A Savior for the Worldly Wise

December 20, 2015

This coming Friday will be Christmas Day. It is a holiday that is open to everyone who wants to participate. If you are an atheist or Jewish or Buddhist and you want to have a Christmas tree and put up decorations and give gifts, you are welcome to do it. It’s Christmas.

Now of course, Christmas is a Christian observance focused on the birth of Christ. But the holiday has become largely secular and so all can participate in the fun. But there is something important for us as Christians to emphasize. Last week we said that Jesus came for the lowly, for those on the bottom of society. But he did not come only for the lowly. Jesus came for all who will have him. This morning I want to point out from the story of the wise men that Jesus has come for those who are worldly-wise.


It is interesting to me to see how quickly the coming of Jesus into the world becomes a problem for people. We are familiar with how problematic Jesus was for people during his public ministry, but here in Matthew we see that no sooner is Jesus born and already he is a stumbling block for people.

The wise men from the east see the star and conclude that a King of the Jews has been born. He is not an appointed king; he is a king by birth. They travel to Israel and upon their arrival to Jerusalem they pay a visit to King Herod and ask where they can find this new king. Obviously they thought Herod would already know about the new king.

Herod was quite a ruler. After capturing Jerusalem he reigned for 34 years. He was known as Herod the Great mainly because he brought order to the nation and was an amazing builder. He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem as well as numerous palaces and forts. But Herod was ruthless. He banished his first wife, Doris along with their son, in order to marry Mariamne for political purposes to secure his appointment to the throne. And later he had Mariamne executed along with several other members of his family. Herod’s parents had converted to Judaism, and while Herod was not ethnically Jewish, he identified with the Jewish faith. But his commitment was in name only. He had many rabbis killed. Scholars suggest that Herod suffered from depression and paranoia.

So we can imagine what Herod thought when the wise men came inquiring about a new king of the Jews who had been born. Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes and he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. In other words, Herod was knowledgeable concerning the Jewish belief that a Messiah, a king of the Jews was prophesied in the Scriptures.

When the chief priests and scribes assembled they already knew the answer. They had been studying the scriptures for a long time and they were fully aware of the prophecy in Micah 5. The messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.

Now I would suggest to you that both Herod and the chief priests and scribes are examples of worldly-wise people who see little personal need for Christ. Even though the priests and scribes were well studied in the Scriptures and knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah, they seemed to have very little interest in pursuing the new information about a king of the Jews who had been born. Why is that? Well, I would say it is because they were very busy running the machinery of Judaism in Israel. They were not particularly looking for the Messiah and didn’t feel any real need for the Messiah. And while what I am saying is somewhat conjectural, I believe it is a reasonable conjecture because over the years of Jewish history, the people largely practiced their religion while ignoring God. Many of the chief priests and scribes were more concerned about holding onto their status, power, and influence in Israel then they were concerned about the Messiah. We know this because when Jesus began his public ministry there was increasing hostility against him from the chief priests and scribes. They were threatened and jealous. They wanted to hold onto what they had.

When we consider Herod we quickly realize that while he self-identified as a Jew, he had very little to do with Judaism. Herod was all about himself. He was all about securing his wealth, power and prestige in this world. Herod saw the birth of Jesus, the king of the Jews, as a threat to his throne. He did not care about a messiah who would save his people from their sins. And he was surely not concerned about his sins, which were many. And while he told the wise men that he too wanted to worship this new king, we see from vrs.16-18 that Herod really intended to kill this new king. There was no way that Herod would ever bring himself to worship the baby king. Herod worshipped power.

Now men and women, the reality is every person who has ever lived and who is living today seeks to be worldly wise. What do I mean by “worldly-wise”? Well, I am referring to people who seek to manage their lives solely from the perspective and thinking of this world. These are people who seek to be wise and clever according to the standards of this world. In this world it is important to try to make a name for yourself through education, achievement, and accomplishment. Worldly-wise people are people who have learned to negotiate their way in the world. They have learned to use the world’s resources and people for their own ends. Worldly-wise people often seek to present themselves as people who are compassionate and generous in order to enhance their standing before others.

And this means that there are many wonderful worldly-wise people. They are bearers of the image of God and have been blessed by God with many gifts of knowledge and skill. Many have been taught to live by the principles found in the Ten Commandments and the golden rule. However, at the core of every person is a serious condition of selfishness and a desire for personal autonomy. The Bible refers to this as sin. It is ultimately rebellion against God. Many of these wonderful people see no real need for Jesus. They think they are doing fine just as they are.

