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The Announcement of Jesus' Birth, Part 3

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 25, 2020 3:00 am

The Announcement of Jesus' Birth, Part 3

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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You know, if you could sum up our lives, you could sum them up in the pattern that you've seen illustrated here. We heard the revelation of the gospel. We believed it. We pursued Christ and embraced Him. And as Christians, we began to think deeply about the great truth.

We love the Word. We ponder the truth. And our lives are marked by a desire to obey what God tells us to do. Now, while you have probably known the details of Jesus' birth for years, and you can recite the story with ease, and while it's vital for any Christian to know what happened on that first Christmas, it's far more important that you know how to respond to the central truth of that event in Bethlehem.

And that is that the God of the universe humbled Himself and took on human flesh in order to save sinners like you and me. John MacArthur helps you embrace that amazing truth today as he wraps up the study he calls the promise of Christmas. Well, before we go any further, John, Merry Christmas to you and your family. You know, you and I both are lovers of the Puritans, and they weren't particularly lovers of Christmas. They saw it as a pagan holiday. There are also people who think that way today, and we get their questions every year, but I know you love Christmas. You love to celebrate Christmas, so talk about that and why. Well, look, I'm not ignorant about the fact that Christmas is confused with some pagan celebrations.

I don't need to undo all of that. I don't need to turn Christmas into a pagan holiday, because it does have connections to paganism in its history. I just look at Christmas and say, okay, is it a good thing to think about the birth of Christ? Absolutely. Is it a wonderful thing to realize that God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth? Is it a great truth that he came into the world to live a sinless life, die a substitutionary death, rise again, and provide salvation?

Absolutely. I can strip out all the other stuff and take my focus and put it on the birth of Christ. So I think Christians who feel like they need to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater, that is to throw Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ, away with the pagan aspects of it, miss the point. I would rather focus on the reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and throw the pagan side out.

So as long as the whole world is going to be focused on that, why would I not take advantage of that opportunity? Through the years, how many people—I can't even count—who have come to faith in Christ for the preaching of the birth of Christ around Christmas at our church? How many people have even been introduced to the gospel through the Christmas concert series that we hold? And every single thing that's done there musically is sacred.

We don't do any secular music at all. We're not singing, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. So the gospel presentation takes advantage of Christmas, and every year people come to Christ through the concert series. So I think the wrong thing to do is to say, well, there's some pagan elements in this deal, so let's throw away the birth of Christ. I'd rather say, let's take the birth of Christ and throw away the pagan part of it and make everything we can out of that.

That is great. Thanks, John, for that helpful perspective. And now, friend, I invite you to follow along in Luke chapter 2 as John MacArthur continues his look at the promise of Christmas.

As we come to verses 15 to the end of the section in verse 21, we really come to the somewhat human part. And it's a pretty simple and straightforward message. It's one with which most of you are very familiar. It's a simple story about the shepherd's response. I could just tell you that story or have you read it and make a few comments and you'd have it.

There's nothing complicated there. There's nothing hidden, nothing mysterious. But as I went over it, I found that it served to me as a good illustration, a good illustration, a good analogy of what happens when anybody embraces the Savior. The details that are given in the account down to verse 21 show us by illustration form what happens when someone comes to Christ. And that's what I want you to look at, and it's just from verse 15 down to verse 21, and it's a very simple passage, a very simple narrative, but it serves as a good illustration. It's not an allegory, but it does serve as a good illustration of how people respond savingly to the gospel. Let me show you as it kind of unfolds, verse 15.

It came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that 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. Spontaneously, mutually, collectively, there was the same response from everybody. In fact, the Greek verb is what we call an imperfect, that's a name of a tense in the Greek language, and the imperfect tense, that's the term that describes something that's not completed. That's continuous action.

It's imperfect because it's not complete. They use that verb here to express the fact that this was an ongoing kind of discussion. In verse 15, they were all continuing to say over and over to one another this, we've got to go, we've got to go. There would be a little process involved here, somebody has to take care of the sheep, they've got to figure that problem out, how are we going to get somebody to care for the sheep while we're gone, we've got to go. And they probably were talking about, well, we need to do this and we've got to do that, and there's this task and that task.

