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The Mystery Of Bethlehem

The Mystery Of The Baby

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 29, 2009

Selected highlights from this sermon

Who was the baby in the manger? According to the Word of God, we know He was God incarnate who came to offer life—eternal life.

But eternal life in heaven requires that God’s justice and God’s holiness be satisfied. And only Jesus, as both God and man, could remedy the sin that stains all of us; only He can meet the requirements that God the Father demands.

The words are very familiar. We know them all, don’t we? 

“And she brought forth her first-born son, and laid Him in a manger. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

You know, at Christmas we sing songs like “What Child Is This? Or we sing “Who is He in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall?” And the amazing thing is that the answer that you give to that question determines your eternal destiny. There is no question on Planet Earth that is more important than that one. Who is this child?

Well, we know that there are different answers to that question. The answer of popular culture is that this child is a baby, at best a teacher, but He’s harmless. He’s one who puts his arms around everybody and tells us that we should simply love everybody. But He’s not the kind of Jesus who would interrupt your lifestyle. He’s not the Jesus who might offend you. No, he’s not the Jesus who might point out your sin. He’s not that Jesus. He’s the Jesus of popular imagination, and as long as He stays a baby, nobody fears him.

In fact, there are all kinds of warm feelings that we have about this Jesus. He’s a wonderful universal man and He applies himself to everyone and all that we need to do is to take Him like a book at Christmas. We bring Him down at Christmas and then we put Him back on the shelf and that’s it for another year. That’s the answer of popular culture.

And then there’s also the answer of Islam. Islam says that Jesus was a prophet, a very revered prophet. Islam mentions Jesus 93 times in the Qur’an. But it also teaches that Jesus didn’t die on a cross. Surah 4:157 and following says that they thought that they were crucifying Jesus but they were wrong. They didn’t crucify Him. As a matter of fact, Islam says that they revered Jesus more than we do because God loved Him so much He never allowed Him to die. Now no matter how we might understand that, the fact is that this sincerely and greatly misunderstands who Jesus is and why He came, and why the cross is the best expression of God’s love.

And then there’s also the answer of the merchants. Who is Jesus for the merchants? Jesus is a commodity to be advertised, and He’s one who can be sold. Yesterday I was riding in the car and on the radio it said that this year one-half percent more has been spent up until this time for Christmas than last year. It’s really all that matters. It’s the bottom line. Christmas on the news is not about the birth of Jesus. Christmas on the news is what do the retailers think and how much are we going to spend on ourselves at Christmastime?

Well, those are the answers that we have floating around in our culture, but what is the biblical answer? The biblical answer is that Jesus was God. “Unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.” Jesus is God. And the Apostle Paul says, “Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh.”

Almost every Christmas I tell you about our oldest daughter when she was about 7 years old, and she asked me this question. She said, “Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby?” It’s an excellent question and it’s the kind of a question that only a child would ask. Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby? Well, I’m going to be answering that question in a few moments, but I’d like to spend a few moments today giving you a rationale for the fact that Jesus of necessity must be God.

If we are to be redeemed from our sins, and the Bible says that He came to redeem His people from their sins, why does God have to do it? Can’t somebody else? Can’t some other creation do it? Why God? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s because of the extent of our predicament, because of the extent of our problem with sin.

You see Horace was a playwright, and he commented on the various plays that were used in Rome in the theater of his day. And he said that the writers sometimes brought God onto a stage. You see, what happened was that as the plot developed it became so complicated that no human being could resolve it, so what the playwrights would do is they would bring God onto the stage and a god would do a miracle and then the plot would be resolved.

Horace said that they were bringing God onto the stage too soon. He said, “God should not be brought onto the stage until the plot is so incredibly difficult, until there is absolutely no way out, and only then should God be brought on the stage.”

My dear friend, today our situation, our predicament is so difficult that only God could unravel it. You see if you are sick you need a doctor. If you are drowning you need a lifeguard, but if you are dead you need a God to resurrect you. And the Bible says that we were dead in our trespasses and in our sins, and as a result of that we need God to deliver us. And so we need to keep in mind, folks, that we needed God resolve our problem. And you see the problem is that if sin were only eating chocolate we might be able to redeem ourselves. We might be able to better ourselves, but the Bible talks about us not only being dead in trespasses and sins, but also not knowing that we are dead in trespasses and sins.

Like Luther said, “The natural man is blind and deaf and dead, but he perceives himself to be able to see, and to be able to hear, and he sees himself as being alive because physically we are, but we are separated from God and only God can enter into our world to redeem us.”

There’s another reason, and the other reason is because of the fact that God’s holiness demanded it – His justice. You see in Islam, Allah forgives and there is no sacrifice for sin. He just chooses to forgive. But let me ask you a question. The other day I read an account where somebody was so angry at somebody else that they took a car and rammed it in a parking lot to hurt the other person, to try to kill them. Now should we just simply say, “Well, you know he’s asking forgiveness, and so we just grant it.” No, there’s something within us that says that this person must pay. Justice must be satisfied. Now you multiply that and you magnify it in the case of God and what you discover is that God must be satisfied. Justice must be appeased. A sacrifice for sin must be given. Somebody needs to pay. The question is who.