You might be a worldly-wise person. At the core of your being you don’t really think you need Jesus because you are pretty decent all the way around. Do not be deceived by your decency because your decency will not cleanse you of your sins. Your decency will not give you life in the good kingdom of God. You need the Savior, Jesus Christ.


Most think that the wise men who came from the east were from Babylon. They would have been men who were well versed in astronomy, astrology, dream interpretation, wisdom and magic. Since they studied ancient books, they very likely would have been familiar with the Old Testament since the Jews would have brought copies of the Old Testament scriptures with them when they were exiled in Babylon.

These men were worldly-wise. They were not Jewish, and they had no commitment to the Jewish Messiah. If they were religious they probably worshipped the false gods of their homeland. Their status in society would have come from their knowledge and wisdom of astrology and the ancient writings. Perhaps we could call them consultants for they claimed wisdom and knowledge of secret things.

So how did they come to the conclusion that a king of the Jews had been born? No one can say for sure, but it is very possible that because they had the Old Testament Scriptures they would have been familiar with the prophecy of Balaam, found in Numbers 24. In Num.24 Israel is on its way to the Promised Land and is camped on the plains of Moab. The king of Moab is afraid and asks a false prophet named Balaam to cast a curse on Israel. But every time Balaam tries to curse Israel, God puts words of blessing in his mouth. You should read it for yourself. In Num.24 we read about the 4th attempt of Balaam to curse Israel. Again, only words of blessing come out of his mouth. In v.17 Balaam says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” Well, this has long been considered to be a prophecy about the Messiah to come. The wise men were very likely familiar with this prophecy.

In addition to this as they studied the stars, one night they discovered an unusual phenomenon. They saw an unusual star rise in the sky. In the December issue of Christianity Today magazine, there is an interview with Bible scholar, Colin R. Nicholl, who has taught at the University of Cambridge and was professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. The interview is very interesting. To summarize, Nicholl believes that the star was, in fact, a comet and he not only cites science but also Scripture. If you would like to read the article I have put some copies of it on the table in the back under the balcony. Nicholl has written a book about this and you may want to get the book. Let me read one paragraph from this interview.

“At the end of the Magi’s journey, the star stands over the place of Jesus’ birth, pinpointing a particular location. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener has pointed out, that’s something only a comet can do. Josephus mentions a comet that “stood over” Jerusalem in the run-up to the Judean War. Another Roman historian, Cassius Dio, mentions that another comet did something similar over Rome in 12 B.C. This is all very powerful evidence, and there is much more in the book.”

I’m sure that most of us realize that the wise men were not at the stable. It would have taken a good 3 months for them to reach Jerusalem. And from v.16 we can conclude that Jesus could have been 2 years old. So by the time the wise men arrived in Bethlehem it was some 2 years after the birth of Jesus. In v.11 it says that when they came to the house they saw the child and Mary his mother. It says that they fell down and worshiped him.

I do not want to read more into this than may be the case, but nor should we read less into it. They acknowledged and worshiped Jesus as king. Not only that, but they gave to Jesus expensive gifts fit for a king. In v.12 we learn that when they were preparing to return home, they were warned in a dream to not return to Herod. They obeyed that warning. Clearly they recognized that this child was destined to be great. They honored the Christ-child.

I would submit to you that the attitude of the wise men was far different from the self-centered mind and actions of Herod and the apathy found in the chief priests and scribes. While the wise men were worldly minded, it seems that their hearts were open to want to seek and find the Christ. They worshiped Jesus.

The longer I live, the more I am inclined to think that belief and unbelief is not just about being convinced of a truth in one’s mind. It also involves an act of one’s will. I can think of a number of friends over the years with whom I have shared Christ. What I have found is that many are just not all that interested. Even if you put before them the best arguments for the existence of God and the reality of Christ, they are not interested. In fact, they would prefer to not have to deal with Christ. So some laugh God and Jesus off as just so much nonsense. Others may say they believe in God and acknowledge Jesus Christ, but they are not inclined to worship him. Many people in the world fall into these categories. They have many excuses for their refusal to bow before God and Jesus Christ.

But every so often there are those who realize that they are running on empty. They recognize that they have little real meaning or peace in their lives. They experience guilt over things they have done. When they hear about Jesus they respond by bowing in humility and calling upon Jesus to deliver them. The wise men worshiped Jesus and returned home by a different route. Those who turn to Jesus begin walking a new route in life. They embrace a new king, Jesus Christ and begin to live life in the way of Jesus.

