Greg Laurie - A Hopeful Christmas
Hope, it seems to be in short supply these days, doesn't it? Experts have said expect a long, cold winter. Others have warned of future lockdowns. Not looking good, a lot of people are in despair right now. They're worried. They're filled with anxiety. They're filled with hopelessness. Maybe that's why drug use is up, alcohol use is up in the days in which we're living. You know, it reminds me of how it might have been around 2.000 years ago when the people of God had not heard from the Lord for 400 years. That's a long time, 400 years without a single angelic appearance, 400 years without a messenger from the Lord thundering God's Word to them, 400 years since they'd seen a simple miracle. And because of that, it appeared there was an icy silence from heaven.
Yeah, things looked pretty bleak 2.000 years ago at the first Christmas, but everything was right on schedule. In fact, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, understood this when he said in Luke chapter 1, "Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death". Yes, the Messiah was coming. Christmas is about God undoing loneliness. Now, I want to focus on a passage of scripture that I think really sums up what Christmas is all about and why Jesus came in the first place. It's a passage you probably have memorized. Isaiah 9:6 and here's what it says, "Unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace".
Have you ever noticed that that verse gives sort of a heavenly and an earthly perspective of what happened when Jesus came at the same time? From our perspective unto us, a child was born in a manger in Bethlehem. From God's perspective, a Son was given. For us, it was an arrival. For God, it was a departure. But listen to this, the birth of Jesus was not his beginning. Jesus is part of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He always has been. But what happened at Christmas, the Incarnation, as it's called, is God walked among us as a man. He breathed our air, he walked in our shoes, he lived our lives, and, ultimately, he died our death. It's such an amazing thing that all of this happened for us. And I want to go over those descriptions of Jesus given in Isaiah 9:6 because it shows how Jesus is sufficient to meet whatever need you have in your life.
Let's start with this one. His named shall be called Wonderful. That takes care of the dullness of life. But if you look to this culture or this world to find answers or fulfillment, you're gonna come up empty. There is nothing this world offers that will satisfy a person who was created to know God. I read an interesting interview with actor Ethan Hawke the other day. When he first started out in Hollywood as a young actor, one of his contemporaries was River Phoenix, and he really looked up to him. But tragically, River Phoenix moved to Hollywood and ended up in the fast lifestyle of that culture and tragically ended up dead of a drug overdose outside of the Viper Room in Los Angeles. And so Ethan Hawke, in this interview, made this statement, and I quote, "Drugs, alcohol, and depression are formidable opponents all over the world. People think getting what you want will make you happy". But then he says, "But a sense of self-purpose and love don't come from the outside. You can get so distracted by this culture that celebrates things that sometimes aren't what they seem," end quote.
That's an understatement. People get caught in the undertow of this culture. Take someone like Justin Bieber who's had more than his share of fame and adulation. And he made this statement, quote, "Hey, world, this glamorous lifestyle portrayed by famous people in Instagram, don't be fooled and think their life is better than yours because I promise you, it's not," end quote. See, this is where God comes in. He's Wonderful. The word "wonder" means he's amazing. He's astonishing. He's bewildering. He's beyond our human comprehension. The best word to describe God, going back to that root word of wonder, is awesome. This is a word that really is reserved for the Lord alone. He's awe-inspiring. He's wonderful. And this will add meaning and purpose to your life when you have a relationship with him. Medical science seeks to add years to your life, but only Christ can add life to your years. So for all of us, his name can be Wonderful. But then Isaiah says his name is Counselor. That takes care of the decisions of life.
Did you know that God Almighty wants to reveal his will to you? He has a specific plan for your life as an individual. Psalm 73 says, "You guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory". But many will go to the local bar and pour out their troubles to the bartender or anyone who will sit around and listen to them. Others, in desperation, will spend thousands of dollars on therapy. Even others will go to a psychic trying to get some kind of an answer. Others might even turn to Google or Siri to try to find the answers to life.
Listen, I'm gonna tell you, here's where you're gonna find the answers. You're gonna find them in the Bible. God is a counselor. He's not only wonderful, he wants to bring his specific counsel to you. The Bible says, "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God and the Lord will give it". You can have an appointment with Jesus Christ whenever you want it. He always has time for you. One dark night, a man named Nicodemus, a religious leader, had an appointment with Jesus. One afternoon, a woman from Samaria, who had tried to fill the hole in her heart with relationships with men, had an appointment with Jesus. And God is ready to make an appointment with you and be your counselor. And he's vitally interested in whatever you're facing.
