************ Sermon on Luke 2:13-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 27, 2020
"Glory to God"
Why Jesus Came
A Why did Jesus come? Why Christmas? Let's review the answers we have looked at so far this season of Advent and Christmas. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save the world (Jn 3:16-17). Jesus came so we would have life to the full (Jn 10:10). Jesus came not to abolish the Law and Prophets but to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Lk 5:32). On Christmas Day we looked at the good news of the angel (Lk 2:11).
Why did Jesus come? As the Christmas angel put it, He came as Savior. Thanks to COVID, many today think of the government as savior. Jesus is Savior. Not the government. Not pharmaceutical companies. Not medical science. Not President Trump. Not Joe Biden. Not Congress. Not the Supreme Court. Not the constitution or Bill of Rights. Not any of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Packages. Jesus is Savior.
B Jesus is Savior. Savior from what? Rescued from what? Delivered from what? There is so much fuzzy thinking about the answer to these questions.
During the riots of the past Summer, I heard pastors and churches declare that Jesus came to save us from white privilege and racism.
Or, how about this one: Jesus came to save us from climate change.
Jesus came to save us from homophobia so we become tolerant and even supportive of gay and lesbian lifestyles.
Jesus came to save us from a life that is unfulfilled. Our marriage is not as satisfying as we think it should be and all the hearts and flowers have long since disappeared. Our kids have turned into major disappointments. Our job/career/business hasn't turned out the way we think it should. Come to Jesus, we are told, and He will fix your marriage, jumpstart your career, and give purpose to your life. Jesus will fill up the empty holes in your life.
Or, Jesus came to rescue us from our addictions, dependencies, and cravings. Jesus is the higher power who rescues us from alcohol, drugs, pornography, tobacco.
Nonsense. All of this. The result of fuzzy thinking. Jesus came to rescue us from God's judgment against our sin and guilt. We have broken the Law of God and we are on our way to the eternal fires of hell unless we are rescued. That's the Gospel message, congregation. That's why Jesus came at Christmas.
II The Glory of God
A But now today I want to tell you the purpose behind the purpose or the reason behind the reason. Don't ever think the ultimate reason for Christmas is us and our salvation. That's a man-centered, self-centered, humanistic point-of-view. Listen to the words of our text:
Luke 2:13–14 (NIV84) — 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The glory of God is the highest, the most important, the pinnacle of all that can occur in the universe. We find this in the wonderful Hymn of Christ in Philippians 2. In two stanzas we hear about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Remember how it ends? Christ was humiliated and Christ was exalted "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11). We find the same kind of language in Paul's letter to the Ephesian church:
Ephesians 1:12 (NIV84) — 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Cf Eph 1:14)Why does God save us? What is the purpose of the plan of redemption: "the praise of his glory."
In our text we see God being glorified by His angels. That's the ultimate purpose of Christmas. That's the ultimate purpose of the good news of the Gospel -- the glory of God. The glory of God is always the ultimate purpose of the good news.
Someone here might say, "I thought the purpose of the good news is to save sinners." You aren't going far enough. You aren't going deep enough. The purpose of the good news is to save sinners so they can join heaven's angels in giving glory to God. We listen to the angels and we are reminded the glory of God is the reason for everything.
B The shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks when an angel appeared to them and spoke to them. That alone was startling, shocking, and terrifying. Then comes verse 13: "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God ..." A great company. How many angels is that? According to Revelation 5, John heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand (Rev 5:11). Is that what the shepherds saw and heard? We don't know. The Greek word for "great company" is used many times in the New Testament to refer to the large crowds that surrounded Jesus -- a crowd that numbered in the hundreds and even the thousands. So the shepherds saw and heard a large group of angels.
Before the events of Christmas happened it was five hundred years since an angel last appeared. The shepherds have never seen angels. Now they see not just one angel but a multitude of them. Let me ask: Where else do we see this in Scripture? There is Jacob's ladder but that was a dream, a vision. Isaiah saw a multitude of seraphs in heaven but that was also a vision. In Revelation 4 and 5 John saw and heard thousands of heaven's angels but that too was a vision. In the Bible as a whole angels don't appear on earth in a group. For instance, Abraham saw and fed two angels just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18 & 19). An angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac (Gen 22). Balaam saw the angel who stood in front of his donkey (Num 22). The parents of Samson saw an angel (Judges 13). David saw an angel (1 Chron 21). But a group of angels on earth? That just didn't happen. So what we have in the Christmas story is pretty remarkable. Incredible even.
