Second Reformed Church

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Good News of Great Joy" Sermon: Luke 2:1-14

“Good News of Great Joy”

[Luke 2:1-14]

December 24, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            The angel, Gabriel, had come to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Promised Savior – that God Himself would cause her to become pregnant – as a virgin – and bear the Incarnate Son of God.  And they lived in Nazareth in Galilee.

            The problem was that the prophet, Micah, said that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem in Judah:  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV).

            If the birth of Jesus was a conspiracy, Mary and Joseph would have to have found a reason to move that wouldn’t be questioned, so the Baby would be born in Bethlehem.  But it was not a conspiracy, and, as Daniel said, God moves men and nations to suit his purposes:  “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.  He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).

            And so we read:

            “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

            This is the Hand of God – the Hand of Divine Providence – that moves all of history to accomplish God’s purposes.  God has not left us to our own devices, but is intimately involved in everything that happens – even in seemingly small things – like guiding a pagan nation to conduct a census which would make Mary and Joseph move to Bethlehem – where the Christ-Child was prophesied to be born.

            As we read through the Bible, we see God moving all things to bring His plan to the end for which He intends.  God moved you and me to be here this evening – God is moving in our lives right now to accomplish His purposes.  Have you ever looked back at your life and thought, “If I hadn’t done this, I would have gone here, and this wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have the result I do now”?

            Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).  If we love God, if we are called according to His purposes – all things are working together for our ultimate good.

            The nation of Israel was conquered by the Roman Empire, and they decided to take a census, which sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, so the prophecy of the birthplace of the Savior would come to pass – for our ultimate good.

            That is not to say that everything that ever happens to us, we would consider “good,” or that we will enjoy every step along the way – we know that’s not true.  There is pain and suffering in the world and in our lives – for sin, as the result of sin, and for our discipline.  But – ultimately – all things are working together for the good of we who believe in the Savior – who love God – who are called according to His purposes.

            And, so, for the good of all those who  love God and are called according to His purposes, God sent the Roman Empire to conquer Israel and to have Quirinius call for a census which would send Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of the birth of the Savior.

            At the time that Mary was giving birth to Jesus, we read:

            “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”     

Shepherds – those filthy, smelly people, whose word was almost as unreliable as women’s – so the culture said – were out in the fields with their sheep – they were out doing their job.  And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared and the sky filled with the Glory of the Lord, and they were terrified.

            Rightly so, don’t you think?

            Not just because seeing an angel appear was a frightening event – not just because he appeared suddenly – not just because they wouldn’t have known if the angel came to kill them or bring them news or something else – but because the Glory of the Lord filled the sky – that Glory which caused the prophet Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV).

            Isaiah’s response is telling – the Glory of the Lord – the Holiness of God – causes the Creation to shake – and it causes those who have committed rebellion against God to shake in fear.  As Daniel said just a minute ago – God dwells in light, and He knows what is in the darkness.  The darkness runs and hides from the light, and humans with darkness – with sin – in them – cry out in fear.
             But the angel quickly comforted them:

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

What is “good news of great joy?”

If you were a millionaire and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be of great joy, because you already have so much.

On the other hand, if you were unemployed and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, and a great joy.

Similarly, if you were a millionaire and lost a thousand dollars, it would be bad news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a great disaster.

But, if you were unemployed, and you got a bill for a thousand dollars, that would be bad news, and a great disaster.

So, the goodness of the news and the greatness of the joy relates to the badness of what bad news would be, and the greatness of what a disaster would be.  Right?

So, the further you were in debt, the more the thousand dollars would be worth – the greater a joy it would be.  (We’re talking in general terms.)

What would be such good news that it would be a great joy to every type of person in the world?

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah God.

The shepherds surely knew from attending worship in the Temple that they needed a Savior – they were at odds with God due to their sin – and they understood that the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – was not going to be enough in the long run.  And if we take our sin seriously, we understand that nothing we do or try to be will ever be enough to make us right with God.

So, the announcement that the Savior God had been born – that the Way to be right with God had been born – would be good news of great joy to everyone who recognized that he was not right with God and couldn’t become right with God on his own.

God judges all mere humans in these words:  “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:  ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9b-18, ESV).

That’s pretty bad news – isn’t it?

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:18-21, ESV).

Anyone who is not right with God will be condemned.  And Jesus – with the rest of Scripture – says the Only Way to be right with God is through faith alone in Jesus Alone as Savior – the Messiah God – the Christ.

The bad news is that all mere human begins are against God – which is the worst of all bad news, because God is against those who are not right with Him – and the end of those who do not get right with God is condemnation fitting the crime of rebellion  against God.

But the angel told the shepherds that there is good news – the best news there could ever be – for every type of person on earth – shepherds and kings – men and women – Jews and non-Jews – which is a great joy – what greater joy could there be than to be saved from the Wrath of God and be made right with Him?  The Savior has been born!

The problem with many people is that they don’t understand the bad news – God requires us to be holy as He is holy – and if we are not, we will be justly condemned.  But the news is even worse – as we just heard – we can’t make ourselves right and we don’t even want to be right – we are happily in rebellion – in sin.

The problem with many people is that they have heard that God is love, and they believe that they are pretty good people, so God will be grateful for being the their best they could be on their own.

The problem with many people is that they not only don’t believe they’re that bad – they don’t believe that God is that Holy.  They haven’t been confronted with the Glory of God that makes them cry out, “Woe is me!  A sinner!”

I hope you have received Jesus Alone by faith alone – the One Savior.  If you have not – know that you are in desperate need of being saved from the Wrath of God for your sin.  God is Holy, and being good enough is not good enough for God.  The only hope for any person is to receive and believe the historical work of the Savior for all those who will ever believe.

If you have received the Savior – if you can feel the great joy that would have welled up in those shepherds as they heard the good news announced to them – that caused them to run to the manger and then run to tell everyone they could find, then you are now one who has the Gospel and the Glory of God in you – in your earth vessel – in your jar of clay – for others to see.  Don’t hide the Light!  Go beyond, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and explain why this good news is of great joy – explain what Jesus did on earth and why that is good news of great joy – why He is the Only Hope of anyone who will believe.

The angel told the shepherds where to find Him:

“’And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

As we remember God’s birth – His Incarnation – in the person of Jesus – as we consider what God did to save us – as we think about this good news and find ourselves filled with great joy – let us take every opportunity to tell others the good news that they may be filled with great joy.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for loving the world and sending Your Son to become a real human being to live among us, die, and rise again that we would be forgiven and made righteous – that we would be right with You eternally with You in Your Kingdom.  Forgive us for our sin, and let God the Holy Spirit embolden us and give us the words to speak so all the world would know this good news of great joy.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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