3. When The Sun Finally Rises: Wrestling With The Past (Gen. 32:22-32)Related Media
Perhaps your past has brought you to a point in your life of complete helplessness and hopelessness; when everything seems black and you don’t know where to turn; when you want to forget the past because it only brings you pain. Sometimes, the experiences and hurts of the past just don’t seem to go away, do they? The memories still stare you in the face as if it were yesterday. Old attitudes and habits still plague you.
Perhaps you’ve spent your life in an attitude of self-sufficiency, “I’ll-do-it-my-way,” “I-don’t-need-God” kind of attitude. But now you’re not so sure anymore. Perhaps you’ve perpetuated the habits with which you grew up. Your home life was anything but stable, perhaps abusive even. And now you realize that you’re just a carbon copy of all that you despise about your past and you desperately want to leave it all behind. Or, perhaps you’ve worked all the angles; you’ve taken all the tax breaks (interpreted the income tax rules liberally), and you’ve gained a measure of success and status.
But all of a sudden your life has come unravelled. Your empire has come tumbling down, and like Humpty Dumpty “all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t put it back together again.” Perhaps you’re facing the night of your life right now.
Well, remember this: The night of agony always comes before the dawn of relief. That’s the primary teaching of our text. The darkness of dread precedes the light of liberty. Chaos of conscience goes before the calm of communion. The trauma of struggling blocks the tranquility of resting. The turmoil of striving pre-empts the security of trusting.
A few years ago I had a frozen shoulder. I had never heard of such a condition before. One morning I woke up and thought I had slept on my shoulder the wrong way. But it didn’t go away. In fact, it gradually got worse so that by the time I went to the doctor, it was fully frozen. The pain was excruciating. In fact, one time I was waiting for my wife in a store, and someone brushed up against me, making me move my arm quickly. I nearly passed out, the pain was so bad. When I began physiotherapy treatment, the physiotherapist said, “I’ll have to hurt you to make you better.” In other words, the night of agony always comes before the dawn of relief.
Twenty years have now passed since Jacob tricked his brother, Esau. And many more years than that have transpired since he chased his twin down the birth canal, grabbing onto his heel for all he was worth. And so began a life of fancy footwork. Up to this point, Jacob has been running away, but ...
I. Running From The Past Doesn’t Solve Your Problems (32:22-24a).
Jacob was a product of his past ambition. From his birth he couldn’t stand to be in second place. He had to be number 1 and he set out to prove that he was the best. He cheated his twin brother twice (first, out of his birthright and second, out of his father’s blessing), pulled the wool over his old father’s blind eyes, and conned his father-in-law out of the best livestock. Jacob was a product of his past ambition.
And Jacob was a product of his past environment. He had been raised in a dysfunctional home. He observed his parents’ divided affections – his father Isaac loved Esau; whereas his mother, Rebekah, loved him, Jacob. He recognized his father’s lack of leadership and godly example. He learned from his mother how to stretch the truth convincingly. And then there was his twin brother, who was so much like him and yet so different: Jacob was a mother’s boy; Esau was a “man’s man.” Jacob was level-headed (Mr. Cool, the strong quiet type) and ruthless to get his own way; Esau was rough and ready, an outdoorsman, but complacent about life (he undervalued the things that mattered, like his birthright). Jacob was the product of his past.
So, when things turned ugly at home, Jacob began running. He ran to uncle Laban’s house where through cunning and clever manipulation he prospered. By this time he had 12 children and he had accumulated a significant net worth.
But, when things turned ugly again, he began running again. When Laban wasn’t looking Jacob loaded up his animals and his family and left without even saying “goodbye.”
And so you can see how Jacob’s past shaped his values and character. For him the end always justified the means. Friends and family were treated just like anybody else - if that meant stealing, fraud, scheming, treachery, so be it. With friends like him, who needs enemies?
But God is at work again in his life. When God tells him to return to his family in Canaan, Jacob thinks it’s a great idea to escape from Laban’s clutches, manipulation, and jealousy. But what he didn’t know is that God was saying: “Jacob, it’s time! Time to deal with your past!”
Running from the past doesn’t solve your problems because (1) the past has a way of catching up with you (22-23). It caught up with Jacob here at the river Jabbok. So far, he had gotten what he wanted but at a great cost. We don’t know if he ever saw his mother again and he had certainly severed his relationship with his brother. Up to now, he hadn’t worried about meeting Esau again. He could patch things up; he could buy him off with presents. After all, he was wealthy now (32:1-5). But Esau’s wrath has been festering for 20 years. When he hears that his brother is returning, his anger boils over.
Jacob’s men return from taking peace offerings to Esau and they report that Esau is coming with 400 men (32:6)! Jacob intuitively knows that this isn’t a welcome home party. Esau means business: this is all-out war! Jacob’s fancy-footed, slick-handed scheming now looks pretty inadequate. He has just run right into a brick wall, and with no more tricks up his sleeve, he has to face the music. He has to look himself square in the face and he has only one place to turn – that’s to God!
He could have kept running, I suppose, but he didn’t. Perhaps by this time he was sick of running, tired of the sleazy side of his character, hated who he was and wanted to put it right. Perhaps he had finally reached the end of himself and his self-sufficient, self-improving, ambitious lifestyle. Or, perhaps he knew that he had just run out of options: he’d tossed the dice just one too many times. Whatever the reason, he played his last card (22-23) by dividing his company into two, so that if Esau got one party the other could escape (cf. 32:7f.), and he sent them on ahead while he was left alone.
Running from the past doesn’t solve your problems because (1) the past has a way of catching up with you and (2) eventually you have to stop running. There comes a time when you’re “left alone” (24a).
To be “left alone” with God is both frightening and exhilarating. Jacob had been alone with God once before when he was on the run at Bethel, as we noticed in a previous article (“When the sun sets: Jacob meets God,” Gen. 27:41-28:22). That time it was exhilarating. There was the vision, the ladder, the angels. And God’s promise to Abraham from years ago was renewed so that Jacob declares: “Surely, the Lord is in this place. And I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the very gate of heaven” (28:16). That was exhilarating and undoubtedly Jacob made a genuine commitment to serve God at that time. But he still has issues to deal with. He still has the old “end-justifies-the-means” ethics to deal with. He still has his old scheming character that he had inherited from his mother to deal with. He still has the past to deal with before God.
Last time his encounter with God was exhilarating, but this time his encounter with God is frightening! Now he meets God again – not at Bethel, but at the river Jabbok. Jabbok is the place where we stop running and fighting; the place of intense blackness - the midnight of the soul; the place where the moment of truth dawns - that we’re completely spent, no more ideas, the past has caught up to us, we’re at the dead end in the road, we’re trapped in the web of our own weaving; the place where we are alone; the place of wrestling; the place of a meeting with God.
Running from the past doesn’t solve your problems but…
II. A Meeting With God Brings You To Your Senses (32:24b-29).
Jacob wrestled tenaciously and desperately all night “until the break of day” (24b). Perhaps he wrestled about his past behaviour and habits - his duplicity, lies, scheming, fraud; about his present predicament which loomed large - his pending meeting with Esau; about his future destiny: “How could he change once-and-for-all and face the future? How could he be a man of integrity, at peace with God and other people?” You can be sure of this, a meeting with God stops you in your tracks (25). When God “wrestles” with you, you don’t go anywhere. You may struggle but you can’t get away.
