St Thomas’ Anglican Church
12 Week Series – Based on the Book of Luke
“God’s Wide Plan” – How to Respond to God
On these Sunday mornings,as you may know,we are following Luke’s Gospel. And we have gone back to the beginning,which is a great place to start,but it also means that we find ourselves in the familiar,over familiar perhaps,Christmas stories. And I wonder if it’s possible to even read Luke Chapter 2,Verse 8 – and there were shepherds,without immediately going off into trees and tinsel and presents and turkeys and all sorts of things. Then I thought to myself,let’s not get discouraged about this because normally when we look at Luke Chapter 2 we are dealing with a Christmas congregation who are not particularly interested and it is the job of the preacher to go back to these familiar things and help them to be interested. But I don’t have that battle this morning because I’m talking to you and among the congregation this morning are people who are interested in Luke’s Gospel – and you both know who you are! (laughter) So I’m working with that sort of enthusiastic twosome out there and I don’t need to fight quite as hard.
I want to ask you this question. What do you think Luke would want the long time believer to know from Luke Chapter 2? You know we are all sitting there in Christmas thinking,well I hope some unbeliever listens to this,I know all this. But what does Luke want the long time believer to know?
So far what we’ve seen as we’ve worked our way through Luke is that God brings news to people and there are various responses to the news. And you may think that’s all about non-Christians. You know,message comes to Zechariah – doesn’t respond very well,eventually he does respond well. Message comes to Mary – she responds pretty well and then Elizabeth comes along and says,believe it,this is great and she sings her song of praise. Now the message comes to the shepherds. How are the shepherds going to respond? Well try to put out of your mind – while shepherds watched their flocks by night type of carols and ask yourself,what is actually happening in these verses?
Would you turn it up on page 1014 in your Bibles – Luke Chapter 2. One of the first things you notice is that God has gone out to the fields. Well now God normally meets in the temple. But God has gone out to the fields. And God has gone,as we know to shepherds. And shepherds were poor,working class,fringe type of people. But normally God spoke in the temple to noble Jews. And we also see that God here is using angels. That is an exceptional piece of communication. So he’s gone out to the fields,he’s addressing the fringe of the world and he’s using the very heights of communication. And we see again,don’t we,that god has much bigger,wider plans than we generally recognise. It’s very Luke to keep telling the reader that God is interested in people that we’re not interested in. That God is reaching people who are responsive,not impressive. It’s very New Testament to do that,isn’t it? And as you read the Gospel of Luke,you’ll see again and again the person who we think is impressive walks away saying,disinterested,and the person who we think is unimpressive responds most wonderfully and there’s nothing more wonderful than to know that God is only interested in knowing whether you’re responsive. He doesn’t want to know whether you’re good,He doesn’t want to know whether you’re bad,He doesn’t want to know whether you’re clever or foolish or rich or poor,He wants to know whether you’re responsive. If you’re interested to respond,His message is for you. It does appeal to people,I think to talk about God communicating widely. I can imagine most unbelievers saying,it’s absolutely right that God would reach widely,let’s not have anything narrow from Christianity,let’s have wide Christianity. You know we want everybody to have a right to hear and we don’t want anybody to be in danger. Why should anybody in danger. Isn’t it God’s business to make sure everybody is happy? And it’s perfectly true that God reaches widely to the world,but he also reaches widely to the world with a gospel that says,you must come to my Son. I have a way for you,says God to the wide world,but it is my Son and the way means a narrow way. I’m saying this widely,says God,but everybody must come to my Son,who is The Way.
If you look at the first verses of Chapter 2,you’ll see that the verses begin widely and zoom in. Look at Chapter 2,Verse 1. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. That’s a wide angle. And then we move,Verse 2,to Corinius the Governor of Syria,there’s a slightly narrower area. And then we read Verse 4,Joseph heads to Bethlehem,there’s a slightly narrower focus again and he goes with Mary,Verse 5,so there’s two of them and a baby in Mary. And then we get Verse 6 & 7,the baby is born and the baby is in a manger. So this is the New Testament Google Earth that begins up with the world,moves to the region,to the town,to the twosome to the baby in the manger. There is this narrowing of the focus. So it is absolutely wonderful that the Saviour would come to the wide world. Everybody thinks that’s ok. But then God says,the wide world must go to the Saviour and that’s where the world kicks back and says,too narrow. But the two of them are the Gospel. Saviour to the wide world – wonderful! Wide world to the Saviour – absolutely essential!
