Christmas Service on December 25, 2016
messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
“Where Is the King?”
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are enjoying today’s worship celebration. Every year we sing “Joy to the world” (Morobito kozorite, or as I heard someone start to say by mistake last week, “Morobito koroshite” [Kill everyone]). The next line is where the joy of Christmas comes from: the news that “The Lord is come.” The carol continues with our response to the message of Christmas, “Let earth receive her King.” That’s what I want to think about with you today. Specifically, let’s look at how (1) Christ was sent as King, (2) we resist receiving Him as King, and (3) we can come to know Him as King.
I owe a lot of today’s message to Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City who recently wrote a book called Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. A key part of the story he discusses is the “good news of great joy” that the angel told the shepherds about in Luke 2:10 (and Don presented again to us last night). The angel didn’t call it “good advice” and give the world’s people some teachings that could add value to our lives and help us reach our personal goals. Many teachers do that, with the assumption that we actually have the power to live good lives, if we only have the right ideas and make enough effort. That puts us at the center of the process. But the angel called it “good news” (“gospel”), announcing the birth of the One who could make a good life possible. That puts God at the center and leaves us with the challenge to accept the news and live with Christ as our King.
(1) What kind of King was Jesus born to be? Not the kind who became number one by having more money, name-recognition, connections, and other “qualifications” than everyone else. In fact, God sent this King to parents who looked like they may have conceived a child outside marriage—a big taboo in that culture. They became homeless and jobless precisely when
they obeyed God’s leading to be His parents. It seems they only had enough money to begin raising him because they received gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their Son was nearly killed, and probably 20 or 30 others near his age were murdered when Herod felt his power as king being threatened. The family escaped to Egypt and lived as refugees. Then when they returned to their home country, they did not go near the center of power in Jerusalem but chose to live in the “nowhere” town of Nazareth. That’s not a life path many kings would choose, I don’t think.
This gives you a hint about the upside-down view of power and success the Christian God has. He has already worked in similar ways throughout the Old Testament to the way He does in Mary and Joseph’s family. So when the King with all the power grows up to be an adult, it’s not too surprising that He will show His power most clearly by giving it up and dying for the world’s people on the cross. His is the kind of royal power that lifts other people up. He is a King who seeks not just to protect His position but empower others to live in the peace and prosperity of His Kingdom. That is the kind of King who continues to call people today to freely submit ourselves to His kingship, His lordship.
(2) The story of King Herod and King Jesus is full of injustice, fear, violence, and homelessness. This is all too familiar to us today, isn’t it. The year 2016 now coming to a close has seen great evil in many forms throughout the world, has it not? But when we ask where the evil comes from, opinions are quickly divided. Some say that rich and powerful people are responsible for most of it. In this view, poor people and minorities are the heroes of the world’s story. Other people think that irresponsible people who make bad moral choices are the main problem. This makes hardworking, decent, middle-class people the heroes, and both the lazy poor and immoral elites the bad guys.
Who is right? At first, the Bible seems to support the first of these two ideas. Herod was a cruel ruler, using his power unjustly to control and even kill his people. One key theme of the whole Bible is that God stands on the side of the poor and against those who oppress them. But the clear teaching of the Bible as a whole is that evil in the world is in the heart of every human being.
So in an important way, King Herod’s reaction to Christ is a picture of us all. If you want to be king and someone else comes along saying he is the king, a feeling of resistance forms, doesn’t it. We are committed to the idea that the only way for us to be happy is for us to be fully in control of our lives. Never mind that real life (including natural disasters, sicknesses, accidents, mean people, and many other things) shows us regularly that we cannot. We may cling very tightly to the illusion that we are in control—or live in fear of losing power. We have believed the lie of the serpent in Genesis 3: “You need to be in charge of your life. Don’t let anybody else be in charge—including God—because then you won’t be happy. You will miss out on what is best for you!”
In the male-centered culture of Jesus’ time, it was 100% the father’s choice what to name a newborn baby. Naming was a sign of his control over the family. But God’s angel takes that away and tells him in Matthew 1:21 the exact name he must choose: Jesus. He tells Joseph, and us in effect, “If Jesus is in your life, you will not be His manager. He is not going to be there for you to own, possess, or control. He will not only belong to you. Even more, you will belong to Him.”
Some people who hear the story of Christ think, “I am interested in being a Christian, but not if it means I have to do this or this or this.” Do you know what they are doing? They are trying to name Him. They are saying, “I
want Jesus but on my terms.” Yet the angel says that, when He comes into your life, He will come there to be King.
When I was a student, especially in the last two years of high school and first two years of university, like most young adults, I struggled to know myself, to find out “who I am.” I had grown up in a Christian family, but I knew that I had to find my own way in life. I thought, “I can’t be a Christian if I can’t be myself.”
