Share This Episode
Grace To You John MacArthur Logo

The True Christmas Spirit

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 21, 2023 3:00 am

The True Christmas Spirit

Grace To You / John MacArthur

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1106 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

December 21, 2023 3:00 am

Click the icon below to listen.


Only because the mighty God has done mighty things is there good news to tell. Only because God has saved, does save, and remains faithful is their worship and praise and glory and adoration. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Nearly everyone enjoys spending time with family, exchanging presents, watching a classic Christmas movie, getting into the Christmas spirit. But the truth is you can spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on presents.

You can decorate every inch of your home. You can attend every holiday event and still not really have the true Christmas spirit. To make sure you understand what the Christmas spirit is, stay here for Grace to You as John MacArthur continues his current study called The Best of Christmas. But before today's lesson, John, talk a little bit about the privilege and responsibility it is to teach God's Word on the radio. Certainly, Grace to You is not a church, but we do provide spiritual nourishment for many people. So how would you describe our commitment to those men and women who listen, learn, and grow along with us as we study God's Word?

Well, I think, as you said, it's not the church, but it supplements the church, and that's not anything unusual. As far back as you can go in Christian history, there were always Bible teachers who would teach the Word of God. I mean, even you take John Calvin, for example, and when he was in Geneva, he would preach on a Sunday, and he would preach multiple times on a Sunday, but he would teach in the little auditorium next to the Geneva Cathedral. He would teach virtually every single day the Bible, supplementing what was happening on Sunday. And there would be other men in the group of Reformers who would also be teaching the Word of God. He had some guys with him that were teaching the Word of God.

And so there's always been kind of the focus of the church as it meets together in worship, and the Word of God is proclaimed and preached. But there's always been supplemental resources, whether they were preachers and teachers or whether when you get into the period of the time when you have a printing press and you can print books, books exploded, and nobody questions the validity of books. We've all basically built our life ministries by reading the books of the great books that have changed our lives.

So we just want to be in that flow. We want to be, in a verbal sense, offering books. We want to build your library, and it's preaching on the internet, it's preaching on CDs, or it's through the books that we write. This is not the church, but this is intended to supplement the church.

And I have to say, in all honesty, it's also intended to protect the church because there are people who are in bad situations and they're not hearing the truth and they need to hear it. We do have a polemic aspect to our ministry. We're trying to correct error. We're trying to help people understand the truth. So we want to come alongside. We don't want to be the church. We can't ever be that.

And there's no such thing as an internet church. You need to be there face to face and life to life, but we want to supplement that. You help us to do that. You make this possible.

And I can just tell you this. People who love the Word of God never get enough. They never get enough. So they want more.

The more you get, the more you want. And we'll keep doing it as long as you keep supporting us. Yes, we will, friend. Thank you for your support in taking God's Word to people who are hungry for the truth, including Christmas truth. And now with a lesson on the true Christmas spirit, here's John. If you're like me, you've heard the world's comments and evaluations of this time of the year. And one of the phrases that you hear a lot is the Christmas spirit. We need to have the Christmas spirit. And of course, I began to think about that being somewhat analytical. Just what is the Christmas spirit?

And I suppose there are a lot of potential answers to that question. To Scrooge, the Christmas spirit was a ghost. To the liquor industry, the Christmas spirit comes in a bottle. Some people feel that the Christmas spirit is somehow the truce that takes place in the family, when nobody brings up the issues, the quarrels. I suppose for some people, the Christmas spirit is expressed in a card that conveys a sentiment of well-being.

Ninety-five percent of all Americans will be involved in sending five billion plus Christmas cards, expressing these sentiments. One little boy suggested that the Christmas spirit is really contentment, because that's what you need to be when you don't get what you want. For some people, the Christmas spirit is an attitude of happiness found in the fellowship of friends, or the party spirit, while consuming 10 million to 15 million turkeys. For many, however, the Christmas spirit is not so trivial or so frivolous or so fun. For many, the Christmas spirit is one of profound sadness, increased depression, because all that is wrong in your life is then measured against the hilarity of the time, and seems even more profoundly painful. As one poet put it in a very personal expression of pain, Christmas is a bitter day for mothers who are poor. The wistful eyes of children are daggers to endure.