They were all embroiled in the fact that they had to get out of that place and get to Bethlehem. And there was spontaneity at this point. Nobody needed to lead them.

Nobody needed to sort of get them to comply. Everybody had exactly the same response. It's without delay, at once we're going to go. Now, the traditional Shepherd's Field is about two miles from the town of Bethlehem. And so there would be a little bit of a walk involved in this. They wanted to get on the way immediately. They were in full agreement. They said, let's go straight to Bethlehem then and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.

They would most likely have had to walk uphill since Bethlehem sort of sits on a ridge. So as soon as they could, they were on their way with a view to seeing this thing. Let me talk about that word thing because I think you need a little more definition.

It's literally the Greek term rhema and it means a word or a reality. Let us see this reality. They now understand that they have heard the Word from God, that there is a reality and the reality is that the Savior has been born. Now they can confirm it easy enough because the angel had said to them, you're going to find a sign back in verse 12. You're going to find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying where? In a manger. Now that's just an unheard of thing, very unusual, probably never happened.

Nobody would put a baby in a feed trough in a stinking stable. So that would verify that this was all true. I mean, they had seen the angels and that was verification enough, but they were going to get even more verification when in fact they found the child exactly where the angel said he would be, which meant that this was not just an earthly situation going on, this was heaven and earth involved. They believed the angel.

And I think that's indicated in verse 15. They said, let us go straight to Bethlehem then and see this thing that has happened. They believed.

That's the first thing I want you to notice. They had a revelation from God and they believed it. And if I can borrow that as an analogy, that's how people come to Christ. They have a revelation from God and they believe it. The revelation from God is that the Savior has come and they believe it. That's step one and step two in the whole movement toward salvation.

Their faith in the Word of God then caused them to pursue Christ. And that's the third step in anybody's life in coming to Christ. First, you know the revelation. Secondly, you believe the revelation. Thirdly, you come to Christ.

You ascend to that. You embrace Christ and that's essentially illustrated that. It's not the intent of the passage to teach some spiritual truth, but it's a wonderful illustration of a spiritual truth. Because verse 16 says, they came in haste.

Again, this idea of enthusiasm and eagerness, the language indicates that they're in a hurry and their enthusiasm is great. They came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And we don't know how they did that, but word of mouth about the birth of babies spreads pretty rapidly and they continued to look, verse 16, and found eventually their way to Mary and Joseph. Now what followed after that is also normal as an analogy or an illustration of behavior of someone who comes to Christ. It's witness.

Someone who's heard the truth of the gospel, someone who's believed it, someone who's come and found Christ, then witnesses. Look at verse 17. And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this child.

Now let me stop you there for a minute. I can't believe that there wasn't some large conversation between verse 16 and 17. I mean, here are these scruffy, grubby shepherds coming in the middle of the night into this stinking stable, finding Joseph and Mary, a baby lying in a manger. And they're all overwhelmed with what's happened, so Joseph and Mary must have had some response saying, greetings, how can we help you?

And then they unfold the saga. Well, and I can just hear them all vying for telling the story their way as Joseph and Mary tried to sit quietly and listen. And it must have been wonderful confirmation for them as well, for any malingering doubts that might have been raised in their minds. And they told the story of how an angel came and an angel described one who had been born, good news of great joy, a Savior, He is Christ the Lord, and on and on.

They told the whole story and then a whole host of angels came and there were angels everywhere and they were bright and they were shining and they were praising God and thanking God and, oh, it was incredible. And as that story unfolded, I think Joseph and Mary probably began to unfold some of their side of the details. Well, isn't that wonderful because, you know, an angel came to me, Joseph might have said, and he told me not to worry about the fact that my virgin betrothed bride-to-be Mary was pregnant because the baby that was in her womb was put there by the Holy Spirit. She was not sinful. She was not unfaithful to me that she was going to have a child who would be Immanuel God with us, God in human flesh and that He would be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.

