Robert Jeffress - Simply Christmas - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway To Victory". There have been countless movie, songs, and books written in honor of Christmas, but what if you had to explain the meaning of Christmas in a single sentence? Could you do it? Well, the Apostle Paul managed to do it, and today we're going to dig deeply into his plain, yet profound summary of the Christmas story. My message is titled "Simply Christmas," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
One of the ways you can know it's about to be Christmas, is the airing of those Christmas movies on television. I know everybody has their favorite, maybe I shouldn't admit this, our family favorite is "Elf" with Will Ferrell, that is our absolute favorite. It's part of our Christmas ritual to watch "Elf". You may like one of the older ones like "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer". I know we have some "It's a Wonderful Life" fans here today. Or maybe you like that perennial classic, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Remember the story of the Grinch? He was that creature with a heart two sizes too small. He absolutely hated Christmas. He hated the trees, the lights, the carols, the feast of beasts, and so one year he decided to steal Christmas from the Whos who populated Whoville. I bet you even remember the song about the Grinch. Why don't you sing along with me? "You're a mean one".
Well, maybe not, but anyway, you remember the story, don't you? Many people don't know that Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Gisele, wrote "How the Grinch stole Christmas" as a protest against the commercialization of Christmas way back in 1957. Can you imagine what Gisele would write about today if he saw what is happening in our culture? You know, to talk about the commercialization of Christmas seems trite. I mean, we all know we can allow greed and self-centeredness to obscure the real meaning of this holiday, and yet most people, even Christians, would be hard pressed to explain what the real meaning of Christmas is. Yeah, they know it's about a baby who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, but what does that incident have to do with my life today?
Well, in one sentence, the Apostle Paul gives the clearest explanation for the meaning of Christmas found anywhere in literature. And today we're going to look at that one sentence that explains what Christmas is really all about. If you have your Bibles turn to the book of Galatians in the New Testament, Galatians chapter 4. Now as a context, remember Paul wrote this letter to the church at Galatia, the churches at Galatia, to combat a false teaching that had come into the church by a group known as the Judaizers. The Judaizers said, "Yes, faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, but it's not sufficient. You need to trust in Christ and go back to the Old Testament law and keep that law, and if you do that, you can have eternal life".
And Paul wrote Galatians to say, "No, the law was certainly good, but it was simply preparatory for the coming of Christ. If you're under the law, you're a slave, but Christ has come to save us from the requirements of the law we could never keep. Why would you wanna go back and live as a slave to an impossible list of requirements? That's why Christ came to set us free from the requirements of the Old Testament law". And it's that coming of Christ that Paul talks about in this one sentence found in Galatians 4:4 through 5, look at it with me. "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons".
If you've ever taken a journalism class before, you're taught that in the opening paragraph of a story, you're supposed to answer six key questions. Who, what, when, how, where, and why. Paul answers all six of those questions in this one single sentence about the coming of Christ in the world. Notice how he answers them. First of all, the question of who, who is the subject of this sentence? Who is the subject of Christmas? "When the fullness of time came God". God is the subject of Christmas. God is the one who initiated all of the events that led to the coming of Christ. In fact, God is the one who initiates everything that happens in the world in general and in your world specifically. Isn't that what the Bible says?
It begins with the words in the beginning, God, God. God is the first cause of everything that happens, and the reason for that is the fact that God is sovereign. That word sovereign simply means he is in control of everything that happens in his creation. The late pastor and writer Ray Stedman explained it this way. "There is the sovereignty of the potter over the clay. Men make plans, but God makes other plans". Napoleon had to learn that lesson, he once said, "God is on the side of the army with the heaviest artillery". But there came a time in Napoleon's life when exiled on the Island of St. Helena, he said, "Man proposes but God disposes". Or in the words of Mother Teresa, "We are all pencils in the hand of God".
God is in control. What does that look like in life? It means God is in control of life and death. Genesis 1:27. He's in control of governments, Romans 13:1. He's sovereign over the angels, Psalm 91:11. He's sovereign over your plans, James 4:15. He's sovereign over who you will meet, Luke 24:13. He's even sovereign over the so-called coincidences in your life, John 4:7. The idea that God is completely in control, that could be a menacing thought if God were some sadistic ogre in heaven looking to hurt us, but the fact is, everything God does, every action he takes, is motivated by his love for us. Isn't that what the scripture says? John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son".
Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, he sent Christ to die for us". Or 1st John 4:10, "And here in his love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and gave himself as a propitiation for our sins". Or Ephesians chapter 2. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, he has made us alive together with Christ".