Many of you have probably experienced a night of wrestling with God. Some people are very content with the way they are - complacent, no longing for God, no hunger for him. But others would do anything to change the way they are and what they’ve done. Great people have wrestled with God in the night of their lives. After his tryst with Bathsheba, David cried out in the agony of his soul: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). After his seduction by Delilah, Samson pleaded with God: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once” (Judges 16:28). After Elijah had succumbed to Jezebel’s threat, he moaned: “I, even I only, am left and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kgs 19:10). After Peter had denied the Lord with oaths and curses, he “went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:62).
Some people come to Jabbok and decide to keep on running. They never face their past – only live for the present – and they don’t care about the future. They banish the past into the closet with all the other skeletons of their lives. They just rationalize what happened - make lifelong excuses: “I was a victim! It wasn’t my fault. There are lots worse than I.” They keep on running hoping that in the end they’ll escape. But there is no escape from God.
Some people decide to keep on running, others decide to wrestle this thing to the ground. They’re at the Jabbok where God stops them in their tracks. In fact, the only way to overcome your past is to “wrestle” with God. Maybe that’s where you are right now. Perhaps you’re plagued with regrets - about your family, about relationships. Or, you’ve abused your position of power - in your family, your church, your work. Or, perhaps you have a secret sin that for years you’ve tried to cover up or beat, but you can’t. Maybe you’ve neglected God in your Christian life and you have lived like an unbeliever; you’ve hurt someone and never been reconciled; you’ve suffered from abusive relationships that torture you; you’ve engaged in immoral behaviour that torments you; your shady business dealings keep you awake at night; your cheating on exams gives you cold sweats; your unfaithfulness to your spouse haunts you; you have character traits that you long to change – a poisonous tongue, a bitter spirit, a hot temper, or a critical attitude.
And now you’re at the point you can’t stand it any longer. Your conscience is driving you crazy if you don’t deal with it. You can’t cover it up any more nor can you ignore it. Now, naked and exposed under the midnight sky you wrestle with God. The veneer is stripped off; you look yourself straight in the mirror and you’re forced to face it head on - no more hiding down the dark alleys of your past, no more mind games, but a head-on confrontation with God.
Be aware your hip may be dislocated in the process (25). Jacob had been a survivor. He had always won out. Every time there was a dispute, he came out smelling like a rose. Every time he was in a fix, he came up with a solution. But now he would have an experience like none other. God would permanently wound him.
When you wrestle with God you may be wounded. You’ll certainly lose; God always conquers. And sometimes he has to cripple you. When you wrestle with God, you feel his body next to yours. You feel his power as he inflicts a wound. And when you feel that stabbing pain in your hip, you know the reality of his presence and his power. Wounds bring contrition, repentance, yearning for God. A. W. Tozer put it like this: “I doubt that God can use a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
Where was your first Jabbok? When have you been wounded as you wrestled with God? When did you feel the stabbing dislocation of your hip as God deals with you and your past? When were you driven to call on God in your trouble?
A meeting with God (1) stops you in your tracks and (2) a meeting with God makes you cry for a blessing (26-29). Jacob knew all about the blessing of God. He knew how God had blessed his grandfather, Abraham, with a son at 100 years old. He knew how his father, Isaac, had been delivered from the jaws of death on Mt. Moriah. And he himself had received a blessing from his father. To wrestle with God is to plead with God for a blessing.
If you’re in pain today that others have inflicted on you, then cry from the bottom of your heart: “O, God, I will not let you go until you bless me! Rid me of the pain from all those years of abuse. Take away the torment of my mind. Remove the pangs of conscience that hang like a thick cloud.”
Perhaps you’re the perpetrator of sin – you’ve inflicted pain on others. Then cry to God in the agony of your soul: “O, God, I’m sick of the past. I need a second chance, a new beginning. I hate who I am and what I have done. I desperately want a fulfilling life. I want to put right the wrongs I have done. I desperately want to know You. Change me, O God!”
If you need to get right with God about anything, say: “O, God, I will not let you go unless you bless me! Forgive the sin of my life - my self-sufficiency that left you out; my infidelity, lusts, envy, covetousness; the pornography I’m addicted to; my pride; my unfaithfulness to my spouse; my cheating; my fraudulent habits; my deceitfulness; the abuse of my body with drugs and sex.”
God will honour your cry and bless you (27-29), just as he honoured Jacob’s cry and blessed him. And he’ll radically transform your life. He’ll bless you with a new name, a new identity (28). God asked Jacob: “What’s your name?” (27). That seems like a strange question for God to ask – didn’t he know Jacob’s name? Perhaps God asked Jacob his name to remind Jacob of the last time he had been asked that question, “Who are you?” (27:18). That question was asked by his old, blind father and Jacob had lied to him. Now he is before an all-seeing God and he gives his correct name. He acknowledges who he was and God responds with a great promise: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (28).
Jacob’s name told the story of his life. It was his identity as a usurper, whose birth portrayed what his life would subsequently be - the second-born twin who sought to overtake his first-born brother by grabbing onto his heel as he exited the birth canal; the one who would seek to trip others up and overtake them.
You need to acknowledge your old name, who you really are. Then, God will give you a new name – a new name that will take away the stigma of the old life; a new name to remind you that, formerly, you took charge of your life but that you struggled with God and finally prevailed; a new name that acknowledges that now “God is the ruler of your life.”
Running from the past doesn’t solve your problems but a meeting with God brings you to your senses, so that now…
III. Facing The Future Gives You Renewed Hope (32:30-32).
(1) You can face the future with renewed hope when you’ve “seen the face of God” (30). God breaks through our past and opens the future so that we can say: “I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered” (30).
The place of wrestling is the place of divine appointment. It’s the place where we suddenly realize that the person with whom we wrestled is none other than God, that we have actually met God face to face and lived to tell the tale!
Have you ever seen God face to face? No one can see God and remain unchanged. You’ll get a new name and you’ll lose your independence. You’ll walk with a limp and lean on a cane for the rest of your life. To walk with God means to lean on him, to claim his power. Remember, Esau is always at the gate threatening, swaggering, waiting to throw us off the path. He’s the Judas (betrayer), the Diotrephes (pre-eminence), the Demas (loved the world), the Alexander the coppersmith (opposer). Whenever he shows up, he whispers: “We’re at the Jabbok again.”
You can face the future with renewed hope (1) when you’ve seen the face of God, and (2) you can face the future with renewed hope when the sun finally rises (31). As an aside, notice how the author has book-ended this segment of Jacob’s life with these two expressions: “The sun had set” (28:11) and now “the sun rose” (32:31).
Jacob emerges from the night and “the sun rose upon him” (31a). When God breaks through our past, the darkness of night becomes a beautiful sunrise. Sorrow may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:15).
