22 Dec 2008

Advent – Week 4 | The Angels Candle: Peace

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This is the fourth week of Advent, the Angels Candle dealing with the theme of joy. This year’s text is Luke 1:26-38 and deals with the subjects of the name of Jesus, the title Son of God, and the kingship of Jesus who brings peace. This sermon was originally preached December 21st, 2008 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.


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December 21st, 2008
Pastor Duane M. Smets
Advent 2008
Peace – The Angels Candle
“King Jesus: the God-man is Born”
Luke 1:26-38

I. A Story
II. The Name Jesus
III. The Son of God
IV. The Everlasting King

Merry Christmas. For some the bells are ringing, the cash is flowing, the celebrations are under way, cookies are being baked and loved ones are found all together. For others there is no music in their ears, there is no money, it is a dark and hard time and loved ones are nowhere to be found. All cultures in all places across the world have their traditions and we have ours for sure. But what often gets masked beneath the layers of the unavoidable festivity is the greatness of the story of Christ being born.

And it doesn’t matter if you are a christian or not, whether you are fan of the story and it is familiar to you or whether it is a faint echo you hear in the songs being played at the stores while you shop. For those who know it well and have celebrated many christmases as followers of Christ there is a numbness to it all that can come. Santa, good meals and treats, presents, and playing in the snow (well, not in san diego) all sounds a lot funner than thinking about some middle eastern Jewish people who dressed in robes and didn’t have ipods. and on top of it, it’s something that supposedly happened about two-thousand years ago. I feel that. I can feel the detachment to this story.

God help us. It is my goal today to hopefully ignite or rekindle a passionate love and adoration for the birth of the Son of God this morning…that we might burn with amazement and wonder and deep affection for the supreme God who sent his Son into the world.

This is the fourth and final week of advent. Advent is the month of the year that Christians throughout the centuries have celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The first week focused on the hope of Christ, the second on the humility of Christ, last week on the joy of Christ, and this week on the peace of Jesus. The passage we are going to look at today is found in Luke 1:26-38 (Read text and pray).

In preparing for this sermon during this last week in studying this text and taking some culture notes about opinions of the nativity I realized very quickly that the main issue that comes up, that is challenged or questioned whenever there is real discussion about the nativity story is whether or not the baby Jesus was really God in the flesh. Sure people argue about whether Mary was a virgin, whether there were really angels, whether or not this even happened, or if the story we have is just an explanation of Mary or a conjecture of Jesus’ disciples that was made up for one reason or another. But the thing that isn’t really even on most radar, the thing that is most quickly dismissed as absurd and preposterous is that the baby Jesus was God in the flesh. This is simply just unacceptable to most modern or postmodern minds.

A couple years ago 20/20 did a special called “The Real Nativity Story: Separating Fact from Fiction” where the main tone of the show is that very little of the story from the Bible is really true and that those who believe the Biblical story have an extremely distorted and extended view of what really happened. So I considered responding to and addressing these questions since we are dealing with one of the primary texts today which form the story of Jesus’ birth for us.

But…when I was thinking about doing that it didn’t seem very Christmassy. I realized that setting up the theological arguments and textual debates and going through all of that to prove to you that the gospel records are reliable and that there is good solid reason to believe that what Bible says happened happened is really true and that the baby Jesus was really God…I realized that didn’t feel right for Christmas Sunday, does it?

What I want to primarily do today instead is do my best to get us inside of the story so we can see it afresh and then hopefully feel the weight and significance of the birth of Jesus.

A Story

So I want to start out by telling you a story. Most of you know that besides pastoring this church I also work at a group home for teenagers. The kids are from 13-17, up to 28 of them live there at a time, and they have all been placed there by law enforcement.

Last week a new girl and her boyfriend came to live with us. Jeremy and Melissa. Normally, we would never accept a boyfriend and girlfriend together but this is a weird situation. Jeremy is 17, Melissa is 15 and it is ridiculous but they are talking about wanting to get married and they are serious about it and are trying to get emancipated so they can do it.