Those shops are crammed with playthings, enough for everyone. If a mother's purse is empty, there might as well be none. And then, the poet ended with these words, my purse is full of money, but I cannot buy a toy, only a wreath of holly for the grave of my little boy. And Christmas is like that for some people. For others, it's a time of saying thanks for some very basic things. G.K. Chesterton years ago said, when we were children, we were grateful to those who filled our stockings with toys at the Christmas. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? Mostly, though, I guess the spirit of Christmas is giving presents, if the mall is any indication, billions of dollars of worth as a result of people colliding and careening around in crowded stores, everything from nickel candy to multimillion dollar pieces of jewelry and everything in between and stuffing stockings and wrapping packages. And the spirit of Christmas, they tell us, is giving. And that's all right. I'm no Scrooge. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade.

But I would just like to get down to the core of this deal. What is the true spirit of Christmas? Is it fun? Is it fellowship? Is it giving?

What is it? Well, as always, the best answer to that question is to go to the Bible. And so, I would like to take you to Luke chapter 1 and chapter 2, and there we will find out what the spirit of Christmas really is. It'll come clear to you as I read some selected reactions to the birth of Christ among people and angels. Let's start with Elizabeth, Luke 1, 41. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she cried out with a loud voice and said, blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. How has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? That was Elizabeth's reaction, and that conveys the spirit of Christmas in its reality.

But before we say what it is, let's look at another illustration of it. Over to verse 67 in Luke 1, here we meet the husband of Elizabeth, the father of John the Baptist, whom she was carrying. And his father, Zacharias, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his servant. Now that was Zacharias' reaction, and that tells us something of his spirit, his attitude. Let's go to chapter 2 and verse 13. And here we go to the realm of the angels, and we find in verse 13, it's suddenly to the shepherds, there appeared with the angel who had made the original announcement, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.

Well, that was the angel's response to this whole event. Down in verse 20, we get the shepherds' response, and the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Down in verse 25, we meet another unique individual attending to the period of the birth of Christ named Simeon. There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous, devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Notice how many of these people have an unusually described relationship to the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth, Zacharias, the angel, the child in the womb of Elizabeth, Mary, now Simeon. The Holy Spirit was upon him, and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn't see death till he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to carry out for him the custom of the law, that would be circumcision, then he took him into his arms and blessed God and said, Now, Lord, thou dost let thy bondservant depart in peace according to thy word. For my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Another reaction comes down in verse 36, the reaction of Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, the tribe of Asher, an older woman advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of 84.

She never left the temple served night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began giving thanks to God, continued to speak of him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Elizabeth, Zacharias, angels, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, basically had one response. And that one response is the Spirit of Christmas, and the right word is worship, worship. The Spirit of Christmas in all those participants in the first Christmas was praise and thanks and blessing and glory to God in a word that is worship. And Matthew 2, 2, just so we don't leave some very important folks out, tells us that the wise men came from the east and said, we are come to worship Him. Even wicked Herod picked up the spirit of the event, and he asked where the child was born, quote, that I may come and worship Him also. Everybody was worshiping. That is the Spirit of Christmas.

And though Herod told a lie, he did understand the appropriate attitude to be worship. This then is the supreme attitude of Christmas. This is the Spirit of Christmas, and it is the supreme time of worship for Christians as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

This time of all times is a time of worship. Worship, let me give you a brief definition, is an attitude. It is a spirit.

It is something on the inside. It is an attitude of the heart that is so filled with wonder and gratitude at what God has done that there is not a thought of personal needs or personal blessings, only total abandonment to God in praise and adoration. That's worship.

It is the most selfless thing we do. It is, as the hymn writer puts it, to be lost in wonder, love, and praise. It is to be so grateful and so filled with wonder at what the Lord has done that we lose ourselves in adoring worship, adoring praise.

What better time for this than Christmas when we focus on the very giving of Christ, who is our Savior? Now, to give form to our worship, I am drawn to another person, not Zacharias or Elizabeth, not the angels, not the shepherds, not the wise men, not Simeon, and not Anna. I am drawn to another person to give form to our worship, a person who is the closest person in all the human realm to Jesus, who had an intimacy with Him that no other person ever knew, the one person most directly touched by His birth, none other than His mother, Mary. Mary gives form to our worship. Without question, she gives the most magnificent psalm of worship, really the most magnificent psalm in the whole New Testament. And it is her magnificat, it is her psalm of praise to God for the coming of Jesus Christ, Luke 1, 46.

Let's look at it. Luke 1, 46. And Mary said, my soul exalts the Lord.

