A Rescuer is Announced

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You will hear from my accent that I’m not a Geordie, I’m from Johannesburg and when I left home just a week ago we were in the middle of a heat wave, so nonetheless it is lovely to be here with you this evening. We are going to have a look at the first bible reading, Luke 2, page 4 on the service sheet, page 1027 on the Church bibles. Luke 2:8-15.

My two best movies in the last year or so have been Avatar and Inception. Perhaps you saw the movies, they’re both sci-fi both movies and both directed by James Cameron. Avatar, you may remember takes place on another planet, different world, different parameters, and different categories. Inception, even more so, where you had this highly skilled thief in corporate espionage, who wasn’t stealing ideas but was planting ideas through four or five different levels of dreams. Once again, different worlds, different parameters, different categories.

Luke, who is the author of the gospel we have in front of us is I think is something of the original James Cameron, because he looks at life and he looks at the purpose of life and he looks at God. He looks at it from different angles; a totally different spin different categories, different parameters, different from what you expect. Different from conventional wisdom.

We’re going to have a look at the passage so it would be a great help if you have it front of you. There are three questions that I’m going to use to try to understand what Luke is teaching us in this passage. Let me give the three questions to you so that you know where we are going but more importantly so that I know where we are going:

Number One – Who is the rescuer?
Number Two – Who has he come for?
Number Three - What does he bring?

Let me just go down one side road before we dig into those three questions. What is striking in Luke’s gospel, especially in these opening chapters, is that Luke is not embarrassed to mix the historical and the supernatural. He mixes them without any difficulty whatsoever. So notice in Luke 2:1, you see that Luke has an eye for historical detail:

‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.’ Luke 2:1-3

Luke has an eye for historical detail; he is a historian. He gives us place and time and he is concerned about space and time. In fact, you can pick the archaeological records of this first census that we read about here in chapter 2. Notice Luke 3:1 you get the same kind of idea; his eye for detail; his concern about historical accuracy.

‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.’ Luke 3:1-2

You can check that out in ancient history, it is spot on, objective, historical fact. Luke is a very precise and concerned historian. Yet, at the same time Luke is not embarrassed to speak about the supernatural. In chapter 1 he tells us that Mary was told that she would give birth to a son, and that it would be a virgin birth. You also find angels all over the opening chapters; an angel appears to Zechariah, an angel appears to Mary, and in Luke 2:9 an angel appears to the shepherds.

Conventional wisdom says that there are two kinds of people. People who are into science and facts and objective truth –‘don’t give me that nonsense about God and angels and miracles and the paranormal.’ And a second kind of person who is into spirituality and into God, angels, miracles and the supernatural. Conventional wisdom says you can’t mix the two; they are mutually exclusive, they are two kinds of people.

Luke does the unconventional thing. He tells us that when we are talking about God, when we are talking about God’s wisdom and God’s purposes, they are not mutually exclusive. God works through both., he is not confined to one.

Of course if you have a problem with miracles, your real problem isn’t with miracles, your real problem is with your doctrine of God. If you have a small God, or a limited God, it’s quite difficult to pull off the resurrection or a virgin birth. But if you have the God of the Bible who created the universe, who made the laws of nature, well surely that God can suspend the laws of nature for his own purposes; that’s not unreasonable or illogical. If you have a problem with miracles, your problem isn’t with miracles, your problem is with your doctrine of God. God works through both the physical and the spiritual, through the natural and the supernatural.

That was the side road, so let’s dig into our passage.

First question, – Who is the rescuer?

One of the things we notice is that Luke is not only a great historian, he is a great author, and here in chapter two he does a character study. He draws a contrast between the great Emperor Augustus and the tiny baby Jesus. That’s what these opening paragraphs of chapter two are all about. In Luke2:1 we are introduced to Caesar Augustus, one of the greatest emperors of the Roman Empire.

‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.’ Luke 2:1

We are told that Augustus unified the empire in 27BC, he brought in law and order, he brought peace to the entire known world. So much so that the Roman authors wrote about ‘the peace of Augustus’. So powerful and popular was he that the newspapers and the TV talk shows spoke of him as the father of the land of fathers and as the most divine Caesar. Listen to this inscription about Augustus, written at the time of one of his birthdays.

