Our Heavenly Father Watches Over Us

We do not have much information on the early years of Jesus’ life, but the Bible does give us bits and pieces of what happened during the first few years. It tells us what a fabulous job Joseph and Mary did in raising the child to manhood. As we study the life of Jesus as a human, we are also aware that He is divine. He is no ordinary child.

My sermon is divided into two parts. The first is a historical view of Jesus’ early childhood and God’s protecting hand on Him. The second part confronts us with the question, what does this say to us?

We know that He was born in Bethlehem, a small town down the road from Jerusalem. On the eighth day, according to the law, Jesus was circumcised. He was called Jesus, a name given to Him by the angel. Forty days after the birth of her son, Mary went to the temple to observe the right of purification and to present her child at the temple. It was there she met Simeon. This righteous and devout man took Jesus in his arms and uttered this hymn of praise:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

You now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel” Luke 2:29-32.

What must Mary and Joseph have thought? Again they heard their Son was the fulfillment of prophecy. Having received this affirmation of their son’s mission, they were met by Anna, an 84-year-old lady who never left the temple. “Coming up to them, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” Luke 2:36-38. It was an overwhelming experience, and Luke summarizes it well when he writes, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” Luke 2:51-52.

Some time within the next two years, Magi made their visit to the Christ Child. These men were astrologers from Persia. They came asking, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” When Herod heard about this King who had been born, he was furious and was determined to kill Him. He sent the Magi off to find the child, and after they had worshiped Him, they were to return and tell Herod where Jesus was. However, the Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, for he would kill the child. When Herod discovered that the Magi had tricked him, he issued an edict that all the boys, two years and younger living in the Bethlehem vicinity, were to be killed.

In the meantime, Joseph received a word from an angel in a dream telling him to take the child and his mother to Egypt for their safety. They remained there until Herod died. Then, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, word came from the Lord saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead” (19-20). Traveling back to Israel, Joseph learned that Archelaus was the new king, and he was even more vicious than his father, Herod. So Joseph went to live in Nazareth. This was Jesus’ home until his ministry began at the age of 30.

Nazareth was on the trade route. People from all parts of the world passed through Nazareth, which gave Jesus exposure to the cultures and philosophies from many lands. This had to have a broadening effect on Jesus. God loved all people, and the Kingdom of God was for all people. Myron Augsburger writes, “Jesus was not focused on a revival of Judaistic religion, as was known in Jerusalem, but on God’s grace for all people.” Our Lord lived there in Nazareth, working in His adopted father’s carpenter shop and chatting with the townspeople as they passed by until the appointed hour when His mission began, which ended on a cross and an empty tomb not many miles away.

And now the second part of the question: what does this story say to us? The answer is clear, “Our Heavenly Father watches over us!”

You could ask, is this protecting hand only for Jesus? Granted, Jesus was on His own special mission to redeem the world. But we also can conclude from His three-year ministry that all people are precious and important to God. He warns, guards, and protects us so that we might escape harm. He speaks to us, not through angels or dreams, but through His Word. Follow what He tells us in that word and see how we are delivered from many of life’s difficult hours. Let’s take one simple warning from God’s Word Ð namely, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10). It is quite simple for many of us to overlook this message. Notice it does not say that money, but the love of money, is the root of all evil. Has this proven to be true?

How many marriages could have been saved if that advice had been heeded? How many children would have had both parents in their homes during their formative years? Think of the friendships that could have been enjoyed, but were ruined because of fights over money. Consider the heart attacks that could have been avoided if the tensions caused by money had not been experienced by the patient. Think of the wars that would never have been fought if there had not been a desire to be the wealthiest, the strongest, the most influential nation on the face of the earth.

Our Heavenly Father watches over us and has given us great counsel on a very practical subject Ð how to have an abundant life.

Does protection mean that our lives will be free of trouble? Did it mean that for Jesus?

No, His Father was with Him, but He did not spare Jesus from dying on the cross. Jesus promised the apostles He would be with them, but many of them died as martyrs of the faith. Recently I visited with two brother pastors who have had tragic deaths in their family. One pastor lost a 38-year-old son, and another lost a daughter-in-law who left behind a 2-year-old son. Some would say, It doesn’t look like He is watching over them. But talk to these men of faith and they will tell you how God has walked with them in their perilous times, and how He has provided for them.

