Greg Laurie - Mary Did You Know?
You know, there's an interesting passage in Galatians 4:4 that 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 adoption of sons whereby we cry Abba Father". That phrase "When the time is just right" actually speaks of something that's ready. Sort of like a ripe piece of fruit waiting to be picked. It also is a word used to describe a lady who is pregnant who is ready to give birth, so it's going to happen. And that's the idea of the arrival of Christ, it was at the appointed time.
Have you ever wondered about the timing of Christmas? Why did Jesus come when he came? Why was he born when he was born? For instance, why didn't he come earlier? Well, some interesting things had happened before the birth of Christ. 350 years before the birth of Jesus there was a young man who conquered most of the world. His name was Alexander the Great. He led the Grecian Empire and after he conquered so much of the planet, he established a common language which was Greek. So for the first time in human history there was a unifying language that was literally global.
Well, Alexander and the Greeks were defeated by the Romans and the Romans built the most amazing road system ever known to man effectively connecting all of the empires under the jurisdiction of Rome. Rome also established an amazing postal system where letters could be written and dispatched to different parts of the planet. This had never happened before. Things were right for the Messiah to come because in a relatively short period of time less than a generation after the crucifixion of Jesus his disciples carried the Gospel to every country under Roman dominion.
So this was an amazing thing when the time was just right. But also, consider this it had been 400 years since Israel had heard from God. 400 years since a prophet spoke to them. 400 years since an angel appeared. 400 years since there had been a single miracle. They're probably wondering what's going on. Has God forgotten about us?
I wonder if you ever feel that way. You might say, "It's been a long time since God has spoken to me". Well, maybe you should put down your cell phone and pick up the Bible and it might start happening again. Unless you expect God to text you which he could do, but that'd be an interesting thing - get a text from God. But God speaks primarily through his word and I think if you'll open it up and read it you will hear him speaking to you.
But 400 years passed and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere but really right on schedule an angel of the Lord announces that the forerunner of Messiah is coming and that forerunner's mother would be Elizabeth who would conceive a child and she would name him John, John the Baptist. So that meant Messiah was coming soon.
You know, the first Christmas story starts with a tree. Not a Christmas tree, but a family tree. Genealogies were a big deal to Jewish people. It was sort of like their resume. They knew who the father was, the grandfather was, the great grandfather was and on and on it went. In fact, I was talking to the drummer over here and you have an interesting tradition of passing on Christmas ornaments and some of those ornaments go back to your great grandfather right, so that's knowing your history. That's very impressive.
But so they cared a lot about their genealogy and so the Christmas story does not begin with these words "Once upon a time" and in some ways it seems like it should because well it's a beautiful story. In fact, really when you stop and think about it, it has all the pageantry, pathos, and magic, if you will, of the greatest fairytales. We've got angels singing, we've got shepherds worshipping, we've got wisemen bowing and we've got a super cool star up in the sky, but it wasn't a fairytale.
That's why in Matthew's version of it, it starts with "So and so begot so and so and they begot so and so" a lot of detail, and we think "Why does that matter"? It matters because it's a true story and both Mary and Joseph traced their lineage, their genealogy back to David. Why did that matter? Because scripture said that the Messiah would be of the root and the offspring of David. The Christmas story starts in heaven and it unfolds on earth. It's kind of mindboggling to consider that God became a man.
There's a book that we've read to our grandchildren over the years called the Jesus storybook Bible. Any of you ever read that? It's really good because sally Lloyd-Jones the author is really a good theologian but a great storyteller and she breaks things down so kids can understand them and here is what she said about the nativity and I quote from it. "The God who flung planets into space and kept them from whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just one word the one who could do anything at all was making himself small and coming down as a baby".
I love that. God was making himself small. God had a face. God took skin on. God walked among us. It was Jesus and so Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was going to bring forth the Messiah, but did she really understand what was about to happen? Did Mary really realize that she was baring in her womb God Almighty?
I love that song "Mary, did you know"? The lyrics, "Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters, did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new"? And I love this line, "The child that you've delivered will soon deliver you". And Brennley just did it for us so we're going to read from Luke chapter 2 if you brought a Bible you can read along and Cathe Laurie is going to read a few verses to us about what happened on that first Christmas eve.
Cathe Laurie: "And it came to pass in those days the decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn".
