Grace Covenant Church Pottstown
Sunday, December 5
- This is Our God/What Child is This?
- Light of the World(Hallelujah)
- He Who is Mighty
- Your Name(Christmas Version)
- What Child Is This
- What Child is This?Luke 2:8–14 (ESV)8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”Matthew 2:6–12 (ESV)6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.“What Child is This?”That’s the theme of our message to you this morning. “What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping/Whom angels greet, with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?” That’s the Christmas question really, “What child is this?”The answers to that question are myriad. Some say He was just a good teacher, but good teachers don’t claim to be God. Some say He was only a good example, but good examples don’t hang around prostitutes, drunks, and dirty politicians. Others say He was a religious madman, but madmen don’t speak the kind of words he spoke: clear and lucid and perceptive and penetrating, nor do they draw women and children to themselves, nor are they served by men with the intellect of Peter and John and Luke and Paul.Some say He was a religious fake, perpetrating a hoax like every other would-be Savior, but fakes have a way of staying dead. Others say He was only a phantom, but phantoms don’t have flesh to crucify and blood to spill. And many have said He didn’t exist at all; He’s only a myth, but myths don’t set the calendar for history.What child is this?Thomas had it right. He looked at him and said, My Lord and my God.” The evidence that Jesus Christ is in fact God is overwhelming. In John’s gospel, John begins by stating that very fact in verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”When the disciples found themselves in a great windstorm, with waves breaking into the boat, and Jesus calmed the storm, they said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). They knew the answer from Scripture. Only God himself can still the seas (Psalm 65:7; 89:9; 107:29); this, somehow, must be God. But it was too wonderful just to say. This new revelation of Jesus’s glory was too stupendous to keep quiet, and too remarkable not to say it in some fresh way. God himself had become man and was in the boat with them. “Who then is this?”When we say at Christmas “What child is this?” We know the answer. It has been plainly revealed. And it is almost too wonderful to be true. God himself has become man in this baby, and has come to rescue us. The eternal Word has become flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). It is clear and certain. We must say it straightforwardly and with courage. And it is fitting that at times, like Christmas, we wonder, we marvel, we declare in awe, “What child is this?”What child is this?Whom angels greet with anthems sweet While shepherds watch are keeping?That’s the kind of arrival we expected. Heavenly hosts sing. The heavens are alight with song.A glimpse of the unexpected.The angels sing to shepherds. That’s odd. Angels, yes — but shepherds? Shouldn’t there be dignitaries, especially from among the regal and religious establishment of the Jews, who have purportedly long awaited the coming of their Christ? Shouldn’t shepherds take a number behind the king and his court, the priests and the scribes, and the Jerusalem elite?That the message came to shepherds first, and not to the high and mighty, reminds us that God comes to the needy, the poor in spirit.There’s another very interesting note I want you to have here.Bethlehem is about six miles south of Jerusalem. In fact, when you … that’s from the city center of Jerusalem, when you’re driving today out of Jerusalem, you don’t even know a break between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it’s an uninterrupted suburb. It’s very close. But the rabbis had made a rule, it’s recorded in the Mishna, in the clarification of Jewish law, that any animal found between Jerusalem and a certain spot in Bethlehem was subject to be used as a sacrifice in the temple. Now there were sheep grazing in that area purposely to be used as sacrificial animals. But the rabbis reserved the right in the event that there were more people than available animals to literally commandeer any animals in the area and take them and use them as sacrifices. And if we remember history, we remember there could be as many as a quarter of a million animals slain around the Passover season. That’s a lot. The rest of the year there were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of animals slain. So they went through sheep rather rapidly and they had the right to go into that area, between Jerusalem and a certain spot, and take any sheep if necessary to be used as a sacrifice in the temple.Interesting thought, these shepherds may well have been caring for sheep that would be offered as sacrifices. How interesting that the announcement of the final and full sacrifice, the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world, the Savior of the world, was made to shepherds who very likely who took care of sheep who were offered as pictures of that coming sacrifice.There is no reason for thinking that Luke’s shepherds were other than devout men, else why would God have given them such a privilege? But they did come from a despised class.God comes only to those who sense their need. He does not come to the self-sufficient. The gospel is for those who know they need Jesus!What Child is This?This, this is Christ the King Whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The babe, the son of Mary!To do this, the angel listed four titles and announced that they all came together in one person.What Kind of King ?Savior, Christ, and Lord—Jesus was given the highest titles that can be given.Savior points to his role as deliverer; someone who rescues people from death and destruction. This implies that we need a Savior, which of course we do. The deliverance that God brings may come in the form of physical deliverance, but it is also spiritual. Jesus came to save us from sin, Satan, and the righteous wrath of God. He delivered us from these deadly enemies by dying on the cross for our sins and then rising again to give us everlasting life. This was more than the shepherds understood, of course, but by saying that Jesus was the Savior, the angel was telling them to look to Jesus for whatever salvation they needed.Messiah points to his office in terms of the promised Anointed One of God. Eventually this became part of the Savior’s name, but it is really a title. “Christ” is the Greek term for Messiah, which signifies the Savior that God had always promised to send. Literally, the Christ is “the anointed one.” This calls to mind the kings and priests of the Old Testament who were anointed with oil as a sign of their office and mission in life. God had always promised that one day he would send a Savior to end all saviors, and this Messiah—this anointed one—would save his people forever. The Jews had been waiting for this for centuries, but now the angel proclaimed that the Savior had come, making the great confession that Jesus is the Christ.Lord indicates his sovereign authority. This term of honor points to his deity, and to his sovereign rule over our lives. Jesus is the Lord God. Luke has already used the term “Lord” more than a dozen times, and always with reference to the Lord God. But this was the first time that the words “Christ” and “Lord” had ever been brought together. It was an unprecedented combination: Jesus is the Lord Christ. This meant that the promised and anointed Savior was none other than God himself, appearing in the flesh.”3The good news for the shepherds was that this child was born in Bethlehem to be their Savior and their God.They never would have known this unless God revealed it to them. If the angel had not appeared to them while they were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, the shepherds never would have come to Christ. They acknowledged this when they referred to the good news as “this thing that has happened, which the Lordhas made known to us” (Luke 2:15).This shows how much we need the preaching of the gospel.To understand what God has done, we need to have someone explain it to us. By itself, what God had done could not save the shepherds, or anyone else. They needed to know what it meant by faith, which could only happen by divine revelation.This is how God saves us: not simply by sending Jesus to be our Savior, but also by preaching us the gospel so that we can believe in his saving work. God doesn’t just do things; he also says things, and we need to know what he says so that we can believe in what he has done.John 1:14 (ESV)14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.What Child is This?Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding?“The light and joy of Christmas are hollow at best, and even horrifying, if we sever the link between Bethlehem and Golgotha.”What prompts this statement-question of awe, though, is not only that God has become man, but that he has come among us in this way — in this surprising poverty.The unexpected is there in the first stanza, but it is the second where things get especially peculiar. Why does the newborn lie “in such mean estate” in the very place where “ox and ass are feeding”? Why a stable? Why this place of poverty? Why not a palace, but the lowest of all structures?The shepherds would not find the child couched in royal splendor, as they might have expected, but lying in poverty. This was the humiliation of the incarnation, that the Son of God humbled himself to save us.To help the shepherds believe, God gave them a sign to confirm his promise, much like the signs he gave to Mary and Zechariah. The angel said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). How would the shepherds know for sure that they had the right child? Which one was the Christ? All they had to do was find the baby who was lying in a manger. The point of this sign was not so much what Jesus was wearing, which was common enough, but where he was sleeping. The angel had to tell them this, because otherwise they never would have believed it. Who would ever expect to find a baby in a manger, especially one who was given to be our Savior, Lord, and Christ?The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sakes took upon himself the clothing of the poor.”4We can recognize Jesus the same way that the shepherds recognized him: by his humility. When we see him wrapped in the swaddling cloths of his humanity—and even more, when we see him dying in the naked agony of the cross—we know that he is the Christ whom God has sent to save us.What Child is This?Nails, spears shall pierce him through . . .”The beauty in asking — in saying — at Christmas, “What child is this?” is that it beckons us beyond lowly Bethlehem to a life of even greater lowliness. And not static lowliness but increasing lowliness.Here at Christmas we celebrate that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .” (Philippians 2:6–7).But why? Why this surprising appearance among us? To simply show us it can be done. Surely this is more than a stunt. Why has he come? What is he here to accomplish?Christmas commemorates more than his birth. It also presses us forward in his story, beyond the lowliness of the manger to a life of lowly sacrifice with no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58) — and finally to the ultimate lowliness, an odious public execution, condemned unjustly as a criminal: “. . . and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). David MathisSome may suspect we are souring the brightness and joy of Christmas when we sing, “Nails, spears shall pierce him through . . .” Can’t we leave that for Good Friday? Let us have our nice, little, cuddly Baby Jesus at Christmas. No nails, no blood, no death, no thank you.But the Word-made-flesh, coming without a cross in view, is no good news.The light and joy of Christmas are hollow at best, and even horrifying, if we sever the link between Bethlehem and Golgotha. “. . . The cross he bore for me, for you.” This time, he comes not in judgment, but mercy.He did this for you. Christmas is for you only because his life is for you, and his death is for you, and his triumphant resurrection on the other side is for you. “Nails, spears shall pierce him through” doesn’t ruin Christmas. It gives the season its power.God the Son had always enjoyed the adoration of angels. From eternity past, those sinless creatures had worshiped him with perpetual praise. But now God was sending his Son into the world, where he would be despised and rejected unto death for the salvation of a lost and fallen race. This was the most glorious demonstration that God had ever made of his grace. Therefore, it was only right for him to receive the highest praise. In the words of J. C. Ryle,“Now is come the highest degree of glory to God, by the appearing of His Son Jesus Christ in the world. He by His life and death on the cross will glorify God’s attributes,—justice, holiness, mercy, and wisdom,—as they never were glorified before.” J. C. RyleWhat Child is This?So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;Come, peasant, king, to own Him!The King of Kings salvation brings;Gold: The King of MetalsIt was the custom in Persia that no one could approach a king without a gift and that “gold, the king of metals,” was the proper gift for “a king of men.”2 This is obvious from the discoveries of archaeologists. When a tomb is opened and is found to be filled with gold, it is usually proof that the deceased was a great person, most likely royalty.Some theologians have pointed out that when the wise men brought gold to the infant Jesus, they were being used by God to provide the funds necessary for Joseph to take the young child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt on Jesus’ life. This is probably true, but it is not as important as the significance of the gift itself. Jesus was a king, as the wise men knew and acknowledged (v. 2). He was the King of Kings. The wise men confessed his kingship when they presented their gift of gold.Incense: The Worship of GodIncense was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil used to anoint the priests of Israel, and it was blended into the meal offerings that were presented to the priests by the people to be offered as thanksgiving and praise gifts to God. Incense gave an offering its pleasant odor, and Paul was probably thinking of incense when he compared the gifts of the Philippians to such a sacrifice, calling them “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). In presenting incense, the wise men, either intentionally or unintentionally, pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose entire life was pleasing to his Father. His entire life lived without sin.“We see from the symbolism of these gifts,” wrote Donald Grey Barnhouse, that the eternal royalty and holiness of Christ were announced from his earliest years. He had come forth from heaven to perform the work of redemption, and he was prepared in every way to do the Father’s will so that he might fulfill every demand and obligation of the law. Thus only would he become eligible to die on the cross; and by that cross alone redeem the world. That life could show that he was the fit candidate for the cross, and we cling with surety to the work that was accomplished there at Calvary, since we know that our sin-bearer was himself without sin.3Myrrh: The Gift of DeathThat observation leads naturally to the last and most significant of these gifts. Just as gold spoke of Christ’s kingship and incense spoke of the perfection of his life, myrrh spoke of his death.Myrrh was used in embalming. Because the trappings of death (although different) were as important then as today, myrrh was an important item of commerce in the ancient world. For instance, for Jesus’ burial Nicodemus used one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare the body. If one hundred pounds of that combination were used for just one body, a tremendous amount of myrrh must have been constantly bought and sold for funeral arrangements. Moreover, in Revelation 2 we read of a city of Asia Minor called Smyrna. The name is actually the Greek word for myrrh. The city was called Smyrna because its chief industry was the manufacture of myrrh.By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present a spice used for embalming at the birth of a child. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. Of course, we do not know exactly what the wise men may have surmised about Christ’s future ministry or have intended by this gift, but we know from the Old Testament that Jesus’ ministry was pictured again and again as one involving suffering. Psalm 22 describes Jesus’ death by crucifixion; it was a verse from this psalm that Jesus quoted when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; see Matt. 27:46). Isaiah 53:4–5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus came to suffer for our sin, and his suffering was symbolized by the Magi’s gift of myrrh.There was another use of myrrh in the ancient world that is important here; it was a use the Lord Jesus Christ refused. When he was about to be crucified and the soldiers offered him “wine mixed with myrrh,” Jesus refused the offer (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was a crude anesthetic sometimes used to deaden pain, and Jesus wished to endure the full extent of suffering in his death for us. He was willing to bear all that the suffering and death entailed.4“Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one that was to die—these were the gifts of the wise men, and, even at the cradle of Christ, they foretold that he was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the supreme Savior of men.” William BarclayYour response to the Christ Child who is:Offer him your gifts, as the wise men did. Offer him your gold, your incense, and your myrrh.Begin with your myrrh. Myrrh is not only a symbol of Christ’s death, it is also a symbol of the spiritual death that should come to you for your sin.Lay it at Christ’s feet, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I should receive the consequence of my sin, which is to be barred from your holy presence forever. But I know that you took my sin, dying in my place. I believe that. I rejoice in that. Now I ask you to take me as your child forever. As a symbol, I now die to myself so I might live for you.”Come to Jesus with your incense. Incense symbolizes worship, and you need to worship him as your Savior and Lord. It also symbolizes the offering up of your life. When Jesus comes to live in you, he will do a good work in you so that the deeds produced in your life will become in turn “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”Bring your gold. When you offer your gold, you acknowledge the right of Christ to rule in your life. Say, “I am your servant. Direct my life and make me strong to serve you and others for your sake.”If you do these things, I think you will experience something we find at the very end of the story about the wise men. We are told that having been warned not to go back to Herod’s palace because of his murderous intentions, “they returned to their country by another route” (v. 12). And so will you! Your life will follow a different path from the time you surrender it to Christ, and your path will be a good one.So we sing, “Come peasant, king to own him.” Lowly shepherds are here. And when the lofty of his own people will not bow the knee, foreign dignitaries traverse far, over field and fountain, moor and mountain, to honor him by laying down their treasures. Peasants come, and kings. The weak and the strong. The wise and the foolish. The low and despised kneel side by side with those powerful and nobly born.The manger is for all sinners because the cross is for all sinners. And this is all too much for simple fact-finding, cool-headed analysis, and calculated articulations. This is the stuff of singing. This is the time to say, to declare in the awe and wonder of worship, “What child is this?”MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You. Morris, L. (1988). Luke: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 3, p. 101). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Hughes, R. K. (1998). Luke: that you may know the truth (p. 87). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 3 Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 3a (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 225. 5 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke (1858; reprint Cambridge: James Clarke, 1976), 1:58. 2 Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, 23. 3 Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Gift of Death (Philadelphia: American Bible Conferences Association, 1935), 5. 5 Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, 240.  Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 31–33). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
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