They both come from poor families like all the kids who come to live with us. I helped check Jeremy in and he had all of his possessions in a backpack and one of those blue Rubbermaid bins. So they are both living there now. But the situation has gotten more complicated.

They are both nice kids. Jeremy is super into cars. In his Rubbermaid bin he had a bunch of hotrod magazines. I guess his dad is a mechanic and that what he wants to be one too. Melissa is a pretty quiet girl. I don’t know her as well because I work on the guy’s side. But in her room she has a few pictures of her with her color guard team and a poster of Chris Brown on the wall.

So last week a couple of days after they got to New Alternatives where I work, we found out that Melissa is pregnant. And if the situation wasn’t weird enough already, Melissa, who seems like this very honest and well-behaved girl, swears that she has never had sex…neither with Jeremy or any other boy.

When the social workers and female staff have questioned her about it she has this wild story that an angel came to her in her room four nights ago and said that she was going to be pregnant and told her what to name the baby and said that when her baby grew up that he was going to be great, that he would be the Son of God and that he would become the president and that his term would never end, he would bring peace and he would never die.

Obviously, all of us are like yeah right, you’re crazy. But Melissa swears its true. She says that she told the angel she had trouble with it at first too and when she asked the angel how such a thing could really be the angel told her that in some supernatural way that God’s spirit would come over her and by his power he would cause her to be pregnant and that the child to be born would then be the holy one of God.

That’s my story. Yes, I made it up. J I made up that story because I think the time and historical and cultural difference between us and what happened in the birth of Jesus, causes us to fail to see the greatness of what happened when God came into the world. This story shows how great the God is that we believe in. If there really is a God and if God is really worth worshipping and living our lives for then this is the kind of God he would be…a God who doesn’t come into the world in all his pomp saying look at me look at me but comes in the most stark of circumstances to show why he is worthy of worship and can really bring about peace.

He comes to a poor, meek little girl, and reveals his glory. It would have been so easy for God to come into the world in a way where there would be no question about whether or not he was God and all the world would not be the least bit skeptical about it but rather than that he creates what looks like a scandal and reveals his glory in the middle of it. All throughout the Bible God does this…he shows up to a nobody named Abraham and reveals his glory in the hiddenness of a burning bush, he shows up to another nobody named Moses and reveals his glory in plagues so that the Jews get kicked out of Egypt, he shows up to the smallest boy, a lowly shepherd of a family who had seven other older, more capable boys, and makes that boy a king named David. Yes, God is a God who loves to show he is God in unique ways that reflect all the goodness of his perfect character.

The Name Jesus

Okay I want to look at some things in our text for today that really point to the greatness of who Jesus in some of the angel’s words to Mary about the name of Jesus. The nativity story is a great story even in just the purely human side of things…the way a poor or down and out couple find hope and happiness in the midst of a difficult situation. But if we look at it only through those lens we will miss the intent and signficance of the story itself…because it is meant to go way beyond just the difficult situation of one poor couple.

We’ve got three main characters in the story here: Joseph, Mary, and the angel. We already talked about Joseph two weeks ago, and I’ll say a few small things about Mary here, but what I want to mainly focus on today is the words of the angel.

Now there is a danger in making the story more about Mary than Jesus. And this is something churches, particularly the Catholic church has struggled with through the ages. It is not that Mary is unimportant. She really becomes the first Christian. She is there at Jesus first miracle, she’s there at the cross, she’s one of the first to see Jesus after he rises from the dead. Her other son James becomes the pastor of the first megachurch in Jerusalem. Mary is quite amazing, her words in the story are quite interesting…maybe we’ll take some time focusing on them next year. But for this year, notice Mary is an important part of the story only in so far as Jesus is important in it. Mary’s importance is completely depedant on the importance of Jesus.

