December 18, 2020
At the first Christmas, the angels announced “good news of great joy”: at long last, a Savior was coming to rescue sinners. Even to this day, the fantastic story of Christmas is not that we can make ourselves acceptable to God but that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, stepping down into time in order to provide the answer to the predicament that we face. This gift of grace is available to all who will receive Jesus, forsake all else, and trust unreservedly in Him.
Of all the Gospel writers, Luke helps us with one particular aspect when in his beginning he says, “I know that a number of people have written down the record of the life of Jesus, but I thought it was important for me to analyze it as carefully as I could and to write down a record so that you might be thoroughly convinced that these things actually happened and that you might know that they are fundamentally relevant.” And by the time you get to the second chapter of that Gospel, we have this record:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 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. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all … people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
Now, that’s the same message, of course, that the angel brought to Joseph and brought to Mary. And so, when we read on through the Bible, we discover that that is at the very heart of the Christian message, of the gospel, of the good news: “good news of great joy.” It is the center of the Christmas story, so that everyone who has encountered Jesus in a life-transforming way, you will discover, makes the same explanation.
So, for example, a religious leader who was opposed to Jesus, after he had met Jesus, when he begins to write concerning it, he writes to one of his young friends, and he says, “Here’s a trustworthy saying, here’s something that you can rely upon: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” And he actually goes on to say, “And I am the… I’m public enemy number one! If you want an illustration of it, you should just think about me.”
When I read that and when I reflect on it, it takes me back to a golf game I had some years ago now, where I’d been invited to play with three individuals, only one of whom I knew hardly at all. And it was the kind of morning where some of the stories would have made a sailor blush and so on, and I was just along for the ride, as it were, when on about the fifth hole somebody said to me, “And so, Alistair, what do you do?” Well, I said, almost apologetically, “Well, I’m actually… I’m a pastor of a church.” There was just a stony silence, and then someone broke the silence by saying, “So how’s business?” “Oh,” I said, “it’s pretty good.” I said, “There’s no shortage of sinners.”
Well, going up the fairway, one of the men came after me in his golf cart, buzzing up to me, and he said, “I hated what you said back there. I don’t like it at all.” He said, “Because you need to understand that although I might have been saying certain things or using certain language, I’m really just describing what sinners are like,” he said, “but I am not a sinner!”
“Wow!” I said.” “Wow!” I said, “I’m delighted to meet you, because I’ve only heard of one other person who ever made such a claim—and that, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Now, I can’t tell you everything that unfolded from there. It’s not time for it. We had a wonderful conversation that followed. But what I was wanting to make clear to him was this: that I understood this not only because I read it in the Bible but because I looked at my face in the mirror, and I realized that the stories that Jesus told—wonderful stories—made this point very clearly. So, he can move from explaining a story that would appeal to a lady who had lost a piece of jewelry—this lost coin was found, and there was rejoicing—a shepherd who lost a sheep, and a father who dealt with the sadness of his sons turning their back on him. And in these stories, Jesus was making the point that by nature, we’re lost: naturally, like sheep; willfully, like these sons; helplessly, like a coin. And the fantastic story of Christmas is not that we should now try and get ourselves organized and put together and perhaps make ourselves acceptable to God but rather that God has come in the person of Jesus, stepped down into time, in order to provide the answer to the predicament that we face.
It comes not only in the stories of Jesus but also comes in his miracles. The miracles of Jesus establish his authority—explain, if you like, his identity as the creator of the universe. And we all, I think, have our favorites. One of mine is the story of the four men who brought their friend to Jesus. The man was paralyzed. They brought him on a bed; that was the only way they could get him there. And when they were unable to get him in by natural means through the door, they let him down through the roof. They were obviously really concerned to get him there. They and everyone else in the room understood: “This man is paralyzed. Jesus is a miracle worker. Let’s see what happens now.” No one in the room would have been prepared for what then came from the lips of Jesus: he looked at the man and he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven [you].”
