Online Text Sermon - The Heavenly Host at Worship, Luke ch.2 v.13
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Heavenly Host at Worship|
|Text||Luke ch.2 v.13 |
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"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2, 13-14).
These are very wonderful words. Every word here spoken surely deserves to be written in letters of gold. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (text).
I point out in connection with these words, who it is that utters them. It is not any man who speaks these words; and it is not indeed any angel on his own, but a host of angels. What had happened is this. These shepherds were first of all spoken to by one single angel and he informs them by night, as they are watching their flock, of the birth that same day of the Son of God, nearby in Bethlehem. Then, as they were afraid, he reassures them that they have nothing to be afraid of: "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2, 10). If that was not enough of a wonderful visitation from on high, as they were pondering the significance of these words, suddenly, without any preparation, without any visitation or noise, or fanfare, or clapping of hands - suddenly, there was with the angel this multitude of the heavenly host. Who can say how many angels there were? All we can say is there was a great choir of angels, and together in unison they either sing or say these words. Listen to them again, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (text).
Having considered the words and who has spoken them, consider then to whom these words are spoken. Not to the great Emperor of Rome whose fame has come down to us throughout all the corridors of history, Augustus the mighty; not to the great high priest in Jerusalem, whose name was Caiaphas, or was perhaps at this time Annas or one of these others. It was not spoken to any of the Herod family who were kings over the country, nor even to the rich or mighty or well educated or learned or sophisticated. Known only to shepherds, just to shepherds, humbly dressed, from humble homes, doing simple work, not requiring university degrees or anything like that - looking over a few sheep by night. The choir of heaven spoke these words; what words, "Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
You may want to ask why these shepherds were chosen. I answer, for the very same reason that Mary was chosen to be the mother, and Joseph chosen to be the foster father; and for the same reason that Simeon, of whom we had a note earlier in the reading, was chosen; and also Anna, whom we didn't quite read about but who is there later in this same chapter. What did they all have in common? What was it about them that made them suitable persons to hear these words and to have this knowledge and visitation? What did they have that the great Augustus did not have? What did they have that mighty Herod and the high priest in Jerusalem then, did not have? You know the answer: the love of God in their hearts! It reminds us dear friends that the things that matter in heaven are not the things that matter in the eyes of this world.
This world is busy with its wars and its rumours of wars: its aeroplanes, its mighty congresses of statesmen and those who manipulate the stock exchanges and who deal with mighty international financial concerns. These matters, of themselves, are nothing in the eyes of God! Very often they're an abomination in the eyes of God. What then, does matter in the eyes of God? That we should love God, that we should be devout and holy: God loving, God fearing, Bible fearing, Bible reading, praying men, women and young people. That's why these shepherds were the ones chosen. Oh, what an intimation! Oh, what news! "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2 11). The lesson surely is, amongst many other lessons, that Christ came for His own people and all the best blessings go to the godly in this world. When God visits this nation again in revival - make sure of this - it will be amongst the godly that the blessings will begin: those who long for Him to come again in spiritual awakening; those who pray and attend prayer meetings, who are on their knees early and late; those who read their Bible, pouring over its meaning, digesting its teaching. When God visits this nation again, or any nation, be sure of it, His eye will be first upon those who are longing for His appearing, as these beloved shepherds were, our brethren in Christ. Mary and Joseph, and Anna and Simeon, godly men and women who then were living in a godless nation, just as there are godly men and women here and in other places who are worshiping today in a godless, wicked, corrupt nation. The eye of God, I say, is upon these; these are the ones who get all the best blessings - in time and in eternity.
