James Merritt - The Way Up: Son Down to Son Up
I love Christmas as many people do but I probably love it for a different reason than many other people. It's not because I like giving gifts, which I do and I like being with my family, which I will be but it's not because I'm a Christian. One of the reasons frankly, I guess, why I love Christmas maybe more than most people do is because of my vocation. I am a pastor. And see, there's one time of the year you don't really have to make much of an effort to talk about Jesus or point people to Jesus because frankly, the world does it for us. I get abused because they don't wanna do it. They try not to do it. So they don't say Merry Christmas, they say happy holidays or something like that and most of the music that you hear, you know it's kind of secular music. But whether world wants to admit it or not Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
And as you think about this baby that was laid in a manger 2000 years ago, there's one thing that we can all say about Jesus. And that is of all the people who've ever lived, no person has ever drawn more attention, more devotion, more adoration, more criticism, more opposition than this man. Theologians have talked about him. Philosophers have thought about him. Historians have studied him perhaps more than any other human being that's ever lived but here's what blows my mind. It never ceases to amaze me that here in America, we almost now... We take an entire month and we dedicate it to celebrating the birthday of a son of a carpenter, who was born in a worn horse town that didn't even have a stoplight, whose mother was a teenage girl, whose father was not even his biological dad and today the birth of Jesus falls like an ax, divides all of history into BC and AD.
And yet with all of that said, how many people in a couple of days, will unwrap their Christmas gifts but we'll never unwrap the gift of Christmas. I think about that. It's kind of boggling to the mind. So that's why, if you're a guest of ours today, we've been in a little series, that we've been calling, A way in a manger. Not a way, one word, two words. A way in a manger. And so for those of you who've not been here, let me just kind of catch you up. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how that baby in that manger, is God's direct lifeline into our world. And then last week we talked about how that baby in that manger, is God's escape patch out of the only three problems we all have, which is sin, sorrow and death.
Well today we're gonna talk about how that baby in that manger is actually the only elevator that will take us all the way up to eternity with God. Now, the reason I say that, is I wanna put Christmas in a different perspective. And I thought about something that I'd never thought about before, it hit me the other day. And I did my homework and it's right. I was right. In fact, I've only been wrong once in my life that's when I thought I was but I wasn't. But I was right. I got to thinking about it. Have you ever thought about the fact that not just Christianity but you look in every other religion and every other spiritual belief system in the world that believes in heaven or hell, has it ever occurred to you that all of us always talk about heaven being up and hell being down? You find it all over the Bible.
For example, the Psalmist said in Psalm 14:2, "The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind". Jesus even said himself, "No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man". When Jesus left planet earth, we're told, "He was taken up into heaven". In the Book of Revelation, when God advised John to come and look at the future and see what is going to happen, what's gonna take place, He says, "Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this". And the reason I bring that up is this, it hit me that what Christmas is really all about, it's all about a round trip, a round trip that Jesus took down from heaven to earth and back up to heaven again. And in the second chapter of a letter that Paul wrote called Philippians, Paul describes that round trip. And he tells us how we can make not the first half of the round trip but we could make the second half of the round trip and how we can make our way up to God and spend eternity with him.
So if you brought a copy of God's word, we're in Philippians chapter two. If you have your little discipleship booklet, it's on page 44. And what you're going to see today is the way up. And I love doing this cute little things, okay? The way up is son down to son up. If you wanna know the story of Christmas, that's what it is. It is son down, S-O-N to son up. And there are three things that Paul tells us we should do and we must do and we will do if and as we're making our way up to eternity, all right? Number one, we should conform to the Spirit of Jesus. We should conform to the Spirit of Jesus. Let me tell you what Paul is doing. I wanna get you prepared for this, okay? Paul is taking us back way before Bethlehem, way before the wise men, way before the angels, way before the shepherd, way before the manger, way before that baby was even conceived. Paul takes us backstage behind the curtain of eternity. And he says, let me tell you about this baby before he even came here. Let me tell you what he did before he ever came to planet earth. So he starts out by saying this. He says, "In your relationships".
Let me just stop right here. This is why this is a practical message. He said, "Christmas is all about how you should relate to one another". You're married. Okay, Christmas is about how you should relate to your spouse. You're a parent. Christmas is about how you should relate to your children. You have parents. Christmas is how you should relate to your parents. Christmas is about how you should relate to your boss. Christmas is about how you should relate to the people that work for you. Christmas is about how you should relate to your next door neighbor. Christmas is all about how you should relate to your friends and to your enemies. This is what Christmas is about. He says, "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature, God did not consider".