“…the providence… created… the most perfect good for our lives by producing Augustus… a savior who put an end to war and established all things; … the birthday of the god marked for the world the beginning of good tidings in his coming.” Roman Civilization, Naphtali Lewis

Archaeology discovered this inscription about Augustus: ‘divine Augustus Caesar, son of a God, lord of land and sea. The benefactor and saviour of the whole world.’ Extraordinary titles used for a human being. Luke knew those titles and that they were given to Augustus. He would have read in the Jerusalem news weekly, the Roman economist and he says, “No, you’ve got it all wrong.”

‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ Luke 2:11

“Augustus is not the saviour,” says Luke, “he is not the Lord.” The real Saviour and Lord has been born in the town of David. “Amazing,” you say, “but how do we know? How do we recognise him? What is the sign? A golden throne? A thousand servants? A trumpet call?” Luke says:

‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:12

“That’s it?!” You say, “That’s the saviour of the world? That’s the Lord of glory and the answer to all the world’s problems? A baby that needs changing ten times a day? Is this a joke? God’s answer is not Caesar Augustus, but a baby wrapped in cheap blankets? God’s antidote to Caesar Augustus, his answer to sin and suffering lies helpless in a feeding box?”

Well of course, says Luke. God’s ways are not our ways. His categories and parameters are different to ours; it’s God’s unconventional wisdom. If I were to save the world from sin and suffering and death, I think I would bring in aircraft carriers, and jets and missile carriers. I would have press conferences with BBC and CNN and Sky News. I would have offices in Washington, London and Beijing and would use people like James Bond and Jason Bourne.

But that’s not God’s way. God uses different categories, different parameters. He sends a helpless baby to the back end of the Roman Empire to rescue the world. He sends a cross, where a crucified saviour bleeds to death amongst nameless criminals. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is totally unconventional. Fullness only comes when you empty yourself. You save your life by losing it. Greatness comes by serving others. Glory only comes through suffering. You see the unconventional wisdom of God?

The answer to sin and evil, suffering, death and brokenness and the answer to deepest longings of our human heart is not found in the things in this world. Whatever the media and advertising says, it’s not found in things and possessions, power and leisure and pleasure. Those things will always disappoint you; they will always leave you wanting more.

The answer is found in the person of Jesus, says Luke, born as a baby to be King and Christ and Lord. It goes totally against unconventional wisdom.

The second question is – Who has he come for?

Once again Luke uses different categories and parameters and an unconventional wisdom. Within the Roman-Greco social order, you had a pecking order, like us, where those at the top would have been Augustus, the Senate and army generals. It would have been those with power, privilege, education and land ownership at the top end of the order. At the bottom would have been the workers and slaves and peasants, like these shepherds. Notice in Luke 2:8, the birth announcement of Jesus was not made to Augustus, the Senate and the army generals at the top end, it was made to the shepherds, the peasants at the bottom end of the pecking order.

Nowadays, birth announcements are made by email or SMS. Not so long ago one of our staff at the church had a baby and I got a message from the father:

“Jante Reid-Frost is 3.4kg of fighting fury. Came out swinging, rowdy and generally pretty grumpy. Mom is well, dad is struggling. Thank you for your prayers.” Personal SMS

That’s how most birth announcements these days come, but this birth announcement in Luke2:10 came by an angel and it was good news for peasants, not for rulers.

‘But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”’ Luke 2:10

What we have here again is this unconventional wisdom, a status reversal. The Saviour of the world enters the world of Augustus but the news isn’t for his ears but it’s for the ears of the shepherds. It’s a role reversal, different categories, different parameters and unconventional wisdom. What is Luke hinting at? Luke is telling us here that the Gospel is not for the self righteous, it’s not for self made men and women or for the well connected, those who think they can earn their way to heaven. It’s for those who recognise they are in spiritual poverty and recognise that without God’s grace they are lost. They are at the bottom of the spiritual pecking order.

What Luke hints here in chapter two he spell out in chapter five through the words of Jesus:

‘Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”’ Luke 5:31-32

So what Jesus is saying is that if you say “I’m OK, I’m righteous, I’m a good person; I can do it on my own and I don’t need religion”, then there’s absolutely nothing he can do for you. “If you think you are righteous and good, I can’t help you and can do nothing. I didn’t come for the so called righteous and men and women who think they can make it on their own. I came for those who realise that without God they are lost.”