Let’s think about the Verses 1-20 under two headings this morning. Verses 1-7 under the heading,’Historical Incarnation’. The second section,8-20,under the heading,’Heavenly Interpretation’. ‘Historical Incarnation’. ‘Heavenly Interpretation’ You see in Verse 1,Caesar Augustus orders a census. The census basically had to do with tax purposes and so Joseph and Mary head to Bethlehem because that’s Joseph’s home town and it’s his home town because he’s of the line of David and that’s where David was born. And we always get the impression,don’t we,from Christmas that they hurry to the town because she’s heavily pregnant and then they just make it and they knock on a few quick doors and none of them open,especially the inn,so they go the stable and there are these sleepy cows and asses and then she puts the baby into the manger. That’s the way we sort of have picked up the Christmas story. When you actually read the text it appears if you look at Chapter 2,Verse 6,that they may have been in Bethlehem for a while,the phrase,’while they were there’,actually means,’and in the time that they were there she has a baby’. And it’s quite possible,you see that she is staying in the house of friendly relatives. Matthew,Chapter 2 tells us that they were in a house. And when it says there was no place in the inn we always think that means the hotel,the word actually means guestroom. There was no place in the guestroom,so it’s quite possible that they were in a house,but the guestroom of the house was taken. A very simple house – upper level,where the people would live – lower level,which would have domestic animals,small,simple animals. And this word that we call the word inn (spells out – I double,N’) is actually the word which is guestroom. And if you don’t believe it you read the rest of Luke’s Gospel and you discover that when they’re feeding the crowd,when Jesus is feeding the 5000,the disciples say,send everybody home,send them back to their inn,send them back to their home. Or when Jesus comes to Zacheus,little Zacheus up in the tree and says come down I want to stay in your home,I want to stay in your guestroom. If the scriptures want to talk about an inn like a hotel or a motel there is the word,it’s in Luke Chapter 10,it’s in the story of the Good Samaritan,where the Good Samaritan takes the man by the side of the road to an inn – different words. But here it is,there’s probably a Joseph and Mary in a house,probably a welcoming house but a simple house,guestroom is taken and they have to use the feeding trough from the animal section in order to put the baby into a bed. I know this is disappointing for those of you who have grown up with very devoted Christmas ideas,but you know we’ve got to put a blow torch to some of these ideas. There’s know donkey that is recorded. Sorry to tell you. No three wise me,could be five,seven,ten,we don’t know. No sleepy cows and asses. No inn,no innkeeper. No tearless baby,you’ll be pleased to know,no record of a tearless baby! “Little Lord Jesus,no crying He makes”,it’s myth. And so what we have to do is,we have to put away all the stuff which has basically encrusted on our brain and ask the question,what does Luke actually want us to know? What does Luke actually want us to know? (Repeated) And what he wants us to know is very simple. He wants us to know that according to Caesar’s decree,they ended up in Bethlehem,the town of David and the child was born in the manger. Now only God can put together,town of David – manger,it’s the genius of God to link together something so great and something so ordinary.
I of course read these verses and I think to myself,Luke why don’t you just tell us more sensational things? Why don’t you tell us,for example that this birth of Jesus was the perfect time for Jesus to come? Why don’t you tell us that Jesus came,why did Jesus come when he came? Well Jesus came when he came because there was the one Roman power dominant; and therefore tremendous opportunities for travel. And there was the one dominant language,called Greek and,therefore tremendous opportunities for communication. The Roman and the Greek Gods had been largely discredited and people where hungry for new truth and the Jews had been under the Law now for hundreds of years,unsuccessfully,and they were longing for rescue and liberation. And into that absolutely perfect,never since situation,Jesus comes. Luke’s not interested,he leaves it out. So then think,Luke at least you could tell us that Jesus came in fulfilment of the Old Testament scripture in Micah,Ch. 5,V. 2,that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? Why don’t you just tell us that? Why don’t you tell us that God is so great that He would organise Caesar to make sure that the couple are in the town according to the scriptures? Luke’s not interested. And then I think,well Luke at least you could tell us why,if God is sovereign over Caesar He can’t organise a bed for His Son? If He can organise Augustus Caesar,the great nephew of Julius Caesar,if He can organise Augustus Caesar,to get the couple to the right town,surely He can plan for a bed,a proper crib? Luke’s not interested. He just wants us to know that Jesus has got to the town of David. Because we’ve been told already in Luke’s Gospel that this baby is the Lord,this baby is the Son of God,the Son of the Most High,he’s going to sit on the Throne of David and now he’s got to the town of David,that’s all he wants you to know; and He’s in a feeding trough because God turns what we think is important completely upside down and He turns what the world thinks is unimportant completely upside down. You can’t miss can you,as you live in the world,that the world is obsessed with the unimportant. You know,people walking up and down catwalks wearing clothes that nobody in their right mind would wear. Oscars,that you can’t remember who won last years. Grand Finals – you can’t remember who won. Melbourne Cups – you can’t remember who won. You know these things,they’re absolutely obsess. And yet,to ask questions like,’Who are we? Why are we here? Who owns us? Who made us? How long do we have?,Where will we go?, What’s the purpose of me being here?” – Unimportant questions. And if anybody would ever think that Jesus,this baby,is unimportant,well watch says Luke,because He’s going to get up out of His manger and eventually He’ll get up out of the grave and He’ll show Himself to be incomparably great.
