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December 17, 2018

 

ADVENT JOY

 

“The Shepherds' JOY About Jesus”

 

Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  11 The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others - the armies of heaven - praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph.  And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.  It was just as the angel had told them.

 

 

A survey was done to see which characters from the Christmas story most people identify with.  How many think it’s Mary?  Joseph?  The wise guys?  How about Herod?  It was, by far, the shepherds that most people identify with! 

 

When I was young I always liked the shepherds because they were rugged outdoorsmen, who carried big sticks and had awesome beards!  (As a much older guy, I still like them, the best!)

 

I think that most of us are pretty comfortable with the Christmas story.  Maybe, because we’re so familiar with it - it’s become part fable / part legend in our minds.  And, probably, some of us have sentimentalized Christmas so much that we just go along superficially - counting down the days ’til Christmas and stressing out over all of the things we have to do.  And, we neglect the Nativity.  (It’s like the little girl who misquoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only forgotten Son.”

 

Christmas music helps us remember that it’s the baby, who was born in Bethlehem (Jesus, the Son of God), who brings the world JOY!  The shepherds were the first to receive news about the gift who keeps on giving!   And because of what they did with this Gift, we too can sing joy to the world! 

 

I think it’s amazing that God chose to send the birth announcement of his Son to a bunch of shepherds.  And, Luke 2:8 doesn’t tell us much about who they were.  No adjectives are used to describe them, just: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby . . .”

 

Throughout the O.T. history of Israel, shepherding was a good profession.  Of the people in the birth lineage of Jesus, Abel was the first to have this job.  Then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and of course, David were also shepherds.  Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and we’re compared to sheep . . . which is anything but a compliment. 

 

By the time we get to N.T. (the first century), being a shepherd had a new reality.  Shepherds made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of the lepers!  In the Talmud, which is a collection of interpretations and insight from the Rabbis, we actually read these words: “No help is to be given to heathen or shepherds.”

 

To understand just how unusual it was to have the angels appear to those lowly shepherds, we need to understand a bit more about shepherds:

 

Shepherds were considered ceremonially unclean.

So, because of the nature of their work they were unable to attend any religious services.

 

Shepherds were isolated and forgotten. 

Because their flocks needed to move around, and find new grass and fresh water, shepherds never stayed in one place for long.

 

Shepherds were treated with contempt & mistrust.

Their testimony was never allowed in court . . . because they were so unreliable.  And, shepherds were often suspected of stealing from others.

 

Shepherds were known to be crude & rude.

Living out in the fields, away from society, made shepherds unappealing to most people.  Many of them had foul mouths, were ready to fight anytime, and smelled as bad as their sheep!

 

God entrusted the greatest message ever sent from heaven to a bunch of smelly shepherds!  Actually, this isn’t so unusual, is it?  God has always worked wonders for / through the marginalized, for the despised, and for the forgotten.  From the very beginning of his time on earth, Jesus came to those who felt horrible and were humble.

 

Matthew 9:12-13 (NLT)

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor - sick people do.”  13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’  For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

 

Jesus reached out to sinners like Zacchaeus and Levi; the prostitutes and the demon possessed; and strangers and Samaritans.  Jesus simply did in his ministry what the Father did in a borrowed stable, when the lowly shepherds looked at the Son of God, all while the cattle were lowing (whatever that is)!  Mary captured this in her song:

 

Luke 1:52 (NLT)

“He has brought down princes from their thrones and has exalted the humble.”

 

Paul said it this way:

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV)

26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.  27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.  And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

 

The Gospel doesn’t say, “Now there were in the same region scribes keeping watch over their scrolls.” 

 

God comes to the lowly, to the most undeserving, to the neglected and marginalized, in order to show his power.  The shepherds help us see that God has a message for sinners just like us.  Everyone matters to God - and the announcement of Christ’s birth goes out to a bunch of uneducated outcasts.  As the song says:  What a strange way to the save the world!  As we briefly look at the shepherds’ response today, we’ll see some lessons that WE can apply to our lives . . . so that we, don’t forget the Son this season!

 

1. THE SHEPHERDS WERE ATTENTIVE

 

The first thing we see about the shepherds is that they were quite attentive to their jobs. 

