God’s View of the First Christmas

God’s View of the First Christmas

Text: Hebrews 10:5-7 — Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”
Introduction: It’s three days before Christmas! Wednesday we will participate in the most widely celebrated religious holiday in the world marking the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. You probably already know that Christians refer to this event as the incarnation. You actually won’t find this term in the Bible. It’s a word that is used to help explain why Christmas is so special to us. It simply refers to the act whereby the Son of God took on a fully human nature, including flesh and blood. Imagine for a moment how Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, must have felt when they held Him in their arms for the first time, each reflecting on the words spoken by an angel to them. To Mary, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:30-33).” An angel of the Lord (probably Gabriel) had a message for Joseph as well. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus (which means Jehovah is Salvation), for He will save His people from their sins(Matthew 1:20-21).” Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph as they considered these words and the future of this little One worshipped by angels and shepherds? Think of the questions they must have asked themselves. Would He be like other little children or radically different? Would He cry when He was tired, wet or hungry? Would He ever get sick, or would He always enjoy perfect health? And what would His first words be? Now there’s a question: What would the Son of God, the Promised Messiah from the line of David, say when He spoke for the very first time? They must have wondered about that. After all, what mom or dad doesn’t think about what their baby’s first words will be. By the way, if you’re a parent, do you remember your baby’s first words? I asked my wife a while back and she did not. In her defense, she’s had seven children, so it would be easy to get confused. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember either. Well, this got me to wondering, so I did a little research and discovered a survey of 11,000 moms by the popular website, popsugar.com. According to these ladies the ten most common ‘first words’ of a baby in ascending order are … (10) Bye, (9) Nana, (8) Kitty, (7) No, (6) Ball, (5) Dog, (4) Buba, (3) Hi, (2) Mama, and (1) Dada! Sorry moms. You may be #1 in most everything else when it comes to your children, but fathers win out on this one. Now listen to this: Did you know that we don’t have to speculate what Jesus’ first words were as He came into the world? And here’s why. Because the Bible tells us. That’s right. In Hebrews 10:5-7 it says, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book (this is a quote from the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Psalm 40:6-8).'” Now when the author of Hebrews borrowed these words, he wasn’t thinking about the baby Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem, but the eternal Son of God who has no beginning or end. He always existed prior to His birth. Someone attempted to explain it like this … “Remaining what He was (God with all His attributes including eternity), He became what He was not(man).” Because Jesus possessed both the nature of God and man in one person, He had the unique ability to express Himself even as He entered the world as an infant more than two thousand years ago. Now that we understand how it could happen, let’s spend the next several minutes together trying to wrap our minds around our some of the Lord’s thoughts on the day of His birth.
He was thinking about what He’d come to. When Christ came into the world, God planted Him in Israel. I like how the Message Bible expresses this in John 1:14.  It says that “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Have you ever wondered what that neighborhood was like? Listen to how Philip Yancey describes it: (Over the centuries) A succession of great empires tramped through the territory of Israel as if wiping their feet on the vaunted promised land. After the Assyrians and Babylonians came the Persians, who were in turn defeated by Alexander the Great. He was eventually followed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews’ worst villain until Hitler. Antiochus began waging war against the Jewish religion. He transformed the temple of God into a worship center for Zeus and proclaimed himself God incarnate. He forced young boys to undergo reverse circumcision operations and flogged an aged priest to death for refusing to eat pork. In one of his most notorious acts he sacrificed an unclean pig on the altar in the Most Holy Place, smearing its blood around the temple sanctuary. Antiochus’s actions so incensed the Jews that they rose up in an armed revolt that’s celebrated every year as the holiday Hanukkah. But their victory was short-lived. Before long, Roman legions marched into Palestine to quash the rebellion and appointed Herod, their “King of the Jews.” After the Roman conquest, nearly the entire land lay in ruins. Herod was sickly and approaching seventy when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem, and soon howls of grief from the families of slain infants drowned out the angels’ chorus of “Glory to God … and on earth peace.” First-century Israel was a conquered, cowed nation. This, then, was the neighborhood Jesus moved into: a sinister place with a somber past and a fearful future. And it desperately needed a Messiah.