Perhaps the sun hasn’t shone much in your life recently. You may have spent a lot of time in darkness, desperately longing for the sun to finally rise. Is that what you want more than anything today, to walk out of this service into the sun rise of your life? To feel the sunshine of God’s love shine upon you? To know the beauty of God’s truth as it infiltrates your soul? To bask in the radiant heat of God’s all-embracing mercy and power?
As he goes to meet Esau, Jacob “limped on his hip” (31b). The limp serves two purposes: (a) it reminds us that we can’t stand on our own, that we’re totally dependent on God, that we must lean on him. Every time you take a step, get out of bed, put your shoes on, you’ll know that a life lived for God is a dependent life. So, it reminds us that we can’t stand on our own, and (b) it preserves us from ever trying to run again. It ensures that we stay close to God.
The subsequent practice by the Israelites of not eating “the sinew of the thigh” (32:32) would surely have served as a constant reminder to them of what happened to Jacob that memorable night when God changed him from one who was running away to the man who was returning to be the leader of God’s people.
Remember our thesis: The night of agony always comes before the dawn of relief. This scene closes at the dawn of a new day. In the early morning sunlight we see Jacob limping into the sunrise across the Jabbok, ready to face Esau with courage and joy. Now his life can begin anew. If you need to settle things with God and with other people, don’t continue to fight it, to put it off, to rationalize it. Don’t think there will be a better time. There’s never a better time than now.
Don’t be afraid that it’s too late or it’s too complicated. No amount of years is too long for God to span. It took Jacob years to deal with his habits, attitudes, and self-reliance until God wrestled him to the ground. And he has gone down in history as the father of the Israelites. No life is too far gone for God to bless.
If you had to choose whether to bless Jacob or Esau, whom would you choose? You’d probably choose Esau, because we look on the outward appearance. But remember that God looks on the heart, for where we see a cheat God sees a champion; where we see a runner God sees a wrestler; where we see a liar God sees a leader.
God sees into your life with all its past and he wants to bless you for the future. For you that may seem like a daunting task, but, as Max Lucado puts it: “For God… it’s all in a night’s work.”
If this message today has touched a cord in your life, why not make a commitment to God now, whether you have suffered pain or inflicted pain; whether you’ve been running or you’ve stopped running? Remember, God pours healing into hearts that are hurting; God gives grace to people in pain; and God extends mercy to sinners and saints who repent.
Perhaps this was what the hymn writer had in mind when she wrote:
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee!
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.
Christmas Searches: Expository Sermons For Christmas
Related Topics: Christmas
1. The Search FOR the Savior: The Search Of The Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12)Related Media
“The Search Of The Wise Men”
Following an exhilarating performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, celebrated classical cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, went home, slept, and awoke the next day, exhausted and rushed. He called for a cab to take him to a hotel on the other side of Manhattan and placed his cello (handcrafted in Vienna in 1733 and valued at $2.5 million) in the trunk of the taxi. When he reached his destination, he paid the driver but forgot to take his cello out of the trunk. After the cab had disappeared, Yo-Yo Ma realized what he had done and began a desperate search for the missing instrument. Fortunately, he had kept the receipt with the cabby’s ID number. Before the day ended the taxi was located in a garage in Queens with the priceless cello still in the trunk. Mr. Ma’s smile could not be contained as he spoke to reporters. But of far more importance than the search for a musical instrument is the search for a matchless Saviour (“The Search for a Priceless Possession” the Chicago Tribune, 10-17-99, cited by Greg Assimakoupoulos).
Many people searched for Jesus Christ from the time of his birth to the time of his death. Some searched for him to serve him, others for what they could get out of him. Some searched for him out of genuine interest, others out of idle curiosity. Some who searched for him were rich, others poor. Some were Jews, others Gentiles. Some were religious, others heathen. Some searched for him because they cared for him, others because they hated him.
The title of this message is: “The Search for the Saviour,” specifically, “The Search of the Wise Men” (Matt. 2:1-12). In this text, the overall message is that wise people search for Jesus until they find him and worship him.
First, notice that …
I. Wise People Ask Pointed Questions About Jesus (2:1-2)
“1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’” (1-2a). The text doesn’t tell us anything about these “wise men”, who they were or where they came from (except that they came from the east). So, let’s try to answer some of those questions.
1. Who Were These Wise Men (Magi)?
The term magi is used both negatively and positively. Negatively, it describes one who works magic, spiritism, divination. Positively, it describes one who seeks and possesses supernatural knowledge or ability. Simon Magus was one who used magic (Acts 8:9, 11). But Daniel was one who possessed supernatural knowledge and was made the “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48) after he successfully interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
So, what sort of magi were these men in our passage? Could it be that men associated with spiritism or even the occult would have been among the first to seek, find, and worship the Messiah? Hardly! No, these men were probably political and religious advisers to the king, or philosophers and scientists, who undoubtedly made a study of the skies - through astronomy, that is, not astrology. These were “wise men” in the same sense that Moses was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). They were men of learning and obviously deeply religious. So, we have a bit of an understanding of who these men were but ...
2. Where Did They Come From?
Wise men “from the east” (2:1) came to Jerusalem. Some scholars think that they were Median priests from Persia, who conducted sacrificial rituals and had magical abilities to interpret dreams and special signs. Some think that they were astrologers from Mesopotamia. Others think that they were three kings from Persia, Sabha, and Sheba. But, there’s strong evidence that they were, in fact, from Arabia (this research adapted from “Were the Magi from Persia or Arabia?” Bib-Sac. 156, Oct-Dec., 1999, 423:442).
First, there’s the evidence from geography. The term “the east” refers to the Arabian desert, east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. And it was “in the east” where the men saw the star - i.e. in their land to the east of Jerusalem.
Second, there’s the strong evidence of close Arab-Jewish relations at that time. Jews from either the captivity in Babylon or from Israel were settlers in Arabia. There were many Jews in Arabia before the rise of Islam. On several occasions the Arab tribes of the Nabateans assisted Antipas, father of Herod the Great, in military conflicts. In fact, Herod the Great’s mother was of Nabatean descent. Thus, by the time of Jesus’ birth, Arab-Jewish relations were very close culturally, socially, and religiously. This, of course, gave the Arabians access to the Jewish Scriptures and, as a result, the messianic hope was common among them.
Thirdly, there is evidence that the gifts of the magi were natural products of Arabia. Arabia was known for its supremacy in the spice trade, especially for frankincense and myrrh. A South Arabian tribe (Sabaeans) dominated the incense trade for centuries. Heroditus records that “the whole of Arabia exhales a most delicious fragrance.” According to Josephus, the incense used in the temple was from the Arabian desert. Also, the gold of Arabia was much sought after for its purity and abundance and is recorded in many biblical references (E.g. 1 Kings 10:10; Ps. 72:15; Isa. 60:6; Ezek. 27:22; 38:13).
This is compelling evidence that the wise men came from Saudi Arabia. But of more importance than that ...
3. Why Did They Come?
The text says they came asking the question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (12:2a). Why would Gentiles want to find “the King of the Jews?” Because they had come “to worship Him” (12:2b). We could understand it if they were searching for a Persian or Arabian king, but to worship the King of the Jews?