And just keep that word in your mind right now, equality. I'll come back to that in a moment. "Did not consider equality with God, something to be used to his own advantage". Here's what Paul is saying. You think about the fact when you were born, you know now the dirty secret's out. Today's my birthday, all right? So we all have one, right? Everybody's got a birthday. Here's what's true about all of us. Our birthday was also our beginning. I began to live as a full fledged finally out of the womb human being on this day. This is my birthday but it's also my beginning. Every human being who has ever been born, their birth was their beginning except one. That baby that was laid in that manger had no beginning. It was not his beginning. It was his birth. It was not his beginning because before he was a baby in a manger, Paul says he was a King on a throne. He said he had equality with God. That word equality, if you liked math, you'll love this.
When I was in school, I took geometry, which we all did. And we learned what an isosceles triangle is, right? An isosceles triangle is a triangle with two equal sides. The Greek word for equality is the word isos. We get the word equality from that. And it literally means equal in every way. So what Paul is saying is, mom didn't know it, dad didn't know it. The last King didn't totally get it neither did the shepherds but that little baby that was laid in that manger at the moment he was lying in that manger, He was equally God. He was eternally God. In every way He was God. He is God. And He will forevermore be God. However, the reason why he came and was laid in a manger is one reason, he did not cling to that equality. He did not say, I'm not going to give that equality up. I'm not going to hold on to it. I'm going to let it go. And Paul says, instead, "He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness".
That's why when you read the Gospels, when you read it, you realize it. When those disciples spent three years with this man, that three years, they were just, they couldn't quite get their hands around it. They couldn't quite get their mind around it. Peter said to him, "I know you're the Messiah. I know you're the one we've been looking for". That's what he said on one side of his mouth. But what he was thinking with the other side and what he was really thinking about was this, "But you know what, you're not what we thought you were going to be. We've been looking for this conquering reigning King, but you've come as a dude just like us". And they were expecting him not to be born into a stable laid in a manger but to be born into royalty. They said, "we didn't expect you to be a servant. We thought you'd be surrounded by servants. We never thought you would be a servant".
And yet what they finally understood, He came as a human being, entered earth as an infant, the eternal became the earthly. The heavenly became human. God the Son became the Son of Man. And Paul says, "you need to understand before all of that happened, he was co-equal with God. He was co-existed with God. He was co-eternal with God. But when he became one of us, he gave all of that up and he lived just like you and me". He looked to his Father for guidance. He did not come to do what you want me to do. He lived for his Father in obedience. He said, whatever you do, ask me to do, I'm going to do it. He loved his Father out of reverence.
And here's why I tell you that story. The reason why Paul said, this is the way you need to treat each other. This is the way you need to conduct your relationships, is this, when you read the story of Jesus, you finally realize the entire life of Jesus is not a story about somebody climbing up a ladder. It's actually a story about somebody climbing down a ladder because before he came to planet earth, he was at the top of the organizational chart of the universe. But own his own he says, you know what, I'm gonna leave the top and I'm gonna go to the bottom. As a matter of fact we're told, he even went lower than an angel. He comes the Son of God, not born in a palace to a King and Queen, laid in a manger as the peasant son of a poverty stricken couple.
And from the time he was born until the time that he died, he's spent his entire life doing two simple things. Obeying God, serving others. Obeying God, serving others. Let me tell you something, that's why you're here. That's the only two reasons you've been put on this earth. Obey God, serve others. Obey God, serve others. See, we think, a lot of us think, "no, no, that's not why I'm here. Man, I'm climbing a ladder. I'm climbing a financial ladder. I'm climbing a social ladder. I'm climbing a vocational ladder. I'm climbing a material ladder. I'm climbing a psychological ladder. I'm trying to get up... I'm trying to get as high as I can". Time out. You need to have the same mindset. Your life should not be about climbing up. It ought to be about climbing down. No, we're not God but we can be gracious. We're not heavenly but we can be humble. We're not servants but we could be servants.