And this all happened to me when I was deciding whether to divorce her or stone her to death and I had a dream and in that dream an angel of the Lord came to me and told me the whole thing. And then Mary might have quietly said, and, you know, I had a visit from Gabriel and Gabriel came to me even though I'm just a young girl and a virgin and said, you're going to have a baby and that baby's going to be son of David, son of the Most High God. He's going to rule over a kingdom that will last eternally and it all is beginning to come together and these shepherds talk about being in on the scoop. They're in on it. And at this particular point, it's Joseph and Mary and a handful of shepherds and Zacharias and Elizabeth and they know about it and really nobody else has the kind of inside information that these people have.

And what is their immediate response? After the whole thing unfolds, when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Christ. They went everywhere and said, the Savior has been born, the Savior has been born, Christ the Lord has been born. They told the story. They probably told the story about the angel and the angels and told the story about Joseph and told the story about a virgin conceiving a child and unfolded the whole marvelous, incredible account.

And again, they illustrate what happens, I think, in the life of a newborn soul. First comes the revelation to understand the gospel, then faith to believe the gospel, and then the action that goes and pursues Christ and embraces Christ, and then comes the immediate response which is to witness. I tell you right now, folks, the most aggressive, faithful people in proclaiming the gospel are the newest Christians because the joy runs so high, the excitement is so great, the enthusiasm is so profound.

And so these shepherds become the first New Testament evangelists, the first New Testament evangelists. And they repeated the astounding revelation from God, as well as their own personal meeting of Joseph and Mary and the baby lying in the manger. They couldn't restrain themselves. I mean, this was the greatest news the world would ever know. This was the greatest news they ever heard, far beyond anything they could have ever imagined.

I mean, there wasn't anything in their humdrum life that could equal this. And I might suggest to you, the true spiritual commitment is determined by the quality and tenacity of one's long-term joy over salvation. You can say you're committed, you can talk about the commitment you have to Jesus Christ, but it really comes down to how much joy you have and how eagerly you share that. They were eyewitnesses to the good news, eyewitnesses to the Messiah being born, and they spread it. They didn't contain themselves. They couldn't contain themselves. And, you know, when we stop doing that, when we stop having that kind of zeal and that kind of passion, when we betray a heart that is no longer overwhelmed by joy, when we betray a heart that is no longer unrestrained in its compulsion to tell others, we betray a sinful heart because indifference and ingratitude is a sin.

And it's amazing, you know, the longer people are Christians, the less they seem excited about it, they move further and further away from the initial revelation of the gospel and become more and more involved with other things, you get a lot more excited about sports and restaurants and food and kids and grandkids and houses and cars and possessions and vacations and rarely ever do they literally burst forth with exuberant joy toward others who know not Christ because of their sheer compulsion to talk about the One who saved them from eternal wrath. Well they, the shepherds did, and they told it far and wide. And it says in verse 18, all who had heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

I mean, what it did create was a stir. The word wonder is the word thaumadzo. Thaumadzo means to marvel, to be amazed. And by the way, it's common in Luke's gospel, he likes that word and it's repeated again and again. I mean, the things that Jesus did caused people to be amazed. It caused them to wonder, it caused them to marvel.

That was pretty typical. You see him use that word in chapter 4, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 20, he uses it in chapter 24, and also in chapters 4 and 5 you get a similar kind of response. Jesus caused people to be amazed, there's no question about it. He was an amazing person.

They'd never seen anybody like Him. And I think today that there are people like that. There's a certain amount of wonder about Jesus, particularly around Christmas season, you know, there's a certain wonder about the Christ child and wonder about the whole nativity situation, and there's a certain amount of respect given to Jesus with regard to that, but that's not salvation. That is not salvation. Being amazed by Jesus doesn't do it.

That's not enough. That's just curiosity, maybe at its highest level. That reaction was amazement, curiosity not commitment. But I don't think that would have restrained them because they were so internally compelled to tell the story. I mean angels, revelation from God, miracle conception in a virgin, Son of God, Son of the Most High God, born in a stable, laid in a feed trough.

I mean the whole thing was some kind of story. And you know, people would be pressed to believe it. They would be pressed to believe it because the angel comes and the angel says, you'll find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a feed trough.

And sure enough, that's exactly where he was. And if God wasn't working all of that, how could that all have happened? It had to be divine.