 

Luke 2:8 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

 

They were so committed to their career that they NEVER left their work!  They not only worked the third shift, they pulled the first and second shifts also!  This was a 24/7 job for them.  We also see from this verse that they were faithful, since they were “guarding their flocks.”  It was often the case that different flocks would come together at night and all of them would go into the same fold.  One of the shepherds would literally lie across the entrance, to make sure none of the sheep would get out and no predators in. Jesus clearly understood this:

 

John 10:9 (NLT)

“Yes, I am the gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved (find safety).  They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.”

 

Notice that God came to those who were attentive at the jobs they were given to do.  They weren’t slackers, and God met them right where they were!  Likewise, whatever God has called YOU to do, be attentive to it and do it with excellence.

 

Colossians 3:23

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,

as working for the Lord, not for men.”

 

You may be thinking, “God doesn’t even know that I exist.  Or if he does, he’s must be really mad at me.”  I’m here to tell you, you are NOT insignificant to Immanuel!  God will meet you right where you are.  You don’t have to clean yourself up on your own, or act like someone you’re not.

If you’re a bit smelly, like a shepherd, let Jesus clean you up.  If your sins are knocking you down, allow Jesus to lift you up.  Heaven chooses to bring a message to the messed up; to the low achievers (as well as to the high achievers).  You are created in the image of God, as an original masterpiece, and the signature of the Creator is inscribed on your soul!

 

2. THE SHEPHERDS WERE AWED

 

While they were being attentive to the tasks they were given, they were suddenly awed by an angelic announcement:

 

Luke 2:9 (NLT)

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, 

 

God meets us where we are, but then he brings us to our knees.  God’s glory lit up the sky and caused the shepherds to quake in their sandals!  Whenever we come face-to-face with God’s holiness, we fall apart to . . . because of our sinfulness. 

 

Peter had this response to Jesus:

 

Luke 5:8

“Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

 

The shepherds may have been terrified because they didn’t know if this was an angel of judgment or not.  Had this angel been sent as payback for their raunchy jokes, bad language and horrible manners?  Maybe their sins were catching up with them and now they were going to be vaporized!  Whatever the case, they were in awe - and it would take A LOT for these tough guys to be terrified!

 

When is the last time you were in awe?  Do you marvel at the Messiah?  How long has it been since you hit your knees in worship of HIM?

 

3. THE SHEPHERDS ACCEPTED

 

The attentive shepherds are filled with awe, and now they accept the message of good news of great joy:

Luke 2:10 (NLT)

10 but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 

 

The angel calms them down, telling them that he is bringing good news of acceptance, forgiveness and hope.  WE would have a lot to fear if Christmas had never happened!  The angel is clear: Joyless faith in Jesus is a contradiction in terms!

 

This message is “to all people” . . . but also notice the word “you.”

 

This message is for the whole world, but it must become deeply personal.  After getting some more specifics, a whole army of rejoicing warrior angels fills the sky, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

 

We know that the shepherds accepted this message because in verse 15 we read:  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

 

Have YOU accepted the message of the angels, and allowed the Word of God to work in you?

 

God’s good news is a gift that must be received, if you want it to be activated in your life!

 

4. THE SHEPHERDS ACTED

 

The shepherds did not just accept and enjoy the message they received, they acted upon it.

 

Luke 2:16 (NLT)

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph.

And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

 

The word “hurried” means they left in haste.  The idea is, “Come on, hurry up, let’s go!”

This is pretty amazing in itself, because shepherds normally did nothing quickly.  They were patient men, accustomed to moving slowly through the pastures with their sheep. 

 

The Bible is clear that acceptance must lead to ACTION:

 

James 2:17 (NIV)

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is

not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

They could have doubted, or delayed, but instead the shepherds decided to act . . . and they moved.

 

They went and saw.  The first thing they did was go to Bethlehem.  They wanted to see the baby with their own eyes.  A baby born in a smelly stable would not have been a problem to men who were used to the scent of sheep.  Check out the irony.  Unclean shepherds came to a smelly stable to see the Holy of Holies laying in a bed of hay.  (Some Bible commentators say that the shepherds were possibly taking care of sheep that were going to be sacrificed in Jerusalem’s Temple, as atonement for sin.  If that was the case, it’s no accident that they leave their sheep behind to visit the Lamb of God! )

 

1,000 years earlier, David kept watch over his father’s sheep in this same area . . . and now, these shepherds are looking at the Son of David / the Son of God - born in Bethlehem (the City of David).