And Paul said, "So by the way if you're spending all this energy, all this time, trying to get to the top, trying to climb that ladder. Would you just keep one thing in mind? Think the way Jesus thought. And then live the way that Jesus lived". So see, all this begs a question, okay? Why did Jesus, who is God, come down from heaven and become one of us? Why would the son of God leave the glory of heaven to come to earth as the Son of Man? Why would he leave the throne as a King and come to earth as a slave? Why in the world would he leave a place where he was exalted and come to a place where he would be executed? Why would he do that? Well, here's what Paul says. He says, "because of what he did, we must confirm the sacrifice of Jesus". Not just confirm to the Spirit of Jesus. We must confirm the sacrifice of Jesus.
Now this is what Paul does and I thank God that he did it. He says, "okay, why did the son of God become the son of man? Why did a heavenly being become a human being"? Because think about this, every one of us in this room not only are we going to die, we don't have a choice. You can hit the gym. You can lift the weights. You can jog the miles. You could eat cardboard and drink air. You're going to die. You don't have a choice. We all have to die. Jesus Christ is the only human being that was born, who didn't have to die. As a matter of fact, he's the only person who was ever born, who became a human so he could die. So Paul says this, "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even the death on a cross".
Now, you know about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. You've heard me say it many times, you've heard other pastors say it many times. Okay, you get it. I understand it. Yup. I've heard it. Jesus Christ, He sacrificed his life. He died from our sins. Have you ever thought about the fact though about all the sacrifice he made long before he made that sacrifice on the cross? You say, what do you mean? Well, let me ask you a question and let's just all be honest. So you're the God of the universe. You're the God that created all of this. You're the God that angels bow down to. You're the God that can just speak and a universe comes into existence. You're that God. Would you leave your throne in heaven, come to earth, so you could sleep on straw surrounded by stinky animals, feed from a mother's breasts just so you could live and even have the indignity of having your diaper changed.
I remember one time my oldest son, James, my dad was with me, he hadn't his diaper changed. It was rough. I remember my dad holding him over a sink and he looked at me and he said, "Son, he is so nasty. I think we'd be better off just putting him for adoption and just having another one". But Jesus had the indignity of having a diaper changed. Oh, by the way, would you leave heaven and come to earth knowing that the vast majority of people that you are coming for will reject you, would say no to you, would say, No thanks, I'm not interested, would say, No, I think I'll go another route. I'll think I'll choose another way. I mean, if you knew that the tongues that you created would curse you and the mouths that you created would spit on you and the hands that you created would crucify you, would you still come?
But you're looking at what Jesus did. He gives up a crown for a cross. He gives up adoration for humiliation. He gives up sovereignty from suffering. He goes from sitting on a throne to lying in a manger, to hanging on a tree. He goes from being a King with a crown, to a baby with diapers, to an accused criminal on a cross. And you've got to ask the question, why would he do that? Why would he do that? Or if you don't hear anything else, listen to the next paragraph. Here's why he did it. Because to him, your soul was more important than his blood. Your eternal life was more important than his eternal life. Your place in heaven was more important than his place in heaven. He gave up his place so you could have a place. So this was no ordinary man that died on Calvary's cross 2000 years ago. He wasn't just one of 30,000 Jews that happened to get hung on a piece of wood. His crucifixion was not like any other crucifixion because he was the lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins.
So we could become a part of the family of God. See, here's the point, Christmas, even though it revolves around the cradle, it's also about the cross. And what I want you to understand, this what Paul is saying, you cannot separate the birth of Jesus from the death of Jesus. Well, if the incarnation, the crucifixion is meaningless and the resurrection would have never happened. On the other hand, without the crucifixion and the resurrection, the incarnation would've been meaningless and there'd still be no way up. So God becomes a human being, not just to live with us but to die for us. So the cradle without the cross is incomplete and the cross without the cradle is ineffective.
Let me go back and show you how Paul began all of this to begin with, okay? Listen to what Paul said. He said, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others". Here's what Paul was saying at the cross. In the greatest display of humility this world will ever see at the cross Jesus was putting you and me above himself. He was looking out not for his own interest, He was looking out for us. I read a story the other day. I'd never read this story. It's one of the most fascinating stories I've ever read. You may know it, I doubt it. But if you do just bear with me.
