The Majesty & Humility of Christmas (Part 2)

Kevin delivered the following sermon from Luke2:1-20 at Morningside Baptist Church in Douglas, GA, where he serves as Senior Pastor. 

Introduction

What do you think of the Nativity? Many storytellers have painted an idyllic scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus crowned with radiant halos. They’re wearing clean clothes and a peaceful look on their faces. Shepherds and Magi bowing in homage to the newborn King laying in a freshly strawed manger. Make no mistake, it was a glorious event, but I think the poets and writers may have romanticized it a little.

What do you think the first Christmas was like? Much like the rest of His life, Jesus’ birth was marked with humility. In the story of Christmas, Jesus humbled himself to be Emmanuel or God with us. As we noticed in the part one of this sermon series, the majestic Light of the world descended into the darkness of the human experience. An unknown writer captures the essence of Christ’s descent in a brief story of a wise and good king. He writes,

Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time, he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later, he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, “I am your king!” The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others, you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!” The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him “the unspeakable gift!”1

Although the Christmas story is full of glory and majesty, let us not forget the humility displayed in its narrative.

In the previous sermon, we saw the deity of Christ on display, and now, I want to highlight the humanity of Christ. We will look at the Christmas story under three headings: the Christmas story has a humble setting, a humble plot, and a humble cast of characters. With each of these areas, we will look at how Jesus, God in the flesh, related to us as humans.

The Christmas Story Has a Humble Setting

In verses 1-3, Luke describes the humble setting into which Christ was born. He writes, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city” (2:1-3). Jesus was born in occupied territory. At the time of his birth, Rome was ruling the land of Israel through its client-king Herod.2 Herod depended on Rome for political, economic, and military support. Under the rule of Caesar Augustus, the ancient world benefited from the Pax Romana (or Roman Peace). However, this peace was purchased through military conquest. Military campaigns cost money, so taxes and tribute were needed. Therefore, regular censuses were conducted to calculate taxation. The irony of Jesus, the Undefeated Conqueror, being born in occupied territory is striking.

In verse four, another aspect of the humble setting of the Christmas story is the out-of-the-way towns.The Bible states, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,” (2:4). There are two small towns mentioned, Nazareth and Bethlehem. Let’s look at each of them.

First, we see Joseph and Mary leaving Nazareth toward Bethlehem. Nazareth rested north of Jerusalem. It was a small community with probably less than 500 residents. John captures the sentiments of the day when he records Nathaniel’s comment. He writes, “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (John 1:46). Being a small town with no major cities close by, Nazareth was viewed as a “Podunk” town. To be called a Nazarene was like being called “backwoods” or a “hick.” However, this is where Jesus was raised and identifies himself with this little town with a questionable reputation.

Next, Luke gives us the young couple’s destination, Bethlehem (House of bread). According to the route taken, Bethlehem was 70-90 miles south of Nazareth. It was approximately five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah mentions the humbleness of this village. He writes, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

Why should this humble setting be important to us? When Jesus humbled Himself and became flesh, He came to be God with us. Every person has experienced oppression of some form, so Jesus was born under an oppressive government. A large percentage of the earth’s population is in little forgotten neighborhoods and out-of-the-way towns. Jesus came to identify with us.

The Christmas Story has a Humble Plot

In this passage, Luke reveals the story’s humble plot. I want to highlight three key points in the narrative. They are the traveling couple, the birth of Jesus, and the angels’ message to the shepherds.

First, the young couple from out-of-the-way towns are traveling, because their oppressive government needs more money. Oh yeah, and the girl is pregnant! There is nothing like traveling 70-90 miles under hard conditions when you’re nine months with child. Tradition has taught us that Mary rode on a donkey, but there is no evidence in the Bible for this assumption, and as we’ll see later, Joseph and Mary were of humble means. So, it’s entirely possible, she walked this on foot!

The Bible states, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth” (2:4-6). This was no ordinary couple, engagement, or pregnancy.

Can you imagine this scenario? A young girl, around fourteen years of age, who is engaged to a man, and says she is pregnant by God. You may not buy it, right? Many in Mary’s day didn’t buy it either. The rumors shrouded the first Christmas in “seeming” scandal.