The answer to this question may be another reason why these men probably came from Arabia. God historically used the wealth and strength of Arabia (the East) and Egypt (the West) for the protection and development of his servants. Notice these patterns in Scripture. Where did Abraham dismiss the sons of his concubines? To the East, to Arabia in order to protect his seed (Gen. 25:5-6). Who bought Joseph from his brothers when they threatened his life? Arabian traders. Where did they take him? To Egypt. When Moses’ life was threatened the first time as a baby (Ex. 1), where was he protected for 40 years? In Egypt. When Moses’ life was threatened the second time (Ex. 2), where was he protected for 40 years? In the Arabian desert. Where did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee for protection from Herod’s wrath? To Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15). Where did the apostle Paul go to learn the truth of God when he was converted? To the Arabian desert (Gal. 1:17).
And now, these magi from Arabia were called from the East to Israel “to worship Him”, the long-awaited Seed, the Messiah. And they brought with them the wealth of Arabia - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Frankincense was a sacred oil, incense for religious rituals and for medicinal purposes. Myrrh was also sacred oil, incense for religious rituals, and it was also used for medicinal purposes and embalming. These costly substances would probably have provided the means for Joseph’s poor family to travel where? To Egypt, for protection from Herod’s wrath against the new-born King.
So they came to worship him but…
4. How Did They Know?
This is perhaps the biggest question of all. “For we saw his star when it rose (in the east) and have come to worship him” (12:2b). Was this a temporary star? Was it a coincidental confluence of planets or a meteor? No! This was a special star for a special purpose. This was “his star”.
How did they know it was “his star”? Not by astronomy or any natural learning. They probably knew Balaam’s prophecy: “A star shall come out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17). But how would they link that to this star? Most likely, they knew by direct revelation from God, the same way they knew not to return to Herod.
So wise people ask pointed questions about Jesus. And…
II. Wise People Follow The Signs That Lead To Jesus (2:3-10)
A search is much easier if there are signposts…
1. Their Signpost Was The “Star”
It doesn’t seem that the star lit their entire journey. If it had, then why did they rejoice greatly when they saw it again after leaving Jerusalem? So, it must have disappeared during their stay in Jerusalem. But even though it seems that it didn’t light their entire journey, it certainly induced them to come in the first place and it gave them a fix on the general direction to travel. Evidently, they had learned how to navigate by the stars.
Incidentally, since the Middle Ages, camel caravans have navigated north from the fabled city of Timbuktu, in Mali, West Africa, to Taudenni in search of salt - the gold of the Sahara desert. Still today, the Tuareg nomads of Niger trek in huge camel trains through the Sahara carrying loads of salt from the salt mines of Taudenni. Salt is still made into blocks for transportation, reminiscent of the fate of Lot’s wife. My wife and I have seen a documentary of these camel trains. They walk for days and days through the wasteland of the Sahara, guided by the stars, until they reach small villages on the edge of Niger or Burkina Faso (where I have been privileged to teach pastors over the last 10 or so years), where they sell a huge block of salt for $5 if they can find a buyer.
And so, these wise men, navigating by the stars, headed for Jerusalem. After all, where else would the Messiah be born than in the capital city of the Jews? Their journey to Jerusalem probably took four months or more. It wasn’t a matter of getting in a car for a few hours. Travel was hard, long, dangerous, tiring, and expensive. So, as they approached the city, you can imagine their excitement as …
2. The Star Led Their Search To Jerusalem
All the way there they must have talked about what they expected. I think they expected to find festivities. Perhaps streets closed for parades, people lining the streets, flags flying, shops and schools closed for a national holiday, roads jammed with crowds wanting to enter the city, special editions of the Jerusalem Post on every corner, hot air balloon rides and free popsicles and popcorn for the kids. I think they expected special services in the synagogue with special cantatas from the choir. But instead they arrived in Jerusalem to find just an ordinary day The women were probably buying their groceries in the street markets. The kids were in school, the banks were open, the mail was being delivered – everything was going on as usual.
And I can just imagine what they might have done. One of them might have asked one of the women on the street: “Can you tell me where the King of the Jews has been born?” only to receive a cold stare in return. Another might have gone up to one of the city policemen: “We heard that the Messiah has been born. Can you tell me where He is?” only to receive the rude reply: “You’re strangers around here aren’t you? If I were you, with your accent, I would keep quiet about that kind of thing.” I can see them going in frustration perhaps to the mayor of Jerusalem, who knows nothing. Finally…
3. Their Search In Jerusalem Led To Herod’s Palace (2:3-10)
When they arrive at the steps of the palace of King Herod, I think the butler wasn’t very friendly, but they talk him into letting them see Herod. After all they are important, high ranking officials visiting from a far country. Surely Herod would know where the king of the Jews was born. But instead we see that Herod is troubled. “When Herod the king heard this (i.e. what they were searching for), he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3). I can understand Herod being troubled, because if what they were inquiring about was true, this might mean an end to his dynasty. If this wase true, he might lose the loyalty of the Judean people
But why was “all Jerusalem” troubled with him? Wasn’t this what they had been looking for all these years? Jerusalem wasn’t troubled because of any sympathy for Herod or because they didn’t want the Messiah to come. Probably Jerusalem was troubled because when Herod wasn’t happy, nobody was happy; because they knew that inquiries like the magi’s would result in more cruelty as this murderous king hung on to power.
So, Herod consults his own wise men. “…assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (2:4). He didn’t know the answer to the magi’s question, but surely “the chief priests and scribes” of Jerusalem would know. And indeed they did know that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2 (2:5-6). But they didn’t know when it would happen and they didn’t know who the Messiah would be.
As a result, Herod devises a shrewd plan to uncover the perceived threat to his kingdom. It is a two-pronged plan – we’ll call them plan “A” and “B”.
Plan “A” was designed to determine the age of the child. “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared” (2:7). This was a clever trick to determine the time when the child was born. Because if he could find out when the star appeared, then Herod would know how old the child was. And once he knew how old the child was, Herod could get rid of him through mass murder by killing all the children born around the time the star appeared.
But there was also another plan. Plan “B” was designed to determine the location of the child. “And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him’” (2:8). This is the second part of Herod’s devious plan. Plan “A” would uncover the age of the child, but how much better if he could find out the exact location of the child.
But unwittingly, Herod was an instrument of God. His own wise men gave the magi the clue from the Word of God as to where the Messiah should be born. What more could they ask for? So they respond to it in belief. Thus, their search in Jerusalem led to Herod’s palace and…
4. Their Search At Herod’s Palace Led To Bethlehem (2:9-10)
“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them…” (2:9a). It’s as though God said: “I’ll give you my sign again - the star.” “And the star they had seen… went before them until it came and stood over the place where the young child was” (2:9b). Now they had double confirmation - the sure Word of God (Mal. 5:2) and the sure sign of God.
This was no ordinary star, you see. Its first appearance gave them general directions to Jerusalem and now its second appearance led them to the exact place where Jesus was. No wonder that “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (2:10). The star was like an old trusted friend that they hadn’t seen for a while but now appeared again. Their search was successful. Any doubt they may have had in Jerusalem was banished. Revelation has resulted in discovery. God had revealed the truth of the Messiah’s birth to them in their own country and their months of search have now come to fruition. Everyone likes to be successful in what they set out to do - the wise men were no different.