There was a young girl, her name was Esther Kim. For 15 years, Esther Kim had given her life to one dream. She wanted to make the Summer Olympics. She wanted to represent her country, The United States in the Summer Olympics. For 15 years, she had given her life to TaeKwonDo. She had gone to the highest degree you could go in that sport because she wanted to go to the Olympics. She wanted to represent the United States. So from the time she was eight years old until she was 23 years old, she spent every available hour, seven days a week training in TaeKwonDo. Well, it was during that time that she met her best friend, a young lady by the name of Kay Poe. They began to work out together and train together. And they both worked so hard for so long. They both qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials that was gonna be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Well, to everyone's surprise, they didn't think this would happen. They were both placed in the same division. Now they had never competed against each other but now they're in the same bracket. So it was just gonna be a matter of time before they would find themselves on the same mat, one would win and one would stay home. One would go. One would not. One would see their dream fulfilled. One would see their dream crushed. But just before the trials began, tragedy struck. Her best friend, in fact, just before their match, her best friend Kay, in the match that she fought before they were to meet, injured her leg. She could barely walk much less compete.
So Esther knew she could defeat her, didn't even really have to try. She knew she could beat her. She knew she could take advantage of her crippled friend but she also knew something else. She knew that Kay was the better fighter. She knew that Kay would give her country a much better chance of doing something that our country had never done before and that's winning a medal in TaeKwonDo. She knew that if she won that match, the better athlete would be staying home. So to the amazement of everybody in the arena, when they went to the center of the match to start the contest, Esther Kim stepped up to her friend and bowed, conceded the match to her and forfeited her place. They couldn't believe it. The press crowded around her. They asked Esther, "Why did you do this? 15 years, you put all these hours in. Your dream was right there. You didn't have to do anything and you would be going to Australia. Why did you do what you did"? And she said, "Because I wanted to put the interest of my country and the interest of my friend ahead of my own".
And when I read that story I thought to myself, how much greater sacrifice did the Son of God make for us? You know the son of God could have easily said to his Father, "They don't deserve for me to go". And the Father would have said, "You're right. The Son of God could have said, there's no law that says I have to go". And the Father would have said, "You're right". And the Son of God could have said, "and the vast majority of the people I'm going for are gonna reject me anyway". And the Father could have said, "You're right". But the son of God said, "even in spite of the fact they don't deserve it. They're going to reject me. And even those who accept me, won't always appreciate totally what I've done for them. I'll go". So no wonder, Paul says, "We ought to conform to the Spirit of Jesus". No wonder Paul says, "We ought to confirm the sacrifice of Jesus".
Oh, but by the way, how do you know if you've really done that? This is where I'm gonna get real practical right now 'cause talk's cheap. How do you know that you've really conformed to the spirit of Jesus? How do you know that you've really confirmed the sacrifice of Jesus? Okay, you ready? This is my favorite part of the whole message. If those things are true, then we will confess the sovereignty of Jesus. We will confess the sovereignty of Jesus.
Now remember Christmas is a round trip, right? Jesus leaves the throne in heaven, comes to earth in a cradle, gets crucified on a cross, comes back from the grave and goes back to heaven to the throne. Son down to son up. Now what? So Paul continues. "Therefore God Exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name". And it's not just Jesus. Back in the day, I'm sure you know this. I think I told you before. Jesus was a common name. It's like John or Steve or Sam today. There were little boys in Bethlehem named Jesus. There were little boys in Jerusalem named Jesus. There were little boys in Nashville named Jesus. There were little boys in Capernaum named Jesus. It was an ordinary name. Now that's his earthly name. Lord is his eternal name. Jesus is a human name. Lord is his heavenly name. And the name that is above every name is Lord.
And here's what Paul says, "Because He was who He was, because He did what He did". Paul says, here is how one day the entire world is going to respond to Him. Watch this. "That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven on earth, under the earth. Every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father". I want you to draw up real close. Listen to me. Listen to me. Listen to me. If you really wanna get me irritated and frustrated and aggravated and no, this has nothing to do with Georgia winning National Championships. Call Jesus, the man upstairs. Read my lips. God is not just the man upstairs. And this is what really gets me about this world. You don't just tip your hat to Jesus. You just don't nod your head to Jesus. You don't just give Jesus a thumbs up. You don't just give Jesus a fist bump. You bow your knee to Jesus. Listen.
Hold on just a minute. I got a better one coming. We all have a date with deity and it's not gonna be a blind date. And when you keep that date, trust me on this, when you keep that date, you're gonna know exactly who you're standing before. And oh by the way, you won't stand him up. You won't refuse the invitation. Every person who has ever drawn a breath is going to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. He is inescapable. He is unavoidable. He is inevitable. And Paul says, when that meeting takes place, every knee is going to bow.