 

They left and shared.  It’s amazing that the shepherds didn’t all pull up a bale of straw and make themselves comfortable.  But, they did NOT hang around the manger, because they knew that they were now managers of the message

 

Notice that the message they shared had NOTHING to do with seeing the amazing angels; and there’s no reference to Mary’s magnificence or Joseph’s job as the adopted father of the Messiah.  They came to see Jesus . . . and now, they head out to herald the good news:

 

17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 

 

The word “told” means to “spread / make known in such a way that people can understand.”  We’re here today because the shepherds couldn’t keep quiet!

 

In what area is God calling you to some action?  It’s not enough to just say you have faith, or to feel good about something; there comes a time that after seeing, we must be involved in sharing.

 

5. THE SHEPHERDS ADORED

 

It’s cool that the shepherds went back to their same old jobs, but they were not the same on the inside.  They returned to where they started and they were attentive again!  Notice that they didn’t write a book, or go on a speaking tour, or start a new ministry called: “A Shepherd’s Story.”  After Christmas, we have to go back to the same routine of life, but now we can go with rejoicing!  And, We are to rejoice right where we are!  Yes, it is possible to have joy in our jobs, even if they’re junky.

 

Luke 2:20 (NLT)

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.  It was just as the angel had told them.

 

They don’t just wonder about what they saw, they worship HIM whom they saw!

 

A clear evidence of our conversion, our becoming a Christian, is Adoration.  Someone said, “Many of us worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”  Father, help us!  When a person is genuinely saved / transformed in Jesus, he or she will naturally praise and worship God. 

 

Allow yourself, this Advent, to adore Immanuel as you glorify and praise him for all that you have seen and heard.  You can return to the same place tomorrow . . . but not as the same person!

 

Do you want to be like the shepherds?  Or, will you just plant yourself, and be as unmovable, like a rock?

 

The shepherds were changed forever by what they saw, and we need to follow their example:

 

•   Be attentive to what God has called you to do

•   Be awed by God’s message to you

•   Accept the gift of Good News

•   Act on what you know to be true

•   Adore Immanuel 24/7

The shepherds had to personalize their response.  Jesus was born to the whole world, but he was born “to you.”  Our Heavenly Father declares that Jesus was born to YOU!

 

Christmas is real history . . . but it must become your story:

 

Luke 2:11

“Today [that means right now] in the town of David a Savior [the One who forgives sins] has been born to you; [personal] he is Christ [the long-awaited Messiah] the Lord [your master & Leader].

 

I close with three questions:

 

   • Is Jesus “Savior” to you?

 

   • Is Jesus “Christ” to you?

 

   • Is Jesus “Lord” to you?

 

Corrie Ten Boom said: If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem, and not in me, then I would still be lost.”

 

It’s time today to make sure that Jesus is born in you! 

 

 

 

December 10, 2018

 

We celebrated at A&D Biker Ministries this weekend, with our annual Christmas dinner.  I did not preach a message, so there are no sermon notes this week for “DOC’s Blog.”  However, below is an Advent devotional for this week, published out of Wheaton College.  Be encouraged by the truth in this brief devotion! 

 

HONOR AND GLORY FOREVER

 

1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV)

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God,

be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

With another New Year on the horizon, it is hard not to contemplate the steady tick of our biological clocks and the inevitable passage of time.  The natural world around us is at the mercy of entropy as described in the second law of thermodynamics.  Rivers alter their courses.  Mountains erode.  Galaxies collide, and stars collapse into black holes.

 

Our bodies are also running down.  Although scientists are still trying to figure out a way to immortalize humanity, the human body is corruptible.  Human beings grow old and die.  Eventually, our chromosomes shorten beyond repair, like a shoelace that keeps breaking until there is not enough lace left to tie the shoe.

 

“Things fall apart,” writes William Butler Yeats in “The Second Coming,” his famous poem about the corruptibility of humanity.  Persons, families, towns, cities, nations, empires, civilizations - they all fall down.  But not God.  God is not eroding.  He is not falling apart.

