In Hebrew it's Beit Lehem, or House of Bread. It was in Bethlehem that Jesus came into this world, the one who later said, I am the Bread of Life. What really happened on that awesome night?
Today we begin a series that answers that crucial question. From Chicago, this is The Moody Church Hour, a weekly service of worship and teaching with Pastor Erwin Lutzer. Today we begin a four-part Christmas series that probes the cataclysmic event that put Bethlehem on the map over 2,000 years ago. After the beautiful music of the Advent season, Erwin Lutzer will come to speak on the mystery of the baby.
Pastor Lutzer comes now to open today's service. You know that word Advent means arrival or coming. And generally when we think of the word Advent, we're talking about the coming of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, and so we speak about the Advent season. But actually because it does refer to the time of Christ's coming and the in-breaking of God into history, the word Advent really also applies to our looking forward to Jesus Christ's return. Just like in the Old Testament times they look forward to the coming of the Messiah, we also look forward to his coming to receive his people and his coming in glory to establish his kingdom.
And until the time that Jesus Christ comes, we are committed to holiness, we are committed to faithfulness, we want to be the people of God in every sense as we anticipate his soon return. We're glad that you have joined us during this time and in a moment we're going to be singing Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus. We'll be singing that together and then we will be seated as Joseph and Rose Martinez come and they lead us in the Advent reading and the Candle of Hope. Please join me as we pray together.
Open your heart to what God wants to show us today and all of us will be blessed. Father, we thank you for the first coming of Jesus. We thank you for Bethlehem, but we also thank you for the fact that he will come and his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives. And we thank you that having come as a baby, he shall come again as King, as Lord. We worship him today. We're glad for this opportunity to do so. Open our hearts, particularly those who perhaps have come and their minds and hearts are close to the truth.
Open them, Lord. And may we be willing to hear your voice above the singing and the preaching of your word. In Jesus' name we thank you.
Amen. Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus. Lord, we stand by thee, O King. All our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in thee. Here's the sacred consolation.
Oh, the glory e'er you have hired. Here, desire thou heavy creation, Lord of every longing kind. Oh, how great we want to be here. Oh, God, shall we ever be.
Oh, to many aisles forever. Thou my gracious King and King. Oh, my Lord of all eternal spirit. Who in all the hearts of the world are like a host of leadership, ready. Oh, how great we want to be here.
Oh, how great we want to be here. These are the words of the prophets of old. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time, I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name, Emmanuel. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. On this first Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of hope. Hold just his image coming, as there an old, old man's sign.
He came off long and bright, amid the cold of winter, when the steps led twice on night. God save us, for toil is the rose of heaven in morn. With merrily beholding the virgin of other kind, to show God's love almighty, she bore to men a Savior when the steps led twice on night. O come, O come, Emmanuel! And ransom grand in Israel, and voice in lowly exile ring until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, O come, of jealousy free! Thy hope on Satan's grave will be. The depths of hell thy people stay, and be leavened with all the grave. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! O come, O come, Emmanuel! And open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the grave that leads on high, and pose a path to misery. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! O come, O come, praise be to God and cheer! Our spirit is high and dear!
Disperse the dewy clouds of night, and let our shadows pull to flight. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! O come, O come, wisdom from above our light, and order all things from above and guide. To us the path of love is shown.
Thank God's us in new ways to go. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! O come, O come, praise be to God and cheer! Our spirit is high and dear!
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Emmanuel, Emmanuel! His name is called Emmanuel!
Come with us, be filled with us. His name is called Emmanuel! Emmanuel, Emmanuel! His name is called Emmanuel!
Come with us, be filled with us. His name is called Emmanuel! Yes, indeed, his name is Emmanuel, God with us. And isn't it wonderful that God broke into history in Jesus Christ? And in him we see God. He who hath seen me hath seen the Father.
What a statement! Father, we want to thank you for the multitude of your blessings toward us. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. Thank you for every opportunity that we have to serve you. Thank you, Father, that in this world of skepticism, this world, Lord, so torn by strife and family breakups, this world, Father, that is so needy, we thank you that we have the privilege of offering people a Savior who came to save us from our sins. Father, we pray for our nation today. We pray that as we are torn by political differences, as we think of the direction of the nation, we call upon you. We pray for our President. We pray for those who serve him. We pray, Father, for all who are involved in government, in our own local government, for our mayor, for our governor.
