Slow Down Part 3

Sermon Transcript

[Music Video]

Joy to the World:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King

Let every heart

Prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing

 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns

Let all their songs employ

While fields and flood

Rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

 

Joy, unspeakable joy

Overflowing well

No tongue can tell

 

Joy, unspeakable joy

Rises in my soul

Never lets me go

 

He rules the world with truth and grace

And gives the nations proof

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love

And wonders of His love

And wonders, wonders of His love

 

Joy, unspeakable joy

Overflowing well

No tongue can tell

 

Joy, unspeakable joy

Rising in my soul

Never lets me go

 

O Holy Night:

 

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

 

Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices

O night divine!

O night when Christ was born

O night divine!

O night, o night divine!

 

Truly He taught us to love one another

His Law is love and His Gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His Name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we

Let all within us praise His holy Name

 

Christ is the Lord

O praise his Name forever

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

 

Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices

O night divine!

O night when Christ was born

O night divine!

O night, o night divine!

[End Music Video]

[Video]

So often, Christmas comes and goes in a blur. The frantic rush to shop, the obligation of work-related dinners, the chaotic lists to check off, the hectic last minute rush to the mall. Let's all be honest for a moment. Christmas generally becomes more about getting it done rather than taking the time to really reflect on what it's all about.

This isn't new to our generation. In the first century, empires had anarchy and politics were at their worst. And in all this disorder, most people missed the real birth of Jesus Christ. Nobody could slow down to witness the arrival of the hope they had all been desperately asking for. Maybe this season we need to pause and really reflect on the impact of God sending His son. What if, in our rush, we have skipped over something imperative to our understanding of the meaning of Christmas? If the first century missed Jesus when He was on this earth and in the flesh, is it possible that we may be missing something too?

This Christmas season, let's choose one of the most important things we can amidst the rush and culture of the now. Let's decide to slow down.

[End Video]

Well, hello Grace Community Church. This is Pastor Chip, and this is the Christmas message that we promised you that we would get for you on Christmas morning. If by chance you're also one of our mobile app or internet watchers or subscribers, we want to welcome you as well. There's a good chance that some of you may even watch this after Christmas, and we want to say merry Christmas to you as well. So, merry Christmas, Grace Community Church. What a wonderful year we have had. We've had just so many great things that the Lord has done, and I think that ending out the year reading through the infancy narrative here in Luke 2 is just an appropriate way to end the year. And I hope that this ministers to you and to your family here no Christmas day.

Luke 2 starts off, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all of the world should be registered."

Now, this is an interesting way to start off the chapter because Luke's really telling us that it appears that Caesar is in control of everything. He can move people here; he can move people there. When he wants to do a census, when he wants to do a registration, he has control of the world from what everybody in a human standpoint can see. To set this up though, what Luke has done in chapter, and I'm not going to go through chapter 1 so that we don't spend the entire Christmas day going through the Scripture. But, in chapter 1 of Luke, what Luke does is he parallels Zechariah, who is a priest in the temple, who's there for the time of prayer – I mean, go figure this:

He's there for the time of prayer and everybody outside is praying. He's the representative inside the temple for those praying. And him and Elizabeth have been praying to have a child. So, here he is in the moment of prayer, a priest in Jerusalem with everybody praying, representing those that are outside, and an angel visits him and says that his prayer has been heard and that they're going to have a child.

The Bible records that Zechariah doesn't believe it and he's actually stricken with the inability to speak until the baby's born. Which is really interesting. You would think the priest who's been praying who's there to pray for the people would be believing his prayers. But, Luke records that he didn't. Then he also shows us a little girl named Mary. Probably 13 years old, young teenage girl, very poor, living in the Galilee, and an angel visits her and says, "This is what God is going to do," and she believes.

So, Luke has started off here as we get into chapter 2 with these great parallels. And I think what he's asking you and me is are we going to be able to notice who Jesus is? Are we going to believe God when God appears to you and me? And I think he set it up in a masterful way. So, if you have some time to go back in chapter 1 and read that, I think it would be of benefit to you.

But, Luke 2, he says, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered."