 

Unlike everything else he has made, God is immortal.  Not only will he live forever, but every one of his divine attributes will remain undiminished throughout all eternity.  God does not become less powerful, less loving, less just, or less holy with the passage of time.  He is every bit as powerful, loving, just, and holy as he has ever been and always will be.

 

King David made an important prediction about the destiny of the Messiah, the Blessed Son of God:  

Psalm 16:10

You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

 

The second half of this verse was a prophecy about Jesus of Nazareth.  He was born, killed, and buried.  But he did not perish in the grave.  He was raised on the third day in an incorruptible body.

 

By raising Jesus from the dead, God gave immortality to mortals.  Jesus Christ, God’s Blessed Son, was the first to be raised with an everlasting body, but only the first.  Part of his work is to give his people immortal, incorruptible bodies.  As 1 Timothy 1:16 says - because God himself is immortal, he can guarantee eternal life to mortal flesh.

 

How would you live differently . . . if you were focused more on your incorruptible, eternal life and less on this corruptible, human life?

 

December 3, 2018

 

ADVENT PEACE

 

“The Angels’ Plea for PEACE”

Luke 2:9-14 (NLT)

 

Christmas!  What other time of the year do you sit around staring at a dead tree in your living room, and eating out of a sock?

 

As we look at the details surrounding the birth of Jesus, this Advent season, there ARE some strange, surprising & supernatural things going on.  Someone once said, “Take the supernatural out of Christianity and all you have left is a religious book club!” 

 

A teenage virgin gets pregnant, and she’s still a virgin.  Her fiancé remains faithful.  An 80-mile trip to Bethlehem, nine months pregnant.  A birth in a barn.  A supernatural star.  Angels appearing.  Shepherds leaving their sheep.  Wise guys traveling across a desert, to an unknown destination, to see a king.  The birth of God’s Son.

 

Last week we looked at Isaiah’s bold and fearless HOPE, as his prophecies were fulfilled with pinpoint accuracy.  Jesus was a sure sign, a sent Son, a shoot from a stump, AND a suffering Savior.

 

Isaiah reminded us that . . . One can never start too early when getting ready for something really big!

 

For this second week of Advent, let’s look at the Angels’ Plea for PEACE.

 

The Christmas story is filled with the supernatural, but some of us miss its meaning because we just skim by this season on a superficial level.  I want us to see the mysterious, and the miraculous, that surrounds the birth of Jesus! 

 

Did you know that angels appear in over half of the books in the Bible, with more than 300 total references?  They have 3 primary responsibilities.

 

They magnify God.  The number one job of angels is to adore God! 

 

Nehemiah 9:6

“You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”

 

They are messengers of God.  The word “angel,” in the Bible, literally means messenger.  Their job is to do what God sends them to do.  Angel messengers convey two types of messages.  Sometimes it’s good news; like announcing the birth of Christ.  At other times, they bring bad news.  (In this capacity, they are not cute little cherubs like we put on top of our Christmas trees.)  The book of Revelation is full of ‘avenging angels’ . . . and it is anything but pretty!

 

They minister to people. 

Hebrews 1:14

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

 

Most of the time angels are not seen; they minister invisibly behind the scenes.  Yet, on occasion, they break into our world, appearing for a short time to accomplish a specific purpose.  The Bible mentions that when they do appear, they often look just like humans.

 

Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing

some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

 

The Christmas story begins & ends with angels!  The Incarnation is so incredible and earth shaking, that only the angels could be entrusted by God to be the messengers to announce it.  Even though Isaiah, and others, prophesied about the coming birth of the Messiah, no human person could have possibly been persuasive enough to convince Mary or Joseph!  (If you look at all the major events in the Bible, the birth of Jesus has more messages from angelic messengers than any other event.)

 

We’ll look today at four Christmas characters and how they responded to these encounters with Angel Messengers.

 

Have you heard the old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt?”  That means that the more familiar we are with something, we get bored with it - or worse, we start resenting it.  So, let’s try to read these accounts as if we were hearing them for the first time.  In fact, let’s put ourselves in their sandals, remembering that 400 years have gone by (the time when God was silent between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew).  Since the time of Isaiah, people have been pleading with God to come down into their world and save them!