Greg Laurie: So the author of this Gospel is Luke, Dr. Luke, he was a physician by trade. He was a stickler for detail. Luke was not one of the actual disciples of Jesus. He came along a little bit later and so he interviewed people that were a part of the original nativity story. It's possible Luke sat down and talked to Mary and said, "Mary, I need some details on this". Maybe he interviewed the wisemen or the shepherds or others but he put this story together with great attention to detail and he pinpoints it in time with two significant names - Caesar Augustus and Quirinius - in verses 2 and 3.
We know that Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome. Now, we might even say he was the first actual Roman emperor. Earlier in Rome's history they would be ruled by the senate. They would have an emperor but as time passed the emperors became more powerful and the senate less so and then the emperors started thinking they were deities and they started commanding worship so this particular Caesar... By the way the word Caesar was originally a name. It belonged to Julius Caesar but they made it a title so this particular Caesar, Caesar Augustus, the word Augustus means "Of the Gods" so this crazy guy thought he was a God.
So here this all-powerful man who thinks he's a God decides one day, "I'm going to pass a decree that all the world should be taxed", and you know what? He was just a pawn in the hand of God Almighty to accomplish his purposes. You know, historians tell us that they believe that this Caesar Augustus was around 5'7". Now I'm not demeaning anyone who is 5'7", but let's just say that's not a tall person okay. So this little dude who thought he was a big guy makes this decision.
So it gives new mean to little Caesar's, right? The only recorded words we have of Caesar Augustus are "Pizza, pizza". No that's a commercial on television. But we would not even know the name Caesar Augustus or for that matter Quirinius if it were not for the Christmas story, but God moved them to bring about his ultimate purposes. Why? Because he wanted Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. The problem was they were in Nazareth and Mary was nine months pregnant and when you're nine months pregnant you don't want to go anywhere, much less make a journey like that.
But the Lord touched the Caesar Augustus to give this decree so they made that very difficult journey because God said in Micah 5:2 Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. "Thou, Bethlehem though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth one who is origins have been from everlasting". Mary and Joseph both traced their genealogy back to king David and scripture said Messiah would come of the root and the offspring of David and Bethlehem was David's boyhood home by the way, so they made the journey back.
Everything was in place and they come into town and there's nowhere for them to stay. Now they were not wealthy by any means, and they went from place to place presumably and everyone said no so we read there was no room for them in the inn.
Now we want to vilify this innkeeper. We always call him a guy. What if it was a girl? It's possible. Cathe brought that up in her message that she did for the ladies and I thought, "Yeah. Maybe it was a girl". But whatever it was, guy or girl, it's not that they were wicked. They were just preoccupied with other things and this was not a priority to this person because here knocking at his door is what some call the holy family - Mary and Joseph.
Now in some art we see them with halos over their head. If two people knocked on my door with halos over their head I'd let them in for sure. We thought that maybe they kind of glowed in the dark at night. There they were. No. They were just like any other impoverished family looking for a place to stay and this guy was so heartless or too preoccupied with money that he said, "Sorry, there's no room in the inn, but you can go out and sleep with the animals. Have your baby out there". So Mary and Joseph made their way to probably what was a cave with straw on the ground with the cold damp air and there the Savior of the world entered our planet.
And so this is just sort of a picture of a lot of people today that are preoccupied with so many things but before we come down too hard on the innkeeper, consider this: each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there's room for Jesus. I'm talking about a Christian. Sometimes Christians don't have room for Jesus. We'll give him one service. We'll show up to church on Sunday morning, but ask God to enter into our plans ask God to be a part of our business, ask God to be a part of our family. Oh no, we'll take care of that ourselves. We need to make room for him and give priority to him.
That's why Jesus said in Matthew 6, "Seek first the Kingdom of God in his righteous and all these things shall be added to you". Maybe tonight you've come here with a troubled marriage. Things are not so good on the homefront, or your family is fractured so you're not looking forward to Christmas because there's a lot of friction there. The idea of a family reunion is not appealing to you at all or maybe you're very ill or maybe there's some other problem. Maybe it's a problem with your finances, a problem with something else. I suggest to you, you make room for Jesus Christ and invite him into the middle of whatever it is you're facing.
The innkeeper had no room. Thankfully God cares about us even when we forget about him. Ironically, Jesus Christ who said "In my father's house are many mansions many rooms", could find no room to stay in when he walked planet earth, but here he comes now into our world to be born on the dirt floor of a filthy cave. He is the word without a word.
