Christ's Birth Moves Us to Action | Dr. Chip Bennett
Christ's Birth Moves Us to Action
I don't normally do this because I just want to lift up Jesus, but I do want to say I think that we should appreciate the music team, the dance team, and the choir. I mean, that was just fantastic. We're getting better each year. We're learning this thing. We’re going to continue to get better, but I'm so proud of what they're doing. I hope that it touches your heart. I know at 8:30, I was like just bawling with Noelle. Anyway, if I look like I'm half teary-eyed, it was just powerful to me. I also realized I can't dance.
But that being said, let me ask you a question. Have you ever had anything in life that you thought you knew what something was, and then, later on, you found out that it wasn't? Like, maybe you went to go purchase something — a car, a house, or whatever. You thought it was going to be something, you got there, and it wasn't. Or more hurtful is when we've known somebody in our lives that we thought was a certain way, but they weren't, and they were different than what we had expected. It hurts. It bothers us. Many of us have had those experiences in our lives. Well, as we continue our series here called “Exodus” — and we've made the pivot into the gospel of Matthew where we've been talking about the Old Testament story of the Exodus, all of what's going, Moses and all of that, and how Matthew has used all of that material, and so much more from the Old Testament, to start his gospel in Matthew 1-2, which we've been talking about here during the Christmas season — I think we're going to see, as we continue in Matthew 2, that Matthew's going to continue to just turn things upside-down. What looks one way is actually another, and you wouldn't expect is going on. He’s always moving us.
That’s the way God is because God has a different perspective than you and I. So, as we continue the story, last week, we got to Jerusalem with this group of people called the Magi, which we get our word “magic” from. There was sort of some sorcery, occultism, and starwatching, and people were way far from God. I mean, in Babylon, they make this trek. They see a star, and with that star, they go, “That’s going to be the king; the king of Israel. Where is the king of Israel going to be born? Well, in Jerusalem.”
So, the star gets them to Jerusalem, and then we found out that it took the chief priests and the scribes to open up the Word of God to let them know that the Christ-child would be born in Bethlehem. So, as we make that trip back to Bethlehem, right now, I pray that it will be as meaningful and transformational to you as it was to the Magi when they took that trip. So, let's continue the story. My hope and my prayer is that this story becomes more than just something that you know, and it becomes something that really, really speaks to you on a deeply profound level.
So, we're told, “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly…”
Once they realized that the child was in Bethlehem, he called them in. He didn't want anybody to know that he was doing this. He didn't want any word to get out because Herod was a paranoid man. He was a tyrant. He didn't want anybody to take his throne. He knew if this child were the real king, his throne would have to be abdicated. When we read these texts, please read them, asking, “Am I like Herod? Am I like the Magi?”
That's what the texts are there for. They're there to read you and me. We’ve been talking about reading scripture in this series, asking, “What does it mean to be the people of God?”
Matthew and all of these writers are writing for you and me to be intersecting with that question in our lives. We're not supposed to be reading scripture so that we can learn Bible bullets so that we can blast our boss at work. Okay? We're supposed to be reading scripture and internalizing it, so it transforms us so much that your boss at work wants to know what's going on in your life. Right?
“Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.”
That becomes important because he wants to know what time that star went up. He’s thinking, “The star went up, probably, around the time that this child was born, so I need to know how old this child is.”
That’s what he's trying to get. That's what he's trying to glean from them, secretly.
“And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently…’”
Notice here that he can't say “for the king.”
“‘…search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’”
He's not coming to worship Him. He’s coming to kill Him. He says, “Go find Him.”
He needed some GPS back in the first century. He needed Garmin. So, the wise men became that. “Go tell me where He’s at.”
We’re told, “After listening to the king, they went on their way.”
Interesting. The scribes and the priests, who had labored their whole life in the Word of God, didn't take a trip to confirm it. We'll come back to that. It's deeply, deeply profound. We’re told that on their way — so, they've seen the star coming to Jerusalem, and now they're leaving Jerusalem to go towards Bethlehem.
We’re told, “And behold,”
I've done this before. This is the interactive part of the message. When you see the word “behold” in scripture, you should have that moment, like “Dun, dun, dun!”
You know what I mean? You should be like, “I need to pay attention.”
Good. Okay. Good. Behold. He’s trying to get your attention here.
“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them…”
The star reappeared. The star was dark when they were in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the holy city, the religious city, the place of the temple, the place of the priest, the place of the scribes, had no light. Matthew wants you to see that.
Not only that, but he says, “…until it came to rest over the place where the child was.”
