Advent 3 – The Nativity of the Messiah

Luke 4 v 18 – 19

Please turn with me for now in your Bibles to the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 and we’re going to begin reading verse 18. We’re going to read verses 18 and 19, and I’ll return to this passage of Scripture in my last point today as we consider together the Mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why did He come? What is Christmas about?

18The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (ESV)

Why Jesus? Why did He come? He tells us in these verses in His own words: To proclaim Good News to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind – liberty to those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. That’s why He came. It’s very simple and yet it is very profound. We have looked over this Advent season – this is my third message of the Advent season – and you will recall how we have been looking at the need for the Messiah – why was He necessary? We looked last week at the nature of the Messiah – what is He like – who is He? And today we’re going to look at the Nativity of the Messiah, which is His birth. And you remember I told you that the Messiah was necessary, not first of all because of our needs – we often look at it from that perspective when we say, why was Jesus necessary we say, ‘well it’s because we have sinned’ and that’s true and ‘it’s because we suffering, we’re among the blind, we’re among the captives, we’re among the oppressed, so that’s why He was necessary’ and that’s very true. But it’s not the first reason why Jesus was necessary.

The first reason is the Glory of God – the Glory of God. You see, it’s all about God, because we live on this planet and we feel the pain of it and the pleasure of it and the Stoics told us that we need a master both. We kind of look at everything through our own eyes and our own needs and we are so self-centred – there’s this kind of collective narcissism in us, isn’t it? That ‘puff me’, ‘please me’ and ‘pay me’ spirit. We’re always looking at things from that perspective, but we can so easily miss that everything about Jesus is about the glory of God. We looked at His splendour – what His Glory is – the manifestation, the radiance of His Holiness, the radiance of His manifold infinitely worthy and valuable perfections on display. That is His glory. And Jesus is about that – that’s why He’s necessary, because we sinned against that Glory.

And then the grief of humanity is another reason why Jesus was necessary, and I think 2020 has left us in an opportunity for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to say to the whole world: ‘You see what we mean? You see what we’ve been saying ever since the time of the Apostles and the church fathers and throughout the history of the Church when humanity has walked about in Pomp and Circumstance, playing god. And we’ve been trying to tell you [that] you are flesh and blood – you’re going to live hopefully very happily, very healthily very wealthily, but here’s what’s going to happen to you – it doesn’t matter who you are, I can tell you how it’s going to end inevitably and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You’re going to get old. Then you’re going to get sick. Then you’re going to die – all of you. That’s how it’s going to end, unless the Lord returns before that happens. You’re not going to be here forever’.

And we’ve been telling the world [that] the signs of this are all around us – we see this slow death setting in – we see it everywhere. We see it in our time, our treasure, our talent and our ties. We see it everywhere. It’s like a kind of a collective second law of Thermodynamics. Everything has to get worse till we die. Life is to be found in one only, and His Name is Jesus Christ. And we’ve been telling the world you’re not gods, you’re not immortal – regardless of how you dress up and what you drive and where you live. You can die in an instant. We’ve been telling the world that, and they kind of haven’t believed us, have they? Well now, what do you see in the malls? It’s virus dodging around every corner – afraid of an unseen little bug that God made. Desperately clinging to life – all the godhood gone – all the Pomp and Circumstance gone! If one were unkind one would almost call it pathetic wouldn’t you? It’s an opportunity for the church to tell them you are flesh and blood. Life is to be found in one alone, and His Name is Jesus Christ, the Christ of Christmas.

We saw last week His holy Divinity – that He is in every way God and I hope I proved it to you from scripture. That God became a Man and died on a cross and we call the season of the year when we remember that the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ and I have to acknowledge at the risk of getting invited to go and have some coffee with some upset reform brother which I would gladly do. We have a nativity scene in our home. It’s a very nice one – it’s all lit up, and I love sitting there listening to the Advent hymns and just looking at it. It stirs my heart to see Mary staring down at that manger. Poor old Joseph always wondering ‘what happened here, what is this?’ God in a manger – that’s what it is Joseph! We need to look at His mother this morning, His manger and His mission. It’s what I want to consider with you this morning.