Do not assume that you have embraced Jesus because you attend church. There are many people who believe that their church attendance and participation is the means by which they will enter into heaven. But this kind of thinking is incorrect, at least as far as the Bible is concerned. Only Jesus can give you life in the kingdom of God. You must embrace Jesus, putting your confidence and trust in him for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal living in Him. The wise men worshiped Jesus. What about you? Are you as wise as they were? Amen

Jesus Came For You

December 13, 2015

The greatest person who has ever lived is Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life changed the course of history. I mean, for many years, at least since 800 AD, the birth of Jesus has been the beginning of this present era in the Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely used calendar today.

Of course from the Enlightenment till the present many have tried to minimize the significance of Jesus Christ. For many, Jesus is little more than a peasant teacher. This morning as we consider the birth of Jesus in Lk.2, we will see that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem sheds light on who Jesus is.

I. JESUS IS THE SHEPHERD-KING. Lk.2:1-7; Mic.5:1-5

Throughout the Old Testament, when God speaks about the rulers of his people, Israel, the word “shepherd” is often used. Jewish kings are called to shepherd the nation. When the king does not obey God, Israel is said to be like sheep without a shepherd.

King David was Israel’s greatest king in the Old Testament. In 2Sam.7:16, God promises that David’s throne would be established forever. But in 586 B.C. the throne of David came to an end when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. However the Bible clearly shows that Jesus the King, is a royal descendant of David.

In Ps.78:70-72 we read, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” Then in Ps.89 which was written long after David lived, the Psalmist writes about God’s choice of David to be king. In v.27 God says, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” David was not a first born son. He was the youngest of 7 brothers, but God appointed David to the favored position of a firstborn son.

Here in Lk.2:1-7 we read about the birth of Jesus. Both David and Jesus were born in Bethlehem. There is a very close connection between David and Jesus. The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was prophesied some 700 years before his birth during the reign of Hezekiah.

In Mic.5:1-5 we read, “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace.” It is interesting to see that these verses are applied to Jesus in Mt.2:6.

Notice a few things from this passage. The emphasis is on the fact that Bethlehem is a very small town of little significance in Judah. Notice also that the one to be born is from old, from ancient days. Many see in these words a reference to the eternality of Christ. Notice that the birth of this person would come from the clans of Judah. In fact, in v.3 when it refers to “she who is in labor,” most take this as reference to the godly community of Israel, specifically, those who were looking to God in faith and living in light of the coming Messiah. Jesus was brought into this world through a godly woman, Mary, who was married to a godly man, Joseph.

If I may make a quick observation, let me point out that God’s preferred method of bringing Christ to the world is always through believers, those who know Christ and follow him.

Then, in Mic.5:4 we read that this one to be born would stand and shepherd his flock. He would be a ruler, a king, but a king who shepherds his flock in the strength of the Lord. This ruler will provide security and peace. And notice that his rule will extend to the ends of the earth. Neither David nor any of his descendants fulfilled this prophecy, except for Jesus.

Though this prophecy was given some 700 years before the birth of Christ, already we begin to see the kind of King that Jesus is. One does not get the sense that Jesus is a king who promotes himself or takes advantage of his power or who oppresses his people. Instead we find that Jesus is a king who is most interested in nurturing his people and bringing peace and security to his people. In Lk.2 the picture is of a lowly birth in Bethlehem. Jesus is born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough from which the animals ate their dinner.

Today in American politics it is common for presidential candidates to paint themselves as men and women who through hard work have raised themselves out of less than ideal circumstances. Why do they do this? It’s because we value people who have experienced the hard knocks of life and have prevailed. We feel that such people can understand what life is like for ordinary people like ourselves.

Well, Jesus knows all about what it is like to come from the other side of the tracks. He was born and raised in obscurity. He was humble from the very beginning. And because of this he knows how to rule in humility, compassion, and grace.

David, the shepherd boy, was Israel’s greatest king, but Jesus, the son of David, far exceeds David. Because Jesus, the Shepherd-king, is God in the flesh he is qualified and able to bring eternal security and peace to all who will embrace him as their Savior, Lord, and King. In fact, Jesus said in Jn.10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In Jesus, God comes down to mankind in order that mankind might come to know God and have life and peace with God through faith in Jesus, the good Shepherd-King.


When a married couple has a child, it is common to send out birth announcments. We send them to family and friends. In those announcements we put all the relevant information. We give the full name, the length, and the weight of the baby. Those announcements are an invitation to enter into the joy of the parents.

