Dec20

Believe the Good News

Categories // Sermons

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Believe the Good News

        Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

        Some things in this life are just too hard to believe. It is hard to understand the cruelty of humankind against itself. War has evolved over the century not only through its weapons but also its tactics. We now attack our enemies through electronic means. We fight with machines instead of people. We justify it as being more humane, yet cruelty to our neighbor does not get better when we use different means to achieve the same goal.

        The slavery of our fellow men, women and children still exists as it did in the time of King David. The immorality of the world has not lessened only revived old debauchery by new and faster means.

        On the other side of the coin, as it were, the creation of art, architecture and the healing provided by medical science, are also often difficult to mentally grasp and understand. As God’s creation, we truly have the knowledge of what is good and what is evil. This knowledge, like us, came from God for He created all things. Yet we abuse this gift in our sin and create more harm than benefit.

        As I traveled about the world, I thought the wonders and terrors I saw were unique to those specific lands or cultures. However, we need only to look out our window here in this valley to see the same beautiful wonders of God’s creation and the cruelty of neighbor against neighbor.

        You too have been witnesses to the beauty of a rainbow or maybe the birth of a child. We sometimes take for granted the very life-sustaining daily miracle of the sun rising, the rain falling and the earth bearing fruit. Yet in all these wonders, we believe these things will continue even after we pass from this life.

        In respect to things we have not seen or things we do not know, we can still believe. Why do we believe? We may believe because of our own understanding or experiences in this life. We may believe in the person who shares with us of things unknown because of their position in the community or their given position of authority in either knowledge or power of which we may lack.

        Some people do not believe in the message of the Gospel when they hear it; others hear it with great desire and eagerness. I have been assigned the task of giving you a message. I am not the creator of the good news I am merely a courier. Many will hear the saving words of Christ’s sacrifice and redemption and believe. Some may choose not to believe, not because of the message, but because of who is delivering the message.

        Zechariah had this problem. The angel Gabriel came to him in the temple and told him his wife would bear him a son. Zechariah had the option to believe the messenger or not to believe. Zechariah was in doubt:

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” [Luke 1:18]

Even in the Temple of the Lord with an angel of God in front of him, Zechariah doubted.

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” [Luke 1:19–20]

        That child to be born to Elizabeth and Zechariah was John the Baptist. This forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ did come into the world as God had commanded. Now the reason I relate this story, this history of the work and power of the Most High, is to prepare you for an even more miraculous event.

        This same angel from God, Gabriel, was sent once again to bring a message of great joy. This time, the message was even harder to believe. I ask you to imagine yourself as the humble maiden Mary.

        At most, Mary would have been 14 or 15 years old. She had been betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of David but had not ‘known’ any man, she was still a virgin. Now we have just heard of an elderly man, a priest of the order of Aaron, having trouble believing the word of Gabriel, and now the same angel of God visits this young girl. Would you believe it?

        This messenger tells Mary that she will conceive and give birth to a son who is to be called Jesus, and not only that, but He will be greater than David and be given David’s throne to reign over the house of Jacob forever. If this were told to you, would you believe it?

        The house that the Lord promised to build for King David, hundreds of years ago, is now coming to its zenith. This is a house that will be ruled by the Messiah for all generations, and it will come into being through a babe, born of a lowly maiden from the line of David.

        Mary was confused at best and afraid at the least by the implications of this message. You see, at that time and in that culture, if a virgin betrothed to a man was to conceive a child outside of that betrothal, it would be considered adultery. If this was to be found out, Mary could be burned alive or stoned to death.

        Fear of the angel is certainly a real concern, yet Mary also fears her mortal existence. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” [Luke1:34] Mary may have found favor with God, but such news of her pregnancy would not find favor with men.

        Gabriel understands that Mary wants to believe but is still in doubt. He gives her reassurance that God will protect her. He says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” [Luke1:35]

        Today, we might not think of someone or something overshadowing us as a good thing. Usually, this term is used in a negative context, such as, “He stands in his father’s shadow.” Meaning, the man or his works, cannot be seen because of the greatness or power of the father.

        However:

Shadows are never an image for sinister darkness in the Bible. Rather, in the heat of Palestine, shadows are preeminently an image for protection or refuge, especially that which Yahweh provides.[1]

The shadow of God’s hand protects those who seek refuge in Him. Mary may have remembered Psalm 91 which says:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

     I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

My God, in Him I will trust.” [Psalm 91:1-2]

The angel Gabriel then encourages Mary with an example of God’s power.

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

     “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. [Luke1:36–38]

        Mary believed when all worldly wisdom demanded unbelief. Her hardship was just beginning. Joseph, her husband, would be next to be asked to believe, then the disciples and then all the people in the world, right up to you and me.

        I do not have to tell you that many people have chosen to believe and a great number have chosen not to believe. As Dr. Martin Luther preached publicly at the parish church, in 1532, on Palm Sunday afternoon, “Only we Christians believe in this article of faith, and we are considered simpletons and fools by the world for it.”[2]

        Yes, the wisdom of God is foolishness before men. The wisdom of God was to create our salvation through His creation itself. The Son of God became incarnate, flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, truly God became truly man so that all who believe in him will be saved.

        Jesus Christ lived in the flesh without sin. This message I tell you so that you may believe. Jesus Christ took the sin of the world to the cross to be crucified to death. This good news is true and you can trust it. After three days in the tomb, Jesus Christ, was raised to life, conquering sin, Satan, and eternal death. This is most certainly true!

        It is easy to believe that the wages of sin is death. Why is it so hard to believe eternal life through God’s only Son? We, here in this world, are able to believe the miraculous and impossible events that happen every day, yet many refuse to believe that nothing is impossible with God.

        If you do not wish to take my word for it, then take God’s Word for it. You will probably not have a visitation from an angel of God, but God will visit you through the Holy Spirit. He will come to your heart and mind with this good news. In fact, the only way that we mere mortals can come to the belief in Jesus Christ is by the Holy Spirit covering us with his shadow.

        As with Mary and all those since who have followed in the footprints of our Savior, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [Luke1:35a] and God will make a permanent dwelling in you.

        “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” [Romans 16:25-27]

 


[1] Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., 779 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[2] Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, Vol 3., Edited by Eugene F. A. Klug, 286 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996)