He was thinking about where He’d come from. The phrase from the first half of Hebrews 10:5, “when Christ came into the world” is important here. It not only speaks of His first coming to the tiny town of Bethlehem, but also of His pre-existence as the Son of God in heaven. When Jesus came into the world, He voluntarily left something behind in heaven. Now this verse doesn’t tell us much about that, but another passage does. In Philippians 2:5-11 we’re told that in taking on human flesh, Jesus chose to empty Himself of the privilege and status that was His as God. That’s what the words “He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” in verse seven mean. Think about this way: After His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Christ was restored to the glory that was His prior to becoming a human being. Revelation 1:16-17 describes how the Apostle John responded to seeing a vision of Him in heaven. Try to picture it in your mind. “In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw Him I fell at His feet as though dead.” John fainted because he simply couldn’t bear to gaze at the glory of Jesus Christ. People sometimes say things like this to me: “The first time I see Jesus in heaven I’m going to run right up and give Him the biggest hug.” That might happen, but it’s more realistic to think that we will first fall at His feet and be unable to speak a word because we will see Him in all His glory! I believe that is much more likely to be our experience.  By contrast, as He came to our world, it was a completely different picture. Born in a stable surrounded by animals and laid in a feeding trough because there was no room in the inn, Jesus’ birth went unnoticed by most. His father was a poor carpenter who was forced to flee his hometown a short-time later when Herod determined to murder the child. This is not the kind of welcome one would expect for the Son of God. Yet we know that Jesus, knowing His Father’s plan, was determined to go through with it even if it meant setting aside His right to be recognized, honored and glorified for who He was. Illustration: Most of us are not like that. If we manage to build some kind of status for ourselves we want our due from others. Many years ago, I was sitting with my dad in the living room watching a Pittsburgh Pirates game when Barry Bonds, the reigning National League MVP came up to bat. My mother happened to walk by as the announcer gave his name and casually said, “Oh, I was at his house today.” Both my dad and I rolled our eyes and laughed. But she insisted, “No, really, I went to his house for my job with the census bureau.” I said, “You are messing with us! You were at Barry Bonds house. Okay, what was he like?” “He was good looking and polite. But come to think of it, he acted like I should have known who he was. He was wearing all kinds of gold chains and even mentioned that the interview couldn’t take very long because he had a game tonight.” So my mom, because she was a very considerate person, wrapped up the interview quickly, walked to the door, thanked Barry for his time and then left with the greatest ballplayer of the 1990s wondering why she didn’t recognize him. Now Jesus, unlike so many of us, wasn’t concerned about any kind of special recognition at His first coming. Though He certainly deserved everyone’s adoration as the Son of God, it wasn’t why He’d come. So He willingly made Himself nothing and chose the role of a servant instead. THOUGH HE DESERVED THE GLORY THAT WAS HIS IN HEAVEN, HE ELECTED TO LET IT GO TO ACHIEVE THE TASK FOR WHICH HE WAS SENT.
He was thinking about what He’d come for (Hebrews 10:5b-6 — Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure). Jesus came to do what the Jewish system of animal sacrifice could not. This would have come as quite a surprise to the priests who for centuries would enter the tabernacle and then later the temple to offer bulls and goats as God had instructed them. And they were not wrong in what they did. The problem was that they did not understand the truth of Hebrews 10:4 which says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Look back at 10:3 and we gain a little more insight … “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” The job of the priests was to present sacrifices on behalf of the people — one after the other — every morning, noon and night, day in and day out, week in and week out, month after month and year after year. About 1,500 years had passed since the time of Moses when the sacrificial system was instituted, a river of blood had flowed forth from the altar and yet not one of the millions of sacrifices had actually made atonement for the sins of the people. All they served to do was to remind the Israelites that they were still in need of forgiveness and cleansing from sin. That’s why the process was repeated over and over again. And that’s why Jesus had to come! His human body offered on the cross was the only sacrifice that God could accept in payment for sins. All those other sacrifices offered by the priests had value only insofar as they were an honest expression of a devoted and obedient heart. But it would require Jesus, who was without sin, to bear the punishment for sin and break its power by offering Himself as a sacrifice once for all. Illustration: Now some of you might be wondering why God can’t just forgive the debt of sin? Why did Jesus have to be our sacrifice? Couldn’t he just move on without repayment? You know … live and let live? Here’s the problem: someone always eats the cost of sin. As a simple example, let’s say your neighbor crashes his car through your fence and wipes out your Christmas display. When you discover the shambles, you forgive him: “Don’t worry about it! All is forgiven.” But forgiving your neighbor doesn’t do away with the bill or dissolve the damage; it means you eat the cost. Now consider a more complex example. During the U.S. housing crisis, shoddy banking practices, fat-cat executives, and