Could an angel have paid? No, an angel could not have paid and let me explain to you why. It’s because the person who pays has to become one with the people whom he is redeeming, and angels are not human beings. So very immediately they are disqualified.

What about a perfect human being? Could God have created a perfect human being and said, “You die on the cross; you make a sacrifice for humanity because I’ve created you perfect”? The answer is no because even if that human being could redeem one person – one human being in the place of another human being (even if that were possible), you couldn’t have one human being bear the sin of millions and billions of human beings. No, God had to do it.

God says, “I’m going to become one like those who I’m going to redeem. I’m going to become a man to redeem humanity, and on that perfect person will be laid the iniquity of the world.” Your awful sin and your inability to even realize your sin will be laid on Him – the iniquity of us all, and in six hours time He is going to endure the suffering of an eternity of hell so that you and I could go free. And that’s the Gospel.

And thank you to whoever you are over here saying thank you. I appreciate that because all of us should say, “Thank you, Father, for that gift in Jesus Christ.”

And so you see, God was in flesh – perfect humanity, perfect deity to do what no human being could do. And of course, if God delegated it to some created creature we’d give that created creature honor and glory, and God wouldn’t receive the honor and the glory. But God receives it because the Bible teaches so clearly that God is a redeeming God. Jehovah is salvation. He does it.

Now the question is how did the two natures relate together? Sometime ago I was in a panel discussion and a Muslim asked me this question. It was an excellent question. That’s why we need more dialog. We need more discussion with those who disagree with us because sometimes there are misunderstandings. And this Muslim said to me, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross?” “Yes.” He said, “If that is the case then you are saying that God died. How can God die?” Well the answer to that question is, “Of course, God didn’t die as God.” It’s unthinkable. You see Jesus died in His perfect humanity. His body died, but God didn’t die.

And that actually is the answer to my daughter’s question. Who was taking care of the world when God was a baby? When you held that baby in your hand there was much more to Him than you could have possibly seen with the human eye because God was doing what God does, upholding the Universe, and governing the world, and He continued to do that all throughout the redemptive process. God cannot die. But Jesus as a man died. His humanity died, and on Him was laid the iniquity of us all.

Now with that background, I want us to see just briefly what Jesus has to say about Himself in the book of Revelation – chapter 22, and let’s spend a moment contrasting this with the fact that Jesus also was a baby. Let’s notice this.

First of all, you’ll notice that Jesus is speaking there in verse 12. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” And then he says in verse 13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” That’s what Jesus said about Himself. You could say, in terms of figures of speech, that this is an alphabetical figure of speech. “I am Alpha (That is the beginning.), I am Omega (That is the last letter of the Greek alphabet.).” We would say, “I am A, and I am Z.” Notice He says, “The first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Jesus is affirming here His deity.

As it says in the Old Testament, “From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” And Jesus here is emphasizing His eternality, the fact that He is the Lord and the fact that He is God.

Now the Encyclopedia Britannica, as you know, has thirty volumes I think on science and history and philosophy and all of the knowledge of humanity, and Jesus, of course, being the Alpha and the Omega is the A to Z. It has all of this knowledge, and it’s all communicated in 26 letters. Jesus contains within Himself all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the Bible says, and in Him are all things. Wow!

Who is Jesus? Well, I can tell you this about Jesus. He’s the creator of the stable in which He was born. All of the elements that went into the building of that stable, whether wood or stone, He created them. He is the owner of the inn that rejected Him. He owns the place because He owns everything. He is the One who is going to be judge and He is the One who is going to rule, and so you have Jesus Christ here as the beginning and the end. He was here at creation because He was the One who did the creating. He was here at His birth, veiled in flesh the Godhead see. You couldn’t see everything that belonged to Him, but nonetheless He was here always doing His thing, ruling the world by the word of His power. So that’s the first figure of speech. It’s an alphabetical figure.

Let’s go to a second figure of speech and that is in verse 16. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David.” If the first one is an alphabetical figure of speech this is a botanical figure of speech – the root and the offspring of David.

Don’t you find the Bible fascinating? Just think about this for a moment. Jesus Christ, in being the root of David, and David being a branch, indicates that He is David’s Father, because as creator, of course He belongs to David and belongs as the Creator and the Father of David. But also the Bible says very clearly that He is the offspring of David. Jesus used this Himself, you remember, in the Gospels. He loved to ask questions that people couldn’t answer, and one of the questions that He asked them was, “The Messiah – whose Son is He?” And they said, “Well, He’s the Son of David.” And He said, “You are right but why did David also call Him Lord? How can He be David’s Son and be David’s father – David’s Lord?” Well the answer is He is both. As God, He is David’s Lord. As God, He is David’s Father, but as man He is also the offspring of David. That’s why you have the genealogies that talk about the birth of Jesus and who Jesus really was, and so Jesus here is presented to us as man.

So first of all the first figure of speech is Jesus is God. “I am Alpha and Omega – the first and the last.” He’s God. But from the second figure of speech – He’s the root and the offspring of David, it seems very clear that He is man. He’s man.