God is the initiator of everything that happens and it is God who was the first cause of the events that led to the coming of Christ. In the fullness of time, God. Now secondly, what? What is it that God did? Well, it says he sent forth his Son, underline that word Son. He doesn't say God sent forth an infant, or God sent forth a baby, but God sent forth his Son. Too often at Christmas we focus on the infancy of Jesus and that leads us down a wrong path, obscuring the real meaning of Christmas. We began, you know, looking at the lights and singing the carols, and we get this warm fuzzy feeling inside and then we think about the idea of a baby being born, and then we think about our own children being born, and pretty soon we've devolved in this syrupy sentimentality that really has nothing to do with what the real message of Christmas is.
The fact is, there was nothing unique about a baby being born in Israel that night, 2,000 years ago, hundreds of babies were born that night. But this baby was different, he was God in the flesh. Emmanuel, God with us. And because of that, he alone was capable of taking away our sin, that is what made his birth different than any other. And when did it occur? When did it happen? It happened in the fullness of time. I like the way one paraphrase summarizes it, at just the right time God sent forth his Son. I want you to think about that phrase, "In the fullness of time". Did you know the plan of salvation was not some afterthought God had? God didn't look down at humanity and say, "Oh my, look at the way those human beings have screwed things up, I better do something quickly, I better have a rescue plan". It didn't happen that way.
Ephesians 1 tells us that the plan of salvation was established before the foundation of the world. Did you know God is never in a hurry to do anything? He's never late in doing things, God is always on time. Everything that happens in the world and everything that happens in your life is just at the right time, and that's something you can bank on. I was reading this week in 2 Chronicles 32 the story about King Hezekiah. Word came to Hezekiah that the Assyrians, very cruel people, were going to invade and take Jerusalem captive. Hezekiah cried out to God and God said. "Hezekiah, don't worry about it. I am going to slay all of the Assyrians".
And so Hezekiah delivered that word of promised victory to the Israelite's. The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 32:8 that the people rested themselves upon the Word of God. That word rested means they leaned upon, they depended upon the Word of God, they believed what God said. You know, I rest on this pulpit believing that it's not going to move or collapse. We sit in this room relying on the fact that the ceiling is not going to cave in, but God's promise is more reliable than this pulpit or on this ceiling, we can rest upon God's promise to do exactly what he has promised to do at just the right time. The coming of Christ came at just the right time. In what sense was it the right time for the coming of Christ? Consider four ways that it was the right time, the fullness of time for Christ to enter the world.
First of all, it was the right time politically, politically. The Pax Romano, the Roman peace, pervaded the world and because of that you had this great Roman road system that went all around the world, and people were able to travel with great ease making the proclamation of the gospel very, very easy, it was the right time politically. Secondly, it was the right time culturally. The world was becoming more and more unified. People were becoming more educated. More and more people spoke the same language, Koine Greek, the common language of people in which the New Testament would be written. It was the right time spiritually for the coming of Christ, the polytheism, the worship of many gods of the Romans and Greeks was giving way to renewed interest in monotheism the worship of one God.
People were awakened once again to the teaching of the Old Testament they had forgotten as evidence by their acceptance and interest in the teaching of John the Baptist. But most of all, it was the right time prophetically for the coming of Christ. As you know, there were dozens of prophecies in the Old Testament about this coming one, the Messiah, about his birth and about his life and his ministry and all of those prophecies converged together that night in Bethlehem. Let me remind you about one of those prophecies about Christ coming. It was written 700 years before the fact. It's found in Micah 5 verse 2, you know it well. "But as for you, God said, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah. From you One will go forth from Me to be the ruler in Israel. His going forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity".
Jesus would not be born in the center of political power, Rome, the center of religious power, Jerusalem. He would be born in this no account dusty village called Bethlehem. Now I want you to think of what God did to make all of that possible, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. On that night, the attention of the world was not centered on Bethlehem, now the attention of the world was centered on Rome, that was the seat of real power people believed. A year earlier, probably in 4 BC, the emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world was a man known as Caesar Augustus.
Now that wasn't really his name, that was his title. Caesar means ruler, Augustus means venerated one, venerated ruler. His real name was Gaius Octavius. He was known as Octavian, and Octavian in 4 BC had issued a decree that every citizen of every vassal country that belonged to Rome would go to his hometown in order to be registered for a census for the purpose of taxation. Octavian's expenses were increasing because of his responsibility of caring for all of these nations. He desperately needed more income, so he said, "We're going to tax the people". There were no IRS computers back then by which to keep track of people, people had to go to their own city to register for the purpose of taxation.
It's interesting that this man, Octavian, was known as, quote, the savior of the world. He was so popular, people called him the savior of the world. Little did Octavian know when he issued that command, that that command would cause a man he had never met named Joseph to travel with his new wife, Mary, to a town Octavian had never heard of, Bethlehem, so that Mary might give birth to the true Savior of the world. Isn't that amazing? As somebody said, "Octavian was nothing more than a piece of lint on the pages of human history". In the fullness of time, at just the right time, God sent forth his Son. How? How did he do it? Well, it tells us here again, he was born of a woman.
What does that mean born of a woman? What's the big deal? Everybody's born of a woman, aren't they? How many of you were born of a woman? Now, this is why this is unique. First of all, this is a reference to Jesus's virgin birth. Let me show you what I mean. Jesus was born of a woman, but he was unique in that he was born only of a woman. His father was God himself, and that was part of prophecy. Second, pardon me, Isaiah 7:14 written 740 years earlier said, "Behold a virgin shall conceive".
Now you've heard me say before that word, Hebrew word, alma, virgin, and Isaiah 7:14 simply means young woman. It can be a virgin, somebody who's not had sexual experience, but it doesn't have to be a virgin. There's a reason Isaiah in Hebrew used that more general term because there was a near fulfillment in Isaiah's day of a woman who would give birth as assigned to Isaiah. She did it the old fashioned way, but it was also a far reference to the ultimate fulfillment in the coming of Jesus who would be born of a virgin.
It's interesting in Matthew 1:23 that when Matthew, writing in the Greek language, quotes Isaiah 7:14, he's not writing in Hebrew, he's writing in Greek, and when he comes to that term virgin to refer to Christ, he uses the Greek word Parthenos, which means one thing only, virgin, somebody who has never had a sexual relationship with a man before. Jesus was born of a virgin.
Why is that essential? I could spend a whole series talking about the necessity of the virgin birth, but here is one reason why it was absolutely necessary. It is the only way he would be qualified to be the Messiah and sit and rule on the throne of David forever and ever. Let me show you why that's true. According to 2 Samuel 7 verse 12, the Messiah would have to be somebody who was a descendant of King David. In fact, in 2 Samuel 7 verse 12, God said to David, "I will raise up your descendant after you who will come forth from you and I will establish his kingdom".
Every Jew knew the Messiah had to be a descendant of David. And that's why when you come to the gospel of Matthew, which was written to the Jews, Matthew goes through that long genealogy of Jesus that makes many of us give up on our read through the Bible in a year program, after we get to Matthew 1, we think, "Oh my gosh, what does this have to do with anything"?
The point is, Jesus was the Messiah because he met the qualifications of the Messiah. Matthew shows all the way from David through Joseph down to Jesus how Jesus was qualified to be the Messiah. He was a descendant of David. But here's the problem, here's the problem. One of David's descendants not long after him was a king named Jeconiah, and Jeconiah, who came after David, was so evil that God pronounced a curse on Jeconiah. It's found in Jeremiah 22:30. "And God said, 'Jeconiah, because of your disobedience, I'm gonna curse your descendants, so nobody who comes after you can sit on the throne of David and rule with prosperity.'"
Now, that presented a real problem. You've got David here, you've got Jeconiah here, and then the Messiah underneath here. The Messiah had to be related to King David, but he could not be a descendant of Jeconiah or he would've inherited the curse. So how do you have a Messiah who inherits the right to rule from David, but escapes the curse of Jeconiah? Talk about a knotty problem. How could you solve that? There's only one way, through a virgin birth. You see, Jesus, by escaping having Joseph as his biological father, escaped the curse of Jeconiah. Joseph was not Jesus's biological father, God was. So because Joseph was not his biological father, he escaped the curse, but the right to rule always came through the father. And by being a descendant of David, Joseph, as Jesus's legal guardian, not his biological father, but as his legal guardian, was able to pass on the right to rule to his Son. Jesus had the right to rule, and yet he escaped the curse all through his virgin birth. Who could have come up with a plan like that except God himself?
And that's why when you turn to Matthew 1:16, it says, "Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah". That phrase by whom is in the feminine singular in Greek. That means by whom does not refer to Joseph and Mary, it only refers to Mary. When we talk about Jesus... or talk about children today, we say, "You know, they're the son or daughter" and we name the parents. Here it only says Jesus was the Son of Mary, a reference to the virgin birth. I think this phrase, born of a woman, first of all relates to Jesus's virgin birth, but secondly, it is a reference to the humanity of Jesus.