December 15, 1991
Scott L. Harris
Responses to Jesus’ Birth, Pt. 2 – Selected Scriptures
Last week we started off by talking about how our society celebrates the Christmas season. Christmas is a season of anticipation. Kids and presents. All of us and presents. Family reunions, getting together with friends, etc. Christmas is a season of busyness. There is so much to do. Shopping, cooking, getting presents ready, special activities, etc. We also saw that Christmas often becomes a season of turmoil because of the “business” aspects, and for some is also a season of loneliness and depression.
In these weeks before Christmas I would like us to try to regain our focus on what Christmas means by looking at how different people responded to the birth of Jesus. Last week we looked at Joseph and Mary, and in doing so we learned that the announcement of the coming birth of Christ was going to mean personal sacrifice for both of them. Mary put herself at risk because under the Mosaic Law there could be severe consequences to being pregnant before marriage. Joseph was a righteous man, and there was a great risk to his reputation. But both of them responded by being submissive to the will of God in their lives with the result that they were joyful about what God was doing through them despite the personal risks. (See: Responses to Jesus’ Birth, Part 1)
Theme: Our response to Jesus will depend upon our sensitivity and obedience to the Holy Spirit. True joy during the Christmas season will only occur as we responded properly to Jesus and glorify God for what He has done.
The first two people I want to mention today are Elizabeth and her son, John the Baptist. In Luke 1:39-40 we get an accounting of their response to the news of Jesus’ coming birth. Mary, after the Angel Gabriel had told her that she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah, the Christ, goes to visit her relative Elizabeth who is in her sixth month of pregnancy. As soon as Mary arrived and Elizabeth heard her greeting, both Elizabeth and the baby in her womb, John, respond as described in verse 41. “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to Me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Their immediate response to Jesus, though he was still in womb of Mary, was joy. Notice that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (vs 41). This means that what she says in those verses is true. This is God speaking through her. First, (vs. 42) Elizabeth recognized that Mary was pregnant even though at this point she was probably only a few days, or at the most a few weeks along. Second, (vs. 43), Elizabeth recognizes that the child in Mary’s womb is “Lord.” Third, (vs. 44), Elizabeth says that the baby within her, John, leaped in her womb for joy which indicates that the infant John also recognized what was happening.
(On a side note, this also indicates the foolishness of those who claim that a baby that is still in the womb is just a fetus and not a human life. Let it be made clear that abortion is not the removal of extraneous tissue, it is the killing of a human life.)
Elizabeth and John the Baptist were sensitive to the Holy Spirit and yielded themselves to Him. The result was joy over the coming birth of the Lord Jesus.
Zacharias, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist expressed his joy a few months later at the birth of John. If you recall the story, Zacharias had not believed the Angel Gabriel when Gabriel told him that he would have a son in his old age and that his son would be the forerunner of the Messiah. The result was that Zacharias was made dumb, unable to speak, until the prophecy came to completion. And now Zacharias was finally able to speak again. He also is filled with the Holy Spirit (vs. 67) and said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the House of David His servant – As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from old – Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; to show mercy toward our father, And to remember His holy covenant. The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; To give to his people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our god, With which the sunrise from on high shall visit us, To SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zacharias was sensitive to the Holy Spirit and yielded himself to Him with the result that as soon as he was able to speak, he expressed joy and gratitude concerning the coming of the Messiah.
Some six months later, we find Joseph and Mary making their way south from Nazareth all way down to Bethlehem, the City of David, which is just south of Jerusalem. Why? Because Caesar Augustus had made a decree that a census be taken for taxation purposes. Everyone had to return to their own city, and Joseph was from the house of David. We can picture them coming down out of the hill country where Nazareth is located, and descending to the plain of Jezreel or Meggido. Joseph is walking and leading a donkey on which Mary sits (Scripture does not say this, but I can not imagine Mary having to waddle for over 40 miles). The Jews would not take the shorter route through Samaria, but would go around it. So they would have traveled eastward and descended into to the Jordan valley and then turned south to Jericho. From Jericho they would have made the steep climb up to Jerusalem and then a little farther south to Bethlehem.
What kind of reception do you think they should have received upon arriving there? Joseph and Mary have made it to Bethlehem and in her womb is the Messiah, the Hope of Israel! There should be a welcome and provision made for them with a nice place to stay and the best medical personnel to help her in delivery! But what did they find? Luke 2:6,7 “And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn.” No room in the Inn? No room for the Messiah, the Son of God? No room? And Why? Simply because no one there recognized Him. No one knew who He was. Because without the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s heart, there is no recognition of who Jesus is and there is no joy over Him.
But even though the people in the city of Bethlehem did not recognize what had occurred within their midst, there was a group that did recognize it, and they did rejoice! They rejoiced in a way that astonished those who saw it and heard it. In fact it frightened them!
Luke 2:8f “And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall 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. And 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.”
The angel and the heavenly host rejoiced and praised God at the birth of the Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.
The shepherds, who at first were frightened, responded to this glorious praise. Luke 2:15f “And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which where told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”
The shepherds were given divine revelation about the nature of this little baby born in Bethlehem and they responded in three ways. First, they sought Him out (vs. 15,16). Second, they told others about him (vs. 17,18). Third, they continued in their rejoicing by glorifying and praising God for what He had done (vs 20).
The shepherds were given knowledge about Jesus and they responded with belief resulting in great joy over Him.