The great message is that God here is revealing the coming of Christ into the world and you do not need me to tell you that the coming of Christ into this world, dearest friend, was the greatest event of all history. There never will be an event like it. All history surrounds the coming of Christ into this world. We talk about B.C. and A.D.: time before Christ, and time after Christ. This is how we speak, and this is how we refer to the things of God. Everything before Christ is preparatory for His coming, and everything after Christ suspends upon and hinges round His coming. The coming of Christ into the world therefore is the great hinge of history, and the great hinge of destiny. Nothing matters like it and the great question therefore is - Do I know this Jesus Christ? Is He mine? Do I have Him in my soul? Do I believe in Him? Do I adore Him? Have I ever bent my knee before Him and told Him He is more to my soul than ten thousand worlds? For that was the spirit of these godly people to whom this revelation was made.
Let me talk about some basic things connected with the coming of Christ. We all know the main outlines but sometimes there is confusion in our minds. It would do no harm for a few moments to ponder the order of events in connection with our Lord's coming. The first thing I want to say to you is this. We are not commanded by God to make a special fuss about the anniversaries of the coming of Christ into this world. I have to be honest with you and tell you that nobody knows the day of the year when Christ was born. We are not told. It might have been the twenty fifth of December, but nobody can be sure. It's only tradition that gives that date to us. Let me go on to say to you, furthermore, that it is very suspicious looking that it is the twenty fifth of December that is being observed traditionally, because the ancient Romans used that date and the days round about that date. The pagan Romans had that as the greatest festival in their calendar. They referred to it as the Saturnalia. The purpose of it in the pagan Roman society was a time for eating and a time for getting drunk and it was a time for sending gifts one to another. It looks rather ominously similar to what we see today still. We must not therefore, in any sense, feel that there is any divine obligation to notice this day of the year. You know that the New Testament warns us against observing days and times and holy days.
Let me remind you that the first time that the Christian church ever observed Christmas, as it has now come to be called, was quite late, round about 450 A.D.; it was very late. The early church had no Christmas at all. They didn't think of celebrating the birth of Christ, simply because nobody knew when that birth was. Now our Christian calendar, so called today, was made up by a man who was a Roman abbot. He died round about 550 A.D. His name was Dionysius Exiguus. He was the one that made up the calendar which has been observed in Western Europe for the last number of centuries - but that's very late. The church had become very corrupt by that time. We don't even know the year in which our Lord was born. The scholars have studied it of course over the centuries and they still don't know. A probability is that Christ was born in 5 B.C. and that the early scholars got the year wrong, never mind the day of the year.
Why hasn't God told us these things you say? The answer is very obvious. If we knew these details, we would invest these days and years with abominable superstition. God requires of us to love Jesus Christ. These other things are nothing. The only thing about Christ's ministry we are to observe carefully is the Lord's Supper, which commemorates His death. I say these things because you may know that in Scotland at the Reformation, all sacred holidays were swept away; not one of them was observed. Let me explain why; we need to know the reason for these things. In England Christmas was always kept, more-or-less always, and the reason is that the Church of England and the churches in Scotland at the Reformation had a different view of what we call the Principle of Worship. It is profitable just in a few words to explain this so that we can explain to other people who may wonder why we don't do what they do in connection with this time of the year. The Principle, which was observed in England for worship, was that everything was acceptable to God in worship which is not forbidden by the Bible. But the Principle which was observed in Scotland, was a far better one, a far more Scriptural one: that nothing is acceptable to God in worship but what He actually commands. We refer to that as the Regulative Principal. That's why in Scotland until very recently there was no Christmas and the only holy day of the year was the Sabbath, which is of divine origination, divine command. "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20, 8). We need to know therefore, the reason why. It is just a sheer fact that the more these so called, ecclesiastical holidays are revered and worshipped and observed and made a fuss of, the less of Christ there is to be seen in society. I don't think you would disagree with that. The more people make of these outward things, the less they make of Christ.