According to New Testament scholar, Laurie Brink, “There is a calendar from about nine years before Jesus’ birth that was discovered in Priene, in present-day Turkey. The inscription says that it seemed good for the city to celebrate the evangelium, the “good news,” of the birth of Caesar Augustus, the savior of the world. Augustus was seen as the Son of God, since his father through adoption, Julius Caesar, had been deified. Some of our first instances of the term “good news” being used in relationship to an individual are for Augustus, almost at the same time as the birth of Jesus.”

Jesus Christ, the Son of God was born into the world. And God the Father sent out a royal birth announcement using angels to deliver the good news. But wait a minute; notice who the announcement was sent to. It was sent to shepherds watching over their sheep in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. What was God thinking here? Who cares very much about shepherds? I mean shepherds did not occupy a high status in Israel. Why would God send the first birth announcement of the birth of a king to the Shepherds?

When you read the Bible, it does not take long to notice that God is always more inclined towards the poor and oppressed. Generally it is the poor and oppressed who recognize their needs and are most open to a Savior. When the angel came to the shepherds he said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “Unto you is born…” The good news about the birth of Jesus begins at the low end of society. Jesus, the Savior has come for all people.

And since he is the Savior, the purpose of his coming is to bring salvation, peace on earth and peace with God. As I look at the world, I am so greatly saddened to see the hatred and oppression that is occurring throughout the world. When I go online and read the things that are being posted on Facebook and in blogs, there is often a spirit of anger, hostility, anxiety, shaming and blaming.

When I listen to the news I am saddened by the continual reporting about corruption in government and in the police departments and in corporate America. All of this sadness exists because our hearts and minds are naturally self-centered. We regularly seek to justify ourselves and desire to be right. We reach for various kinds of power and desire revenge. The corruption that is found in the hearts of men and women works together to create a systemic, worldwide expression of sinful violence and evil that is fueled and exploited by the evil one.

And what is more, there is no way we are going to stop this. More soldiers and wars may occur, but they will not end the terrible things going on in the world. New laws, policies, and regulations may have their place, but they will not stop the spread of corruption. We cannot stop the evil in the world because as long as we do not have the peace of God in our hearts, we contribute to the problem.

Jesus, God in the flesh, came into the world to bring peace. The peace that Jesus brings begins not at the corporate level, not at the policy making level, not with the military, but at the heart level of every individual level. Only as individual hearts are transformed by the peace of God in Christ, will things begin to change in this world. Through his life Jesus showed us what it means to live life with God by coming under his good rule. Through his death Jesus bore the guilt of our disobedience and rebellion against God, and through his resurrection, Jesus made it possible for all to receive his eternal kind of life. Entering into life with Christ activates peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others.

In v.15-21 we see that the shepherds quickly go to find the baby lying in the manger. They were overjoyed and told everyone about Jesus.

Now I don’t think anyone here today is a shepherd. There are not many, if any, shepherds in Chicago. But this passage is instructive about the kind of person who welcomes Jesus into their lives by faith. The shepherds received the news with joy because they would have never considered that God would come to them. They were just lowly shepherds. But God did come to them in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. In fact God gave them a special invitation to come to Jesus. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Maybe you are weary of your life as it is. Maybe you are disappointed with your life as it is. Perhaps you feel enslaved to certain habits and sins. Perhaps you are walking around feeling guilty, filled with regret for things you have said and done.

Well, Jesus came for you. Jesus came to take the disappointment, regret, and guilt that you feel and to give you his life instead. Jesus came to bring transformation into your life that only God can bring.

Embracing Jesus is in many ways as simple as it was for the shepherds. They heard the message and they went to Jesus. Today there is no stable or manger. Instead there is a risen Savior who says, “Come to me and I will give you rest for your soul. If you realize that you have sinned against God and others and that you need the Savior, Jesus Christ, then in your heart and mind call out to Jesus. “Lord, Jesus I believe you are the Savior of the world who came to give me new, eternal life. Forgive my sins and enter into my life. I welcome you by faith as my Savior, Lord and King. I want to live a with-Christ kind of life.” Trust him, embrace him, follow him, and you will receive his new eternal life in the kingdom of God.

The Christmas carol says, “And ye beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way, With painful steps and slow; Look now, for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing.” Christ, the Shepherd-King, will give you rest for your soul, and peace in your life when you turn to him to receive his new, eternal life, Amen.


Giving Yourself Away

December 6, 2015

Whatever you give yourself to will put demands on your life. If you give yourself to being a professional athlete you will have to deny yourself foods and activities that might jeopardize your ability to perform. If you desire to buy a house, you will have to deny yourself the purchase of other things. If you desire to get married you will have to deny yourself all others in order to be faithful to your husband or wife. The more valuable something is that you want, the more demands it will place on you.

