Last week, we looked at the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Today, we continue on in chapter 2, as we pick up the narrative with verse 8. Mary has just given birth to Jesus, wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.
Shepherds - out in the fields, minding their own business (literally). The sheep were probably sleeping, and except for the moon and maybe a small campfire, it is dark all around. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel appears, and the whole area is filled with bright light. Today, our minds can rationalize something like this very quickly. A used car dealership turns on a big spotlight, or someone just turned off the road with their brights on. But this is two thousand years ago, and the shepherds have never seen anything that even remotely resembles this. It is easy to see why they were terribly frightened.
Now the angel told the shepherds that this great joy would be for all the people. "All the people": That's always caused quite a problem, hasn't it? The Jews had a problem with everyone being eligible for salvation. It was their thinking that you had to be a Jew. Even most Christian Jews thought that in order to be saved, Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism, then become Christians.
But as we saw Thursday night in our study of Genesis 12, God's plan of salvation through faith has been inclusive of the Gentiles as well as the Jews from the beginning. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:
Gen. 12:3 "...In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
And Paul further clarifies this by telling us in the book of Galatians:
Gal. 3:8 ...The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you."
So the gospel being made available to everyone is not a new concept - it goes way back to the promise God made to Abraham. And most of us today in the predominantly Gentile American church don't have much of a problem with that. But the fact that the gospel is "for all the people" is still quite foreign to us. Think of it... what if this church was full with kids from High School III, dancers from the Green Door, bikers from the Eagle's Nest, homeless guys from the Comea Shelter, and drunks from Cowboy South? Are "those" people welcome here? If they all came next Sunday, would they feel loved?
You know, it wasn't more than 10 or 11 years ago that I was included in that bunch. I had black hair down my back, black makeup on my eyes, bone earrings, and upside-down cross necklaces. I growled at nuns, spit on people, and mocked senior citizens. I smoked pot, dropped acid, and snorted cocaine. And if the Christians at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California had written me off as someone who didn't "belong" in their church, I wouldn't be saved today. The gospel is for ALL the people - especially "those" people. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 9...
Matt. 9:10-13 ...It happened that as (Jesus) was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?" But when He heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
That's what I want - a church full of sinners! Both kinds: sinners who've been forgiven, and sinners who don't yet know that they can be forgiven. If they're welcome at Calvary Chapel of Cheyenne like I was at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, they'll come. And if they come, they'll hear the gospel, just like I did. And if they hear the gospel, many of them will be saved, just like I was. The angel told the shepherds
Luke 2:10 "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people"
Let's make sure that our church presents the same gospel that the angel did: that gospel which is for ALL the people.
As a side note, there are a couple of verses here that remind me yet again that we are victims of believing the Christmas Card artists, rather than the Scriptures: 1) When we think of this moment in history, our minds conjure up a picture of the clouds parting and seeing hundreds of angels singing in the sky. But verse 9 told us that the angel:
Luke 2:9 ...STOOD before them...
And now a multitude of angels appear WITH the angel and praise God. So much for the pretty picture in the sky.
Luke 2:14 "...On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
Now we know that the book of Hebrews tells us that:
Hebr. 11:6 ...Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is...
The message of Christmas is not "Peace on earth, good will to men", for Jesus said:
Matt. 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Jesus coming to earth in the form of a man did not bring peace on earth. Isaiah says:
Isa. 57:21 "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
We have peace with God when we are pleasing to God. And we are pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ - Nothing more, nothing less.
I love the excitement of the shepherds. As soon as they hear about Christ, they say, "Let's go straight there!" And they went in haste. There's nothing like the excitement of a brand-new believer to spark people up. I remember right after getting saved, I still looked weird, I still had the foulest mouth around, and I was far from what you would call a victorious, mature Christian. But I witnessed to people. I was excited that there was a God - and I wanted everyone to know it.
Funny how the longer we live with our Christianity, the harder it becomes to share. But the shepherds aren't embarrassed - they're excited. They show up and tell everyone around about Christ. That's where we need to be - with the excitement of a new believer. We need to get back to that place we were before. Jesus told the church at Ephesus:
Rev. 2:2-5 "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first..."
He said, "Guys, you've become a mature, doctrinally sound church. You're searching the Scriptures, and pressing on in the faith. But you've lost the fire, the love, that you had for Me in the beginning. Get back to that point. That's where I want you."
So, eight days after His birth, the Baby is named and circumcised. Forty days after His birth, they're in the temple to present Him to the Lord as their first-born Son, and to offer the necessary sacrifices for the burnt offering and the sin offering. Leviticus chapter 12 tells us that forty days after giving birth, a Jewish woman should bring:
Lev. 12:6 ...A one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.
Lev. 12:8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons...
Notice the sacrifice that is given - two birds. Mary and Joseph couldn't afford a lamb. That tells me two things: 1) that they weren't doing that great financially, and 2) that the Magi haven't show up yet, 'cause they bring some pretty expensive stuff, including gold! We gather from the gospel of Matthew that they probably showed up about a year and a half later:
Matt. 2:9-11 And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
By that time, Mary and Joseph were living in a house.
What a godly example we have in Simeon. Our reaction to meeting Christ should be the same: "Lord, now that I've embraced Christ, I can die in peace! Now that I've met Jesus, there's nothing on this earth that I need to strive for with my blood, sweat, and tears. Now I am an alien and a stranger, and a pilgrim on this earth." Paul had this attitude when he wrote in Phillipians 1...
Phil. 1:2125 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith...
Is that where you're at today? If the Lord said "Hey, I'm going to call you home tomorrow", would you be excited about that? Or would you think: "Oh, man! I'm just about to get that promotion! ... I'm just about to finish the 90th level in Space Commando! ...I've just started dating this great guy, and I think he might be the one!" Are you tied down to this earth?
Simeon was a righteous man - and said "Lord, now that I've embraced Christ, I can depart any time you want me to."
When Anna was a young woman, her husband had died, and she had devoted her life to the Lord. She spent her life serving God. Wow - what a life. Many Christians often fantasize about doing that - "I'll go join a monastery, or be a missionary. I'll join a commune, or a Christian community." Most of us don't have the financial or family freedom to do as Anna did. But notice this: Anna served...
Luke 2:37 ...Night and day with fastings and prayers.
Do you want to devote your life in a mighty way to the Lord? Serve with fastings and prayers. There are so many needs - so many hurts - so many unsaved people in the world. Fast and pray. You'll be at least as effective praying at work as you will praying in a monastery. Spend your life serving the Lord - you don't need to leave your job or your family to do it.