Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a Christmas message from the book of Luke, chapter 1 – exploring “the three most valuable things in the world”.
Many years ago Elton John married a lady in Sydney and the reception was held on a big boat on the harbour and Michael Parkinson, the British interviewer was one of the guests. But he missed the boat and with his charm he persuaded a Police Boat to take him out.
And as the Police Boat came speeding across the water, nobody knew that it was carrying Michael Parkinson and the guests on board started to throw various substances quickly overboard. (I think you know what I am talking about!) And when he arrived with a big smile, he did not get a great welcome. The addition of Michael Parkinson to the boat did not match the substances that had been thrown off the boat.
Now we hope of course that people will have a joyful Christmas when it arrives. But we know in fact that for many it’s not that great and things fade as we have heard many times so quickly. I suspect too that even God’s people with very good reason for joy can struggle to really mean what we sing in these well know Carols. And I wonder why this is?
Well I want to suggest something to you. I think that it is because we are being bombarded, there is a battle. We are being bombarded with unimportant things all the time, constantly, brilliantly and effectively, we are just being presented with unimportant trivial things. We are not being presented or hearing or grasping the really important and eternal things. They are getting lost in the barrage. So it is as if the message of Christmas is that God has brought us life saving medicine, but we are so caught up in trivia, we are worried about the taste! Or that God has come into the surf of our sins in which we are drowning and brought us out but we are so caught up in trivia, we are more concerned about how we look on the beach!
This switch of the unimportant for the important is taking its toll and the more we experience trivial things (and we do) the more Christianity will fade into the background and the more we focus on weighty things (which we don’t) the more trivial things will fall into place.
“Could you imagine anything more wonderful than to be able to say, ‘I know God’s pardon, I can see his plans, the major plans and I experience his peace in my heart’?”
And the aim of a faithful Christmas message is to take a few minutes to look at the weighty things (which we don’t often look at). And I have picked this little section of Luke chapter 1 verses 76-79. Now these verses describe three things which when I read them many weeks ago I thought to myself ‘they are more valuable than anything in this world’. I’ve put it like this –
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- To know God’s pardon (see verse 77)
- To know forgiveness (verse 78) to see, (you are no longer in the dark), God’s plans, what a wonderful thing to see what God is doing
- To experience or feel God’s peace as you walk the road of peace (verse 79).
Dear friends, could you imagine anything more wonderful than to be able to walk out of this building and no matter what your troubles and whatever your circumstances, to be able to say this “I know God’s pardon, I can see his plans, the major plans and I experience his peace in my heart”. That is going to cause a person to be truly rich and I thank God for these gifts, I really do. I am tempted and caught (like you) to the trivia but when I come back to these very weighty things, I realise how very blessed I am.
Many, I suspect in this building, would like to have these things. There will be at least somebody here sitting and saying to themselves, “I would love to know God’s pardon, I’d love to see what God’s plans are, I would love to experience God’s peace in my heart – what do I do?” That’s the point of these few minutes, they come from Christ.
Well if you look at the first verse (76) there is a man looking at his new born boy. The boy of course is John, John the Baptist. God’s people had been waiting a very long time for a messenger who would come and who would prepare the way for a visit from God. And now hundreds of years later, here is a man looking at a boy and he says ‘You’re the boy, You’re the messenger, You’re the prophet’.
Now he isn’t just being optimistic about his boy, he has been told by an angel, yes we believe in the supernatural. Without the supernatural the Christian faith is nothing but basic ethics. This man has been told by a messenger from God that his boy will be the prophet, the one who will announce the coming of God. But here’s the shock – when John gets up and announces the coming of God, Jesus steps forward. Because that is of course who Jesus is and that is who he shows himself to be. And he brings things to us which outweigh the world. Let me tell you the first ….
To Know God’s Pardon
To know God’s pardon (verse 77). To give his people knowledge of salvation in that their sins will be forgiven. Now I know friends that SIN (the word doesn’t appear very much in the Press) and when you come to church you hear a lot about it and it’s a bit of an antiquated sounded word, and it is an old word because it is an old problem and even Christians struggle to know whether they are sure about ‘sins forgiven’. But we can be absolutely sure of one thing that God has revealed himself to be just. That God is going to deal at the end with injustice, with evil, with disobedience. There is somebody who will bring everything to Court.
I was reading recently that Idi Amin, the ‘butcher’ of Uganda who killed hundreds of thousands of people more savagely than I would want to describe at this particular service, then lived the remainder of his years in absolute peace and luxury. Who is going to bring that man to justice? And the answer is that God will.
Now you imagine your call to God’s Royal Commission. Imagine you get the letter in the mail – ‘You are due at the Royal Commission of God’. Everything that you have said privately is going to be brought out. Everything that you have done, everything that you have spent, everything that you have watched on a screen, every secret, every compromise, every neglect on your part, ever person who has a grievance or a grudge against you will be there to testify. It would not be a day to look forward to, it would be a day to dread.