 

First, here are a few observations about angels in the Christmas story:

 

• Angels appear suddenly to ordinary people doing ordinary things.  At Christmas, they broke into our world unexpectedly, with a message of unequalled importance.

 

• Angels cause people to be afraid.  When they appear, a sense of fear and wonder overtakes everything else.  Knowing this, notice their first words in the Christmas announcement:

 

Luke 2:9-10 (NLT)

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them.  Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”

 

• Angels are never to be worshipped.  All references to angels in the Bible are incidental to some other topic. 

 

We must be careful to not give too much attention to angels.  Angels are NOT to be prayed to.  They may help deliver answers to prayer, but the Bible never says that we should direct our requests to them. 

 

Angels can get our attention, but they always do it for God’s sake, not their own.  When angels in the Bible discharge their duty & deliver their message, they withdraw from human contact.  They don’t stay long, because we are not to focus on them; they want us to worship God.  Also, the Bible never tells us to seek out encounters with angels . . . because angels refuse to be worshipped. 

 

The Apostle John experience this . . . when he was overcome by what he heard and saw in his visions:

 

Revelation 22:8-9 (NLT)

I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things.  And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me.  But he said, No, don’t worship me.  I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book.  Worship only God!”

 

Let’s look at four Christmas Characters, and their reactions to encounters with angels at Christmas, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

 

1. Denied and doubted (Luke 1:5-25)

 

The first appearance of an angel, in the Gospels, takes place in the opening verses of Luke when the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son named John.  Luke 1:7 says that they didn’t have any children because Elizabeth was barren and they were both old.  Zechariah was a priest, and when it was his turn to serve in the Temple to burn incense, the angel of the Lord appeared to him.  Verse 12 tells us that Zechariah was “gripped with fear.” 

 

The angel comforted him and then said:

 

Luke 1:13 (NLT)

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!  God has heard your prayer.  Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.”

 

The angel then proceeded to describe what kind of person John, Zechariah’s son, would be - as well as his purpose.  He would prepare the people for the coming Messiah. 

 

Even though Zechariah had prayed for a child; and even though he was a religious guy; he doubted the angel:

 

Luke 1:18 (NLT)

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen?  I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

 

Because of his doubts, Zechariah was not able to speak until the baby was born.  Luke 1:64 tells us that when he was finally able to speak, eight days after John’s birth, the first thing he did was to praise God.  He broke into a song (verse 68) . . . and the song ends with a reference to Isaiah 9:2:

 

Luke 1:69-70 (NLT)

69 He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, 70 just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.

 

 

2. Not sure but surrendered (Luke 1:26-38)

 

The next encounter with an angel was when Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary, six months later.  After his greeting, Mary is greatly troubled - and we hear these words of comfort once again: “Do not be afraid.”  Mary is told that she will be pregnant and give birth to a son, and she is to give him the name Jesus. 

 

Then, Gabriel tells her a little about the baby she will give birth to:

 

Luke 1:32 (NLT)

He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.

 

While Zechariah denied and doubted when he heard the amazing news, Mary was simply not sure how all this could happen.

Luke 1:34 (NLT)

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen?  I am a virgin.”

 

Gabriel gives her a few more details, which had to be very difficult for anyone, especially a teenager, to comprehend.  And Mary responds, out of her heart of deep love for God:

 

Luke 1:38 (NLT)

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true.”  And then the angel left her.

 

3. Accepted and acted (Matthew 1:18-25)

 

We won’t spend a lot of time on Joseph’s reaction now, because we’ll focus on his limitless love the fourth week of Advent.  But, young Joe needed some divine intervention after he found out Mary was pregnant, because he knew that he wasn’t the father!

 

But, his reputation was on the line.  What in the world was he going to do?  Because he was a good (righteous) man, he determined to end the engagement as quietly as he could.

 

Right in the middle of his misery, Joe gets a visit!

 

Matthew 1:20-21 (NLT)

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.  “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

 

This angel fills in some of the blanks for Joe, but first, he settles Joseph’s anxious heart by saying, “Do not be afraid.”

