The Fulfillment of a Promise

The Christmas Gospel contains many promises from God. Before we close our Bibles to this portion of God’s Word, let us look at the promises God made to Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and to Simeon. Then we will ask, “Is there a promise there for me?”

The skilled craftsman, Joseph, was visibly upset when an angel of the Lord visited him in his carpenter’s shop one afternoon and delivered this promise: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20).

Mary got the shock of her life when the angel Gabriel greeted her with these words: “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).

The shepherds were awakened from a night’s rest when an angel of the Lord appeared to them with this message: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:26).

And now, as believers in Christ we boldly ask, “Is there a promise for us?” God’s Word tells us yes. There is.

Let us spend a little time with Simeon, the promise this devout man received, and how God fulfilled it.

Simeon was a devout man, waiting for the Messiah to come. The promise that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah brought him to the temple day after day. Then came that day when he walked in the temple court and met Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. They brought the baby to be circumcised on the eighth day, according to the law. Simeon took the child in his arms and prayed, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”

What a picture! A saintly man was holding the baby Jesus in his arms and saying, “Now, Father, your promise has been fulfilled in my life.”

When I was five years old, the baby got my attention. At eighty, Jesus is still the central figure in the picture, but Simeon’s words – “Lord, now you can let your servant depart in peace” – make a lot of sense.

As we leave the Christmas story for another year, these words ring in our ears: “Do not be afraid.” These were the words spoken to Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and us if we trust Him. God is calling us to be the most courageous people in the world, for he lives in us to strengthen us. Peter said it well, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? Nevertheless, even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened. Instead set Christ aside as Lord in your heart.” Paul adds these words: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

I pray that the messages from God’s Word in this Christmas season will give us courage to go forth in the name of Christ to stand for what is right. We hear the argument: What is right? What is right for you might not be right for another person. Right is right.

These words have no place in the life of a committed Christian. Our Father, in His Word, has taught us the absolutes. One of these great truths is that the Lord Jesus, who once was held in the arms of Simeon, now offers to hold us in his arms where we are safe forevermore.

How do I know these promises are true? In faith I trust Him. But if I need something more practical than this, and that is the kind of a world we seem to live in, look at what God had done for you in retrospect. I look back at what God has promised, and there it is. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God to create faith in a person’s heart. I know this to be true when I look back and see the hundreds of people who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord. He kept his promise.

God never told us we would not have crushing blows in our lives. However, He did assure us that he could use these blows to bring us great blessings. How often my wife and I have wished that ten years ago she did not have a stroke. It would be wonderful to have her running around as once she did. How marvelous it was to watch her perceptive mind at work, whereas now it is sometimes slow to comprehend what is going on in her life. Nevertheless, God’s promises are sure. He has blessed us, and we have a more mature view of his grace.

Yes, they are two beautiful pictures: Simeon holding the baby Jesus in his arms, and now the crucified and risen Lord Jesus holding those who trust him in his arms. As the hymn declares, “Resting in Jesus, we are safe ever more.”

Troubled Souls – Trust Him

Does the account of Jesus’ birth have any applicable lessons for us, or is it only a part of Jesus’ biography? We dare not minimize the importance of how God entered this world, but neither let us overlook the powerful message the Christmas Gospel has for us in learning how to handle the heavy loads that God places upon us.

Mary is our teacher today. She was a troubled lady in her early teens. She was betrothed to Joseph, which meant that after one year, in which there was to be no sexual relationship, they would be married. Like any young lady in love, she was looking forward to her wedding when the angel Gabriel brought a shocking message to Mary: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the most high. His kingdom will have no end” (29).

Her troubled soul cried out, “How could this happen since I am a virgin?”

The angels, God’s messenger, replied, “Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you. This child is going to be the Savior of the world. Do not try to understand this announcement. Trust God’s Word.”