And he says it again.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
He's drawing attention, going, “There wasn't a star when they were in Jerusalem.”
The very place that was supposed to be the place of light and healing to the nations had become a religious cesspool of wickedness that killed those that lived there. That's what religion does. Let's continue.
“And going into the house, they saw the child…”
This word for “child” is an older child. It's not an infant. The Magi we're not there with the shepherds. I know. I hear it every single Christmas.
“You always mess up our nativity scene.”
I'm not here to do that. I'm just here to say, hey, maybe, just maybe, if we don't even know the nativity scene, maybe we really need to go back and pay attention to scripture. Because I'm not here to try to tell you my story. I'm here to teach you the Word of God to the best of my ability. I'm sure I am a faulty, frail man that doesn't get it right all the time, but I can tell you one thing, as your pastor, and anybody up here that doesn't understand any more than this: Let not many of you become teachers — James 3:1 — because you incur the stricter judgment. I do not want to stand before God one day and, somehow, have mishandled His Word. Even if it makes people mad, even if it gets people irritated at me, I'm going to tell you one thing: I'm going to preach the Word of the Lord because that's what we're here to do.
“…and they fell down and worshiped him.”
Isn't that crazy? The last people you would expect. Would you have expected people with a Ouija board — some of y'all are too young to know that. Don't go look it up, and don't go buy one. Okay? But it's like the last people. This is the beauty of Jesus. They've come from so far. These are the people that the temple would've said, “You can't come any further.”
These are the people that they would've said, “Unclean!”
They roll in because Jesus is bringing in the blessing of Abraham. He's blessing the nations. Imagine that they walk in, and something is so amazing that they fell down and worshiped Him. It's powerful. This is the essence. It's not these beautiful, little porcelain things that we put up. It's a story of redemption, a story of love, but a story of what it really means to be the people of God.
We’re told that not only did they fall down and worship Him, but, “Then, opening their treasures,”
See, you can't fall down and worship the Christ-child and not give Him your treasures. You can't. See, everybody says, “You’ve got to find your life, you’ve got to find your journey, you’ve got to find your truth, you’ve got to find all this stuff.”
I'm here to tell you — please hear me — that if you seek to save your life, you will lose it. But if you will lay it at the feet of the Christ-child, you will gain a life that is more abundant and more great than you could ever imagine, and you get eternity thrown in. The reason that, in your nativity sets, there are three people is because there are three gifts. There weren't three people. Probably hundreds. But that was the gifts, and we're going to come back to why those gifts are important in a minute.
“And being warned in a dream…”
God's always working. He's just always working. You saw it in Exodus, and you see it now. He's always working. He’s just doing what He does. People ask me, “How does He do what He does?”
I go, “I don't know.”
They're like, “Surely you know. You're a pastor.”
“I don't know.”
“Don’t you have a couple of doctorates?”
“Well then, how does God work?”
“I don't know.”
I've literally had times where I've been teaching students, and they're like, “We paid all this money for you to tell us that you don't know?”
Like, I don't know. He's God. If I could fashion Him in a way that I could understand Him, I would have an idol. I wouldn't have the magnificent, incredible, awesome, exhilarating, magnificent God that He is. He's on another level, and that's okay. But He’s working here.
“…they departed their own country by another way.”
Can I tell you something? When you meet Jesus, you'll never go back the same way you came. Man, I’ve got to be honest. You guys are awesome today. You're clapping and you're in. Like, where are you all at, normally? This is great. I'm like, “Man, they're actually syncing up with me today. Did they spike the coffee or something?”
We're Grace Community Church. You never know what you're going to get here. That's pretty awesome. Thank you for actually responding. I'm like, “Man, alright. I might be saying something they’re listening to.
Anyway, “Now when they had departed…”
You guys are good, man.
“Now when they had departed, behold,”
Another moment of God working because He's always at work. Pay attention. Listen. When you're reading it, God's at work.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,’”
Here we go. We're going to Egypt because He’s the greater Moses. He's going to go to Egypt, He’s going to come back, He’s going to go through the waters, He’s going to go to the wilderness, and He’s going to go up on the mountain, The Sermon on the Mount, and say, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you.”
Let me just help you out here. When the people come on your door and go, “Knock, knock. Jesus isn't God,” let me just tell you something. Nobody goes up on a mountain and says, “Hey, you've heard it said, but let me tell you what it really says,” other than God. Nobody’s reinterpreting stuff from God unless it's God.”
Anyway, he flees to Egypt, and the angel says, “I'm going to tell you to stay there, for Herod's about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Herod's coming. Listen to this. Listen to this. This is so important.
