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It’s Christmas!

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 19, 2022 12:01 am

It’s Christmas!

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 19, 2022 12:01 am

The significance of Christmas extends far beyond nostalgic traditions and family get-togethers. Today, R.C. Sproul reflects on the event that divides all of history: the birth of Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

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Christmas. It's not a legend. It's not a fairy tale.

It's not a religious ceremony. It is easy for us to forget that at the heart of the Christmas story is the most important historical event that has ever transpired on this planet. Celebrating the incarnation today on Renewing Your Mind. Welcome to the Monday edition of our program.

I'm Lee Webb. We're just a few days away from Christmas, but unfortunately, many people aren't thinking about what really happened 2,000 years ago there in Bethlehem. There's, of course, the busyness and stress of the season, but to many people, stories like Christ's birth are simply myth and fable.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul reminds us why we celebrate, because Christ is born. It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in the hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. I don't think I should try to do any more of that famous poem, because I would probably forget some of those lines about the bowl full of jelly and throwing open the sash and all of that. But it is a delightful poem that we hear annually during the Christmas season, but it is a poem that captures some of the traditions that have surrounded the Christmas holiday, traditions that are fun and that children enjoy and so on. But we have to remember that this story, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," is not a true picture of history. One of the habits that I have is to work on crossword puzzles every day. I do at least two of them every day just to get the gray cells moving. And one of the common questions that we read in the crosswords, at least that I do, is the question that reads, fairy tale starter, four-letter word.

I think you could guess what that is. It's the word, once, because fairy tales begin traditionally with the phrase, once upon a time. Now, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," once upon a time, that's the way we introduce stories that are fables or myths. Or, as I've said, fairy tales. That's not how we recount real sober history. And when we come to the Christmas season where there is so much tradition and so much mythology associated with these traditions, it is easy for us to forget that at the heart of the Christmas story is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, important historical event that has ever transpired on this planet. I think almost all of us are familiar with the Christmas story that is found in the second chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke.

As I read it this day, see if this memory does not come to your mind and the familiarity of it. For we read in chapter 2 of Luke's gospel these words, And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, every one to his own city. Now do you understand how this begins?

It says, And it came to pass. That is what Luke is saying here is that something happened, something occurred, not once upon a time, not in some vague general fairytale mythological framework, but it happened in real time, a time that can be fixed even in secular history. It was a time that was noteworthy because of the dominion of the Roman Empire. So that the event that Luke is relating is set in a historical context that is identified with the reign of Caesar Augustus. You know that Caesar Augustus ascended to the emperor's seat of authority in Rome, 30 BC, and he reigned until he died in 14 AD, 44 years. Octavian, who was called Caesar Augustus, ruled over Rome. And it was during this period that Rome reached the pinnacle of her power, both economically, culturally, and from a military standpoint. In fact, she was so powerful during the reign of Augustus that for the most part peace pervaded the Roman Empire. So that this era was called the Pax Romana. One of the great ironies of history was that it was during the peace of Rome that the Prince of Peace was born. And this child who was born went on to become far more famous, far more well known than Caesar Augustus himself. But the point I want us to see here is that Luke sets the narrative of the birth of Jesus in real history.

