How do you respond to the fact that God sent his son into the world? What is our response to the love shown by God? We have come to another season of Joy, Christmas is round the corner and today I want to take your attention to the very first Christmas. Today, we are going to take a look at how some people responded to the first Christmas message.
Today we are going to see some qualities God wants us to have to work on our behalf.
Mary and Joseph have been to Bethlehem for the census. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, Jesus Christ. Mary and Joseph are filled with joy to see the miracle birth. Up in the throne room of God it would have been a time of great rejoicing. The angels are contemplating the best way to announce this wonderful news. God said, “I think that we should send a messenger out at night into the fields to tell some shepherds about it.” The angels would have thought, “Shepherds, why not some others!” But that was God’s way of announcing Jesus’ birth.
Luke 2:8-15 8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly 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.” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
When I hear about shepherds being informed about Jesus’ birth, it makes me feel good. If shepherds are important to God, then we too are important to God. God loves the common people, and God loves us!
Now, I want to take your attention to a different scripture where another group of people heard the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Matthew 2:1-2 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:9-11 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
The story of the wise men is also a story of love, worship, and adoration. They represent the aristocracy of the time – the rich, the educated, the learned, and the elite. They are valuable to God too. What a contrast, God loves the poor as much as he loves the rich. Jesus came for the entire mankind.
Now, let’s pay attention to the third group of people in the Christmas story. Matthew 2:3-8 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
Matthew 2:12 and 15
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
15 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
The story of King Herod is one that is filled with suspicion, fear, anger, pride, and eventually murder.
Now, the shepherds, the wise men, and Herod’s party (Herod, chief priests, and the teachers of the law) heard the birth of Jesus but all reacted differently to the good news. While some people were filled with love and happiness, others responded with darkness and despair.
Jesus has come; He has accomplished his mission for us. Christmas can only be meaningful if we respond positively to God’s message. How do you respond to the good news of the birth of Jesus? How do you respond to the love of God? How do you respond to his presence in our midst today? God is willing to work on our behalf provided we respond to him. Let’s see what God is expecting in us based on the responses of these three people groups.
1. GOD WORKS WHEN WE ARE PREPARED.
I think that God chose to announce to the shepherds and the wise men the wonderful news of the coming of Jesus because they were prepared for that event. Somehow their hearts and minds were ready for that glorious news.
God is looking for people who are ready. God deals with people who are prepared. Each time we come to the presence of God, we should be prepared. Often time we come to God with the cares of the world, distractions in our mind, sin that entangles us which takes our preparedness away.
Shepherds generally came from the base elements of society. In that day, they were so little trusted that a shepherd’s testimony would not be accepted in a courtroom. Most shepherds were considered on par with gypsies and conmen. The shepherds were on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. The shepherds were mostly illiterate.
On that night in Bethlehem, one of the groups in the world who knew Christ had been born was the shepherds. You see, after the 400 years of silence from God, when God did not speak through prophets, he now speaks through angels to the lowly shepherds on a remote hillside outside a tiny Judean village. I truly believe they were humble and their hearts were prepared to receive the Word of God. Their minds were uncomplicated. They didn’t think of reasons not to believe. They just believed the Word. Their hearts and their souls were ready and when God spoke through angels, they listened and accepted the news with great joy.
The wise men were also prepared. They came from the area where Daniel, the prophet had such great influence and power. They had the writings of Daniel and they would have studied other prophetic books of the Bible. They were prepared for the arrival of a king. And when they saw that bright star shining, they were ready to make their journey, because they knew the star meant that somewhere a king had been born and they wanted to worship Him. They were prepared and ready for Christmas.
But King Herod’s party wasn’t ready. Have you ever wondered why they didn’t see the star? If it was bright enough for the wise men to see it in far countries, it was bright enough for them to see it in Jerusalem too. Why didn’t Herod, the chief priests, and Pharisees hear the announcement of the angels? Why didn’t they see the heavens lit up on that first Christmas night? They could have seen. They could have heard. But they didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear.
On the flip side they knew the exact scripture of the savior’s birth. Matthew 2:3-6 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
Here comes the difference between knowing the Word, hearing the Word, and responding or practicing the Word. The Pharisees and chief priests knew the word, Herod heard the word but their hearts were unprepared and they were unwilling to respond to the word. Christmas came to them as surely as it came to wise men and shepherds, but Herod’s party did not see it because they were not prepared.
God can only work with people who are prepared to receive his message. We can hear message after message, we can have the Bible with us but if we are not prepared to respond we will never see the promises of God. If we are not prepared, we may miss out on what God has for us.
In Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to offer his son as a living sacrifice. The son was the sacrifice, so other than a lamb, Abraham prepared everything needed for the sacrifice. See Abraham’s preparation:
Genesis 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
Genesis 22:9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
Abraham was well prepared. He took time to build the altar, the arranged the wood. God saw his preparation and his heart and provided a substitute lamb.
Elijah took time to prepare the altar and God did his part by sending the fire. Are you prepared when we come to worship God? Is our heart soft and ears sensitive? Do we respond to the Word of God? If you want the blessings of the Word of God, you need to respond to the Word.
2. GOD WORKS WHEN WE HAVE FAITH.
When the wise men and the shepherds heard the message they were willing to step out and take a journey of faith to see Christ, but not Herod and his party.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith if is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
I love the words of the shepherds. Shortly after they heard the message they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” They didn’t question the message of God. They didn’t question the announcement of the angels. They didn’t sit around and think about all the impossibilities and how humanly speaking it didn’t make sense. No, they just rushed to Bethlehem to see the baby. They believed what was said.
How about those wise men? Have you ever put yourself in their shoes? I see them standing out in their front yards getting their camels ready for the long journey. They are loading up their saddlebags with food, clothing, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Just then some neighbors walk by and ask, “What are you doing?” The wise men reply, “We are getting ready to take a trip.” “Where are you going?” “Well, we’re not sure.” “Do you have a map?” “No, we are going to follow a star.” “Oh! What are you going to find when you get there?” “We are going to find a king.” “What’s the king’s name?” “We don’t know.” All we know is that we have seen His star and we are going to follow it until it leads us to Him, and then we’re going to worship Him.”
You see, it was a journey of faith, but for Herod there was no faith. When he heard the message from the wise men he was troubled, “Where? Where is a king? I haven’t heard of any king.” Herod and friends had an opportunity to see the new king. They had the scripture with them, but they didn’t have eyes of faith or a heart that believed. So while the king was born only a few miles away, they were not ready to receive Him because there was no faith in their heart.
God expects our journey to be a journey of faith too. When God called Abraham, he stepped out by faith. He never knew what his tomorrow is going to be but he trusted in God and God never failed him.
We must realize that we will never completely understand the God’s plans unless we step out in faith. We may not understand our tomorrow, we may not understand why this problem and that problem but we know one thing that we are following God by faith and our God will never leave us nor forsake us. He will not let us to be ashamed when we hold on to faith. God works when we have faith.
3. GOD WORKS WHEN WE ARE WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE.
The wise men and the shepherds were willing to pay the price and make the sacrifice. Shortly after the angels went back to heaven they went to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Think about the shepherds, they had to leave behind their sheep. Everything they owned was wrapped up in their sheep. It was at night, when wolves could come, attack, and eat their sheep. So it took faith. They had to say, “We will leave behind all that we have to seek the Lamb of God, and we will trust our flock to the Good Shepherd who will take care of them.” I believe that when they came back they found all of their lambs safe and sound because they were willing to place everything in His hands.
The wise men paid a price, too. They left behind families, businesses, all that was familiar and dear to them just to see the king. They were willing to pay the price for a strange and dangerous journey. They also brought costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men paid a high price and did a great sacrifice to see the king.
When Herod learns about a king, he quickly rushes to his throne and is saying, “Where is He?” He wants to cling to all that is his – his silver, gold, his power, and prestige. He was afraid that he was going to lose it all. He was not willing to sacrifice anything for God.
You see, God has blessed us with jobs, good families, talents, finances but generally people are unwilling to put God first. People are uncommitted to serve God. We put our personal preferences first and then God. God is looking for sacrifice. Remember, we did that once upon a time. Do you remember the day when you decided to first follow Jesus? You gave your heart to him, you surrendered your life and your future to him. We gave priority for meetings, prayers. Many of you have left behind your family, your loved ones, your old friends and followed Christ. Then, you were willing to pay the price to follow Jesus and sure enough he has taken care of you until this day. Now God has blessed us, we are in the warmth of our homes and comfort that God has given us. Where is the sacrifice now? This Christmas, let’s say, “God I want to put you first.” Let’s continue to give priority to God.
Maybe some of you have done the sacrifice and your life is still in trouble. Don’t be discouraged. Continue to serve God. I want to tell you the journey is worth it. Maybe now you are sitting here discouraged, without hope, fighting the battle all along, hold on to God. He will bring you out of every situation.
In every generation there are people who are like shepherds and wise men coming to Jesus to worship Him. And there are people like Herod who stand hard, resisting all that God is trying to do in their lives. Into which category do you fall? What is your response to the presence of God?
Are you prepared to hear from Jesus today? Do you have the faith to carry on your life? Are you willing to pray the price for Jesus today? The invitation is extended this morning and God invites you to come to His manger, to come to His throne, to come to His cross, and to know His love. He has great plans for you. Amen.