boy thirty-five years ago. I’m sure we did something like “Hey, we’ve had a boy,” or maybe a telephone call or two, maybe a note scribbled to somebody. But we didn’t have Pinterest, we didn’t have Shutterfly, we didn’t have Tinyprints.com. We weren’t able to digitize and magnify and diddly-do, do the whole thing, and outdo one another with your birth announcement: “I’ve got him on a swing.” “She’s wearing a… It’s got the thing.” It’s great. Actually, I love it. They come at me from all places and stuff, and some of them are my own grandchildren, so don’t feel put upon it, but it’s quite remarkable to me. But this outdoes them all. This outdoes them all. Outdo your neighbors next year. Forget email. Have an angelic birth announcement! Let’s have an angel coming down the street in the middle of the night, announcing to your neighbors just exactly what’s happened. Could never happen, could it? Well, it did happen. The very unusual nature of it is, again, what is so striking.

Unusual Recipients

But don’t let’s worry about the angel for a moment. Let’s notice first of all the unusual recipients. The unusual recipients. To whom is the announcement initially given? To shepherds. Shepherds!

Now, the status of a shepherd in society wasn’t good. They were on the low end of the social spectrum, they were not known for their honesty, they were not known to be particularly clean, they didn’t subscribe to many of the external washings and things that were required by Phariseeism, and they worked so much that they seldom showed up at the church services. And they weren’t regarded as the most reliable people in the context of the culture. Therefore, that’s what makes it so quite amazing that they were chosen to be the recipients. If we now were going to announce the most significant event in all of human history, what do you think the chances are we’d choose the shepherds, given their status, given their background, given their education?

Oh, no, let’s be honest about it. We wouldn’t have gone amongst the rough and tumble on the fields of Bethlehem, would we? We would have gone somewhere else. ’Cause many of us are actually convinced that the only way you can reach the world is if you let everybody know what a genius you are: “I’m a genius! And a Christian.” Well, forget the genius part. Why are you a Christian? ’Cause your cynical friends are going to say, “You can’t be that much of a genius if you’re actually a Christian. If you really were so smart, you wouldn’t be a Christian. ’Cause I read that stuff.” And so it goes. No. They wouldn’t be our choice, but they were God’s choice.

Years ago—and I found this this week when I was looking back through old things. I found a talk that I gave to boys in 1970. So, ’70, I was eighteen. And I gave a talk from this passage, and the three points were these: God comes at unexpected times, to unexpected places, and he uses unexpected people. And here the unexpected recipients of this news are the shepherds. Why would God do this? So that people would say, “Well that’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?”

You see, this is in keeping with God’s approach. When Mary sings in the Magnificat, in 1:52, part of her song goes, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and [has] exalted those of humble estate.” He brings down the mighty, exalts the humble. Okay, let’s see that in action: “Well, let’s announce the birth of Jesus. To whom will we go? Let’s go to the shepherds. Let’s use the shepherds.”

If you think about this, Paul says the same thing when he writes to the church in Corinth. He says, having spoken about the wisdom of God and the foolishness of man, and then he says, “If you want an illustration of this,” he says, “you just need to look at yourselves.” Just look at the Christmas choir. What a strange group of people! I mean, they’re nice. I mean, I like them all. They’re my friends. But, you know, when you look at them at night, it’s like, “Wow, look at these people.” All kinds—Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith, people gazing here, gazing there. Some of them know the words. A few of them actually know the notes. It’s a remarkable group of people. And you look at that, and you go, “This is a microcosm of Parkside Church? You gonna win the world with this group of people? They don’t look that great.”

We’re not that great. “Consider your calling, brethren, when you were called. Not many of you were powerful. Not many of you were from a noble background. Not many of you were particularly brilliant.”[11] The consonant is important. The m is important. He doesn’t say, “Not any.” He says, “Not many.” And that’s true.

And part of the offense of the gospel is an offense that has silenced some of us because our concern for the approbation of our peers—whether it is in the business or the scientific or the social community—is such that we do not want to be thought as those foolish people who actually believe that God was incarnate, came down the birth canal of Mary in the time and in the place that the Bible says. But he gave the news to the shepherds. They are unlikely recipients.