God had to be working this whole thing out. The child was exactly where they were told, by angels. And if angels are involved in this and angels know the whole situation, this has got to be from God. As I've told you before, people didn't see angels. Up to now, Zachariah saw an angel and Mary saw an angel and the shepherd saw an angel and then saw a host of angels and nobody else did. But the idea that all heaven broke loose and a whole multitude of angels showed up, pretty amazing stuff. And then it was all confirmed because they did exactly what the angel said and sure enough, there was a baby in the manger.

No wonder people wondered. And I think that's...that's sort of the contrast to the shepherds. The shepherds got the revelation, believed it and ran to Christ. Wouldn't it have been good if it had said in verse 18, and all who heard it went immediately to the manger?

It doesn't say that. They just wondered and went on with their life. The next little comment in verse 19 I find interesting as well. It takes us into the heart of Mary. It says, but Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. This is just mulling them over, contemplating them deeply. She went much deeper, believe me, than the amazed people in verse 18.

I mean, this is just beyond comprehension. Here's a 13, 14-year-old girl. She's looking into a feed trough and she's seeing there a baby has come out of her womb. She's never known a man. This baby was conceived and born without ever knowing a man. This baby is the Son of the Most High God. This baby is the rightful heir to the throne of David. This baby is the Savior of the world. This baby is the anointed Messiah. This baby is God, the Lord.

I mean, it's also mind-boggling in the common world of human beings. And Mary must have wondered, you know, when is he going to start saying profound theological things? Tomorrow? Is he going to do miracles? What's going to happen here? What am I to expect out of this child? Will I have a normal relationship with this child that a mother has to a baby? Will I nurse this child as mothers do? Will I raise this child as mothers do? What will this child be like? And when will he enter into his glory and when will he take his kingdom?

When will that all happen? And how am I going to be a mother to a child that is God? You must have wondered all those kinds of things. You must have wondered even about discipline and setting an example.

How do you set an example for God? I mean, anything that would come into a mother's mind must have come into her mind. She just pondered it. She just thought deeply about it.

And she thought deeply about God's redemptive purpose and how God had promised a Savior and the Savior had finally come. And later on, in verses 34 and 35 of this chapter, Simeon comes up to Mary and says, I hate to tell you this, Mary, but this child's going to pierce your heart like a sword. It's not all going to be wonderful for you. This is going to be very painful having this son.

A sword's going to go right through your own soul. And it's true. I mean, being the mother of the Son of God was a painful thing. She loved Him.

She must have loved Him like no mother has ever loved a child because He was perfect. And yet she saw Him suffer. She saw Him suffer so profoundly and so unjustly. And eventually, she was there when He was nailed to the cross. I mean, all kinds of suffering.

She must have been thinking about a lot of things. And isn't that analogous somewhat to the Christian experience? Just following the little illustration, first there's the revelation of the truth, the gospel.

Then there's faith, like the shepherds put in what God said. And then there's action to go and define Christ. And then there's witness, the exuberance and the joy. And then comes pondering. After those initial days of euphoria, as you grow in your Christian life, you begin to think more deeply about the realities of who He is. Here I am, you know, as a Christian, a long time after many, many years of ministry. And I continue in my reading. I never get enough. I have an insatiable desire to know more about my God and my Christ and just to plumb the depths of all there is to know and to ponder those things. And when somebody's truly converted, I think there's never enough.

There never comes a point of satisfaction. As Paul said, that I may know Him, that I may know Him. And somebody might say, you know Him. You know Him well. You know Him better than anybody else.

Yeah, but I don't know Him like I'd like to know Him. Mary illustrates that hungry heart that wants to understand the depth of this great salvation. And then finally, in verse 20, well not finally, I'll give you one more if I have time.

This is a brief one. Next to finally, verse 20, the shepherds went back. Hey, did you know that when you become a Christian and you've had the greatest imaginable transformation and you've heard the revelation from God and you've believed it and you've embraced Christ and you've begun to witness when all that has happened and you've even begun to think deeply about the profound realities of who God is, who Christ is, and what the saving purpose of God is unfolding in the world? When you've come to that point, you still have to go back to work. Life goes on, doesn't it?