This morning we are looking at the story of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Joseph was also called to embrace Christ. As we look at the story of Joseph we will see that those who embrace Christ are called to live a life of self-denial.


In this passage we are introduced to Joseph. We know very little about Joseph. According to Mk.6:3, Joseph was a carpenter. It is generally believed that Mary was probably around 16 when they were married and Joseph was quite a bit older. Most believe that by the time Jesus began his public ministry Joseph had died.

In that day, Jewish marriages were usually arranged by the parents. Sometimes intermediators were used. Engagements lasted for about a year and were considered to be as binding as marriage. To break an engagement one had to get a divorce. During engagement, sexual immorality was considered to be adultery.

We also know from these verses that Joseph was a just and righteous man. It was his desire to obey the commands of God. Given the righteous character of Mary, one would think that for Joseph, Mary was quite a catch. In other words, God was not the only one who looked upon Mary with favor. Mary had caught Joseph’s eye as well.

Now let me pause for a moment to mention that physical beauty has its place when it comes to marriage. But as we all know, physical beauty is short lived. Much more important for a lasting marriage, is gracious character, conduct and speech. For Christians this certainly means that we should seek to marry a committed follower of Christ whom we have had ample opportunity to get to know. This is important because, like following Christ, marriage calls for a life of daily self-denial. Now let’s think a little more deeply about Joseph’s situation. During the year of engagement plans were being made for the wedding and married life. Jewish weddings usually lasted for 7 days. Guest lists had to be made. It was a pretty big deal. Given the general character of human nature, I would imagine that there could have been some arguments between Mary and Joseph and among family members. This is the grist of life. All this to say that Joseph was all in. He was surely doing his best to prepare for the added expenses of marriage. When we get engaged we are looking forward. We are dreaming dreams of what will be. We formulate pictures in our minds of what marriage will be like. Surely Joseph was no different. He pictured himself and Mary being married and then having a family. It is what all Jewish men and women wanted.

But then some disturbing news came to Joseph. Sometime before their wedding he learned that Mary was pregnant. It does not appear that Mary told Joseph, but that Joseph could see that she was pregnant. I can’t say this with certainty, but there is a passive sense in the way the verse reads. Mary was “found to be with child.” And just like that, Joseph’s dreams for the future began to unravel. He had trusted Mary, but obviously Mary was not trustworthy. Whose baby was this anyway?

Now look at v.20. In v.20 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife because Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Wow! It must have taken a little time for Joseph to wrap his mind around that. Suddenly everything changed.

Joseph had a picture of what married life would be like, and now that dream, that picture, that plan had to be adjusted in order to accommodate the birth of Jesus the Messiah. When Jesus enters into the picture of a person’s life all dreams for the future must be put on the table. Joseph had to decide if he was going to surrender his plan to God. Would Joseph surrender his plans for his life to the Kingdom rule of God?

This is always the question for those who follow Christ. All of our dreams and plans must be held loosely. Why? It’s because when we come to Christ we are no longer the ruler of our lives. We have come to see that the way of Jesus is far better than our own way. He has given us his life to live. His life is an eternal life that promises a very bright future with him. Paul tells us in Rm.14:17 that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Now surrendering our dreams and plans to Christ is not so easy. Most of us have very good dreams and plans. Maybe you are working on a degree and you have determined to enter into this or that field as your life’s occupation. Or maybe like Mary and Joseph you are planning to be married. Or maybe you have received a number of promotions at work and your goal is to go as high as you can in the company. Maybe you have your eye on a house or a new car. Or maybe you are dreaming about retirement. I don’t know what your dreams might be. What I do know is that all of our dreams must be held loosely before the Lord because He may have other ideas for us.

Joseph ended up with the girl of his dreams, but things did not go according to his plan. Jesus Christ changed his plans. Would you be willing to let Jesus change your plans? Are you willing to lay your plans before the King, Jesus Christ?


The word, “reputation” refers to the “estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the general public. In v.19-23 we get the sense that Joseph was a man who had a good reputation. He was known for being just, righteous, and trustworthy. People in his town looked up to him. He was committed to God and the Jewish religion. Prov.2:21 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” In other words, reputation is important. When employers are looking to hire someone, they seek references. They want to know what kind of reputation the potential employee has. You don’t want to lose your good reputation.