However, some Jews may not have been so dubious, because they were looking for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah writes, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Mary was delivering the Son, that would soon deliver her!

Second, Jesus’ birth was steeped in humility. The Bibles states, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was not room for them in the inn” (2:7). Jesus, the King of glory was wrapped in common rags. Before coming to earth, He was clothed in radiant glory. Angels bowed and sang the praises of His might, but now He is a lowly babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. The God, who is a consuming fire, now needs the warmth of the blankets and his mother’s bosom.

She laid the rag-wrapped Lord of glory in a manger, a food trough. I can imagine the young Joseph scampering around as Mary lay in travail, trying to find a suitable crib for Jesus, and only finding a manger. Can you imagine laying your newborn in a feeding trough soiled with animal saliva? Yet, this is how God ordained His Son to come into the world. He was born in a stable.

When we hear “there was no room in the inn,” we often think of an overwhelmed hotel, but it was more than likely a residential home. In Jesus’ day, homes often had an extra room for traveling guests, and with Bethlehem being so close to Jerusalem, this was likely because of the many festivals (and not to forget the censuses). Some have proposed that this is “there was no suitable place for that” or giving childbirth in this home. Regardless, Jesus was born in what we would consider the owner’s barn. (More than likely, it was a cave, natural or carved.)

Finally, we come to the angels appearing to the shepherds. Can you imagine staring at the silent night sky and then suddenly the heavens erupt with light and sound? The Bible states,

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (2:8-14).

Can you image the shock? Only if you could be a fly on a sheep’s eye and be able to see this sight. The mentioning of the shepherds brings me to my next topic.

The Christmas Story has a Humble Cast of Characters

First, we’ve already mentioned Mary and Joseph, but I want to circle back to them now. I want to point out that Mary and Joseph were of humble means. They were poor. We know this by reading the passage following our text. The Bible states,

And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (2:21-24).

Turtledoves or pigeons were the Levitical offering the poorest people offered to God. The King of kings and Lord of lords would have lived in low-income housing!

Second, it’s important to understand the shepherds were the outcasts of society. Imagine the smell of a person who sleeps with sheep in the field with no showers. However, it was these people on the fringe of society that heard the gospel message from the lips of angels. It wasn’t royalty; it was the unwanted that heard it first!

We’ve seen the humble setting, plot, and characters of the first Christmas. I’m convinced it wasn’t like the idyllic nativity paintings, but real; in the muck and the mire, real life, because He came to be God with us!

Charles Swindoll gives a great illustration about the night Christ was born. When he compares it to the year 1809. He writes,

Take the year 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births.

For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England’s finest statesman. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner. On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life. It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby’s name? Abraham Lincoln.

If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: “The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.” But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news–when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior.3

Jesus, God in flesh, came to this earth to be with us. He experienced the human condition. All the pains, hurts, and trials we face, He overcame them. He humbled Himself to be Emmanuel.

The Gospel in Luke 2:1-20

The gospel message is easy to find in this passage. The angels declared it to the shepherds in 2:10-14. However, I would like to turn your attention to another passage that explains the humility of Jesus we’ve discussed in this passage. Paul writes,

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

You will confess Him as Lord, eventually. I pray it is in this life.

1http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/christmas.htm

2Barry J Beitzel and Kristopher A Lyle, eds, Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels, Lexham Geographic Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

3http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/christmas.htm

The Majesty & Humility of Christmas (Part 1 of 2)

Kevin delivered the following sermon from John 1:1-18 at Morningside Baptist Church in Douglas, GA, where he serves as Senior Pastor. 

Introduction

What do you look forward to each Christmas? Some people love finding Christmas music on the radio. Others delight in snuggling in their favorite pajamas and watching the marathon of Christmas movies piped in to their televisions. Still others like to smell the fragrances of the season that come from Christmas-scented candles burning or cookies and pies baking in the oven. It’s these little touches that usher us into the “spirit” of Christmas.

Although Amber loves when she can listen to Christmas music and watch her favorite Yuletide movies on Netflix, I grow weary listening to the same jingles and re-watching the same movies over and over. (I still listen to the Michael Buble Christmas album on repeat and will watch Elf for the millionth time, because I know she enjoys them.) However, I never grow tired of seeing the lights at Christmas. The warm, twinkling glow of Christmas decorations warm my heart. Often, I am transported to a simpler time when flickering bulbs captured childhood. I’m not discrediting the other joys of the season, but the lights are what I look forward to.

