God’s Christmas Grace
by Tony Evans
Text: Luke 1:5-45
Topic: How God sent his grace to real people with real problems.
Big Idea: God orchestrated Jesus’ birth to bring us grace.
Key words: Christmas; Christ, birth of; Grace; Incarnation
- To fully understand Christmas, we must put two stories side by side.
God’s grace was shown to Zacharias and Elizabeth.
- Luke 1:5
- The names Zacharias and Elizabeth together mean, "The Lord keeps his covenant."
- To show that he can open Elizabeth’s womb, God shuts Zacharias’ mouth.
God’s grace was shown to Mary.
- The angel Gabriel is the link between the two stories.
- Mary questions the possibility of the prophecy, just as Zacharias did.
- Elizabeth was Mary’s proof that nothing is impossible with God.
God orchestrated Jesus’ birth to bring grace to us.
- The masterful plan of God was at work bringing both stories together.
- We have great reason to praise God for sending us his son.
God's Christmas Grace
by Tony Evans
The world system that you and I are part of has been celebrating the holiday called Christmas. And on that holiday, people have benefited by it. Gifts that they would not have received, they've received, because Jesus had a birthday. Time off that they would never have received, they've received, because Jesus had a birthday. Bonuses, perhaps that have come because of profit sharing at the end of the year, have come because someone else, Jesus, had a birthday. But on Jesus' birthday—on the birthday of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that day when he ought to be recognized for his coming into the world—times when Christ would not come on their minds at all, they're still going through the parade of Christmas. And yet when the Bible talks about Christmas, it talks about one who not only was born in a manger, but owned the ground on which the manger laid; one who knew nothing but yet in the manger knew everything; one who was powerless because he was an infant, yet powerful, because he has the power of life and death in his infant hands. Christmas is about Christ.
There's a whole scene that Luke paints for us, relating to the birth of Jesus Christ, which you might tend to miss. For you see, Jesus' birth was interwoven into a whole political as well as personal scene, that if you ripped that away, you missed some of the beauty that surrounded the birth of Christ. Now we are aware of the event—that speaks for itself—but are we aware of the circumstances that surrounded that event, which even gives that event power? You see, the Christmas story surrounds real people living in a real world who had a real problem. And God did not bypass that real world and those real people and those real problems to just plan a Christmas story. The Christmas story was planted in the midst of those real people, going through real problems, living real, everyday lives.
To fully understand the Christmas story, we must juxtaposition—we must lay side by side—two stories. It is the story of the birth of John, and the story of the birth of Jesus. Those two are placed side-by-side, by the author Luke, because as far as Luke was concerned, to get the impact of Jesus in the manger, you've also got to get the impact of John in Elizabeth's belly. In order to get the impact of Mary being a virgin, you have to also nave the impact of Elizabeth being barren. In order to get the impact of Joseph being the espoused husband to Mary, you're going to have to also get the impact of Zacharias going to the temple on his appointed day. In order to get the impact of Gabriel coming with the message to Mary, you must first see Gabriel being sent by God to Zacharias. In order to get the impact of the Jesus story, Luke, the investigative doctor, says you must also have the impact of the birth of John. And so he gives us the story of the birth of John. Then he goes to the event of the birth of Christ. Let's see how they interrelate, shall we?
God’s grace was shown to Zacharias and Elizabeth.
First we're told that there was this priest (in verse 5), whose name was Zacharias. He was of the division of Abijah, and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. Now it's very interesting that when you combine the meaning of the name Elizabeth with the meaning of the name Zacharias, you come up with the phrase "the Lord keeps his covenant." Zacharias means that the Lord is faithful, he keeps his word. Elizabeth means "the oath" or "the covenant." So when Zacharias married Elizabeth and the two became one, the Lord keeps his covenant. It was not chance that the ones whom the Lord honors with this miracle were people who were blameless, who were faithful, who were obedient, and—guess what—who were doing what they were supposed to be doing when they were supposed to be doing it. See all Zacharias did was go to do his priestly job. He was just being faithful, that's all, and God met him there.
