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The Ugliness of Christmas

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 23, 2021 3:00 am

The Ugliness of Christmas

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Christmas is this. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. There's no other way. There's no other cure. Sin is a disease cured only by one thing, and that is the blood of the divine physician himself. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. What comes to mind when you think about Christmas? Perhaps you recall fond memories from your childhood, time with family and friends. With so much happiness associated with Christmas, what could possibly be ugly about it? Find out today as John looks at a hard truth at the heart of the Christmas story, a truth that can strengthen and energize your worship not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. It's part of a lesson titled, The Ugliness of Christmas. Now, John, before the lesson, with so many of our listeners scattering to their Christmas celebrations, if they haven't already headed out, what would your prayer be for those dear family members, our Grace to You family? Well, I think this is a wonderful time for us to sort of elevate the personal worship.

I mean, I'm just sort of extrapolating out of my own experience. Christmas for us is a busy day, big family, lots of kids, grandkids, great-grandkids. But the focus has always been on the person of Christ, and I think you have to sort of clear the clutter a little bit and get to that.

And it's most effectively done if you do it before dinner, because everything starts to disintegrate at the table when every possible conversation gets generated. So we've always tried to have a time on Christmas Day when we look at the person of Christ and express our faith and our joy in all that He has done for us. And I don't know that there's anything more that you need to do than that. I don't have a problem with Christmas trees or presents. I mean, we're not worshiping those things like they were pagan gods.

I don't have any problem with the traditions that make wonderful memories for a family and a home. But I do think Christ needs to be a dominant reality in the middle of all of it, and so you need to find a way to do that. Maybe some testimonies from folks as to what the Lord has meant to them through this year and what they have to anticipate in the future, but make Him the center of things. Thanks, John.

That is helpful advice. And friend, focusing your mind on Christ, making Him the center of all things, that's what today's message is all about. So if you have your Bible, turn to the book of 1 Timothy, and here's John. The dark and ugly side of Christmas is sin. Sin.

The heart of Christmas is this. Christ came into the world to save sinners. Christ was manifest to take away sin. You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin.

And the real beauty of Christmas is to understand the ugliness that it cures. Now I want you to face five questions regarding sin. Question number one, what is sin?

What is it of which we speak that has so blighted the world? John Bunyan prosaically said, sin is the dare of God's justice. Sin is the rape of God's mercy.

It is the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power and the contempt of His love. But more than that, what is sin in simple terms? I believe the definition of 1 John 3, 4 puts it as clearly as any. Sin is the transgression of the law. Sin is breaking God's law. Any violation of God's law. In the Greek text of that verse, sin equals lawlessness. Lawlessness equals sin. It is living as if there were no God and no law, no authority, no standard, just like people live today and have always wanted to live.

Now that leads us to a second question. What is sin like? What is the nature of sin? What are the properties of sin?

What are the characteristics of this which has caused the Christ to be born as a savior? First of all, sin is defiling. Sin pollutes and defiles and stains and mars everything it touches.

And it touches everything in the human realm. Secondly, sin is also defiant. It is defiant as to its nature. In Leviticus 26, 27, God speaks of those who choose to walk in opposition to me. It is defying God. Thirdly, sin is ingratitude. It seeks to dethrone and destroy the one who gave us all we have.

Unbelievable. That's the nature of sin. Sin also is incurable humanly. Sin is humanly incurable. In Jeremiah 13, 23, the prophet said, can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?

The answer to that rhetorical question is no. The Ethiopian can't change his skin. The leopard by thinking, by doing something cannot change his spots. And then the prophet says, then may you also do good that are accustomed to do evil. As the Ethiopian cannot change the color of his skin and the leopard can't change the color of his spots, nor can you do good who are bent to do evil. There's nothing humanly that can change that. Not all the resolution in the world.

Not all the self-effort. Not all the religion. Sin is humanly incurable. In Isaiah 1, we read in verse 4, ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, loaded with it. A seed of evildoers.

In other words, you just keep begetting evildoers. Children that are corruptors. They have forsaken the Lord. They have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger. They are gone way backward. Why should you be stricken anymore?

You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick. The whole heart is faint.

From the sole of the foot to the head there's no soundness. Nothing but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. That's how God describes a sinner. Total sickness. Sin is the incurable leprosy of the soul. It can't be legislated out. It can't be philosophized out. It can't be psychologized out. It can't be wished out.