Now, why in the world would he say that? Surely the men would have said, “We didn’t bring him here for an invisible forgiveness. We brought him here for a physical transformation.” Was it that Jesus wasn’t interested in his condition? He was! The Lord Jesus looks upon our lives, and he knows our unemployment, our failures, our fallings, and so on. He’s interested in them. He’s able to cope with them.
But what he was doing in that incident was putting his finger on the man’s greatest need, which actually is emblematic of the fact that that is our greatest need: that we are by nature sinful. As a result of that, we deserve punishment. We can’t pay our own penalties. We’re not good enough to fix it. We need someone who is guiltless, who can stand in our place.
Now, you see, that was what was happening when the angel came in that scene: “And you’re going to have a son, and you shall call him Jesus. You shall call him ‘the one who saves,’ because he will save.” Now, the question is, who does he save? He saves those who trust in him.
In the Gospel of John, you have perhaps the classic verse in the New Testament in relationship this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his … only Son, that whoever believes in him [should] not perish”—which will be the result of our sin, eternal separation from God—shall “not perish but have eternal life,” and this offered to us in the work that Jesus has accomplished.
When we look at our lives, we realize that the real concern for us is not that we are amazing sinners. That man who said that to me on the golf course I understand. Because the idea is “Sure, there are sinners—people who have been involved in rape or murder or heinous crimes and so on. But by and large, we’re pretty good, and we’re hoping that God will grade on the curve.” What we need is the X-ray, if you like, which comes through the reading of the Bible. Because the Bible scans us. It’s like an MRI, almost. And it shows up that the real issue is the attitude of my heart. I want to run my own life. I don’t want God’s authority. I want to be able to choose my own way, determine my own objectives, establish my own plans, worship who and what I choose.
And as a result of that, we find that the idols that we embrace are insufficient for us. They’re self-depleting. They can never satisfy. That’s why probably the ’60s gave us as many longing songs as we’ve ever found. And, of course, I’m a child of the ’60s. I was eighteen when the Moody Blues gave us “I’m looking for someone to change my life, I’m looking for a miracle in my life.” And you may be listening to me right now, sitting somewhere in your family room, and that rings a bell, because you’ve been saying to yourself, “I don’t understand how these pieces in the jigsaw fit. How can God be just and punish sin and yet love in such a way as to offer me forgiveness? How may I then embrace that which he offers as a gift?”
Well, you know, it’s a bit like taking your medicine. At the moment, everybody’s searching for a vaccine—a global pandemic, at best maybe a 90 percent cure, and not everybody has it. But the Bible says that sin is a universal condition—all of us have it—and the cure which comes in the sacrifice of Jesus is 100 percent effective. The question is, have I received it?
You know, receiving is just like receiving a gift. I mean, I have here my New Testament. It’s precious to me. I suppose I could offer it to you as a gift. You could believe that I’m genuine in the offer, and yet you could walk away. And we read the New Testament, and God offers to us, he says, “Here is my dearly beloved Son. Receive him. Forsake all the other stuff, and trust unreservedly in him.”
He didn’t come to judge the world, He didn’t come to blame,
He didn’t only come to seek; it was to save He came;
And when we call Him Saviour, then we call Him by His name.
I wonder, have you ever called out to him in that way? “Lord Jesus Christ, be my Savior, bear my punishment, take my predicament, and make me new.”
Well, I hope that this Christmas may prove to be for you this phenomenal Christmas: God not only planting this virgin birth in the heart and life of Mary but a virgin birth taking place in your heart and mine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, making us brand-new people from the inside out. And then, I suggest to you, it really will be a very blessed Christmas.
 Luke 1:1–4 (paraphrased).
 Luke 2:8–11 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 15.
 Mark 2:5 (NIV 1984). See also Matthew 9:2; Luke 5:20.
 Luke 1:31 (paraphrased).
 John 3:16 (NIV 1984).
 Justin Hayward, “Question” (1970).
 Dora Greenwell, “A Good Confession,” in Songs of Salvation (London, 1874), 27.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.