With her questions unanswered, Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Many times during the next thirty-three years Mary had to put her questions to rest. Trust him, were the two words that gave her any peace at all. At the age of twelve, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the festival of the Passover. After the feast was over and the parents began their journey back to Nazareth, they discovered Jesus was not with the group. They had to go back to Jerusalem in search of their lost child. They found him there in the temple talking with the teachers and listening to what they had to say. The biblical scholars were astonished at the child’s knowledge.

When the parents found their Son, they rebuked him for causing them great anxiety, but he said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Still confused, Mary had the angel’s counsel. Do not try to understand the mystery. Trust God’s Word. He will be great.

In times when our hearts are troubled and there seems to be no answers to our question, God’s answer to us is the same as it was to Mary. Trust my word.

God has thrown some heavy challenges on us. If our lives are committed to the Lord Jesus, we want to serve him. We know that he has called on us to be his ambassadors, and he is going to make his appeal to this world through us. We are to wait for the opportune time when God will open the door for us and we can talk to this friend or relative about the Christ of Bethlehem’s manger. You understand that Mary had one part to play in building God’s kingdom, and we have another part to play. We are as overwhelmed with the assignment as Mary was. She asked, How can I fulfill this assignment? When those friends or relatives heard Jesus, call them to be his witnesses in the community, they simply said they could not do it. They believed this assignment was not for them. They never heard God tell them “Yes. You can. Just trust me.”

When you give the building of God’s kingdom further thought, is it not wonderful to see how he plans all of this to take place? First, he chose a young virgin, of ordinary people to be the mother of the Messiah in the flesh. Then he chose twelve men to be his disciples. How often do you think they said they could not do it? Then he answered back, “Trust me, and you will.”

Let us imagine that Mary had been a boisterous young woman. She had an attitude that said, “God, you are surely lucky that I was around when you needed a woman to give birth to your Son, because I am just the one who can do it. I can give him the necessary attention while he is growing to manhood, and I will pass my genes onto him thus making Jesus a born leader.” What if Mary truly felt that she could fulfill this role and would not need much divine help?

If Mary had been so arrogant, God could not have used her, nor can he use us if we are filled with pride. However, when we say with Isaiah of old, “Lord here I am. I am a person of unclean lips and sometimes my heart is far away from you. However, if you can use me, I am at your service. You must direct me, empower me, and give me the right words to speak to my unbelieving friend. But Father, I trust you.”

Lloyd Ogilvie, the former chaplain for the U.S. Senate, tells of a statement he and some senators had written. It reads like this, “Without God we can do nothing. Without us, God won’t.” Whether this is always true, I do not know, but we have a big part in bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people in our community. This is the most important challenge any Christian will be given. This is an overwhelming challenge: to think that anyone’s eternal destiny is dependent on me.

When you say, “I am not adequate for such a calling,” just remember God’s promise to Mary. It is the same promise he gives to you. Trust him.

Inquisitive Minds – Making An Honest Search

Many congregations have a seeker service. This service is designed to help people who are anxious to learn more about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. This is not a new type of service. In fact, the Christmas Gospel could be reported as a seeker service for the shepherds and magi. They had inquisitive minds, and they made an honest search to learn more about the babe who had been born in Bethlehem’s manger.

These shepherds were watching their flocks on the hills of Judea. Hear these words: “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, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Then St. Luke adds, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.'” The shepherds were seekers. They wanted to meet Jesus. When their wish was granted, the Bible says “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child and all who heard it were amazed what the shepherds said to them.”

Some time after Jesus’ birth, Magi were seeking the One who had been born King of the Jews. This was another group of seekers being led to Jesus by following a star that brought them to Bethlehem where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living. St. Matthew writes, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11). They had been in the presence of God’s Son, the Savior of the world.

Believe it or now, two thousand years after Jesus’ birth, people are still seeking him. Inquisitive minds have wanted to know about Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and crucified in Jerusalem. Today God is just as anxious to lead these seekers to the Lord Jesus as he was on that first Christmas. This He does, not be a star or angelic voices, but through his Word, the Bible.