Lord, thank you for the opportunities, the privileges of serving you here. We ask your special blessing upon them. Especially, we pray, that we as your people may lead the way in kindness, in service to others, in showing the beauty of Christ, and that through us your glory would be seen.
And we pray that this nation, with all of its opportunities and resources, might turn to you. Forgive us our sins, we pray, and help us at this Christmas to remember whose birthday it is. Receive, O Lord God, the gifts that we have brought with us.
Thank you for all the expressions of commitment and sacrifice. We wish that we were better people, but we thank you that in Jesus you receive us. And it is in his name we pray. Amen. Praise him of the heavenly Lord. Praise, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Amen. Down from his glory, ever-living story, my God and Savior came, and Jesus was his name. Born in a manger, to his own stranger, a man of sorrow stirs an agony. I love him, I adore him, my bread, my sunshine, my only Lord. The great Creator became my Savior, and all God's fullness was not in him.
Without reluctance, flesh and bloody substance, he took the form of man, revealed the hidden plan. O glorious mystery, sacrifice of Calvary, and now I know thou wert in the great I am. I love him, I adore him, my bread, my sunshine, my only Lord. The great Creator became my Savior, and all God's fullness was not in him. The great Creator became my Savior, and all God's fullness was not in him.
Not in him. The great LaLusa is among that number, and using them for the glory of God. The words are very familiar, we know them all, don't we? And she brought forth her firstborn son, and laid him in a manger, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. You know, at Christmas we sing songs like, what child is this? Or we sing, who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall? And the amazing thing is that the answer that you give to that question determines your eternal destiny. There is no question on planet earth that is more important than that one. Who is this child? Well, we know that there are different answers to that question.
The answer of popular culture is that this child is a baby, at best a teacher. But he's harmless. He's one that puts his arms around everybody and tells us that we should simply love everybody. But he's not the kind of Jesus who would interrupt your lifestyle. He's not the Jesus who might offend you. No, he's not the Jesus who might point out your sin. He's not that Jesus. He's the Jesus of popular imagination. And as long as he stays as a baby, nobody fears him. In fact, there are all kinds of warm feelings that we have about this Jesus. He's a wonderful universal man, and he applies himself to everyone. And all that we need to do is to take him like a book at Christmas.
We bring him down at Christmas, and then we put him back on the shelf, and that's it for another year. That's the answer of popular culture. And then there's also the answer of Islam. Islam says that Jesus was a prophet, a very revered prophet. Islam mentions Jesus 93 times in the Koran, Jesus is referred to. But it also teaches that Jesus didn't die on a cross. Surah 4, 157 and following, says that they thought that they were crucifying Jesus, but they were wrong. They didn't crucify him. As a matter of fact, Islam says that they revered Jesus more than we do because God loved him so much he never allowed him to die.
Now, no matter how we might understand that, the fact is that this sincerely and greatly misunderstands who Jesus is and why he came and why the cross is the best expression of God's love. And then there's also the answer of the merchants. Who is Jesus for the merchants? Jesus is a commodity to be advertised, and he's one who can be sold. Yesterday I was riding in the car, and on the radio it said that this year, one-half percent more has been spent up until this time for Christmas than last year. It's really all that matters is the bottom line. Christmas on the news is not about the birth of Jesus.
Christmas on the news is what do the retailers think and how much are we going to spend on ourselves at Christmas time? Well, that's the answers that we have floating around in our culture, and that is the biblical answer. The biblical answer is that Jesus was God. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. Jesus is God.
And the Apostle Paul says, it is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh. Almost every Christmas I tell you about our oldest daughter when she was about seven years old, and she asked me this question. She said, who was taking care of the world when God was a baby? It's an excellent question, and it's only the kind of question that a child would ask. Who is taking care of the world when God was a baby?
Well, I'm going to be answering that question in a few moments. But I'd like to spend a few moments today giving you a rationale for the fact that Jesus of necessity must be God. If we are to be redeemed from our sins, and the Bible says that he came to redeem his people from their sins, if we're to be redeemed from our sins, why does God have to do it? Can't somebody else, can't some other creation do it? Why God?
A couple of reasons. First of all, because of the extent of our predicament, because of the extent of our problem with sin. You see, Horace was a playwright, and he commented on the various plays that were used in Rome in the theater of his day. And he said that the writers sometimes brought God onto a stage.