He is not concerned about introducing a fairy tale or a religious myth. In the first chapter of Luke's gospel, at the very beginning, Luke states his purpose in writing his entire gospel account. He begins his work by these words, "'Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.'" I remember as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh and always dreaming of a white Christmas. And it was a tradition in our home to go to the Christmas Eve service every year. And that service began at eleven o'clock, but we would have to assemble outside of the church at about quarter after ten because so many people congregated for that special candlelight event. And it was filled with pageantry and great choral music, and at about thirteen minutes to twelve, the minister would begin his Christmas Eve homily. And just as the clock reached twelve o'clock, in the middle of his sermon, there was a signal given to the organist, and the organist would play the chimes in the church as if they were the chimes of a clock striking twelve. And the pastor would stop his sermon in mid-sentence as the chimes would begin to sound, one, two, three, four, and we would all sit there in the pews and count them. And as soon as the twelfth tone had registered, the pastor would smile to the congregation, and he would say, it's Christmas, and may I be the first on this day to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Well, that used to send chills up and down my spine. It was a tradition. He did it every year. In fact, he preached the same sermon every year on Christmas Eve in the candlelight service. And as I grew up, I never wanted to miss a service, and particularly on those Christmas Eves when it had snowed and the lawn was covered in the new fallen snow, and there was just something about it. I loved it, but I was not a believer. To me, this was all exciting pageantry where the real fun came the next morning when we got to open the presents and enjoy the visitation of the man from the North Pole. Then in 1957, in September of that year, I had my conversion to Christianity. And like any new Christian or young Christian, I was absolutely absorbed with the discovery of Christ. It was utter sweetness to me, and I had great delight in reading the scriptures and talking to people about the things of God.

Well, that happened in September, and by October, I was still walking on air. In November, I was still sky high, but I was already experiencing the ups and downs that new Christians tend to have. But I remember my first Christmas as a Christian coming back home for the holidays, driving through the snow to the church, going into the sanctuary, singing the same hymns that I had sung for so many years, hearing exactly the same sermon, hearing the chimes strike midnight.

And this time when the minister interrupted his sermon and listened to the chimes and then leaned over the pulpit and said, it's Christmas, I was ready to walk through the door into heaven. It was all the joy that I could handle because now for the first time, I was experiencing this pageantry as reality, as truth, as something that had really taken place. I was experiencing what Luke wanted me to experience when he wrote the story in the first place, because you notice back in the first chapter where he said that he had written these things as an eyewitness to Theophilus saying that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. So that he begins this gospel account stating his purpose.

I don't want you to just be entertained by this story. I want you to know it with the fullness of assurance that these things that we are about to relate to you are the sober truth. That the account that I am going to give to you, Luke said, is not the account of speculation, but I have compiled a series of eyewitness reports. It really is reminiscent of a similar statement that is made later on in the New Testament by Peter when Peter, writing his second epistle, makes this comment, "'For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to him from the excellent glory.

This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And we have heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.'" Do you see the similarity there between what Peter asserts and what Luke says? Peter is saying, hey, we're not talking fables.

We're not talking legends. We're not talking about myths here or religious fairy tales. But we are declaring to you what we have seen with our eyes and what we have heard with our ears. And then he goes on to tell of his eyewitness account, not of the birth of Jesus, of course, but of the transfiguration of Christ when the majesty of his glory broke through the veil of his humanity and the disciples saw it. That's what Christmas is about. We celebrate the day that divides history. Isn't it significant that all of Western civilization marks its history from the birth of Christ? We describe the difference between B.C. before Christ and A.D., which means what? Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. That's what Christmas observes, the year of our Lord, the coming in real history not of Caesar Augustus, not of Quirinaris, who was the governor of Syria, but of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us.

Now, what I'm stressing, of course, is that this came to pass in real time and in real history. That is a crucial point for the Christian community to understand, to embrace, and never to negotiate. In our day and age, apart from the cynicism that is directed towards the Christian faith from secular sources, we've also had to struggle with a theological perspective that denies the historical reality of these things. One of the leading schools of thought today describes itself as a, quote, theology of timelessness, which wrenches the Christian message out of its context of history and reduces Christianity to some kind of existential religious experience that has nothing to do with real time and real space. This is on a collision course with the plain teaching of the New Testament that so emphatically affirms that when Christ came in the days of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinaris was governor of Syria, that the New Testament calls the moment of incarnation an event that happened in, quote, the fullness of time. That's a strange image, isn't it, to speak of the fullness of time. The word that is used there in the New Testament for fullness is the Greek word playroma, and it means something that is filled to capacity, filled to the point of bursting. It's usually thought of in terms of volumes of liquid, for example. When I try to define to my students or to my children what playroma means, I take an empty glass and put it under the spigot and turn on the water and watch the water fill up the glass, but I leave the tap on so that the water continues to stream, and once the water reaches the edge of the glass, it begins to spill out over the edge of the glass.