As I pointed out, Jesus was fully God and fully man. He was not just a good man, he was the God man, not man becoming God, that's impossible, but God becoming a man. It's kind of hard to wrap our minds around the idea that that beautiful, little baby born in the manger of Bethlehem was God Almighty. He was deity in diapers. As my friend Max Lucado put it, and I quote, "Divinity arrived, heaven opened herself up and placed her most precious one in the human womb. The omnipotent in one instant made himself breakable. God is a fetus, holiness sleeping in a womb, the Creator of life being created. No silk, no ivory, no hype, no party, no hoopla. Were it not for the shepherds, there would not even have been a reception. And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts. God had come near," writes Max Lucado.
Yes, God came among us and walked among us. Listen to this, Jesus became one of us without ceasing to be himself. He became human without ceasing to be God, unbelievable. But he is the Mighty God, which means that he has all the power that you need in life. Whatever you're facing, whatever challenge, whatever difficulty, whatever addiction, the almighty, powerful God has taken residence in your heart if you've put your faith in Jesus Christ. His name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Everlasting Father. This brings hope and encouragement to those who maybe grew up without a father in life. Maybe I'm talking to someone who came from a fatherless home, or a broken home, or maybe your father never had time for you or maybe he was a harsh, abusive father. Regardless of how your father on earth was, I want to tell you, you have a father in heaven who loves you.
I didn't have a dad growing up. My mom was married and divorced seven different times, so I never had that father figure. But when I became a believer in Jesus Christ, suddenly, I had a heavenly Father looking out for me that I could come into a relationship with. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to Mary at the empty tomb and he said, "I'm gonna ascend and go to my God and to your God, and to my Father and your Father". See, because of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again from the dead, now I can call God Almighty, Father. How did he teach us to address God in what we call the Lord's Prayer, remember? "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". And the Bible even takes it a step further. It says, "God has not given you a spirit of bondage again to fear, but one of adoption whereby you cry, Abba Father".
Now, the phrase "Abba Father" doesn't mean a lot to us today, but it means a lot to someone who speaks Hebrew. In fact, if you're in Israel today, you'll see the little children calling their father Abba. And that's their version of daddy. So, the Bible is not only saying that God can be your Father, but it's saying he can be your Abba, your Daddy, your Papa, if you will. He is the Everlasting Father, and everlasting reminds us it's eternal. It reminds us that he'll be my Father on earth, and he'll receive me into heaven where I will go one day because I put my faith in Jesus Christ. And it says also here in Isaiah 9, "He is the Prince of Peace". That takes care of the disturbances of life.
You know, in the storms of life, we long for peace within. And our crazy culture with so many uncertainties in the air, an uncertain economy. You're uncertain about your health. You're uncertain about so many things. It's great to know that he can be your Prince of Peace. When the angels appeared to those shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, remember what the message was? It was, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among men with whom God is well pleased". The way you have peace is by having a relationship with God. When your life is well pleasing to God, you can experience this personal peace. Now, Isaiah shifts gears and he says, "And the government will be upon His shoulders". This is speaking of a future event. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and the government will be upon his shoulders.
Now, there's a lot of time between the birth of Jesus and the return of Jesus. When Christ comes back again, we'll have a perfect government. And we want that, don't we? There's so much corruption in government, no matter how you vote. And one day there'll be a perfect government of righteousness. But that will not happen through political channels. It will happen when Jesus Christ returns again to this earth and establishes his kingdom. And he will reign righteously as King of kings and Lord of lords. But listen to this, before Jesus would take the government upon his shoulders, that's a future event, he would first take the cross upon his shoulders. He came to die on a cross. We don't like to think about that. We like to think of that beautiful little baby in the manger, bathed in blue light. But that little baby came with a purpose, a mission, to die for the sin of the world.
Remember those wise men that came a little bit later in the Christmas narrative? And they brought to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Curious gifts to bring a child. How about a stuffed camel? No, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had an insight as to the mission of what Jesus had come to fulfill. Gold because he was a king. Frankincense, or incense, because he would be our High Priest representing us to God. And myrrh, that was an embalming element. They understood that he was coming to die for the sin of the world.
So, I want to say to you in closing, red is the color of Christmas, you say, "Well, why? Because Santa wears red or poinsettias are red"? No, red is the color of Christmas because that is the color of the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for the sin of the world. That's why he came because God knew way back that we would sin against him. He knew we would break his commandments. And so, in the Garden of Eden, the Lord gave the first passage that points to the arrival of the Messiah. When the Lord said to Satan, "There is coming one who will crush your head, but you will bruise his heel". And when Jesus came, he was born, he lived his perfect life. And then he went to the cross, and he crushed Satan. And he rose again from the dead. And we can come into a relationship with him right now. But first, we have to receive the gift.
