Well, did you like what you got for Christmas?
Well, I don't know what you got. Maybe you got clothes, or maybe you got electronic equipment, maybe you got something for your computer. My children gave me a railroad lock for my collection.
It's great. Great gift. I was hoping my wife was going to give me a bright red Miata. Convertible. But when I saw the box, I knew the box was too small to get a Miata in. So I didn't get one this year, but who knows, maybe next year.
We'll see. But we had a great Christmas, and I hope you did. You know, Christmas is a great time for giving gifts, and one of the most enduring gifts at Christmas is the indomitable fruitcake.
Huh? Almost everybody I know has been given a fruitcake at some point in their life, but what's really interesting is to ask them what they did with it. USA Today did a survey this past week, it was published in the newspaper, and they said they found that a whopping 75% of people surveyed say that they've received a fruitcake sometime in their lives. Then they went on to ask those people what they did with it. 28% said they ate it. 8% couldn't remember what they did with it.
So what did the other 64% do with their fruitcakes? Would you like to know? Or would you? I'm not going to tell you if you don't want to know.
Would you want to know or not? Well then you got to speak up. All right. Now, here's what the other 64% did. 9% said they used it for bird feed. That's true.
This is a true survey. 13% said they used it as a holiday doorstop. That's pretty clever. 4% actually said they used it for landfill. I don't know what they're doing in the backyard, but 4% of the people used it for landfill.
And a staggering 38%, that's almost 4 out of 10 said, what do you think they said? That's right, they gave it away to somebody else. Now you see the way I figure it, if this is right, the way I figure it, there are really only a few thousand fruitcakes in existence in the whole world and they just keep going around and around and around. Nobody makes any new ones. It's the same old ones. In fact, the one you got this year might have actually belonged to Shirley MacLaine in a former life, because they never soured. Those things last forever.
Well, I don't know what you got, but I hope you like whatever you got. You know, actually, God was the very first person to ever give a Christmas gift. Do you know that?
Sure. On the very first Christmas, he inaugurated that day by giving us the greatest gift in the history of the universe. The Bible says, for God so loved the world that he gave. He gave his one of a kind son, that's what the word really means in Greek, his one of a kind son.
And why did he give him? So that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. And if you're here and you've never embraced Jesus Christ as your Messiah and your Lord and your Savior, then folks, God is still anxiously wanting to give you the most life-changing Christmas present that he has to give.
And I hope that you won't let another Christmas go by without taking hold of the greatest gift anybody's ever offered you, Jesus Christ and his salvation purchased on the cross for you. Now if you're here and you've already done that, and most of you have, then this morning I want to talk to you. And I want to talk to you from Luke chapter 2, the familiar story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I want us to look at the story and then ask the question, so what?
Yeah. Let's look together, okay? And we're continuing in our series on the life of Christ. This is part three. And the title of my message is A Savior Who Understands. A Savior Who Understands.
And let's see if I can make that title make sense to you. First one. In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Corinnaeus was governor of Syria.
And everyone went to his own town to register. Caesar Augustus began what we commonly have called Pax Romana, the great Roman peace over the whole empire. He became emperor in 27 BC. He was emperor until 14 AD. And his time of ruling over the empire was a time of tremendous stability, tremendous peace.
But the man also had a penchant for good organization. And one of the things he began, we know from secular Egyptian records, is he began the practice of taking a census of the entire Roman Empire every 14 years. In fact, that practice continued for several centuries after the death of Caesar Augustus. Now one of the reasons he did this was because everybody, except for Jews, but everybody else in the empire had to serve in the army. And so the way to find out who was of draft age is you took a census. And so he would take the results of the census and he would give it to the Roman draft board and they would know who they could draft. But the other reason they did it is to keep accurate tax records so they knew who was where and how much they had and so they could tax them. So he also took a copy of the census and he gave it to the Roman IRS. So the IRS got a copy and the draft board got a copy. Now this census that was taken here while Corinnaeus was governor of Syria for years has been used as one of the great examples of an error in the Bible. A case where the Bible is explicitly wrong and therefore undependable. You say, well, I don't understand. What's the problem?
Here's the problem. We know from Roman records that Corinnaeus was governor of Syria, was the formal governor of Syria beginning in 6 AD. That's when he was appointed as governor of Syria, alright?
6 AD, got that in your mind now. We also know from the Bible, Matthew chapter 2, that King Herod was ruling over Israel when Jesus Christ was born, right? At this time when Corinnaeus supposedly was governor of Syria, right? But we know from secular records that King Herod died in 4 BC.