It can't be pushed out by self-effort. John Flavell once said that all the tears of a penitent sinner, should he shed as many as there have been raindrops since the creation of the world, couldn't wash away by his own tears one sin. And then he went on to say the everlasting burning of hell couldn't purify the flaming conscience from one sin. Because sorrow can't cure one sin and punishment can't cure one sin. Only Christ can cure sin.

And so Christmas is this. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. There's no other way.

There's no other cure. Sin is a disease cured only by one thing and that is the blood of the divine physician himself. Further, in understanding what sin is like, we ought to say that sin is also hated by God. It is detestable to God.

This must be obvious to us but let me pursue your thinking a little further. Sin is the only thing that God has eternal antagonism against. He damns no one except a sinner.

That's all. That's the very narrow category in which God has eternal hatred. God does not resist a man because he's poor. God does not resist a person because they are ignorant or crippled or ill or despised by the world or limited in ability or because they seem to have little to offer. No. There's only one thing that alienates a person from God and that is sin.

That is it. God is antagonistic only to the sinner. In Jeremiah 44.4 God says, O do not this abominable thing that I hate. That's God's word to wayward, rebellious, defiant, defiled sinners. You see our God is holy, all holy, only holy, all together holy, and always holy. And the sinner is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, all together sinful, and always sinful.

And how the two can be brought together? Only when sin is eliminated. And that is done by the work of Jesus Christ who came to save sinners. So sin is defiling and defiant and ingratitude.

It is humanly incurable. It is hated by God. And listen, sin, if I can add this, is hard work. It is the character of sin that it is hard work.

Have you noticed? All it causes is pain and yet people go through pain to do it. It's a strange compulsion our nature gives to us. In Jeremiah 9.5 the Bible says they weary themselves committing iniquity. In Psalm 7.14 behold he travails in pain with iniquity describing Cush the enemy of David who was chasing David.

He's in pain trying to bring forth evil. And it says of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 24.12, she is weary herself with sin. Sin is hard work and people go after it with a vengeance. I'm reminded of Genesis 19 where those perverted, twisted in the city of Sodom came to the house of Lot because two beautiful angelic creatures had come to his house from God. And they saw those magnificent creatures and they wanted to come and molest them in their vile, perverted way. And they wanted them to come out of the house so that they could do that to them. And of course, they would not allow that to happen. And the Bible says in divine judgment God struck those perverse blind.

And you know what shatters my understanding? When they went blind, they didn't fall on the ground and crawl around. They didn't run and cry out for mercy.

They, with greater intensity, tried to beat the door down and get into the house any way they could. Actually going stone blind on the spot was not enough to overpower the incredible impulses of their lust. They ignored their blindness and went to extreme effort to reach the goal their lust drove them toward. That is the essence of sin. It is so perverse that, ignoring the pain and the consequences, men go after evil and weary themselves in the process.

People go to hell sweating. What is sin like? It's defiling. It's defiant. It's ingratitude.

It's incurable. It's hated by God. It's hard work. All of that for men to violate the law of God. What a wretched thing. How many people does sin affect? That's our third question. I've received letters through the years from people who said to me, I don't know what you're so worked up about. I've never sinned.

I have. How many people does sin affect? The answer's in Romans 3. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. For there is none righteous, no, not one.

That's just for you who think you're the one. No, not one. Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. And by Adam, then came a whole civilization of sinners, like produces like. Job said it, in Job 14.4, he said, who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.

No one. In Psalm 58, 3, the wicked are estranged from the womb. Psalm 51, 5, in sin did my mother conceive me. Ever since Adam, it's been sinners and sinners and sinners and nothing but sinners. The only non-sinner was Jesus Christ.

In Him was no sin, 1 John 3, 5 says. Not only the guilt of Adam's sin, but the depravity, corruption, and pollution of it has been transmitted to us. We drink from the same poisoned well.

We inherit the same fallen genetics. Adam's sin clings to us as Naaman's leprosy clings to Gehazi in 2 Kings 5. With the flesh, Paul says in Romans 7, 25, I serve the law of sin. Original sin in Adam contaminated the entire human stream.

And if you have a question about it, it's very simple to answer. The wages of sin is death. And if you die, you die because of sin.

