Read at beginning of service:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. 9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
As we continue in our series called, “Christmas: Divine Design Causing Change,” we?re going to build on the truths that we learned last week. The Majesty came down into our mess in order to create a mosaic of His grace. Because our glory has faded, in the midst of the secularization of the season and the loss of doctrinal truths, we must “see Jesus.” In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 8, becoming Savior, Substitute, and Sovereign. By the way, the idea for this series came from a series of messages I read by Pastor Brian Bill, who Pastors Pontiac Bible Church in Pontiac, Illinois.
This morning I?m going to zero in on the Christmas truth that God works in all circumstances to accomplish His purposes. God?s timing is always perfect and beautiful. He is the God of every situation, who is able to work out everything to accomplish His purposes.
There?s this guy who was really funny. All he had to do was get up and say, “Joke Number 52” and everyone laughed. After people stopped guffawing, he shouted out, “Number 110” and people rolled in the aisles. Not to be outdone, someone else jumped up and said, “Remember Joke #12?” This was followed by dead silence. He turns to the crowd and says, “Why aren?t you laughing?” To which someone in the audience replies, “Because you have lousy delivery and no sense of timing.”
(quoted in the message, “No Crib for a Bed: The God of Every Circumstance” by Brian Bill.
A salesman from the Chicago area was in Miami when he called his manager. He explained the difficult situation saying: “I?m stuck here in the middle of a hurricane. All of the airports are closed, the airlines don?t know when the next planes will take off. The highways are flooded and the busses and trains aren?t even running. What do I do?” The boss came back immediately with: “Start your two-week vacation as of this morning” (autoillustrator.com, “TIMING IS EVERYTHING”)
A pastor was speaking about heaven, about eternal bliss and the joys that are awaiting each person on “the other side”. He paused for effect and asked, “How many of you here want to go to heaven?” All hands were raised except for an eight-year-old boy sitting in the front pew. The minister asked, “Don?t you want to go to heaven, too, son?” The boy replied, “Yes, but I thought you were making up a load to go right now.” (autoillustrator.com, “TIMING IS EVERYTHING”)
You?ve probably heard the phrase many times, “timing is everything.”
Timing is important when dealing with people. Most of us know to not ask someone for a favor when they?re in a bad mood. Timing is key when you?re cooking, so that salmonella doesn?t send you to the hospital. In the area of finances, I?m told that buying a stock at the right time is very important, as those who bought Microsoft many years ago can attest to. Timing is critical when it comes to taking medication. If we skip a dose, the prescription isn?t very effective.
Did you know that God has a perfect sense of timing? Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is the most profound statement about time ever written:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
In verse 11 we read, “He has made everything beautiful in its time?” God is never late, and He is never early.
When Jesus lived on the earth, He operated according to the Father?s timetable as He lived with an acute awareness of divine timing. Speaking to his earthly mother in John 2:4, Jesus said,
John 2:4 (NIV)
? “My time has not yet come.”
Responding to His brothers? sense of timing in John 7:6, Jesus said:
John 7:6 (NIV)
?”The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.
On another occasion, in Mark 1:15, Jesus gets the green light from God the Father:
Mark 1:15 (NIV)
15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Later, in His prayer for His disciples before He died in John 17:1, Jesus cried out,
John 17:1 (NIV)
?”Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
Paul picks up on this theme of God?s terrific timing when he writes in Romans 5:6:
Romans 5:6 (NIV)
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Then, looking ahead to the return of Christ, Paul declares in Ephesians 1:10:
Ephesians 1:10 (NIV)
10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
As we think about God?s sense of timing, we must remember that He is eternal. Time is one of the gifts that He has given to us, but the clock does not control Him. The great “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 can be translated, “I am the God who always is.” While He is above time, He is working everything out according to His divine date-book. And amazingly, because we are a visited people, He leaves nothing to chance, as He uses circumstances and people to accomplish His purposes. He has made everything beautiful in its time.
This morning we?re going to see that the timing of the Incarnation was impeccable. Please turn to Galatians 4:4:
Galatians 4:4 (NIV)
4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
The phrase, “had fully come” is a very eloquent expression in Greek. It literally means, “The fullness of time had come.” The idea is that something is complete and fully developed, like ripe fruit ready to be picked. The expression is also used of a pregnant woman feeling labor pain, as she gets ready to deliver her baby. The stage was perfectly set for the Savior to be sent. Every detail was prearranged; every circumstance was perfect, and every event happened on cue.
The idea is that everything has come together at last for God to make a visit by sending His Son to redeem us from our sins. While our Christmas plans often become hectic and hurried, God perfectly planned how everything would transpire that first Christmas. He was in no hurry, but when the time was right, He moved into action! When time itself was pregnant and ready to deliver, God sent forth His Son. If we stand back and look at what was happening behind the scenes, we can see how God?s timing was perfect. I?d like to suggest four ways that God pulled everything together in preparation for that first Christmas.