A great company. Think about this in terms of verse 9 where we are told, "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them ..." Notice, the glory of the Lord "shone." This means light. Shining. Brilliant. Sparkling. Blinding. Dazzling. God's glory was reflected in one angel. How much glory, do you think, was reflected in a great company of angels? How awesome was the sight! And how terrifying too!
C "The glory of the Lord shone around them." The angels sang "Glory to God ..." What is the glory of God? To understand "glory" we need to start with the Old Testament. The Hebrew word translated as "glory" means "weight." God is weighty. Not that God weighs a lot; rather, that God is awesome and powerful. The Greek word translated as "glory" builds on this and means God is the greatest, the most beautiful and the most perfect in every way. There is none like Him. God has glory. In His glory, God is shining, brilliant, sparkling, blinding, dazzling light.
D A great company of the heavenly host appeared to the shepherds. What were they doing? They were "praising God" in their song. Why were they praising God? For what were they praising God? They were praising God for Jesus. You see, they knew who Jesus was -- "Christ the Lord." They knew He was the eternal Son of God. They knew He was the second person of the Trinity. They knew Christ in heaven before He took on flesh. They knew His glory, His riches, His majesty, His beauty.
They also knew about man's fall into sin. They knew about God's plan for salvation. They knew God's Son was going to take on flesh. They knew the prophecies of the Messiah. They knew He would fulfill the promise to Adam and Eve to crush the head of the serpent. They knew He would fulfill the promise to Abraham to bless all peoples on earth. They knew He would fulfill the promise to David that a descendant would rule forever. They knew He would be righteous and holy so He could take on our sin and guilt. They knew God would not spare His own Son but give Him up for sinners. They knew He would be punished in our place. They knew a sacrifice would be made. So they were praising God that the Savior has come. They didn't fully understand all this (cf 1 Pet 1:12) but they praised God for His grace and love and mercy.
The angels were doing what angels always do: they were praising God. We turn to Isaiah. Remember what they were calling to one another?
Isaiah 6:3 (NIV84) — 3 “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”We turn to Revelation 4 and we hear similar language on the part of the angels:
Revelation 4:8 (NIV84) — 8“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Cf Rev 4:11)
Throughout the course of history the angels have witnessed many mighty works of God. For instance, they were present at creation. They saw the planets fashioned by the hands of God and put into the immensity of space. At that time, says Job, the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:7). But now they sing when they see God descend from heaven to earth and become a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. "Glory to God in the highest." The highest is heaven. You can't get higher than that. Glory to God in heaven.
Do you know what this tells us? This tells us that salvation is God's highest glory. We know that God is glorified in every dew drop or snow flake that glistens in the morning sun. He is magnified in every flower that blooms on the hills and in gardens. God is glorified in every bird that sings, every bee that buzzes, every insect that chirps, every frog that croaks. God is praised in and by every creature in the heavens, on the earth, and in the sea from the least to the greatest. All of creation sings of its Creator's might.
But none of this praise can begin to compare to the glory and majesty given Him because of the birth of the Savior and Lord in Bethlehem. God's wisdom, God's power, God's love, God's faithfulness, God's mercy, God's justice all reach their highest expression in the babe in the manger Who becomes the man on the cross. The whole of God is glorified in Christ -- in Him Who was and is the son of man and Son of God. So, "Glory to God in the highest."
I am amazed by this song of the angels. I am amazed by this song because Christ did not leave His throne in heaven for the sake of the angels. When Satan rebelled against God and dragged a third of the angels with him, Christ did not come down from heaven to save them; instead, He put them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment (2 Pet 2:4). He took on our flesh to save us but He did not take on the form of an angel to save the angels. Yet, they stretch their wings and speed from their bright seats above to sing about God's glory because of Jesus' birth.
On the first Christmas the angels sing what comes most naturally to them: "Glory to God in the highest." Glory to God in the highest because of the birth of a Savior Who is Christ the Lord.
We must learn from the angels. For you see, God's first commandment for our lives is, "You shall have no other gods before Me." In other words, "Glory to God in the highest." And, the first thing God teaches us to pray is, "Hallowed be Your name." In other words, "Glory to God in the highest." All of life, all of our lives, must be directed towards the glory of God. God must be first. On our lips today and everyday because of the birth of Jesus: "Glory to God in the highest.
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