Here is one of the problems of the Christmas story, I think we've overly Romanticized and beautified it. By that I mean we put this veneer of Christmas fairy dust over everything even the nativity story itself and I think sometimes we miss the power of it because I think as you peel these things away and realize, yes, it was a silent night, yes, it was a holy night, but I don't know that all was calm and all was bright. There was war in the world at that time, there was friction, there was fear in the air, but in that time in that culture God entered our planet with the message that there could be joy to the world and peace on earth among men with whom God was well pleased.
But let's think for a moment before we close about why Jesus came. We know when he came: when the time was right. We know where he came: Bethlehem. Why did he come? Well it certainly was not so we could have an excuse to get ourselves into debt this time of year. Certainly it was not so we just would go to endless parties and spend all of our time talking about his birth. It was done because he knew that man was separated from God and that a price had to be paid.
It's hard for us to think about the baby suffering because we don't want to wrap our mind around that but the reality is the Son of God became a man so men might become sons of God. Jesus was born so we could be born again. Jesus came to earth so we could go to heaven. Jesus left his home in heaven to make a home in our heart and Jesus left his home in heaven so we could have a home in heaven. He did that all for us.
You know, I mentioned a tree. Christmas is about a tree. Not like this tree. It's about a family tree and it's about another tree. It's about the tree that Jesus died on because the Bible says curse is every man that hangs on a tree. Jesus hung on the tree, if you will. He hung on the cross of Calvary and died for the sin of the world and that is why red is the color of Christmas.
I know you've been dreaming of a white Christmas, and in a way you can have a white Christmas, but not because snow will fall. But because if you understand red is the color of Christmas, then you can realize that white can be the color of Christmas because though your sins are red like crimson, they can become white as snow. Because God will remove them. That's the best kind of white Christmas of all - having your sins removed.
Red is not the color of Christmas because that fat guy from the north pole wears red. It's not red because we wrap our presents in red. No it's red because that was the color of the blood that Jesus shed for the sin of the world for your sin and mine. So tomorrow, maybe for some of you tonight, you're going to open some presents.
How many of you open presents at Christmas Eve? Raise your hand. It's not a sin. It's okay. These are just traditions. How many of you open your presents on Christmas morning? How many of you don't open presents at all because you don't think that's spiritual? Okay. I was going to say get out. That's not spiritual. That's cheap. Okay.
So we just celebrated Christmas with our grandkids. I mentioned that, and our son and daughter-in-law, and so we're all there and we gave them all these little gifts and we held one big gift for every child. So for Allie and Christopher, we got Allie a bookshelf because she loves to read. I've never seen a little girl read so much. This little girl always has a book and so we showed her her bookshelf and she squealed with delight. So we could hardly wait to show Christopher, our grandson, is he six or five now? Six. His new bicycle. And he comes out and he goes "Oh". He climbed up on.
I said, "Christopher, what do you think of your bicycle"? Kids are so honest. He said, "I don't like it very much". I love the honesty of kids. Maybe it was a little big for him. He maybe wasn't sure he could ride it a little bit later. His dad was pushing him around on it, but you know, so tomorrow there's going to be some disappointments. Some of you are going to give something and the person you give it to is not going to be as excited as you were buying it. Some of you are going to receive a gift and you're going to pretend you're excited when you aren't. Also known as lying.
But I think it's great that we give gifts at Christmas. But what is Christmas at best? It's getting together with family. Enjoying meals together. Especially sugar bacon. It's exchanging gifts. Catching up. I think worshiping together is the greatest of all Christmas traditions which we've been doing tonight, but Christmas at it's best can't deliver on it's promises because I think in some ways Christmas is a promise of better things to come. It's a glimpse of what is coming. Something far greater on the other side.
Really what we need is not merriment. We need the Messiah. We don't need good will. We need God himself. We don't need presents as much as we need his presence. God has given us the most amazing gift of all the gift of eternal life and no it's not in this box of course. But it's a gift that he offers to each of us. It's the gift that says you don't have to be afraid of death any longer.
I have a friend who has a son and this will probably be his last Christmas on earth and I just texted him today and he texted me back and my heart goes out to him because I think about whatever challenges I'm facing or we're facing to be with your child and think this is the last Christmas I'll see them on earth. That is heartbreaking but here's the deeper message of Christmas. You'll see them in heaven. This is the deeper message. Jesus came to this earth so we could live forever. So when our loved ones precede us to heaven we can be reunited with them again.