  1. His Mother

    I have to start out by saying with all the kindness that I can muster that the veneration given to Mary in the Roman Catholic Church is beyond what is warranted in the New Testament. It’s astonishing when we look at the New Testament to see how little we see of Mary in the New Testament, but we have to honour her unique motherhood Catholics will tell you she’s the Ark of the New Covenant. Just as the Ark carried the word of God into the world in the Old Testament, Mary carried the Incarnate Word of God into the world in the New Testament. And they call her the Ark of the New Covenant. Just so you understand a little bit better how Roman Catholics think about this.

    We must be careful in our criticism to still remain respectful. And so we simply say when we look at the New Testament, we see very little of Mary and I think there’s a reason for us – we count her blessed as the mother of our incarnate Lord, but we cannot put her on a pedestal that neither she nor Jesus would have approved of. She turns up with the disciples praying in the upper room in Acts 1:14, but she’s never again mentioned in the entire New Testament and that’s astonishing if you consider that if the veneration of Mary was an essential part of the early Church life, it was not important enough to be mentioned in any of the New Testament books after Acts, but important enough for the early Church to almost worship her?

    The one place where the Apostle Paul comes close to mentioning Mary he chooses to not even mention her, and he simply speaks of the woman: “He was born of woman – when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son born of” – and a Catholic would expect to say ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’. Paul simply says: “born of woman.” When she’s mentioned in Acts 1:14, she’s “Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers” and that inclusion of the brothers has the effect of minimizing any elevation of Mary as having significance only in being the mother of Jesus, rather than the mother of His brothers as well. But it is true that she’s unique among all women in being a virgin when she gave birth to her firstborn Son. Matthew 1:23: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” And she asked the angel: “How can this be?” He said “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called Holy.” He will be called the Son of God and yet amazingly this fact – the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary is never mentioned again in the entire New Testament – not once – not a word – and that doesn’t mean it’s untrue or unimportant. It simply means that it was not prominent in the life of the Church and celebrating it was not an essential part of the worship of the New Testament Church, otherwise it would have been mentioned somewhere in the letters to those churches, and it’s nowhere mentioned.

    When she’s referred to during the adult life of Jesus in the Gospels, she’s not treated in any way that sets her apart in any unusual way. At the cross we see for example, Matthew refers to her without even mentioning that she’s Jesus’ mother. He simply says there were also many women there looking on from a distance who have followed Jesus from Galilee ministering to Him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph – he doesn’t even mention Jesus – and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. So calling Jesus’ mother the mother of James and Joseph is striking. We know that this is Jesus’ mother, because of Matthew 13:55: “Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” James and Joseph are the sons in both Matthew 27:56 and 13:55.

    So Matthew refers to Mary without calling her the mother of Jesus. That’s very significant! And a few verses later he simply refers to as the other Mary and so my point is this: We must honour and respect the Lord’s mother – we have to for good reasons that I’ll point out. But the veneration that she’s received as the co-redemptrix in Roman Catholicism is not true. But she was a magnificent person Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her humility shines. Luke 1:48: “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.” Her faith was profound. Luke 1:45: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” That was profound faith. Her suffering was deep. Luke 2:35: “A sword will pierce through your own soul.”

    But most importantly for Mary her God – as He ought to be to us – was sovereign, truly God! Luke 1:51, 52: “He has shown me strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones.” Listen, world leaders: This is not your world – regardless of how you think you may control us. I want to say with the deepest humility this morning to every leader in every land. As long as I’m a Pastor, we will say to you we will not allow you to intrude upon the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ within His Church. We will stand between you with the Word in hand as a sword and we will defy you if it is necessary, because the Lord has brought down the mighty from their thrones. Her God was Sovereign and so is ours. And her meditations were full of Truth. Look at Luke 2:19 (and we could be Christians like Mary): “She treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

    So remember her, admire her, bless her, be inspired by her, but don’t go beyond what the New Testament portrays. Our calling is to be like her rather than to venerate her. That’s His mother. Now His manger. And I want to just hold up to you some things we can learn about the manger.