That is simple and clear. If you look at your life and you want to know whether you're a sinner, ask yourself if you've ever been ill, if you're growing older, if you will die. The answer is yes, and sin is the reason.

You cannot deny that. And the roots of sin are so deep, they are so deep that even after salvation, sin remains a problem for the Christian. Paul cries out, the things I want to do, I don't do.

The things I don't want to do, I do. I see the sin that is in me. And even when it was forgiven, and even when the Lord had put the righteousness of Christ over that sin, because Christ had paid the penalty for that sin, it's still there. The roots of sin are so deep. All of us are affected by it.

All of us. Even when we're Christians, sin is still a reality. And if you say you have no sin, you make God what?

A liar. And then a vital question. What are the results of sin?

What are the results? What does sin cause? Let me share this with you. First, sin causes evil to overpower us. Sin turns a person into a victim of evil. Evil dominates the mind.

It says in Jeremiah 17, 9, at the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. It says in Ephesians 4 that the mind is dark. That the mind is alienated. That the life of God is absent.

It says in 1 Corinthians 2 that we cannot understand the things of God. In Romans 1 that the mind is reprobate. In other words, sin has dominated the mind so that its thinking process is overpowered with evil. It thinks evil. It plans evil. It conceives evil. And then we know too that evil also dominates the will. I mentioned earlier, quoting from Jeremiah 44, 17, but we will do whatsoever things proceed out of our mouths. The will is also dominated by the evil that overpowers the sinner.

He is a total victim. And if his thinking is overpowered by evil, so will his willing be. For he will will to do what he conceives and what he conceives is dominated by evil. And then evil dominates the affections. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

Their loves, their affections, their wishes, their wants, their desires, their longings are toward those things which are not right. And so man is overpowered by evil. As Paul says, sin that dwells in me, it hangs like blackness hangs tonight. And sin is in the nature even of a Christian. It's in the essence of a Christian. It's in the person of a Christian like a sleeping lion and the least thing can enrage it. It is an overpowering thing.

It smolders sometimes high like a flame, sometimes low. The slightest wind of temptation fans it to fury. Secondly, in thinking about this matter of sin and the results of it, sin brings us under the dominance of Satan. People think that they're free. You know, they're free. They're really free to do whatever they want. We say they're free spirits. Listen, the only free person is one who's had his sin covered and is free to do what's right. A sinner's not free. He is under the total domination of sin and the control of Satan. Ephesians 2, 2, the Apostle Paul says in Scripture that the sinner walks that is daily conduct according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit working in the children of disobedience. Satan is at work.

He's in control. They bear the imprimatur of Satan. They bear on their faces the image of their father. And Jesus said in John 8, 44, you are of your father the devil. It was obvious they were visibly the devil's children because they were manifest that way.

They bore the mark of satanic control. Man is a slave to Satan. He is not free.

He is totally controlled. Satan works in him to accomplish his own will. Only Jesus said if the son makes you free, are you free? So the results of sin, sin overpowers and brings into the control of Satan. Thirdly, sin makes a person an object of God's wrath. It is sin that causes us to be condemned and damned.

It is sin that sends men to hell. We are exposed, Ephesians 2, 3 says, to the wrath of God. And the psalmist said in Psalm 90, 11, who knows the power of God's wrath?

That's why we don't want to mock. That's why Proverbs 14, 9, I think it is, says only fools mock sin because when you mock sin, you mock the wrath of God. God's wrath is not some momentary whimsical passion.

It is a holy hatred. It is an act of his pure and holy will against that which is evil and unacceptable and he will destroy it. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God, of a mighty God, of a judging, wrathful, vengeful God. And so sin makes men the heirs of God's wrath.

And while they think they're feasting like Damocles Banquet, there's a sword hanging over their head held by a thread and someday the thread will snap and judgment will fall. And then another thought about the results of sin that's very important. Sin subjects a person to all the miseries of life. Sin brings the worst of all there is on the individual. Job said in chapter 5 verse 7, man is born unto trouble and trouble becomes his name. Trouble is everywhere. Paul says the sin of Adam has subjected the creature to vanity, subjected the creature to emptiness, to uselessness.

There's something missing. There's an unsatisfaction so it's trouble and it's nothingness. You live a life of sin and you get trouble and nothing else. Emptiness. Solomon said vanity of vanities, emptiness of emptiness. All is nothing. All is nothing. What a conundrum.

