Topical Scripture: Galatians 3:26-4:4
The third grade was staging their annual Christmas pageant. Finally it came time for the birth. Mary, hidden from the crowd by bales of hay, was making the sounds a third-grader might make to tell the audience what was happening. A boy appeared on stage, in a bathrobe with sandals, a stethoscope around his neck. He disappeared behind the hay bales, and reemerged with a bundle. He handed it to Joseph and said, “Congratulations—it’s a God!”
But God’s coming to us wasn’t as easy as the boy thought. His preparations for Christmas started long before Christmas. This morning we’ll learn what God did to get the world ready for his Son’s birth. We will study this subject together so that we can see the Christmas event as the first century Christians did.
And we will do this for a second reason: so we can be not just educated, but encouraged. The holidays may be chaotic for you; you may be pushed beyond what you think you can handle. Stress always goes up during the Christmas holidays; suicides and depression rates soar; loneliness becomes epidemic. Some of you are facing your first Christmas without someone you love; others are in a new or hard place. World events are troubling—school shootings continue, wars rage, uncertainty about the new year and the future mounts. And we’re all tired. These holy days can be hard days.
Despite it all, God is on the throne of our world. I want to prove that to you, and to anyone who is skeptical of God’s power and presence in our lives today.
How God prepared the world (4.4)
A twelve-year old boy wrote a letter to God which said, “Dear God, was there anything special about Bethlehem, or did you just figure that was as a good a place as any to start a franchise?” Bethlehem was far more than that. What happened there fulfilled plans God had made from the beginning of time. As Paul says, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” (4.4).
Here’s how the time “fully came.”
The first preparation was a universal cry for the Messiah.
When the Old Testament closes, the Persian Empire is in control, They have defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return home. Cyrus and the Persians dominate the world. But when the New Testament opens, the Romans rule the world. What happened?
In 332 BC the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great defeated the Persians. The Jews overthrew Greek rule in 167 BC under Judas Maccabeus. But in 63 BC the Pharisees and Sadducees began a civil war which eventually destroyed the Jewish kingdom and led to Roman control. By the time the New Testament opens, the hated Romans have enslaved the Jews and all the nation cries out for a Messiah, the One who would free them and save their people. There’s a universal cry for the Messiah, the one born on Christmas day. But there’s more.
Next comes a universal language for the gospel. By the first century, for the first time in western history, one language dominated the culture—”koine” or “common” Greek. Let me illustrate. If you were to write the letters of the New Testament today, you would need to write Galatians and Ephesians in Turkish, the Corinthian and Thessalonian letters in Greek, Romans in Italian, and Hebrews in Hebrew. But when Christmas came, everyone understood Greek. The first Christian missionaries needed no language schools or interpreters. They could preach and write the gospel for everyone. But there’s more.
Next comes a universal peace.
Caesar Augustus brought political stability to the Empire and ended the disastrous civil wars which had followed the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC Thus Christian missionaries could move about the known world in peace.
If you were to repeat the travels of the first Christian missionaries today, you’d have to move freely from Israel through Syria and Jordan, across Iraq and Iran, through Turkey and Greece, and across Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria. You and I couldn’t do it today. But they could.
And there were universal roads upon which to make these travels. Augustus had developed the most comprehensive system of transportation the world had seen until this generation. Some of the roads built by him are still in use today–I’ve walked on them. Missionaries could travel with relative ease to any part of the known world. But there’s more.
Finally, there was a universal spiritual hunger across the world.
The Greek philosophers had led their society to the depths of intellectual frustration. Platonism and Aristotelianism were at war, while Stoicism, Epicurianism, Cynicism, and Skepticism fought with the mystery religions and ancient myths of the people. There was no sense of universal truth or right.
The Roman culture had sunk to the lowest levels of moral decay and collapse.
All the while, God had been scattering the Jewish people across the world to provide beachheads for preaching the gospel. They had brought their message of one God and his promised Messiah. The Romans had exempted them from Caesar worship and allowed them religious freedom as a “religio licita,” a legal religion. The Romans would apply this freedom to Christianity as a Jewish sect, until the faith had gained a foothold across the Empire.