We wouldn't blame anyone for keeping a Christmas if what it meant was that they gathered together to worship Him; gathered together to have a whole day of adoring Him. Where there are Christians who make this their intention, then we have nothing but pleasure to hear of it. But somebody gave the whole game away in my hearing the other day. On the radio, a snapshot of conversation I heard was put like this, they said - listen to these words - 'Christmas is the time for indulging yourself'. Well, that says it all. That's the spirit of the world. That's what this world makes of the coming of our blessed Saviour into it: a time for drunkenness; a time for more waste of money than in the rest of the year. Well so much then for some of those outward matters.
Let me turn now to the order of events. I'm thinking now of the things that happen in connection with the birth of our blessed Saviour. We mustn't over-react, that's the danger. Having said the things I've just said, we mustn't now over-react, we mustn't fail to recognise that the coming of Jesus into the world is a sublime, wonderful mystery. It is called in the Bible, the Mystery of Godliness. God was manifest in the flesh. The greatest of all miracles! How could it happen that God would become man? This wonderful miracle of which John, in the beginning of his Gospel speaks when he tells us, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1, 14). Provided we keep that emphasis in, and keep the otherworldly emphasis out, we're safe.
Anything we say to criticise the way the world observes this day must take nothing away from the inward adoration that we should all have for the goodness of God in sending His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. Isn't that out text? "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Oh, my beloved friends, pause a moment and consider what sort of world it would be today if God had not sent His Son into the world? What sort of world was it before He sent His Son into the world? Read about druidical worship here in Inverness. This was the great centre of druidical worship, as you know. There is still a farm called Druid Hill Farm, and no doubt other memorials, where our forefathers worshipped stocks and stones, sun and moon and stars. They sacrificed their young men and young women no doubt, to these spirits which they never knew anything about. Godless, wicked, evil people they were then, and now it's true all over the world; human sacrifice, brutality. Life was cheap indeed but the coming of this dear Son of God into the world changed everything: new values, new standards, new understanding of the way to God and the way to heaven.
Let me explain to you, or remind you rather, of the order of events of His coming so that we might clarify our thinking after these things. John the Baptist was born just six months before Christ was born - six months. The angel appeared you remember, in the temple to the father of John the Baptist in his old age - Zacharias - and told him that his wife would have a child - a son, and that he would be great and would go before the face of the Most High and would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. Elizabeth was past normal childbearing age but according to the Word of God, by a miracle, she gave birth to this wonderful young man who grew up to be one of the greatest preachers of all history. His ministry was absolutely meteoric. He flashed across the sky. His ministry shook the whole nation; they were awakened within a few short months. Thousands were coming to hear and be baptised in the river Jordan - confessing their sins. It was one of the greatest ministries of all human history. The nation was prepared. He told them - "He is coming after me, I'm not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoes! He is coming after me, He will baptise you not with water but with fire (meaning the Holy Ghost, that is the baptism of repentance and the new birth; the new birth was the reference to fire). I can baptise with water, oh but He has the fire of a new birth to give you a new nature." He can transform your lives, was his message. But John's ministry had to be short; he was only preparing the way. His own words you remember were these "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3, 30) - like the sun and the moon, a perfect illustration. When the sun comes up in the morning then the moon fades in to nothing. We welcome the moon at night, her light is beautiful and helpful, but once the sun arises the moon is needed no more. So it is with John the Baptist, that dear, faithful and good man. He was taken away by early death. He was beheaded you remember, and the Sun of righteousness rose with healing in His wings, Christ Himself, born six months after John.
The events then of Jesus childhood, were these. The angel spoke to Mary as I've said, six months after the angel had spoken to the father of John the Baptist. Now, here's a strange thing. The angel then had to go to Joseph and explain how it was that his espoused wife with whom he was not yet fully united in full marriage, was big with child. Joseph of course was a righteous man and he did not want to make a public disgrace of her, so he was wondering what to do. The Holy Ghost inspired one of the angels to come down and explain to Joseph. Isn't it strange, the ways of God? He misunderstood what was happening for a time: he needed an angelic visitation. Now why was the birth in Bethlehem? The answer is, because God is in absolute control of all the events of the world. The Emperor of Rome, Augustus, insisted by an imperial decree that there must be a census to count the names of all the people in the kingdom, indeed in the empire. Therefore, everybody in the Jewish state had to go back to their own ancestral villages and towns; Bethlehem being David's town, Joseph being a descendant of King David, had to go with his espoused wife to Bethlehem. Of course, it was also in fulfilment of Scripture, as we see in the prophecy of Micah 5 that it was at Bethlehem that this child should be born.