You see, what happened is, as the plot developed, it became so complicated that no human being could resolve it. So what the playwrights would do is they would bring God onto the stage, and a God would do a miracle, and then the plot would be resolved. Horace said that they were bringing God onto the stage too soon.
He says God should not be brought onto the stage until the plot is so incredibly difficult, until there is absolutely no way out, and only then should God be brought on the stage. My dear friend today, our situation, our predicament, was so difficult that only God could unravel it. You see, if you are sick, you need a doctor.
If you are drowning, you need a lifeguard. But if you are dead, you need a God to resurrect you. And the Bible says that we were dead in our trespasses and in our sins. And as a result of that, we need God to deliver us. And not only do we need God to deliver us, but at this moment, I also need a drink.
Because of the frailty of the human body, my throat was saying, I need water. And it could say the same thing again. And so we need to keep in mind, folks, that we needed God to resolve our problem.
Only God could come. And you see, the problem is that if sin were only eating chocolate, we might be able to redeem ourselves. We might be able to better ourselves. But the Bible talks about us not only being dead in trespasses and sins, but not knowing that we are dead in trespasses and sins. Like Luther says, the natural man is blind and deaf and dead. But he perceives himself to be able to see and to be able to hear.
And he sees himself as being alive. Because physically we are, but we are separated from God. And only God can enter into our world to redeem us.
There's another reason. And the other reason is because of the fact that God's holiness demanded it, his justice. You see, in Islam, Allah forgives and there's no sacrifice for sin. He just chooses to forgive.
But let me ask you a question. The other day I read an account where somebody was so angry at somebody else that they took a car and rammed it in a parking lot to hurt the other person, to try to kill them. Now, should we just simply say, well, you know, he's asking forgiveness and so we just grant it? No, there's something within us that says this person must pay. Justice must be satisfied. Now, you multiply that and you magnify it in the case of God.
What you discover is that God, God must be satisfied. Justice must be appeased. A sacrifice for sin must be given. Somebody needs to pay.
The question is who? Could an angel have paid? No, an angel could not have paid. And let me explain to you because the person who pays has to become one with the people whom he is redeeming. And angels are not human beings.
So they're immediately disqualified. What about a perfect human being? Could God have created a perfect human being and said, you die on the cross. You make a sacrifice for humanity because I've created you perfect.
The answer is no. Even if that human being could redeem one person, one human being in the place of another human being, even if that were possible, you couldn't have one human being bear the sin of millions and billions of human beings. Now, God had to do it. God says, I'm going to become one like those who I'm going to redeem. I'm going to become a man to redeem humanity. And on that perfect person will be laid the iniquity of the world, your awful sin and your inability to even realize your sin will be laid on him, the iniquity of us all. And in six hours time, he is going to endure the suffering of an eternity of hell so that you and I could go free. And that's the gospel.
And thank you whoever you are over here saying thank you. I appreciate that because all of us should say thank you, Father, for that gift of Jesus Christ. And so you see, God was in flesh, perfect humanity, perfect deity to do what no human being could do. And of course, if God delegated it to some created creature, we'd give that created creature honor and glory and God would receive the honor and the glory. But God receives it because the Bible teaches so clearly that God is a redeeming God. Jehovah is salvation.
He does it. Now the question is, how do the two natures relate together? Some time ago, I was in a panel discussion. A Muslim asked me this question in a panel discussion, an excellent question. That's why we need more dialogue.
We need more discussion with those who disagree with us because sometimes there are misunderstandings. And this Muslim said to me, he said, do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? I said, yes. Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross?
Yes. If that's the case, then you are saying that God died. How can God die? Well, the answer to that question is of course God didn't die as God.
It's unthinkable. You see, Jesus died in his perfect humanity. His body died. But God didn't die.
And that actually is the answer to my daughter's question. Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby? When you held that baby in your hand, there was a part of the baby, much more to him than you could have possibly seen with the human eye because God was doing what God does, building the universe and governing the worlds. And he continued to do that. He continued to do that all throughout the redemptive process. God cannot die. God cannot die. But Jesus as a man died.
His humanity died. And on him was laid the iniquity of us all. Now with that background, I want us to see just briefly what Jesus has to say about himself in the book of Revelation chapter 22. What does Jesus have to say about himself? And let's spend a moment contrasting this with the fact that Jesus also was a baby.
Let's notice this. First of all, you'll notice that Jesus is speaking there in verse 12. I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me to repay everyone for what he has done. And then he says, verse 13, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
That's what Jesus said of himself. You could say in terms of figures of speech that this is an alphabetical figure of speech. I am Alpha.
