Read at beginning of service:
Psalm 8:1-9 (NIV)
1 O LORD , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Well, once again the hanging of lights, the change of store displays, and the yearly parades are an indication that once again Christmas season is upon us.
During this time of the year, doesn’t it seem like more people are interested in bargains than in the baby born in Bethlehem? How often do you see references to the birth of Christ when you are out shopping? But then again any such references just wouldn?t be politically correct would they? In an article on Belief.Net called “Out of this World”, Cal Thomas questions whether we should even keep Christmas anymore because the original cast of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has been “replaced by the road show of reindeer, winter scenes and elves…no room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the parking lot” (“Out of this World”, a column by Cal Thomas on Belief.net).
Concurrent with the secularizing of Christmas, there is a dangerous dismantling of biblical doctrine taking place in our culture today. Perhaps you’ve heard of the book called, The Da Vinci Code. I read it two years ago. The last time I checked, this fictional thriller has been on the New York Times Best-Seller List since April 2003. It was the topic of a prime time special on ABC and plans are underway to turn it into a movie that will be released in May 2006. I don’t have time to go into a complete critique of the book but suffice it to say that it is filled with historical inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and blasphemous pronouncements. While the book is a work of fiction, the author very cleverly creates a character that serves as an “expert” on historical matters. The narrative is driven by the ancient quest for the Holy Grail, which in Brown’s universe is a search for Mary Magdalene’s tomb, which supposedly contains the true “gospel.”
I can’t even verbalize the scandalous premise of the book because it literally makes me sick to my stomach. It also grieves me greatly to know that millions of people are blindly accepting the author’s assertions. At its core is a rejection of the Incarnation. In what is really an old heresy that is just being recycled for modern times, Brown’s motive is to undermine the deity of Jesus Christ.
While we should lament the secularization of the season, and be alarmed by outright attacks on the core doctrines of Christianity, we must also admit that there is a rising tide of biblical illiteracy within the church. Gene Edward Veith, writing in a recent issue of World Magazine (12/6/03), quotes a Barna poll that contains some disturbing news:
26% of evangelicals believe that all religions are basically equal.
35% of evangelicals do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
50% of evangelicals believe that good works will get you to heaven.
While noting that these statistics it wouldn?t surprise me to learn that the Canadian picture would be much worse. One has only to look at the recent trend of “hot” issues in our society to understand this.
In another study from December 2003, I was stunned to read that according to research by the Barna Group, only 9% of born again Christians have a biblical worldview (www.barna.org, “A Biblical Worldview has a Radical Effect on a Person?s Life”).
As I process all of this, I hold to my faith and belief in the premise that the Christmas (the popular term for the biblical account of the incarnation of Christ) is really a crucial component of the Divine Design Causing Change. I’m struck with the realization that Christmas Changes Everything. We often tend to sentimentalize this season of the year when we ought to see the birth of Christ as the single most astonishing event in world history. All the elements of a Christian and biblical worldview are in the Christmas story. Because the coming of Christ altered history–literally, from BC to AD–we aren’t straining things to say, “Everything is different now that Christ has come to the world.” In the next few weeks, my goal is to help us lay a foundation for seeing Christmas as the basis for all that we believe. While I understand Cal Thomas’ frustration, I’m not so sure that we should change Christmas; rather, we should let the Christ of Christmas change us.
Quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew records a compelling fulfillment of prophesy in Matthew 1:23:
Matthew 1:23 (NIV)
23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
In the midst of examining the amazing implications of Immanuel dwelling with us we must also admit that there is a mystery surrounding the manger. I think Paul had this in mind when he asked believers to pray for him in Colossians 4:3 so that he could “proclaim the mystery of Christ?”
Ravi Zacharias challenges us to “ponder the wonder” of what God has done for us: “wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal” (“Recapture the Wonder,” Page 20).
The book of Hebrews helps us ponder the mystery of Christ. In chapter 1, the emphasis is on the deity of Christ. Let me just read verse 3:
Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word?
In chapter 2, the focus is on His humanity. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Please turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 2:5-9:
Hebrews 2:5-9 (NIV)
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8 and put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
This passage describes both our dilemma, and our destiny.
Our Position (6)
The argument in verse 5 is that Jesus Christ is far superior to angels. In verse 6, the author is quoting from Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
The idea here is that in comparison to the Majesty of God, human beings are a mess. Why in the world would God care about us? The word for “man” here is the word that means “weak and frail.” Our lives are like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next. And yet, God is mindful of us, meaning that He remembers us. This is a covenant term, indicating that He is committed to us and because He is faithful, He will never forget us. We matter so much to Him that He can’t stop thinking about us and He can’t stop helping us. Job asked a related question in Job 7:17:
Job 7:17 (NIV)
17 “What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention,
The word, “care” in the last part of Hebrews 2:6 has a rich meaning. It literally means, “to go and visit.” Because God treasures His creation, He looks for ways to come and get close to us and to visit us with His blessings. That’s exactly what happened at the first Christmas. Because we are weak and wounded, we are in need of a visit from God. Zechariah uses this word in his prayer of praise in Luke 1:68:
Luke 1:68 (NIV)
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.