Oh, so we got a problem, don't we? Because Corinnaeus doesn't get to be governor till 6 AD and Herod dies in 4 BC, so there's 10 years in between these two dates. They can't possibly refer to the same event, therefore the Bible is wrong, therefore the Bible has a mistake, therefore it's undependable.
Now recently, however, we've discovered that indeed it's true. Corinnaeus did not become the formal Roman governor of Syria until 6 AD. However, the man who was governor of Syria during the time when Luke chapter 2 takes place, his name was Quintilius Varus, V-A-R-U-S. We have learned from records recently found that Varus was actually out of the country for several years during the time of this census, fighting Germans on the northern border of the Roman Empire. And while he was gone, guess who he appointed acting governor in his place? Well, if you guess Corinnaeus, you get the gold star this morning, because that's exactly who he appointed. And so Luke, in saying that Corinnaeus was governor of Syria when the first census was taken, because there was another census taken 14 years later when Corinnaeus was actually now the formal governor.
You with me? Luke is actually more historically correct than anything we could have documented from records until just recently. And I find that exciting that the more we dig out of the ground, the more right the Bible proves to be. Luke had it right all the time, and we had it wrong until just recently. To me that's exciting. And it confirms the trustworthiness of the Word of God once again.
Well, let's go on, shall we? One of the results of Augustus Caesar's decree is that Mary's baby, who would normally have been born not in Bethlehem, but would normally have been born in Galilee and Nazareth, instead was born in Bethlehem. Because the prophet said, Micah chapter 5, from you Bethlehem, will come forth one who will rule over my people Israel. Had it not been for the census, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem, but because of the census, he was. And so I like what one commentator said. He said Augustus Caesar was ruling, but God was still in charge.
Isn't that good? Augustus Caesar might have been ruling the world, but God was still in charge. And everything worked the way God said it should work. Verse 4. So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house in the line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. And when they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. The traditional picture that we get here is of this cozy little barn with all the fresh hay all around and, you know, nice kerosene barn lanterns hanging from the rafters and all the cows mooing and Lassie looking on. You know, that's how we picture this thing happening.
But that's not how this happened at all. You see, the word that's translated here, manger, literally means a feeding trough, a common feeding trough where they put the slop out for the animals. It was usually hewn out or cut out of just a big piece of rock, and they made just a little trough in it, and that's where they put the animal food. And Mary was not in a nice clean barn with fresh hay. She was probably in a cave where this trough was where they tied up animals and left them. She was probably in a cave that was muddy on the floor, that had manure smell all around, that was cold and damp, and she probably had a frantic husband running around when she was delivering her firstborn son because she did not have a doctor.
She did not have a midwife. She probably cut her son's own cord and then wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes merely, they're rags, that's all. They're just rags, rags that you tie together with some string or some other pieces of cloth. She wrapped him in rags to protect him from the cold of the evening, and there, in an environment that no lady here would accept for her delivery room, she cuddled to her breast, the Son of God.
It's not like you think. Verse 8, and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born for you, and his name is Christ the Lord.
Every time I read this passage, I think of Handel's Messiah and that beautiful chorus where the angels suddenly appear and sing, goodwill to men, goodwill to men, because that must have been something like this was like. But notice here that when they announce the birth of Christ, they give Jesus Christ three very significant titles. First of all, verse 11 says, for today in the town of David, a Savior has been born, a deliverer.
That's what the word literally means. And Jesus Christ came to earth to be a deliverer in two ways for us. First, to deliver us from the guilt and the penalty of our sin. The Bible says, in Colossians chapter one, for he has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of God, where we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin. That's the first kind of deliverance Jesus as our Savior came to bring.
But there's a second kind he came to bring as well, and that is to deliver us from living empty, meaningless lives here on earth. In dealing with Zacchaeus, you remember wee little Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus was a wee little man. You remember him? And a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree.
Y'all know this song, don't you? The Lord he wanted to see. Well, Zacchaeus was a guy who was affluent on the outside, but empty on the inside. And Jesus, when he met Zacchaeus, turned and said to the people, he said, for I, the Son of Man, and pointing to Zacchaeus, he said, I have come to seek and to deliver those who are lost. And he didn't just mean lost in the eternal sense, he did come to do that.
But even those who are lost here in the earthly sense, groping around in the darkness, trying to find some meaning and purpose to life, Jesus came to deliver us from living empty, meaningless lives and give us a purpose and a reason to exist. He's our Savior, our Deliverer. The second thing the angel said is that he is Christ.