That is the beginning. I am Omega. That is the last letter of the Greek alphabet.
We would say I am A and I am Z. Notice he says the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Jesus is affirming here his deity. As it says in the Old Testament, from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God, thou art God.
And Jesus here is emphasizing his eternality, the fact that he is the Lord, the fact that he is God. Now, the Encyclopedia Britannica, as you know, has 30 volumes, I think, on science and history and philosophy and all of the knowledge of humanity. And Jesus, of course, being the Alpha and the Omega is the A to Z, the Encyclopedia Britannica.
And it has all of this knowledge and it's all communicated in 26 letters. Jesus contains within himself all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the Bible says. And in him is all things.
Wow. Who is Jesus? Well, I can tell you this about Jesus. He's the creator of the stable in which he was born. All of the elements that went into the building of that stable, whether wood or stone, he created them. He is the owner of the inn that rejected him.
He owns the place because he owns everything. He is the one who is going to be judge and he is the one who is going to rule and so you have Jesus Christ here as the beginning and the end. He was here at creation because he was the one who did the creating. He was here at his birth, veiled in flesh, the God had to see.
You couldn't see everything that belonged to him. But nonetheless, he was here always doing his thing, ruling the world by the word of his power. So that's the first figure of speech.
It's an alphabetical figure. Let's go to a second figure of speech and that is in verse 16. I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David. The root and the descendant of David. If the first one is an alphabetical figure of speech, this is a botanical figure of speech, the root and the offspring of David. Don't you find the Bible fascinating?
Just think about this for a moment. Jesus Christ in being the root of David and David being a branch indicates that he is David's father because as creator, of course, he belongs to David and belongs as the creator and the father of David. But also the Bible says very clearly that he is the offspring of David.
Jesus used this himself, you remember, in the Gospels. He loved to ask questions that people couldn't answer. And one of the questions that he asked them was the Messiah, whose son is he? And they said, well, he's the son of David. And he said, you're right, but why did David also call him Lord? How could he both be David's son and be David's father, David's Lord?
Well, the answer is he's both. As God, he's David's Lord. As God, he's David's father. But as man, he is also the offspring of David.
That's why you have the genealogies that talk about the birth of Jesus and who Jesus really was. And so Jesus here is presented to us as man. So first of all, the first figure of speech is Jesus is God.
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. He's God. But the second figure of speech, he's the root and the offspring of David. It seems very clear that he is man.
He's man. Now, what is the next figure of speech? We could say that it is one based on astronomy, astronomical figure of speech. Notice he says, I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The bright morning star.
Probably a reference to Venus. The morning star is the star that comes out indicating that dawn is on its way. The sun is about to rise. And what Jesus is saying is that in his coming, he is predicting the day when the sun is going to arise and of course he's going to return to earth and he is a reminder of that. And his star, the bright star outshines all of the other stars that might be out there.
In fact, one day I was speaking to someone who belongs to another religion and this other religion has a prophet. And I was talking to him about it and helping him to see that once the bright star comes out, all of the other stars fade into insignificance, particularly when the sun comes out, they all fade into oblivion. And in the presence of the son of God, all other human stars disappear. And Jesus now is the bright and the morning star.
That means that he is king. In the book of Numbers it says in chapter 24, I shall see him but not now. I shall behold him but not nigh.
Now follow carefully. It says a star shall arise out of Jacob and a scepter arise out of Israel. And unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Notice there kingship directly connected with being a star. So we have in these three figures of speech, Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is man, and Jesus Christ is king.
King of kings and Lord of lords. Now notice in light of the fact that he is a king, notice what the text says in verse 17, the spirit and the bride say come. What they are welcoming is the king. They're saying in light of the fact that you are the king, you come and you come to us and let the one who is thirsty come or the one who hears say come.
That refers to all of us, doesn't it? All those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, they all desire that the Lord come. In fact, the Bible says that there's a special crown given to those who love his appearing.
And of course, all believers, if they are honest, unless they are living far away from God, they desire the appearing of Jesus because they love Jesus and they want him to return. And so we join the spirit, the bride is a reference to the church, we join the spirit and the bride and we all say come Lord Jesus and let the one who hears, that's all of us as individuals, we say come. And then suddenly in the middle of the verse, and I hope that you're looking there at Revelation chapter 22 verse 17, we have a switch. And let the one who is thirsty come. And let the one who desires to take the water of life without price, let them come. So now the coming at first, in the first half of the verse is we are asking Jesus to come and now Jesus is asking those who are thirsty to come. And right after this service, those of you who are thirsty, you can come and take of the water of life without price.