  2. His Manger

    What does it mean? Most of us here have been through quite a number of Advent seasons. We Ponder: ‘What does this manger mean?’ Well, it’s royalty in a manger. Luke is the only writer in the New Testament to use the word manger. What God does with this one feeding trough for cattle is enough to make us leap for joy this Christmas time. As somebody said: ‘Some stories reach back forever – forward into eternity, down to the depths of mystery, and up to the heights of glory.’ And this story does! It comes from the Latin word, which means to chew or to eat. That’s what manger means. It refers to a trough where horses and donkeys and cattle ate, and I’m sure those of you who have been on a farm as I have been know that they can drool a lot! The Lord answers in Luke 13:15 He says: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath day untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?” And in the most famous Christian paragraphs in the Bible Luke rivets our attention on the manger three times. He says this: “She gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn.” He says in verse 12 of that chapter: “This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” He says they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Now what’s the main message of the manger? And I thank Dr. John Piper for enlightening my thinking on this.

    a. The manger was dirty – it was a dirty thing. You could pick up a lot of viruses there. We may be sure that Joseph and Mary cleaned it up as best they could. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph cleaning the manger? I wonder who wove it – maybe some boy or some girl some man or some woman weaving it together. They cleaned it up I’m sure, but there was no way that we can romanticize this bed into anything other than a feeding trough for slobbering animals. That’s what it was. The first bed for the Son of God was not a royal cradle. It was a common corn crib. It’s meant to hold scraps to be eaten.

    This week Susan and I went looking for it [a bed]. We realized that our bed had become very old (if I may say something personal), so we went out to all these places that sell mattresses and bed bases. I came to one place and I asked where’s the bed shop (to a black brother) and he pointed me to a pet shop. He thought I was looking for a bird shop. But I looked at the prices of these things. Have you folks seen the prices of them? Man, they’ve got magnificent models. Have you seen them? You just stand next to it you fall asleep! And we pay thousands for these things.

    The Son of God in a manger – Jesus in a manger, animals slobbering all over Him. So it was dirty, but you need to know something about it – it was planned.

    b. It wasn’t a coincidence. First you might think it was a fluke and a fate; a random misfortune that they just picked up the slack on. Because Luke says Mary laid Him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. But the way Luke tells the story shows us that won’t work to say it was just a makeshift. The first bed for the Son of God was not a royal cradle; it was a common corn crib.

    Now, we need to know that God had centuries to get ready for the birth of His Son. The prophet Micah lived seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus and he prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So God knew about it, as He knows about all things and He said: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrata, you are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be the Ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2). So God had a good seven centuries and more to plan the details of the Lord’s coming and arrange the arrival of His Son in the right place, at the right time and in the right way, and He planned a manger. So it was dirty, it was planned and thirdly, it was a sign.

    c. Don’t look on the manger lightly, it was a sign. Notice what Luke says: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.” The angel of the Lord said something to the shepherds that was almost too good to be true. To believe this and bear witness they would need a sign, and the angel gave it. He said: “This will be the sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There’s your sign shepherds, go find it. Swaddling cloths? Every baby in Bethlehem was wearing swaddling cloths. That’s not the sign. The sign is the manger. In fact, this must have sounded so scandalous to these shepherds [that] they probably did not think they heard the angel right! No other king anywhere in the world was lying in a feeding trough – find Him and you find the King of kings, Saviour, Christ and Lord. That’s who the angel said had been born – the Saviour, the Deliverer from all our enemies – Christ the Messiah, the Fulfiller of the promises of God, Lord! An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the Glory of the Lord shone around them. That’s the sign. No other king anywhere in the world was lying in a feeding trough – find Him and you find the King of kings and you will know something – something very crucial about His kingship. So it was dirty. It was planned, it was a sign, and it was glorious.

    d. No sooner was those words out of the angels’ mouth “You will find a baby lying in a manger” than the heavens exploded with praise. There was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying these wonderful words: “Glory to God in the highest!” Glory to God, the Saviour in the feeding trough. Glory to God, the Messiah’s in a feeding trough. Glory to God, the Lord is in a feeding trough! Glory to God in the highest – from the highest to the lowest, what a God; what a Saviour! The manger was also a way of discipleship.

    e. The angel of the Lord came to the shepherds – not to Pharisees. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased. And with whom is the Lord pleased? That word ‘pleased’ occurs in one other place in Luke. Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: “I thank You Father Lord of heaven and earth that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes Father, for such was Your good pleasure.” Not the wise – not the understanding – not those funny people in Hollywood who were tagged by the wildlife society and looks like somebody hit them with a wet comic – not the celebrities – not even the celebrity pastors – not the politicians, but the children – the ones who take no offense to the baby in a feeding trough – the ones that would expect no better bed than their Saviour’s. As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus: “I’ll follow You wherever You go. And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head…'” – except for a manger. So you want to follow Me, follow Me. Can you follow Him? Can you? Do you know what it means? “Love not the world, nor the things thereof.” You’re going to lose it all anyway.