First, wise people ask pointed questions about Jesus. Second, wise people follow the signs that lead to Jesus. And…
III. Wise People Search For Jesus Until They Find Him (2:11-12)
I don’t know what they expected to see when they arrived in Bethlehem. Would he be a young prince arrayed in costly robes? Would royalty be lying in a gold lined bassinette? Would the King of the Jews be waited on by royal nurses? Would there be a line of people waiting to pay their respects? How would they prove who they were so that they would they be allowed in? But look …
1. What They Found (2:11a)
“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother” (2:11a). Was it a shock to them when they entered the house? Did it take them by surprise to discover his lowly birth, his isolation, his ordinary parents, just the child and his mother? Did they wonder if this was all a hoax when they saw no royal surroundings?
Something tells me that it was no shock. It seems to me that they were prepared for what they found. They already knew the indifference and ignorance in Jerusalem. If Herod hadn’t come to pay his respects, why would anyone else? If the news was so unknown, the circumstances must indeed be strange. I think they were prepared for what they found and their preparation is shown in…
2. How They Responded (2:11b-12)
They entered the house “and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (2:11b-c). Adoration follows discovery. True worship involves these two components – discovery and adoration. This is why they had come.
True worship is to “fall down” before him. It is to recognize his superior position by taking an inferior position, to prostrate ourselves in humility before him.
And true worship is to bring to him our very best - to surrender to him our very costliest possessions. The wise men brought the very best gifts they could, gifts fit for a King – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
By the way, the myrrh and frankincense were probably of greater monetary value than gold at that time. Though they probably didn’t realize the symbolism of their gifts, for us, however, “gold” represents the wealth and splendour of royalty; “frankincense” (the incense used by the priests in temple worship) symbolizes divine worship; and “myrrh” (that fragrant gum used to embalm the dead) foreshadowed Jesus’ death and burial.
They had done what they came to do – find the One who was born King of the Jews and to worship him. “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way” (2:12).Herod might be able to deceive the people of Jerusalem, but not these wise men for they were instructed by God himself.
This, then, is “The Search for the Saviour”, specifically, “The Search of the Wise Men.” This search by the wise men is a search of contrasts…
1. The Search For The Saviour Is A Contrast Of People
a) There is the contrast of the kings: Herod the Great vs. Jesus, the King of the Jews. Both were kings over a kingdom – but what a difference! Herod, a powerful murderer, ruled his kingdom through fear but he died and disappeared from the face of the earth. Jesus came to be our King, not through power and fear, but love and kindness, lowliness and gentleness. He died a sacrificial death on the cross and rose again. And He’s coming back, the all-powerful King, to rule the world.
b) There is the contrast of the people: Jews of Jerusalem vs. Gentiles of Arabia. The wise Gentiles from the east were eager to find new hope and salvation in the Messiah. They rejoiced at his birth and worshipped him. The foolish Jews were careless and apathetic, unconcerned that the very hope of all the ages had come and they ignored him. As J.C. Ryle puts it, “It isn’t always those who have most religious privileges who give Christ most honour.” As Jesus said, “the first shall be last and the last first” (Matt. 20:16).
c) The contrast of the wise men: Herod’s wise men vs. the magi. Herod’s wise men were the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem. They were in the right place, had the right answers, knew the Scriptures since birth, but rejected their power and truth. The magi were men from the wrong country, far away from the centre of God’s dealings. Though their upbringing would not have included training in the Holy Scriptures, they recognized and bowed to their authority and message. Again, J. C. Ryle says: “There may be knowledge of the Scripture in the head, but no grace in the heart.” So, don’t put your confidence in your head knowledge.
d) There is the contrast of circumstances: Jesus’ poverty vs. the wise men’s riches. Jesus was born in a stable with nothing, only swaddling clothes. His parents were ordinary people with no wealth or fame. The wise men came with the richest resources of their land - gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Here is a forerunner of the scene at the cross. At the cradle, the wise men found Jesus as a helpless baby - they witnessed no miracles, heard no teaching; they saw no evidence of outward deity, power, or riches, and yet they said: “We have come to worship him.” At the cross, the thief saw Jesus dying - he witnessed no miracles, heard no teaching; he saw no outward evidence of deity, power, or riches, and yet he said: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42).
The search for the Saviour is a contrast of people. And…
2. The Search For The Saviour Is A Contrast Of Motives
A king asks questions about him but fears what may transpire. Religious people can answer questions about him but they have no interest in a relationship with him. Disloyal followers betray him with a kiss, but loyal followers weep over his grave.
Wise men, you see, still worship him. At the cradle, there were wise men from the east with its mystery. They searched for him, found him, and worshipped him. Just before the cross, there were wise men from the west with its culture and progress, Greeks who said: “We wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21), but we don’t read of any interest in worshipping him.
The search for the Saviour is a contrast of people, a contrast of motives, and …
3. The Search For The Saviour Is A Contrast Of Responses
Some people search for God when they are in trouble but they don’t want God in their lives. As Proverbs 1:27-30 says: “When distress and anguish come ... then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.”
Some people search for God because they hate their sin and need a Saviour. And surely the message of our text is that wise people search for the Saviour until they find and worship him. The word of God says: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me” (Prov. 8:17). “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).
Well, I don’t know why you are here today or where you are in your spiritual search. Perhaps you’re curious but with no genuine interest in finding the Saviour. Perhaps you’re here because it’s the thing to do at Christmas. Or, perhaps you’re a genuine seeker for the Saviour. Perhaps in a certain sense, you have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him. If so, the promise and exhortation is that wise people search for Jesus until they find and worship him.
Related Topics: Christmas
網上牧師雜誌 – 中文版（繁體）, TCh Ed, Issue 33 2019 年 秋季
A ministry of…
不要忽視應用。在講道之前要回顧你的講稿，看看裡面有多少應用。足夠嗎？每一個主要原則都有應用嗎？我的導師，Stephen Olford 博士曾經敦促我們說，應用應該占講道的50%！
想要更多地閱讀這方面的文章，我推薦Tremper Longman III所著的Making Sense out of the Old Testament中的“基督徒如何將舊約應用於生活？” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 103-136.
Related Topics: Pastors
网上牧师杂志–中文版（简体）, SCh Ed, Issue 33 2019 年 秋季
A ministry of…
不要忽视应用。在讲道之前要回顾你的讲稿，看看里面有多少应用。足够吗？每一个主要原则都有应用吗？我的导师，Stephen Olford 博士曾经敦促我们说，应用应该占讲道的50%！
想要更多地阅读这方面的文章，我推荐Tremper Longman III所著的Making Sense out of the Old Testament中的“基督徒如何将旧约应用于生活？” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 103-136.