This is such a beautiful figure of speech. I want to talk to you just for a moment because there are those of you who are listening to me today who've never trusted Christ as Savior and you have tried all the watering holes of the world. You've tried your sexuality, you thought that happiness and fulfillment would be there and you've been disappointed and you feel hollow and you feel empty. You have tried money, you thought that surely it would reside there, success would finally bring it to you and fill that huge vacuum in your heart and that hasn't happened. Then you thought to yourself if you become well known and other people think well of you and you establish your reputation and everybody respects you, that will be the means of fulfillment and that hasn't worked either.
So you're thirsty. Within us there is a desire for God that cannot be quenched in any other way except by God himself. And so God bids you, you come to him, you come.
Admit the fact that there's hollowness in your life that you yourself can find no answer to. It's found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Now notice the blessing that Jesus gives to those who come and for those I want to go to verse 14. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they might have the right to the tree of life and they may enter the city by the gates. Now isn't it wonderful to realize that when you come to Jesus Christ your robes can be washed white and clean. Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is the one who created the holy city and Jesus is the one who controls the gates of the holy city. And you'll notice it says, verse 15, outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
What a division. Now if you're here today and you fit into the category of verse 15, that you are sexually immoral, sorcery, et cetera, et cetera, and all the other sins that are listed, there's such good hope for you that you can fit into verse 14. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they might have a right to the tree of life. Heaven is going to be filled with all kinds of people who are referred to as dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and the murderers and those who love a lie.
Heaven will be filled with those who allowed Jesus Christ to redeem them and to wash their robes white in the blood of the lamb. Today, I'm speaking to you directly now, one on one. When you think of the question of who is this baby in the manger, don't be beguiled or misled because of the ordinariness of it all. Ordinary baby? Supposedly ordinary parents?
Yes. Ordinary crib? Ordinary manger?
Ordinary clothes? Don't allow that to obscure the fact that this is God. The beginning and the end, the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star, the Savior, the Creator, who distinguishes between those who can go into the heavenly city and those who can't. Jesus invites you today to him. Do you know Christ personally? Have you received him as Savior? Do you fit into the category of verse 14 or verse 15?
Who are you? Notice the Spirit and the Bride say, come to Jesus and then the one who is a thirst comes and the one who is thirsty, let him take of the water of life without price. It is free and God wants you today to believe in Christ. Isn't it interesting that the book of Revelation ends? I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city which are described in this book.
I know that this warning refers primarily to the book of Revelation but in a sense it refers to the entire New Testament that we should not take away God's words, we should not add to them, we should revere them, we should study them and then verse 20, he who testifies to these things says, surely I am coming soon, amen, come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all, amen. I might say that at this point God has nothing more to say. Do you know Christ as Savior?
Have you believed on him? Is the Holy Spirit of God speaking to you and saying, come to Christ, come to him because he is all that you need to have your sins forgiven, your robes washed so that you can enter into the holy city. Let's join together in prayer. Father, we ask in Jesus' name that you might take these words however imperfectly given and that the Holy Spirit might use your word and by your spirit speak to those for whom this message was intended and we pray that you might not give them rest until they come to know you personally and receive you.
In Jesus' name, amen. On today's Moody Church Hour, Pastor Lutzer spoke on the mystery of the baby, the first of four messages on the mystery of Bethlehem. Next week, we take a closer look at the humble surroundings of Jesus' birth as we hear a message on the mystery of the manger.
Plan to join us. The mystery of Bethlehem will enrich your Christmas season. We'd like to place this four-part series in your hands on CD as our way of saying thanks for your gift of any amount to The Moody Church Hour. We so appreciate the many whose help all during the year keeps The Moody Church Hour on the air. Just call us at 1-800-215-5001.
Ask about the mystery of Bethlehem when you call 1-800-215-5001. Or you can write to us at Moody Church Media, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Online, go to moodyoffer.com. That's moodyoffer.com. Join us next time for another Moody Church Hour with Pastor Erwin Lutzer and the Congregation of Historic Moody Church in Chicago. This broadcast is a ministry of The Moody Church.
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