Obviously "all the world" is hyperbole. The known world was obviously just the small part of Rome at the time, which was a very large empire, but not large in terms of the rest of the world. But, to them, all the world was the Roman empire. And he sends out this decree that the world should be registered. Which meant for them that they would have to go back to their city in which they were born. Now, that's important to know because in the first century, one of the great ways to quell unrest in the empire was to send everybody back to their town of origin. Because, when you got with your family and with your friends, no matter how heated you may be towards the government or whatever else, it tended to calm everybody down. It also broke up bands, it broke up groups together to send them back to their place.

So, here we have an instance where everybody's going back to their town because Caesar has made this decree that all of the world should be registered.

"This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town."

Exactly what we would expect in the first century. Everybody goes back to their own town.

"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child."

Now, there's a lot going on here that we might not realize in reading this. But, I want to make sure that we do understand this for the Christmas story purposes. Luke is telling us that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, but they had to travel to Bethlehem because that's where Joseph was from. The city of David, which is where David was born. So, Joseph and Mary are headed to Bethlehem because Caesar has decreed that everybody should be registered. Now, what that means is is that Joseph and Mary would have traveled to the city of David with people. I know the Christmas story usually has Joseph and Mary traveling on a donkey by themselves almost like in the middle of the night and getting there at the last moment and all of that.

But, that is not the way we should read this story. The story should be read with the understanding that everybody's moving in different places within the empire. To go back to where they're from, they would have traveled in caravans. Much like the caravan we will see later on in Luke where Mary and Joseph take Jesus at 12 years old to Jerusalem and then travel back and they travel in a caravan. That is the way they would have traveled. It would have been incredibly unsafe to travel by themselves.

So, you've got Mary and Joseph headed towards Bethlehem with everybody thinking that Caesar is in control of the world. But, the beauty of this passage is that God is just merely using Caesar to accomplish His purposes to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so that the Scriptures could be fulfilled about where the Messiah would be born. They would not have been traveling alone. They would have been traveling together with others in a caravan.

And then it tells us a very important note here. It says, "While they were there..."

That's a very important little addition that Luke tells us. They had arrived in Bethlehem.

"And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth."

Now, that's an important thing. Because, if you remember the Christmas stories we probably all sort of grew up with, we sort of had Mary and Joseph on a donkey traveling all by themselves. They sort of arrive sort of late at night. There's no room in the inn as if there's motels back then. So, there's no room in the Holiday Inn. So, they have to go to this stable because that's the way it works. Well, that's not what Luke is telling us.

What he's telling us is as they journeyed to Bethlehem they would have journeyed with other people. And they would have gone into Bethlehem, and it's important that he makes note that Joseph was of the lineage of David, which means that he was royalty. Which means he would not have gone without help in all of this process because of who he was related to. That's just the way the Jewish world worked. So, while they were there in Bethlehem – and we don't know how long they were, but they were there enough to at least got situated – it says it was time for Mary to give birth.

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Now, the Greek word for inn, we would refer to almost as a guest house. And the way houses were in the first century is on the bottom of this house is where the kitchen was at and it's also where the animals would be stored because you didn't leave your animals outside because thieves and robbers and people could come and get your animals and that was your livelihood. So, the animals were kept on the inside of the house. You would go up a ladder to the second story of the house and that's where people would sleep. That was the inn, so to speak. That was the guest room in the house.

And it appears that because Mary and Joseph were young, that as everybody had gone back for the census, which everybody had to go back to the town, the way the Jewish society worked was the older people were the ones that would have gotten the first place to sleep. So, if the entire guest room was filled with people who were maybe visiting for the census, then it would make sense that the younger ones would sleep down in the lower part of the house with the animals, so to speak.

So, what we've got here is Mary and Joseph have arrived in Bethlehem, and they've been there for at least a little bit of time. During that time, she gives birth. Where we find her giving birth is in the lower part of the house, probably where the animals would have been. And, there would have been people there to assist. It's almost beyond belief that in the Jewish culture that someone would have given birth without help.