 

Amazingly, Joseph is asked to raise a child that is not his!  And, he’s given a glimpse of the glory of this child, as the angel tells him that this boy will be the Messiah Savior - fulfilling the prophecy of a “sure sign” from Isaiah 7:14

 

Joseph immediately accepted his assignment . . . and he acted on it:

 

Matthew 1:24-25 (NLT)

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.  25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born.  And Joseph named him Jesus.

 

Joseph actually had two more encounters with angels, several months later.  And like the first time, he accepted these messages and acted on them.

 

Matthew 2:13-14 (NLT)

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  “Get up!  Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said.  “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother.

 

Joseph really had some “get up and go,” didn’t he?

 

His response was identical some time later, after another angelic encounter, in which he was told to go back to Israel because Herod had died.

 

Matthew 2:21 (NLT)

So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.

 

Zechariah denied and doubted.  Mary wasn’t sure, but she surrendered.  Joseph accepted and acted. 

 

There’s one more reaction!

 

4. Believed and broadcasted (Luke 2:8-20)

 

The final angelic intervention, in the Christmas story, takes place when God rocks the routine of some guys who are just out doing their job.

 

Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified,

 

In the midst of their mundane routine of ‘guarding sheep,’ an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared.  The darkness of a silent night was shattered by the brightness of the glory of the Lord. I’m sure they were rubbing their eyes & shaking in their sandals.  In fact, the word “terrified” means that they were very alarmed and agitated.  (Lord willing, we’ll study more about the shepherds next week.)

 

10 but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”

 

Once again, an angel has to tell humans to chill out.  The reason they did not need to be afraid was because the messenger was bringing . . .

 

10 . . . “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  11 The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

 

Now try and picture this.  As the shepherds are trying to handle the message from this one angel, they get hit again:

 

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others - the armies of heaven - praising God and singing,

 

The word “suddenly” means that the heavenly host came unexpectedly / without warning.  The phrase “vast host” means there too many angels to count!

 

The sky was literally filled with a multitude of angel messengers.  The shepherds watched . . . as heaven opened up, and they saw an entire militia of messengers, hundreds and thousands of angelic warriors, worshipping God.

 

By the way, while angels do sing in other instances, this time they say:

 

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

 

Notice that peace came only AFTER the praising!  We must put God and his glory first, then peace will come within our lives! 

 

While this is a great time of the year, there is nothing magical about this season if you do not know the Christ of Christmas.  The phrase “Happy Holidays” is meaningless without acknowledgement of the holiness of God!

 

After witnessing this incredible display of unbridled adoration and praise, the shepherds knew that they had to move . . .

 

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!  Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

They discussed what they should do, and they were unanimous in their decision to head to Bethlehem. I love verse 16 because it shows that their fear had been replaced with faith . . . and then their faith went to their feet!

 

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph.  And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 

 

There was no delay.  The word “hurried” carries with it the idea of speed.  (It was no small matter for them to leave their sheep behind, because they could have lost their jobs . . . by leaving them unattended!)  And the shepherds themselves, then, became messengers of the message they had received from the angel:

 

17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 

 

With their hearts filled with gratitude and joy, these men broke out into praise:

 

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.  It was just as the angel had told them.

 

Angels are everywhere, and I believe that they are still doing God’s work today.  Whether we see or hear an angel doesn’t really matter.  What matters most is that we get God’s message and that we respond to it.  Which of the Christmas characters most represents where you are at today?

 

• Are you denying and doubting? 

 

Don’t be like Zechariah and allow your doubts to delay your decision. 

Angels don’t understand everything about salvation, because they can’t experience it.  But, I believe that they’re dumbfounded when people deny it and doubt it.  Ask God to take away your doubts; and be open to the supernatural.

 

• Are you somewhat uncertain but ready to surrender?  

 

Mary wasn’t sure about everything, but she surrendered anyway. 

 

Christmas MUST become personal . . . have you personally received Jesus as your Savior?  Luke 15:10 tells us that the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents.  The angels are ready to throw a party on your behalf, but you must first receive Jesus as your personal Savior!

 

At the heart of Christmas is a Gift (Jesus) that the angels announced.  He is a present that must be received.

 

• Are you ready to accept and act?  

 

Joseph is a good model of someone who put feet to his faith!

 

What is God asking you to do right now?  No matter how difficult it is, if God is telling you to do it, that’s what you need to do!

 

• Do you believe, and will you share the good news? 