Now God must move even more directly to get his Son to Bethlehem for his birth.
Micah 5:2 had announced that Christmas would come at this little village. But Mary lived in Nazareth, some eighty miles away—a very long distance in those days for travel by foot or donkey.
God prompted Augustus to take a census, so as to make taxation more efficient and effective. We know this census occurred in history—we have actual documents from such activities in the ancient world. And God has Augustus decree that each man or woman of the entire Empire must return to the city or village which is his ancestral home, where his family originated. And so millions of men and women and boys and girls ride and walk across the entire Empire to cities and villages across the known world, all so one young village girl could bring her unborn child to Bethlehem.
For centuries God prepared the world for the coming of his Son at Christmas. A universal cry for the Messiah, universal language, peace, roads, and spiritual hunger. God did this, because he can. Because he rules on the throne of our world still today.
Why God prepared the world
Why did he go to such great lengths to prepare the world for Christmas? To give us the greatest Christmas presents you and I could ever receive.
Because of Christmas, we have a Father in heaven: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26).
You may not know your earthly father, but your heavenly Father knows you. You may have a difficult relationship with your physical father, but your spiritual Father loves you unconditionally, and will always be your Father.
Christmas may be a hard time for you with your father. My dad died ten days before Christmas, twenty years ago, making the holidays hard for my family each year. But your heavenly Father is with you through that, and through everything else you encounter in life. You are loved, without condition or exception. You are accepted freely, by grace. Once you become the child of God you will forever be the child of God. You have a Father in heaven, because of Christmas.
Forty percent of America’s children will sleep tonight in homes where there is no earthly father. But none of us need sleep where there is no heavenly Father.
Because of Christmas, we have a family on earth (3:27-29).
You have a family. We are your brothers and sisters. We all have the same Father, so we are all the same family.
Christmas can be hard on families. Families can be discouraged, or divided, or at least stressed. But whatever your physical family is like, know that you have a spiritual family which loves you, accepts you, and will be there for you, no matter what.
What burden can we help you carry? What problem can we help you solve? How can we pray for each other, and love each other? Because of Christmas, we have a family on earth.
And last, because of Christmas, we have a future in glory (4:6-7).
Because you are God’s son or daughter, you are his heir. Right now, Jesus is preparing your mansion, your eternity. You have an allowance for today, and an inheritance for forever. You have a future in glory.
This may be your last Christmas with someone you love, or your first Christmas without them. But if they made Jesus their Savior, they are in glory today. As heaven tells time, it will only be a moment before you join them there. For your future is glorious, indeed.
All this because God sent his Son to Bethlehem on Christmas day. And only because of that fact. Because he prepared the world, the language, the peace, the roads, the spiritual climate, the town itself. Because he is still on his throne today. By his sovereign power and grace you can have a Father, a family and a future. These are his Christmas presents to us today.
But like all presents, these have to be opened. All your Christmas plans and preparations are for nothing, if those for whom you buy your presents won’t open them. So with us, and God.
Open his presents this morning. Receive God as your Father in heaven, and join us as your family on earth, and your future in glory will be assured. If he is already your Father, give him your pain, your problem, your burden today. If we are already your family, let us help. If your future is already sure, thank God. If you would thank anyone else for their presents, thank him as well.
The single most meaningful Christmas present I own is an old steering wheel and wheel cover. The wheel belonged to my 1966 Ford Mustang; when it broke I mounted it on my garage wall and have kept it ever since. The reason is the cover on the wheel. It was my father’s last present to me. He bought it for me for Christmas in 1979. I opened it ten days after he died. I will have it the rest of my life.
I have kept the wheel because it reminds me of my father’s love for me. But even more, because it reminds me of my heavenly Father’s love for me. During the hardest days of my life, he was there for me. My spiritual family was there for me. I have the assurance of his love now and for eternity. During my hardest Christmas, God was still on his throne.
Is he on your throne today?