A short time later, Joseph and Mary made a short trip up to the temple in Jerusalem, for the Mosaic law required that a sacrifice be made for the first born male. So after Mary had passed her time of purification (41 days total), Joseph took her and the child to Jerusalem in order to offer this sacrifice. Upon their arrival at the Temple, they met a man named Simeon. Luke 2:25f “And behold there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
vs. 33f “And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed — and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.'”
Notice that Simeon was a “righteous and devout” man (vs 25). He was a man who was sensitive to the Holy Spirit (vs. 25,27). That is why he was able to recognize Jesus when he was brought into the temple. Jesus was not wearing a sign announcing who He was. Simeon was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit Who revealed to him that this was the Messiah (vs. 29-32).
Again, we see someone who was sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to Him with the result that there was joy over Jesus’ birth.
In the same way we see Anna the prophetess come to Jesus. She arrived just as Simeon was finishing (vs. 38 “at that very moment she came up”). Anna was now 84 years old, and she never left the temple, serving night and day with fasting and prayers (vs. 37). She also was sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and she came up Joseph, Mary and Jesus and began to give thanks to God. She continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. She rejoiced over the birth of Jesus.
Over and over again this morning we have seen that it was those who were sensitive and obedient to the Holy Spirit that rejoiced over the birth of Jesus. The general population took no notice of the arrival of the Messiah. There was no out pouring of joy in Nazareth when the people there found out Mary was pregnant. All indications are that Joseph and Mary may have even been somewhat looked down upon. Remember, Scripture does not indicate that there was a festive wedding ceremony for them. Joseph himself was ready to end the relationship with Mary when he found out she was with child. He took her as his wife only because he believed what the angel had told him in a dream. Later in Jesus life, He is accused of being an illegitimate son.
There was no reception in Bethlehem. All that was even open to them to use was stable where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The shepherds had made known what had been said to them concerning this child, but the response was just that the people wondered (vs. 18). And most of the people in Jerusalem, including the religious leaders at the Temple, pretty much ignored this little family. They were nothing important, just a poor family that could only afford the price for the minimal sacrifice. Only those who had been sensitive to the Holy Spirit believed what was revealed about the child and responded with joy.
Notice also that the joy expressed by these people is not over the birth of a child, that of course brings joy in itself, the miracle of life, but the joy these people expressed was over who the child is. Elizabeth recognized Him as Lord (vs 1:43). Zachariah recognized Him as the fulfillment of the prophecies of old including the ones given to Abraham (vs. 1:73). This child was the “horn of salvation” (vs 69), the savior. The angel pronounced Him to be the “savior,” the Messiah, the Lord (vs 2:11). The shepherds believed the angels statements and made it known (vs 2:17) that this was the savior, the Messiah, the Lord. Simeon recognized him as “Thy salvation” (vs 2:30), the “light of revelation to the Gentiles” (vs. 2:32) and the “glory of Israel” (vs. 2:32). And Anna recognized Him as the “redemption of Jerusalem” (vs 2:38). The joy was about the birth of a child itself but over the coming of the Messiah, the one who would bring salvation.
What about us? How have we responded to Jesus’ coming? Have we been sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Have we believed what has been revealed about Jesus? Have we responded in obedience? Have we experienced the joy that Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Zacharias, the Heavenly Host, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna had over the birth of Jesus? Do you recognize who He is? And if we have done these things, have we been like the shepherds who made known the statement which had been told them about this child, and Anna who continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem? Have you shared with others what it means that Jesus has been born?
But you say, I don’t have the Holy Spirit working in me like all those people did. I have not had an angel come and tell me things like the shepherds did. Isn’t it enough that I come to a Sunday morning Church service once in awhile? I mean, am I supposed to be happy about it too? And telling others about Jesus – that’s hard to do – that’s scary!
Well, consider first that the Holy Spirit is still working and doing the job He was sent to do. Part of that job is to convict people concerning sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit is working to bring people to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. Second, another part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to be in the Christian. In fact Romans 8:9 says, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is already in you, but if you want Him to work in your life you have to stop grieving (Eph 4:30) or “quenching” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Him by practicing a lifestyle that is contrary to what God has said in His word that He wants. We must “walk with the Spirit” or be “controlled by the Spirit,” and the starting point of becoming sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit is obedience to what God has already revealed in the Bible. That brings up another point, It is a command that we share the good news of Jesus Christ with others even though witnessing is hard. I admit, it is difficult to tell others about Christ, and it will be so until He has become such an integral part of your life that He is central in who you are.
Couples that are in love, want to tell others about the wonderful person they have. Mom and dads love to tell people about their children. Grandpas and Grandmas love to tell people about their grandchildren. If we have a job that we really enjoy, we love to tell people about it. If there is some particular hobby that we like, we love to tell people about it too. That is the way it needs to be in telling others about Christ. He is so involved in your life, and you love Him so much, that it is only natural for you to tell others about Him. In addition, when you do get a little scared to talk to someone else about Jesus, remember that He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matt. 28:20.
Our own response to Jesus will depend upon our sensitivity and obedience to the Holy Spirit. How I live my life as a Christian will depend upon my sensitivity and obedience to the Holy Spirit. I can be either like those we have talked about today – Elizabeth, Zachariah, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, or I can continue to live in my own little world and ignore the joy that is available in Jesus Christ. Do you want true joy? Do you want this Christmas and the coming year to be different? Then, as I said last week, Take up the yoke of Christ and learn of Him. His yoke is easy and His load is light. He is gentle and humble in heart; and in Him you will find rest for your soul (Matt. 11:29,30).
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office