corporate corruption threw a sledgehammer into the global economy. Now, imagine Jesus is installed in the aftermath as the new CEO of one of the massive corporations guilty for the crisis. The old CEO is out the door; a new boss is in town. Jesus is personally innocent: he wasn’t behind the wheel when the ship got steered into the rocks. But there’s still a huge debt. Bank of America alone owed people $17 billion. Someone has to pay the costs. Here’s what actually happened: in the aftermath of the housing crisis, the banks were deemed “too big to fail,” and the government forgave the debt, covering the most expensive bailout of human history. Though the banking industry had caused massive damage, the debt was forgiven. But the debt didn’t go away. Someone else covered it—in this case, the American people. Someone always eats the cost. At the Cross, God was eating the cost of our sin. Why can’t God just forgive the debt? This is what is happening at the Cross: God is just(ly) forgiving the debt—by personally covering the cost. I misspoke earlier when I said the White House gave Wall Street the most expensive bailout of human history. Actually, the most expensive bailout was when the Father established his incarnate Son as the new CEO of a corrupt corporation called Humanity, Inc. and then watched as Jesus took upon Himself the most outrageous debt-forgiveness plan the world has ever known by paying the penalty of sin for us. THAT’S WHAT WAS ON HIS MIND AS HE ENTERED OUR WORLD … THE SACRIFICE HE WOULD OFFER FOR OUR SINS! (What Where He’d come from; what He’d come for and …)
He was thinking about why He had come in the first place (Hebrews 10:7 — Then I said, “I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book). This verse provides us with Christ’s motivation for coming into the world. Now we’d all like to think that Jesus came into our world first and foremost because He loves us so much. And while He does love us, as with everything else He did, Jesus volunteered for duty, beginning in the manger and concluding at the cross, in obedience to His Father’s will. Think back all the way to Genesis 3:15 where God’s will for our redemption is first revealed. “I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring (the spiritual forces of wickedness that follow the evil one) and hers (humanity and ultimately Jesus). He will crush your head and you will strike His heal.” I can imagine a conversation taking place in heaven before man was ever created that may have went something like this:  The Father said to the Son, “You know we’re going to create man in our own image, but that it won’t take Him long to rebel.” Jesus replies, “Yes, Father, I do.” “And You know that there will be only one way to redeem him and his descendants from the awful consequences of their sin.” Again Jesus replies, “Yes, Father, I know.”  Then the Father says, “Because I love the world, I’m going to send You to be their sacrifice and pay for their offenses and make it possible for us to be together again.” And what did Jesus say in response? “I delight to do Your will, Father.” Jesus came into the world having known His purpose before man ever set foot on it (Revelation 13:8). He came to carry out His Father’s plan.
Application: So, in a way scripture gives us the opportunity to know what was on Jesus’ mind as He was coming into the world. He thought about WHAT He’d come to, WHERE He’d come from, WHAT He’d come for and WHO He’d come in the first place. As we conclude, think back with me to the shepherds tending their sheep on the hills outside of Bethlehem on the night our Savior was born. The angel of the Lord spoke these words to them: “I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The Gospel of Luke goes on to say that suddenly a great company of the heavenly host (angels) appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests.” Jesus came to glorify His Father and bring peace between God and man. It doesn’t take much to realize that for many of us peace is in short supply. America is a divided nation over topics like immigration, the wall and what’s good for our country. Terrorists are even now plotting how to bring down the west. Enemies like Iran and others threaten our way of life on a daily basis. It would be easy to come apart in fear if we focus on the world around us. I want you to know that peace is available to you today, but it doesn’t come from the absence of conflict. Peace comes from God as we are reconciled to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the One who set aside any claim to His glory, left heaven and came to our world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin in obedience to His Father. Today you can know that peace that He offers by expressing your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Conclusion: Here’s a story from the Sunday School Times that might help explain why Jesus came into our world. In the war to end all wars, in Northern France, an unusual event took place that halted a ferocious battle between the French and Germain armies. With a fog so thick that no one could see more than a few yards from the trenches, the Germans made the decision to draw back their lines a little. But the French saw this as an opportunity and moved forward. Between the two positions one lonely farmhouse was still standing. As the sun rose, heavy guns from both sides began to boom. But suddenly the firing ceased and there fell a strange, dead silence. For there in the green meadow, crawling on its hands and knees was a little baby. It appeared perfectly happy and contented, and the baby’s laugh was heard as it clutched a dandelion. Not another shot was fired.  When Jesus came into the world, He had a purpose in mind. To bring peace, first between man and God and then between man and man. The baby born in the manger came eventually to sacrifice His life that someday there might be peace among men on whom God’s favor rests.” I hope you have that peace this morning.