Greg Laurie - Christmas B.C.
Did you read that story about the scuba diver that was drowning and was saved by mermaids? I'm not making this up. So as it turns out, there's this guy diving off Catalina and he blacked out and someone near him cried out help, and there was a group of full-time professional mermaids and a swim instructor nearby. Well, the professional mermaids, these are ladies that put on the costume of a mermaid and learn how to swim with it and do performances. But anyway, these mermaids so called rescued this man. So he's blacked out, he wakes up, and he is getting mouth to mouth resuscitation from a mermaid. That's pretty amazing. Could have been worse, could have been a merman, thankfully it was a mermaid.
But you know, you hear a story like that makes you laugh 'cause these are fairy tales, mermaids and fairies, et cetera. But it reminds you a little bit of the Christmas story, which is not a fairy tale at all, it's a true story. It's marked in time historically, very clearly in scripture, but in many ways it can read like the best of the fairy tales. I mean it has drama, pageantry and pathos. Singing angels a shining star, mysterious wise men and the miraculous birth of the Savior. But listen, the real story of Christmas goes back really far, before Mary and Joseph, before Bethlehem, before shepherds and wise men, before Caesar Augustus and Herod or the innkeeper. In fact, the first mention of Christmas is BC, which is before Christ.
You say, "But how's that possible"? Because it goes back long ago to a garden, the Garden of Eden. And in that garden there was a tree, we can call it the first Christmas tree if you like. It wasn't decorated with lights and ornaments, it was a mysterious tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Okay, so here's Adam and Eve. They're in a literal paradise, radiant beauty at every turn. Exotic wildlife, the perfect temperature and best of all, no sin or the guilt in shame that accompanies them. So God just saying to them, "Here you are, enjoy all that I have created. There's one restriction, only one. Stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Scene two, Adam and Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why are they there? God says, "Don't go there". "Oh right, right here we are".
The other day my wife and I were with some of our grandkids and they went home ahead of us. And Kathy says, "Don't look in my office, stay out of my office". I said, "Kathy, now they're gonna go look in there". 'Cause she had some presents there for 'em. You tell someone "Don't do that" and the first thing we wanna do is do the thing we were told not to do, right? 'Cause we think our parents are keeping us from something, or the reason they say you can't do it is because it's really cool, that's what they thought. But listen, if God tells you to not do something, it's for your own good. When are we gonna learn that? The Bible says, "No good thing will he withhold from those that walk uprightly". If God says, "No," then that's a bad thing. He's keeping you away from it, if it's a good thing he'll give it to you.
But anyway, they went to that tree, you know the rest of the story. They enter into a conversation with the devil, which is never a good idea. The Bible says, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you". But no, Adam and Eve are conversing with the devil and he tells them, "Go ahead and eat of this fruit because in the day you eat thereof, you'll be as a God knowing good and evil". And Genesis 3:6 says, "The woman was convinced, the fruit looks so fresh and delicious and it would make her so wise. So she ate some of the fruit and gave some to her husband and he ate it too. And their eyes were opened". Yeah, their eyes were open all right, but they did not become gods, they realized they had been fools.
The moment they took that bite, they knew they did the wrong thing. Have you ever bitten into anything and regretted it immediately? Let me restate the question. Have you ever tasted fruitcake? Why does fruitcake even exist? It's never good, even if it's "fresh" in quotes, it's still not good. It's filled with all kinds of weird things. Or there are times I'll go through a box of Sees candy, and I pick out the little nuts and chews, things like that. I don't like those mysterious creamy ones, you know. You bite into it like what is this? So you bite into something, you realize you've made a mistake, they realize it immediately. And they lost that sweet fellowship with God. That's the worst thing about sin. When your fellowship with God is stopped, not your relationship with God.