My mama drove my sibling and me around to the different neighborhoods in Douglas to look at lights. “I wouldn’t want to pay their electric bill!” I remember mama saying when we passed by a Clark Griswold-like display. She enjoyed these trips as much as we did. Now at Christmas time, I take these same kinds of tours with my family. My daughter says it’s not Christmas until you ride around town looking at the lights with a cup of steaming hot cocoa in hand. There was and still is, something about the lights of Christmas.

My fascination doesn’t end with strands of multi-colored bulbs. I mentioned candles before, and I love them too. In the past, my household has lit a white candle during the opening of the presents to symbolize the Light, Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, coming into the world. I love the brightness of the season. It doesn’t matter if the light is emitted from a LED bulb or a blazing wick. I love the light of Christmas. For it is all a celebration of the Light of the World, Jesus.

This two-part sermon series, The Majesty & Humility of Christmas, we’ll view the Christmas story from two differing perspectives. The first message we will look to John’s prologue that highlights Christ’s divinity and then we will turn to Luke’s birth narrative to see Jesus’ condescension and His connection with humanity. We will see the majesty of Christ’s deity and the humility of His incarnation.

In this sermon, I will discuss the true Light of Christmas, which is Jesus, highlighting His divinity and how He shows us the Father. The Incarnate Word of God revealed the Father, so full of grace and truth. The text is from the opening of John’s Gospel in John 1:1:18. John omits the birth narrative, but gives us in this prologue a glimpse into his belief that Christ is Lord at His birth! This prologue serves as a bridge that extends from eternity into history. It spans from the shores of glory to sands of Judea. During this sermon, I pray your imaginations grasp that Jesus, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, descended into time and space to be Emmanuel or God with us.

We will explore this topic under three different headings. They are: Jesus, the Word in the beginning (1:1-3), Jesus, the Light of the world (1:4-13), and Jesus, the Word made flesh (1:14-18). Jesus, God in the flesh, reveals the Father.

Jesus, The Word in the Beginning (1:1-3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1)

Authors sometimes begin in the middle of the action to grab the reader’s attention. Readers understand there are events preceding their launching point into the narrative and they continue reading to figure out what’s going on in the story. The writers of the Synoptic Gospels use this strategy. (The word synoptic means “being seen together.” Close study of Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal they record many of the same stories and some of these accounts are almost verbatim.) Matthew begins with Jesus’ pedigree to build authority and dashes toward the birth of Christ. Mark skips the birth of Christ and leaps in at the preaching of John the Baptist in his fast-paced narrative. Luke’s investigative journalist style account for Theophilus begins before the birth of the forerunner of Christ with an angelic vision in the Temple. However, John’s starting point is unique to them. He starts in eternity past. John wants the reader to understand that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, or God in the flesh. He suggests his claim in two ways.

First, John writes, “In the beginning” (1:1a). Does that sound familiar? Of course it does, because John is alluding to the creation account found in Genesis. The Greek word he uses for “beginning” is arche. This word can be translated “beginning” or “ruler” according to its context. This point is interesting when you consider the premise of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is God. By starting with an allusion to creation, John is making a claim of deity.

Who else was “in the beginning?” No one, but God.

Second, John uses the Greek term logos, which is translated “Word.” Although John’s use of this word is undeniably Christian, the Greeks and the Jews would have taken notice of its usage. One commentator writes concerning the use of the word logos among the Greeks,

It was used among the Stoics to describe the principle of divine reason, which caused the natural creation to grow. This idea was much more fully developed in the writing of Philo of Alexandria, who used it of the instrument through which the world was created.1

The commentator continues later about how the Jews used this word. He writes, “In the Wisdom Literature, we find an emphasis on the creative activity of God through His Word of Wisdom (cf. Pr. 8). Closely linked to this Rabbinic practice of attributing to the Torah (Law) some agency in creation.”2 By using the word logos, John arrested both Greek and Jew by using familiar language. John is insinuating Christ’s deity.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him, nothing came into being that has come into being. (1:2-3)

Despite the similarities, John departs from both the Greek and Jewish understanding when he identifies the Logos as a person. The Bible states, “He was in the beginning with God” (1:2). The divine person was not only in eternity past with God, but He was the source of all being (1:3). The Logos was the instrument of creation, and John was clear that this is a person; Jesus the Second Person of the Godhead.