What if Joseph had not followed the instructions God gave to Him concerning the protection of Jesus? From a human point of view, Herod would have killed Jesus. You might argue, “No, God would have protected Jesus in some other way.” Perhaps you are right, but it is important that we follow God’s Word, and many of our unpleasant experiences in life would be avoided.

Another year has passed. It might have been a difficult year for some of you, but hasn’t He watched over you? He will do the same in 2002, and with this confidence we move into another year of grace under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Heavenly Mediator

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 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, ÔDo 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” (vs. 8-11).

This is the Christmas Gospel. For the Christian this message rises above the disturbance of every age. In Bethlehem two thousand years ago, a young man and woman were afraid. The young woman, Mary, had been told that she was going to give birth to a son. Mary asked, “How can this be? I am a virgin.”

When she was told that the child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit, her bewilderment increased. They had to wonder what was before them. She was afraid.

Two thousand years later, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas are filled with fear of the unknown. The Jews and Palestinians battle. People are badly injured and killed. The world is filled with scary news. Dan Rather from CBS reports from Afghanistan and asks, “Do the terrorists have nuclear weapons?” Peter Jennings, reporting for ABC from New York, tells about the humanitarian needs in the Mideast as thousands could die of hunger within the next few months. Tom Brokaw of NBC reports that the Dow dropped 140 points today, and we wonder about the nation’s economy. Put all of these reports together and you realize how frightening this world can be. But above it all we hear the words, “There is born to you this day, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Because of sin, we live in a world that causes us to fear. The young person has fears regarding marriage. “So many of my friends are already divorced. Will this happen to me?” Middle age people have concerns about their finances. They have many financial responsibilities in the raising of a family, and a job that last year was considered secure is now in jeopardy. Older folks have their fears. I confess that there are grave concerns in my own soul. I’m 77 years old. My wife had a stroke and needs some care. What happens if my health fails and I no longer can give her the assistance she needs?

How practical is this Christmas Gospel that says, “Fear not”? Why does it not relieve us of all of our fears? Is it just a traditional message that we wish to keep?

This message, fear not, has a solid base. The message lacks nothing, though sometimes our lack of faith robs us of the peace we could have. The Bible says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will “uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Underneath our fears lies a comforting promise that God will walk with us. This is the base for an inner peace, which is ours even though life has its frightening times. The young are told to enter marriage with no fears. This is not just idle talk. We are assured that if Christ has the central place in our homes, the marriage will continue, and only death will be able to separate us. Now, if Christ has little place in our homes, we are vulnerable for many unpleasant experiences, which can cause us to fear just to think about them. The promise, fear not, does depend on our response to what God teaches us in His Word regarding marriage. He does not say that we enter such a union with little concern as to whom we are going to marry. We have conditions for a good marriage. Here are just a couple:

Do not be mismated with one who does not believe. (Or to put it bluntly, make sure the person you are marrying is a Christian.)

Will you be able to pray together?

Will you be able to share what is important in life?

Will you be in agreement as to how your children will be raised?

If God’s counsel has been followed in these matters, there is every reason to courageously enter marriage with the conviction, I have nothing to fear!

The angel said, “Fear not. You have a Savior.” How does this provide the necessary finances in the raising of my family? This is a bit more difficult to deal with, for most of us know people who are very committed in their relationship to Christ, and yet have had some serious financial difficulties. I suppose we simply have to do our best. Be faithful in our work, do not be enamored with all of the things in life to the place we spend ourselves hopelessly into debt. The God who says, “Do not fear,” is the God who gives us wisdom in our spending and what is really important in life. Can we not accept the promise, “Fear not,” if this has been our lifestyle? Has not God provided for the necessities of life even when there were big financial responsibilities?

And then this old age, and what will the last days be like. “Fear not. I will be with you.” In America at least we have seen how well God has provided for us. There was a day when parents were cared for in the homes of their children. These elderly people could claim the promise, “I will not fear. God has given me children who will care for me when I am old and lacking in strength.” Today these same children are there, but we are cared for in different ways. When I walk through some of our homes for the aged, I can only offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Many of them are lovely. Once they were not that way. We do not cherish the thought of one day having to leave our homes and enter one of these care facilities, but when that time comes, God walks with us and says in His Word, “Fear not. I am your Savior. I will be with you.”