Kind of obvious isn’t it? Any self respecting doctor wouldn’t spend most of his time with the healthy and the fit at the squash court, soccer field or gym; of course not. He would spend most of his time at the hospital, helping the sick. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous and religious, the people who ‘have arrived’ the self made men and women, no who came for the people who finally realise, “Oh God if you don’t have mercy on me, I am lost.” He came for sinners and failures like you and me. That’s who he came for. And he can only help us when we realise it; when we realise our spiritual poverty.

Third question – What does he bring?

We are told in Luke that he brought three things. Firstly, he brought no fear.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Luke 2:9-10

Well of course they were terrified, wouldn’t you be if an angel burst in on your dinner speaking Greek? I think we’d all be terrified, but I think it’s much more then that. Christ came to destroy sin and death. When he died on the cross he conquered sin and when he was raised from the dead he conquered death. Imagine that; somebody conquering death, our greatest enemy. He died and God raised him from the dead physically, bodily and objectively and he’s alive today. He says those that trust in him, those that submit to him as King, will also be raised from the dead. What an extraordinary thought. It means we don’t have to fear death. Imagine that. I’m not so keen on the process of dying, it may not be all that pleasant, but we don’t have to fear death. Christ has gone before us and God has raised him from the dead and those who trust in him will also be raised from the dead.

The second thing he brings is great joy.

‘But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”’ Luke 2:10-11

There are many joys in the Christian life: forgiveness of sins; knowing God; being part of God’s family. But one of the greatest joys of being a Christian is to have assurance, to know for certain that I’m a child of God, I’m part of God’s family. No ifs, no maybes, one hundred percent assurance that I’ll go to heaven, that I’ll be with God and be part of his eternal family. Some can say: “How can you be so arrogant to say you are sure you will go to heaven?” The answer is that it’s not arrogance; it’s not what I’ve done, it’s what God has done for me in Christ; what Christ has done on the cross. He has died for my sin and died in my place. He has quenched the wrath of God so that I can experience the love of God for all eternity. Our basis of assurance isn’t what we do; it’s what Christ has done for us. That’s one of the great truths of the Christian faith.

You remember when Christ was on the cross and he cried out “it is finished!” He didn’t say I am finished, he said it is finished. It’s the Greek word Tetelestai, which was an economic word; if you had a debt to be paid, a mortgage bond which you paid year after year, on the final payment you would say “Tetelestai!” it’s all paid, it’s finished. That’s what Christ did for us on the cross, he died in my place, on my behalf. He quenched the wrath of God so that I will never know God’s wrath. What great joy that is.

Conventional wisdom says you get what you deserve. Conventional wisdom says there’s no such thing as a free lunch, the early bird gets the worm. The gospel of grace says you get what you don’t deserve. We don’t deserve God’s love and his mercy. But we do in Christ and that’s why there’s great joy.

The third thing he brings is real purpose.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:13-14

Notice here that it’s not glory to Augustus or to me, it’s glory to God. The purpose of life if you belong to this Jesus is not me. The purpose of life is God and God’s glory, which is a wonderful, freeing thing. It’s not living for my own needs, rights, pleasure, leisure and happiness, which is a dead end street. The purpose of life is God, to live for him and his glory which is what Christ will give you when you turn to him.

Bernard Shaw, not a Christian to my knowledge, was right when he said:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; … the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” (Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw)

Too often we are like that; a feverish little selfish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making us happy. Luke says no, the point of life is not yourself and your own happiness and your own little needs and gripes and grievances. No, the point of life is God. We live for him and for his glory, and that’s what gives us meaning and purpose. And it’s only found when we turn to Christ, when we submit to the one that born two thousand years ago to rescue us. To rescue us from the judgement of God and to rescue us from our own self centred, selfish little lives. That’s why he has come; to save us and rescue us. To give us joy and give us purpose.

Let me close and say the great question this evening is: “What will you do with Jesus?”

There is no more important question in life than “What will you do with Jesus?” Will you just ignore him and reject him? Or live as if he’s just not there? Or will you finally bow the knee and say, “My Lord and my God.” Wouldn’t tonight be a good night to turn to him? To finally stop all the ducking and diving and finally entrust yourself to him as King. How do you do that? You do that through prayer.

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