Christmas, 2020 Part 1: Christ the Creator
Christmas, 2020 Part 1: Christ, the Creator I stand before you today overwhelmed. I began to follow Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 18 years old. I have read in the Scripture over the years, time and time again, the claims of Christ--that he is the Son of God, even God the Son. I have read and studied and written theological papers and preached many times about God, revealed in Scripture as 3 Persons. All of us know that there is only 1 God, the Creator. God has placed this knowledge of Himself into every person. And every December it becomes a challenge in church life. Honestly, how many different ways can a pastor tell the Christmas story, and how many times can a congregation appreciate anew and afresh the same story which has been told for almost 2,000 years? So we decided to do something a little different this year, thank you CAT and especially Greg for the great idea--this was really a team approach! We decided to not make the birth of Jesus the primary focus this Christmas season, but to glance at the birth of Jesus as we tell the bigger story. Why only a glance? And what is the bigger story? Simply put, Jesus did not stay an infant for very long. And as we all know, and especially we who are parents, kids grow up so fast! Over the past few years here at Grace United, we have come to see the real nativity story as recorded in Scripture. Part of this was to get at the real timeline and location of Jesus' birth and not simply regurgitate what tradition tells us. Think about all the tradition that has built up just over the story of the Magi--the wise guys who came from the East to worship baby Jesus. Tradition tells us they appeared on Christmas night, but Scripture gives every indication they did not. Tradition tells us there were three in the group, but certainly there were far more than just 3. It is tradition, not Scripture that tells us the names of the Magi were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. And Scripture makes it pretty clear that they showed up and worshiped baby Jesus he was right around 2 years old--he was a toddler when Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped Herod's terrorist attack and fled to Egypt. It takes away from some of the mystique of this wonderful story, I realize that. But we need to understand not only the birth of Christ as accurately as possible but every story, that we might live out the truth so that God may be glorified in us. So, again, what we want to do this time around is to glance at Jesus as a baby, and use this time to focus on 4 descriptions of Christ, going far beyond that "cold winter's night that was so deep," as the carol goes. And speaking of babies, toddlers are my favorite age of babyhood! They are just beginning to explore their world, toddling around and babbling. They know what they are saying, I'm sure, but unless you are that kid's parents, you need a translator! A toddler is harmless. You can pick him up and put him in a place, and sometimes he will stay there! But he will, shall we say, exercise his lungs at times. Those things come with the territory. And Jesus was like that for a time. But not for long. Now and forever, Jesus is not a little baby toddling around babbling. He is reigning as king, seated at the right hand of the Father, exalted to the highest place. I began my preparation for the first message of this Christmas series several days ago. Getting ready for yet another rendition of one of the greatest stories in Scripture. I was not ready for what I experienced. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not given to profound experiences. I don't seek them and I don't think something is wrong with my spiritual life if I don't have them. But I have had some of those experiences over the years. And I have to say, as I began preparing this time, I had one of those experiences. As I laid my heart before the Lord in preparation of this message, I got an overwhelming sense of something "different." The best way I can describe it is simply in the form of a question that shouted in my mind: "how can you, a mere man, talk about the Creator of the universe?" Has that ever happened to you? A question shouting in your mind leaving you speechless, unable to answer? How CAN we as creatures, deeply marred by sin, mortals, speak of THE God of the universe? It was as though I entered the holy of holies before the veil was torn in two and I was standing in that place: the Ark of the Covenant and me. Holiness so thick one could slice it. I was afraid to reach out and touch for fear I would violate something in my uncleanness. And so with a profound sense of creatureliness, trying to stammer out this message, I will make the attempt to speak of Christ as Creator. Next week, we will talk about Christ as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Week 3 we will look at Jesus as the Great High Priest, interceding for us, spiritually caring for his people. And to finish up our Christmas series 2020, we will see Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, returning as King of kings and Lord of lords. So today, Christmas 2020, part 1 we will speak of Christ as Creator. As we do, we need to view this from the perspective of miracle. Indeed, creation is a miracle. It is also something unique, for the Creation only happened once. One of the amazing things God has hardwired into us as humans is our ability to create. God has made us in his image, with a desire to create stuff. And we have created countless things since the Lord has created us. We have made discoveries galore and put them to use, many things for good ends like helping other fallen image bearers when we get hurt or sick, hence the development of all things medical. Technology is amazing. How much computing power do we have in our hands when we place a call or watch yet another you tube video--though Rumble is better in my opinion! But everything we create is using stuff that God has already provided. It reminds me of a story of a group of scientists who got together and decided that humans had come a long way in their evolution and no longer needed God. So, they sent a delegate to tell him, "Listen, God, we scientists have decided that we don't need you anymore. We've made significant advances in technology and medical science. We can transplant organs, grow tissue, and we can even clone people." God replied, "Wow. That's impressive. But you say, 'You don't need me anymore'? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don't we have a competition to see who can make a human being?" The scientist agreed and God said, "Great. Now, here's how we'll do it. We'll each make a person just like I did back in the olden days with Adam. Ok? Go ahead, you first." "Fine, no problem," said the scientist, and he stooped down to get a handful of dirt. And God said, "Whoa! Wait a minute. Not so fast. Get your own dirt." So, as we begin to explore the holy thing called the creation, we need to try to imagine, if possible what it would be like if there was absolutely nothing but God. Before God spoke the universe into existence and said, "Let there be" and there was. Before there were heavenly bodies. No sun, moon or stars. No outer space, as we call it. No law of gravity or any laws of physics. Of course, no time. Absolutely no matter. In eternity past, God existed. Nothing or no one else. The Godhead, the blessed Trinity, had eternal fellowship with one another. Perfectly satisfied with no needs. God was not lonely. He did not need to create anything. Out of sheer pleasure, and a desire to display his glory, God acted. God created the heavens and the earth. He said, "Let there be," and there was. Everything that is seen and unseen. All things created because he spoke a word. The laws of nature and nature itself. The sun, moon and stars--all appeared because God said, "let there be." He created the earth and all things in it. David echoes this in Psalm 24.1: The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." There is nothing that exists that God did not create. Though God is Father, Son and Spirit, he gave us as it were, an awesome, window to look through, that we may catch a glimpse of his raw power and majesty as he created the universe. Notice the choice of words Moses uses when he writes Genesis 1.2: "and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." As a bottom line summary statement up front, "God created" in v.1, we now read that the Spirit of God hovered in v.2. And in v.3, we read that God spoke--THEN creation came to be. But creation did not happen until that took place. Now, get this. And fall down on our knees! God spoke words. Words. A word is how we describe speech. Something that is said. Why is that so worship worthy? So praise worthy? The apostle John fills in some detail for us as we peer through God's majestic creation window, in John 1.1-3: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and, literally God was the word. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him and without him, nothing was made that was made." Do you see this? God created. God's Spirit hovered over the waters. And God acted through speaking a word. That word was literally the very agent through which everything came to be. Let's discover a little more about God as Creator, as we look into the window of his majestic glory: John 1.14: And the word became flesh and dwelt, literally, tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, that of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Learned people give us insight into what probably was in John's mind here. Remember, he was Jewish, and wrote with a Jewish mindset. So, when he spoke of the word becoming flesh, he was thinking not only of the agent of creation but of the importance of a tabernacle on earth. John of course knew the Scripture. He was aware of what God commanded Moses in Exodus 29.45-46, where he expressed his desire for Moses to make a tabernacle that he may dwell among his people. "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God." How God loves to dwell among his people! In Isaiah 57.15 we read: For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." So, when John wrote that the word became flesh and dwelled among his people, what was probably going on in his mind was the truth of the presence of God, his encouraging powerful, holy presence displayed through this human. As the shekina glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle back in the early days of Israel's history, now that same glory resided in a human. The Word. Made. Flesh. And just like the creation was a miracle as Moses wrote in Genesis 1, we have another miracle in John 1--the incarnation. Deity taking on flesh. But how can that be? Almighty God. The Creator. The One Being without limits, now taking on all the limits of creature. J.I. Packer, who is now enjoying the presence of the Lord wrote about this in his most excellent book, "Knowing God": "the really staggering Christian claim is that the word, becoming flesh means that this one took on humanity without loss of his deity. It is this one who determines human destiny. This one was and is truly and fully divine as he was human. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is the truth of the Incarnation." We know about the incarnation of the word, at least those of us who have been Christians or exposed to solid Biblical teaching for any length of time. Deity taking on humanity, fully God, fully man. This miracle perhaps has become old hat for many of us. And to my shame, it was for me. Happily, God woke me up from my lethargy and overwhelmed me. But imagine never having heard this truth before. You would probably be on the edge of your seat wondering, "John, who is this human who has taken on full deity? Don't leave me hanging!" And John would say, "I'm glad you asked! Here is the answer: John 1:17-18: Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. So, what is John's answer as to who the word made flesh was? None other than Jesus Christ--Jesus the Messiah. And at just the right time in history, Jesus stepped out of eternity and into time. This is the foundation of what we call Christmas--the real reason for the season. Some of you heard the count down song before the service began today. The song may or may not have been familiar to you. But the lyrics of Michael Card's song, "To the Mystery" say so much: When the Father longed to show, the love he wanted us to know, he sent his only son and so became a holy embryo. No fiction as fantastic and wild, a mother made by her own child. The helpless babe who cried is God incarnate and man deified. That is the mystery. More than you can see. Give up on your pondering and fall down on your knees. Indeed! Praise God who has been so gracious, so merciful, so powerful, so wise, to send his Son to us! He, Jesus is the word made flesh. Deity. Humanity Together. That is the mystery! But the mystery is reality! It is this reality that we seek to remind ourselves of every year about this time. With that said, let's look farther at the word made flesh who tabernacled among his people. One day, out of the blue, God sent his messenger--Gabriel-from his throne to Mary with a word, to announce the coming of the word made flesh. Mary was a virgin, betrothed to be married. Gabriel told her, "Mary, you are highly favored of God. The Lord chose you to bear the Messiah. The Holy Spirit will overshadow you, and miraculously, you will conceive a holy embryo in your womb. He will grow in your womb and you will give birth to a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be 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 will be no end." Ladies, imagine being Mary. A virgin. An unmarried woman. She was going to be made pregnant without sexual relations by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her. A scandal of the highest order. And God put her in an impossible situation. For Mary to obey this word from the Lord meant she would be viewed by many as unchaste and worthy of death. For the rest of her days, Mary would have a reputation of reproach. And because of Mary's reputation, Jesus' reputation would suffer reproach as well. The holy one of God would be considered by many who was illegitimate. The story is real. It's raw, as is the lesson. When the Lord calls us to follow him, rarely is it an easy thing. The writer to the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 13.13, that we are to voluntarily bear the reproach the Lord endured. Misunderstood. Mocked. Hated. But worth every misunderstanding sinners can fling at us. Worth every reproach heaped on us by evil and confused people. Worth it, because Jesus is worth following. But now let's switch scenes to get a bigger picture--a broader, wider, announcement of the word made flesh. On the night Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds. As some of us know, these were most likely Temple Shepherds, serving a vital role in the life of the Jews. They were in charge of making sure any lamb which was birthed was perfect. Only a perfect lamb is qualified to be offered as a sacrifice for sin. It was to these shepherds that myriads of angels, gave the announcement of the birth of the word of God made flesh, Jesus the Messiah. "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased." What a night that must have been! As soon as the shepherds heard this word, they make a quick search and found the word of God, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger, just as they were told. Having welcomed the word, the shepherds spread this message to all who would listen. Then they returned to their job of tending sheep, never the same again. Like them, we who have received the word made flesh, are no longer the same. We have heard the word. And we long to share it--him--with others. Though we go "back to our lives", it is now with a new attitude. A new motivation. A new desire to serve the true and living God. Literally, a new life! For we have heard the word of God and received him! And now, we have the joy of the Lord! Regardless of what comes our way for the rest of our days, we will follow the word made flesh, Jesus Christ! Fast forward about 30 years to the days of Jesus' ministry. Everything Jesus did and said was perfectly aligned with what the written word of God said about the coming Messiah. He will heal people: Isaiah 35.5-6. He will be the Son of God: Psalm 2.7-9. He will speak in parables: Psalm 78.2. As a good shepherd of his people, he will feed them: Ezekiel 34.23-24. He will be full of wisdom and power: Isaiah 11.1-10. He will be called Mighty God: Isaiah. 9.6. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He followed Jesus closely. He completely gave himself to the Lord, learning his ways, and beholding his glory. I find it instructive that the beloved disciple wrote the deepest, most profound things about Christ. Time fails us to even scratch the surface about the things John includes in his gospel, and in Revelation. But let's look at one word: glory, for "glory" belongs to God. Let's see how John uses glory to describe his master. John begins his gospel describing Jesus as glorious: John 1.14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. In this simple statement, again from a Jewish perspective, in the words of one godly commentator, "John presents Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God's glory", that God has become up close and personal. John would record Jesus' answer to Philip when he said to Jesus, "Show us the Father and it will be enough for us." Jesus told him, "whoever has seen me has seen the Father." This does not mean that Jesus is the Father. But it does mean that Jesus identifies himself as deity. What amazes me about John's beholding of Jesus' glory is that this glory was actually partially concealed, rarely put on full display in the days of his ministry. Remember when he took Peter and James and John on a high mountain? The appearance of his face was altered and his clothing became dazzling white. And Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. You can hardly blame Peter! He was indeed sore afraid, along