So let me get real specific. Dalai Lama, the Buddhist is going to bow. The evolutionist, Charles Darwin is going to bow. The humanist, Bill Nye is going to bow. The atheist, Christopher Dawkins is going to bow. The philanthropist, Bill Gates is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess four words. It will be said in unison. It will be heard and echoing all over the universe.
And for many people it will be the last four words they will ever say, Jesus Christ is Lord. And at that moment, the round trip of Christmas will have been completed. And that baby who was crying in that cradle, that man that was dying on that cross we'll be back where he was always been in eternity and will always will be the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords reigning on a thrown.
I just finished reading the biography of one of my heroes, probably the most brilliant public speaker, I think that maybe he's ever lived. His name was Winston Churchill. And I just finished just a few months ago, reading this massive biography. And I found out something that just fascinated me. Towards the end of his life, he did finally admit that he believed in the existence of a God but he never acknowledged the divinity of Jesus. And I read something about him that both fascinated me and broke my heart. They counted up that in every speech that Winston Churchill gave, he spoke over 5 million words. Think about that. He spoke over 5 million words. In those 5 million words, he never one time said the word Jesus, not once. He only used the name Christ once and even that was not in a context acknowledging him as savior and as Lord, never.
Well, I can assure you, Mr. Churchill has one last speech he's going to make. It will be the briefest of his career but it will be the most profound. And he's going to say, Jesus Christ is Lord. So I'm in my study and I'm working on this message and I'm reading this text and I couldn't help it. You know what I did? I got on my knees. I put my Bible on my nose and I looked up and I said, Jesus Christ You are my Lord. So I thought, you know what? The word lady stole my heart, never done this before. And I'm not trying to put on a show but I thought it'd be good if we kinda did a rehearsal, get a little practice in. So I wanted, if you're physically able, I want all of us right now. I want you to get on your knees right now, wherever you are. If you're physically able, if you're not I understand but if you're physically able to do it, I want you to get on your knees.
Now listen to me. Look at me. You may say, "Good gosh, I'm not a Christian. I don't even believe in this Jesus. Can't believe you're asking me to do this". Well, if I'm wrong, this is not gonna hurt you. No harm, no foul. But if I'm right, it'd be good for you to learn how to do it because you're gonna do it. You can do it one of two ways. You can do it here and either mean it or not mean it, but by the God of heaven you're gonna do it there and you will mean it. But by then it'll be too late. So I just thought, let's get a little practice in. Good for the soul. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.
And by the way, the word confess, it doesn't just mean to say, you will be saying it with gritted teeth. That word confess means to totally agree with. So every person that's ever lived, everyone that's opposed him, that's hated him, that despised him, that says it's politically incorrect to say he's the only way to God. Every one of those people will say and mean it. You are Lord. So let's say it together, ready? Jesus Christ is Lord. Let's say it again: Jesus Christ is Lord. Say it one more time: Jesus Christ is Lord. All right. Thanks. You be seated. Now listen, I'm gonna wrap up right here. This is a Christmas present. Ya'll got four and a half minutes I'm gonna end early, Merry Christmas. Here's how we'll close the message. Draw real close and listen to me. Your life is only about one thing. It's not about two, three, four, five or six. Your life is only about one thing. You have one mission in life. One, not two, not three or four. You've got one mission in life and here's the mission.
And by the way, you have to choose to accept it. whether you're Tom Cruise or not. You have to accept it. You're one mission and the one thing you better figure out is this, who's in charge? Who is in charge? Who really is in charge? Who is running the show? So after I say this, if you wanna clap, then you can clap. Washington is not in charge. Hollywood is not in charge. Wall Street is not in charge. Every Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, every nuclear bomb, every weapon in the world and every military put together is not in charge. And let me just make sure you understand this. You're not in charge and I'm not in charge. Jesus Christ the Lord He is in charge.
Now you can clap. That's why we've titled this series, A way in a manger, because it's the only way. It is the way into a relationship with God. It is the way out of sin and sorrow and death. It is the way up to an eternity with the God who was born just like us, who died for us and who one day is coming again to us. So here's the Christmas message. There is a way in a manger. And one day the baby that was laid in that manger will bless all the dear children in his tender care and take them to heaven to live with him there.