But now, looking back about 40 years, I realize that I couldn’t possibly have known very fully at that stage in my life who I was. I could not understand very well what was in my own heart, my true motives, what type of life would be best for me. I tried. I learned about different religions and philosophies. I took personality and aptitude tests. Doing that taught me some valuable things, I still believe. But just trying to figure it out on my own was not enough. I was still trying to name myself.
What I really needed was for God to name me. When I made Him my starting point and asked Him to give me the life that He in His good plans had prepared for me, things began to change. Now I don’t think that becoming a follower of Christ turned me into some kind of Christian robot who has no real self. Just the opposite, it is clear to me that meeting Christ made it possible for me to find myself and set me free to be myself. Only when we make Him number one can we receive what we need most from Him. Again, Keller (pp. 59-60) says:
He made us. He knows who we are, what we were made for, what will fit us. That means that we cannot know who we are until he comes into our lives and then, through obedience to him, learn our true identity.
So have the courage to take your hands off your life, to give yourself to him and begin a lifetime of adventure.
You might say, “Wait, I thought Christ came to love and guide and empower us.” Yes, He did. But He does that not as our personal assistant or servant. He relates to us as our King. To be sure, He is our Father, our Companion, and our Counselor. But He is at the same time our King.
So when we come to Christ, we have to drop our conditions. That means we have to give up our right to say, “I will obey you if . . . .” When we do that, we are refusing to follow. We are trying to change Jesus from our Lord into our advisor or something. We are saying to Him, “I will be happy to receive your advice. I will no doubt follow it at times. But in the end, the choices about my life are mine.”
But Christ calls us to a more radical type of life than that. He calls us to freely choose self-denial. In many modern cultures, like those of most or all people here today, choosing self-denial is an act of rebellion. Our cultures lead us to self-assertion, not self-denial. But saying no to our own desires in order to say yes to God’s desires for us is a good thing, a necessary thing, Jesus tells us. He calls us to place our lives in His hands, as our King, and nothing less. One teacher put it this way (Keller, p. 91-92):
If the distance between Earth and the sun—ninety-three million miles—was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance from the Earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high; the diameter of the Milky Way would be a stack of paper over three hundred miles high. Keep in mind that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. There are more, it seems, than dust specks in the air or grains on the seashores. Now, if Jesus Christ holds all this together with just a word of his power
(Hebrews 1:3)—is he the kind of person you ask into your life to be your assistant?
Keller says (pp. 58-59):
To become a Christian you are going to have to have the courage to do something our culture thinks is absolutely crazy. You are going to have to commit to denying yourself. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves . . . .” (Luke 9:23).
We are told again and again in our societies that we must never break the law, “To thine own self be true.” We must always work to make our greatest dreams come true and satisfy our strongest desires. But there are deep problems with this approach to life. The fact is that our feelings change over time, and at any given time they are usually in conflict with one another.
Still, this is the view that many people have, so the call that Christ gives to people can sound shocking. For modern people to follow in Jesus’ steps, we need intentionality, even bravery. We have to keep making clear choices from day to day and hour to hour to live as God teaches us.
This may sound like an impossibly difficult thing to do. It may sound scary. But it is also an adventure. When you follow Christ as your King, you will have surprises and challenges. There is no doubt about that. But you also have the help that He gives to face those difficult situations.
Jesus teaches some amazing things—that He is number one, sent from the God who is at the center of the universe to rule over all for all time. Almost every person who really understands these teachings reacts by fighting against them in some way. None of us simply comes to accept Christ naturally. In
other words, there is a little Herod inside each of us. We feel threatened when
anything or anyone, including the Christ-child, tells us that we are not number one, in control of our lives, the captain of our own soul, the master of our own fate.
God makes claims on our lives, that they come from Him and belong to Him, so they work best when they are placed under His leadership and protection. He asks us to turn our lives over to Him. There is a transaction that takes place when a person accepts Christ as Savior and Lord and begins to follow Him. When we encounter Him, we also are faced with a choice to respond to Him, either by accepting and honoring and worshiping Him as the wise men did, or by rejecting Him, as Herod did. Even when we come to accept Him as our King, almost everyone does so after a time of rejecting Him, resisting Him, and struggling whether to follow or not. Paul in Romans 6-8 says that struggle continued in him long after he became a Christ-follower. It does for believers today, too.
For example, we may create other gods in our minds and habits of life that look a lot like the Bible’s God but really are not. They may be the gods of success, of ease, of this lifestyle or that way of thinking. Religious people can be really good at substituting something else for the true God but covering that disobedience in high-sounding religious language. We may, for example, try to do a lot of good things, thinking that then God will have to be nice to us—which is really another way of trying to stay in control. But no one just naturally seeks and finds the Lord born at Christmas. Unless God works in us to help us find Christ, we are unable to do it. We receive the question each year at Christmas, “Where is the king . . . ?” But if we stay seated on the throne, even without using words, we have made our answer.