Who else can create? Other New Testament authors support that through Christ, all things were created. For example, Paul writes, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rules or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). It is the Word (logos) that John so desperately wants to reveal in his gospel. It is Jesus, God in the flesh, that crossed from the eternal to the temporal; from spirit to flesh to be known and to make the Father known. He lights the way.

Jesus, The Word is Light (1:4-12)

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (1:4-5)

Have you ever watched the show Undercover Boss? CEOs of major corporations pretend to be entry-level employees. The show climaxes with the boss, revealing their true identity. It’s painful to watch. Viewers stomachs turn with anxiety waiting for the CEO’s to reveal their true identity to the unsuspecting employees. John’s prologue is the script to the ultimate episode of Undercover Boss.

John transitions from using the term “Word” to using “Light.” He has made his claim that Jesus (the Word) is God. Now, John explains the work of the Word. He gives light to the world. Jesus shines the way. He is the way. This shift should not stretch our minds too far since the Bible refers to God’s Word as being a light (see Ps. 119:105; Pro 4:15;6:23).

The Bible states, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (1:5). There are two interpretations of the phrase “and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Some render the word “comprehend” as “overpower.” Let’s explore both interpretations.

First, when the word is rendered “comprehend.” We understand when Jesus came, many people didn’t recognize His real identity. With the following context of the passage, this translation fits. Much like the scenes from Undercover Boss, the characters didn’t understand this babe was the King of kings and Lord of lords. Before our heads get too haughty,we are privy to the plot. However, the characters within the story are living in the moment. The Light is not known yet. It shines out but is not recognized. All the world radiates the beams of a Creator, but the creation is given over to vanity. The psalmist writes,

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. (Ps. 19:1-4, NLT)

Nevertheless, creation stumbles in blindness until the dawn breaks.

The second option for interpreting the word is “overcome” or “extinguish.” In other words, this Light came into this dark world as a weak babe in a manger, but all the darkness of this world could not overcome it! Eugene Peterson paraphrased it like this, “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” (MSG, 1:5). Both interpretations add to the understanding of this passage.

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:6-13)

In this section of John’s prologue, the Light was breaking. John the Baptist’s testimony and message were the silver rays of dawn spilling over the horizon. Later, Jesus explain John was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. (see Mal 4:5; Mt 11:14). God wanted to make certain the world had no excuse but to know the identity of Christ! He was the Light “coming into the world.”

The wick burns bright on the Christ Candle on Christmas, because it represents the Light of the World breaking forth in the sleepy town of Bethlehem! The Bible states, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (1:9). Jesus was the true Light. Many men have attempted to explain the way to God, but all man’s imaginations are dark as their wicked hearts. However, Christ is the Light, the pathway to the Father. The season of lights celebrates and directs our attention to the true Light of the World.

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a stable, the Light was overlooked by the world (1:10). How could this be the promised Light? After years pass, many of His kin would not recognize their Messiah. Their hearts were bitter and calloused with unbelief. This was not the gift they expected or wanted. Yet, the Light shined brightly for some.

The Bible states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:12-13). It was by Spirit-granted faith, their blinded eyes were open to the glorious Light. We’ll return to this later.

Jesus, The Word Made Flesh (1:14-18)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (1:14-18)

When stepping out of a dark room, it takes our eyes time to adjust to the brightness. Sometimes the sunlight upon exiting can be overwhelming. I think this was the sentiment John was trying to convey in verse fourteen. He writes, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw the glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Can you imagine the glory John is trying to describe? He’d seen the manifestation of the glory at the Mount of Transfiguration and later he would see the glorified Lord on the island of Patmos. However, John witnessed the grace and truth of Jesus as he walked with him day in and day out for three years. Don’t miss the glory of living a life with Jesus from day to day.

John states the Word “dwelt” or “tabernacled” among them. This was when they say the glory. Eugene Peterson renders this as the Word “moved into the neighborhood.” God moved into our neighborhood to make Himself known. Jesus, God in the flesh, revealed God the Father.