You see, immediately she had the same response that everybody else had, worship and praise and adoration and gratitude. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave. For behold, from this time on, all generations will count me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm. He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down the rulers from their thrones and has exalted those who were humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel, His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever. That is the hymn of the incarnation. That is a psalm.

That is a song. That is a worship song. Mary knew that she was to be the mother of the Son of God.

She had been told that. Back in verse 35, the Holy Spirit will come upon you. The power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason, the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. She had been told that this offspring would be great, verse 32, would be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God would give Him the throne of His father David, over which He would reign forever. Oh, the Holy Spirit will come upon you. Elizabeth even called her the mother of my Lord. And so she bursts forth in the only appropriate response, and that is the response of worship. It is a hymn of worship from Mary to God. And in it is such beauty and such magnificence that it can be looked at like a diamond with many facets and flashing brilliance on many different fronts.

And maybe sometime we'll do that. But for now, I just want us to look at the elements that are in this psalm that speak of the significance and the meaning of worship. Here is a worshiper. Here is a Christmas, if I may borrow the word, a Christmas worshiper. Here is Mary, and she teaches us how we are to worship.

First point, and I'll give you three. First point, we see in her the attitude of worship. We see in her the attitude of worship. Now as we look at this attitude of worship, we're going to see this in the first verse and into the second verse. And Mary said, My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave. In just those first two, and then into the third verse of this psalm, verses 46, 47, and just into the first line of verse 48, we get the attitude of worship.

And I'm going to give you four comments about it. Number one, it is internal. It is internal. Mary said, My soul exalts the Lord, or magnifies the Lord, and then my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

And the term soul and the term spirit, which are by the way synonymous and speak of the inner person, and the reason you use two of them is not because of the literary element of it, and also because of the all-encompassing element of it. She is simply summing her whole inner being. She is saying that worship rises from inside. It's not something you do on the outside.

It's not a performance. It's not a set of words or a set of actions. It becomes that, but it is something that is moral and mental and emotional. It is in the mind and the will and the emotion. It sums up the whole inner being. All that is in her, all that the heart can feel, she feels.

All that the mind can comprehend, she holds to. Like a great orchestra, every element of the inner self has its place, and every element of the inner self adds to the harmony of the whole grand crescendo. The whole of her inner being is worshiping.

This thing is deep. Worship comes up from inside. It bubbles up and bubbles over as one New Testament word would identify it. It is not coming to church. It is not singing a hymn alone. It is not reading words in a Bible, hearing a sermon. It is not just giving something in the offering. It is not carrying out a ritual.

Even the Lord's table. Those are potential, of course, effects of a worshiping heart, but they cannot stand alone as true worship. It is the inner heart of adoring praise that is the essence of true worship. It is when the soul and the spirit are overwhelmed.

It is an internal thing. In fact, external, shallow observance of the birth of Christ is distasteful to God, and most of what goes on at the Christmas season breaks His heart. Superficial worship finds no place of acceptance with Him. For example, Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 29 13 said, this people draw near me with their mouth and with their lips. If I can put it in the Christmas vernacular, they talk about me, they put things about me on their Christmas cards, and they sing my carols, but they do not honor me. They have removed their heart from me. Isaiah 29 13.

There's no heart. Jesus said God is the spirit, and they that worship Him must start by worshiping Him in spirit. The true worshiper is the one whose heart is devoted, the one whose heart is overflowing. It comes from deep down inside, and it therefore goes on all the time. And that takes me to the second point. It is intense.

It is not only internal. It is intense. Notice, my soul magnifies the Lord.

My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. Now when you read that in English, maybe it doesn't grab you. The word exalts or magnifies is the word megalune. Now you know a little about the word mega. That is a Greek word that often gets transliterated over into English when we want to say something is bigger than normal, when it is larger than normal or louder. Sometimes you see it on a speaker, mega base.

It means more base than you need or care to listen to. Something is a mega thing. It just takes the word large. And what she is doing here is not just exalting, but it is a mega exaltation.

It is a large one. It literally, the word megalune means to cause to swell or to cause to grow or to crescendo, as if starting at some point and extending and becoming larger and larger. And the word rejoices. And there could be a number of words used there in the Greek. The word chosen is one that means to be overjoyed, the one that speaks about the unspeakable joy. It even is referred in some uses to an out loud kind of joy, an almost exuberant kind of joy that is uncontained. Those are the terms, spontaneous, exuberant joy bursts out in worship. So you have two components of true worship.