1. The World System Had Shifted
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Alexander the Great conquered the known world and Greek culture brought with it philosophy, art, drama and literature. The Greek language united that part of the world and could be read and understood by almost everyone. In 280 B.C. the Old Testament was translated into Greek and people started reading the record of God?s work of redemption. Later, the New Testament would also be written in Greek and become widely dispersed.
The next world power to come on the scene was Rome, and at the time of Christ, enjoyed what was called, “Pax Romana,” or world peace. What an appropriate time for the “Prince of Peace” to come! I want to come back to this in a few minutes, but Luke points to the fullness of time when he writes in Luke 2:1, “In those days Caesar Augustus?” Augustus means, “majestic” and he was a gifted administrator who set up systems that would eventually help promote the propagation of the gospel. The Romans built roads that linked the entire empire, much like the highway system covering Canada and the US today. This enabled the gospel message to quickly spread to all parts of the world.
2. People Were Searching for Spiritual Meaning
There were so many gods in ancient Greece that one writer called that country one large altar. While things looked peaceful on the outside, in actuality there was great searching taking place on the inside. Ray Pritchard writes,
“Athens was in the late afternoon of its glory. The gods of Greece and Rome no longer could command the blind allegiance of the masses. Education, philosophy and great art created desires they could not fill. Athens could produce Aristotle and Socrates?Rome produced Seneca and Julius Caesar. But the best man could do was not enough?all of it taken together could not provide meaning to life, or point the way to lasting forgiveness, or offer an answer to the three questions we all must answer: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” (From a sermon called, “The First Christmas Miracle,” 12/19/99).
Because the Roman system was morally bankrupt, and could provide no answers that would affect lasting life change, people became very superstitious, extremely immoral, and totally corrupt. Paul described this situation graphically in Romans 1. Because they had ignored the true God, and turned to idolatry, they were given over to paganism and perversion. In short, it was a world of broken promises, broken dreams, broken homes, and broken hearts. Historians tell us that there was a great expectation and feelings of profound unrest at the time when Jesus was born. The ancient religions had lost their luster, the old philosophies were empty and spiritual hunger was everywhere. It?s into this darkness that the light of the world was born.
Not only were the Gentiles groping for meaning, the Jewish people were also restless. For 2000 years God had been teaching and training His people in truth. He gave them the Law, which included the 10 Commandments and over 600 other laws. These laws were never intended to perfect people. Instead they were given to prepare people.
We see this in the second half of Galatians 4:4 and the first part of verse 5:
Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)
? God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, ?
One of the reasons the Book of Galatians was written was to clear up the confusion about the purpose of the Law. Listen to these verses:
Galatians 2:16 (NIV)
16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Galatians 3:10-11 (NIV)
10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
Galatians 3:23-24 (NIV)
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
The phrase “put in charge” was a term used for a tutor. This person was a servant who accompanied a schoolboy to make sure he didn?t get in trouble on the way to school. The Israelites continued to stray, so God sent the Law in order to keep them in line. The Law however, was never intended to save, but to point out sin and the need for a Savior. We see this in Romans 3:20:
Romans 3:20 (NIV)
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
I like how J.B. Phillips paraphrases this verse: “The straight edge of the law shows us how crooked we are.”
The Law prepared people. There?s one other big thing that got God?s people ready for the Redeemer. God used the system of sacrifice to prepare them for Christmas. Through years of repetition, they knew that their sin spelled trouble and that sacrifice was needed in order to satisfy God?s justice. Among other offerings, a lamb had to be sacrificed each year in order to roll back their sins. God?s people always looked back to Passover, when the blood of a lamb placed on their doors provided them with pardon. After years of bloody sacrifices, the time was now ripe for them to understand that Mary?s little lamb had come as the final sacrificial substitute. Shepherds who were tending sheep about to be sacrificed were allowed the privilege of seeing the Lamb of God, nestled safely in straw. The Old Testament system of sacrifice was an object lesson for what Christ would do on the cross.
God?s people were longing for a final sacrifice that would once-and-for-all pay the price for their pardon. The writer to the Hebrews captures this when he writes in Hebrews 10:11-14:
Hebrews 10:11-14 (NIV)
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Gentiles who searched for fulfillment through philosophy came up empty. And Jewish people were ripe for redemption as they realized the impossibility of keeping God?s Law and the necessity of continuous sacrifice. In addition, God?s people had just come through 400 years of silence from the time of Malachi to Matthew, in which they had migrated to every part of the world, and built synagogues wherever they went. According to Matthew 1:17, the timing was also right as it related to the counting of generations:
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
God?s redemptive calendar pointed to this exact time. The people were ready for God to speak. They were prepared for Him to make a visit. Even though they didn?t know the song, the cry of their heart was something like this:
O come, O come, Immanuel, And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
The world system had shifted and things were ready both culturally and politically. Along with this, both Gentiles and Jews were searching for spiritual meaning. This leads to a third way that God worked in order to accomplish His purposes.
