Michael Youssef - The Paradox of Christmas
Through the years in my preaching, and those who have been hearing me long enough know that occasionally I would make a reference to biblical paradoxes, and I talk about the paradoxes in the Bible, and few times, I said, "One day, I'm gonna dedicate a whole message, I'm gonna preach a whole message on these biblical paradoxes". Well, today is the day, and I cannot wait to preach about "The Paradox of Christmas". But, in reality, I really have never, seldom, started a sermon with a definition, but you have to understand the definition if you're gonna get the rest of the message because the definition of a "paradox," particularly from a biblical point of view, it is this: "They're two apparent contradictions that conceal wonderful truth". Let me repeat this: "two apparent contradictions that conceal profound truth". Can you say that with me? "Two apparent contradictions that conceal profound truth".
As I said, the Bible is full of them. The Christian faith is filled with paradoxes, and that is why, often, nonbelievers, people who are critics of the Bible, people who are critics of Christianity, most of them actually have never read the Bible, but they criticize it nonetheless. They're expert in criticizing the Bible. They say, "Well, the Bible is filled with contradictions. The Christian faith is filled with contradictions". Well, to a certain degree, they're right. Here's the problem: They never bother to understand the profound truth that is concealed inside these two opposites. If there is a mystery, and I don't believe there is a mystery in the gospel, but if there's a mystery to those who are nonbelievers about the Christian faith, is that they cannot comprehend these wonderful paradoxes. They cannot understand until their eyes, spiritual eyes, are open, these profound truths that are found in these biblical paradoxes, and this is why, often, unbelievers look at Christians as "weird".
Today, there are all sorts of people who claim to be Christians, and I have met some, and when you start digging deeper, their understanding of what the Christian faith so shallow. In reality, only those who have accepted and practiced in life those paradoxes, are genuine believers. That is why the Christian faith is so unique, and some false theologians and false teachers and false preachers deny these truths. The Christian faith is unlike any other religion or any other faith, for only the Christian faith teaches that we can see the unseen, that we can only conquer by yielding, that we can only find rest under a yoke, that we can only find power in servanthood, that we can only become great by lowering ourselves, that we can only be exalted by humbling ourselves, that we can only be wise by being fools for Jesus Christ, that we can only be free by becoming bond servants of Jesus Christ, that we can possess all things by having nothing, that we can get by giving, that we can only be strong by being weak, that we can only triumph by surrender, that we can only find victory by glorying in our infirmities, that we can only truly live by dying to self.
Did you get the point? In fact, that's what Jesus said in Luke chapter 9, verse 24: "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake," that's Jesus's sake, "will save it eternally". This is a paradox of paradoxes. This is a paradox that you can never find in any other religion, and all those poor saps says all religions are the same, all religions lead to the same way, and I said, "No, no, no, no. We have paradoxes in our faith. Certainly, you cannot find it in this rampant, militant, secular movement that seem to be drowning Western civilization today. There can be no greater paradox than that of Christmas, no greater paradox than in the birth of Jesus Christ".
Now, in order to explain this to you, I need to give you just historical background, very short. This is not gonna be a boring history lesson or lecture. You see, during the time of the birth of Jesus, Caesar Augustus reigned supreme. He reigned supreme over the Roman Empire. He became supreme ruler, supreme dictator. After 20 years of bloody civil war, during that 20 years of civil war, there was carnage that was created through assassination and destruction of all of his enemies. Augustus Caesar became the only supreme undisputed power and ruler of Rome. Through his tyranny, he brought glory and splendor to the Roman Empire. That empire stretched across the known world at the time. It doesn't mean that there were not other civilizations, other worlds, but this was the known world at the time.
This is where the focus of all of history was there at that time, and Dr. Luke, being a physician, being a scientist, he took care of the details, and in focusing on the details of the birth of Jesus, he wants us to understand the context in which Jesus was born, which is a great paradox. So he tells us that, at the height of the ruling of this supreme dictator upon this whole, large swath of the earth, wielding total power, total control, there was an obscure and a humble babe, born in Bethlehem of Judea. The contrast between Augustus Caesar and Jesus Christ could not, could not, could not, could not be overlooked, amen? Augustus, at the height of power. Jesus, in depths of helplessness.
Caesar Augustus was the richest man on earth. Jesus was the poorest. Caesar Augustus, sleeping in Rome on a golden bed, covered with fine linen sheets, while Jesus was covered with rags. Augustus Caesar was surrounded by attending servants. Jesus was surrounded by dumb sheep. August Caesar was protected by the Praetorian guard and the Roman Legion. Jesus laid helplessly in an animal feeding trough. The contrast is astounding. It's astounding, and, yet Jesus descended from the height of the universal glory, to the lowest of the low, but he did this so that he may raise everyone who believes in him, everyone who surrendered to his authority, to raise them from the lowly sinful condition to the height of his glory, amen?