What next? Well they came to the place which is a small one and many other people came too. There was no room for them at the inn. The inn, by the way, would have been a small place already full of people coming for the same reason, and all the boarding houses were full up. So Mary and Joseph had to go with their child to the stable, which was probably a cave. In these days it would not have been thought so dishonourable to have to reside overnight in a cave like that. It would not be thought of as so shocking then as it would be to us today. I suppose it would be similar to us if we were staying on a farm to be told the farmhouse was full and would we mind staying in one of the outhouses. It was there in that lowly place that Jesus Christ was born.
My friends, aren't God's ways strange? The great God the Maker of heaven and earth; you would have thought thousands of angels would have come with fanfares and trumpets to tell the world He was coming, and that He would have been born in a glittering golden place: a Palace of palaces, if ever there was a place suitable for Him. But no, the will of God was that His own Son would be born in a stable, laid in a manger. There's an analogy for that in this world. This world is a kind of pigsty if you like; God's children have to learn to live in it. This is our hell on earth, our purgatory. God's people have to learn to live here humbly, patiently and gratefully as Jesus Christ our Lord himself did; but this is not our home any more than it was His home. As our Lord had a glorious palace above, so, His people have a glorious palace above and we must wait patiently until He takes us to that happy home beyond the grave
Our Lord then was laid in a manger and at that point when the child was born, on the same day the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields. Next, on the eighth day, our Lord was circumcised. Every male child in Israel according to the law of God must be circumcised. At that point He was given His angel inspired name - Jesus. What does Jesus mean? It's the Greek form of Joshua. In one place in the New Testament in Hebrews 4, we have the word Jesus used, but referring there to Joshua in the Old Testament, not to the Lord Jesus Christ. What does Joshua mean in the Hebrew? It means salvation or saviour or, God is salvation. Could any name be more suitable for our Lord?
Forty days after His birth, the parents had to take the child to the temple in Jerusalem. There was this special dedication and the child was offered to God in the temple, and certain sacrifices had to be given. It was there in the temple in Jerusalem that Anna and Simeon saw the child and immediately Simeon, in the Spirit, recognised that this was the child who was to change the world. He took the child from the parents arms, and took Him into his own arms, and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2, 29-32). After that had happened, Joseph and Mary went back to Bethlehem, but in Bethlehem they could not rest because Herod got wind of all of this. Wise men, at this point, came. We don't know the difference in time between the birth of Christ and the coming of the wise men; probably some months, I suggest, possibly even a year, we don't know. We mustn't imagine all these things happen in one day or one week, we just don't know; it might have been months later. After all this had happened, it appears that these wise men came, mysteriously inspired by the star which they saw in the east; how they were inspired to know what it meant, we don't know.
God's ways are inscrutable but He can work even in a most barbarously ignorant people to give them light, to lead them to Christ. Notice - God's way is always to lead us to Christ. That's the whole function of the Bible and of all true religion, to bring us to Christ. The angels spoke to the shepherds and said that the child is in such a place in swaddling clothes and immediately they went to have a look at Christ. So with the wise men; they saw a star and they followed a star, and the star took them to Christ. That my friends, is what God is doing to everyone who is to be saved - He is leading us to Christ. There is no salvation anywhere else. It is this Saviour who is born of the family and line of David who is the Saviour of the world and it is the purpose of God to bring us all to Him.