And this seems to be one of Joseph’s concerns. Now that Mary was pregnant Joseph concluded that people would think he was the father of the child and of course, that just wasn’t true. People would think that Joseph had been sexually immoral. Not only that, but since Mary was pregnant with someone else’s child, Joseph had to consider how this might compromise whatever family he might have with Mary. It was not just a matter of personal pride for Joseph. These were realities that he needed to think about. Mary had put him in a difficult position.

Joseph made the right decision. He mercifully decided to divorce Mary quietly. He loved Mary and did not want to bring greater shame on her.

Now we know the truth. God is the one who put Joseph in this difficult position. It was all God’s doing. When the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife since she had conceived by the Holy Spirit, well, I wonder how you might have responded. Would you have believed the angel’s message? Would you have taken Mary as your wife? In light of this new information Joseph had to decide whether or not he would sacrifice his reputation in order to protect both Mary and the Christ child. The reality is that Jesus needed an earthly father from the tribe of Judah, in the lineage of David, in order that Jesus could also be of the lineage of David. Joseph had a very significant role to play in adopting Jesus as his son.

But even though Joseph was given this significant role to play, it meant that he would have to let go of controlling his reputation. He could not embrace Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son, and still maintain his religious reputation in society.

And this is also our situation. We don’t live in a society with a dominant religion like Mary and Joseph did. Instead we live in a society that subscribes to a dominant philosophy of secularism. The goal in our secular, pluralistic society is to try to get along with everyone. The kind of reputation that is valued today is a reputation for being a decent person who doesn’t make waves, especially when it comes to religion and politics. The temptation for Christians is to blend in so as to get along. After all, we have seen what happens when Christians try to live out their Christian convictions. University professors are fired. Government officials are put under a great deal of scrutiny. And Christians in the private sector who speak up for Christ are often mocked and stigmatized.

You may have a good reputation as far as our current society is concerned, but if you are compromising your life as a Christian in order to hold onto your reputation, you are denying Christ. It is true that we need to exercise wisdom in the things we say and how we say them. We don’t have to be arrogant and know-it-alls, but if we try to fly under the radar so that no one knows of our commitment to Christ we deny Christ. Joseph had a decision to make concerning his reputation. Would he embrace Jesus by marrying Mary and let God manage his reputation, or would he try to secure himself by putting his reputation before Christ? What about you? Is your reputation more important to you than following Christ?


We see that Joseph changed his mind about divorcing Mary quietly. Without any fanfare, he did as the angel commanded. He married Mary despite what others might think. Once Mary and Joseph were married Joseph had another decision to make. As husband it was his privilege, right and obligation to consummate the marriage. But, wait a minute, Mary was a virgin and was pregnant with the Son of God. Something very unusual was going on here.

Joseph shows the kind of person he is when he chooses to refrain from consummate-ing the marriage until after Jesus was born. There is no reason to think that Joseph was any different from the average man. He surely had the same drives and desires of most men. But in light of the fact that Mary was bearing the holy One of God, the Savior of the world, Joseph did not want to in any way compromise what God was doing. So he denied himself what would ordinarily be considered by all to be his right.

We all have rights. In the Declaration of Independence it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These rights are called “natural rights.” They are rights endowed by our Creator. The right to bear arms or the right to a fair trial would come under the category of legal rights. They are rights granted by the government.

When a person becomes a Christian all rights, both natural and legal rights, are surrendered to Christ. While on his missionary journeys, Paul made it his practice to be bi-vocational. Instead of seeking financial support from people, he worked as a tent maker so that everyone could see that he was not interested in profiting from his missionary work. Did he have a right to profit? Well, yes. Traveling teachers in those days commonly received money from those who listened to them. In 1Cor.9 Paul writes, “Don't we have the right to food and drink? Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? In 2Thess.3 Paul writes, “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.”

Paul believed he had certain rights, but in order to advance the gospel he surrendered those rights. This is what Joseph did. He surrendered his right to consummate his marriage to Mary.

We live in a society that is very conscious of rights. There is a sense in which Christians have no rights because we surrender all of our rights to Jesus. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that we should forego exercising our rights. Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen numerous times. My point is that all of our rights must be held loosely with the idea that God may call us to forego our rights in order that he might fulfill his purposes in our lives.

For example, maybe you are saving money in order to purchase something that you have wanted for a long time. But you begin to sense that God is telling you to give that money to someone who has a need. Do you have the right to spend the money to fulfill your desire? Well, yes. It is your money. But wait a minute, as a Christian you know that ultimately your money belongs to God. And so as you sense that God is directing you to use the money to help someone, you forego your right.

Many a missionary, many a pastor, many a Christian worker has laid aside his or her rights for the work of Christ and the church. Are you willing to lay aside your desires, your rights to bring honor to Christ?