So let’s check it out. Mary’s a virgin. She’s betrothed or engaged to Joseph when she was probably between the ages of 12-14. And an angel comes to her. This angel’s name is Gabriel. He’s only one of two angels in the Bible where we are told their names. Gabriel’s particular job and role as an angel appears to be that he is a special messenger of God to communicate on his behalf and tells us what God plans and what humans should do.

Now if you don’t believe in angels that’s okay, I’m not going to force that issue today. As Christians we believe angels are real beings because the Bible tells us about them and we believe the Bible is true. As a support it seems very evident that we live in not just a purely physical world but a spiritual one.

If there is in fact a God then it would seem that he would have something like angels for specific tasks, especially big things like him becoming a man and entering our world. So le’t look at some of the angel’s words to Mary.

First off in verse 28 Gabriel introduces himself with a greeting and calls Mary “favored one.” Which doesn’t mean she did something or earned favor with God but that God chose her out of all of human history to be the mother of God which is a huge huge privilege…she is a favored, the recipient of a monumental blessing. Mary is scared at the sight of the angel at first.

Our text here doesn’t say what the angel looked like. When they choose to make themselves visible throughout Scripture what we seem to see is that there are all different kinds of angels…there is quite a bit of variance in their appearances. In Ezekial 1 there are angels who look like a lion, others that look like an ox, others that look like an eagle and some that look like humans. In Isaiah 6 it appears that some angels have six wings. In Genesis 3, we see that some carry a sword which continually aflame. In Acts 12 they break into a jail and there is a great light about them. And in Revelation we see that several angels carry and play the trumpet. It’s very intresting. There are nearly 300 references in the Bible to angels.

So we’re not quite sure what Gabriel looks like, whatever he looks like either his presence or apperance, probably both, frightens Mary as angels do to most people. After he calms her down he says this in verse 31, “…behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Why the name Jesus? In Bible times, what a person’s name meant was hugely important, that is how you determined what a child’s name would be. You always knew what your name meant. I think my name, Duane, means song. That doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with who I am…I can’t sing at all. That’s why I like it when Mikey plays loud, so no one can hear my voice when I sing. J

But in Bible times what your name meant was huge. The name Jesus in Greek it is Ihsus (ee-ay-soos) and in Hebrew it is Yeshua (yay-shew-ah) and it means, “the LORD is salvation” or “the LORD saves.” It is a name specifically associated with the salvation of God. Mary was to name her baby “Jesus” because of who he was and what he came to do. To save.

This is the God came into the world and he came to save…Jesus, the savior. Saving is like a swooping down and coming to the rescue. It is an incarnation where God enters our world. That isn’t easy, ever. I mean set aside the whole God-man thing for a minute. Just think about the difficulty of entering a new town or a new job. I was talking to my neighbor the other day and he just started a new job working for the city in the water department. He was saying that the most difficult part of the job is the people he works with…because nobody really wants to talk to him and those that do, just want to tell him how long they’ve been there and how important their individual job is. It is difficult to enter a new community of people. It’s difficult to really plug in to a church and get to know people and start living life with them. That can be hard. Entering into another’s world. That is what God does for us in Jesus, he enters in…to save.

In the account according to the disciple Matthew, we read that an angel appears to Mary’s fiancé Joseph as well and the angel says this to him, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).” So from the start, we learn that Jesus came into the world to solve the spiritual problem that we have as human beings, sin. Our problem is God. We are estranged from him.

Everyone is estranged. I had a friend who showed up on my doorstep the other night who I haven’t seen in years. He just up and left his job at the Washington Post in DC and rode his motorcycle across country and decided to stop in San Diego and see me on his way down to South America. When I asked him why, he was very serious, he said he felt estranged and needed to go find and figure out some things.