Let the Christmas Gospel, “Fear not, for there is born to you this day, a Savior who is Christ the Lord,” ring over the evening news and the other frightening messages we receive. It is this Christmas Gospel that gives us the promise of living with a peace that passes all understanding.

Yes, the Christmas story is a beautiful message, but it is more than that. It is a proclamation that shapes our lives and courageously we walk one day at a time with the Savior who once lived on this earth and knows what life is all about. He will strengthen and comfort us while we are here, and then, when it is all over, bring us into the heavenly home where we will live in His presence forever. Have a blessed Christmas in Jesus’ name. He is the God who came and dwelt among people.

Questions Are Natural

In the midst of our busyness, Christians are aware that, in order that this season have meaning, we need to be spiritually prepared. Most of the Christmas preparation calls for a lot of physical activity – shopping, baking, sending out cards, and entertaining. This can be hard work.

May I suggest another thought? To be prepared spiritually for Christmas calls for a lot of sitting. This is not sitting in the sense that we are doing nothing that has meaning. This is sitting with the Bible and letting God speak to us through His Word. The Christmas message has many profound truths that need to be pondered, and only God in His Word can lead us into the depths of these mysteries.

Here John the Baptist becomes a good model for an Advent meditation on the mysteries that surround Jesus. John was in prison down by the Dead Sea. There he sat on death row. Hear these words: “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'” (vs. 2 – 3).

From this conversation it is evident that John the Baptist had a misconception of how the Messiah was going to perform as He proceeded to build His Kingdom. John thought that the government and religious rulers would be put in their places under the authority of the Messiah. Consequently, when none of these things were happening, he had questions; and so he asked, “Are you really the Messiah, or should we look for another?”

John was once convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and now he is asking questions. Satan has a way of creating doubt in our hearts regarding Jesus. You might think these questions would have been very offensive to Jesus, but they were not. Rather, the Lord said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me . . . the Kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing” (4 – 6).

Instead of offering proof, Christ gave evidence as to what He was doing. John’s questions were answered. There were many mysteries that had not been revealed to John. He did not have as much information regarding Jesus as we do. He did not know that Christ was to pay the price for the world’s sins through His sacrificial suffering and death at the cross. Neither did he know that Jesus would be raised from the dead, and return to the Father with the promise that, one day, he would return to judge the living and the dead. We still have questions, but we have many more answers than John the Baptist had.

Questions can take on new meaning from year to year. One of the most heard questions in this Advent season is, Who is Jesus in comparison to Mohammed? This question is not only asked by people who are not Christians, but by those who have confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord of all their lives. We are bombarded with the thought that there is only one God, and religious leaders such as Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus present Him in different ways. Therefore, we should pick and choose the one picture of God that makes most sense to us. Our children hear this on their way to school, if not in school. Our youth find that some of their best friends are of an entirely different religious faith where once it was Lutherans associating with Baptists and Catholics fraternizing with Presbyterians. These relationships could sometimes be strained, but at least we all had Christ in common. When we discuss these religious leaders today, the best answer we can expect to get for Christ is that He was a great moralist, and the world would do well to follow His ethical teachings.

This is not enough for the Christian. Jesus is not only man – He is God. That infant is God incarnate, which means that God has come to this earth and clothed himself in human form. This Biblical truth needs to be pondered. That is why we have to stop running and begin sitting, if we want to be spiritually prepared for Christmas.

In the quietness of our homes or churches, we must ponder the question, How has the Christ Child enriched my life? Why not sit down and make a list of how the Savior has made a big difference in your life this year. He once said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” How has your life been made more abundant because Jesus lives with you? Has He set you free from some of the worries and cares of life? You buried a loved one this year. Were His words of comfort that he or she lives with Christ in heaven of help to you? Has Jesus been with you in good days as well as difficult hours? Questions like these help prepare us for Christmas.

If you are not a Christian, but are seeking answers to your life, this Savior, whose birth we celebrate, would like to talk with you through His Word. Here are some Biblical truths that will take a great deal of sitting time to ponder, but will change your life.

What do I do with my guilt? Jesus says, “I died for your sins. Trust me, and I will grant you the forgiveness of your sins.” That is His promise that brings peace daily to millions of people.

How do I handle the problems of tomorrow? God’s Word says, “I will comfort you. I will strengthen you. I will uphold you with my glorious right hand. God is your refuge and strength. Be still, and know that I am God.” The problems of life are too big for any individual to handle alone.