Unfortunately, millions of these seekers laid aside the Bible and sought him elsewhere. Consequently they have not yet met Jesus, though they continue their search to learn more about this person known as the Savior.

We could identify one such group of seekers as the Christmas drop-ins. These are people whom the atmosphere of the season has moved. The carols remind them of the story of Jesus first told by a parent or grandparent. Now they wonder, could it be that this Christmas story is more than a story? It is God’s revelation, and Jesus really is the Savior of the world.

They are moved to attend a Christmas service at the church. Perhaps their grandchild has told grandma or grandpa about the Savior. “Wow! How happy I would be if this were true,” they say to themselves.

Our prayer this Christmas is that these Christmas drop-ins might make an honest search for the Jesus, and in faith receive him as their Savior and Lord. This is the sole purpose of this radio program. What a treasure it would be if tomorrow we received a letter with this message: Listening to your radio program in my car, God spoke to me. I heard his voice on my radio. God did not use stars or angels to reach me. He used an old preacher to carry the message to my longing heart. I did not seek God. God was seeking me. That day I received Him as my Savior, and my life changed. I cannot wait to tell my parents. They have been longing for this day to come.

Then there is another group of seekers, only we often do not consider them seekers. The preachers tell them Sunday after Sunday to go out and tell others about Jesus. They probably would do this if they knew Him, but they have yet to meet Jesus.

After many years of dealing with the regulars in a church service, I am convinced that some of them have yet to meet the Savior in a personal way. The biggest mission field in the world today is within the church’s membership. All of us who are a part of the visible church need to pray, “Holy Spirit, lead me through the Scriptures to the Christ. Help me to know him in a more personal way, and let me hear him say, ‘Now that we have met, be my witness in this world.'”

Who are these millions of people who wear the name of Christian, but do not have a living, personal relationship with him? Some are pastors who stand in the pulpit with the responsibility of proclaiming salvation in Christ alone, but are not sure about the Gospel themselves. Some are theological professors who are teaching the pastors of tomorrow. They are still questioning whether the Bible is the Word of God. What then can they make of the Christmas story?

Some are the regulars who need to be converted or spiritually awakened. How great an influence they would be on their sons and daughters in those formative years if they had dads and moms who knew the Lord Jesus.

Others are the political people who serve in places with great responsibility. They tell their constituents they are Christian. However, they will not wear their Christianity on their sleeves. It is a relationship with Christ where sometimes you have it, and other times you do not have it.

Some are a part of the media who feed the minds of our population twenty-ours hours a day and reduce Christianity to just one of several world religions. Whenever an opportunity to warn their listeners to beware of those crackpot fundamentalists subtly who take the Bible seriously.

Think what could happen in our world if there could be an ongoing spiritual awakening among the masses who consider themselves Christians, but have yet to meet Him.

“Impossible! Be real!” you say. I realize that humans cannot bring such a spiritual awakening, but God can. He is just asking those who know him as Savior and Lord to share the Savior’s love with others who do not know him. God has real answers for those with inquisitive minds making an honest search to know who Jesus is.

Throughout the years, millions have met Him, and we pray millions will meet him in this Christmas season as the Gospel is proclaimed around the world.

Anxious Hearts and Busy Minds

Advent is that period of time when the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts to celebrate a great event in history. That is when God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. The Christmas narrative never changes, but the circumstances in which we hear the message are different. That is why the same old story is always new. The little girl who was nine years old is now the mother of twenty-nine years, and she wants this Christmas to be the best one ever for her little girl. The boy who gave a Christmas address at the Sunday school program and spoke about Jesus with great conviction has now at forty years old been influenced by a world that is not at all sure about Christ’s divinity.

No, the Christmas Gospel has not changed, but our circumstances in life have, and that is why its message is new, fresh, and living. If we let it, these advent sermons speak to us, and Christmas 2004 will be another new experience with our Savior.

Christmas is for you!

Retailers tell us that Christmas sales determine how profitable the year has been. That says something about the busyness of the season. Travel plans bring families together, but there is much commotion in getting everyone around the Christmas tree on December 25. Busy, busy, busy. The church calendar adds to our busyness.

The first Christmas was a busy time also for one man in Bethlehem. I refer to the Inn keeper. The people were flocking to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So many were going to Bethlehem to be enrolled, and among them were Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary.

Joseph, one in the crowd, was an anxious young father. His wife was going to have a baby any minute, and he had been told there was no place for her in the inn. I am sure he argued with the Inn keeper, but it did no good. If there was an empty room, it perhaps would be gone to a more prominent person or to one who could have well afforded to pay a premium price for the room.

Can’t you hear the inn keeper say to Joseph, “I understand your predicament. I would like to serve you, but there isn’t another room available. However, why don’t you go out in the manger? There is much fresh straw there, and you should be comfortable.” That is what they did. If only the inn keeper only known who was about to be born that night.

Anxiety to serve everyone robbed him of the chance to sit with Joseph and Mary and learn more about them. She would have told him of the angel’s message and this child was to be the King of a Kingdom that had no end. He might also have learned that this babe was the Son of God and had been sent to save the people from their sins.

Just too busy, and so he cheated himself out of a great experience – to meet Jesus, the god incarnate. This story has been repeated often in history. Our anxious hearts and busy hands do not allow us the time to be alone with God.

We have another example of a person who was so anxious about the details of life that he was cheating herself out of spending time with Jesus. It was thirty years later, and Jesus had grown up to be a man. He was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha I Bethany. Martha was busying herself in the kitchen, and her sister, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from the Master. This irritated Martha, and she complained to Jesus about Martha not helping her with the meal. It was then Jesus rebuked Martha by saying, Martha, you are troubled about so many things. Mary has chosen what is better, and it shall not be taken away from her.”

This is another case of an anxious heart and busy hands. That is the theme for this sermon, as we learn how easy it is for us to be carried away with the busy schedule of the season and fail to be blessed by the Savior’s words to us.

Moms, I think of you. I think back to the life of my own mother and my children’s mother. With love in your hearts you want this to be the best Christmas that you family has ever had. We love you for it. There is shopping, baking, cards, entertaining, parties to attend. The list of activities goes on. However, do not forget to make some time for yourself. Take time to be alone with your Savior. Let your soul be Fed so that you can sit with your children and grandchildren and share with them the good news of the Savior’s birth.

Then some day that little child you talked to about Jesus will be a grown person, and he will recall his time with you at Christmas. Perhaps more than gifts you gave him will be the experience of him sitting on your lap while you thanked God for sending His Son. Now he is fighting a war in Iraq, and it all comes back to him.

Dads, are you taking some time out to feed your soul with God’s Word? Maybe this would be a great opportunity to witness to a person like William Whinney of Coral Springs, Florida. Time magazine, on November 15, printed his letter: “It is very sad that people in this day and age of scientific discovery still cling to old superstitions. If we would accept that this is the only life we have and stop yearning for a nonexistent afterlife, maybe humanity would make this world of today a better place.”

There are many who feel the same way. Spending time with the Bible gives you words to speak and courage to say it kindly, but with conviction. “Listen, my friend, the message of the Christmas season shows you how much God love you and wants you to spend eternity with him. The promise of a heavenly home through faith in Christ is not an old superstition. It is a reality revealed in Scripture. Your poor little mind cannot grasp it, but through faith your soul can receive it.”

No, the Christmas Gospel has not changed, but our circumstances have, and that is why its message is new, refreshing, and living. If we quiet our anxious hearts and busy hands and let God speak to us, Christmas 2004 will be another new experience with the Savior. Christmas is for you!