See, if you have a child that's disobedient, they're still your child, but that communication has a breakdown. In the same way if we sin against God, we're still a child of God, but now our communication has a breakdown. Every day the Lord would show up in the garden when the sun was setting, and he and his friend Adam would talk about what Adam had seen in the garden that day. What a great opportunity. But now communication is severed. You know one of the worst things about having your fellowship with God broken down, is you lose that joy. That's why David said in Psalm 51, after he had sinned, "Restore unto me the joy of my salvation".
Have you lost that joy? Is your fellowship with God broken down in some way, shape or form? And so the Lord comes for his daily appointment with Adam calling out, "Adam, where are you"? And Adam says, "Well we heard your voice and we're naked and we're hiding". And then the Lord says, "Who told you, you were naked"? Question: Did God know where Adam was? Of course God is omniscient, which means all knowing. This is like when I used to play hide and seek with my grandkids and when they were really small, they would go and hide behind the curtain, but I could see their feet below it 'cause it didn't go all the way to the floor. And I could hear them giggling behind the curtain, but I would act as though I did not know where they were. And then I would say, "I found you". And then they would go and hide again in the same place.
That's us hiding from God, it will always be a failure, he knows where we are. Why did God say, "Adam, where are you? Have you eaten of this tree"? Because God wanted confession. The only way to get rid of your sin is to confess it to God. Don't make excuses for it, don't try to cover it up, just own it, admit it, confess it and be forgiven of it. 1 John 1:9 says that, "If we will confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". So God demands an explanation. Adam said, "Lord, it's the woman you gave me". First excuse of all time, the woman you gave me. Now how did he say that? Did he say, "Lord, it's the woman you gave me. It's her fault. Lord, I'd lay down to take a nap. I wake up a rib is missing and she's here". Or did he say, "It's the woman you gave me".
Placing the blame on God or whatever it was, he wasn't taking responsibility. And then the woman, she doesn't take responsibility either. She says, "Well that serpent tricked me. It's the devil's fault". And now God gives the first Christmas verse. It's not Isaiah 9:6 which says, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father". Nor is it Micah 5:2 that says "You Bethlehem though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth one whose origins have been from everlasting". No, it's neither one of those verses, the first Christmas verse is Genesis 3:15 where God now says to Satan, "There's coming one who will bruise your head, but you will bruise his heel". Satan was on notice. God was saying, "Devil, I'm gonna send the Messiah, he's gonna crush your head, you'll bruise his heel, but he'll crush you".
So the devil knew game on, the battle lines have been drawn and Satan knew specifically that the Messiah was gonna come to the Jewish people. Antisemitism was born. What is antisemitism? It's the hatred of the Jewish people who are God's chosen people. And the devil declares war on what God loves, and he tries to stop the Jewish race and specifically stop the Messiah from coming. And that really is what Christmas is all about. You saying, "This is not a very Christmassy message, Greg". Well we'll hear some messages a little bit later on that might be a little more to your liking, but I'm trying to pull the camera back and give you the big picture. Jesus was born to die that we might live. Listen to this, the shadow of the cross lay over the beauty of the first Christmas night. Jesus was coming to bridge the gap between God and humanity, and he was going to restore what was lost in the garden. And Satan did not want there to be a first Christmas.
In the book of Exodus, here we have the Pharaoh give an order, saying, "I don't want any of those Jewish baby boys to live. Put them all to death". And the Hebrew midwives refused of course, and Moses was spared and ultimately became the one who would deliver Israel in the great Exodus. Fast forward to the book of Esther. You have a plot hatched by a wicked man named Hamman to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth. This plan was thwarted by Queen Esther who was Jewish and Hamman ended up hanging on the very gallows he had erected for others. So all attempts to stop Christmas were failing. But now fast forward to the New Testament and we're in the gospel of Matthew, and we have King Herod sitting on the throne, and these mysterious visitors come looking for he that had been born, known as the King of the Jews.