It is internal. It rises from what the heart comprehends. It rises from what the mind understands. And when Mary came to grips with what was going on, it literally captured her mind. Her mind transferred it to her emotions. It got every part of her inner being moving and it just erupted in intensity. That's the stuff of which worship is made, but it starts with revelation to the mind, doesn't it? This is what's going to happen.

Here are the facts and then the explosion in response. This is sincere, intense worship, not at all shallow, not at all superficial, not at all temporary. Worship then is the right attitude.

It is internal and it is intense. If you look at the history of Israel, you will find how God despised superficial worship. Through the prophet Malachi, he says, you have brought me the torn and the lame and the sick. You have brought an offering. Should I accept this of your hand, saith the Lord, Malachi won. You bring me the worst animal, the blind, the lame, the broken.

That's what you give me. He even asked them in that first chapter of Malachi, give it to the governor, see how he likes it, let alone giving it to me. The prophet Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, was sent by God to both expose and denounce the apostasy and hypocrisy of Israel. And among other things, God said through Amos these words, I hate, I despise your feast days and I will not smell. I won't sniff in your solemn assemblies when all the smells and the incense rises. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I won't accept them, neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs.

I will not hear the melody of your instruments. Let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Your superficial worship sickens me. The very feast, by the way, which God himself had given them explicit directions to observe, became through their hypocrisy and double dealing a stench to his nostrils. David put it this way, thou desirest truth in the inward parts, in the heart.

Isaiah said the same thing in Isaiah chapter 1. I am full of the burnt offerings and rams and fat of fed beasts. I delight not in the blood of bullocks or lambs or goats. Bring no more vain oblations, incense as an abomination to me, the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies. I can't tolerate. It is iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed feast, my soul hates.

They are a trouble to me. I am weary to hear them, and he goes on and on. This is another way of saying you have to worship him from the heart, and Mary did that. All known sin must be mercilessly judged and confessed to do that, and the focus of everything must be on the Lord. Martin Luther, we know him for his great theological work, but sometimes forget his great poetic work. He was committed to writing hymns and translating hymns.

Here's one. All praise to the eternal Lord, clothed in a garb of flesh and blood, choosing a manger for thy throne while worlds on worlds are thine alone. Once did the skies before thee bow. A virgin's arms contain thee now. Angels who did in thee rejoice now listen for thine infant voice.

A little child, thou art our guest. That weary ones in thee may rest. Forlorn and lowly is thy birth that we may rise to heaven from earth. Thou comest in the darks of night to make us children of the light, to make us in the realms divine like thine own angels. Round thee shine.

And then he ends with this. All this for us thy love hath done. By this to thee our love is won. For this we tune our cheerful lays and shout our thanks in ceaseless praise. That's worship. That's worship. On one Christmas season, Martin Luther wanted to write a Christmas carol for his little son, Hans.

This is what he wrote. From heaven above to earth I come, to bear good news to every home. Glad tidings of great joy I bring, whereof I now will say and sing. To you this night is born a child of Mary, chosen mother mild. This little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth.

Were earth a thousand times as fair, beset with gold and jewels rare, she yet were far too poor to be a narrow cradle lord to thee. And then he ends, ah dearest Jesus holy child, make thee a bed, soft, undefiled, within my heart that it may be a quiet chamber kept for thee. That's worship. Take up your place in my heart. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary.

His current study is titled The Best of Christmas. And friend, going back to something John said before the lesson, your support helps keep this broadcast on the air in your community and around the world, and it helps us put thousands of Bible teaching resources in people's hands every month. If that kind of ministry resonates with you, express your support when you get in touch today. You can mail your tax-deductible gift to Grace to You, P.O.

Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. Or you can donate online at Or when you call during our regular business hours. That's 730 to 4 o'clock Pacific time, and you can reach us at 855-GRACE. Thank you for all you do to help us take God's Word to the spiritually hungry people around the globe.

And remember, close to 25 percent of our annual budget is met by gifts we receive at year's end. Again, to donate, call 855-GRACE or visit And if this ministry has helped you better understand God's work of salvation, or share the gospel with a friend, or be a better parent, we'd love to hear your story. You can send an email to letters at, or you can write us at Grace to You, P.O.

Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for joining us today. Be here tomorrow as John considers the question, What's the most obvious thing that may be missing from your Christmas celebration? Find out as John continues his current study, The Best of Christmas. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-21 09:15:51 / 2023-12-21 09:26:37 / 11

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime