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The Theology of Christmas

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 20, 2021 3:00 am

The Theology of Christmas

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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December 20, 2021 3:00 am

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He, being in the form of God. Just take the word being for a moment. Being denotes the person's essential nature, essence.

This refers to his innate, unchangeable, unalterable essence. When he was born 2,000 years ago, in an unimportant Middle Eastern town, in the smallest and poorest of quarters, hardly anyone noticed. But this week, you and millions around the world will celebrate Jesus' birth in one fashion or another.

The question is, why? Why should you care so much about this particular baby born in Bethlehem? Find out today on Grace To You as John MacArthur looks at why Christ is worthy of your worship and not just on Christmas Day, but every day.

So, follow along with John now as he considers the amazing love and the amazing sacrifices that Christ made to save sinners like you and me. The title of this message, The Theology of Christmas. To put it mildly, Christmas is a little bit confusing to the watching world, I'm pretty sure.

I never really get over that. Year after year I'm struck by the paradoxes of Christmas, the strange juxtaposition of Christianity and a kind of carnival mentality, the humility and poverty of the stable confused with the wealth and indulgence of selfishness and gift giving, the quietness of Bethlehem with the din of the shopping mall, the seriousness of the incarnation with the silliness of the party spirit and party attitude, the blinking colored lights juxtaposed with the star of heaven, just a confusion designed certainly by the enemy of men's souls, cheap plastic toys mixed with the true gift of the wise men, angels confused with flying reindeer, an ox and an ass in a stable confused with a red-nosed reindeer, of all things, filth of the stable confused with the whiteness of fresh snow. And so it goes, and you're familiar with all of that, Mary and Joseph and North Pole elves. Kind of hard to look through this and see the reality.

But it reached epic proportions for me, this confusion. When I read an article written by a leader in Los Angeles and this representative wrote this, there are few causes to which I am more passionately committed than that of Santa Claus. Santa Claus deserves not just any place in the church, but the highest place of honor where he should be enthroned as the long-bearded ancient of days, the divine and holy one whom we call God. He's not done. Santa Claus is God the Son.

You better watch out, you better not pout. Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows whether you've been bad or good.

He slips into the secrets of the heart as easily as he slips down the chimney. Santa Claus is God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth in whose hand is a pack bursting at its seams with the gifts of His creation. Santa Claus is God the Holy Spirit who comes with the sound of gentle laughter with a shape like a bowl full of jelly. And He comes in the night to sow the seeds of good humor.

Santa Claus indeed deserves the exalted and enthroned place in the church for He is God the Son, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. I've seen Him in the toy store. I even saw Him in His car on the freeway the other day. And when I saw Him with His crazy beard and His baggy suit, I saw more than the seasonal merchant of cheap plastic toys, I saw no less than the triune God.

I hope you can see Him too. Huh? I mean, have you ever heard anything more convoluted than that?

Incredible. What chaos and what confusion? After all, what is Christmas about? What is the celebration of the birth of Christ really about? We could approach it from the standpoint of the Old Testament prophets. We could approach it from the standpoint of Mary or Joseph. We could approach it from the standpoint of the angels or the shepherds or even the wise men who came later.

We could approach it from the standpoint of the innkeeper. We could approach it from the standpoint of Herod who had a lot at stake in his own mind. But I want you to look at it from the view past the event that is given to us by the beloved Apostle Paul. So open your Bible to Philippians chapter 2...Philippians chapter 2. Here's the theology of Christmas, okay?

The theology of Christmas. My intention is to be straightforward and just tell the real story of the birth of Christ and have you make no mistake about its genuine significance. In Philippians chapter 2, verse 5 ends by identifying Christ Jesus. Then Christ Jesus becomes the theme of the next few verses. So let's listen, as Paul writes, Christ Jesus who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized, but emptied Himself taking the form of a slave and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. If we just squeeze those verses together, it's pretty clear that we're talking about one who is God, that's how it starts, and is Lord and that's how it ends. That's the real message of Christmas, that Jesus Christ is God and He is Lord.

But let's break that down a little bit and see the component parts. This paragraph really in some ways stands in unapproachable majesty. This is one of the pure jewels in the New Testament. Its beauties, its depths are beyond human comprehension and yet to understand it is necessary, at least to the degree that is possible by the aid of the blessed Holy Spirit. What this section explains to us is the condescension of the Son of God to come to earth, to die and then to return in exaltation to glory.

So again I say, it's the theology of Christmas. It tells us what happened from the divine side of the story. And I want to just give you five simple steps by which we can walk through this tremendous portion of Scripture. And we're just going to get a kind of a light view. I wish we could dig deeper, but that would take weeks and weeks and weeks to do.

But we'll at least understand the reality of it, if not all of the potential elements that could be examined. Five steps as God enters the world, five steps as Jesus comes to Bethlehem. Number one, He abandoned a sovereign position. He abandoned a sovereign position. Go back to verse 6 and this identifies His person, His nature, His character, His attributes in eternity before He came. In a word, His sovereign position. It says in verse 6 that He existed in the form of God. Thus He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, or seized. We're talking about Christ Jesus who is identified at the end of verse 5 and this amazing statement captures His essential nature. Literally it reads this way, He being in the form of God. He being in the form of God.

Just take the word being for a moment. Being denotes the person's essential nature, essence, that which is inalienably unchangeably true about Him, that He possesses this nature as God, that's His being, that is who He is. This refers to His innate unchangeable, unalterable essence. His nature is that of God. It describes that part of a person which we all understand, His very being.

It describes that part of a person that can't be changed, it is essential to His very existence and it always remains the same. For Jesus Christ, it is to say that He is in being God and that is unchangeable and unalterable. That is why we're instructed in the gospel of Matthew that His name was to be Immanuel which in Hebrew means God with us, El being the name or the word for God. He is God with us. He was God. He is God. He will always be God. In the beginning, writes John, was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God. That is unalterable.

That is unchangeable. That's why He said in John 8.58, before Abraham, I am. Before He ever existed, I was in existence. That marvelous opening statement in the letter to the Hebrews says, Jesus Christ is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His nature.

In Colossians chapter 1, a similar testimony is given in verse 15. He is the image of the invisible God. That is to say He is a direct representation, a direct reflection of the invisible and eternal God.

This is where you start with the person of Jesus Christ. Now that's the word being, but let's just look again at this opening statement. It says being in the form of God.

And that adds another component, that's the Greek word morphe. And it refers again to the characteristics or the qualities or the attributes of someone. English really doesn't capture this word very well. The word form doesn't work very well. The word form has the connotation of something on the outside, something changeable, something that can be altered.

That's not what this word means. It means the essential, abiding characteristics or attributes that belong to someone. It is translated in the New Testament conformed, or even transformed in 2 Corinthians 3.18, we being transformed into the image of Christ. It doesn't mean that we are physically externally made to look like Him, it means that we are internally and by characteristic and attributes being conformed into what He is.

That's the concept of morphe. Paul even says, I want to gain Christ, I want to be conformed to His death. Literally I want to become like Him.

I want to be like Him in terms of characteristics, attributes, attitudes, not exterior. So we begin then with the fact that Christ Jesus as to being is eternal God. As to form, He possesses all the attributes, all the characteristics that belong to God. He is no less than God in the fullest sense. And you remember, the Jews condemned Him in John 5.18 because He was making Himself equal with God.

There was no mistaking about that because that's precisely what He was doing. Now back to verse 6, even though that is His essential nature and He possesses all the attributes and all the characteristics that belong to God, the next phrase says, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. That's a very interesting statement and it can carry a couple of connotations. The verb grasped has a rather broad possibility of interpretation.

It can mean to seize something, to snatch something, to take hold of it and pull it away, or it can mean to hang on to something, to cling to something, to clutch something. So let's look at it both ways. There was in heaven a being by the name of Lucifer, right? Lucifer was the worship leader of heaven. He was the anointed cherub, he was the highest of the angels. But that was not enough to satisfy him.

And according to Isaiah chapter 14, he said, I will be like the Most High...I will be like the Most High. What did he want? He wanted equality with God. He wanted equality with God.

So equality with God for Lucifer was something to be seized. It was something to be snatched. And he tried to snatch it unsuccessfully, didn't he? Tried to seize it and he was instantly cast out of heaven and turned into the devil and Satan. Jesus didn't need to do that. For him, equality with God was not something he needed to snatch.

It was not something he needed to seize. It was not something he needed to rip away from someone to whom it legitimately belonged because it was his by nature. Secondly, you can interpret it this way, that having equality with God was not something he clung to.

The fullness of that equality with God is described in John as proston thea...on a Greek phrase that means face-to-face, it's talking about absolute equality and fullness. He possessed equality with God but he was willing to let go of it. So on the one hand it wasn't something he had to snatch because it didn't belong to him. And on the other hand, it did belong to him but it was not something that he clutched with a death grip, if you will. He was willing to give it up. So willing that verse 7 says, he emptied himself...he emptied himself.

That is just a powerful statement. The Greek verb means to pour out until it's all pour out until it's all gone. Just exactly of what did he empty himself? Well some people might think he emptied himself of his deity but he didn't because he couldn't, that's his nature. That's his being, that's his essence. And some might think that he divested himself of the form of God and became only a man. That's not possible because the very essence of God's nature is manifest inseparably from its characteristics and attributes and so he didn't give up his nature as God and he didn't give up his attributes as God.

Well what did he give up? Of what did he empty himself? Well the New Testament lays it out for us. He remained fully God, but for example, John 17, 4, he said, Father, give me back the glory I had with you before the world began. He emptied himself of his glory, his divine glory. His glory in this world was veiled. On the Mount of Transfiguration he pulled his flesh back and gave him a little glimpse of his glory, remember? But he veiled his glory when he came into this world. He set his glory aside.

He gave up his honor. According to Isaiah 53, there was no beauty in him that men would desire him. He was despised. He was rejected.

And we know that unfolds in the New Testament. He was hated. He was treated with scorn. He was shamed. He was spit on.

He was beaten. He gave up his honor. He gave up his riches. Second Corinthians 8 and 9 says he was rich, but for our sakes he became poor.

It doesn't mean that he was earthly poor, it means he divested himself of all the treasures of heaven and came down and lived in a humble village and ate with the rest of the people in his family and walked the dusty streets and lived divested of incomprehensible limitless heavenly treasures. He even gave up the independent exercise of his own will. He said, I came not to do My will but the will of Him that sent Me, John 6. He said, I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father says. I only do what I see the Father do.

I do what pleases My Father. So he gave up his own personal authority, his own independent exercise of that authority. He gave up the use of his omniscience. He said, I don't even know when the Second Coming is going to happen.

No one knows but the Father, not even the Son of Man. He gave up the use of his omnipotence. He could have called a legion of angels to defend him but he did not do that. So he gave up his glory, his honor, his riches, the independent exercise of his will. He even gave up a favorable relationship with his father eventually because he was hanging on the cross, made sin for us and he said, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Those are the things that he emptied himself of. It's a deep mystery of wisdom and power, but it's true. This is the nature of his humiliation.

This is the nature of his love. Just as a footnote to that, say it this way, he gave up his privileges...gave up his privileges. It's hard to do. Willingness to do that even on a human level, of course, is a very, very difficult thing. If you want to find out what a person is really like, if you want to do a test of leadership, if you want to do a test of character, give somebody privileges...give them privileges. And the more privileges you give them, the more they will reveal their character. If you give somebody responsibilities, they will do them if you pay them, right?

If you pay them, they'll do them. That doesn't give you any indication of character. People want money and so they do what they're responsible to do. Give them privileges and you find out whether they have character. A noble person will use his privileges to help others. A noble person will somehow take those privileges and spend them on other people. A lesser person will use his privileges to separate him from other people, to elevate himself. Jesus had all the privileges of being God and He chose to set those privileges aside to serve sinners in the Father's will.

So He's like a king, takes off his crown and takes off his majestic robe and puts on the rags of a slave and comes out of the palace to help the poor, destitute paupers survive. Father, we thank You again for Your Word. We thank You for the truth concerning our Savior.

These are wonderful days to go back and think deeply about the coming of Christ. May there be no soul in the hearing of this voice of mine who will wait to confess Him as Lord in the fires of hell. May You be gracious and open their hearts to confess Him as Lord today and now here on the earth that they may do it forever in heaven. May we demonstrate our love to You in that we follow the example of Christ. Paul said, have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus. May we as those who know Christ and love Christ humble ourselves to do Your will no matter what it costs, knowing that to those who obey, there will be an exaltation.

Jesus is the pattern for us as well. If we humble ourselves, You will one day exalt us. We thank You for this great grace. We rejoice in it. We celebrate it with grateful hearts in Christ's name. Amen. This is Grace To You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for being with us. John is a pastor, author, and chancellor of the Master's University and Seminary. And today John looked at eternal God taking on human flesh, ultimately to save sinners, in a message called The Theology of Christmas. Well, John, with Christmas and the New Year closing in, something many of our listeners may wonder in the coming days is this, how can I grow spiritually next year more than I did this year?

So what advice would you have for them? What habits do we need to cultivate? Yeah, it's a simple analogy. You know, the Word of God is the bread of life. You don't eat once a week. You don't eat once a month. You eat every day. In fact, you eat a couple of meals every day.

If you're my age, you're like a dog. You feed me once a day, and I'm good to go. But you need the constant intake of divine truth. This is the life-changing reality. So for Christians who are mature, who have a little strength, who rise above temptation, who are most useful to the Lord, most joyful, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit, there's a constant interchange with the Word of God. It saturates their thinking and their living. And I would just suggest a couple of things, and we've been talking about various resources, but here are a couple that I want to mention for today. A devotional book called Strength for Today. It's really a very, very rich daily devotional. It provides strengthening lessons from God's Word, one for each day. It covers 12 important Bible themes, a different one every month.

A lot of interesting notes. You'll benefit from Strength for Today because it's theological, but it's also richly encouraging to the Christian to live a Christ-like life. And then another mention of the MacArthur Study Bible. It's almost 25 years now that the MacArthur Study Bibles have been distributed to millions of people all over the planet in many languages. As you probably know, Spanish, Russian, German, French, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, as well as English. And you need to get a copy of the MacArthur Study Bible. It's the text of the Bible and notes that explain every text. Keep in mind now that through December 23rd, the prices are reduced by 25%.

Now here's what's important. To receive your order before Christmas, this is the last day to use our second day shipping option. So place your online order before 2 p.m. Pacific time and choose second day shipping. Or place a phone order. You'll need to speak directly to a customer service operator today before 4 o'clock Pacific time to get the shipping you need when you need it. Christmas gifts that will have a spiritual impact and help your loved ones experience genuine biblical joy in the coming year.

Just a couple of the benefits of the Strength for Today devotional book and the MacArthur Study Bible. Time is short so place your order today. You'll need to call between 730 a.m. and 4 o'clock p.m. Pacific time today and speak directly with a customer service representative. Our number 855-GRACE. Again, that's 800-55-GRACE. Or you can order online and make sure you choose second day shipping.

Again, this is the last day to order using second day shipping and get your gift in time for Christmas. So call today during regular business hours, 800-55-GRACE, or place your order at And when you visit, take advantage of all the free Bible study tools that are there for you. You can download any of John's 3500 sermons, you can watch Grace To You television, you can check out our blog for articles on hot button issues that face the church.

All of that and more is available free of charge at And to keep up to date on the latest news from Grace To You, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for joining us today and tune in tomorrow when John looks at amazing truths in the Christmas story that many people and even many churches often miss. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-07 12:58:11 / 2023-07-07 13:07:26 / 9

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