Referring to Jesus in Luke 7:16, the people were filled with awe and declared,
Luke 7:16 (NIV)
… “God has come to help his people.”
Not only are we frail, the phrase “son of man” indicates that we are fallen. This means that as descendants of Adam our very DNA is tainted by transgressions. Our position before God is one of insignificance because of our iniquities, and yet God’s purpose has always been to make us extremely important because we are made in His image.
God’s Purpose (7-8a)
Verses 7-8 tell us that we were created to rule over the earth. In rank, we are made just a little lower than the angels and God has crowned us with brightness and splendor. Our intended destiny is to have dominion over the earth. This goes all the way back to Genesis 1:28:
Genesis 1:28 (NIV)
Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
We were made for greatness, chosen to serve as kings over creation. According to Psalm 8 and this passage in Hebrews, God has put “everything under our feet….
Our Problem (8b)
Friends, while we might have been made to rule, because of our rebellious hearts, our glory has faded. When we disobeyed, we died on the inside, and then we started dying on the outside. Instead of being conquerors, we are more like carcasses. G.K. Chesterton said it well,
“Whatever else is true, this one thing is certain–man is not what he was meant to be.”
Look at the last part of verse 8: “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” The word “yet” communicates that this is not how things are right now but God has not changed His plan. The King James Version renders it this way: “But now we see not yet all things put under him.”
This leaves us feeling a bit unsettled because we know that while we can ride a horse and catch some fish, all of God’s creation is definitely not under our feet. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, cancer, and death are a stark reminder that our world is out of whack. Mike Hays writes:
“Something has gone wrong. We know in our hearts that things are not right. There is an emptiness that we cannot fill. There is a sadness that cannot be escaped….an anxiety that cannot be stilled. We are drinking from the cup of chaos and confusion that our forefathers have handed down to us and the water is bitter” (“Paradise Regained,” www.sermoncentral.com).
We can heal and we can harm. We both educate and exterminate. We can overflow with humanitarian help and then explode in inhumanity to others. John MacArthur gives a good perspective on this:
“The earth was originally subject to man, and it supplied all his needs….then, tempted by Satan, man sinned, and his tempter usurped the crown. There you see the change in the chain of command. Man fell to the bottom, and the earth, under the evil one, now rules man….with all our modern technology, we must constantly fight against the earth for our survival”
(MacArthur, “Commentary on Hebrews,” Page 56).
And there’s one big thing we don’t have dominion over. Do you know what it is? It’s ourselves. Humans have never learned to subdue sin. It was unleashed into the human bloodstream by Adam and Eve and it continues to infect lives today. That’s the root of the human dilemma. We’re image-bearers of God and yet we’re marred by the magnitude of sin. In short, we’re a mess. Instead of living out our glory and splendor, we find ourselves in the gutter and in shame.
God’s Provision (9)
Is there any hope? Do we have anywhere to turn? Thankfully, Hebrews 2:9 gives us God’s provision:
Hebrews 2:9 (NIV)
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
That’s our challenge this Christmas season, and our only hope — we must see Jesus! We must gaze upon His glory, recognizing that the Son in the straw came in order to be crucified on the cross, and now He is crowned and reigning over the entire universe. Interestingly, this is the first time the author of Hebrews uses the name “Jesus” in the book. This would have immediately caused those from a Jewish background to think of the word “Messiah,” for that is what the name means. This title emphasizes His humanity. He is crowned with glory and honor and as such is the first one to be restored to the magnificent destiny of Psalm 8.
In the Book of Revelation there is a scene where John is mesmerized by the Majesty seated upon the throne of the universe while unbridled adoration and protracted praise is offered to the One who alone is worthy. In Revelation 5:2, a mighty angel then proclaims in a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” I like how Ray Stedman describes the scene
“A search is made through the length and breadth of human history for someone wise enough, strong enough, and compassionate enough to open the seals but no one can be found”
(Ray Stedman, www.pbc.org).
When John realizes that there is no one qualified to open the book with seven seals, which is the title dead to earth, verse 4 describes how he felt: “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” In verse 5, he is told to stop weeping. In a phrase that brings us back to Hebrews 2:9, we read, “…See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” In verse 6, John does what he’s told and gazes at the glorious one: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…he came and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”
Friends, its time for us to see Jesus! He alone has broken the barrier of sin and death. Stedman suggests that death does not simply take place when our heart stops beating. It includes uselessness, waste, and futility. Death has decimated the human race, and it all goes back to Adam and Eve’s deliberate disobedience of God’s command in Genesis 2:17: “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” In a real sense, death pervades all of life and our funeral is but the final straw.