Well, he tells him the greatness John will have. John raises the question (verse 18): "Now wait a minute, angel, how shall I know this for certain, for I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. We have a practical problem here, angel." Do you get the conflict here? Zacharias has been praying for a miracle. God says, "Prayer granted." Zacharias raised the question, "Now how we going to do that?" And now he says, "Look, this cannot be. God can't do that." And the angel answered, "Number one. you don't know who you're talking to." In the words of contemporary jargon, the angel said, "Do you know who I am?" And his answer was, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God." We have an unusual statement here. Here we have an angel saying, "You do not know who I am." Now why does the angel say that? Because Zacharias raised the question, "How? I know I prayed for a miracle but I don't understand how you can possibly do it." The angel responds, "You don't know who I am. nor do you know where I come from. I am Gabriel, and I come from the presence of God. I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news." In other words, "God wasn't wasting his time when he sent me. I'm not wasting my time by coming, so don't you waste my time with that question!"
Well anyway, to make a long story short, "Behold, since you want to know how we're going to do it, let me tell you how we're going to do it. We're going to do this the same way we're going to stop you from speaking. Ain't going to be no different. Same thing. I tell you what we're going to do. So you know that God can bring babies when babies can't be brought, to help you out here I'm going to not let you talk for a little while. That'll let you know that I'm dead serious about this other thing. So the fact that I can stop you from speaking—I can close your mouth—means I can open Elizabeth's womb. So be silent. I know what you're saying, "Well, they did this kind of stuff way back then." Folks, God is working miracles every day. He is not doing them the same way, and I doubt if any of us have seen angels that we can strictly identify as angels. But folks, he is still doing miracles. Perhaps we're just not close enough to him to see them.
So anyway, Zacharias comes out and he can't say a word. He wants so bad to tell these folks what's been coming down. You’ve got to understand that the folks outside are worried, because the priests don't stay in this long. What is going on? What is that man doing in there? Is he still alive? To add fuel to the fire, he can’t talk. Now you know the brother has done something wrong. He came out, verse 22 says, and "he was unable to speak to them and they realized he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them.” The man is disoriented. He's trying to make signs, but everything is incomprehensible. But he went back home, and for an old man he had, shall we say, some good times. Verse 24: "After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant"—so he at least tested the Lord—"and she kept herself in seclusion for five months." But she stayed hidden. "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days that he looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men. Now why does she stay away five months? She had waited on the Lord, and she just wasn't going to say, "Thank you, good-bye." She got behind closed doors, and for five months, every time she thought about the pregnancy in her womb, it was the means to praise. And if God blessing in our lives doesn't bring us praise and adoration so that we want to walk with him, spend time with him, serve him, glorify him, we've missed the whole purpose.
God’s grace was shown to Mary.
Now Luke jumps stories. He changes channels. "Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent..." That's our link, the angel Gabriel. Gabriel was sent "from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth." You have to understand, Nazareth grew as a crooked city, and it just had a bad reputation—a very materialistic city. So Gabriel was sent to Dallas—Nazareth, excuse me—to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph. He wants you to make sure all of us understand that Mary had never been with a man. What was God getting ready to do? He was getting ready to do a holy thing. So if God was going to do a holy thing, guess who he was going to use? A holy woman.
The logic here is very simple: God was not going to have his holy program made impure by an unholy person. That's nothing different than what the New Testament says: "Be ye holy as I am holy." Live up to divine standards. Now all Mary knows growing up is to keep herself pure. She's been taught by her parents righteous living. Her parents didn't tell her "because you are going to be the mother of the Messiah." All they did was say, "Honor the Lord, and the Lord will honor you." So guess what she had to hold on to? Nothing. She was being righteous simply because that was what God required. Well, she's ' a virgin, engaged to Joseph of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. "Coming in, he said to her (verse 28), 'Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled (verse 29) at this statement, and she kept pondering...." What does this mean? I don't understand what's going on. And he says, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God." In other words, from the human standpoint. God has put on his binoculars, Mary, and he's been looking over the Jewish nation because he wants to do a big thing. Now you have to understand, if you were a Jew, the coming of the Messiah was the hottest thing in town because their whole history was waiting for this. The binoculars of heaven start looking, and, in the words of a contemporary gospel song, "looking for somebody he can use." He looked over there: "No, I can't use her. Oh well, I could have used her but I know what's going to happen next year. I can't use her." God looking for somebody says, 'You have found favor in the sight of the Lord." And our Lord knew who he was going to use all the time from a sovereign perspective, but from a human perspective. God wanted something he could depend on. So you found favor. God has chosen you. "And you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you will call his name Joshua, Jesus." Joshua is the Old Testament word for the same word that's Jesus here in the New Testament—salvation. You shall call his name Jesus. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David."