The word “dwelt” or “tabernacled” is an Old Testament allusion. It hearkens back to the book of Exodus, where God delivered Israel from bondage and brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai. It was at Sinai God displayed His majesty and holiness on the top of the mountain. He sanctified the soil by descending on it. God gave them instructions to build a “tabernacle” where He could dwell among them. He promised to their God and that they would be His people

In Christ, the God of the mountain came down and dwelt among humanity. Click To Tweet

The Bible states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (1:18). Christ came over the bridge in John’s prologue from eternity to our temporal world. He came down to reveal the Father to us. He came to so we could see God and what He is like. In Christ, we see the perfect image of God. We no longer have to sit in spiritual darkness, because the majestic Light of Christmas shines!

The Gospel in John 1:1-18

We witnessed the journey from heaven to earth in the opening of this gospel, but how do we apply this truth to our lives? Let’s return to verses twelve and thirteen. The Bible states, “But as many received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor the will of flesh nor the will of man, but of God” (1:12-13). The Jews misunderstood the fact that our hope is not in our ancestry or physical lineage. They also didn’t realize that you can’t save yourself by working or doing good deeds. You can’t even open your eyes by yourself. The Bible says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise Him up on the last day” (John 6:44). Do you hear the Father calling? Is the Spirit of God revealing Christ to you today?

Why would anyone turn away? The Bible states, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not com to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). You must be born again! (see John 3:3-19).

I have stated my three points. Now I’d like to close with a poem.

The Lights of Christmas3

by Marjorie Morrison

The twinkling lights of emerald green

And brilliant blue and white

Are piercing darkness, all enshrouded

In the black of night.

The scarlet Christmas lights reveal

To us the price He paid

In giving all, His life in death,

The way to God was made.

The greens remind us of His love

In making life forever,

That we who trust Him may be sure

That He’ll forsake us never.

The blues speak of eternity,

The never ending span,

The timeless age, unnumbered years,

According to His plan.

The hue most beautiful of all

Tells of His righteousness,

A robe of snowy, spotless white,

In faith ours to possess.

The tree’s bedecked, the window’s bright,

A star and tinkling bell,

The gifts are made, the carol’s played,

Do not the story tell.

He came to die and not to live

We worship not the child,

But God incarnate, holy, great,

Not virgin, or infant mild.

We cannot worship stars above,

Nor mangers filled with hay,

Not e’en the cross made out of wood,

Raised to the sky that day.

But Christ alone, for He is God,

He’s all we’ll ever need.

Remember not His birth alone,

For in His Word we read:

“This do in memory of me,”

His death, for this He came.

His body broken, bleeding sore,

He hung in blinding shame.

The sun refused to shine at noon,

The darkness fell as night,

The temple veil was rent in twain,

God spurned this Prince of Light.

On Him was sin, all yours and mine,

A black and ugly guilt.

The world’s Light died, “It’s done,” He cried,

His precious blood was spilt.

It’s crimson red, it’s giving life,

We have in faith believed it,

For sinners we can now be free,

Because we have received it.

So, Christmas lights of red and green,

Of amber, blue, and white,

We look beyond the lovely scene,

To God our Christmas Light.


1D.A. Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), 1025.

2Ibid, 1025.

3Marjorie Morrison, “The Lights of Christmas,” https://www.christart.com/poetry/poem1089.htm 

Of Providence & Our Plans

Kevin delivered the following sermon from James 4:13-17 at Morningside Baptist Church in Douglas, GA, where he serves as Senior Pastor. 
Of Providence & Our Plans/James 4:13-17

Introduction

James Hudson Taylor was a British Christian missionary that served over a half of a century in China. He founded the China Inland Mission, which now bears the name OMF International. Through Taylor’s cultural-sensitive approach, countless thousands of Chinese people would hear the gospel and be converted. He was a general in God’s Army.

Taylor’s ministry practices were unconventional by most missionary agencies of his day, but the fruit bears witness. He was more concerned with proper heart motives that credentials and abilities. For example, history records an interesting story of Taylor’s faith in God’s power to use what seemed foolish of the world.