Do you know that the “father of modern missions,” as he’s called—just to use one illustration from church history—is William Carey? William Carey was born in the eighteenth century. His parents were weavers. He didn’t show any early promise. He became apprenticed at the age of fourteen to the local cobbler. He worked as a shoemaker. He married a lady called Dorothy Plackett in 1781. His wife was illiterate, and the marriage certificate shows that she marked it simply with a crude cross. She was unable even to write her name. And so God says, “Now, I’m going to reach India. I’m going to get a guy. I got a shoemaker, I think. And I’ll give him a wife, make sure she’s just the right wife for him.” Absolutely ridiculous! Our choice would not be God’s choice—and it wasn’t, in terms of these recipients.

Because in the Bethlehem fields, those who were used to the arrival of the birth of lambs were now going to go and gaze upon the Lamb of God. They were going to arrive at this manger scene and hear the cooings of this little child—cooings that would eventually from the same lips produce the statement, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd give[s] his life for the sheep.”[12]

The Angelic Appearance

But we must move on: from the unlikely recipients to the angelic appearance.

Now, some people are stumbled over angels. I am not stumbled over angels, and I don’t think you should be too. In fact, many of our skeptical friends who believe all kinds of interesting things want to step back from angels. I just say, “Why don’t you include it with all of the other things that you’re prepared to engage in?”

Frankly, I think it would be strange if the hosts of heaven were not involved at some level in this kind of announcement. I mean, you don’t expect just some guy coming up the street with a bell, you know, shouting. People’s like, “Who’s he?” Say, “Well, that’s Levi. Yeah, they found him somewhere. He’s supposed to go up and down Bethlehem just shouting, you know.” It wouldn’t have the same ring to it, would it?

No, God says… The dispatch room in heaven is filled with all the angels. It’s like Caddyshack. That’s what it is. I imagine the angels all sitting around like caddies at a good golf course and waiting for the caddy master to come along and say, “You take that bag, and you take that bag.” And so, the angel master—Gabriel, or whoever we want to think of—he comes along, said, “Now, I got one for you.”

“Where am I going?”

“Bethlehem.”

“All right. Message?”

“Good news, great joy. All people. Savior.”

“Got it. Who do you want me to tell it to?”

“Shepherds.”

“Are you sure? I mean, there’s some pretty nice people in Bethlehem, some… You know, some more upper kind of… You know, there’s some political types. There’s… You know, some people have done pretty well in Bethlehem.”

“Hey! Just go where I’m telling you, all right? Just go there.”

And so the angel comes. The angels appear. It’d be surprised if the angels didn’t appear. Go and read your Bibles and think about angels for a while this afternoon. You’ll discover that they’re created beings; they’re spiritual beings; they’re intelligent, but they’re not all-knowing; they’re powerful, but they’re not almighty; they exist to do God’s bidding as servants and as messengers; they’re shadowy figures; they’re mysterious figures; they’re awesome; and they’re real. And they show up at key moments. Here at the birth of Jesus. Remember when Jesus is arrested in the garden, and his disciples are prepared to defend him physically? He says, “Put your sword away. I could call twelve legions of angels right now if we wanted to take care of it that way.”[13] At the resurrection, who is it that explains the significance of the empty tomb? It is an angel.[14] And at the return of Jesus in power and in glory, it will be with the sound of a trumpet and the voice of the archangel.[15] So, again I say to you, it would be very strange if it was not an angel of God that was entrusted with such a magnificent story and such an important mission. You don’t want to leave it just to anybody.

It is an angel that answers Mary’s question when he has told her that she’s going to become the mother of a child: “And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’”—and then the angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” It’s an amazing piece: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, … the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”[16] It’s an Old Testament picture. It’s the picture of the cloud, of the presence of God, both identifiable by the presence of the cloud and veiled on account of the cloud, appearing over the ark, appearing in the presence of Moses, appearing at many times, signifying that “God is present here.” And the angel says that “you are going to become the temple of God, Mary. That which is born in you…” There’s nothing like this anywhere else. The eternal God, who’s coequal with the Father and with the Spirit, literally—literally—and actually entered the virgin’s womb and took upon himself our human nature.