with James and John. But what I want us to see here is that John was a witness on the mountain of Jesus' glory unleashed! For me, if I would have witnessed it, "terrified" would have been a huge understatement. There was another time when Jesus' glory was acknowledged, this time when he prayed. Right before he went to the cross, John heard Jesus pray: John 17.4-5: I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. Note what Jesus prayed for--a reinstatement of his glory full force! The glory that everybody witnessed was a muted, diffused glory. The glory Jesus revealed to all who received his ministry, whether it was raising people from the dead, or feeding multiplied thousands, or commanding nature with a word--all of it was no glory at all compared with the glory the Lord had with the Father before the world began! And now, getting ready to face the cross, as the writer to the Hebrews says, he "despised the shame," in anticipation of the Father answering his prayer--that the glory that Jesus had with the Father before the world existed--would be restored to him again. So, Jesus, the suffering servant, went to the cross. He suffered far more than anyone would ever do. He died. He was buried. Gloriously he rose again! Forty days later he ascended to the right hand of the Father--a place of highest honor. And the greatest news, the most profound truth of the glory of Jesus is found at the end of the book. The Father did answer the prayer of his son to restore to him all the glory he had before the world was! How do we know this? Revelation 1.9-18: I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 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. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. My dear friends, take in the implications of this. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The one who was the closest to the Lord in the days of his ministry, fell down at his feet at the sheer magnitude of his majesty. This one is no lowly servant. This exalted glorified one is to be worshiped and adored forever. The Lord Jesus is worthy of praise, glory and honor. Listen to what all heaven is doing at this very moment, and will continue to do forever: Revelation 5.11-14: Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. My brothers and sisters! What more can I say to us in this regard? Christmas was about the birth of the word made flesh, Christ Jesus. And he stayed harmless and helpless for only a little while. And 2,000 years later, we don't worship a baby. We don't remember someone who is helpless. The one who exercised his lungs on the night was delivered, was God incarnate and man deified. The miracle of creation is beyond measure. But the miracle of the incarnation is even greater. The word became flesh and tabernacled among us. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But there is a third miracle I want to mention by way of application, the miracle of a heart changed forever. Remember 2 weeks ago how we saw Christ Jesus establish a New Covenant, where God's ways would be written on the hearts of his people. The Torah would become the most precious thing in the life of a Christian. This is truly a miracle, for a spiritual resurrection has taken place in his or her life. Listen again to who we are by nature: Ephesians 2.1-3: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But what kind of miracle has God done in the life a follower of Jesus? Colossians 3.1-4: If-literally, since-then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. The miracle of a changed life does not come about by wishing it to be so. It does not happen because of positive confession or just adopting new helpful habits, like we do practically every year on January 1. The foundation upon which a miracle of a changed life rests is this: God the Son has raised his people from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. The application God wants of us his people is simply to live out the miracle your resurrection. Here is what Paul tells us in Romans 6.11: So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Dead as in separate from sin--your old way of life, and alive to God in Christ--as in living a new life because of his miracle of resurrection--something only God can do. Now, in Romans 6.12-13, things get very practical. "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." In short, we live out the miracle of God's resurrection in our lives by refusing to yield to sin's temptations that always lead us to indulging our passions. Every time sin communicates to us, "do it! You know you want to!" we bring God into the middle of it. We take the temptation to the Lord in prayer. "Lord, you see what I'm being tempted with. I call on your strength and power to put down this temptation." That's step 1--call on God's power that resides in us. This is a spiritual firefight and you are going to win it! Step 2: Present the members of your body to God as instruments for righteousness. Make it literal! "Lord, I present my mind to you today, that I might think your thoughts after you. I present my eyes to you, that I might see the things that please you. I present my hands to you, that I may engage them in doing righteous things, not unrighteous. I present my mouth to you, that I might speak words that help and not harm others that I might speak truth and give you glory." Every part of your body, actively present it on the altar of your heart to God. This is how you are to put down sin and live righteously. So, this morning, my prayer has been that through these stammering lips and overwhelmed heart, that I was able to communicate to you something of the majesty and glory of God in Christ. Jesus is the word of God made flesh. May we behold his glory and may we live out his righteous ways. He is worthy of all our praise. May he find us working out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and do according to his good pleasure. Let's remember and never forget the reason why he created you and me: Revelation 4.11: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."