What will I do with the rest of my life? God’s Word says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” Do this, and you will see what great plans He has for your life.

How do I become a Christian? Jesus tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” Those are His words. Confess your sins, turn to Christ, and receive Him as your Savior.

It will be a sad Christmas if we do not make adequate preparation, which requires a lot of running. It will be an empty Christmas if we do not let the Holy Spirit speak to us. This requires a lot of sitting. Just remember these two words – running and sitting. Both are necessary if we are going to have a meaningful Christmas.

Who is Jesus in 2001?

Society is forcing us to answer the question, Who is Jesus? That thought might have been in the preacher’s imagination one year ago when society as a whole did not very much care who Jesus was. Ministers could prepare sermons on the question and preach them to older folks who already knew the answer, but simply wanted to be reaffirmed in their convictions.

Since September 11, an extra amount of discussion has been made on religion. One of the main topics has been on what makes Christ unique in comparison to other religious leaders. A few weeks ago, Larry King had on his show people of different faiths discussing the topic, “What Can Religion do to Heal a Divided World?” The discussion got a bit heated when the Christians on the panel clearly stated that Jesus was God and the only way into a personal relationship with God.This irritated the Jewish and Moslem leaders who were willing to accept Jesus as a great prophet, but not as God, and only one way and not the only way of salvation.

Our text presents the Christian’s answer to the question of who is Jesus? You may agree or disagree, but at least you know from the Bible’s teaching who Jesus is. That is a part of our Advent season’s messages as we are being prepared by the Holy Spirit to celebrate Christmas.

Our text takes us to the desert in Judea where we meet a man named John the Baptist. He was the last of the prophets. Faithful Jews longed for another prophetic message. For four hundred years they had not had a new prophet. Now John came preaching a message of repentance. John’s language was harsh, and, according to today’s standards, would be labeled offensive. Listen to John’s preaching: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” (8).

Commenting on this verse, William Barclay writes, “There is a place in the Christian message for warning and denunciation. Diogenes said, ‘The truth is like the light to sore eyes.’ He who never offended anyone, never did any good.'”

Barclay goes on to say, “It may be that there have been times when the Church was too careful not to offend. Occasions occur when the time for smooth politeness has gone and the time for a blunt rebuke has come.”

It is only when we are confronted with our sins that we see the need for a Savior. John the Baptist was aware of this truth. If the people to whom he preached were not convicted that they were sinners, Jesus would make no sense to them. So John wants his audience to know that, because of their sins, they stood in need of forgiveness, and Christ alone could bring them forgiveness. They could be the children of God only because Christ was the Savior. That message was not well accepted then, nor is it acceptable by our society today. That’s why there is real tension in this hour when Christians faithfully proclaim Christ as the only Savior of the world.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is God, and not just a prophet.

John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This Jesus is someone more powerful than I! I am a man. He is God.”

Jesus said, “I and the Father are one. . . . He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

The Apostle John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is a clear Biblical message that Jesus is God. Unless this is your confession, you are not a Christian. You can be a moralist accepting Christ as a great moral teacher, but that does not make you a Christian.

Jesus came to extend the Kingdom of God to all people who would receive Him as Savior and Lord.

Prior to Jesus’ coming, the Kingdom of God was limited to Israel. Now no limitations exist on who may enter God’s Kingdom. The Lord Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem’s manger, came to offer salvation to the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Salvation is offered to all people. It is enjoyed by those who receive Christ as their Savior. Outside of Christ there is no salvation. This is who Jesus is according to the Bible. This seems to be too narrow for our culture, but on this truth Christianity stands or falls.

Following September 11, there was a prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. People of many religious beliefs were in attendance. With our fears and anxieties, people’s emotions were running high. The President and many religious leader spoke. Then came Billy Graham. He emphasized our oneness as human beings, and our need for one another. We can and must do many things as a people.

But then Dr. Graham said, “Now I speak as a Christian. I point you back to Jesus Christ who is our only source of comfort and hope.” It is this exclusiveness that irritates our society. Yet Christians are anxious to proclaim that Christianity is all-inclusive. Salvation is offered to all who will receive Christ.