“And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt…”
Can I tell you something? When you hear God's Word, don't stop and think about it, even if it's at night. Get up and do what He tells you. He knows what He is doing. So many of us miss opportunity in our lives because we sit and think about it. Get up, whether it's at night, whenever it is, and do what God says.
“…and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
Now, anybody who knows the Old Testament knows that when God said that He was speaking of Israel. Israel was His son, but now it's being redefined to Jesus. That’s why Jesus takes twelve disciples to reconfigure the twelve tribes around Him. He becomes the true Israel. Being in Jesus means that you're the people of God. That’s what’s going on. That's why in Ephesians, Paul says, “The two have become one.”
There's no more of this and that. Now they become one. They're all one. The wall of partition has been torn down. This is what the Church is. It's a group of people from all nations, kindreds, and tongues, and if you're in Christ, you're in Israel. If you're in Christ, you're in God.
If you're in Christ, you're forgiven. If you're in Christ, you've been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. You're the people of God. He says, “This was to fulfill, ‘Out of Egypt I've called my son.’”
Now, of course, he’s talking about the fact that Jesus will go to Egypt with Mary and Joseph, and then He will return to Israel. That’s what that passage is talking about. But where Matthew has placed it literarily should send shockwaves to people that are reading it. Because as you go through the text, later on, it’ll say, “After Herod died, they came back to Israel.”
That would've been the place to say, “Thus it was fulfilled,” because that's when they did it. But he puts it in when they're actually leaving Israel to go to Egypt. Now, of course, it means that when they come from Egypt to Israel, but where he puts it, literarily, is not where you would expect for it to be. He inserts it on their way out of Israel because he wants you to know, as a reader, that Jerusalem has become Egypt, Herod is a new Pharaoh, and the religious people are the vipers that bite and poison the people. It's profound. Even John the Revelator realizes that because when he talks about the city that's in Revelation, he says it very clearly. It's amazing to me how there's very little about Revelation that's clear. You may not have noticed that. Most of y'all probably read it and just makes total sense to you. You're like, Oh, yeah. I totally understand what's going on.”
There's very little that’s clear, but in Revelation 11:8, it talks about the city that's walled up and going to be destroyed, and you’ve got to come out from it, and all that stuff. He says that the city is spiritually called Sodom and spiritually called Egypt. It is the city in which our Lord was crucified. Clear as day. Nobody should misunderstand that. Target city: Jerusalem. Jerusalem's going to be destroyed. The stones are going to fall. There's something going on. What is going on? It’s coming quickly because the New Testament writers are telling you there's a great exodus that's happened. Someone has now delivered us from all the bondages of religion and law. There’s been a freedom that has happened, and Jesus is there to be the one to lead us in a way that Moses never could, in a way that Joshua never could, in a way that David never could.
We’re told, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious,”
They didn't come back. He's waiting. They didn’t show up. Now he’s really mad. He's furious.
We’re told, “…and he sent and killed all the male children…”
He's another Pharaoh killing the kids in all that region. He didn’t just get Bethlehem. He got the whole region. He wanted to make sure he got whatever might come from this. He wanted it taken care of. He did it to those who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Jesus was probably somewhere around two years old at this point. Maybe a year and a half. But the reason he wanted to know when that star rose was he wanted to know how old this boy was because he wanted to make sure that he took him out.
Now, as we stop and pause for a moment, we've been asking these questions: “What does it mean to be the people of God? What does it mean to be those who fall, in Bethlehem, on the knee in worship? What does it mean to be those people?”
A couple things, applicationally, for all of us to think about. First, the people of God are keenly aware of the dangers of simply knowing God's Word. It's sad because, in the American Church, we typically lift up, as the mature Christians, those who know a lot about the Bible. Can I tell you something? Jesus never says, “Blessed are you if you know.”
He says, “Blessed are you if you do,” which means, in the American Church, we’ve got a lot of people who are spiritually overweight because they know more scriptures than they actually do. Which means going to get you in a little Bible study so you can learn more scripture that you're not going to do is not a good church. A good church tells you, “God's Word is true, and we're not going to just teach it to you, but we're going to help you to apply it to your life. Because if it's not applied to your life, it's not just good enough to know it.”
You can know all the stories.
See, we see this: “After listening to the king, they went on their way.”
Where were the priests? Where were the scribes? Where were the people that we would hold up and go, “Look at how much they know?”
They didn't even take a two-hour walk to prove what they had been studying their whole life.