The Word of God tells us, 2 Corinthians chapter 8, verse 9, and that's my text for the day. Turn to it, please. Here's what the apostle Paul is saying to us, 2 Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, and, yet for your sake he became poor". And the first question that comes to mind is "Why? Why"? "So that you through his poverty," Paul said, "become rich". Beloved, Jesus underwent human birth so that all who place their faith in him alone as their Savior alone, as their Lord alone, can undergo spiritual rebirth. Jesus, for whom there was no room in the inn, yet he promise everyone who believes in him, everyone who trusts him, everyone who receives him as Savior and Lord, that there'll be plenty of mansions for them in his Father's house.
Jesus became a member of the human race so that we who love him can become members of the heavenly race. Jesus made himself subject to others so that those of us who love him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, be set free. Jesus, although being, by his very nature, God, he did not consider that to be something to grasp and hold of and refuse to come to earth and stays equal to the Father, but he did not see that is something to grab onto although he never gave up his divinity. That was never given up. It's only the splendor, only the manifestation of his glory that he laid aside in order to come to identify with us. Listen to what the Word of God says about Jesus. "When he the Chief Shepherd of the sheep appears, we will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away".
If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ, beloved, listen to me. Whether you're watching around the world or you're in this place, if you have never received from his hands the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but if you come to him today, if you decide to come to him today because you recognize that you're a sinner and nobody can ever deliver you from your sin except the one who died for you, the Bible said there gonna be a celebration. There's a big party in heaven where the angles are celebrating. The baby Jesus was pursued by an evil, wicked, ruthless King Herod. Senseless killing of babies, and, yet Jesus himself came from heaven to pursue and destroy the source of all evil, Satan himself. And I haven't even started yet. Haven't even started yet. I just gave you a summary.
Please listen to me. At this Christmas season, don't get me distracted, all the stuff. If you begin to focus and ponder and meditate about the paradox of Christmas, you too will shout. I don't care what a frozen chosen you may be. I don't care what a Presbyterian freezer you've been in. You'll become a Pentecostal. You'll shout. Amen, amen. For this, my beloved friends, is the wonder of Christmas. This Hallmark stuff about the Christmas spirit and the Christmas miracles, and all this make-believe stuff, God bless them, that's fine, but listen to me: To some people, this paradox of Christmas is offensive. It really is. I've talked to enough people to know this.
They say, "How did Jesus, whom you claim to be God, a very God, endured human birth in order to give his followers spiritual birth? How come this Jesus, who's God, a very God, occupy the stable so that we may occupy a mansion? How did Jesus, who's God, a very God, had an earthly mother so that we may have a heavenly Father? How did Jesus, who is God, a very God, subjected himself so that we might be set free from sin and condemnation? How did Jesus, who is God, a very God, forsakes his glory for a time in order that he may share the glory with us forever? How did Jesus, who is God, a very God, become poor so that we might become spiritually rich? How was this Jesus, who's God, a very God, only was welcome by the poor desperate shepherd so that we may be welcomed by his powerful angels? How come this Jesus, who's God, a very God, was hunted down by King Herod so that we may be delivered from being hunted down by Satan himself"?
This, my beloved friend, is the paradox of Christmas. Give God praise. Give him praise. You can literally delight yourself in that this Christmas season. That's the joy of Christmas. That's the delight of Christmas. And God bless all of the "Ho-ho-hos" and Christmas cheers, ha-ha, and all that stuff. That's not the paradox of Christmas. Your true Christmas blessing, my true Christmas blessing is in our revering and delighting ourselves of what cost Jesus to make Christmas be Christmas. Christmas was never about gifts and sales and discounts and bargain prices, no. The paradox of Christmas is about the incalculable price that was paid by God's own Son so that whomsoever, whomsoever, whomsoever, whomsoever would come to him in repentance and faith would receive forgiveness and eternal life. I think most of you would agree, I don't want to assume, but I think most of you would agree that, if you look around and you just look around among your coworkers, your neighbors, people, really, they're just living. They really are. They're just living, and you watch them.
I was talking to a neighbor just a couple of weeks ago. He's not doing well physically. He's on a walker, and I stopped to talk to him. I said, "How are you"? He said, "Well, I'm just trying to prolong my life, one day at a time". I wanna weep for him. Beloved, you must understand that only those who live and practice the paradox of Christmas do have real life. Only those who live and practice the paradox of Christmas have the peace of God because they have peace with God. Only those who can rejoice every day in the paradox of Christmas will know that they, whether live or die, they belong to Christ. Only those who understand and practice and live the paradox Christmas, live in joy whether they have little or abundance, whether they have joy or sorrow, whether they have good health or poor health, whether they are experiencing acceptance by people or rejection, whether they are loved or hated. We live and love because of the paradox of Christmas.