Mary raises the question—make the link here, verse 34—"How can this be, since I am a virgin?" Now where have we seen a question like that? You remember a question like that here? You remember a few verses ago, Zacharias said, "How can this thing be?" Now here's the link: God knew Mary was going to raise that question and that's not a bad question to ask. "I've never been with anybody. You tell me I'm going to have a son. How can this thing be?" Now the Lord knew Mary was going to ask this question, and the whole sermon really comes down to this point here: "He said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. " Now he says to her, "Look, I know you're right. You've never been with a man. Don't worry. That egg will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit or shall we call it the seed of God. The seed of God will link with that human egg, and therefore you shall be able to call him not only your son, the son of man, but you shall call him Son of God, because he will be divine in nature as well as human." But this still is inconceivable to Mary. Therefore, verse 36 is our key verse: "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth (now the link) has also conceived a son (key) in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month." How? Verse 37: "For nothing will be impossible with God. Now get the point. Mary has raised the question: How can this be? "Well, in terms of academic explanation, Mary, the Holy Spirit is going to overshadow the egg, and you're going to have a child." 'But I still don't understand." 'If you don't understand, Mary, go visit Elizabeth because you know about Elizabeth. Tell me about Elizabeth, Mary." 'Elizabeth is an old, old lady." 'Guess what? Elizabeth's six months pregnant!" 'No. Wait a minute. People cannot have kids as old as Aunt Liz is." 'Elizabeth is not here is she?" "That is impossible." "Well guess what, Mary, guess what? No more impossible than what's getting ready to happen to you. And if you doubt me, go visit Elizabeth."
God orchestrated Jesus’ birth to bring grace to us.
What has God done? Luke tells us God created a situation that not only gave birth to John, who the Old Testament predicted (notice the marvelous mastery of God's thinking), he came up with a plan that miraculously produces John through Elizabeth and Zacharias. He also makes sure that Elizabeth and Zacharias are related to Mary. because Mary's going to need Elizabeth and Zacharias to validate what's getting ready to happen to her. So he makes sure that they're relatives. What I'm saying to you, is that the birth of Jesus Christ, while miraculous in and of itself—if there were no other material given to us, the fact that a virgin conceived would be a miracle of itself—is surrounded by an orchestration by the will of God. It not only responded to human needs of prayer, it also responded to the hookup that was needed between John and Jesus. It also responded to the needs for a sign that Mary would have, for she gave Zacharias a sign, and that sign went home and hit Elizabeth. So when Mary hooked up with Elizabeth, the two kids hooked up with one another, and God, through the resource of Luke, says a masterful plan was orchestrated at the birth of Jesus Christ. Is that a reason to praise God? Is that a reason to serve God? Is that a reason to submit to the Messiah of God? Yes it is. Let's praise God. Take a moment for personal thanksgiving, would you. that God sent Jesus to be your Messiah. Born in that manger, is God, come to die for you. He came to take your place, to be your substitute. Perhaps you're here this morning and you never met the Savior. If you're here this morning and the miracle has never gripped you, that Savior grew up and he became a man. And he died, he died in your place for your sins. He died to be your substitute. Would you accept him as your substitute right now?
Tony Evans is founder and President of The Urban Alternative. He pastors Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, Texas. His most recent book is God Is More Than Enough (Multnomah, 2004).
(c) Tony Evans
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