So, we've got a beautiful picture here. Mary and Joseph are not well to do. They are displaced. It is an inconvenience for them to be where they are. All of the things that we have historically sort of thought about the Christmas story are not untrue. This is a really difficult time for a very young man and a very young woman. But, the fact of the matter is they would have been in a house, they would have had at least some protection, and probably some help during the birth. So, she takes baby Jesus and she wraps Him in swaddling cloth. Now, that's very important because those are the types of cloths that the shepherds would have wrapped their kids in as well, because the animals were down in that area of the house. They probably used some of the cloth that was in that area and they wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manager.

"In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."

Now, the shepherds are an interesting group of people. These are people that probably believe in Yahweh. In other words, they have some belief in Yahweh. But, they would not have been allowed in the temple because they constantly were around animals and were considered unclean. So, these are people that are not against God, they're just not people that show up to the temple very often. In other words, maybe for us today, we can think of them as people who sort of had an affinity towards God or maybe weren't mad at God or had some belief in God, but they never went to church.

So, the shepherds are out in the field, watching their flocks by night. And they needed to because animals that would be sacrificed in the temple had to be without spot and blemish. So, it was very important for them to watch over their animals to protect them and also to save them from any thieves or bandits.

It says, "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them."

This is very interesting. Of all the people that could have been asked to come to Jesus' birth, we find that Luke records for us that the angels, the messengers of God, went to the shepherds. They didn't go to the high class society, they didn't go to Caesar, they didn't go to the people of wealth. And nothing against the people of wealth. God loves them too. But, I think it's very important that Luke records to us that the angels went to those that you wouldn't expect. They went to those on the outside to bring them to see Jesus. And I think there's something beautiful about that, because it speaks to all of us. All of us that were on the outside, God has called to come and see His Son.

It says, "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were filled with great fear."

Now, this is something we could totally associate with. You can imagine the shepherds probably out talking, probably out around maybe a campfire and talking about things that were not religious probably, telling jokes and telling stories. And all of a sudden, the angels appear in a pasture, so to speak. In an area where the shepherds are. And they're filled with great fear. This is an alarming thing to them, and it would be probably to most of us. And here's what the angel said to them:

"'Fear not,'"

I think that's so important for you and me, because, ultimately, what Jesus comes to bring for us is peace, not fear, not any of those anxious things that we struggle with as people.

The angel says, "'Don't fear, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'"

You know, you would think that where God would appear is in the temple. But, where the angel appears on the night that Jesus is born is out in a pasture with religiously challenged and unclean shepherds. There's a beauty there. And he says that he's bringing them good news. Not bad news. Good news of great joy that will be for all people. I mean, that line right there should sum up what's going on in this passage and what's going on in what God wants to do in our lives that He brings us good news of great joy for all the people.

"'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger.'"

So beautiful that the Lord, in His providence and in His sovereignty, has allowed the baby Jesus to be born in a way that would not be off-putting to the shepherds. They could relate to this baby. Even though this baby was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, even though this baby was greater than Caesar, this baby was born in a way that the shepherds, the lowly shepherds, could identify with Him. He was wrapped in the same cloths that they would have wrapped their baby and was laid in a feeding trough for the animals. It's beautiful that God meets these shepherds where they are to lead them to Jesus, which is what He does for all of us.

"And suddenly there was the angel with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"'Glory to God in the highest,

"'And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'"

Imagine that. Imagine being in the pasture out there watching over your animals and all of a sudden an angel coming and talking to you, meeting you in a way that you would have never imagined because you'd been told your whole life that you were ritually unclean and you couldn't go into the temple and you couldn't really have a relationship with God in the way that other people could who were clean. And here an angel comes out and then a chorus of angels starts to gather around and they're praising God and they're saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whole He is pleased."

What an incredible evening that would have been.

So, "When the angels went away from them into heave, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'"

It's beautiful. These shepherds are like, "Hey, we need to go. I know we're watching our animals. I know that's important. But, we really do need to go and see this baby Jesus."