And that leads us into our second section this morning,which is Verses 8-20,which is really the heavenly interpretation.
What is happening as God communicates to shepherds,with angels in the fields? Well I wonder if I came down with the microphone and put it in front of your face and said,what’s happening here? What would you say? One of the things that you might say is that god is obviously evangelising the outcast. And that’s wonderful. God is evangelising the person who doesn’t deserve to be evangelised. There must be some times where you come to church and you think to yourself,I really don’t deserve to be here today. You know if people knew what my last 24 hours had been like or my last week had been like,you know,I wouldn’t be welcome in this place and that’s because you keep thinking that the church is a bunch of people who are deserving to be there,but we’re a bunch of people who’ve come together on the basis of a Saviour. That’s why we’re so thankful,that’s why we’re so glad to come together. And the more you get to know the preacher and the more I get to know the parishioner the more you know that the preacher really needs a Saviour and the parishioner really needs a Saviour.
So it is great that God is communicating to the outcast and it IS evangelism. It says in Verse 10,I preach,or I bring you great news,good news,evangelise,I evangelise you. He’s evangelising shepherds and they’re going to go,Verse 10,and teach all people. So this is a very wonderful thing God is doing. But friends,the really important thing that is happening is that God is about to interpret for the shepherds what to make of the baby. They’re going to be able to work out this baby’s great,not by using their eyes,cause they’ll never work it out using their eyes,their going to work it out by listening to the message of the angels. Of course the baby is very impressive to Mary and you can imagine Mary holding the baby and saying,this is my boy,you know,he’s great and everybody saying,yeah – he is good,see you later! And she says,you don’t understand,an angel told me I’d have this baby. And they say,yeah,an angel told me I’d have a baby too,you know – how’s she going to explain this? Well of course,Jesus will grow to be very impressive,but in the meantime,in the immediate,God tells the shepherds. And the shepherds become His messengers,His evangelists. And He tells the shepherds,Verse 11,that this baby,the baby that’s been born,is the Saviour,the Christ and the Lord. Interestingly,there’s no other place in the New Testament where those three are put together – Saviour,Christ,Lord. This is as theologically as packed a text as you could have. In fact I’m amazed to discover that Jesus is only called Saviour twice in the New Testament – once,here in Luke Chapter 2,Verse 11 – once in John Chapter 4. God is called Saviour again and again. Salvation is mentioned again and again,but the idea of Jesus being the Saviour is mentioned here only in Matthew,Mark and Luke. So what is God doing through the angels? He’s explaining to the shepherds that someone has been born who is going to be the great rescuer the world needs. The Shepherds wouldn’t have understood exactly what that meant but they would have said,we’d like to be rescued from the Romans,we’d like to be rescued from our problems. God says,I’m bringing you a rescuer who will rescue you from something much greater than that. And then see,he says,this is the Christ,the Messiah. They probably didn’t understand all about the Messiah but at least they understood there was a Messiah. And then says the angel,this is the Lord,the Ruler,the King of the world. They wouldn’t have understood all the implications of that but at least they were beginning. You see God doesn’t expect them to work it out when they go and look at the baby. People cannot work Jesus out just with their own brains. In the first century when people looked at Jesus even with the miracles and they said,it must be the devil. Some of them said,he’s a teacher. Some of them said,he’s John the Baptist. Some of them said,he’s a prophet. It’s only by listening to what the Word of God says that we can work Him out. Same with the cross. How can you work out the cross is important. There’s a man dieing an absolutely terrible death. How can you work out what that’s all about? For the first Century that’s a tragedy,what a waste. For the 21st Century many people will say,it’s very moving,very inspirational. It’s only when you go to the New Testament and you see what the cross is all about – Jesus,substituting Himself for us,taking the wrath of God in order that we might not suffer the wrath of God – that’s where you begin to understand the cross. God must interpret and that’s what He’s doing here with the angels to the shepherds. And that’s why when they go to the sign,Verse 12,this little sign of a baby in a manger,they won’t underestimate it. Hasn’t it always struck you as being odd at Christmas that these angels say to the shepherds,I’ve got a sign for you,go through the town and find a baby in a trough. Just such a weird sign,isn’t it? I mean,angels if you’re going to give me a sign give me a house that’s totally lit up by the shekinah glory,that’s a sign. Give me angels all over the roof,singing. They say,no,when you get to Bethlehem this is the sign – you’ll find a baby in a feeding trough. And when you get to the baby in the feeding trough,don’t underestimate the baby,it’s the saviour,it’s the Christ,it’s the Lord. Now of course when they get to Bethlehem and they find the baby in the feeding trough,what do they know? They know that the angels are telling the truth because there was a baby in a feeding trough. And if the angels have told the truth about the baby in the feeding trough maybe the angels were telling the truth about Jesus being Saviour,Christ,Lord as well. They totally trust and they start telling everybody,and then they go home singing,Verse 20. But of course when they also get to the baby in the manger they know that this baby is not unimpressive. They know this baby is impressive. It’s very sort of Corinthian this isn’t it,you know how Paul had to say to the Corinthians,don’t be fooled by the preacher he’s not impressive,but what he says is impressive. Don’t be fooled by the Church,it doesn’t look great but it’s highly significant to God. Don’t be fooled by the Gospel,it’s the power of God for Salvation for everyone who believes. Exactly the same here – God is teaching the shepherds – don’t underestimate this baby.