Related Topics: Pastors
網上牧師雜誌 – 中文版（繁體）, TCh Ed, Issue 32 2019 年 夏季
A ministry of…
作者: Roger Pascoe博士, 主席
Part II: Sermon Outlines講道大綱
Related Topics: Pastors
网上牧师杂志–中文版（简体）, SCh Ed, Issue 32 2019 年 夏季
A ministry of…
作者: Roger Pascoe博士, 主席
Part II: Sermon Outlines讲道大纲
Related Topics: Pastors
2. The Search FOR the Savior: The Search of the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)Related Media
When you search for something it’s easier if you have a clue to guide you. Treasure hunts are based on signs. If you follow them, you find what you’re looking for.
The wise men searched for the Saviour by following the star and the Word of God, and they found him. But they weren’t the only ones to search for him. The shepherds also searched for the Saviour.
This sermon is part of our series: “Christmas Searches: The Search for the Savior.” And the title for this sermon is: “The Search of the Shepherds” (Lk. 2:8-20).
The angel had told the shepherds of the birth of a Saviour in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord. But what good would the news be if they could not find him, for to not find him is to not know him. His birth is the start. To find him is the challenge. And to know him is the goal.
How then could they find him? They knew that he was born, and they knew when he was born (today), and they knew where he was born (in Bethlehem). But where exactly in Bethlehem was he born? It was census time and the town was full of strangers, so much so that there were no vacancies in the inn. So, how could they hope to find him? What they needed was a sign!
What we learn from this passage today is that “God provides a sign for all who search for the Saviour.” First notice…
I. The Situation Of The Announcement (2:8-9)
8 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”
Shepherds were the lowest echelon of that society. Perhaps we might think of them as “homeless people”, street people, despised people of society. People who smelled badly and dressed in worn out, dirty clothes, whose habits were not attuned to a sophisticated society. Here they were, just doing their lowly job, “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” No one knew who they were or where they were. Frankly, nobody cared. But to them was made the greatest announcement the world has ever heard.
Jesus’ birth was not announced to rich men, but to poor shepherds; not to wise men, but to uneducated shepherds; not in the capital city by The Jerusalem Daily Post, but in the country somewhere outside the insignificant town of Bethlehem; not by the king, but by an angel; not to the highest government officials in their ivory towers, but to the lowest of society on a lonely hillside; not to famous or prominent people, but to unknown, unnamed shepherds; not at noonday to the entire city, but at nighttime to a few shepherds.
There was no fanfare in the city, but there were fireworks in the countryside. There were no lights in the city, but “the glory of the Lord shone” in the dark countryside. No special editions of newspapers in the city, but “good news of great joy” in the countryside. No singing in the city, but a “heavenly host praised God” in the countryside.
Doesn’t this remind you of what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians?
18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:1:18-21)
Well, no wonder the shepherds were “filled with great fear”! The brightness of the Lord’s “glory” that broke through the darkness of that Judean night terrified them. The word “glory” means the weight or significance or excellence of something or someone that generates a response of awe and wonder. The shepherds’ response to this supernatural occurrence was “great fear.”
A number of years ago, our family went to Banff, a tourist town in the Canadian Rockies, to attend a relative’s wedding. After the wedding, some of us stayed around for a few days’ vacation. One day, everyone wanted to go skiing. After all, that was the big attraction in that area. To not ski at Banff would be like going to Vail, Colorado, and not skiing. That’s just what you do when you go to Banff. The trouble was that neither I nor my daughter had skied before. So we decided to rent the equipment and take a lesson before venturing up a ski lift on our own. When we arrived at the pro shop, we were told that all the ski lessons had been booked for that day and had already left. So, we said, “Ok. We’ll just rent the equipment anyway and go up on our own.” The man looked at us with one of those “can’t-believe-what-I-just-heard looks.” He said, “I don’t recommend that, sir.” I said to my daughter, “Well, what do you want to do?” She replied, “We didn’t come all this way to not ski.” So, I said to the man, “No problem, we’ll rent the equipment and go up on our own.”
So that’s what we did. Once we started up the side of the mountain in the ski lift I knew we were in trouble as the base of the mountain slid from view. Not only that, but when the ski lift stopped and we thought we were at the top, we actually had to get out and enter another one! We reached the top and upon getting out, I promptly fell flat on my back. There I was staring straight up into a beautiful cloudless blue sky at the top of Sunshine Mountain. Almost immediately I saw a little old lady looking down at me and she said: “Would you like me to give you a quick lesson before I take my last run for the day?” So that’s what she did. She showed my daughter and me how to snow plough in order to slow down, and how to crisscross sideways across the mountain in order to control your speed etc. And then, as quickly as she came, she was gone. I’m convinced to this day that she was an angel.
But then we were on our own. And as we started down the ski slope, I realized just how scary this was. The bottom of the ski slope seemed like miles away, the slope was so steep, and there were trees on either side. My heart almost beat out of my chest. So with trembling knees we proceeded very slowly down until after 40 minutes we reached the bottom, where we joined my wife and her friend who were sitting waiting for us. Evidently, our faces were white with fear and exhaustion. But after about 15 minutes of resting, my daughter said, “We didn’t come here just to take one run. Let’s do it again!” The second time, we made it down in 20 minutes. A great improvement.
All that to say, that skiing down Sunshine Mountain at that time was without doubt the scariest experience of my life. The shepherds also were “filled with great fear” when the glory of the Lord shone around them. You see, fear is the natural response to divinity – it’s startling, unsettling.
So, Jesus’ birth was announced to ordinary people in an ordinary place, to the “whosoevers” of the gospel, to the “least of these” as Jesus described them. God’s good news is declared to ordinary people in the most ordinary circumstances.
That was the situation of the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Then there were…
II. The Signs From The Angels (2:10-14)
There were three signs for the searching shepherds…
1. The Sign of the Angelic Sermon (2:10-11)
10 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The shepherds’ fear was soon assuaged by God’s grace, which was extended to them through the angels. For the angel did not come to instill fear but to announce “good news of great joy for all people.” The angelic sermon was one of “good news.” Good news is characterized by “great joy,” therefore they need not “fear”. And it was declared to “all people,” specifically “to you,” the shepherds, who represent “all people.” In fact, the shepherds represent us.
The good news is that “unto you is born this day…a Saviour.” It’s a present reality not a future hope. He is born in the “city of David” – that’s Bethlehem. You may wonder why Bethlehem is called the city of David. Well, Bethlehem has always been a place of great significance. Originally it was called Ephrata (Mic. 5:2); later it was called Ephrata-Bethlehem or simply Bethlehem. The first time Bethlehem is mentioned in the Bible is when Rachel, the wife of Jacob died there (Gen. 35:19-20; 48:7). It’s mentioned again when Ruth travelled to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 1:19, 22). And there Ruth eventually married Boaz and gave birth to Obed, who would become the grandfather of David. Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and it was there Samuel anointed him as the future king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1).
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ, the Lord.” The good news is that the Messiah, the Anointed One has come! The One who delivers us from our enemies has come! The One who rescues us from peril has come! The Royal One, the Davidic king has come! “The Lord,” the absolute sovereign, God himself, has come in flesh!
That was the sign of the angelic sermon. Then there was…
2. The Sign of the Earthly Stable (2:12)
12 “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The wise men’s sign was a star: the shepherds’ sign is a stable. They wouldn’t have to search through every house, motel room, or campsite. Their search was for a stable, where they would find the Baby.