The Greek word Christos simply is an attempt to translate the Hebrew word Mashiach, which means Messiah, Messiah or anointed one. Because you see, for centuries, God had been promising Israel that he was going to send them an anointed descendant of King David, who would sit on the throne of David and rule the people of Israel for all eternity. And when the angels appeared to the shepherds, they said, you know that anointed descendant of David that we've been promising you? Well, he's been born. He's the Christ, the Messiah. Finally, he is Christ, the Lord, the Lord. You see, this baby was not just an anointed king, and this baby was not just a special Deliverer. This baby was God himself, the Bible claims, wrapped up in human flesh. And so he was our Savior, and he was our Messiah, and he was our Lord.
I mean, that's an awful big package wrapped up in that little baby, you know that? And yet that's what the angel said was lying in a manger in Bethlehem. Well, what did the shepherds do? Look, the angel said, this will be a sign to you, you'll find the baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger.
And I'm sure the shepherds said, well, now look, we're members of the Bethlehem Grange. We know where every single trough over there is. Let's go look at every single trough till we find him.
He's got to be in one of them. I mean, how many babies could there possibly be lying in troughs over there? And so, suddenly there was a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. And when the angels had left them and gone back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let's go to Bethlehem. We'll look in every manger that's there, and we will see this great thing that the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger. And when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. They were probably jumping up and down and talking, going, can you believe this?
Can you believe that? But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. I think Mary was a real special lady, you know?
And rather than getting all excited and going, oh, my baby, oh, look at my baby, look at my baby. She said, nothing. She was very quiet and just said, hmm, I think I better think about this.
What a special lady. And then it says that the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, which things were just as they had been told. God told them the way it was, and that's just the way they found it. And here ends the Bible's account of the most important birth in human history. But it still leaves us asking the question, so what?
That's exactly right. So what? All right, we all know this story, Lon. I mean, we all just celebrated Christmas. They even read it on the radio. But what difference does that make for us?
Today, I mean, in the 20th century. We don't live in Bethlehem. There was a song that was popular back in the 60s. The title of the song was Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Anybody remember the song?
Anybody willing to admit they're old enough to say that they remember the song? You remember that one of the lines went, before you abuse, criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes. And of course, the point of the song is that compassion comes from common experience. In other words, you walk a mile in my shoes. You experience life the way I experience it. You see it the way I see it, and you'll feel differently about me, about my weaknesses, my shortcomings, my fears, instead of judging me and being so quick to condemn me. You walk a mile in my shoes and share some of my experiences, and you might just have sympathy for me and understanding instead of judgment. Now whether you remember the song or not, don't we agree with the principle?
Isn't that true? That compassion comes when people have shared an experience like the one you've had? I had a lady call me over the weekend, and she said, I feel so bad for calling you over Christmas weekend. I said, no, no, no, that's okay. It's no problem. I just got through calling a doctor, and I said the exact same thing to him.
But I needed him, and if you need me, that's okay. What's the problem? She said, well, I've just had my cousin, lady's a grown woman, and her husband just committed suicide right in front of her. Just blew his brains out right in front of her. And we've got to go up there to be with the family, and I don't know what to say or what to do or I don't know whether to pray or whether not to pray.
I mean, I need some advice as to what to do. Well, I prayed with the lady, and we talked for a little while. But I said to her, you know, I've never had anybody in my family commit suicide.
So I don't really fully understand what that must feel like. However, we have a lady in our church, a lady and a man whose son committed suicide about five years ago, and they've dealt with it beautifully. God has seen them through. They've processed the grief.
They're doing fine with the Lord. I don't think she'd mind if I gave you her phone number. Why don't you call her and talk to her about what you should say and what you shouldn't say, what you should do and what you shouldn't do, because she understands a lot better than I do. She's been there. And the lady said, hey, that's a great idea.
Give me your phone number. And I did. She never called me back. I assumed she got through okay. But wouldn't you say, if you were evaluating what I did, that it was a good idea to do what I did? I mean, don't we agree that when somebody's been through it and experienced it, that they understand it better than somebody who hasn't? Isn't that right?
We agree with that. And folks, when we're facing heartache and when we're facing pain, nothing is more comforting and reassuring, is it, than to meet somebody who can look you right in the eyeballs and say, hey, I know what you're going through. I mean, I've been there. I know how you're feeling.
There's nothing that can compare with a person doing that. All the other people who want to come up and say, gosh, I'm praying for you. I'm so worried for you. I really care about you. I mean, that's fine. But when somebody can look you right in the eyes and say, I've been there a lot.
Boy, that means a lot. When I was teaching over at Capitol Seminary years ago, we had a student over there who was in a wheelchair. He'd been in a wheelchair since he was a little boy and would be in one for the rest of his life. He had always wanted to be a hospital chaplain and because of the wheelchair, no hospital wanted to hire him.
They said, well, you know, you'll have too much trouble getting around and we're not handicap equipped the way we should be. Now, this was 15, 18 years ago. Well, there was a hospital right in back of our seminary called Doctor's Hospital over in Lanham. And he finally talked him into letting him come over and be just a volunteer at the hospital. And he would go over and volunteer and go from room to room seeing patients. And after a while, it became so obvious that this fellow was so effective and he was so helpful to people that eventually this hospital hired him full time to be their chaplain. One day while he and I were talking, I asked him what was the secret of his success?
I mean, what was it that had convinced this hospital that was so adamantly against him being a chaplain when it started that he was the man for the job? And here's what he said to me. He said, you know, Lan, he said, when you walk into a room of a really sick person and there you are standing there on your two feet, you're the picture of hell and you're trying to talk to them and convince them that you have compassion and you have sympathy and you have understanding and you really want to help and you really know what it's like. He said, man, they just blow you off. But he said, when I wheel into the room, it's a whole different ballgame because he said, I look him in the eye and I say, now, listen, don't you give me all this self pity.
Nobody understands nonsense. He said, I say to them, look, I've been in a wheelchair all my life and I understand the fears and I understand the hardships and the anxieties and the disappointment and the grief and the loss associated with bad illness. And I'm here to help you if you'll let me. And he said, Lan, I will have people open up and talk to me who will not talk to anybody else. They won't talk to their wife, they won't talk to their husband, they won't talk to their father, they won't talk to their children, they won't talk to their friends but they'll talk to me because they believe I really understand. He said, instead of this wheelchair being my greatest disadvantage, he said, for the ministry God's given me, the wheelchair has been my greatest advantage because people know that when I say I understand, I understand. One of the greatest parts about being a Christian is being able to fall on your knees before God and in the midst of your worst pain and your worst heartache, to be able to say, Lord, you know how I feel, don't you? And to have God be able to say back to you with authenticity, yes, I know exactly how you feel.
You don't have to try to explain it. I know exactly how you feel. And the reason I know how you feel is because of what happened on that very first Christmas day.
The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. Jesus Christ had all the same experiences you and I had. That's why He understands. He was born the regular way.
I mean, right down the birth canal and everything. He had an infancy where He was helpless and somebody had to wait on Him, just like our children do. He had an adolescence and a puberty. He knows what it's like to be a teenager. If you're a teenager and you say, nobody understands what it's like to be a teenager, wrong.
Jesus Christ understands. He knows what it's like to be part of a family with all of the relational challenges and stresses of a family. Remember, He had younger brothers and there is no challenge like a younger brother in a family. You have a younger brother, you have an inter-family relational stress problem. Younger brothers are born for that.
That's what they're good at. He had all the same weaknesses of human nature that you and I had. The Bible says He got hungry, He got thirsty, He got tired, He required sleep. He needed to get away from people for a while and go up in the hills.
He needed a break. All of the things you deal with, He deals with. You say, well, Lon, I'm experiencing grief. I've lost a loved one. Well, Jesus Christ experienced that.
You say, really, when? Well, it's interesting at 30 years old when He shows up in the Bible, His dad's not anywhere to be found. Where do you think His dad went? You say, he divorced Mary?
No, I don't think so. I think he died. I think Jesus Christ knew what it was like to bury a father because He had to bury His own.
Are you facing hardships and struggling to make ends meet? Guess what? Jesus Christ knows what that's like because that's how He lived.
You say, well, how do you know that? Look right here in Luke chapter 2, down in verse 24. The Bible says in Luke chapter 2 verse 24, it says that when they came to dedicate Jesus Christ at the temple, they brought a pair of doves to dedicate Him. Now, if you look back in Leviticus chapter 12, what you will find is that the gift you were supposed to bring is a lamb. But the Bible says in Leviticus 12, if you are too poor to afford a lamb, then you can bring two turtle doves instead. Jesus Christ's family was a poor family.
That's why they brought turtle doves. And after His father died, you think things got any better at home when He had to go to work and try to support His mother and His younger brothers and sisters? You think these people had a lot of money? Forget it. You think Jesus doesn't know what it's like to try to struggle to make ends meet?
He knows because He did it. You're having conflict? Jesus had conflict with the religious leaders of Israel every day. You're having verbal abuse heaped on you?
Great. When Jesus hung on the cross, the Bible says that those who passed by hurled insults at Him as He hung on the cross, helpless. People making fun of you? The soldiers made fun of Christ. The Bible says they mocked Him right there as He hung on the cross.
Some of us here feel very rejected, and we've been very rejected by people all of our lives. What about Jesus? You say, He doesn't know what that's like.
Sure, He does. The Bible says that all the disciples deserted Him and ran away after all He'd done for them. They left Him. They deserted Him.
And Peter said three times, I don't know who this man is. You think He didn't know what rejection felt like? He came to His own, the Bible says. And His own did what?
They rejected Him. Jesus understands pain and heartache. He stood outside the tomb of Lazarus. He wept outside the tomb of His good friend because of the pain that He was feeling.
You feel like you're facing life's problems all alone? Jesus hung on the cross and cried out, My God, why have you forsaken Me and left Me to deal with this feeling so alone? He understands. And how about death?
He understands death. You say, But Lon, I'm not dead. Good.
Good, I'm glad. But when you get ready to, He'll understand. But you say, Lon, I hope I never get ready to. I don't want to.
Good. Neither did He. Neither did He. He understands that.
Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, God, I don't want to die. He understands. My dear friends, there is not one single thing you will ever face that He doesn't understand. And we so often get on our knees and we say, But God, you don't know how it feels to – and we fill in the blank.
And God answers back and says, Oh, yes, I do. I understand exactly. I know exactly how to sympathize. I know exactly how to comfort you.
And I know exactly what kind of strength to give you to get you through, because I've been there. See my friends, God wanted to do more than simply save us from our sins. If all God was interested in was saving us from our sins, He could have had a Jesus appear 30 years old in front of the cross, climb up on the cross, die, go back to heaven, and He saved us from our sins. No, God wanted to do more than that. God wanted to provide us with a sympathetic Savior. That's why there was a manger.
That's why there was a baby. That's why there was 30 years of living before He began His ministry. Because God wanted to do more than save us from our sin. He wanted to give us a sympathetic Savior. And that's why the Bible says, Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15, it says, For we do not have a high priest who's unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who's been tempted in every way just like we were, and yet without sin. Therefore, the Bible says, do something. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with confidence.
Why? Because we know He understands. We know He feels what we feel so that we may receive mercy and find the strength we need to help. The strength we need to help. You know, with the illness of my baby daughter in these last months, so often I've been on my knees and I've said, God, I just never knew anything in life could hurt this bad.
I just never realized anything could be this hard. But because of what I've shared with you this morning, I've been able to say, but God, you really do understand what I'm feeling, don't you? I mean, you really do. No, I don't have to try to explain to you what I'm feeling, do I? Because you understand.
And Lord, you love me more than I love my little girl, don't you? And if this is what you've chosen for me and for my family, then I can trust you, can't I? And I've heard God say back to me, that's right, I know what I'm doing.
And I never waste an experience on anybody. I know what I'm doing. So trust me. And friends, no matter what you're facing, Jesus Christ really understands.
Yes, He does. And He loves you so much that you can trust Him too. He's even provided a way for you to deal with what you're facing. Go boldly to the throne of grace. Get on your knees. And let the one and only sympathetic Savior in the universe meet your every need. You may not have remembered the song I began with, perhaps you'll know this one. All your anxiety, all your care, bring to the mercy seat.
Leave it there. Never a burden He cannot bear. Never a friend like Jesus.
And I hope if you're struggling, like I am, it would surprise me if you're not struggling with something. May I invite you to go to the one who really does understand, better than any human being alive, and drop your burden off there, and let Him give you the strength you need to make it. Let's pray together. Dear Heavenly Father, we so often read Luke chapter 2 at Christmas time, and fly by it so quickly that we miss its impact. Thank you for reminding us that the manger was not for salvation.
That was the cross. The manger was because you're determined that we're going to have a Savior who really understands. And Lord Jesus, we're very grateful that you were willing to come and live 30 years on this planet, and go through the experiences that we go through that you didn't have to go through. Other than that, you were determined, because of your love for us, that you were going to be a sympathetic Savior. A Savior who really understands. And I pray that every one of us here who know Christ personally would avail ourselves of that sympathy that it took you 30 years to live and to achieve. But you did it for us so that you'd know exactly how to comfort, exactly how to dispense whatever it is we need to make it through. So Lord Jesus, bring us to the mercy seat often, the throne of grace on our knees. Help us to take advantage of your sympathy by coming with confidence to a God that we know understands, that we know loves us, and that we know will provide everything we need to keep you going until the day we meet you in Heaven. That's what the manger was all about. And Lord Jesus, I pray it would change our lives hearing about it this morning. I pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
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