Christmas and God's Kindness - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Christmas 2016

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Christmas Message N°2.  11/12/2016


Christmas and God’s Kindness

Reading : Luke 1:57-80


Introduction
We began last Sunday morning to think about what God did was doing in the run-up to the first Christmas and the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We thought about the historical reality of what took place as firstly Zechariah and Elizabeth were told that they were to have a baby boy despite their advanced years and then secondly Mary was told of how she also would have a baby even though she was a virgin.

We then spent a little time considering the way in which these various individuals reacted and responded to the life changing news they had received.

Well, now we must move on and see what happened next.


Elizabeth has her Baby Boy
Elizabeth had been thrilled to hear that she was going, at last, to have a baby. She was so happy when she first heard the news and had responded by praising God for his kindness towards her. Then Elizabeth lived as a bit of a recluse until it was no longer possible to hide the fact that she was well and truly pregnant.

At some stage during her pregnancy, perhaps when the fact of it could no longer be kept quiet, Elizabeth did share her joy with her neighbours and relatives. She was very careful, though, about the way she did so. She wasn’t content to simply say that she was pregnant she wanted everyone to know how she understood what had happened to her: it was because the Lord had been kind towards her!

v.58 "And her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her,"


This act of kindness is far from being unique in the Christmas narratives.

Mary had already celebrated the Lord’s mercy and kindness as she responded to the message Gabriel had brought her. As she sang her song of praise, the magnificat, Mary twice referred to the Lord’s compassion/mercy:

v.50 "his mercy is for those who fear him"

v.54 "He has helped his servant, in remembrance of his mercy."


Subsequently Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah would also openly celebrate the great mercy of God as he too praised God for what he had done and was in the very process of doing. Zechariah would refer to "the tender mercy" or "the heartfelt compassion" of God using words that literally mean "bowels of mercy". It is as though God’s gut-reaction is dominated and determined by his own inherent goodness which will then reveal itself in acts of kindness, pity and compassion.

I have to stop and ask myself a question: Is this how I habitually think about God? And what about you, is this how you habitually think about God? The Bible tells us that the Lord is full of loving kindness and compassion and if that is so then he is not set on somehow catching me out but on breaking into my otherwise dark life to bring his light to me and so cause me to walk in and enjoy his goodness.


Family and Friends Gather
So Elizabeth’s boy was born and a crowd of friends and family gathered to rejoice with her. It is lovely to have others to share our joys – as the saying goes "a joy shared is a joy doubled". Elizabeth’s relations celebrated with her but Elizabeth was careful not to let herself be carried away by them.

With Zechariah still unable to speak it seems that the baby had not yet officially been named and with his circumcision about to take place those responsible wanted to have the situation resolved. They wanted to call the baby after his Dad, Zechariah who by now must have attained a certain notoriety in the region. After all he was the priest who had received a vision, been struck dumb, and whose wife had conceived in her old age. The name Zechariah would have been suitable for the new baby too, because it meant: "Jehovah remembered", how appropriate!

Yes, it would have been appropriate but for one thing. To name the child Zechariah would have meant rejecting the instructions Gabriel had given Zechariah the priest when he was in the temple. The well-meant worldly wisdom of friends and family had to be set aside and God obeyed.

Elizabeth at once spoke up:

v.60 ""No, he is to be called John."


This caused some consternation and after a little discussion they decided to turn to Zechariah for his opinion. The answer he gave was unequivocal:

v.63 "His name is John"


As far as Zechariah was concerned the boy child had already been named!

What a lovely thing it is when husband and wife are in agreement on matters of spiritual importance. This is not a case of one partner wanting and the other simply content to go along with it, both Zechariah and Elizabeth not only wanted to do God’s will but were determined to do so!

And it’s at that point that Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and he could speak again, the first time in nine months.

I wonder what our first words might be if we were ever to find ourselves in a similar situation. Sighs of relief, perhaps? Expressions of joy that we could speak again?

Zechariah made sure that his first words sounded God’s praises: we read "he blessed God".

The crowd was stunned and not just those who had gathered together for the ceremony of circumcision. News of what happened quickly spread throughout the whole area!

vv.65-66 "And all who lived round about them were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judaea reports of all these things were spread abroad. All who heard the story treasured it in their memories. "What then will this child be?" they said. For the Lord’s hand was indeed with him."


God was at work and the people knew it. So they stopped to think and to reflect on what had taken place. They valued what they had heard and made sure they didn’t forget about it. But what did it mean? It was clear to them that God was taking a special interest in this baby but who was he? What was he going to do?

Now when I hear the word of God, when you hear what God has been doing, how do we react? These folk who as yet knew so little were nevertheless filled with a holy fear of God. They knew that the events that had been taking place were out of the ordinary and could in fact only be explained with reference to the Almighty. Are we conscious of God? Are we concerned not to let matters simply flow past us? Do we make efforts to retain what we’ve heard so that we can seriously think about it all?

When God comes knocking are we ready to hear and respond? Please God that we may be.


Zechariah Prophesies
Zechariah’s first words when he could speak again were used to praise God. The next time he spoke he did so as a prophet. These words were Spirit-inspired words as he was filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to speak with accuracy and authority God’s message to the people.

Now a prophet speaks on behalf of God acting as his mouthpiece. He communicates God’s message be that a warning, an encouragement, a condemnation etc. to men and women and in doing so he may refer to the past, the present and/or the future. Sometimes the message he has to bring concerns a prediction of what will take place in the future. Prophesy then can be either forth-telling or fore-telling or a mixture of the two In Zechariah’s case he does both of these things.