A one-legged school teacher from Scotland came to J. Hudson Taylor to offer himself for service in China. “With only one leg, why do you think of going as a missionary”? Asked Taylor. “I do not see those with two legs going replied George Scott. He was accepted.1

Hudson Taylor was a man given to prayer in doing the work of the ministry. Warren Wiersbe writes,

Hudson Taylor offers the following observation: “We can make our best plans and try to carry them out in our own strength. Or we can make careful plans and ask God to bless them. Yet another way of working is to begin with God; to ask His plans, and to offer ourselves to Him to carry out His purposes.”2

This is brilliant advice on planning the work of the ministry. I believe he derived it straight from the pages of Scripture. In this sermon, we will explore what the Bible says about our planning and God’s providence.

In this passage, James pinpoints the problem of planning without consulting God’s will and gives the solution of godly planning. James’s main point is that total surrender to God’s providence is the key to success. We must submit to God’s guidance in every aspect of our lives. There is not a “church/religious” sphere and “career/business” sphere. All spheres are one. For believers, there is no separation between the sacred and the secular.

First, we’ll look at the problem of godless planning in 4:13-14, 16-17. After we understand the error of living without seeking God’s guidance, we will focus on the solution of godly planning and how we can implement this principle in our own lives.

The Problem of Godless Planning (4:13-14,16-17)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” (4:13)

It is important to understand from the start, God is not against planning. In fact, if you survey the Bible, you will see instances of people making plans. For example, we see Joseph making plans for Egypt to survive the years of famine, David planned and supplied Solomon the materials for building God’s Temple, and in the New Testament we see Paul’s plans to further the Gospel where Christ was not named (The letter of Romans reveals Paul’s plan to take the Good News to Spain.) Each of these examples are plans submitted to or directly instituted by God’s sovereignty. God is not against planning, but He is against being left out of your plans. Later, we’ll discuss how to include God in our planning, but for now, we’ll address the problem of godless planning.

What’s wrong with the planning James is talking about or what I’ve defined as godless planning? Godless planning is presumptuous.In verse thirteen, James depicts merchants making future business trip plans without consulting God’s will. Grant R. Osborne writes,

James is picturing his readers as itinerant merchant traders who in the first century would have been what we today call ‘new money,’ a wealthy group of Jews whom Josephus said would stop at nothing to make more money (Antiquities, 12.2-5; also Sirach 26:29).3

These merchants were making some major assumptions about their financial endeavor. Here are five assumptions in their (godless) plans:

  1. They assume when they will go. For they say, “Today or tomorrow we will go…”
  2. They assume where they will go. For they say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city…”
  3. They assume how long they will stay. For they say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there…”
  4. They assume what they will do. For they say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there, and engage in business…”
  5. They assume the results of their endeavor. “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”

They have it all figured out by themselves. Their plans are presumptuous. Where is God in their plans? He’s absent. They’ve excluded God from their plans. They’re living as “practical atheists” and many Christians today are guilty of the same error.

Osborne states, “The sin is not in planning or even in the desire for a profit but in the boastful, self-engrossed attitude. The self is the total focus and God a forgotten footnote in their lives.” 4 Have you relegated God to a forgotten footnote of your life?

We’re often asked as children what we want to be when we grow up? (To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve got that figured out yet. I’m not even sure I want to grow up!) We shouldn’t disregard our dreams and desires. For God may have planted them in our hearts. However, we must not assume what we want is always God’s will. Considering this fact, we still should ask children what they want to be when they are grown, but also remind them God has a sovereign plan for their life they must seek.

Planning that is absent of God’s guidance is presumptuous (or arrogant) because it doesn’t account for our limitations. Although we have many limitations, James specifically mentions two: our limited knowledge and our limited time in verse fourteen.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. (4:14a)

The first problem with planning without consulting God is our limited knowledge. Do any of us know what the future holds? Therefore, when planning, we are not sure our plans will even work or not. We are simply ignorant of all the variables.

In 1871, Helmuth Von Moltke, in an essay on military strategy, wrote, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces.”5 Over the years, Moltke’s words have been shortened to say “no plans survive first contact.” Or as Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit for the first time.”6

How many times have you planned to do something only to be hit with something unexpected?Life is an amazing curve ball pitcher. What happened to your plans? The Bible states, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth?” In other words, you don’t know what you’ll encounter in the next ten minutes, let alone the next day! (This should teach us to plan with God in the mix, but warn us about procrastination, too. Indecision can be worse than a poor decision.) Not only do we possess limited knowledge, we also possess limited time.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (4:14b)

The second problem with planning without God is we possess limited time. James uses a beautiful metaphor of a wisp of vapor (or puff of smoke, a mist) to illustrate the brevity of life.