That's playroma, something that is full to the bursting point. And in Jewish categories, the Bible begins with a statement in the beginning when time as we know it starts the very onset of creation that is made by our transcendent Creator. And from that moment, the clock started to tick. History began not as an aimless, purposeless flow of time, but that very history was under the authority of the author of history, under the authority of God, and it was moving moment by moment, second by second, day by day, year by year, towards an appointed destiny.

And time passed, and time was being filled by the plan of God and by the work of God until that critical juncture of human history when the time was filled to capacity, and it burst with the birth of a baby who is the incarnation of God. And I would like to think that at that moment, an angel came into the courts of heaven and leaned over the throne of God and said, it's Christmas. It's Christmas. And wished the heavenly host a very merry Christmas. Every day on this program, we take just a moment for what we call the Coram Deo application of the day, a thought that will remind us of living our lives before the face of God. Let me remind you on this day that God in his spiritual, invisible nature does not have a face.

The only face that he has is the face that he wore in the incarnation. Because on Christmas, when Mary and Joseph looked into the face of their firstborn child, they were living literally Coram Deo before the face of God. That's what we celebrate on Christmas. Not the birth of a baby, simply, but the incarnation of God himself, Immanuel. The wonder of Christmas is that God came to be with us.

That's an amazing thought, isn't it? We're glad you've joined us today for Renewing Your Mind. All week, we're sharing R.C. Sproul's celebration of the birth of Christ. His series is titled Messiah is Born.

Every day this week, we'll learn what Christmas means and how it affects not only our lives, but all of history. And we'd like for you to have all five messages. Just contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll make the series available to you as a digital download.

You can call us to make your request at 800-435-4343, or you can go online to Renewing Your Mind.org. Plus, we'll send you the DVD of Dr. Sproul's series, What Did Jesus Do? This is a 12-part series that shows us why Jesus' life was so important. His obedience prior to His death and resurrection shows us what it meant for Christ to be the second Adam, and what this means for us as believers today.

Here's a sample from that series. We're going to focus in this series on the work of Christ. Now in theology, we make a distinction between the person of Christ and the work of Christ for various reasons. But even though that distinction is important to make, we must never let it become a separation, because the person of Christ is intimately connected to His work, and we understand His work largely in part from the perspective of who it was who was doing that work. And yet at the same time, conversely, the work of Jesus reveals to us a great deal about who He is.

So His person and His work may be distinguished but never separated. Now when we start an examination of the work of Jesus, usually people want to start with His birth, His virgin birth, and yet we're not going to start at that point in this particular lecture series. Instead, the work of Jesus, I believe, begins much earlier than His birth. In fact, it begins in eternity past. Well, again, that's from the series, What Did Jesus Do?, and this is one of the series that we will send you for your gift of any amount. There are 12 messages on a single DVD, plus we'll provide a digital download of the series that we're hearing this week. Messiah is Born.

Find us online at renewingyourmind.org, or call us at 800-435-4343. And as we near the end of December, please keep in mind that your year-end financial gifts propel our ministry outreach into 2023. We are launching new initiatives around the world, so we are grateful for your generosity. I hope you'll join us tomorrow as Dr. Sproul continues his series, Messiah is Born. Who wouldn't be troubled if in the midst of their day suddenly they were visited by the appearance of an angel? Gabriel's mere presence was enough to terrify anyone. But not only does he appear before Mary, but he speaks to her, and he speaks strange things to her ear. Learn about Mary, the mother of the Messiah, tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-19 13:42:45 / 2022-12-19 13:50:21 / 8

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