After the wise men came and went, remember, the wise and holy God gave intimation to Joseph, as the foster father of the child, that there was great danger now coming from King Herod. Joseph and Mary with the child made haste to go to Egypt and they were there in Egypt for some time; we don't know how long they were there. On their return they came back, not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth. That is how Jesus was brought up in Nazareth.
These then are the circumstances of our Lord's birth. Let me come on more especially to say a little about the text. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (text). I want to make two points. First of all let me show you that the coming of Jesus Christ brought great glory to God. This is what the angelic choir is saying: the coming of Christ has brought great glory to God. Let me mention how.
First of all, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into this world shows us all what a perfect man is like. There never was a perfect man, from Adam's day onwards. As soon as Adam fell, sin invaded the entire human race. We are all ruined, every one of us. We are all ruined in different ways: some are too slow and too forgetful, others are too hasty and impatient, some don't open their mouths when they should, some open their mouths when thy should not. We're all a ruined race. To put it simply in the words of a Puritan, 'We all of us are the rubbish of an Adam; we're all of us the rubbish of a fallen man'. Alas, that is true of us all. But now, when we see the coming into the world of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the first and only time in the entirety of human history, a Perfect Man stands before us. Jesus is the flower of the entire human race. No wonder the Bible says He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. His enemies looked at His life from every angle. They would dearly have loved to find a fault somewhere in Him. They could find no fault. Our Lord was able to say to them openly and publicly, "Which of you accuseth me of sin?" They couldn't! Oh, they thirsted to do so but they could not.
There is a great practical value in this, my friends; let us study the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. Here is the perfect life; here the perfect example. I'm afraid what's gone wrong with our boys and girls and young people in society today is that they've all got the wrong heroes. The people we admire and emulate and who are heroes to us are the ones that affect our lives more than others. Our heroes set our standards for us in life. What are the heroes of boys and girls today? It's pop stars, superstars, film stars, sports stars, footballers and others. They may be amiable enough, some of them in their own way, but they are no fit examples for young people. In better days and better times it is the life of Christ that is the great pattern for us all - not that we can attain to it, but we must strive after it - in order to begin to do that we must become ourselves converted and born again of the Spirit of God. We can't even begin to begin to do anything right until we have become united to Christ by faith, until Christ is in us as the hope of glory. This is one way in which He brought glory to God; His life is the perfect pattern. He kept the law of God in all things. He loved God with all His heart.
You boys and girls, are you listening as I tell you again something you know already? When Jesus was only twelve years of age - twelve years of age, in the temple - His mother and foster father went a day's journey back home, not realising He wasn't in the company. When they came back and sought Him with sorrow He said to them, "Did you not realise I must be about my Father's business." He put the things of God first, and everything, everything, absolutely everything came second to God in His life from birth to death. Young people, if you're listening, that's the secret of a happy and blessed life, you put God first. Yes, it will bring you many pains and sorrows and many enemies - all the Lord's people here know that - but it will bring you down all the blessings of heaven upon your life. Try it and see!
This is the pattern of Jesus Christ. He gave glory to God by a perfect obedience to the law of God. God's law was in His heart. He did the will of God first, always, always and always. It's the secret of a blessed life. Are you wanting a happy life? Boys and girls and young ones, are you wanting a life of peace, a life of joy, a life which will lead to heaven? Take Jesus Christ then as your pattern and put God first in every decision, in every choice. Every time you move this way or that way, seek to glorify God, and pray to Him for help to do so. At the end of life, when you have grey hairs as some of us do, you'll be able to say, "That old man that spoke to me in 2001 at the end of December, he was right! I have proved it; I have put Christ first in my life and God has come first in my life, and I am bound with blessings on every hand." It's the only way. There's no other way of blessing but that way. God comes first and if He doesn't - trouble, misery, disappointment and failure. That's the message for our times, the message for our country. It's as relevant to those on the throne and in the Houses of Parliament and in Edinburgh in the Scottish Parliament, as it is for you and me who are much lower down the scale of human importance. If our nation is ever to be great again it must get back to this, God must have a greater place in the nations life. "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14, 34). "Where there is no vision, the people perish...' (Proverbs 29, 18). The only vision worth having is the vision of spreading the message of Christ.