That is what the New Testament record is saying. The fact that liberal scholarship seeks to clean it up by saying, “You know, people in the twenty-first century are so effete, they are so clever, that please don’t go to them with any of that stuff. Take out the hard parts. It’s just a brick in the wall. It’s just a small piece of a great theological mosaic. You can take it out, and it won’t do anything.” If you take it out, there’s nothing left! If you take out the virgin birth, you just took out Jesus of Nazareth. You just took out the Savior. You took the whole thing out—literally, physically.

“But,” says somebody, “I don’t understand.” Fine. I don’t understand either. But I believe. Do you believe? I don’t believe by projecting myself into oblivion. I don’t believe as a result of a blind leap into nothingness. I believe about this on the strength of what I believe about God as revealed in Christ. Because if your starting point is that there is no God, then why are you even wasting your time with a discussion about God incarnate? It’s irrelevant. But if your starting point is a God who created the entire universe, then since we at this point in the twenty-first century can create conception without sexual intercourse, why would we be surprised that the creator of the universe would do exactly what we’re told he did? Says Thomas Watson, it’s a sacred riddle, it’s a paradox, that God is manifest in the flesh, that the voice that thunders from the heavens can be heard crying in the cradle, that the hands that threw stars into space grab hold of Mary and suckle at her breast.[17] No, Christ taking flesh is a mystery that we will never understand.

If you take out the virgin birth, you just took out Jesus of Nazareth. You just took out the Savior. You took the whole thing out.

And that’s why it says, “And [the] angel of the Lord appeared … and the glory of the Lord shone.”[18] Of course it did. How would it not? And again I say to you that as in the appearance of God to Moses at the burning bush, the coming of the ark of the covenant into the temple, the Mount of Transfiguration when they were there with Jesus on the mountain, what you have here is a supernatural dimension.

And as a result, the shepherds are filled with fear: “And they were filled with … fear.” In the hymn writer, it’s “shepherds quake[d] at the sight!”[19] Quaked. It’s a good verb, quaked, isn’t it? “I was quaking with fear.” It’s a good verb. I like a good verb. I hope you do too. But anyway, their response was that they were fearful. They didn’t say, “Oh, this must be the incarnation.” They didn’t say, “Oh! Angels. Man, I’m getting sick of angels. They’re everywhere these days.” No. They were floored.

A Vital Explanation

And that’s what I want to say just finally in the moments that I have left: that here, as Luke records this for us, he’s forcing us to consider the fact that the recipients were unusual, that there is no getting away from the fact that there was an angelic visitation, but wonderfully, he provides for us—or they provide for us—a vital explanation. An explanation.

You see, because the coming of Jesus into the world would mean nothing apart from God’s own explanation. Right? Unless we have some explanation of this, what are you going to do with it? And when men and women come to Christmas without the explanation of Christmas that is provided in the Bible, then it is possible to do all kinds of things with it. It just becomes sentimental. It just becomes whatever you want it to become. But if we’re going to be operating from the text of Scripture, then we’re forced to say, “Not only do we have the event as having taken place, but we have the interpretation, or the explanation, of the event.” What is going on here? That’s the inevitable question that would have flooded the hearts of the shepherds themselves.

“Don’t be afraid,” says the angel. That’s the kind of standard angelic greeting in the morning. He didn’t say “shalom” or “good morning.” The angels had to get used to going, “Hey, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.” You remember C. S. Lewis says, in the book on miracles, he says, “It’s always shocking to find life where we don’t expect to find it. Someone says, ‘It’s alive!’ and we jump back: ‘Whoa! I didn’t realize that.’”[20] The shepherds are going about their routine business, and suddenly, “It’s alive!” “What is that?” “It’s alive! Look out!” What do we do with this? “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. It’s for all the people. It’s a light for revelation to the gentiles.”[21]

“Let me tell you what’s happened,” says the angel. “This day”—that’s time—“in the city of David”—that’s place—“a Savior” has been “born.” That’s the significance. Notice again: time, place; history, geography. The chapter begins, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.”[22] That’s the history. Again, history: on this day, in this place, a Savior has been born.