And when you and I try to live the Christian life,and it is a difficult thing to live the Christian life,and things are just not that great sometimes and things are really hard going,and we think about how difficult it is to live the Christian life widely wherever we go and we think about bringing this very narrow,unpopular Gospel- good news,but not popular news,to the world and we think about the fact that we are so ordinary we really do need the word of God to keep us going because unless the Word of God tells us the truth,we’ll capitulate to what we see and feel. That’s why the response issue is not just for unbelievers it’s for believers,it’s for me,I’ve got to respond to the Word of God hour by hour,day by day and so have you. You must be a good receiver of the Word of God all the time. When you read your bible in the morning ask God to give you a promise or a reminder or a command that you can actually put into practice. And when you’ve read something isolate what you’ve read and pray it back to God and say,this is what I’m going to try and hang onto and either believer or do today because the responding of the believer to the Word of God is the way to really live for Him.
Maybe you’re going through a testing time at the moment? Your natural reaction is to go into despair. Of course it is,it’s the same for all of us. But we need the word of God to tell us all the important things about what’s going on. I was very struck by a little poem of John Piper’s which says this,he’s talking about the Grace of God,see if you can follow this,he says – Not grace to bar what is not bliss,nor flight from all distress,but this the Grace that orders sorrow,pain and in the dark will there sustain. That’s such a helpful little sentence,isn’t it? It’s a very biblical sentence. When the Grace of God comes,the Grace of God does not protect us from all difficulty – it is not Grace to bar what is not bliss,nor flight from all distress,but THIS the Grace that orders sorrow,pain and in the dark will there sustain. My Grace is sufficient for you.
Maybe somebody here today is going through a foolish time. People come into church and they’re playing a game with God. There are people who come to church and they’re trying to keep their distance from so they can have proximity to sin. It’s a dreadful experience. It dishonours God. It doesn’t help the fellowship. It chews you up. It never satisfies you. And maybe there’s somebody who’s saying,I’m so far from God because I must cling onto this sin – You must now live by the Word of God. The Word of God urges you,even back in Mary’s song,Chapter 1,that God will bring down the proud from their thrones,but he’ll lift up the humble and meek. Put away the proud sin,put away things that keep you-that make distance with God,humbly surrender to Him again,He will lift you up. He will give you more joy,more satisfaction in His fellowship than you’ll ever get from that sin,whatever it is. And maybe you’re serving the Lord and serving the Lord is difficult cause ministry,Christian living is difficult,and you’re tempted to give up the faith,you’re tempted to give up preaching the word,you’re tempted to give up serving in some capacity – go back to what the Word of God says,the Word of God,what does it say? My beloved brethren be steadfast immovable,always abounding in the work of the Lord,don’t give up,don’t give up the faith,don’t give up the ministry,don’t give up the faithfulness,it’s not in vain because Jesus has risen.
We must copy the shepherds you see. Not just the unbeliever must copy the shepherds,the believer must copy the shepherds. The believers,listen very carefully,responded and as they responded they came eventually to rejoice. J C Ryle says,the journey begun in faith will invariably end in praise.
Let’s pray. Our Heavenly Father,we thank You this morning for bringing to the world,the Saviour and the message of the Saviour and we thank you for bringing the message to our ears. And we pray that you would help us to respond to your word,not only the good news of Jesus – Saviour – Christ – Lord,but that you would help us to respond to all the implications,that we would keep trusting Him as Saviour in all the difficulties. That we would respond to him as Christ,as we come face to face with all the uncertainties and doubts. And that we would also respond to him as Lord in the face of so many sins and temptations. Help us respond to Him,that we might praise You and we ask it in Jesus’ name,Amen