Greg Laurie — Christ Before Christmas
Let's grab out Bibles and turn to John 1 and Genesis 22. The title of my message is, "Christ before Christmas". The first mention of Jesus was before the nativity. Before Mary and Joseph. Before Bethlehem. Before the manger. Before the shepherds. Before the wise men. Before Caesar Augustus giving his decree. Before Herod trying to kill the newborn child and before the innkeeper turned Mary and Joseph away. The first mention of Jesus was B.C.
You say, "But how is that possible? "Doesn't B. C. mean Before Christ"? Yes it does. But the story of redemption started a long time ago in a garden. The Christmas story begins with a tree. Not the kind of tree we have now with brightly colored lights or ornaments. By the way I have given up on live trees. I went with a fake tree about five years ago. A whole lot easier. Pull that baby out, plug it in. You are good to go. When you are done put it back in the box. Fake trees are looking a lot better these days than they used to. We have that tree. We put the presents underneath it.
The first Christmas story, the original story, it too begins with a tree. But not our kind of Christmas tree. This was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was in the Garden of Eden. Here the Lord had placed Adam and eve in a literal paradise. Radiant beauty at every turn. Exotic wildlife. The perfect temperature. Best of all. No sin or guilt or shame. The Lord God himself would show up every day to take a walk with his friend Adam. The Bible tells us the Lord would come in the cool of the day. It almost sounds like the Lord took on some kind of human form to walk with Adam. To discuss what Adam had seen that day. The Lord only gave them one restriction. Enjoy it. Take it all in. There is just one thing want you to stay away from. Stay away from that tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Don't go there.
Scene 2. Adam and eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That is so typical. Just like us isn't it? It is like you say to a child, "Do not go in that room". You are going to find that child in that room before you can look twice. That is just our nature. You know the rest of the story. How they listened to the serpent and how they ate of the forbidden fruit. After that happened they lost that sweet fellowship with God. That night the Lord came in the garden calling out to Adam. "Adam where are you"? Adam says, "We heard your voice and we were naked "And ashamed and we hid ourselves". The Lord asked, "Who told you that you were naked? "Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat"? Why did God ask this question? Because God is oblivious? No. God knew exactly what Adam had done. He wanted Adam to confess it to him.
That is what we try to get our kids to do. When my boys were both growing up they would get themselves into trouble. I had a little trick I used. It only worked for a while. I would sit them down and say, "I already know what you did. I know everything. If you tell me the truth, the punishment will be less than what it would be if you lie to me. Tell me everything". I got some information I didn't know about. After a while they were wise to this. I would look at them with that father look. "Tell me". They would look right back at me like, "No way. We have fallen for this before". The difference between me and God is God does know everything. He did know everything. He just wanted Adam to own up to it. To fess up if you will.
Adam doesn't do that. He makes an excuse. In fact the first excuse we know of in human history. He says, "It is the woman you gave me". This is not my problem. It is not my fault. I was happy hanging out with the animals. I take a short nap. I wake up. A rib is missing. She is here. Of course that is not exactly what happened is it? Then the Lord gives the first nativity verse. The first Christmas verse. It is not what you would think. It is not Isaiah 9:6. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given". It's not Micah 5:2 "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". The first Christmas verse is Genesis 3:15. It is when God was speaking to the devil and he said, loose paraphrase, "One is coming to destroy you". Genesis 3:15. "He will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel".
Satan listen to me. He is coming. He is going to crush you. Game on. Battle lines were drawn. The devil knows this Messiah is coming. The devil knows he is going to come from the Jewish people. You want to know where antisemitism comes from. It comes from satan. Satan hates what God loves. God loves the Jewish people. They are the chosen people. That has not changed. The devil knew not only were the Jews God's chosen people but he knew Messiah would come as a Jewish man. He tried to stop that from taking place. Really as we start the Christmas story it doesn't start in Matthew. It doesn't start in Luke. It starts in the Old Testament. Then in the book of Exodus here is the Pharaoh. He decides he wants to kill all of the Jewish baby boys. God intervenes. One of those boys is spared. A beautiful child with the name of Moses. He of course leads the great Exodus.
Fast forward to the book of Esther. Here is the wicked Haman who hatches a plot to have all of the Jews exterminated. Haman was like a pre-cursor to Hitler with his version of the final solution. But his plan backfired and Haman ended up hanging on the gallows he had erected for another. The Jews again were spared. Then we fast forward into the New Testament. We are in the Gospel of Matthew. Here is king Herod who hears the news that there has been one born who is the King of the Jews. He gives a decree to kill all of the Jewish baby boys there in Bethlehem. But the Lord had already directed Mary and Joseph to take the newborn Jesus out of town. My point is simply this. Jesus has always been there. He made many appearances before the nativity in the Old Testament.
I want to go now to the Gospel of John and talk about the origin of Christ. That is probably not the proper way to put it because he has no origin. But it takes us back to the beginning. John 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it". In contrast to Matthew and Luke that give us different aspects of the nativity John takes us back. Way back. He points out in the beginning. There is not a definite article before the word beginning here meaning you cannot pinpoint the moment in time where there was a beginning. He is going to eternity past.
Going back than our minds can imagine, which brings us to my first point about Jesus Christ. 1. Jesus Christ is God. Before there was a world, before there were planets, before there was light and darkness, before there was matter, before there was anything but the godhead, there was Jesus. Jesus Christ. Coequal, co-eternal, coexistent with the Father and Holy Spirit. He was with God. He was God. Jesus was deity in diapers. God became an embryo. He did not become identical to us but he became identified with us. In fact he could not have identified with us more closely than he did. It was total identification without any loss of identity. He became one of us without ceasing to be himself. Jesus Christ became human without ceasing to be God.
We are also told here that he is the Creator. He is involved with the creative process of all that we see before us. Here is another interesting thing that we find in the text here. The Word was with God. That phrase could be translated, "He was continually toward God". In other words the Father and the Son were continually face-to-face. It is hard for us to grasp how close the Father and the Son were. Jesus said in John 17, "Father glorify me with your own glory which I had with you before the world began".
When you are close to someone you lean on them. You don't lean on a stranger do you? You don't walk up to someone you have never met and go, "Hey how is it going"? "Get your arm off of my shoulder". But if it is your husband, your wife, or maybe one of your children, you lean on them because you are close. You are bound together. The closeness of Jesus and the Father. It was always there. It was there among all the members of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus was God.
2. Jesus who was God became a man. When we think of the First Christmas we think of it as the Birth of Jesus. Technically it was. That is not when Jesus began because he has no beginning or end. He is Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. The First and the Last. Beside Him there is no other God. Yes there was a moment when God made a decision to descend from heaven to the earth and be born in a manger as a helpless little infant. Isaiah 9:6 sums it up perfectly. "Unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given: And the government will be upon his shoulders. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The prince of peace".
From our perspective on earth a Child was born. From God's perspective in heaven a Son was given. Notice that verse goes on to say he was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. Scripture also says, "You will call his name Immanuel which means "God is with us". Jesus is God and God became a man.
I want to take a little time to think about the pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus. What does that mean? We call the birth of Christ the incarnation. There were pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament. How do we know that? Because on one occasion Jesus was asked if he were greater than Abraham in John 8. Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he saw it and he was glad". The Jews said to him, "You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham"? Jesus said, "Most assuredly I say to you before Abraham was I am". What he saying was, "Guys I knew Abraham". They are thinking, "The greatest patriarch. Are you greater than Abraham"? "Yeah. Abraham I knew him. A good guy. "Before he was I am". They couldn't grasp that.
Then there was the appearance of the Lord after his resurrection on the Emmaus road. You remember that there were two disciples that he was with. He joined them in their conversation. A very animated conversation. They were talking about Jesus. Jesus shows up to say, "Hey guys. What's up"? Loose paraphrase. "Nothing much". "What is going on"? "Haven't you heard"? "Heard about what"? "Heard about Jesus". Jesus says, "No. Tell me about Jesus". They start telling the story of Jesus to Jesus. They had it wrong. They said, "He went and He died on a cross. We were hoping" past tense "He would have been the one to deliver Israel, but it has been three days since He died". They didn't realize he had risen. Jesus said to them, "Oh foolish of heart and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken".
Then beginning with Moses and the prophets Jesus explained to them what was said in the Old Testament scriptures concerning himself. He identified for them all the passages in the Old Testament that pointed to Christ. He might have brought up some of the Christophanies as well. Again a Christophany is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Let's see if we can find a few. The first one is in Genesis 22. It is the story of Abraham and Isaac on mount Moriah. As you remember Isaac came to Abraham and Sarah much later in life. They were far beyond the age of childbearing. God gave them a son that he had promised long ago. Isaac brought so much joy into old Abraham's life. They gave him this name which meant laughter.
One day God asked the impossible of Abraham. He came to him and said, "'Abraham". Genesis 21:1 "Abraham said, 'here is am Lord.' Abraham take your son, your only son, yes your son whom you love so much. Go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you". Now we know how the story ends. We know that God actually did not require that at all. But it was a test of Abraham. As they were making their way up to the place of sacrifice Isaac asked his father, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice"? Abraham says prophetically in Genesis 22:8, "My son, God will provide for himself the lamb as a burnt offering". So the two of them went together.
I love that. The two of them went together. Father and son in cooperation. Is this not a picture of what happened at the cross of calvary? We make a lot out of what Jesus did and how he willingly went. It is so true. Let's not forget the Father sent him. The Father had to watch his Son suffer. The Father had to watch his Son be beaten beyond human recognition. They cooperated together. The Father sent the Son. The Son willingly went. Christ himself said, "No one takes my life. I lay it down of my own accord". Yes, "Take your Son, your only Son, whom you love and offer him to me". It is a perfect picture of what happened at calvary.
Here comes the Christophany. As Abraham is ready to plunge the knife into his son on the altar he is stopped by an angel in Genesis 22:11. "The angel shouted to him from heaven 'Abraham! Abraham!' He answers, 'I am listening.' He says 'lay down the knife.' Then the angel says, 'Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.'" Here is what is interesting. The scripture says it was the angel of the Lord. Not just an angel. The angel. The angel says, "You have not withheld your beloved son from me". I believe this is a Christophany. I believe it was Christ who stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son.
Listen. Somewhere along the line Abraham and Jesus met each other. Could this be the time? Could it be that God's beloved son stopped Abraham from taking the life of his beloved son? By the way that very area where Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac was where Jesus ultimately died for us on the cross. Also I would add when Jesus hung on the cross there was no last minute reprieve. There was no stopping the Father from bringing the knife if you will on his Son in full force as Christ bore the sin of the world so you and I could have a relationship with him.
Again another Christophany I bring to your attention is the angelic appearance to the parents of Samson. We all think about the super-human Samson. He is a lot like a superhero that we read about in comic books. The fact is he was a real guy who really could do these things. We all know of his great exploits. But his birth is fascinating because his parents were unable to have children. His dad Manoah and his wife prayed that the Lord would give them a child. One day according to Judges 13, "The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah's wife". Not an angel. The angel of the Lord. He said, "Though have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son". He was to be the mighty Samson.
Manoah's wife goes and tells her husband, "Guess what? An angel appeared to me. He told us we are going to have a son". Manoah said, "I want to see this angel. Let's pray he comes back again". He did. This time when the angel appeared Manoah has a lot of questions and asks him in judges 13, "What is your name? For when all this comes true, we want to honor you". The angels' response is significant. He says, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is Wonderful"? After he said that the angel went up the flames of the sacrifice Manoah was offering. They freaked out.
Manoah said, "We are going to die". It is interesting what he said. He said, "Because we have seen God". No. You saw an angel. "No," he says, "We have seen God". Did he see God? Is this a Christophany or is it an angel? Was that Jesus appearing to him? Here is a hint. They ask his name. What is it? He says, "Why do you ask my name seeing it is Wonderful". Where have we heard that before? I already quoted it. Isaiah 9:6. "You will call his name Wonderful, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father".
Really we find Christ in the Old Testament not by name but in his appearances. Clearly in the story we looked at not too long ago of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego I think that was Jesus taking a Sunday stroll with his three boys. Nebuchadnezzar throws three in. He says, "I see a fourth one there and he is like the Son of God". It all comes down to this. That is the essential message of the nativity, of the birth of our Lord. We are not alone in this world. Yes Jesus came to Abraham, Samson's parents, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in pre-incarnate appearances. But then one day God came to this earth as a Child who became a man who died on the cross and rose again. He has always been there. He will be there to the very end. Jesus said, "I am with you even until the end of the world".
The holidays are coming upon us in full force. It seems like they have just edited thanksgiving out. It is like Halloween then Christmas. They can't wait to get those Christmas decorations up. They want you to go out and start spending your money. You will discover the real message of this holiday season is not presents but it is His presence.