And in some way, even with the shepherds, even though they're met where they are, there is still somewhat of an inconvenience to get to Jesus. And I think that's important for all of us to understand. Jesus is an inconvenience at times for you and me. He makes us change what we are doing and to move to where He is. The Bible calls that repentance. It calls it sometimes a new creation. Sometimes it calls it submission to the Lord or surrendering to the Lord. But, at some point we do have to stop what we are doing and move towards Jesus.

So, they make that decision to do that.

"And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them."

That's important. All who heard it – which shows that there were more people around to hear this story – wondered at what the shepherds had told them.

"But Mary treasured up those things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

What a beautiful story. This infancy narrative that Luke tells us is so pregnant with so many things that we should be able to see at this Christmas time. One, no matter what the world looks like, God is in control. And I think we need to remind ourselves of that. That even though leaders may make it appear as if they're moving things and making us do things, at the end of the day they really are only rivers that are moved by God as He chooses to accomplish His will. God used Caesar, He used Quirinius, to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born in the city of David. Not only that, but I think the Christmas story tells us that God meets us where we are. He genuinely cares for everybody. He has good news of great joy for all people, and I think that's something that we need to rest in this Christmas season.

And I think as I close this Christmas story out, I just would like to say that it has been an honor and a privilege this year to see what God has done in our midst as He continues to birth His Son within Grace Community Church. Let us make sure that we, like the shepherds, go out glorifying and praising God for everything that we have heard and seen just as God has spoken to us. I wish every single one of you an incredibly blessed and merry Christmas. I hope you enjoy the time with your family and with your friends. I hope that you take a moment today and pause. Or, maybe if you watch this at a later date on the mobile app or the internet, that you would just take a moment and pause and really reflect upon how awesome God is, how beautiful our Savior is. And if by chance you're watching this and you do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, I pray that you would stop and really consider this message today and consider the good news that Jesus has come for you and for people of all kinds.

And maybe just take a moment right now and ask the Lord Jesus into your heart and start to follow Him. And if you do that, if you live in Sarasota, you're welcome to come to our church. But, if you live in another area, find a good, local, Bible-believing church and get involved there.

But, much love to everybody. Gracious and humble to be your pastor. And I just really hope that this Christmas season has been a wonderful season for you and me and I hope that we have been able to slow down and really reflect upon what Jesus has done for us. I'd like to conclude with a prayer for you that are watching, for our church and for our world.

Let's pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for the richness of Your Word and for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, that You came to us, You met us where we are. I thank You, Lord, that You have brought salvation to all. I pray, Lord, during this Christmas season, that all of us would take a moment and really think about who You are in our lives. Lord, I pray that if anybody's watching that doesn't know You as Lord and Savior, I pray that they would make that commitment while they're watching this.

Lord, for those that do believe that You are the Lord and Savior, I pray, God, that we would pause for a moment to meet You again at the manger and to realize what You have done for us and to rejoice for the fact that not only did You come as a baby, but You grew up and You eventually went to a cross to die for our sins, and on the third day rose again. Lord, let us be in constant remembrance of that as we follow You.

Lord, we also pray for our church as we enter into the next year. I pray, God, that You would continue to lead, guide and direct all of us to do the things that You have planned for us. Lord, I pray that Grace Community Church would not go to the left or to the right in anything that we do, but we would stay focused humbly upon You.

And Lord, we pray for our world. Lord, we pray that You would speak to the leaders of our world to understand that the only way for there to be true value and dignity to life, for the only way for us to truly have the peace that You've called for us to do is for all of us to visit that lowly manger scene in Bethlehem and to realize that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been born. He has come, He has died on a cross, He has made provision for our sins and He wants to dwell in our hearts.

Lord, let that be a reality in our world, Lord. We want to see Your peace reign. So, Lord, we love You, we thank You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus' name, and everybody said, amen.

[Video]

Merry Christmas, Grace Community Church, we'd planned on doing this from the church stage. But, as you know, getting all these kids together is tough. But, we wanted to wish you a merry Christmas. So, on behalf of Grace Community Church, the staff and our family to yours, we want to wish you a merry Christmas. So, come on family, here we go. One, two, three. Merry Christmas!

Bye!