    The manger was step one on the Calvary Road. You see the road to Calvary is downhill, not because it gets easier, but because it gets lower. The Saviour’s life starts low and it ends even lower. That’s the point of Philippians 2:6-8: “Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant.” Starting His life lower than servants in a feeding trough, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross and that is how the Saviour saves – that’s how the Messiah fulfils all His promises. This is how the Lord reigns: From infinite deity to feeding trough to final torment on the cross. That’s how your Lord reigns and that’s discipleship for those who have eyes to see the message of the angels makes sense. We must follow Him. “Any one of you who does not renounce all that He has cannot be My disciple.” That’s not me speaking – that’s your Lord speaking. Your Lord says to you this morning; Christmas Day 2020. He says to you – to all of us who so glibly call ourselves Christian. This is what Jesus says to you: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that He has cannot be My disciple.” It’s a lowly road – it’s a hard road, but there’s no greater joy than to be on that road with the Saviour. “Fear not for behold, I bring you Good News of great joy…” Luke says. That’s not moderate joy. That’s not a little bit of happy. It’s great joy. Glory to God in the highest – great joy to us – great Glory to God.

  3. His Mission

    His Mission brings us this joy and God this Glory. Why did He come into the world? I said in the beginning that I will return to it in the end, and I do so now from those two verses we read in Luke 4:18-19. God sent His only beloved Son to this world. He sent His Holy Spirit to this world. Jesus sent His disciples and us. Where did He send us? To this world – this messed-up place in which we live.

    Last night I saw a glimpse of something that CNN (which we shouldn’t watch) cautioning us about the great contagion – the coming great contagion. How many saw that? Am I the only one? The coming great contagion. Now bats in the Congo – they found new viruses and it’s going to be all over the world. Hmm. Wonder what else we can wear to protect ourselves.

    This world that you and I have now seen how frail it is – we’ve now seen how foolish it is. We’ve now seen how empty it is. You see it every time you walk down the mall. Despite the fancy cars and the clothing and the houses and everything we have now seen that we are but flesh and blood. We’ve seen it, people! How are we to live in this world? He sends us to this world. The Holy Spirit is the principal actor in fulfilling the mission. And Jesus’ mission was to save that which was lost. This salvation and Good News was and is directed toward every area of need of humanity. Jesus did not just come to save you from hell. What did He come to save you from? Toward every area of need this Good News was directed: poverty and the problem of humanity.

    By nature man lives separated from God. He lives with a great number of problems and misfortunes, urgently needing the Good News of the love and the grace and the favour of Christ. And Jesus was convinced that He was able to fulfil His mission, because God had anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and this passage in Luke 4:18-19 speaks of Jesus’ mission in a very special way, and addresses certain problems that He came to solve:

    a. The problem of poverty
    Luke 4:18: “To proclaim Good News to the poor.” There is much spiritual and moral poverty and economic poverty is also a very real problem – especially in a country like we find in some of the South American countries like Paraguay and others, but in many other countries as well. Now what did Jesus do for the poor? He had compassion on a poor widow and raised her only son from the dead, because the son was the source of support for her future. ‘You need a son, he’s dead, and you got nobody to take care of you. Let Me give you your son back. Here’s your son.’ ‘Thank You Jesus.’

    He healed the lepers so they could return to their work. He condemned the rich who exploited the poor – especially the orphans and the widows. On the other hand, we see that He praised the action of a poor widow who had placed all that she had in the offering plate. He did not prevent her from giving, nor does the Bible mention that He gave her any funds now that she was without money. The poor are not always poor – on the contrary, they’re often rich in faith. James says: “Listen, my dear brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” So the problem poverty He came to solve it.

    b. The problem of captivity
    Luke 4:18b: “He sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” In the Gospel we do not read of Jesus freeing anyone from prison. In Acts we do read of some who were miraculously set free from jail. He did not even give freedom to John the Baptist when he was in prison, although He certainly would have had the power to do so.  So what prisoners did He come to set free? Prisoners of the devil.