The three lessons that this paradox of Christmas teaches us is, first, don't judge by appearance. Don't judge by appearance. And, secondly, it teaches us not to judge the end of things by their beginning. And thirdly, write them down. Thirdly, the paradox of Christmas teaches us to make room for others in our lives. Let's look through those very quickly, very quickly. I won't take long. First of all, don't judge by appearance. The first we hear about this in the Old Testament when Samuel looked at the children of Jesse. They're big, they're tall, they're educated, the impressive people. And God said, "No, no, no, not him". "But he's got a Harvard MBA". "No, uh-uh, not him". "But he's got, this guy graduated from Ivy League". "Oh, no, no, not him". And then he gets to, he said, "Is that all"? He said, "No, no, no". He said, "Then we got a shepherd boy, but he's just a little shepherd boy". And God said, "Don't judge by appearance, Samuel. Go and get that shepherd boy". Turned out to be King David.
That's the first time we hear the Bible say, "Don't judge by appearance". I have heard people, I mean, well-meaning people. I'm not talkin' up here, well-meaning people. All they think of, all they talk about, all they comment on is the appearance. The appearance. Beloved, don't be easily impressed by people who have power and fame and good looks. Caesar was the most powerful man alive, but God came as a babe in the manger. Don't be impressed by what impresses the world. The world is impressed, and they applause the superstars and the celebrities, but if the paradox of Christmas teaches us anything, it teaches us that God can choose to hide his greatest gift in the poorest of packages. He wrapped his one and only Son in a manger so that you focus on the paradox of Christmas, and as you do that, don't judge by appearance.
Secondly, don't judge into things by its beginning. In fact, the Bible said, "Do not despise the day of small things". "Don't despise the day of small things". The beginning of Jesus's earthly visit has never been covered by the news media of the day. But today for somewhere and the other and one way or the other, the whole world is celebrating his birth. But that's nothing. That's really nothing yet because at the end of things and at the end of time, when Jesus is revealed in his glorious splendor and majesty, the whole world, in fact, will fall on their faces at his feet. At the end of time, the whole world will recognize that Jesus is the only Lord, that Jesus is the only Savior, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth over their foolishness of rejecting him.
At the end of time, the Bible said that "Every knee shall bow," "And that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". At the end of time, the whole world will hear the angels of heaven singing, "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain. He is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise". At the end of time, there's gonna be no greater glory than that of Jesus, no greater exaltation than that of Jesus, no greater splendor than that of Jesus. Nothing in the whole universe can be compared with the splendor and the majesty of the coming Jesus, but you would never anticipate this if you only judge Jesus by his beginning in Bethlehem of Judea. You wouldn't have guessed it.
I know some of you might be puzzled right now in your circumstances. Some of you are disappointed right now in what's happening in your circumstances, your personal circumstances, your current circumstances. Some of you might be even fearful. Some of you might be perplexed. Some of you, you look at your situation, and you're disappointed, and you're despondent. Please, please, please, don't judge the end of things by the beginning. God has not finished with you yet. Don't judge by appearance. Don't judge the end of things by the beginning of things. Thirdly, don't fail to make a room in your heart for others, for that's the way, and maybe the only way, to know that you already have made room for Jesus. John said, "How can you say you love Jesus when you don't love the brethren"?
Make room for those who are suffering and persecuted. Make room for the persecuted. Make room for the suffering believers. Make room for those who are lost and dying in sin. Make room for those who are desperately in need to hear the good news of Jesus, for they desperately need to hear that Jesus saves repentant sinners, that Jesus forgives repentant sinners, that Jesus loves repentant sinners, that Jesus welcomes repentant sinners, that Jesus loves to fill empty hearts, that Jesus, the greatest companion, is for all the lonely hearts, even today. Jesus mends broken hearts, and whatever you are or whatever circumstances you are in, only God knows that and you know that. Jesus can touch you with his transforming of touch, but also he touches others through his obedient children. He touch them through his obedient children, you and you and you, and me, for we too were once strangers and aliens from God.
We too were once at enmity with God. We too, once, were cut off from the commonwealth of God. We too were living in sin. We too were covered by guilt and shame. We too were dead in our trespasses and sin, and somebody told us about Jesus. Somebody told me about Jesus, and they told me that, if I come under this authority, I will be in a loving relationship with him, and my life has never been the same. Thousands of you will testify to that. Give them the chance to hear, and let God do the rest. I never worry about results. I really don't. I never worry about results because that's God's business. I come in and give him the small things that I have, and he does the rest. They brought him few loaves and fishes, and he fed 5,000. Moses had a stick in his hand, and God says, "Strike it down," and the Red Sea got wide open. You bring to him whatever little you can, and he is gonna do the rest, amen? Amen. He will bless others by our obedience.