You remember Matthew, it’s recorded there, “You [will] give him the name Jesus, [for] he will save his people from their sins.”[23] And we’ll just end by noticing that his name is there for us: “Savior … Christ the Lord.” Savior, in that he is God’s provision for our human predicament. He is God’s provision for our human predicament.

You see, part of the problem that some of us are up against when it comes to the story of Christmas is the sort of Charlie Brown thing, where, if you remember, one of Schultz’s cartoons in the early days had Charlie holding a sign that said “Christ is the answer.” And Linus, in one of the other frames further down, had a sign reading “What is the question?” What is the question?

Now, that’s legitimate, isn’t it? Because Christ is the answer to the human predicament. What is the human predicament? Why are we the way we are? Why are we, after all this time as developed humanity, still so sinful, still so rebellious, still so unbelieving, still so jealous, still so warfare-like? You would think after all this time we would’ve got it fixed. But it is not fixed. Why? Because the heart of man is warped—turned in upon ourselves, as Luther put it;[24] erring from our ways like lost sheep, missing the mark of God’s purpose, stepping on his yellow lines, not loving him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength.[25] In other words, I’m a sinner. I sin. I do sinful things. But the sinful things are not the issue. The problem is my heart. I have a sinful heart. I have a propensity to badness, not to goodness. And so do you.

But until the Holy Spirit makes that clear to you, I could stand up here for fifty years of Sundays and tell you that Christ is the provision for the predicament, but until you are convinced that you yourself face that, my story means nothing to you. Why would it? It’s like somebody giving me a call this morning and saying, “I’m in a boat on Lake Erie, and I’ll save you from drowning.” You say, “Well, okay. Yeah, I mean, but I’m in Solon right now. I’m not on Lake Erie. And frankly, I’m not going there in the foreseeable future, and certainly not when it’s as cold as this. Hey, but thanks for the information! That was nice of you to call.”

“Hey honey, a guy just called and told me he’d save me from drowning in Lake Erie.”

She said, “But you’re not in Lake Erie.”

I said, “No, I know. I told him that. But apparently, he just wanted me to know.”

And see, if you sit out there and you listen to me, you say, “Well, I don’t know what he’s on about. He’s on about some… It’s a salvation thing or something. He said Luke’s thing is about salvation. And apparently, there’s some people that need to be saved. I don’t know who it is. Maybe it’s my wife. Maybe it’s… My kids are a bit messed up. They could get saved, I suppose. But not me. I’m long past being saved. No. No. No, I’m really pretty good.”

You see, a Christian’s a humble person—ultimately humble. Because when you take the Christmas carols, you realize that they reduce us on account of the grandeur and wonder of who God is. It’s not a Christmas carol, but it is along the lines of a Christmas carol; it goes like this:

It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God’s own Son [would] come from heav’n,
And die to save a child like me.[26]

But you see, some of us, until the Holy Spirit shows us what our “me” is like, we’re saying, “Oh yes, of course. It really is quite wonderful—and it’s quite expected!—that he would come and save a child like me. After all, I mean, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I mean, I’m not very religious, but I’m quite religious. I graduated Lord-a-how-come-a, and I’m going on in my life,” and this and that and the next thing. No, you’ll never become a Christian from that position. You’ll never become a Christian from the vantage point of detached curiosity: “Oh, that’s very interesting. You got a story about salvation? You must tell me about that sometime.” No.

But when God shows you that you’re in the wrong with him, that you will be resurrected to eternal death on account of your rebellion against him—when that dawns on your heart, not as a result of the voice of a man but as the result of the intervening voice of God, then suddenly the news of the love of God in Jesus as a Savior will overwhelm you and will convict you and will convert you and will change you. And that’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s not signing up for a religious experience. It’s not turning over a new leaf. It is being radically transformed by God. It is crying out to God, “Save me, because if you don’t save me, no one can save me.” Until you come to that point, you will remain outside of Christ.

The Christmas story is infinitely more significant, infinitely more demanding, infinitely more wonderful than that which is generally understood and proclaimed.