Now what is the next figure of speech? We could say that it is one based on astronomy – astronomical figure of speech. Notice He says, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” That’s probably a reference to Venus. The morning star is the star that comes out indicating that dawn is on its way. The sun is about to rise, and what Jesus is saying is that in His coming He is predicting the day when the Son is going to arise, and of course He’s going to return to earth, and He is a reminder of that. And His star, the bright star, outshines all of the other stars that might be out there.

In fact, one day I was speaking to someone who belongs to another religion, and this other religion has a prophet. And I was talking to him about it and helping him to see that once the bright star comes out all of the other stars fade into insignificance, particularly when the sun comes out they all fade into oblivion. And in the presence of the Son of God, all other human stars disappear, and Jesus now is the bright and the morning star. That means that He is King.

In the book of Numbers it says in chapter 24, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near.” Now listen carefully. It says, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel (and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.)” Notice their kingship is directly connected with being a star.

So we have in these three figures of speech that Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is man and Jesus Christ is King – King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now notice that in light of the fact that He is a King, notice what the text says in Revelation 22:17. “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come.’” What they are welcoming is the King. They are saying that in light of the fact that You are the King, You come and You come to us, and let the one who is thirsty come, or the one who hears say come. That refers to all of us doesn’t us? All those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, they all desire that the Lord come. In fact, the Bible says that there is a special crown given to those who love His appearing. And of course all believers, if they are honest, unless they are living far away from God, desire the appearing of Jesus because they love Jesus and they want Him to return.

And so we join the Spirit. The bride is a reference to the Church. We join the Spirit and the bride, and we all say, “Come, Lord Jesus, and let the one who hears (That’s all of us as individuals), we say ‘Come,’” and then suddenly in the middle of the verse (and I hope that you are looking there at Revelation 22:17) we have a switch. “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price, let them come.” So now the coming in the first half of the verse is, “We are asking Jesus to come,” and now Jesus is asking those who are thirsty to come. And right after this service those of you who are thirsty you can come and take of the water of life without price. This is such a beautiful figure of speech.

I want to talk to you just for a moment because there are those of you who are listening to me today who have never trusted Christ as Savior, and you have tried all the watering holes of the world. You’ve tried your sexuality. You thought that happiness and fulfillment would be there. If you’ve been disappointed, you feel hollow and you feel empty. You’ve tried money. You thought that surely it would reside there. You thought that success would finally bring it to you and fill that huge vacuum in your heart, and that hasn’t happened. Then you thought to yourself if you become well known and other people think well of you and you establish your reputation and everybody respects you that will be the means of fulfillment. And that hasn’t worked either, so you are thirsty.

Within us there is a desire for God that cannot be quenched any other way except by God Himself, and so God bids you to come to Him. You come. Admit the fact that there’s hollowness in your life that you yourself can find no answer to. It’s found in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Now notice the blessing that Jesus gives to those who come, and for that I want to go to verse 14. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Now isn’t it wonderful to realize that when you come to Jesus Christ your robes can be washed white and clean. Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is the One who created the Holy City, and Jesus is the One who controls the gates of the Holy City.

And you’ll notice it says in verse 15, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” What a division!

Now if you are here today and you fit into the category of verse 15 (that you are sexually immoral, into sorcery, etc. etc. and all the other sins that are listed), there is such good hope for you that you can fit into verse 14. “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they might have a right to the tree of life.” Heaven is going to be filled with all kinds of people who were referred to as dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and the murderers and those who love a lie. Heaven will be filled with those who allowed Jesus Christ to redeem them and to wash their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.

Today I’m speaking directly to you now, one on one. When you think of the question of who is this baby in the manger, don’t be beguiled or misled because of the ordinariness of it all. Ordinary baby! Supposedly ordinary parents! Yes. Ordinary crib! Ordinary manger! Ordinary clothes! Don’t allow that to obscure the fact that this is God – the beginning and the end, the root and the offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star, the Savior, the creator and the One who distinguishes between those who can go into the heavenly city and those who can’t.

Jesus invites you today to Him. Do you know Christ personally? Have you received Him as Savior? Do you fit into the category of verse 14, or verse 15? Who are you? Notice that the Spirit and the bride say come to Jesus, and then the one who is athirst comes, and the one who is thirsty, let him take of the water of life without price. It is free and God wants you today to believe on Christ.

Isn’t it interesting how the book of Revelation ends? “I warn everyone who hears of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city which are described in this book.”

I know that this warning refers primarily to the book of Revelation, but in a sense it refers to the entire New Testament, that we should not take away God’s words, we should not add to them, we should revere them, we should study them. And then verse 20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” I might say that at this point God has nothing more to say.

Do you know Christ as Savior? Have you believed on Him? Is the Holy Spirit of God speaking to you, and saying, “Come to Christ; come to Him?” He is all that you need to have your sins forgiven, your robes washed so that you can enter into the holy city.

Let’s join together in prayer.

Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might take these words however imperfectly given, and that the Holy Spirit might use Your word and by Your Spirit speak to those for whom this message was intended. And we pray that You might not give them rest until they come to know You personally and receive You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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