Where do we stand as members of our church when asked, Who is Jesus? You can be sure there was much disagreement within the audience who sat in the cathedral that day. However, Billy spoke as a faithful servant of his Lord. This is the confession of all who claim Jesus as their Savior. If you are a Christian, your challenge is to remain faithful to Him who is faithful to you.

Just remember, society is forcing us to answer the question, Who is Jesus?

Watch and Be Ready

One of the adjectives that describe the Christmas season is “busy.” We do a lot of running about to prepare for a traditional Christmas. There is baking, decorating, shopping, mailing cards, entertaining, attending programs of all types, and a host of other activities.

But way back in history, long before Christmas was so highly commercialized, the Church fathers set aside four Sundays before Christmas and called it the Advent season. It was to be a time when the Holy Spirit would prepare us spiritually to celebrate God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem.

If being prepared for a traditional Christmas requires a lot of running, being spiritually prepared for Christmas requires a lot of sitting. We sit with God’s Word and permit Him to make these inspired truths of Christ’s coming to earth live in us. This sitting is done in the quietness of our homes as we prayerfully meditate on His Word and faithfully attend worship services where we hear His truths proclaimed.

Remember, it is only the Holy Spirit who can prepare us spiritually for Christmas. He alone can reveal to us the mysteries of Christmas. So, on this first Sunday in Advent, Christ tells us that, as He once came to Bethlehem’s manger, so one day He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus makes it very clear that no one knows when He will return (36). On September 11, we had no idea that our nation would be attacked by the terrorists. “Where were you that morning?” is Larry King’s question to the people on his program. Yes, where were we?

I was shaving when I heard the news reporter on television say, “The World Trade Center has been hit by an airplane.” Wow! America hasn’t been the same since that day. It is with this same sense of unexpectancy that Christ will return. God, in His Word, does not announce when He will come, but He does shed light on what we can expect. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He can take these teachings, which cannot be explained or understood by the human mind, and make them living truths that we receive in faith. This requires a lot of sitting and being taught by God Himself. It is a part of the Christmas preparation.

In the words of our text, Jesus brings us two messages. He says, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (42). He continues, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (44).

While this text specifically deals with Christ’s second coming, let’s broaden it a bit and include His coming to receive us in death, if He has not already come at the end of the age. What does it mean to watch and be ready for Christ’s coming? As our Lord moves us into other parts of the Bible, we learn that repentance is a part of being ready to meet the Lord. In the second message of Advent, John the Baptist talks about repentance using some rather harsh words.

The Bible teaches us that to repent means there is a sorrow for our sins and a desire to turn from them. It is in this light that the Holy Spirit wants to reach into our hearts and minds, and become very personal with us about our sins.

For example, if we have a cruel, uncontrollable tongue, He talks with us about this sin. What are we going to do about it? Do we want to continue with this kind of tongue? When our hearts are contrite and we desire not only to be forgiven, but also to overcome this sin, the Christ child’s place in our life takes on new meaning, for it is through Him and His coming that we can have forgiveness and changed lives. The same changes that were made in the lives of the biblical characters are being made in the lives of people today as they take time to let God speak to them through His Word.

As we take time to sit with God’s Word, He makes it powerfully clear why Jesus had to come. That’s why it is necessary to receive Christ if we want to be restored into a personal relationship with God. The manger was only the beginning. Thirty-three years later it was the cross and the empty tomb that provided full atonement for the sins of all those who would receive Him as their Savior and Lord.

But what then? As we have been made ready to meet the Lord when He comes, enjoy life and serve Him. Jesus mentions Noah in our text. Noah lived in a wicked generation and was often ridiculed and made fun of as he continued to build the ark as commanded by God. But Noah was ready to meet God, and so life went on as usual. It is only when we are ready to meet the Savior, either in His second coming or in death, that we are ready to live and enjoy each day. What a comfort to know that we are ready. Our fears, though they come, are under control. Our values, though influenced by the world, are corrected as we live with the Savior and learn what is really important in life.

Well, do you want a full Christmas? If you are physically able, I am sure the demands of getting ready are necessary, and you will be running about in the stores and baking up a storm in your houses. But just remember that a lot of sitting at the feet of Jesus studying and hearing His Word is also necessary for a full Christmas as the Spirit unravels the mysteries of this season. That’s what the Advent season is all about Ð a time to be made ready to celebrate God’s coming in the person of Jesus Christ.