Well, Christmas is about giving gifts, isn't it? I hope you've done all your Christmas shopping. If you're like me, you forget some people and have to go out and get them a gift at the last minute. But, you know, you give a Christmas gift to someone, you say, "Merry Christmas". Hopefully they reach out and say, "Thank you very much," then they open it. Now, ladies are usually more polite about a gift. If there's a card with it, they'll open the card. They'll read the card. Sometimes they're visibly touched by what they read. They'll say, "Thank you". And then they'll carefully open it. "Oh, I'll save this ribbon for later," and carefully undo it. "You know, I might use this another time". Guys are very different.
Now, if you give a card to a guy, he'll look at it, but he's not reading it, all right? The only reason he opened it is he's hoping there's gift cards in it or there's some money. He'll throw it aside. And wrapping paper to a man is a mere obstacle. He just wants to get it off as quickly as possible. Doesn't really matter how you open your Christmas gift, just open it. Listen to this. God has a gift for you. It's called the gift of eternal life. The Bible calls it the unspeakable gift, which is another way of saying the indescribable gift. And by the way, this is the only gift that keeps on giving. In fact, I think this gift of eternal life only grows more precious with the passing of time. You know, when you're young and you're told that if you ask Jesus to come into your life, you'll go to heaven one day?
You think, "Well, that's nice, but I'm kind of looking for meaning and purpose in this life". But as you get older, well, like me, and you realize you're closer to the end than you are to the beginning, all of a sudden that eternal life part becomes even more precious to you, this hope that you can spend all eternity with the Lord in heaven. Well, if you want a gift, you receive it. So, God is offering you a gift. This gift was purchased for you by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross 2.000 years ago. And if you want this hope of heaven, if you want your sin forgiven, you must receive this gift. The Bible says, "For as many as received Him, He gave them the power to become sons of God".
So, in the same way, if I offer this gift to you, you must say, "I accept this gift". And God is offering you this awesome gift of eternal life. But you must say, "I accept it". You say, "Well, I don't even know what that means". It means you say to the Lord in prayer, "I need Jesus to come into my life. I need him to forgive me of my sin. I want to know that when I die, I will go to heaven". Jesus, born in that manger, living that perfect life, dying the death on the cross for our sins, and rising again from the dead, is standing at the door of your life and he's knocking. And he's saying, "If you hear my voice and open the door, I'll come in".
In a moment, I'd like to pray with you. I pray a simple prayer that a child could understand, a simple prayer that you're offering to God where you're saying, "Jesus, come into my life. Forgive me of my sin. I want a relationship with you". Listen, if you want Christ to come into your life, if you want him to forgive you of your sin, if you want to discover that awe of God that I talked about where his name will be Wonderful to you, where he'll be your counselor, your Mighty God, then just pray this prayer after me. Again, I'll just pray this prayer. You could pray it out loud after me. And this is where you're asking Jesus Christ to come into your life. Pray with me now, if you would. Pray these words:
Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. But I know that you're the Savior who was born in the manger of Bethlehem, who died on the cross of Calvary and rose again from the dead. Now, Jesus, I ask you to come into my life and be my Savior and be my Lord and be my God. Thank you for hearing this prayer and answering this prayer. In Jesus's name, I ask this, amen.
Hey, did you just pray that prayer with me? Did you feel something? Maybe something wonderful, great joy, sadness over your sins? If you're like I was on the day that I asked Christ to come into my life, you felt nothing. But this is not about how you feel. This is about what God did. He's given you a gift and you've received that gift through prayer. Now, I want you to know on the authority of scripture, Christ has come to take residence in your heart. Now, I'm holding a Bible here. This is called the New Believers Bible. And we would like to send it to any of you that just prayed that prayer asking the Lord to come into your life. It's a New Testament and a very friendly translation called the New Living Translation. And it's filled with hundreds of notes that I wrote that will tell you more about what it means to have a relationship with God.
Listen, if you just prayed that prayer, this is gonna be the merriest of all Christmases for you because you just discovered what Christmas is all about. No, it's not shop till you drop. No, it's not let it snow. It's about knowing God. What did the wise men say when they came to Jesus after he had been born? They said, "We have come to worship him". I pray that this is your most blessed Christmas ever. And thank you for watching our Christmas special.
Merry Christmas to all of you! And until next time, God bless you!