************ Sermon on Luke 2:14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2018
"Glory to God"
The angels of heaven know so much. But they don't know everything. And, they don't understand everything. On this Christmas Day we look at the angels, we listen to their song, we sing their song.
I God's Control of All Things
A What do the angels know? They know God is in control of every event surrounding Christmas. He put wicked King Herod on the throne. He made Elizabeth barren. He chose Zechariah by lot to burn incense. He sent the Angel Gabriel to speak to Zechariah. He shut Gabriel's mouth and stopped his ears. He opened Elizabeth's womb. He made Mary pregnant. He selected the names given to baby John and baby Jesus. He made John the Messiah's forerunner. He moved Caesar to do a census of the entire Roman world at just the right time. He placed the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It was His plan that there was no room for them in the inn and that the baby be laid in a manger. He put the shepherds in the fields nearby. He appointed every angel in the angel choir. All of this was according to the plan of God for our salvation.
B Many of the details of this plan were foretold by prophets long before they happened. For instance, 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah announced that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Isaiah announced the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Is 7:14). And, 400 years before the birth of John, Malachi announced a messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5).
C According to the plan of God, the New Testament would start with revelations, angels, and miracles -- a whole bunch of revelations, a whole bunch of angels, a whole bunch of miracles. Remember what was said a couple of weeks ago -- that according to the plan of God this was the first revelation in 400 years, the first angel visitant in 500 years, the first series of miracles in 800 years? So, we see revelation is given to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, Simeon, and Anna. We see angels appear to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. We see a miracle child is given to both Elizabeth and Mary.
All of this was according to the plan of God. For if it was up to man, things would have happened differently. For instance, Mary would never have left Nazareth to go to Bethlehem when it was time for the baby to be born. Instead, she would have stayed near family and friends in Nazareth. And, it would never have been Mary's choice to stay in a stable and place her child in a manger. Instead, her baby would have been placed in a crib or a cradle. None of this was the choice or the decision of Joseph and Mary. Instead, it was according to the plan of God.
D The angels of Christmas Day longed to look into these things (1 Pet 1:12). They longed to know and understand when the Messiah was coming, when He would suffer and die, when He would be glorified. They've been waiting a long time. Don't forget, angels were present in the Garden of Eden -- one of their number tempted Adam and Eve to fall into sin; another of their number guarded the entrance to the Garden and the Tree of Life. There in the Garden they heard the first announcement of the Gospel -- of Him who would crush Satan underfoot. They were present during the days of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were present when the firstborn of Egypt were struck down. They were present in the wilderness. They were present when the Law was given. They surrounded Elisha and his servant and kept them safe from an enemy army. They announced the coming of the Messiah to Daniel.
Yes, the angels have been waiting a long time. For centuries they have been waiting. For centuries they have been wondering when the fullness of time would come. For centuries they have looking for the realization of God's plan.
Can you begin to understand why the angels were singing on Christmas Day? Can you understand why they were singing, "Glory to God in the highest"? Because they knew -- they knew -- God's plan was unfolding. They knew the Messiah was finally present. They knew everything was happening just as God had determined from eternity.
"Glory to God in the highest," sang the angels. Why? Because what the angels have been longing for, what they angels have been waiting for, is finally coming to pass.
II A Miraculous Birth
A What else do the angels know? They angels know that the story of Christmas includes two miracles: the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus.
When doctors don't understand something or can't explain something -- for instance, cancer is gone, a pregnancy happens -- they proclaim it a miracle. We can't explain miracles. But we do know that our God is the God of miracles. Time after time, God invades history with a miracle.
We see this with the birth of John the Baptist. His mother was barren; that is, her body was not producing an egg to fertilize. On top of that, she was old; that is, her body was no longer going through the monthly cycles. Medically speaking, humanly speaking, it was impossible for her to get pregnant and have a baby. God intervened with a miracle, God intervened with His mighty power, and Elizabeth became pregnant.
Elizabeth is not the first barren woman in the Bible to experience the favor of God in her life; it happened at least 5 other times. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was in her nineties before she bore Isaac. Isaac was the child of promise and through him all the nations would someday be blessed. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, was unable to conceive. Isaac prayed to God and after twenty years of marriage she had twins sons, Jacob and Esau. Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, also had problems conceiving. Eventually she gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin. Samson's mother, the wife of Manoah, was miraculously healed and bore a son who would become the strongest man who ever lived and a Judge of Israel. Hannah, the second wife of Elkanah, prayed that God would heal her womb. She gave birth to a boy who would become the prophet Samuel. Each time God intervened with His mighty power. Each time God did a miracle. When all of these were conceived, God turned aside the weaknesses of the body and went around the shortcomings of the flesh and reversed the processes of nature.