There's not a worse thing you could have said to a guy like Herod than, "We're looking for the King of the Jews". That was his title. They're basically saying, "You're not the king of the Jews, we're looking for the king of the Jews. We've seen his star in the east and we have come to worship him". So Herod gave the decree, "Kill all those baby boys born in Bethlehem". He was trying to stop Christmas, but listen to this, that was never going to happen. You can't stop Messiah from coming and listen to this, nothing will stop Christ from coming again. He's gonna come again. Because God will always have the last word. And right on time, the Messiah King, born in the manger in Bethlehem.
Galatians says, "When the time was just right, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, made under the law to redeem those that are under the law, that we might receive the spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba Father". But listen, Jesus did not begin his existence in Bethlehem. Jesus is God, he has always existed, he has neither beginning nor end. Genesis 22 is a story of Abraham and his son Isaac. As you'll recall, Isaac was born in the later years of Abraham and his wife Sarah. God had promised them that they would've a son, and from their son would come the Jewish race. But they were getting on in years and Sarah was not pregnant.
Now she's well past the time when a woman should normally get pregnant and she all of a sudden is pregnant with Isaac and the child is born. And by the way, the name Isaac means laughter. Because he filled their home with joy. He was a light of their life. Imagine how hard it must have been when God asked the incomprehensible of Abraham and said, take that son of yours and offer him to me as a sacrifice. Genesis 22:1 God tested Abraham's faith and obedience. "Abraham God called. Yes. He replied, Here I am. Take your son, your only son, yes Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering. Isaac asked his father, 'Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?'" Now Abraham prophetically says in Genesis 22:8, "My son God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering. And the two of them went together".
Now sometimes in religious art, you'll see this depicted as a older man with a very young boy, but that's really not the way it was. Isaac was probably a young adult at this point, full grown and strong. He knew what was coming down. He wasn't stupid, okay. He knew that he was gonna be sacrificed potentially and he could have said, "Dad, you're an old dude, why don't we sacrifice you instead of me. 'Cause I have a whole life ahead of me, most of your life is behind you right"? No, but he didn't do that. Isaac went along with this, which makes it so amazing. And is this not a picture of what happened at the cross? I love how Genesis 22:8 says. "The two of them went together". And this is exactly what happened when Jesus died on the cross for as the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit working toward this goal of the redemption of mankind. The Father making the ultimate sacrifice in giving his Son.
Again back to Isaiah 9:6. "Unto us a Son is given". The Son making the ultimate sacrifice in laying his life down. Jesus said, "No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord". "Greater love has no man than this," Our Lord says, "That he lay down his life for his friends". Even what God said to Abraham is reminiscent of what Jesus did. Genesis 22, "Take your son, your only son whom you love so much". That gives you a glimpse of what happened at the cross from the perspective of the Father, his only Son. What did Jesus say in John 3:16? "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son and whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life".
So Abraham's preparing now to plunge the knife into his son. And by the way, he believed that if Isaac died, God would raise him again from the dead. That's interesting considering that no one had been raised from the dead at this point historically, but still Abraham believed that, and right before the knife comes down, Genesis 22:11, "At that moment, the angel of the Lord shouted to him from heaven, 'Abraham, Abraham!' 'Yes,' he said, the Lord said, 'Lay down the knife. Don't hurt the boy in any way for now I know that you truly fear God and you've not withheld your beloved son from me.'" Notice that it says the angel of the Lord, not an angel, the angel. And to the point, who told God to offer his son Isaac, was it an angel or was it God himself? It was God. So it's worth noting here that the angel so called says, you did not withhold your beloved son from me.
I believe that this so-called angel was none another than Christ himself. I believe this is a Christophany and Jesus stepped in to this situation, and it reminds us that God is with us in our times of testing. Are you going through a time of testing right now? The bottom has dropped out, something unexpected has happened. You're facing a time of crisis, you feel as though God has abandoned you, or forgotten about you. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love what the Lord says over in Isaiah 43:2, God speaking, "When you go through deep waters, I'll be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulties, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up, the flames will not consume you". God's saying, "I'm there with you".
And God is with you right now in whatever you're going through. I love the words of David when he said, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me". Beautiful Psalm, we all know it for the most part. But David is comparing himself to a shepherd, and he's saying the Lord is like his shepherd. In fact, that starts out, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul". But now he's saying, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me".
A shepherd of this time would've two primary instruments to use with this sheep. A staff which is that crooked instrument to pull in the wayward lamb or sheep, and the rod which is basically a club to use in case of emergency. Sometimes to discipline the sheep, sometimes it drive off a predator. And I find it interesting that David says, you use your rod and your staff. In our lives sometimes the Lord will use his staff. "Now don't do that, no, don't do that, no, don't do that. Are you listening to me? Don't do that". Whack! "What was that? It's called a rod baby. You're not listening and I don't want you to kill yourself".
So listen to this, if you're disciplined of the Lord, that is done because he loves you. You remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4. She went in the heat of the day to draw water because most likely she was ostracized by the other women because of her immoral life. She had been married and divorced five times and was living with some guy. So as she's approaching the well, as she often did, she was shocked to see a man sitting there and not just a man, but a Jewish man. Because Jews didn't go into Samaria for the most part. So as she gets closer, that Jewish man who was Jesus says, "Would you give me a drink of water"? She said, "Why would you a Jew ask for a drink of water from me a Samaritan? Don't you know Jews have no dealings with Samaritans"? Jesus says, "If you knew who was talking to you, you would ask him and he would give you living water". "Oh, really?" she says. "Living water, huh? Well, are you greater than Jacob, our ancestor who built this well"?
Imagine what Jesus could have said. "Am I greater than Jacob? I wrestled with him and I beat him. He had to cry Uncle, or should I say Savior"? Are you greater? Yeah, he's a little greater. And of course that brings us to the story of when I think Jacob and Jesus actually met. It's in Genesis 32. Jacob had made a mess of his life, he had offended his brother, Esau. He had been a conniver, fell out with his father-in-law Laban, was facing the consequences of all of his bad decisions. And in fact, he was rebelling against God. And Genesis 32:24 says that, "Jacob was alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw he could not or would not win the match, he touched Jacob's hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, 'Let me go, the dawn is breaking.' Jacob said, 'I'll not let you go until you bless me.' 'What is your name?' The man says, 'Your name will no longer be called Jacob.'" Because Jacob said what his name was. "From now on, you'll be called Israel. And Jacob called that place Peniel, which means face of God for he said, 'I've seen God face-to-face.'"
I don't think Jacob was wrestling with an angel. I think he was wrestling with God and specifically he was having a wrestling match with Jesus. That's never going to end well. Don't laugh too quickly, you've wrestled with him before. Have you ever known the will of God and refused to do it or resisted it? Maybe the Lord nudged you. "Why don't you go share the gospel with that person over there? Why don't you go apologize to your spouse for what you just said? Why don't you do this or that"? And we say, "No, I don't want to". Or the Lord shows his will to us and we refuse to go in that direction. And so here's what God is saying. "Jacob, when are you gonna discover that my plan for you is better than your plan for yourself"?
Let me ask you this question. Do you feel like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders right now, trying to figure out how to resolve problems that you have created? It's time to surrender to God. Don't be alarmed by that thought, it's the best thing you can do. When you surrender your will to God, you will discover God's plan is better than your plan. I know you think you have it all figured out. I know you think you're so smart, you aren't. God's smarter, he knows what he's doing, he has a special plan just for you. You need to say, "Lord, I surrender to your plan".
Again, you are not alone. He comes to us and he says, "I'll never leave you or forsake you". And if you were to translate that more literally, it would go as follows, Jesus speaking, "I will never, no, never, no, never, leave you or forsake you". That's the essential message of Christmas. We're not alone in the world. Jesus came to Abraham, Jacob, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in pre-incarnate appearances. Well, one day God will come again to this planet. But he was born in that manger, and he died on the cross, and he rose again. He's always been there and he will always be there. Jesus says, "I am with you to the end of the ages".