This is a most unusual sign isn’t it? A baby in a feeding trough? Could this be the confirmation of the angelic announcement? Who would look in a place like this for a new born baby? And especially one who was supposed to be the Messiah child! If the angel had not directed the shepherds and if the star had not guided the magi, then, neither would have searched for him nor found him.
If you were looking for a King, where would you look? Not in the best hotel, nor in an inn, and certainly not in a stable, but in a palace. In a good hotel you might find dignitaries. In an inn you might find tourists and visitors. In a stable you might find horses and cows. But you would never find a King there - especially the Saviour of the world!
If you did find a baby in a stable, what would you think? You might pity the baby or try to help its mother. You might report it to the Children’s Aid Society. Or, you might just pass by on the other side. If someone told you that the baby is the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the world, the Messiah, you might ignore them, scorn them, or, you might consider them a little daft. Probably you wouldn’t believe them.
The sign for the shepherds was a baby in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sign was so unlikely that it had to be given by an angel or else it would have been dismissed out of hand. We would have expected pomp and glory fit for a King, but that is reserved for Jesus’ second coming, not his first coming. His first coming was in humility and isolation. If his birth had been glorious, the humble shepherds would not have come near. But in a stable, the poorest people on earth may come to him, alongside dignitaries from a far country.
In his best-selling book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey contrasts the humility that characterized Jesus’ birth to a visit from the Queen of England. Yancey was attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah in London. During the performance he looked toward the auditorium’s royal box where the queen and her family sat, and, he said, “I caught glimpses of the way rulers stride through the world – with bodyguards and a trumpet fanfare and a flourish of bright clothes and flashing jewelry. Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the Unites States and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved – her 4,000 pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, 40 pints of blood plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, 2 valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost $20 million. In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendant present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feeding trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him.”
The sign of his birth foretold the story of his life and death. The humble shepherds are given a sign of a humble Saviour. At his birth he was bound in the stable with swaddling clothes, at his death he was bound by nails to a cross, and in the tomb he was bound with grave clothes. At his birth he lay helpless in someone else’s manger and at his death he lay in someone else’s tomb. He was born with animals and died with robbers. He was born in a manger and died on a cross.
Humble as the sign was, we must take Christ as we find him. How do we find him here and what is the sign? The first sign is humility. We find him in a stable not a palace. Solomon built a temple for God but God came to earth in a stable, “made lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). The second sign is love. He left heaven’s glory and stooped down to earth because he loved us (Jn. 3:16).
There was the sign of the angelic sermon. The sign of the earthly stable. And…
3. The Sign of the Heavenly Song (2:13-14)
13 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
An unusual sign is confirmed by an unusual occurrence. An angelic sermon is followed by an angelic song. A stable of humility is accompanied by a celestial harmony. An angel preached a great message to the shepherds and a heavenly host sings a great anthem to God. An inglorious sign is followed by a glorious song.
The stable and the song - one balances the other. The stable speaks of earthly poverty. The song speaks of heavenly riches. The stable speaks of humility below and the song speaks of glory on high. The stable presents a little helpless baby. The song presents a great and all-powerful God. In the stable the shepherds find him. In the song the angels glorify him. In the stable, the animals “low” a lullaby. In the song, the angels sing a sweet melody. The sign of the stable points the way to Christ. The song of the angels points to the glory of Christ. No angel ministered to Jesus at his death, but multitudes sang at his birth. The angelic multitude bears authoritative witness that the sign and the Saviour are true.
The choir sang: “Glory to God in the highest.” The heavens rejoice and praise God for salvation’s plan, that there is a remedy for sin, that there is “peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased.” The result of Jesus’ coming is that peace has been made possible between God and man (Col. 1:20). Those who know His peace are those who are the recipients of God’s favor, God’s grace. And the One who perfectly embodied all God’s favor was this Baby. He is the One in whom God is well pleased and all who follow him benefit from God’s good pleasure.
That was the meaning of Christmas to the angels. They sang not only of the One who was born but of the grace that had come.
The situation of the announcement is confirmed by the signs from the angels which initiated…
III. The Search By The Shepherds (2:15-20)
15 “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’”
1. The shepherds acted in faith (2:15-16). They gave no thought to who would watch over the sheep. For a shepherd to leave his sheep, especially at night, was unthinkable, irresponsible. All their livelihood may be wiped out by this single act. But nothing would stop them in their desire to find the Messiah. Nothing would stop them from acting in obedience and faith.
16 “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” They searched for a baby and found the whole family. What they saw was exactly what the angel had promised - a baby lying in a feeding trough. Their faith was honored. The angels’ testimony was true.
The shepherds acted in faith and…
2. Their search was successful (2:17-20). Their success was evident in the responses.
There was the response of the shepherds’ “testimony” (2:17). “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” The sequence of faith is this: God’s Word prompted them to take action and their action gave rise to their testimony. They heard the Word from the angel and they acted in faith. They confirmed the sign and they testified to everyone about what the angel had said.
There was the response of the people’s “wonder” (2:18). “All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” They were amazed at what they heard. But there’s no evidence that it affected their hearts or that it stirred them to action.
There was the response of Mary’s “reflection” (2:19). “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She reflected on the events, attempting to understand them. She “treasured these things” because they were of inestimable value - they confirmed all that the angel had told her (Lk. 1:26-38). She “pondered them in her heart.” She reflected on everything that had happened.
There was the response of the shepherds’ “praise” (2:20). “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” What they had heard agreed with what they saw and they praised God just as the angels had.
Remember our thesis: “God provides a sign for all who search for the Saviour.” So, what is our response and duty?
1. Our duty is to find Him, so that the news “unto you is born” culminates in the declaration “we have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41).
To find Christ is to bring glory to God, to acknowledge that we are sinners and that we need a Saviour, to respond in obedience to God, to bring honour to what God has done.
To find Christ is to have peace with God: (1) to have peace through his person (“He himself is our peace,” Eph. 2:14), (2) to have peace through his work (“He has made peace through the blood of his cross,” Col. 1:20), (3) to have peace through his justification (“Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rom. 5:1).
To find Christ is to be well pleasing to God. God has declared: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” When we find and delight in Jesus Christ, we are well pleasing to God.
So, our duty is to find him. And…
2. Our duty is to worship Him, so that the song “Glory to God” culminates with adoration, “Worthy is the Lamb.” He has put a new song in our mouths even praise unto our God.
Related Topics: Christmas
Bible Learning Games And ActivitiesRelated Media
Bible Story ZONK:“ZONK” is a nonsense word that can be pronounced the same in any language. It has no real meaning. The original source of this game is unknown to this writer.
ZONK is played using a set of cards, die cuts (cut outs) of a similar design or any similar material where the one side of the playing pieces are identical. For example, if you are using die cut designs, you can use die cuts of leaves (but they all need to be identical) or of an ark, rainbow, heart, etc.
A giant set of playing cards or even a regular size deck of playing cards can also be used or use the CBS4Kids Bible Storying Game Card Pack of 60 story symbols. Use post it notes and on the opposite side of the story symbol print and attach “point” numbers in the 100’s - 1000’s. Attach the cards symbol side down with rolled tape to a whiteboard or bulletin board or on a large table.