Some of you were maybe here last year. How many of you came to our Christmas service last year? Quite a few you. How many of you have never been to harvest before? Raise up your hand if you're here for the first time. I want to welcome you. Sorry I forgot to do that. But some of you who were here last year possibly were with someone that is not with you this year. They're not with you not because they're at home but because they're in that home.
Guess Christmas marks time. It reminds us time is passing. It reminds us we will not live forever on earth, but the good news is, is you don't want to live forever on earth. You want to live forever in the presence of God. In a brand-new body that he has for you and that's the gift that God gives us. The meaning of life now and the hope of eternal life then, and I wonder if you've received this gift.
If I were to offer you a gift right here, don't open it because there's nothing in it. It's a prop, but if I were to offer you a gift you just received it. Thank you for doing that. You could've just thrown it back at my head or something. But so God offers us a gift. Here. I gave everything for this gift. I need to accept it. Even better, I need to open it. I need to enjoy what's inside that box and that's what the gift of eternal life is. A forgiveness of all your sin. The meaning and purpose of life on this earth and the hope of life beyond the grave. Do you have this gift?
As you're listening to me right now here at harvest riverside harvest orange county I know a lot of you are tuning in watching us on various forms of media, right now as you're listening to me, do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your sin is forgiven and if you were to die you would go to heaven. If you don't know that, you can know it right now by simply saying to God, "I know I'm a sinner and I believe you sent the Savior and I want him to come into my life and forgive me of all of my sin".
I want you to receive this gift tonight and I want to offer it to you. In a moment we're going to pray and I'm going to give you an opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ and be forgiven of all of your sin. I promise if you do this this will be the merriest Christmas ever. If you brought somebody here with you tonight to church who is doing this, it will be your merriest Christmas too. What a gift. But if you're not sure if your sin is forgiven, if you don't know with certainty that you'll go to heaven when you die, if you still have this big hole in your heart and you want Christ to fill it, respond to this opportunity as we all close now in prayer. Let's all bow our heads. Everybody praying.
Father, thank you for loving us so much that you sent Jesus to this planet of ours to be born in that manger to die on that cross to rise from the dead and now to stand at the door of our life and knock just as the innkeeper got a knock at the door and sadly for him he turned Mary and Joseph away we have a knock at our door and yes we can turn Jesus away or we can invite him in. Help us to do that, Lord. Help us to receive you now.
While our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed and we're praying together, how many of you would say tonight, "Greg, I want Jesus Christ to come into my life. I want him to forgive me of my sin. I want to know that when I die I will go to heaven. I'm ready to say yes to Jesus right now".
If that's you, if you want Jesus to come into your life, if you want him to forgive you of your sin, if you want to go to heaven when you die, would you raise your hand up right now wherever you are so I can pray for you. Just raise your hand up high where I can see it. God bless you. Anybody else? Raise your hand up. God bless you. God bless every one of you raising your hand. God bless all of you. God bless you.
You guys at harvest orange county, would you raise your hand up right now too. Wherever you're seated, no, I can't see you, but the Lord sees you. Just lift your hand up and say, "Yes, I want Jesus Christ in my life tonight", and I'll pray for you wherever you are. Raise your hand up. Anybody else? If you haven't raised your hand yet. Lift it now and let me pray for you. God bless you.
Now I'm going to ask if you would please, every one of you that just raised your hand, I want you to stand to your feet and I'm going to lead you in a prayer. Stand to your feet if you raised your hand and even if you did not but you want Jesus Christ to come into your life and forgive you of your sin, stand to your feet. We're all going to pray. You heard me right. Stand up. Every one of you that raised your hand. We'll pray together. Just stand up.
Even if you did not raise your hand, but you want Jesus to come into your life this Christmas eve of 2018 stand up and we'll pray together. I'll wait another moment. Anybody else? Stand up now so we could pray together. God bless all of you that are standing. If you're standing, you won't be alone. Others are standing around you. I'll wait one more moment. Anybody else? You want Jesus to come into your life. Stand up and we'll pray together. God bless you. You guys at harvest orange county, stand up and we'll pray together. All right, every one of you that's standing I want you to pray this prayer out loud after me. Again, as I pray, pray this prayer out loud after me. Pray these words:
Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, but I know you're the Savior who was born in the manger who died on the cross who rose from the dead. Jesus, come into my life and forgive me of my sin. I choose to follow you. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.