And especially as we come face to face with God and we realise how ungrateful and disobedient we have been to him. And God has promised there will be a Royal Commission. If he does not produce a Royal Commission, he is an abject liar. And it’s an absolute waste of time for Christ to have come. He need not have come. We are all just going to march off into the etha. But it’s true, there will be a great Royal Commission. Jesus said ‘I am going to gather the nations in front of me – every single person’.
Now my friends, would it not be a valuable thing to arrive at the Royal Commission of God (and we will arrive at the Royal Commission of God) knowing every charge against you has been cancelled?
Would that not be a very wonderful thing? Would it not change your fear of the day as it looms? Would it not make your heart grateful every day? Would it not affect your life to know that you are going to meet God and every charge has been cancelled and in fact you are going to be, in some remarkable way, congratulated for your life?
The Mercy of God, The Message of Christ
And that is the message of Christ that God’s mercy is so deep that he allowed his Son to come, as we have already heard this morning, and to face and to pay for the charges that we should face and to deal with them. And at the cross he suffered for those things we should suffer for. And having paid such a price, having paid everything and having risen from the grave he holds out in his hands his great offer of pardon. And the one who owns up to their sins, the one who is humble, the one who is sensible and takes hold of Christ is wonderfully, wonderfully forgiven.
You remember Jesus told a story of two men who walked into church. One of them stood at the front and said ‘I am pretty great, I am quite a great person’ and he got exactly what he asked for which was nothing.
The man at the back, said Jesus, called out ‘Oh God have mercy on me the sinner’ and he got exactly what he asked for – the mercy of God.
Now the promise in verse 77 is that salvation can be known. You can go through life knowing that you are safe. When I get up tomorrow morning, because Christ has died and God has promised, I know there is salvation for me. It’s a wonderful thing. We take God’s word for it and we take Christ’s work.
“You are being promised that you will be delivered from the greatest problem of all, which is that terrible barrier between you and God.”
You are not being promised that you will be delivered from every economic problem. You are not being promised that you will be delivered from every physical problem. You are not being promised that you will be delivered from every relational problem. But you are being promised that you will be delivered from the greatest problem of all which is that terrible barrier between you and God. You will find yourself walking with God close and loved and you will find yourself one day in his presence forever with great joy. That’s his promise. It may be too much for you to believe but that’s what he has promised.
Back in 1788 there was a young convict called Samuel Paton who committed a number of crimes out here and sadly was hanged. He must have been a young man and he wrote a letter on the night before he was hanged to his mother. He had received the Gospel of Christ and the letter was given to a man you may have heard of called Watkin Tench and Watkin Tench was so moved by the letter he copied it and he kept a record of the letter and he put it in his Journals.
And this is what Samuel Paton said. I will just read you a few phrases from the letter. This is the night before he was to be hung. He says:
“My dear mother.
With what agony of soul do I bid you adieu. Tomorrow I shall have entered into eternity. Impelled by that strong propensity to evil. I have fallen an unhappy though just victim to my own foolishness. However, I supplicate the divine forgiveness and encourage by the promises of that Saviour who died for us. Penitent for my sins and firmly relying on the merits of a blessed Redeemer, I shall experience that peace which this world cannot give. I bid you farewell, your son Samuel Paton”.
Knowledge of salvation. Forgiveness of sins. The gift of Christ today and forever. No wonder Greg Sheridan in the paper said everything else is tinsel.
To See God’s Plans
Our second point – To see God’s plans (verse 78). Somebody from heaven is going to rise up according to this promise and is going to shine on those in darkness. What a wonderful thing to be brought out of the dark. To be brought out of cluenessness, what a wonderful thing. And I don’t think there can be any doubt that this is talking about Jesus, the one who said he had come from heaven, who called himself “The Light of the World” and said if you follow him you will not be in the dark but you will have the light of life.
Now my problem, friends, and this may be my problem today is that there are so many people who don’t think they are in the dark when it comes to God. So many people feel that they are enlightened. They know everything. Who walks around the city saying ‘please enlighten me I would love to know why I am here and where I am going and how I can find eternal life?’ We just don’t see those people.
And of course every religion claims to be enlightening and every cult claims to be enlightening. And we boast how enlightened we are as a nation. Did we not have an enlightenment back in the 17th and 18th Century? And have we not been getting cleverer and cleverer every year?
Well this is the question we have to ask – why are we still in the dark? Why is everything so dark? For all the technology would you say that we are in a brighter city? So much anger, so much fighting in our city, so much anxiety and so much tension we are breathing it. Why is this if we are so clever? Why is leadership in disarray in the Western world as it throws out the leadership of Christ? The fact is there is great darkness. People have no answers to the big questions.
Ask people the big questions and you get such trivial answers. Ask people what’s important and you get such trivial answers and especially the shadow of death.
It looms over everything. It mocks our plans. It laughs at our boasting, the shadow of death. And the problem is that people avoid the news of Christ, the light of Christ, the hope of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.
“It’s not enough for you to have the daylight. It’s not enough to have this artificial light. You need the light of Christ. “
We had a Christmas party a week ago down on the grounds, on the lawns down here and I met a lady sitting on the wall called Ellen. I don’t know if she has come to our Christmas Services but she is 83 years old. She said to me ‘all my friends are atheists, they are all materialists, I’ve come for some hope’. She walked into the back of the building, she looked at the bookstall, she took a book away about Jesus, looking for hope.