He doesn’t believe there really is a God but God is the very thing he longs for. I think we are all estranged. We all sense lonliness and detachment and separation from the love and joy and peace we know we are made for. That’s probably why the Christmas season can be so difficult for some. Even for those of us as Christians when we have times when we realize the truth of who he is… we so easily resort back into living our lives as though he doesn’t. We are made to be happy in God and we are not because we have an internal spiritual problem…sin and Jesus came to save us from it and its consequences by being born and by dying on a cross and rising again.

J.I. Packer says in his book knowing God says this, “the crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary…” The wonder of God becoming man and being born as a baby is that he was born to die for us in order to save us. He saves us from the power of sin so that we may begin to taste true satisfaction in God and he saves us from the consequence of sin so that we will not suffer eternal death but rather eternal joy forever and ever with God because he died that death for us in our place.

That is what takes my breath away…that God, who has no need of anything, became a baby and from the moment he was conceived in the womb of Mary…every bit of food, every sip of drink, every thought, every conversation, every act of his life growing up, every single thing he experienced was all purposely part of his mission to go to the cross and die.

Think of that. How much Jesus loves us that for 33 years every single thing he did, all the while knowing he was God, but in everything he did we were present in his mind as the reason for doing what he was doing. That is incredible. Jesus, the LORD saves!

The Son of God

We’ll lets move on and look at the next verse in Luke in what the angel Gabriel says about this baby as the son of God. Verse 32, “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” This is where some interject and they say, “See it just says ‘son’ it doesn’t say that Jesus was very God himself.” But listen to how the angel clarifies himself to Mary in verse 35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to born will be called holy – the Son of God.”

The description is very clear. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. So this work will be a work of God. What kind of work? One where a unique use of God’s power will occur and the result will be that the child will be the holy Son of God. Holy means separate, different, divine…the divine Son of God.

The phrase “son of God” has a few different uses in the Bible. Sometimes it is used as references to mankind in general in that we are created by God…sons of God. Culturally, sometimes rulers were called the “son of God.” But when referring to Jesus the term has a special designation in the Bible as being the heavenly eternal Son who is equal to God himself.

“Son of God” was a title Jesus allowed himself to be called by. It was one of the things that made the Jewish leaders really mad because they understood that he was claiming to be God. The story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of John is quite different. Here is what John how how John describes the birth of the Son of God. John 1:1,14,17 “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus Christ.”

Then a few chapters later Jesus exercises his authority on the Sabbath as the Son of God and this is what John 5:18 says about it. “This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

But what does it mean to say that Jesus was the “son of God”? Does it mean that first there was God before there was Jesus? But then God procreated, making a son so that now there are two gods? That is what some have suggested. But is that really what is going on here? Is this story about Mary, and all the references to Jesus being the Son of God really just another story like Zeus and Ganymade or Poseidon and Caeneus…the Greek gods who would come down to earth and have sex with humans resulting in another god? Is that what the Bible is doing with the Christmas story.

I don’t think so. I think that is obvious when you read it, especially if you read the Greek gods birth narratives. I mean, the angel’s in his words to Mary is very careful, choosing specific words to clearly say that Mary gets pregnant by God’s supernatural power and not by God having sex with her. Gabriel goes out of his way to say that this is something different in regards to Jesus being the Son of God, he is fully divine and yet will at the same time be fully human.

The phrase “son of God” is a use of human terminology, a metaphor, to describe what in some ways Jesus is like…it is a reference to Jesus’ divine role. In the Bible Jesus is eternally the Son of God, long before the angel came to Mary…when that happened is just the point in history when Jesus permanently took on human flesh.

You see, there were times long before Mary became pregnant when Jesus showed up. The name “Israel” was given to Jacob, the son of Abraham, after the Bible describes him wrestling with God who was in the form of a man. There are other references to Jesus showing up in the Old Testament…we call them Christophanies. But listen to just one more passage that makes it clear, Hebrews chapter one, “…(God) has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:2-3).” God created through Jesus.