(3) How can we come to know Christ as King? His coming into our world makes us uncomfortable. No one can stay cool, detached, and objective
when someone like Jesus claims to be his or her King. There is no way to glide
through the Christian life like a skater on the ice. He confronts us with the need to make a response. He normally lets us do it in our own time and way, but we all chose some type of reaction to Him.
I don’t mean that everything depends on us. It’s not that we have to just decide to live by faith, figure it out on our own, and step by step achieve it. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who’s come to Christ that way. Gladly, God can lead us. People who come to faith often note a sense that something bigger than us is at work. God speaks to our hearts, brings people to Himself, guides us to begin life as His children.
Each person who comes to God through faith does so through a unique experience. Yet but we all chose some type of reaction to Him. It always seems to be a combination of learning the truth claims He makes, sensing your own need for a relationship with Him through Christ, and finding some kind of community with whom to live the life of faith.
In the short time remaining, let’s focus on coming to sense your need to know Jesus as the King of your life. Let’s try it this way. I will pray. If this is your prayer, please pray quietly together with me in your heart. God will hear you, understand, and accept your prayer. If this is not a prayer you can honestly say, then you can use this as one more chance to learn the meaning of Christmas. In either case, let’s try, OK?
God, I am used to running my own life. But I have come to see an important thing: If in order to be at peace, I must be in control, then I will constantly be afraid. I have learned that as a human being I am sometimes at the mercy of people and forces I can neither predict nor manage. If I have to be in control in order to be at peace, prove myself, find an identity, have meaning in life, find satisfaction, and so on, I will always live with a great deal of
fear, fatigue, stress, and pressure. I am coming to understand that placing these matters in your hands leads to the freedom I long to have and know I need. I realize that my pride and self- righteousness are terrible burdens for me to bear, as well as for those around me. And I am ready to make a change. I make a commitment to place my life, freely and fully, in the hands of Christ, the King. As I do, I receive the promise that He has already committed Himself fully to me. Thank you for that amazing gift. I step through the door now open before me and begin to follow Him in faith. Please help me continue that journey, step by step. In His name I pray, amen.
Keller, T. (2016). Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. New York: Viking.
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. This happened while Herod was king of Judea. After Jesus' birth, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem.
2 They asked, "Where is the child who has been born to be king of the Jews? When we were in the east, we saw his star. Now we have come to worship him."
3 When King Herod heard about it, he was very upset. Everyone in Jerusalem was troubled too.
4 So Herod called together all the chief priests of the people. He also called the teachers of the law. He asked them where the Christ was going to be born.
5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied. "This is what the prophet has written. He said,
6 " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not the least important among the towns of Judah. A ruler will come out of you. He will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' " (Micah 5:2)
7 Then Herod called for the Wise Men secretly. He found out from them exactly when the star had appeared.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem. He said, "Go! Make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, bring me a report. Then I can go and worship him too."
9 After the Wise Men had listened to the king, they went on their way. The star they had seen when they were in the east went ahead of them. It finally stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy.
11 The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, incense and myrrh.
12 But God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod. So they returned to their country on a different road.
Jesus' Family Escapes to Egypt
13 When the Wise Men had left, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. "Get up!" the angel said. "Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to come back. Herod is going to search for the child. He wants to kill him."
14 Joseph got up. During the night, he left for Egypt with the child and his mother Mary.
15 They stayed there until King Herod died. So the words the Lord had spoken through the prophet came true. He had said, "I chose to bring my son out of Egypt."(Hosea 11:1)
16 Herod realized that the Wise Men had tricked him. So he became very angry. He gave orders concerning Bethlehem and the area around it. All the boys two years old and under were to be killed. This agreed with the time when the Wise Men had seen the star.
17 In this way, the words the prophet Jeremiah spoke came true. He had said,
18 "A voice is heard in Ramah. It's the sound of crying and deep sadness. Rachel is crying over her children. She refuses to be comforted, because they are gone." (Jeremiah 31:15)
Jesus' Family Returns to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, Joseph had a dream while he was still in Egypt. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him.
20 The angel said, "Get up! Take the child and his mother. Go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead."
21So Joseph got up. He took the child and his mother Mary back to the land of Israel.
22 But then he heard that Archelaus was king of Judea. Archelaus was ruling in place of his father Herod. This made Joseph afraid to go there. Warned in a dream, Joseph went back to the land of Galilee instead.
23 There he lived in a town called Nazareth. So what the prophets had said about Jesus came true. They had said, "He will be called a Nazarene."