Now I know this sounds like a typical sermon on a Christmas Day. Some weird guy up the front raving, raging against the world, telling you that everything could be wonderful. But I want to say to you that unless you can answer the questions, WHY you are here in this world, WHO owns you and everything else, WHERE you are going at the end and HOW Christ solves all the important things, you are in the dark.
It’s not enough for you to have the daylight. We have been given a beautiful day. It’s not enough to have this artificial light, you need the light of Christ. It’s not enough to be able to sing ”Amazing Grace” and sing the words “I once was blind but now I see”, the question is can you see? Can you see what Christ has done? Do you understand it? Do you see what he offers? Do you understand it? Do you see what Christ promises? Do you understand it or are you in the dark?
I am not asking you to be a better person. I am not asking you to try harder. I am not asking you to fix your problems. I am asking you to look to Christ outside yourself. I would urge you to get a New Testament off your shelf, open up at the Gospels, find the facts of Christ and seek him until you belong to him and you can say ‘I am now out of the dark, I now have pardon and my feet are on the road of peace.’
Do You Know the Gospel?
If I was having coffee with you this week, I know that scares you but just imagine it. If I was having coffee with you this week and I just looked across the table and said ‘would you please explain the Gospel to me of Christ’. You know some of the children in our Sunday School can do it! But many of the adults cannot do it. Thousands and thousands of adults just do not understand Christianity. You hear people talking about Christianity. It’s as if they are describing the Pacific Ocean and they are calling it a small brown desert. As soon as they open their mouth you know they do not know what they are talking about. They are in the dark and the eyes are closed, their ears are closed and they don’t understand and they have never come to Christ and have their eyes opened and their ears opened. But to be out of the dark and see the answers that Christ has to our questions, to see the answers that Christ has to our sins, absolutely wonderful.
Many of the young people in our church are an absolute thrill to me to see that they have come. Ian who gave the Children’s spot (I remember him sitting here at the age of one, two, three) and now he is up here speaking to the children and to see these people come through the church clear, keen and understanding, what a gift that is.
During this year I have been at the bedside of a number of our people who have been dying. I’ve seen Christ the living Christ come near to them and strengthen them and comfort them and give them great conviction at the right time and hope for the future. It’s an absolutely wonderful privilege. I come away from the deathbed having received infinitely more than I took to the deathbed. To be out of the dark, to have your sins pardoned and thirdly to feel God’s peace.
To Feel God’s Peace
To feel God’s peace (verse 79) says “To guide our feet into the path of peace”. What a wonderful thing to be walking the path of peace. I wish I could give you these things. I wish I could give you God’s pardon. I wish I could give you God’s plans. I wish I could give you God’s peace but I can’t, only Christ can and you have to go to him.
What a wonderful thing to have your feet on the path of peace. To be able to walk each day in good relationship with God, to have his peace in your heart, to have a peace that sometimes spills over to other people and the day you know Christ, the day you marry Christ you will know his peace. And every now and again you will feel it in waves of gladness. It doesn’t mean that all your problems will disappear but it means that you will go through this world with something the world cannot give you and that person is Christ.
Don’t look to the world for the answers. The world is getting madder and madder and madder. I read this week that a comedian in London has been asked before he gives his jokes on a stage to sign a form that he will not say anything to do with racism, sexism, class-ism, ageism, ablism, homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, religion or atheism! What’s left for the comedian?? That’s it – all has been taken away.
Don’t look to the world. Don’t look to the preacher – Somebody said to me as they left the earlier service – “we came to see you” – what a tragedy, what a tragedy. Don’t look to the church. Church is a hospital making lots of dumb mistakes. A church in the UK just recently invited all the children to come to the front with sticks to attack a Santa and a reindeer just to show how keen they were. It seems a very weird and unnecessary thing to me. Church makes lots of mistakes.
Don’t look to the world. Don’t look to the preacher. Don’t look to this church. Don’t look to yourself. BUT look to Christ.
When people came to Jesus in John chapter 6 they said “what do you want us to do?” and Jesus said “believe in the one that God has sent”. What’s it mean to believe in Him? It doesn’t mean that you believe in him like he is a planet up there.’Oh I believe in him, he’s up there’. You believe in him like a plane, you join him, you get on board, you give yourself to him. He carries you, not like a planet, but join him like a plane.
And there are many here this morning who are glad, thankful and delighted that they have a pardon from God, they understand his plans, they know something of his peace and there are some here today who know nothing of any of them. And I can only urge you to do business with Christ, find a quiet place, sit in a corner, get your Bible, read Mark’s Gospel, find out the facts, seek him until you know him and you’ve got things that will outweigh the world. If you have Christ you have treasures that outweigh the world. If you don’t have Christ whatever you have will never ever solve or satisfy.
Well does this all sound familiar to you? I tell you what if it was my last sermon here in this building, I would say exactly what I have said to you. Look to Christ for pardon, to understand God’s plans and to have his peace. May it be true for you.
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages.