Greg Laurie — The Man Who Tried to Stop Christmas
Let's grab our Bibles and turn to Matthew 2. The title of my message is, "The man who tried to stop Christmas". Christmas is about love, peace, harmony, and getting together with family around a crackling fire and drinking warm cocoa. Well it may come as a shock to you to know that is not what the real Christmas story is all about. Christmas is actually about conflict. It always has been. It always will be. One of the unexpected passages in the Bible that deals with the subject of Christmas is found in revelation. There in revelation we have the picture of a woman being pursued by a powerful dragon who seeks her death.
As she is preparing to give birth to the child, the dragon hovers over her wanting to destroy the baby. That is Christmas from a heavenly perspective. Christmas in the book of revelation. That woman is a picture of Israel. The child is the Lord Jesus Christ. The dragon is satan. That gives you the big picture of what was really happening when God was sending his Son into the world. The devil wanted to stop it. The devil opposed it. Really you can take that story and see how it is still in play today. All of this hostility toward Christmas it seems like it escalates a little bit more every year. More nativity scenes being removed from any public place. Any school campus. No Christmas carols allowed here or there. Atheists putting up billboards attacking the Christian faith. These are all just symptomatic of the conflict of Christmas. That is why people don't even want the word Christmas used. They will say happy holidays, etc.
Every day I see things on television or hear things on radio or see things on billboards that I don't like. They offend me. But you know what? I tolerate them. I don't burn down the billboards. I don't try to get the people fired from the TV show that said that thing that offended me. I tolerate it. I expect the same from others because we live in a country where we can express our views openly and freely. Though I don't agree with many other views, I certainly support their right to state their views. I expect that same respect for my point of view because I happen to be right. We all think that of course. That is one of the beautiful things about our country. I think what we are finding here is a group of people that don't merely want us to tolerate their view. They want us to accept it and even more endorse it. This can't happen. We are standing on the scripture. It is time to wake up.
Listen to this. Jesus did not come to bring a mind numbing peace on earth devoid of truth. The message to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks on the night that Christ was born was, "Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men". What does that mean? Maybe a better translation would explain it. A better rendering of what the angels actually said was, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men among whom God is well pleased". The only way we are going to have peace on earth is when we are pleasing to God. Listen to this rather provocative statement from Jesus Christ in Luke 12:51. "Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? I tell you not at all. But rather division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law".
I know what some of you are thinking. "Greg I came to hear a Christmassy message. You almost made me spill my hot cocoa". This is actually better than a Christmassy message. This is New Testament Christianity. The division between light and darkness. Righteousness and unrighteousness. Good and evil. Yes. Right and wrong. What we are seeing played out in our culture today as exemplified during the Christmas season is the battle of the Gods. It is the God of the Bible. The true and living God versus all contenders. Insert name of God here. That is what is taking place before us. It is actually through conflict that we can find real peace. That sounds contradictory.
Let's play it out. Christmas is a time of getting together with family. Everybody gathers together. You are the token Christian. Maybe there are a few more Christians in your family. Maybe all of your family are believers. In many cases there are many nonbelievers there as well. There is that conflict that comes. You try to avoid the subjects that might cause disagreement or arguments. Eventually the topic comes up. Someone says what they believe as a Christian. Someone else of course disagrees with it. Then an argument breaks out. Someone might even say to you as a Christian, "We liked you better the old way. You were a lot more fun when we all just drank together and did the things we used to do. Now you are all pious and holier than thou. You have kind of ruined Christmas for us".
Actually this is the conflict that brings unity. When you have a very dark place and someone walks in and turns on a very bright light that changes the whole dynamic. Through this conflict, through this disagreement, through the arguments we will have at times will come the ultimate unity because here is why it is happening. You are making people aware of the fact that they are living in sin and they don't like it one bit. You don't even really have to say anything. It is just you being you as a Christian just sitting there. It bothers them. It offends them. It irritates them. Here is my point. Just hold your ground and keep praying. Don't be upset because there is a little conflict. Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace, but rather division" this division can result in a person thinking about their soul, considering the claims of Christ, turning their life over to the Lord. Then you have conversion and then you will have real peace in your family because the people have peace with God. See how that all works together.
This battle that we see played out is nothing new. This battle goes back to the first messianic scripture in the Bible which of course is Genesis 3:15 when God said to satan after he tempted Adam and eve to sin, "There is coming one who will crush your head but you will bruise his heel". Thus satan wanted to stop Christ from coming. That is why I have said so many times red is the color of Christmas. Not because Santa wore red or because we wrap packages in red. But because the blood of Jesus Christ was going to be shed. The cradle was pointing to the cross. The incarnation was for the purpose of the atonement. The birth of Jesus was so there would be the death of Jesus. That brings us to a story of great conflict here in our studies in the life of Christ that we are calling God came near. A chronological look at the life of Jesus from all four Gospels.
Now we come to an event that happened some time later. The visit of the wise men. We are introduced to one of the worst villains in scripture. King Herod. History calls him Herod the great and his story unfolds for us in Matthew 2. What do we learn from history about Herod? We learn that he was raised in a politically well-connected family. He was destined for a life of hardball and power brokering. At 25 he was named the governor of Galilee. A very high position for such a young man. The romans were hoping that Herod could control the Jews in the area he was over. In 40 b.C. The Roman senate gave to Herod the title king of the Jews, which he was very proud of. We are going to see how that affects his reaction to the wise men in just a few moments.
This is a man who was addicted to power. He was also known for his cruelty. Anyone that he even perceived as a possible threat to his throne would be quickly eliminated. History tells us that Herod murdered his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, two of his own sons, and his favorite wife. He had many. He murdered out of spite to stay in power. Human life meant nothing to him. Josephus the historian called Herod barbaric. Another dubbed him the malevolent maniac. On one occasion he had the most distinguished citizens of Israel arrested and gave orders that upon his death they should be executed so there would be guaranteed mourning on the day that Herod died. At this point historically in our narrative Herod the great, king of the Jews, so-called is slowly dying of a disease. His body is wracked with convulsions. His skin is covered with open sores. He is rapidly losing his mind. But he is still the king. One day word comes to him that some foreign dignitaries have come into town and they have come from the east. That is where we pick the story up.
Matthew 2:1. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'where is he who has been born king of the Jews? 'for we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.' when Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, 'in Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah: for out of you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel".' Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared and he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'go and search carefully for the young child, and when you have found him, bring word back to me that I may come and worship him also.'"
There is not a worse thing you could have said to king Herod. "We are looking for the king of the Jews". And clearly you are not him. Herod. That was the title that was given to him by the Roman senate. How dare these men suggest that he is not the king of the Jews? Besides he had spies out everywhere. Why had someone not told him about this potential threat to his throne? This is why verse 3 says, "When Herod heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him". These wise men. God used them to get Herod's attention. These were men who were steeped in the occult. As I said. They were pagan men. Yet God came to them in a way that they understood. It is fascinating that to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Good Jewish boys. God came to them with angels because they believed in angels and believed in scripture.
What about men that spent their lives studying the stars as astronomers and astrologers. God came to them by a star. Not in any way condoning their occultic activities but rather reaching them in a way they understood. The Lord says, "Those that seek me will find me". I believe if a person is really seeking God he will reveal himself to them. He will come to them in a way that they can understand. To the educated doctor he will appear to him in a way he can understand. To a little child he will come to them in a way that they can understand. To a young teenager in a way they too can understand. God reaches the shepherds. God reaches the wise men. He brings them to himself.
These men bring their amazing gifts to the child of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are amazing gifts. Of course they are gifts that are acknowledging who he is. Gold because he is a king. Frankincense or incense because he would be our high priest. Myrrh an embalming element because he was going to die for the sin of the world. Here is Herod now who realizing that these wise men are not going to come back and tell him about the king they found living in the house. By the way the Bible never says they went to a stable. It says they went to a house nor does it say they went to a baby but they went to a child as you will note.
This was a few months, possibly as much as two years after the birth of our Lord. When they came and found the Lord, he revealed to them that they should not go back to Herod. They left. Herod was angry. That is when the butcher of Bethlehem gave the order that all of those baby boys living in Bethlehem should be put to death under the age of two. You find that in verse 16. Herod was exceedingly angry when he realized the wise men had deceived him. He had all of the boys two years and younger put to death. Indeed red was the color of Christmas
Let's think for a moment now about the three primary characters that are in it. I think you will find yourself perhaps in one of these categories. There is Herod himself. The man who tried to stop Christmas. With all of his wealth and power he came to complete ruin. In the final year of his life his body was infected with disease. His pain was so bad that he would scream through the night. In his antiquities Josephus writes this about king Herod. "Here is what he died of. Ulcerated entrails. Petrified and maggot filled organs. Constant convulsions that neither physicians nor warm baths could heal". Herod ended up on the ash heap of history like dictators before and after him. It reminds us of other dictators on the world scene like Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. Of course Hitler went down into his bunker and shot himself as his nation crumbled around him. Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole and was eventually executed by his own people. Muammar Gaddafi was hunted down by his own people, beaten, and then shot to death.
These people that lived wicked lives eventually reaped what they sowed. All of those that blaspheme God or fight with God or try to stop the work of God they will eventually fail. God's word will ultimately prevail. One day everybody is going to bow before Jesus Christ. I don't care who they are. These followers of the stars met the Lord Jesus Christ who created the stars. Verse 2 says, "We have seen the star in the east and we have come to worship him". That is exactly what they did when they found the child. Verse 11 says, "They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary his mother. Overcome they kneeled and worshiped him".
Know this. Everyone worships at Christmas. There are no exceptions to this. Everyone worships. Christians worship. Atheists worship. Skeptics worship. Republicans worship. Democrats worship. Independents worship. Insurance agents worship. Even lawyers worship at Christmas. You say, "Greg you are actually wrong about that. What are you saying? Not everybody worships at Christmas". No. Everybody worship at Christmas. I didn't say everyone worships God at Christmas. I just said everyone worships. Some worship material things, which they never seem to have enough of. Others worship their bodies. Another might even worship their family. Others worship a God of their own making. Everyone worships something or someone you see. The wise men worshiped Jesus. This is what we are to do. We are to worship the Lord by verbalizing our praise. Worship the Lord by serving others. He was born so we like the wise men could say, "Let us worship".
In closing what are you worshipping today? Listen. If you bow at the altar of Christmas it will only disappoint. Christmas cannot deliver on its promises. It cannot bring inner peace much less peace on earth. Christmas cannot bring joy and happiness. Christmas will always let you down. What is Christmas at its best? It is a promise that has not been fully kept. I think what we really long for with Christmas is not Christmas but it is Christ himself. I was designed by God to know him. I was designed to worship. I was prewired to worship. That is why we need to remember that when Jesus came to this earth as that sweet little baby he came with the express purpose of living a perfect life. He is the only one to have ever done that. Then to die a perfect death. Then to rise again from the dead. Why did Jesus have to die? C. S. Lewis put it best. "The Son of God became a man that men might become sons of God".