 

The shepherds, along with the angels, also helped share the Christmas story.  Have you ever noticed the middle letters in the word “evangelism”? Do you see the word “angel” there?  We are called to believe and broadcast the good news now, just like the angels did back then. We, like the shepherds, are now the messengers of the manger story!  Who can you point to the Savior this Advent season?  Invite a friend to church!

 

I came across this story recently.  It’s a bit long, but I think that it helps capture what may have been going on with the angels during the birth of Jesus.  I’ll share it, in closing this message. 

 

There was sorrow in heaven!  Can you imagine that?  Sorrow in heaven!  It all seemed so strange to two of the smallest angels by the name of Arnal and Pax.  They were given the task of carrying the messages for the Master from one end of heaven to the other.

 

Arnal said to Pax, “I actually saw those things called ‘tears’ in Gabriel’s eyes.  Something terrible must have happened to have caused that.  Someone said that tears were shed in heaven on only one other occasion . . . I think it had something to do with the first created creatures on earth.

 

They did something that broke the Master’s heart.”  Pax added, “The Father loves them so much but I’m not sure why.  They don’t seem to appreciate what he has done for them.  And do you know what I heard?  The Lord Jesus is going down to earth to live among them!”

 

Arnal looked at his friend, shocked!  And for the first time in his existence a tear fell down his cheeks as he said, “Going to leave us?  Leave the beauty and the joy and the love of heaven?  What will he do down there, Pax?”  “I don’t know for sure.  Someone said he was going to be born.”  “Born?  What’s born?”  “I don’t know.  It’s something that happens to earth creatures.”

 

You don’t mean to say that he’s going to be like them and take the same kind of body, do you?”  “I’m afraid so,” said Pax.  “Well, when is this thing supposed to take place, Pax?”  “I think it’s what they call ‘tonight’ down there.  It could be any moment now.”  Arnal said, “Then come on, Pax.  Let’s hurry back to the city.”

 

There was a lot of commotion in that celestial city when the two little angels arrived.  Messengers were hurrying to and fro and there was a great blowing of trumpets.  Angels had massed from the four corners of heaven.  Row upon row, rank upon rank - angels and archangels were there before the Great Throne of God Almighty.

Then Arnal and Pax saw something that made their hearts sink - the seat at the right of the throne was empty!  The Bright and Morning Star was gone!

 

Suddenly, Arnal and Pax heard their names called and Gabriel ordered them to find a place in the massed group.  They stood together at the end of the front row.  Gabriel raised his hand and there was complete silence!  Then in clear tones, as sweet as the sound of many waters, he spoke: “You’ve been called together to hear the most wonderful pronouncement ever made!  Our beloved Lord, the only begotten of the Father, has left us.”

 

The voice of the great Gabriel trembled.  After a moment, he continued: “Our Lord has gone to earth to be born as a baby, so that he might take upon himself the fashion of a man.  Only in this way, the Father believes, can the earth people know of his love for them.  He will take away the sin of all earth creatures who receive his offer of salvation.”

A gasp of astonishment rose from the angels, as Gabriel continued.  “On earth, tonight, in a little town called Bethlehem, his incarnation will be accomplished.  By the order of the Father, you will accompany me as we bring the good news to that tired world.  I will make the announcement to a few shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem - simple men who fear God and believe His promises.

 

You will join me and give glory to God in the highest.  It’s time.  Let us go!”

 

Arnal was trembling with excitement as he and Pax, small though they were, had been selected for the journey.  The whole air seemed filled with the angelic host that attended Gabriel on his way.  By the thousands and tens of thousands they swept through the heavens.  Down through the belt of Orion, on past the Milky Way - down, down, they went through the still night air, leaving the stars twinkling far behind them.

 

At a signal from Gabriel they stopped, poised above the earth.  Below them, by the light of a camp fire, they could see shepherds keeping watch over their flocks.  Suddenly, Gabriel broke through the clouds and stood before the men.  The shepherds gazed at him in awe and then fell in terror to the ground.

 

Then Gabriel spoke: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

 

As the angel finished these words, the light of the glory of God fell from heaven and the angelic host stood revealed.  They knew what they were supposed to say, though they didn’t comprehend the mystery of it all.

 


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