That's powerful. That should just be reading all of us because the truth of the matter is the outsiders, the Magi, they were the ones that heard and responded to God's Word, whereas the religious leaders knew but didn't take the journey. So, as your pastor, because I love you, I'm going to ask you a question: What do we know about God's Word but are unwilling to do or follow? Because this is a part of the story. I didn't make up the story. I didn't write Matthew's story about Jesus. I didn't. There are only two. There's Luke and Matthew. Everybody goes, every year, “It's Matthew or Luke.”
I'm like, “Because that's all the material I've got.”
I can't add the 67th book. You know? Here it is. 1 Opinions. Oh, yeah. Here’s the book of Hezekiah. Some of you are like, “Isn't that in the Bible?”
No, it's not in the Bible. Anyway, what do we know about God's Word but are unwilling to follow? That’s the question that we should be asking, seriously. This is not about knowing. This is about doing. See, here's what God wants. God doesn't need your performance. The reason God wants us to do His Word is because He realizes that you and I are a mirror to the world. If we don't look like what God looks like, the world gets confused. The world's really confused, right now, as to what the church looks like because we preach everything other than Jesus. Then when we preach Him, we mix Him up with all this other stuff that we want to bring in. The bottom line is that the gospel is the good news. Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. You know?
Second: The people of God realize that our outward looks of religion are not what's important to the Lord, but our inward obedience. See, I grew up in that tradition. I grew up in the tradition where you had to put on a show, and you had to have all the right words, too. If you didn't use right words, you were suspect. You had to walk in, like, “Good to see you, brother.”
What's that? Go to Publix, to the little guy, 18 years old, who's doing the cash register. Walk up and go, “Hey, brother.”
He'd be like, “Yo, man. I don't know what's wrong with you.”
I mean, we’ve got all these crazy things we do, as Christians. We need to stop being weird. Anyway. We’re just weird sometimes. Anyway, let me try to explain this. So, we're told here about the star that appears again as they're leaving Jerusalem. Not only that, but he wants to make sure you see that when they saw the star, they hadn't been seeing it in Jerusalem. Here's what he's telling you: Jerusalem has the appearance of a holy and religious place, but it is dark spiritually. We can't afford — listen to me. We can't afford to do what we do here at Grace, to pour into this community, to love this community, and when people come here and are a part of what we're doing, what they get is darkness; that the star that got them here is extinguished when they get here. This needs to be a place where the power and presence of God is here. So, when the Magi walk in, they are freed. Listen to me. Listen to your pastor here. When the Church can stop playing all the religious and judgmental games we play to make ourselves feel better, that’s when the real miracles of healing will start happening in our midst. We're a hospital, folks. We’re not a courtroom.
I was at the house, this week, and got knock on the door. It was this big ol’ box. I was trying to figure out, “Who ordered this big ol’ box?”
The UPS guy needs me to sign. I realize it's Jack, my son. He's got something going on. Some gaming thing or whatever. I don't know. I mean, he's like 6’2, so I can't really say much to him.
“Will you please listen to your dad?”
Anyway, I signed the thing and the guy walked down the pavers that go out and then go down this way. That’s where the house is. As he got right around the corner, he said, “Have a good day, pastor. I jumped to the door and ran. I'm like, “Hey, do you go to Grace?”
I didn't recognize him. He's like, “No, I don't go to Grace.”
I go, “Where do you go?”
He goes, “I don't go anywhere.”
I go, “How do you I'm a pastor.”
He goes, “I know.”
I said, “Why do not go to church?”
He goes, “Because all of y'all are judgmental. You're judgmental and nobody's different. Everybody's doing the same sins whether they go to church or don't go to church.”
I gave it up. I said, “Hey, man. I hear you. You know that I'm a pastor. I want you to know that I'm no better than anybody else.”
He goes, “I know you're not.”
Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Yeah.
I said, “You're right. I put my pants on the same way everybody else does. You know, we probably have some people at Grace that would point fingers, we probably have people at Grace that would do those things, but man, there are a lot of good people at Grace. I think if you showed up, you'd find that it's a pretty friendly place. It really is. You can belong here before you believe.”
He looked at me and he goes, “Hmm.”
I said, “Listen, man, you may never come to church again, but I would love for you to come to church, man. I'd love for you to see that maybe, just maybe, there could be something different. We shook hands and he went on his way. I walked back in, my son Jack's there — he’s like 6’1 — and he said, “Did you just chase him down, try to invite him to church, and tell him about Jesus? Dad, that was awkward.”
I'm like, “Keep playing drums. Let me be the preacher.”