Divide your group into two teams. In turn, a player from each team can select up to three cards, return them over one at a time and must state the story the symbol represents. When children name the story correctly they receive the points on the card for their team and that card is removed from play. They can only continue up to three cards at a turn if they name the symbol correctly. If incorrect, the turn stops and that symbol card is turned back over. The game continues until all cards are removed from play.
If you are using playing cards the face cards become the ZONK cards and the Joker cards can be used for SUPER ZONK.
For using other blank cards or die cuts, you will need about 40 plain cards and 8-10 ZONK type cards with the word ZONK written on the back. All cards must look the same on the side facing those playing the game.
The cards are all placed on a bulletin board, whiteboard or other flat surface. If cards are laminated or have a glossy surface you can attach cards will a small section of rolled masking or other tape.
Next you need a set of questions for the game. Bible question can be drawn from basic Bible knowledge or from last week’s Bible lesson or at combination of questions from the last month or quarter, etc.
If you are playing the game with a mixed age group, make a list of questions in categories, i.e... questions for kindergarten – first grade (ages 5-7, different questions for grades 2-5 (ages 8-10) and then other questions for grades 5&6 (ages 11-12) You will need at least 10 questions for each grouping.
Next you form teams. For all the same age or grade this is easiest just divide your group. For mixed age groups, make sure you assign an equal number from each age bracket to each team.
To Play the Game:
- A player for one team is called on. You ask that player the Bible question. (No helping from their team) If they get the question correct they go to the ZONK board. Then they can begin removing and turning over cards to expose the point value. Whatever point value they turn over, their team gets those points. They may (or may not) decide to continue turning over cards and can turn over as many as they want for their turn. Their team can call out and help them decide what to do. As long as they continue getting point cards their team gets the points, BUT…. if they turn over a ZONK card their team looses all those points in that round. Those cards are removed from the playing field. The player can decide to stop whenever they want. If they stop before turning over before a ZONK card they get to keep those points.
- The next team player is called on and the game is repeated. That player, if answering correctly, gets to play in the same way.
- If a team player gets the question wrong, the opposing team gets one chance to answer the question, and if correct, they get the extra turn.
- If you elect to play SUPER ZONK with a deck of cards and leave the Joker cards in the playing field, if a team player, in turning over cards, turns over a Joker card – their team looses all points up to that level in the game and must begin over collecting points. Since there are only two Joker cards in each deck this decreases the chances of turning over the Joker card.
- At the end of the game each team totals points and the winner is declared.
Some beginning Bible game questions:
Grades 1 / 2
- Who climbed a tree to see Jesus?
- Who was born in the city of Bethlehem?
- Who was thrown into a den of lions?
- Who took his family and animals and birds and other living things and went into a boat called an ark?
- Who ran away from God and took a boat in the opposite direction and was swallowed by a giant fish?
- What was the name of the boy whose father made him a coat of many colors?
- What showed the wise men the way to find Jesus?
- Who came to visit Jesus when he was born and bought him gifts?
- What do you call a man who takes care of sheep?
- What is the name of Jesus’ mother?
- Who is God’s only son?
- Where is Jesus today?
- What did God put in the sky to remind us He would never destroy the earth again with a floor and rain?
- Name three things God created when he created the world
Grades 3 / 4
- What were the names of the first two children of Adam and Eve?
- What Old Testament person lost his strength because of a haircut?
- Who did Jesus raise from the dead who had been buried several days?
- What kind of animal talked to a prophet in then Old Testament?
- Who walked on the water with Jesus?
- What was the name of the boy who had a coat with many colors whose brothers sold him to slave traders?
- Who tempted Jesus on the mountain to disobey God?
- Name 5 of the 10 Commandments
- What was the name of the sea that God dived so the Israelites could leave Egypt and walk across on dry ground?
- What Pharisee came to Jesus at night to ask him about being “born again”?
- When God wrote the 10 Commandments He did not have paper. On what did God write the 10 Commandments?
- How many sons did Noah have who helped him build the ark?
- What did the boy give to the Disciples to help feed lunch to 5 thousand people?
- Who asked God to make the sun stand still so his army could win a battle?
Grades 5 / 6
- How many books are in the Bible?
- How many books in the Old Testament?
- How many books in the New Testament?
- What books make up the “Gospels”?
- What book of the Old Testament contains the 10 Commandments?
- What book of the Bible describes the Fruit of the Spirit?
- Who wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament?
- What is the last book of the Old Testament?
- Which books of the Bible make up the “Pentateuch?
- Who wrote the book of Revelation?
- What book of the Old Testament states “wise sayings”?
- How many did Jesus feed with five loaves of bread and two fish?
- What is the last book of the New Testament?
- Who did God tell to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain altar?
- What was the name of the king who tried to kill David?
Bible Teaching Ideas: The Ten Commandments And Ten FingersRelated Media
Start with your hands together in prayer. This reminds us that God heard the prayers of the Hebrew people when they were in slavery in Egypt and freed them (Exodus 3:7, 20:2). The commandments are a way for us to show our gratitude for God’s love in our lives.
1. “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” Hold up one index finger for the number one. We worship one God.
2. “You shall not worship idols.” (Idols, false gods, are not only things like statues, but also anything we place our ultimate trust and allegiance in, for example money or possessions.) Hold up two fingers. Should we worship more than one God? No, two is too many! One of them must be an idol, and we should not worship it!
3. “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Use three fingers which stand for the three persons of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ” Be careful how you use the name of God. God wants us to use His name in loving, caring ways, as we pray and as we talk about Him, not in swearing or in anger.”
4. “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Hold up four fingers; fold your thumb under to let it rest. The thumb has the right idea. It’s the Sabbath, and the thumb is following the commandment to take a day of rest.
5. “Honor your father and your mother.” Hold up all five fingers on one hand as if you are taking a pledge, to honor your parents.
6. “You shall not kill.” Pretend the index finger on your second hand is a gun, shooting at the first five fingers. God’s sixth commandment teaches us not to do what has become too commonplace in our society.
7. “You shall not commit adultery.” Hold one hand out flat. The five fingers and hand becomes the floor of the church. Two fingers on the other hand are the man and the woman to be married, standing in the church, making promises to each other. This commandment calls for couples to keep the marriage promises they make.
8. “You shall not steal.” Hold up four fingers on each hand, for the eighth commandment. If you stretch out your fingers slightly, these become the prison bars, which hold someone who has been arrested for stealing.
9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Hold up all five fingers on one hand and four on the other. Fold you second thumb under and turn your hand around, so the thumb is hiding. It is secretly going around telling the other fours fingers on that hand, lies and rumors about the five fingers on the other hand. It is “bearing false witness,” as it talks behind people’s backs, spreading gossip, criticizing others without talking directly to the people involved.
10. “Do not covet what belongs to your neighbor.” Hold out your hands, palms up, and wiggle all ten fingers to show that they’ve got the “gimmies.” (Give to me) Your fingers are saying, “Gimmie what belongs to you.”