Life goes on. And that's analogous to what happens. You go back, only you go back with a different attitude. You go back glorifying and praising God.

That's what they did. They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as had been told them. It was exactly the way they were told by the angel.

Every detail was exactly accurate and they went back with a whole new attitude. I don't know what their attitude was like before they had this incredible encounter with the revelation of God, but it certainly wasn't like it is now. They may have been hopeful. They may have worried and wondered and doubted and questioned and been wearied and all of that, but not anymore.

They went back glorifying and praising God and that too is analogous to what happens when a conversion takes place. There's a revelation. We hear the revelation of God.

We believe it. We go and we embrace Christ. There's witness that follows. There's a deep pondering about great divine truth as we deepen our knowledge of the Word of God. And there is also a life attitude of praise and worship to God that marks a believer. By the time they got the whole story put together with the additional elements that Joseph and Mary would bring to bear on it, they were so filled with praise and thanks, they were literally overwhelmed by it all and they just went back glorifying and praising God for the whole thing. That's the attitude that Christians should have. They knew that this is the child who would be the Savior, the Christ, the Lord, fulfill the Davidic promise, Abrahamic promise, and the promise of the new covenant.

They couldn't restrain themselves. Their lives were just filled with praise. There's one little final verse in this section, verse 21, and it says, And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

This is good. Jewish law in the Old Testament was very explicit. According to Genesis 17, 11, and 12, Leviticus 12, a boy, baby, born in Israel needed to be circumcised.

That's what the law of God required. By this time in the Jewish tradition, circumcision occurred always on the eighth day, but by this time, circumcision was accompanied by the official naming of the child on the eighth day. You may have known the name before then, but that was the official naming of the child on the eighth day. And so when eight days were completed, they came together for the circumcision, and they named Him Jesus.

Why? Because it was the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Matthew 1 21, the angel said to Joseph, when he's born, you call him Jesus because it saves people from their sins, and when he was born, that's exactly what they did. And that, I think, illustrates another component of the Christian life, and that's obedience, isn't it?

You know, if you could sum up our lives, you could sum them up in the pattern that you've seen illustrated here. We heard the revelation of the gospel, we believed it. We pursued Christ and embraced Him. We became witnesses to that glorious transformation, and we began to tell others about it. And as Christians, we began to think deeply about the great truth. We became students of the Word. We love the truth.

We love the Word. We are under the truth, and we also are characterized by exuberant joy and praise and gratitude to God, which is expressed in our worship, both singular and corporate, and our lives are marked by a desire to obey what God tells us to do. That's just a simple little look at the very human side of the story, the shepherds. But it does provide, I think, a good analogy or illustration of the patterns that occur in the life of one who comes to Christ.

Revelation, faith, action, witness, thought, deep thought, praise, and obedience. You're listening to the Christmas Day edition of Grace to You. Thanks for being here as John MacArthur unpacked The Promise of Christmas.

That's the title of his study. And now if I can, let me make a suggestion. Take time today to read the Christmas story in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 2, maybe also read Philippians chapter 2 as well.

Do that with your family. And one last thing, if you've been strengthened by Grace to You this year, would you do us a big favor? Let us know how God has used this program in your life.

Thanks for dropping us a note when you have a moment in the coming days. Email us at letters at gty.org, that's letters at gty.org, or if you prefer regular mail, you can write to Grace to You, Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. And when you visit our website, gty.org, make sure to take advantage of all the opportunities you have to study God's Word. You can supplement your personal Bible study with daily devotionals written by John, or read articles on hot-button issues facing the church on the Grace to You blog, or watch Grace to You television, and download any of John's more than 3500 sermons. That is every sermon from nearly 52 years of John MacArthur's pulpit ministry. All of that Bible teaching and more is available free of charge at gty.org.

Again that's gty.org. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace to You staff, I'm your host, Phil Johnson, wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas celebration. And be here next week when John looks at how you can be a spiritual leader, someone other believers can lean on. He'll kick off a study titled The Courageous Christian with another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time. On Monday, is Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-11 10:45:32 / 2024-01-11 10:57:17 / 12

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