No. That's who I want to reach. I don't want to reach the old, crusty, religious people that want to tell us how to do church, how we should do this, and do that. I want to reach some people who have been hurt and wounded by the Church. I want to reach the lost. I want to reach those people that are so far from God.
I want to be a place that God can put a star in the sky and bring the Magi because He’s always at work. He’s always doing stuff. He's always at work.
Before the 8:30 service, I saw Chris Pedro. He said, “How was the wedding?”
I said, “It was good.”
I went to my brother's daughter's wedding last night in Tampa. I said, “How was your wedding?”
Keisha, his mom, got married last night, and Chris Pedro, who we love — don't we love Chris Pedro? I mean, what a great guy. Chris married his mom. I looked at him and said, “Chris, do you realize that 10 years ago your family walked into our church at Swift and Ashton, and you walked into the wrong church? This was not the church you thought you were going to, but you got there, and you stayed. By accident, you showed up, and God put a call on your life. He called you into pastoral ministry, He has made you a campus pastor, you found your bride here at Grace, you now have a family with a child, and you just got to marry your mom. Chris, I can't tell you how it works, buddy, but God is always working.”
Let me tell you something. I don't know what star got you here today, but you're not here by accident, by any stretch of the imagination.
Third. This is important. When you think about God and having a relationship with God, He’s a provider. He gives us what we need. I want you to listen to me here. This is important.
“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Why did they give him frankincense? Why did they give him myrrh? I hear people, all the time, go, “Gold? He’s a king. Gold. This is for the death and burial and whatever else.”
Oh, no, no, no. They may have some implications there, but the real implication here is that those three things had the most value of any place in the world in Egypt because they embalmed the dead in Egypt. You’ve seen King Tuts tomb with all the gold and everything. What's going on here is the gold, frankincense, and myrrh would've had no more worth any other place in the world than in Egypt because what God is doing is God is providing, financially, for Mary and Joseph and Jesus to get there and to come back. He's already provided for them everything they need to get to Egypt and to come back. Because see, God provides. What would we look like if we really believed God provided? We'd run through walls. If we said, “If it's God's will, it's God's bill,” we'd go, “Man, I’ll go tear down a wall for God. If He’s going to guide, He’ll provide.”
But He will. Listen to me. He will supply all your needs. Not according to what you need, but according to His riches and glory. That's how awesome He is. He provides.
The last thing is that the people of God understand that wherever God's Word is resisted, humanity will ultimately be attacked. I want you to listen to me. This is a little deep and profound, and a little biting in some ways, but I want you to hear me. Herod, when they didn't come back, was furious because he wanted to get rid of that child. He didn't care what the Word of God said. I want you to hear me. When we hate the Christ-child, we end up attacking children. We're cramming stuff on our kids, today, that’s the most ungodly junk in the world. I'm telling you, when you and I resist God's Word, we end up attacking children. Not only that, but when we hate God's revelation, we hurt people. People need to hear the truth. When you tell somebody what you think they want to hear, you're helping yourself. But when you tell someone what they need to hear, you're helping them.
I was reading from an old commentary that I hadn't read in a long time. Frederick Dale Bruner. I said, “I’ve got to read this.”
This is a little bit of a lengthy quote, but let this sink in. This is powerful.
“…just as the Magi serve as encouragement — as examples of how God's grace can summon us, no matter how ‘far out’ we are — so Herod is a warning, an example of what can happen to us when we despise grace, no matter how far in or up we are. If like Magi we heed God's ministries in creation and listen to God's Word in church and so go to Bethlehem and faith, we, too, will meet Christ, give him our gifts, and go home another Way. But if like Herod, who is at the head of the people of God and who also was given the Word, we will only listen to the Word in order to find ways of resisting it, then it is not only we who will be hurt but innocents around us as well; for sin, like righteousness, is social.”
Listen, I know many people have been hurt by church, hurt by religion, and bruised by people that looked one way but ended up another. Don't confuse me or don’t confuse someone else with who the Lord is, because I'm not Him. He is. And this church isn't perfect, the people aren't perfect, the church down the street isn't perfect, and the pastor down the street isn't perfect.
I want to read you what Jesus said. I want to read out of a different translation. It's called The Message. This comes out of Matthew. I just want you to hear this because this is for you. This is for someone, today.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me,” Jesus says. “Get away with me and you will recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”
That's for somebody. You needed to hear that. A star got you here today, and God wants you to know you can come, and He can transform your life like He did the Magi. Let Him do it. Don't resist it. Don't run.