Glory be to God on high, and our Lord suffered for that. When He came to preach He told people the truth, it wasn't simply a negative goodness that He had. Some people have a lot of negative goodness, that is to say, they're good at smiling and being sweet and doing nice things and saying nice things, but they will never criticise evil. That's a sin! We have to criticise evil. We have to call a spade a spade, our Lord did. What did He say to the Pharisees of His day? "Hypocrites," he said, "deceivers; you are leading people to hell." He told them that, He said it again and again. He said, "In vain do you worship God with your superstitions and your traditions." The Bible, He meant to say, is the only source of religious life. Back to the Bible, you Pharisees! Back to the Bible, you Sadducees! It is written! It is written! It is written! Our Lord had a positive as well as a negative goodness and virtue. He is our pattern in life, my friends. Take the life of John Knox. If John Knox had only had a negative virtue, where would we all be today? If he had said, "Yes, the Bible is good and the virgin Mary is also good, and you're all good, and there's none of you anything but good," the whole nation would have been down in the gutter. No, he said, it's the Bible that is true and Mary and these superstitions are a curse. Away with them! We must be straight according to Christ's pattern. Our Lord tells us we must live for God, come wind, come weather, even though they nail you on a cross, you must be straight. It is the only way.
Supremely, our blessed Lord and Saviour, who came into the world, born in a stable, laid down His life for us upon the cross. Oh, blessed death! Oh, blessed One, who laid His head upon the cross in death! His death is the life of our souls. If we want heaven and glory and peace there's only one way to get it - that is to glory in the cross of Christ and to plead the merits of His death and blood shedding: He the Sacrifice, He the Priest, He the Altar and He the glory of it all. Christ is the Gospel. It is Him and He came into the world to give glory to God.
Secondly, and very briefly, let me remind you His coming has brought peace on earth. "Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (text). Whose good will is this by the way? Do you understand those words? Whose good will is this? The answer is God's good will. It's not talking about human good will. We're not here talking about charitable organisations, which are good in their own way but they are not what's referred to here. Good will means the good pleasure of God: His grace and predestinating mercy that in His unutterable kindness He should send His Son into such a world. The good pleasure of God - the mercy of God. As it is said here in this very verse fourteen, "Good will toward men: peace and good will."
This peace begins by offering us peace with God. I was fascinated to read as I was looking at a commentary in connection with these words, something from an ancient pagan philosopher - and I have to close with these words. This ancient pagan philosopher was not a Christian but he said something very wise. He was talking about the Emperor of Rome, a man, as you know, called Augustus who was in his way a great man and a great leader. He brought great peace throughout the Mediterranean world. He had this Latin expression - the 'Pax Romana': the Latin Peace or Roman Peace - 'Pax Romana', and it was a real thing. There was great peace in the political sense throughout the world. This pagan philosopher I was quoting a moment ago said that the Emperor can bring us external peace but what he can't bring is peace of heart. The whole world was aching for peace of soul and peace of heart. Where are we to go to get that? The answer is right here in the text: to Christ, to the Gospel, to the grace of God. Here and nowhere else, we get peace with God. Peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea.
My dear friends as we close our subject this morning let me ask you, have you got this peace with God? Do you know this overflowing sense of the love of God so that though the mountains be cast into the sea, though the sea make a swelling, yet "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" (Psalm 46, 4) and your own hearts with it. Are you hearing His voice when He says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14, 27). When you turn to the right and see what is happening to the world in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and all these terrible terrorist attacks in New York and elsewhere, when you look to Christ you can hear Him say "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46, 10).
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