3. Predictive Prophecies Were Fulfilled
Did you know that God had been predicting all along exactly what was going to happen? These prophecies, made hundreds of years in advance, have been fulfilled with precision and in stunning detail.
After Joseph found out that his fianc? was pregnant, he decided to call everything off. He knew that he wasn?t the father and he frankly didn?t know what to think when Mary told him what had happened. Before he could pull the plug, an angel told him in Matthew 1:20 that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was unheard of! How could a virgin be pregnant? We?re let in on an important prophecy that was written about 700 years earlier by Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14. Look at verses 22-23:
Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV)
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 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.”
Let?s look next at Luke 2:1-4:
Luke 2:1-4 (NIV)
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
There are lots of people called “Caesar” in history and I?m not sure which one had a salad named after him! This Caesar was the grand nephew of Julius Caesar and he enjoyed wide acclaim. A month of the year (August) was even named in his honor.
This emperor encouraged local autonomy in administrative matters and allowed customs and culture to flourish throughout his empire. Now picture this. Caesar is sitting in Rome, 1500 miles away, enjoying his Caesar salad, when he decides to issue a decree to have a census taken so that he could figure out how to get more taxes out of people. It?s fascinating to me how God arranged all the pieces on His chessboard in order to get Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to a little town called Bethlehem, located 60 miles away.
Why is this so important? Because, get this, 700 years earlier, the prophet Micah predicted that the Savior had to come out of Bethlehem in Micah 5:2:
Micah 5:2 (NIV)
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Bethlehem was the city of David, and since the Messiah had to come from the line of David, he had to be born there. This fulfills another prophecy found in 2 Samuel 7:13:
2 Samuel 7:13 (NIV)
13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
With all that was happening around his empire, the events taking place in Judea had little interest for Caesar. But God was looking at the big picture and was at work behind the scenes, moving an exalted emperor 1500 miles away to issue an edict that would bring Joseph and the very pregnant Mary on a 60 mile journey to Bethlehem in order to fulfill a 700-year-old prophecy. Either that, or God knew that Caesar would issue this edict and so whispered this prophecy 700 years earlier to the scribe who faithfully recorded it.
Now, turn back to Matthew. Serving under Caesar in a faraway district was a hated man named Herod. While he reconstructed the Temple in Jerusalem, he was a murderer by nature. When he found out that the birth of Jesus was a potential threat to his throne, and that the prophet Micah had specified the town he would be born in, he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Even this outrageous and hideous slaughter of innocent children was predicted in Jeremiah 31:15 almost 600 years earlier. Look at Matthew 2:17-18:
Matthew 2:17-18 (NIV)
17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Writing approximately 700 years before the events surrounding the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, another prophet predicted with absolute accuracy that God?s Son would be called out of Egypt. Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in Matthew 2:14-15:
Matthew 2:14-15 (NIV)
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
These are just some of the prophecies about the birth of Christ. There are myriads more that have to do with His life and death.
? Isaiah 53. The Messiah would be despised and rejected. He would then be “pierced” for our transgressions as He took our punishment and our iniquity on Himself. When He was afflicted, He would remain silent, making intercession for those who had sinned against Him. After dying with criminals, the Messiah would be buried in a rich man?s tomb.
? Psalm 41:9. A trusted friend would betray him: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
? Zechariah 11:13. The betrayer of Jesus would receive a reward of 30 pieces of silver.
? Isaiah 50:6. He would be beaten, mocked and spit upon.
? Psalm 16:10. The resurrection was predicted when David wrote, “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let the holy one see decay.”
In his book called, “Science Speaks,” Dr. Peter Stoner suggests that the odds of one person accidentally fulfilling 8 of these detailed prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 17th power. That amount of silver dollars would cover the state of Texas to a depth of two feet. Now, let?s suppose you took one of the silver dollars and marked it with a red dot and then dropped it from an airplane. Then, you thoroughly stirred up the entire mass. You then find a friend and blindfold him and tell him he can go anywhere in Texas and reach down and try to pull out the coin with the red dot on it. Dr. Stoner says that those are the same odds of 8 of these prophecies being fulfilled in precise detail by Jesus. Now, get this. Josh McDowell has listed over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled with precision by Jesus Christ (Josh McDowell, “Evidence That Demands a Verdict,” Vol. 1, pp. 144, 167)!
Friends, if you ever doubt that God is control, study fulfilled prophecy. If you ever wonder if God will keep His Word, look at how He?s done it in the past. If you ever question whether God is in control of your circumstances, ponder the wonder of what He?s already done.