    I said to the Elders before the service: People say be careful of conspiracy theories. And yes, you have to be careful of them, but be careful of the conspiracy, Brothers and Sisters. The Lord warns us that the devil is a conspirator. The Lord told us he’ll be at that and the bulk of humanity will go after him. Do you believe in the devil? Then there are conspiracies and most people are going to fall for it. Don’t you fall for them! They’re prisoners of the devil.

    Jesus liberated many people who were possessed by demons. Even today many people are still prisoners of the devil. In our country there are many who have turned to spiritism, witchcraft and mind-reading and are bound up in some way by evil spirits. We are prisoners of sin and vice and I hope every one of you know what I’m talking about. You cannot know the Good News until you know the bad news. We are prisoners of sin and of vice. John 8:34: “Truly, I tell you everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” It’s not just ‘my bad’. You’re a slave to it! It swallows up everything you are. It wasn’t just the prostitutes, the adulteress, the tax collectors who were sinners. The Jews thought they were free, but Jesus saw that they were totally enslaved to sin. And today many think they’re free, but we realize that they are imprisoned by such things as addiction. Do you know the rise in alcoholism in this time of lock-down? Do you know how easy it is to fall into that? Drug addiction, pornography addiction – prisoners of sin and of vice!

    Many think they’re free, but we know that we are imprisoned by such things as addiction, by hatred, by violence, hypocrisy, envy and greed and many other sins. Notice this – the prisoners He came to set free: Prisoners of wealth. Wealth prevented the rich young ruler from following Jesus. He came to set him free. Prisoners of tradition and legalism like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. He came to set those prisoners free. So that’s the second problem: imprisonment. The third one touches many.

    c. To heal the sick  
    We think of dear Johan who has gone to be with the Lord this past week. We think of friends and family in hospital with Covid and other diseases. Did you know that people still get other diseases as well? How many knew? Not many, but some. The problem of physical suffering (Luke 4:18). Are you sick this morning? Do you have someone who’s sick? Recovery of sight for the blind. You see our Lord took an interest in people’s physical suffering. We are not the God who heals, but we believe in the God who can heal.

    The first Christian Church cried out to God for miracles and healing and God answered. How many of us cry out to God for healing? He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. Sometimes He heals instantly, sometimes it’s a process. Sometimes He uses medicine and sometimes He only removes the pain, but we can cry out to Him and trust Him.

    d. To set the oppressed free  
    The next problem in His mission that He came to fix: oppression. Luke 4:18b: “…to set the oppressed free…” Many are oppressed, distressed and weighed down and grieving – socially oppressed – oppressed by sin and destructive lifestyle – oppressed by difficult life experiences – oppressed by fear and worry. He’s come to set you free if you’re oppressed by any of that. Do you and I live and preach freedom in Christ? Do our neighbours and Brothers and Sisters in Christ see us as free people? Jesus was completely free, and only He can give true Freedom.

So this is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ: His mother whom we honour, but we don’t venerate; His manger which teaches us many lessons; shows us the way of discipleship; His Mission which we are to partake in as He sends us. We too are to look at the poor, to go to them, to be used to set the captives free, be with those who are physically suffering and with those who are oppressed. There’s so much of that in this world. Maybe it’s in your own family. Maybe it’s at your place of work and many people who come and sit in my little study and they tell me: ‘Willem to get up in the morning and go to that place and sit there all day is hell and I can’t leave, I have to feed the children.’
That oppression? The Lord brings you freedom. Many are sick – very sick. The Lord heals them. Many are trapped by many things: alcohol and drugs and pornography and hatred – all kinds of things. The Lord comes to set us free from captivity and free from the power of sin. That’s what He reminds us of on this Christmas Day 2020. May the Lord bless you the rest of this day. Enjoy your Christmas dinner – nothing wrong if you light a couple of candles and sit together as a family and put on some advent hymns in the background. You can’t do it out there and I miss it very much, but you can give each other a hug. How many of you miss the hugs like I do miss them? That’s why I don’t do the elbow tapping. I’d rather just wave at you and say ‘how you’re doing?’ So I miss the hugs. I’ll wait until we can hug again. These little kids – go and treat them for Christmas. Give them something nice. Look out for someone who has less than you have and when you’re happy and everything’s well with you, notice someone who isn’t: maybe a neighbour – maybe someone down the road – maybe the guy on the corner. That’s why Jesus came. That’s what Christmas is about.