Now that is a little mind stretching I know…how Jesus could be a God-man but then become a baby. It hurts my head. I just want us to try and get our heads around how huge this is. This angel comes to Mary and says that the eternal son of God, the one who made the universe, God of God himself, is going to come into the world and be born as a baby in her stomach. This is nearly insane. It is no wonder Luke says in verse 29, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying.” and then asks, “How can this be?”

Then the angel replies with some good solid logic and philosophy. I mean it. One of the most frustrating things about those news pieces is that they like to pit these issues as issues of reason versus feeling. Where if you believe these things then that is just wishful religious and spiritual feeling that if you listened to reason you would simply not accept. But the angel here gives some good sound reasoning when he answers Mary and explains how she will give birth to the Son of God. Listen again to his words; verse 37 “nothing will be impossible with God.” That is good reasoning. If there is a God, then there is a being who is all-powerful…not limited by the constraints of time, space, gravity, and matter…he made it all and upholds it all by the power of his word and he can change it at any moment if he chooses because he is God…there is nothing too impossible for him to do! That is good logic. Sound philosophy. I love it.

There is no question that what the angel was telling Mary was that she would give birth to the God-man himself. There is a lot more that could be said about this. Questions of how to rightly conceive of Jesus being a God-man and how it played out in his life. But we are going to move to on this morning. There some good stuff on our website about it we’ll be offering Theology 101 again in February and we talk about it a little in that class, so take it then if you haven’t.

The Everlasting King

The last thing I want to point out in our text today is in verse 32 and 33 where the angel says, “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” So far we have learned that this baby will be our savior, that he is God himself, and now we learn that he is an everlasting king. In Isaiah 9:6, he prophesied about the birth of Jeus and said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Jesus is the prince. In the angel’s words to Mary he says that Jesus will sit on “the throne of David.” David was the first real king of Israel, the Jewish people. He solidified the kingdom. Defeated all Israel’s enemies so there was peace. And spiritual and material prosperity began to flow through the nation, which continued in even greater proportion during the reign of David’s son Solomon. But from David on, he gets permanently branded as being the royal father of the Jews. So it is clearly said here that Jesus will be a king…in the line of David, like David, on the throne of David.

Later in Luke’s gospel (Luke 23) just moments before Jesus was crucified, the Jewish leaders bring him before Pilate and say, “we found this man misleading our nation…and saying that He himself is Christ, a King.” And so Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus says, “It is as you say.” Jesus the king. The king who was born to die for his people.

And the angel tells us a little more…not only will he be the king but also he will be the king forever. Do you see that? It’s verse 33 of our passage today, ”He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” No end. Neither in time nor in breadth. That is why Jesus is the king for all people and for all time. There is no end to his reign. No need for any other kings or rulers after him.

So what kind of king is Jesus? At this point we could easily just spiritualize his kingship and say he is simply a spiritual king and his reign is in our hearts. And that is true. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Our allegiance from birth as humans is to wickedness and Jesus comes to deliver us from that and begins to extend his reign and rule so that we start to truly love righteousness and hate wickedness.

But there is more. Jesus taught that there were two comings. The time when he came in a manger, to humble himself and to deal with our spiritual problem…and the time when he would come again in all his power and glory, gather his people, and demonstrate to all that HE is king over all.

Here’s what Jesus said himself in Matthew 24, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come…(as) lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be…And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky…and (all) will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory…And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Mt 24:14,27,30-31).”

What a day that will be. There will be no question on that day who is king. Jesus is the everlasting king. He is the king of heaven, the king of our hearts, and will come and show himself to be the king of the earth.

Jesus our king. I think this is difficult for us here in America because of the idea of a monarchy itself. Here in America we live in a democracy with a president and a senate and House of Representatives and this whole governmental structure that is completely different than a society that is ruled by a king. We have a whole system set up which intended not to give any one person too much power because we’ve seen that power corrupts…so the American system is an attempt to provide checks and balances and leave the power with the people.