What a paradox. A man enters the world with a cry and leaves with a groan and nothing in between. Only emptiness. Sin has torn man down from the place of honor. He has lost his dignity. He is robbed of peace. He knows no lasting joy, no hope, no meaning, no values. There is no peace says my God to the wicked. The wicked rather are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest whose waters cast up mire and dirt. And the wicked says Proverbs 28 1, flee when nobody pursues. They are hounded with the nothingness and the meaninglessness and the guilt and the absence of peace in their lives. Judas so terrified, Judas so wrought with guilt and horror hanged himself to quiet his screaming conscience. And even hell proves no rest.

Listen. Sin brings the worst things in life. It exposes men to all the ultimate misery. The final result of sin is that it damns people to hell. In Revelation chapter 20 it says in the end at the great white throne judgment the Lord will gather all the unbelieving and cast them into the lake of fire that burns forever. Jesus taught the doctrine of hell. He was the one who framed it and articulated it in the gospels.

The apostles picked it up and it's repeated throughout the New Testament. And we need to know this, dear friends, 50 million people will die this year. 136,986 die every day. And hell awaits the vast majority of people. Spurgeon said, man is hanging over the mouth of hell by a solitary plank and the plank is rotten. And that is the fatality of sin all the way.

What a horrible thing it is. Now why all of this? Because this, dear friends, is the ugliness of Christmas that brings us to the point of its beauty. You see, the beauty of Christmas is that Christ came into the world to what?

Save sinners. Now isn't that the beauty of Christmas? And who can understand the beauty of Christmas without the ugliness? It isn't the cards and the trees and the lights and the presents and the fantasies and the snow scenes and the warm fires. The beauty of Christmas is that Christ came to cure the ugliness of the world. And Ezekiel Hopkins many years ago said, it is not man's cannots but his will nots.

It is not impotency but obstinacy that destroys him. Men will not, obstinately will not come to the Christ who came to save. God determined to send His Son into the world, the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person, partaker of the divine perfection to die for us. That's Christmas. That's the meaning of Christmas.

And no matter what you may think and what sentiments you may have and what warm feelings you might have about Christmas unless you understand the ugliness of your own sin and embrace Jesus Christ who alone by His death and resurrection can save you from that sin, you don't have any connection with Christmas. Joseph Hart wrote, come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. He is able, He is able, He is willing doubt no more. He is able, He is able, He is willing doubt no more. Come ye weary, heavy laden, bruised and mangled by the fall.

If you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all. Not the righteous, not the righteous sinners Jesus came to call. Not the righteous, not the righteous sinners Jesus came to call. Shall we pray? Indeed our Lord, we know that this is the truth.

This is a trustworthy word and worthy of all acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Yes, that is the beauty of Christmas. That is the glory of Christmas, the wonder. The beauty is not a tree or decoration or lights or scenery.

The beauty is that the ugliness can be cured by the coming of the Savior. You're listening to Grace to You with John MacArthur. Along with being the featured Bible teacher on this broadcast, John is a pastor, author, and chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary in Southern California.

Today's lesson looked at the ugliness of Christmas. Now friend, if I could ask a favor, if you're grateful for today's lesson on the birth of Christ, or if you can point to some specific ways you've benefited from Grace to You this year, we'd love to hear your story. When you have time, just jot us a note and send it our way. You can email us at letters at

That's our email address, letters at Or if you prefer regular mail, you can write to us at Grace to You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. Also, in a few days when the busyness of your Christmas celebration winds down and you perhaps have more time to meditate on biblical truth, let me encourage you to download our Study Bible app. It's a free app that gives you the full text of Scripture in multiple translations, and it lets you quickly link to study guides, blog articles, and sermons from John MacArthur, all of them related to whatever particular passage you're studying. And for a nominal price, you can add the notes from the MacArthur Study Bible, about 25,000 detailed explanations that help you understand and apply the truth of Scripture. To download the Study Bible app, visit Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, encouraging you to be here for the Christmas Eve edition of Grace to You for a compelling look at the true spirit of Christmas. That's the title of John's lesson coming your way tomorrow. Tune in for 30 minutes of unleashing Christmas truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-05 22:57:52 / 2023-07-05 23:07:40 / 10

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