Have you ever watched the early morning mist hover over the surface of a pond? A few days ago, I went to one of my favorite spots for some quiet time with God. (If you don’t have a spot; I encourage you to find one.) I parked with my truck facing a pond; I cherish. It was early, so the mist was rising from the waters. Some vapors stretched ten to twelve feet in the air before vanishing and some strands disappeared inches from the surface of the pond. James 4:14 came to my mind. At that moment, it reminded me of the brevity of life. Some live long lives, stretching many years, but others live brief lives, only traveling a short distance from their birth. All lives are brief compared to eternity. I turned my attention from the pond for about five minutes to gather my Bible and journal. Then I walked toward the sacred spot, where I planned to sit and listen for God’s voice. I noticed the mist dissipating. All the wisps of fog were vanishing.

No one lives forever.

In Psalm 90:10-12, a prayer attributed to Moses, the Bible states,

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

I’m not mentioning this point to depress anyone, but to sober us from the delusion that we have all the time in the world. We possess limited time. Therefore, let us not waste it wandering around on self-engrossed endeavors. Let us seek God’s will for our lives! Jesus taught us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven” for a reason. You have a work to accomplish for God on this earth.

The type of planning expressed in James 4:13 is wrong because it is presumptuous. Another word for being presumptuous is arrogant. Who are we to make plans without consulting God? This is what James declares in verses 16-17. He writes, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (4:16). Godless planning is sin, because it is prideful and arrogant. It is evil.

James continues, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him is sin” (4:17). You miss the mark when you leave God out of your planning. Again, God is not against planning, but He is against being left out of your plans. We must include God’s will in all our plans. It takes total surrender to God’s providential guidance to succeed in the Christian life.

How do I do that? James answers this question in verse fifteen. The opposite of godless planning is godly planning.

The Solution of Godly Planning (4:15)

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. (4:15).

The key to success is submitting to God’s providence. Providence is God’s sovereign actions throughout history. James alludes to providence with including the phrase “If the Lord wills…” in our planning. We ought to include this principle. Douglas J. Moo writes, “What James encourages is not the constant verbalization of the formula If it is the Lord’s will, which can easily become glib and meaningless, but a sincere appreciation of God’s control of affairs and of his specific will for us.”7 God’s control over the affairs of man brings an important question to mind.

If God is sovereign, do our plans matter? Yes. How? Although it is an intellectual mystery, the Bible teaches that humanity is free, but determined. I’ve tried to understand this principle, but I don’t have the brainpower. I simply receive what the Word of God says by faith and accept it as truth.

In Proverbs 16, God reveals this puzzling truth about being free and determined. [Turn to Proverbs 16.] The Bible states, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD”(Proverbs 16:1). Did you see it? We have plans, but God controls things, too. Let’s look further. In verse nine, the Bible states, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:3). I can’t explain it, maybe others can, but somehow God takes our plans and actions, and works His sovereign plan out. There is nothing wrong with having a solid plan, but we must leave room for God to direct our footsteps. This last verse has special significance for me, because God used it at a pivotal junction in my life.

In 2019, I was pastoring in my hometown. The church was doing relatively well, but I experienced what I call a “holy discontentment.” I was literally at home, but something wasn’t quite right. I felt “out of place.” My wife and I both sensed God moving us from the church, but we didn’t know where we were to go.

We agreed to not make a hasty decision and thought it best to give it six months. We asked some trusted friends to unite with us in prayer. If it was time to leave, we would go. If not, God would satisfy and remove the “holy discontentment.” We committed our lives to God.

Months passed. Still, this lingering feeling of being out of place plagued us. It made little sense to either of us. So, I did what I do best. I tried to figure God’s plan out ahead of time. (I’m not sure why I default to this mindset, because my track record of figuring God out is not impressive.) I was teaching part-time at a private school, so I assumed I would transition to a full-time position. I wasn’t alone. My wife vocalized this transition into Christian education, too. Easy peasy. We had figured it out!