Jesus took on the form of a man in order to taste death for us. The word “taste” has the idea of chewing on something so much that its flavor permeates the entire mouth. Jesus didn’t just smell death; He tore into wholeheartedly so that we might be set free. He faced death head on, and in so doing He took our place. He did all this, according to verses 14-15 in order to “….destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil; and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” We no longer have to fear death because He has conquered it.
Implications of the Incarnation
Let me mention three truths from Hebrews 2:9 that we must hold on to in the midst of our shopping and running around.
1. Jesus is Savior.
He was made a “little lower than the angels.” The Majesty was born into our mess, in a smelly stable, in an obscure village, unwanted by the world. He became like us in order to save us. This is further explained in Hebrews 2:17:
Hebrews 2:17 (NIV)
17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
2. Jesus is Substitute.
By dying in our place, He “suffered death.” In order to be fully human, he had to taste death. 1 Peter 2:24:
1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Only by dying could He give us life. Jesus experienced death in order to defeat it.
3. Jesus is Sovereign.
Jesus is “now crowned with glory and honor.” 1 Corinthians 15:45 refers to Jesus as the “last Adam.” He came to reverse the curse and is now ruling the universe. And one day those who believe in Him will share that glory with Him.
What we’ve been talking about so far gets right the heart of what happened at Christmas.
I want you to notice the first two phrases of Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” The Incarnation is found in this ancient text, written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
“For to us a child is born” This refers to the humanity of Jesus.
“To us a son is given” This refers to the deity of Jesus.
A child was born in Bethlehem and a son was given from heaven. Do you see the distinction? God the Father gave His eternal son, who was born as a child. What a mystery! He was begotten not made. Here’s another way to say it. The Majesty came down into our mess in order to make us into a mosaic of His grace. God entered our world in flesh and blood so that He might save us from sin and deliver us from death. The God up there came to join us down here.
Our ultimate problem is that there are at least two gaps between God and us. First, God is so far above us that if He is to be known, He must take the initiative to reveal Himself to us. This is the gap of separation. The second one is the gulf that our guilt has created. We are unable to counter our sins and satisfy God’s justice on our own. Friends, listen. God came near when He sent His son to visit our world and He provided forgiveness for sins when His Son died as our substitute.
He was just like us . . . and yet, He was nothing like us.
He walked among us . . . and yet, He came from God above.
He grew up in Nazareth . . . and yet, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
He is our friend . . . and yet, He is our Savior and Lord.
Little children love him . . . and yet, He baffles the greatest minds.
He was called “son of Mary” . . . and yet, He is given by God.
A mother went Christmas shopping with her two children. She spent many hours looking at row after rows of toys and everything else imaginable. After countless cries from her children asking for everything they saw on the many shelves, she was exasperated as she finally made it to the elevator.
When the elevator door opened, there was already a crowd inside. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids and gifts with her. When the door closed, she just couldn’t take it anymore and shouted, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be strung up and shot.” From the back of the elevator came a soft voice, “Don’t worry; we already did that when we crucified Him!” For the rest of the trip down the elevator was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
There are at least 4 responses that we can have this morning.
- We can complain about how our culture has secularized Christmas.
- We can lament the loss of doctrinal truth.
- We can let Christmas change us by recapturing the wonder of the Majesty coming into our mess.
- We can receive the gift of Jesus.
We don’t have to shop for the perfect gift because its already been given. God wrapped His gift in swaddling clothes and said to the whole world, ‘This is my Christmas present to you. Will you receive Him?”
In a book called, “Life Is Commitment,” J.H. Oldham writes,
“There are some things in life, and they may be the most important things, that we cannot know by research or reflection, but only by committing ourselves. We must dare in order to know. Life is full of situations to which I can respond not with part of myself but only with commitment of my whole being.” (Life is Commitment, J.H. Oldham)
As C.S. Lewis has said with penetrating insight,
“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” (C.S. Lewis)
I don’t want you to miss this. It’s possible to skate right through this season and overlook Immanuel. It’s not enough to just hear the message. It’s not enough to just know a little about the real meaning of Christmas. You must receive Jesus by faith in order to be saved from your sins and to be set free from the fear of death. Listen to these penetrating words from Hebrews 4:2:
Hebrews 4:2 (NIV)
2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
You must dare in order to know. The only way the message of Christmas will have value to you is if you combine it with faith. Are you ready to receive Him right now? I dare you to do so.