Zechariah’s prophecy may be separated into two halves. In the first half (vv.68-75) he declared just what it was that God was doing at that particular time. In the second half (vv.76-79) he went on to describe the role that his young son would occupy in the accomplishing of God’s wonderfully kind and compassionate plan of salvation.

Isn’t it both interesting and encouraging to see that God is not in the business of stirring people up only to leave them in the dark. No sooner have men and women become awe-struck by divine events that are beyond them than God begins to explain what it is really all about!

Jesus would later express exactly this same truth when he spoke his equally encouraging words:

Lk.11:9-10 "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."


And he went on to assure his hearers that the Father would readily give the Holy Spirit to those who asked him. Now it is the Spirit who leads us into all truth. He delights to take the written word and give us the necessary understanding of it. May he do so again as we think about this message that Zechariah made known!


Zechariah speaks of God’s Promised Messiah
How thrilled Zechariah must have been! Years of longing for a son. Countless prayers directed to God for a son. And now in his old age he has his son. And what’s more he’s had nine months to think about what he was going to say. Surely he’s going to wax lyrical about how wonderful God has been to give him this son at long last.

Well he does praise and bless God and yet, however excited he might be, Zechariah did not lose his focus. Yes, he will speak out about his young son but before he can do that he has something far more important to do. He has someone else to speak about first, someone who is the very embodiment of God’s plan of salvation: he speaks of the Messiah, the Christ!

Jesus would not be born for another few months but so certain is God’s purpose that Zechariah celebrated his coming as though it had already taken place and that he had already been successful in accomplishing his ministry!

Do you understand Jesus as Zechariah did that day as moved by the Holy Spirit he declared things that were yet to be fulfilled?

The one of whom Zechariah spoke is the one, the only one, by whom God would redeem his people. Zechariah’s own son was born into the house of Levi but the one who was to "be raised up as a horn of salvation" born into the house of David, he was thinking and speaking about Jesus. The word "horn" refers to power. Jesus would become the mighty, the powerful Saviour of his people. This was the one who had been spoken of over and over again by the OT prophets – they had spoken again and again about one who would come, in the wonderful kindness and mercy of God to deliver his people from their enemies and who would enable his people to serve God without fear.

The Jews over time misinterpreted the reference to enemies and understood the reference to be to their human enemies. But the NT encourages us to realise that our true enemies are not flesh and blood at all. Our real enemies are spiritual and here we are told that our deliverance would come through the "forgiveness of our sins" v.77.

In so many different ways the Bible wants us to avoid make the mistake of looking in the wrong direction for the help that we need. The Christmas story is no different. Even if the birth of John the Baptist was extraordinary and impressive we are left in no doubt that John is not the central character. Zechariah underlined that for us by speaking first about the role and ministry of the Christ before he ever spoke about his own son John. Then when he did turn to speak about John he once again left us in no doubt as to which was the more important of the two.

Listen to how he addressed his baby son: yes, he would be a prophet of the Most High but his whole ministry was to be preparatory for the coming of the Lord. His ministry would be spiritual making the people aware of their need of salvation and to begin pointing in the direction of the forgiveness of sins. But it would not be John’s role to provide the grounds for that forgiveness.

It would be in the tender mercies of God that salvation would be secured as the "sunrise/dawn from on high" would visit needy men and women. This is Jesus and John’s role was to prepare the hearts of men and women for his coming.

Some thirty years later this was just the ministry that John did indeed carry out.

He would speak about sin and the need of repentance and he would draw people’s attention not to himself but to another. Seeing or thinking about Jesus he would say things like "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" or "He must increase but I must decrease".

Repentance can be likened to a coin with two sides – each side is different but together they make up an inseparable whole. There is both a negative side and a positive side and both must be understood and implemented.

The negative side has to do with sin, that persistent failure to come up to God’s standards and that persistent failure to honour and glorify the God who made us. Repentance recognizes that failure for what it is wilful and culpable and turns away from it. But a mere turning away from sin is insufficient and would only be followed by a subsequent and worse return to sin. No, repentance must include not only a turning away from sin but also a turning to the Lord Jesus Christ.


Conclusion
My friends what you know personally of these matters? Have you done turned from sin and to Christ?

Have you understood something of the pervasiveness of sin – how it affects everything you are or do? Have you realised that sin sullies and spoils not just your own life but the lives of all those you come into contact with? Have you understood how God stands resolutely opposed to sin and with such a determination to maintain his own holy splendour that sin will never ever be allowed a look-in? Have you realised that such being the case you must find a means of having your sin forgiven in this life before it is too late in the next?

Have you understood that you are not to turn from sin to your own religious efforts or good works? Have you seen that you are not to turn to a series of new endeavours and resolutions – having broken the perfect law God has given you are not to try to establish another law whereby you may fondly imagine you can gain acceptance with God? Have you realised that you must not turn to any other source for help other than the Lord Jesus Christ?

If you realise these things then what are you doing about it? Have you turned from sin and turned to Christ calling out to him that your sins might be forgiven?

God in his loving kindness and with wonderful compassionate mercy carefully prepared for his Son to come into the world as the Saviour. We’ve been thinking this morning about how that care involved the sending of a forerunner who would prepare the way. This has all been done so that people like you and me might turn from our sins to the Saviour of the World and be delivered from our spiritual enemies through the forgiveness of our sins.

The passage ends with a simple description of how John grew becoming strong in spirit until the day when he would exercise his public ministry. How will you leave this place this morning? Could God look at you and say of you that you too are growing and becoming strong in spirit?

Please God that it may be so.

Amen


 
 
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