Maybe you are wondering how to go about living a life of self-denial. I have two thoughts. First, it is important to make a formal declaration of your surrender to God. We must decide to surrender all to Christ. Think it through. We sing, “I give myself away.” That’s what we are talking about. Second, a life of self-denial can only be learned by doing. Daily ask the Lord to show you how to deny yourself in normal activities of living. The reason why we live lives of self-denial is so that Jesus would be pre-eminent in our lives. We deny ourselves so that Jesus might be promoted through our lives. A life of self-denial is characterized by humble, loving service to God and others. Amen.

The Veneration of Mary!

November 29, 2015

The veneration of Mary has been well established since the 2nd century. Mary has been venerated by Catholics in prayers, visual art, poetry and music. Cathedrals have been built to venerate Mary. Interestingly enough Bishop Ambrose is credited with starting a Marian cult of virginity in the 4th century. It was through the preaching of Ambrose that Augustine came to Christ. I only mention this because a good bit of our theology comes through Augustine.

But hey, we are Baptists! Do we venerate Mary? Well, if venerate refers to worship, then, no. We do not venerate Mary. But if venerate refers to holding someone in high regard with respect like the dictionary defines it, then, yes. We venerate Mary. This morning we are looking at Mary, the mother of our Lord. And I want to say that Christians honor Mary.


Most of us are familiar with the story of how the angel came to Mary to tell her that she was going to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit of God. Understandably this gave Mary pause because while she was engaged to be married to Joseph, she was not married yet, and was a virgin. Mary was not a medical doctor, but she did know where babies come from and they don’t usually come via the Holy Spirit.

She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and through the power of God she would conceive. And just to be clear, there is no sense in this conversation that God intended for Jesus to be born through Mary and Joseph. God is the father of Jesus, not Joseph. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.

In v.36-37 the angel goes on to say, “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."

Elizabeth and Zechariah were up in years. They had no children and this was a great sadness for Elizabeth. In that day, barren women felt unfulfilled and disgraced. God had not blessed them with children. But 6 months earlier while Zechariah the priest was in the temple in Jerusalem lighting the incense, an angel appeared to him with the message that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son who was to be named John. This was none other than John the Baptist.

So, when Mary was told that Elizabeth was in her 6th month she was overjoyed. Verse 39 tells us that Mary went with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah, to visit Elizabeth. Why did Mary do this? Did she go because she didn’t want her pregnancy to be discovered? Probably not. After all, she returned after 3 months and it wouldn’t be long before everyone knew. Rather, since the angel pointed to Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a sign that nothing is impossible for God, Mary went to see this wonderful sign.

When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s door and greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth was excited. Her baby leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

As I was reflecting on this it struck me that Elizabeth was not just excited to know that Mary was carrying the Messiah. She was also excited because Mary was the mother of the Lord Jesus. It was an honor for Elizabeth to see Mary. Now if Mary paid a visit to Forest Park Baptist, I expect that all of us would also feel greatly honored to see her. She is the mother of our Lord Jesus.

We do not venerate Mary in the same way that Roman Catholics do. We certainly do not worship Mary. We do not believe that Mary suffered with Christ under the cross or offered his sacrifice to God as some Catholics believe. Nor do we believe that Mary is a mediator between us and Christ. We do not pray to Mary or light candles to Mary, but we do honor her.

We honor Mary in a similar way that we might honor a beloved great grandmother who is the matriarch of a large family. We would show deference and respect to Mary. And we would thank her. What would we thank her for? Well for one thing we would thank her for her faith.

Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This was very significant for Elizabeth. It was significant because when the angel appeared to her husband, Zechariah, Zechariah did not believe. In Lk.1:20 the angel says to Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." Mary showed great faith. She believed what the angel Gabriel said to her. I wonder, would you have believed the angel?

Mary’s faith was not primitive, nor was it simpleminded. Mary knew full well what she was being asked to believe. She was having to believe something that was ordinarily impossible. How can a virgin conceive? But God gave Mary some information to help strengthen her faith. For one thing, the angel was standing right there before her. And there was Elizabeth.

Men and women as Christians we are called to exercise the same kind of faith. We are called to believe in God and his word regardless of what the world thinks is possible or impossible. We believe God because he is God and because he has revealed himself in Christ and his word. And what is more, those who believe in Christ receive a new life to live. It is an eternal kind of life and it is a transformational kind of life. The believer is forgiven of all their sin and changed to become like Jesus. Everything God has said, he will do.