The day you do, if you have faith as slender as the web of a spider, God will take you to himself. He is the Savior. He is Christ. That’s not his second name; that is a title. He is the Anointed One, he is the Messiah, and he is Lord. And that word is the word that was used by Greek-speaking Jews to translate the Hebrew Yahweh. In other words, “Here’s the deal: good news, great joy for all the people, because unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior. You need one. He is the Anointed One, he is the Messiah, he is Prophet, Priest, and King, and he is God Almighty.”

You remember Horace told his students when they were writing literature, “If you’re writing a drama,” he says, “do not introduce a god into the story unless it is entirely necessary.”[27] “Do not write a god into the story unless it is entirely necessary.” Makes perfect sense. And the reason that God has been written into the story of your life and mine is because it is entirely necessary.

My dear friends, I have every sympathy with the people who’ve turned their backs on sort of Christmas humbug. I would like to as well. Because the Christmas story is infinitely more significant, infinitely more demanding, infinitely more wonderful than that which is generally understood and proclaimed. There’s a reason why people say it’s trivial: it’s because it is trivialized. You know, “Christianity: you’re supposed to put blankets over old ladies’ knees and be kind to children. And it’s a wonderful time for the children.” Well, of course it is! Who doesn’t like having a nice time with children? But are we gonna sidestep this drama of the incarnation, this angelic visitation, this cry from heaven? We’re gonna just pass it off with another eggnog and a few cheers of well meaning? “Well, let’s all get together and have a nice time.” No, it’s far more significant than that.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That’s what was happening: that he who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He was not counting their sins against them because he was counting their sins against him, against his only beloved Son.[28] He loved you so much. You talk about preparing a gift for somebody? You talking about thinking about the absolute appropriate, necessary, wonderful expression of love? What greater expression of love could there ever be than that the God of all eternity should from eternity purpose to take his only beloved Son and send him into the world that you and I may be set free from fear of sin, from the reality of death, from the tyranny of the devil? God’s love is so great. Would you spurn his love? You say, “Fair enough.” “Love was when God became a man”—was the old song by Walvoord, wasn’t it?—“[down] in time and space.”[29] I can’t remember it now. Doesn’t matter.

Hey, we’ve got Gospels of John out there if you want to figure this out some more, copies of the New Testament, people in our prayer room if you’d like to talk or pray or think, opportunities that emanate from the pulpit here that lead into small groups and all other kinds of places. But today—today—if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart.[30] Just call out to him where you are. Say, “Lord Jesus, I haven’t got it all sorted out, but I get the sin part. And I know I can’t rescue myself. And since you have come to rescue, please rescue me.” If you say that, if you mean that, God will. I know. He promised.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for this good news of salvation. Thank you for your love for us in Christ.

May the love of Jesus draw us to himself, the joy of Jesus strengthen us in himself, and the peace of Jesus keep our hearts and minds. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, today and forevermore. Amen.

 


[1] Luke 1:3 (ESV).

[2] See Luke 1:4.

[3] 2 Peter 1:16 (ESV).

[4] 1 John 1:1, 3 (paraphrased).

[5] 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV).

[6] See 1 Peter 1:10–11.

[7] 2 Peter 1:21 (KJV).

[8] Thomas Watson, “Christ’s Humiliation in His Incarnation,” in A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2011), 196.

[9] See Luke 1:32–33.

[10] See Luke 2:10.

[11] 1 Corinthians 1:26 (paraphrased).

[12] John 10:11 (KJV).

[13] Matthew 26:52–53 (paraphrased).

[14] See Matthew 28:1–7; Mark 16:1–7; Luke 24:1–7.

[15] See 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

[16] Luke 1:34–35 (ESV).

[17] Watson, “The Scriptures,” in A Body of Divinity, 27.

[18] Luke 2:9 (ESV).

[19] Josef Mohr, “Silent Night” (c. 1816–18).

[20] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 149–50. Paraphrased.

[21] See Luke 2:32.

[22] Luke 2:1 (ESV).

[23] Matthew 1:21 (NIV).

[24] See Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans.

[25] See Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27.

[26] William W. How, “It Is a Thing Most Wonderful” (1872).

[27] Horace, Ars Poetica 191. Paraphrased.

[28] See 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21.

[29] John E. Walvoord, “Love Was When God Became a Man” (1970).

[30] See Hebrews 3:15.

Copyright © 2021, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.