Until the door closed at that school.

After I attended a meeting that I assumed would lead to full-time employment, I realized God was not moving me in that direction. Well, I thought I guess that settled it. I was to stay at the church. It made sense to me, but I was still experiencing that “holy discontentment.” As I drove to meet my wife at her Nanny’s home, I wrestled with my thoughts.

When I arrived, I told her that the door closed at the academy. As we were heading home, my wife mentioned another school. I don’t think either of us were considering employment opportunities at that point, only we knew we wanted our kids to have a biblical worldview education and without the teaching position at the former school, we couldn’t afford our kids’ tuition. So, we made a impromptu visit to First Academy on our way home.

In short, that impromptu visit turned into a job opportunity. The Lord led me into the office of a School Director wanting to hire a full-time Bible teacher. She had actually interviewed other candidates, but sensed the Lord telling her to wait. The amazing thing was six months had passed from when my wife and I prayed. We had a plan, but God directed our steps. (I think it would be amiss if I didn’t say that a very similar set of events led me to Morningside Baptist Church.)

Returning to Proverbs 16, we find a verse that parallels James 4:15. Proverbs 16:3 states, “Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.” Some mistakenly interpret this verse as telling God your plans first and then He’ll make it happen then. That is not at all what this verse means.

Notices it states commit your works (or deeds) to the LORD. This word commit means to roll over onto. This means decide to “roll over” your actions onto the Lord. Determine to follow God in the obvious. Do what you know to do and God will guide you along the way.

Another story from my journey as a pastor will illustrate my point. I went to my pastor and expressed I felt it was time for me to pastor a church. I’d served as an Associate Pastor for two to three years and as a Youth Pastor two to three years before that, but I was green as Kermit the Frog. It scared me to even voice the desire to pastor, because I wasn’t confident that I was ready.

When I finally choked out the words, my pastor smiled. He must have sensed my discomfort. Then he shared a powerful illustration that helped me.

He said, “Kevin, when you drive at night, can you see ten miles done the road?”

“No.”

“How then do you find your way home in the dark?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer, afraid the obvious answer was wrong.

He said, “You find your way home by following your headlights. If you ask God for guidance, then trust Him to provide the light for your next decision. The fundamental way God provides light is through His Word. Follow that light.”

It was simple. All I had to do was focus on performing the task at hand in a godly manner. I needed to follow the light given. Simple, but not always easy.

To bring this full circle, it’s okay to plan for the future, but we must constantly follow the light we receive. It may take us in a path we didn’t foresee, but trust God (or commit to Him your care) and you’ll always be on the right path. However, I must warn you that God delights in the scenic route.

Before I finish, I want to share a quote from Grant R. Osborne. He writes,

All our actions (“do this or that”) must be placed in his hands. So in all of our detailed planning (which we need to do), we must pray for God’s guidance and will, following the Gethsemane prayer (Mark 14:36). “yet not what I will, but what you will.” Total surrender to God’s providential will is the key to success.8

This is our Father’s world, and He knows best. We must trust him. Let us not live as “practical atheists” and neglect our Father’s perfect will for our lives. We must seek God in prayer, fasting, reading and studying the Bibles. God promises to guide us.

The Gospel in James 4:13-17

We must not only plan for the here and now, but we must plan for eternity. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus shared a potent parable. The Bible states,

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

This parable is primarily is a warning against covetousness, but in it we see the foolish mistake of godless planning. The man didn’t know what was to happen. He had limited knowledge. He thought he had more time, but his time was limited too. The most important plans you can make involve your eternity.

The Apostle Paul summarized the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. He writes,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

The Bible plainly states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Have you made plans for eternity?

Works Cited

1https://bible.org/illustration/one-legged-missionary

2(W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, 243.)

3Grant R. Osborne, James:Verse by Verse, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2019), 136.

4Grant R. Osborne, James:Verse by Verse, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2019), 137.

5Unknown, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2021/05/04/no-plan/.

6Ibid, “no plan.”

7Douglas J. Moo, TNTC: James: Revised Edition Vol. 16 (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2015), 199.

8Grant R. Osborne, James: Verse by Verse,139.