But it still doesn’t work. There is still not peace and there still is a lot of corruption and inequality huh? That is because people are weak and sinful and no matter how you structure them living together there is going to be difficulty and a lack of peace. Our only hope is that we have God as our king. The perfect ruler who will never fail us. One who has absolute power but is not and cannot be corrupt. One who genuinely will care for his people accomplish peace in their hearts. That is what we need. We need Jesus to rule. When God is king that is called a theocracy. And that is what God has intended all along…he has just been patient with humanity in demonstrating that to us.

This is what the angel Gabriel knew and was communicating to Mary. The angel knew the problem with humanity was bigger than just some countries not getting along. He knew that things couldn’t be fixed with a peace treaty between political leaders because sin can’t be dealt with by a treaty. He knew that social justice and activism alone would not be enough absolve or make up for our internal problem. He knew that religious tolerance and just mixing all beliefs together couldn’t solve anything but only confuse things. He knew we needed a savior, the Son of God as King to bring about peace. Gabriel knew the world needed Jesus and you can almost sense his excitement at God’s activity when he’s telling Mary about it.
Gabriel was telling Mary who that little baby Jesus was…he was God, come into the world to live and to die in order to go to the root of all war and violence, the human heart. Gabriel knew the little baby Jesus tightly bound in that swaddling cloths would later be bound to a cross to die for the sin and wickedness of our hearts…so that peace might reign in this world forever.
This is the gospel my friends, peace in Jesus. If we put our faith in Jesus as our savior we will have peace. We need to accept his love and forgiveness for our lack of peace….a lack of peace for not being satisified in God alone. A lack of peace in seeking the praise of other people. A lack of peace for lashing out against others. Every area of our lives that fights for our attention and attempts to tells us it can save us and give us peace. It can’t. It can only come through a God-man king who came into our world to save us.
Peace is in Jesus. Only Jesus can give peace because he paid the price for our peace, he took his life to the cross to put an end to the war. Colossians 1:14-15 says Jesus took our trespasses and nailed them to the cross, disarming the rulers and principalities, putting them to shame and triumphing over them. Jesus died for sin and its consequence of hell and because of that we can have peace.
That’s the real war. The real war which every war flows out of is the war for our souls. The inner turmoil between us and God. Our lack of peace is not just because there is bad energy against us. It’s not that we don’t have good feng shui and just need to rearrange our furiture. It’s not that we just need to work off some bad karma.

Our lack of peace, is peace with God and the only answer is to turn to Jesus Christ. In him we can live a life of peace. In him we can follow God and love him and love our friends and family and the people we work with. In him a stop can be put to the things which turn our motives away from God. In him salvation is found, a salvation from ourselves and a salvation forevermore…a peace that one day will never end.


King Jesus, Son of God, and savior. It’s Christmas Sunday. The Sunday before the day when we celebrate the birthday of the king of the universe. In every sermon I try to give us some application…and as I took all of this in it seems that what we are left with is thanks. Knowing what we know…what this story tells us about Jesus…my heart is overwhelmed with thanks to God for sending Jesus into the world. Miracle of miracles. Christ the savior is born.

Let’s just worship and adore our God today. My hope is that something from this morning’s sermon would take a seat deep inside you and just sit there and that we would go home to our friends and families or wherever we go and have a deep sense of thanks and joy for Jesus. My hope is that when life gets tough we would remember that we have a God who stepped into the roughness of life to give us peace. My hope is that when we sense the wrestleness and challenges that we would run to the peace of Jesus and not into any other arms. My hope is that we would simply rest in the peace of Jesus as we spend time loving each other and our famiy this week.

As we come to the table this morning, Let’s have especially have a heart of thanks to God for being born to die. He became a baby, flesh and blood, bread and wine, in order to die for us.

Let’s worship our king. Spread the news of how great his kingdom is. And let’s give our lives for it…from our time, to our gifts, to our money. Let’s give ourselves to the king and do everything we can to support and spread his kingdom.

Let’s pray.

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