B The miracle of Jesus' conception and birth was of an entirely different sort. What happened then was outside of nature, foreign to human experience, and totally supernatural. A virgin conception. No joining of cells. No DNA from a male father. This was in anybody's estimation the greatest birth in the history of the world. And, like so much else in the Christmas story, it was part of the plan of God and foretold by prophecy.
Mary didn't understand how this was even possible. But when she was told about the power and work of the Spirit, when she was told nothing is impossible for God, she responded in faith.
Joseph also had problems with the virgin conception and birth. He resolved, remember, to quietly divorce Mary. He, too, was told about the power and work of the Spirit. And he, too, submitted to the will and plan of God.
We know something else from the Christmas story. This was no ordinary child who was born. No, this was Immanuel, God with us. As John writes at the beginning of his gospel:
(Jn 1:1,14) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... (14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.The eternal, holy, awesome God entered the world in human baby form. The Creator of the universe took to Himself a truly human nature.
C The angels were watching. The angels knew what was going on -- after all, one of their number was sent to Zechariah and later to Mary with the news of what God was going to do. They saw, they observed, they knew about the two amazing births right at the start of the Christmas story. They knew about the intervention of God in human history. They didn't understand but they knew it was the Son of God in the flesh. The angels can only respond with "Glory to God in the highest." Do you understand why the angels sang this song? Do you sing this song as well?
III A Savior has been Born
A What else do the angels know? They know the main point of our Bible reading from Luke 2. They know the main message, the most important message, of Christmas Day. After all, it was an angel who announced it: "A Savior has been born to you" (Lk 2:11). "A Savior has been born to you" (Lk 2:11).
At the beginning of time the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:7). They rejoiced in God's goodness and the goodness of God's creation. But soon their joy turned to dismay as they saw the darkness of sin descend upon the earth. As they saw even some of their number rebel against God. As they saw enmity, pain, thorns and thistles, death and what leads to death. As they saw the judgment of the Flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. As they saw God's people taken into Exile.
Would things ever be the same again? Would man ever walk in the light of God's presence again? Would things ever be right between God and His image-bearers?
On Christmas Day they finally get to announce good news, the best news: "A Savior has been born to you" (Lk 2:11). That's the Gospel. That's the whole point of Christmas: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15). This is the message we hear from the angels this Christmas Day. This is the message we proclaim to the world.
B Zechariah and Mary and the shepherds of Bethlehem knew and understood this message of a Savior. Because in all of redemptive history the one, true, holy, and eternal God keeps revealing Himself as Savior. He saves. He delivers. He rescues. He was this way in Egypt when He delivered the children of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. He was this way in the wilderness when He delivered them from drought and hunger and enemies. He was this way in the Promised Land when He saved them from Midian and Philistia. He was this way in Babylon when He released His people from captivity. God is a saving God. God delivers His people from sin and darkness and bondage.
In his song, Zechariah has an absolutely wonderful line. He praises God because "he has raised up a horn of salvation" (Lk 1:68-69). In her song, Mary glorifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior (Lk 1:47). Both of them realize God's saving work comes down to the baby born on Christmas Day.
The shepherds -- being Jews -- know the same thing as Zechariah and Mary. They understand the words of the angel when he says "a Savior has been born to you." They know their Bible history. They know God is a saving God.
And the angels, the angels, they also know God is a saving God. So they form a heavenly choir that praises our saving God: "Glory to God in the highest," they sing.
C "A Savior has been born to you." The implication of this is that a Savior is needed -- by Zechariah, by Mary, by the shepherds. Zechariah needs a Savior even though he was upright in the sight of God, even though he observed all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly (Lk 1:6). Mary needs a Savior even though she is presented as a humble and pious servant of God. Why? Because they are both conceived and born in sin. Because they are sinners who are under the curse of the Fall and under the wrath of God.
What about the shepherds? Everyone knows how unclean they are. Everyone knows they are at the bottom of the Jewish totem pole. Everyone knows they rarely attend worship in the Temple. Everyone knows they need a Savior.
But why do the shepherds need a Savior? I ask this because they look after the sheep used at the time of the Passover. Why do they need a Savior when they are caring for the sheep used in Israel's sin offerings, guilt offerings, and atonement offerings? Surely the blood of all these animals is enough to save them. But no sheep, no goat, no bull is ever good enough. As Hebrews puts it,
(Heb 10:4) ... it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.The sacrifices of Israel didn't deal with the sinful heart. They didn't change man's sinful condition. They did not clear the conscience. Something more was needed. Someone more was needed. Namely, a Savior.
Like Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds we, too, are sinners who need saving. We know only the work of Jesus can save us.
The angels -- God's holy angels -- they know about the Savior. They praise God for our salvation.
"Glory to God in the highest." Do you see why the angels are singing? Do you join them in their song?
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