4. People Were Personally Prepared
If you still need evidence that God was at work in the circumstances that led up to the first Christmas, consider how He prepared people to experience the Incarnation. We?ve already discussed how he used two pagan rulers, Caesar and Herod, to expedite His purposes. Now, let?s look briefly at His perfect timing for four other Christmas characters.
? Mary. The Lord obviously had a plan for Mary?s life and when the time was right, sent the angel Gabriel to her in Luke 1:31-33:
Luke 1:31-33 (NIV)
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
That?s quite a message to mull over, isn?t it? But Mary was prepared, even though she didn?t understand all the details. I love her response in verse 38: “I am the Lord?s servant?May it be to me as you have said.” Mary accepts God?s assignment and submits to His timing.
? Joseph. Joseph was having a difficult time understanding God?s plan for his life so he needed some help. After an angel gave some more details, Joseph responds in Matthew 1:24:
Matthew 1:24 (NIV)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
? Simeon. After Jesus was born, his parents followed the Law and presented their son to the Lord in the Temple and offered a sacrifice. It?s at this point that we?re introduced to a righteous and devout man named Simeon. I want you to notice that according to Luke 2:25, he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
It was somehow communicated to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord?s Christ and so he kept on waiting and wondering if the time had yet come. I love verse 27-28 because it shows us again how God positions people exactly where he wants them for His purposes: “Moved by the Spirit?Simeon took him in his arms and praised God?” God?s Spirit moved him right where He wanted Him at the exact time Jesus was coming into the Temple!
? Anna. After Simeon astonished Joseph and Mary by blessing the baby, they came face-to-face with a prophetess named Anna. God had prepared her as well. She spoke about Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel. I want you to notice the first part of Luke 1:38: “Coming up to them at that very moment?” The Majesty moved her so that she could speak about the Messiah at that exact time! Not a minute earlier or a minute later.
God does the same for us, doesn?t He? His timing is perfect! If He can change the course of culture and history, if He can prepare both Gentiles and Jews for the coming of Christ, if He can fulfill hundreds of prophecies to remove all doubt about what He is doing, if He can prepare people for Christ, then He is working in your circumstances to accomplish His purposes right now, at this exact time, in this precise place.
I?d like to suggest three ways we can apply this message.
Look for God?s perfect sense of timing in the Christmas story.
Read the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters of Luke this week and worship God for how He weaved everything together at exactly the right time. Ponder the wonder of how the words in Luke 2:6: “And the time came for the baby to be born” relate to Galatians 4:4: “But when the time had fully come?” The birth of Jesus is the hinge on which the door of history swings.
Chose to trust God?s work in your circumstances.
Just as He worked out His plan perfectly at Christmas, He is wonderfully working out His purposes in your life right now. Since He foreknew and worked in the details surrounding the birth of the Savior, can He not do the particulars in your life? Maybe your circumstances don?t look very good right now. Will you trust His timing anyway? Perhaps you?ve been angry with God because you don?t like what?s happening. It?s time to surrender to the Savior right now just like Mary did when she said, “May it be to me as you have said.” It?s time to trust His timing. Charles Spurgeon once said, “There are no loose threads in the providence of God?the great clock of the universe keeps good time.” When the time had fully come, God sent His son. And when the time is fully come, He will keep all His promises to you.
Receive the gift of Jesus right now.
God?s perfect timing must come down to the personal level. Galatians 4:4 declares that at the right time, God “sent forth” His Son. That means that He was moving toward us while we were moving away from Him. I can say with complete confidence that it is no accident that you are here today. This is your appointed time to accept what Jesus has done for you. 2 Corinthians 6:2: “I tell you, now is the time of God?s favor, now is the day of salvation.” Friend, don?t put off the most important decision of your life. Decide right now to receive Jesus into your life.
Don?t delay. Don?t procrastinate. Do it now. Vince Lombardi used to say, “We didn?t lose; we just ran out of time?” Actually, when you run out of time, you will lose. One day it will be too late.
Jesus was born in the fullness of time. That means that there was an exact moment of time when he came to earth. And the timing was perfect. In a similar way, you were born at a precise time in history. Just as each of us has a birth date when we were born physically, in John 3:3, Jesus tells us that we must be born again spiritually at a specific time: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” This may be your day. Are you ready for this to be your birthday?
I want you give you the opportunity right now, at this time, and in this place, to do some business with God.
? Will you read the Christmas story this week? If so, would you please raise your hand?
? Are you ready to submit your circumstances to Christ and trust His perfect timing? If so, would you please stand?
? If you?re prepared to receive what the Redeemer has done for you, and be born again, I?d like to lead you in a prayer of salvation….
While God does have a sense of humor, His perfect timing is no joke. When we submit our circumstances to Him, we will experience the joy that only Christmas can bring