Now this statement is really just an extension of the first. But I believe it is important because there are some who think that belief is separate from action, as if one can believe in Christ without any real follow though. That is never the case.

I love Mary’s response in v.38. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” This is not just a commitment of faith; this is a commitment of body and soul. The word translated “servant” is really, bond slave.

You might be thinking, “Well really, what choice did she have. By believing the angel she was offering her body whether or not she did this in any formal way.” And that’s exactly my point. The commitment of her body was part and parcel of her commitment of faith. She just expressed it in a heartfelt. When we believe something we believe it with our whole being.

There are a few examples in Scripture in which we see some kind of belief in Christ, but it is not true faith. For example, in Jn.2:23-24 it says, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Later in Jn.6 Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. In Jn.6:14-15 we read, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” You see, these people said they believed but they did not follow Jesus. They did not commit themselves body and soul to Jesus. They were only interested in what Jesus could do to enhance their lives. They were going to take Jesus by force.

You do not get that sense from Mary. You don’t get the feeling that Mary was thinking to herself, “Wow! Just about every Jewish woman who has ever lived hoped to be the mother of the Messiah, and now I’m the one. What a great day for me. I always knew I was special.” Instead there is a very humble offering of herself to the Lord

Many often refer to Jn.3:16 as being the gospel in a nutshell. It is taken to be a very simple presentation of the gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” People will point out that one only need believe. But in Jn.1:43 when Jesus called Phillip, he said, “Follow me.” And in Jn.10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. In Jn.12:26 Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.”

Men and women, there are not two kinds of Christians. There are not Christians who just believe in Jesus and Christians who are on a more advanced track who believe and follow Jesus. No. To believe in Jesus is to follow him, surrendering body and soul to Jesus.

I would imagine that just about everyone here would say they believe in God and in Jesus. But I wonder if everyone here has surrendered themselves body and soul to Jesus. Before ascending to the Father, Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples teaching them to observe to do all that he commanded. Obedience to Christ is the fruit of true faith. Paul writes in Rm.12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Have you surrendered your life, body and soul to Christ, to live for him and obey him?


Once her pregnancy became public knowledge there is no way Mary was going to come out looking good. Everyone would conclude that Mary had been intimate with Joseph and if not Joseph then someone! No one would believe Mary’s story about the angel and the Holy Spirit.

Now let me point out that being pregnant is never a sin. Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is always a sin against God and the other person, but it is not a sin to be pregnant.

Let me also direct your attention to Lk.1:24-25. It says, “After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people." For Elizabeth, God’s gift of pregnancy freed her from the reproach or disgrace of being barren in a society where barrenness was like a curse.

But consider Mary’s situation. What the Lord asked of Mary could only bring the reproach or disgrace of society on her. Elizabeth believed Mary. Hopefully, Mary’s parents believed her. And we know that Joseph eventually believed Mary. But no one else would believe her. One can only imagine the unkind things that were said about Mary and the insinuations that were perhaps spoken even to her face.

Mary was asked by God to bear reproach or disgrace for the sake of Christ. It is interesting to read Heb.11:24-26. It says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” In other words just as Jesus willingly embraced the disgrace of the world in order to carry out the will of God, so Moses embraced the same kind of disgrace in fulfilling the will of God in Egypt. And Mary also bore the reproach or disgrace of Christ when she willingly offered her body to bear the Lord Jesus.

Mary was greatly favored by God, but the favor of God will often bring us into conflict with the world. Why is that? It is because the goodness and righteousness of God runs in opposite directions from the ways and thinking of the world. As Paul tells us, the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.

God has greatly blessed us in Christ Jesus with life and peace in the kingdom of God. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. But in receiving the blessing of salvation in Christ, we have become aliens and strangers in the world. This world is not our home. So, just as Jesus experienced the reproach of the world, we will also experience the same reproach or disgrace that Jesus received.

Recently I read about some of the Christian martyrs that were beheaded by Isis. As they were being beheaded they shamelessly and boldly shouted out the name of Jesus. We honor Mary for bearing disgrace for the sake of Christ. And as followers of Jesus, we also willingly bear the disgrace of the world for his sake.

Interestingly enough, Bishop Ambrose venerated Mary as an example of the Christian life. I did not know that until I did some reading this past week. That is how I look at Mary. She is an example of Christian living. She was a woman of great faith. She was a woman who surrendered herself to Christ. She was a woman who gladly bore the disgrace of the world for the sake of Christ. And we are called to do exactly the same thing. Do you know Jesus? Are you surrendered to Jesus? Are you ready and willing to bear disgrace for the sake of Jesus? Amen