Christmas Heavenly peace2
Doxology Hymn no 323: “Into your presence we come”(Repeat, with Amen at end of repeat)
Call to worship
Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6)
Hymn No 166: “Come O long expected Jesus
Invocation and the Lord’s Prayer
To you, O LORD, we lift up our soul; in you we trust, O our God. Do not let us be put to shame, nor let our enemies triumph over us. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show us your ways, O LORD, teach us your paths; guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are God our Savior, and our hope is in You all day long. Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of our youth and our rebellious ways; according to your love remember us, for You are good, O LORD. (Psalm 25:1-7)
The Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Declaration of pardoning
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:27-29)
Hymn No 169: “Who is He?” (All: Verses 1, 3, 5, 7, 8; Ladies: 2, 5; Men: 4, 6)
Offering and Dedication
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10)
Prayer for others
Hymn no 173: “A Great and Mighty wonder”
Scripture Reading Luke 2:1-14
8 Sermon “Heavenly peace”
Dear Brother and Sister in the Lord,
If there is one thing man desires above all, it would be peace. For parents it would mean a safe environment to bring up their children – many people in war-torn countries move elsewhere mainly to secure a safe place to raise children. For the businessman it would mean an environment to conduct his business with safety – just look at what happened with the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York. Peace is priceless. Just ask veteran soldiers.
The problem is just that peace can be a trap. It can become addictive; leading to a situation that people will sacrifice principles just to maintain peace.
This form op peace is, of course, just the absence of war or tension. This form of peace is nothing but a ticking time bomb that will explode and cause much harm. This is the sort of peace the people enjoyed in the time of Caesar Augustus.
8 Pax Romana
The time under Caesar Augustus was a very special time in the history of the Roman Empire. He succeeded Julius Caesar is Roman Emperor.
After a period of many battles and wars, Augustus introduced a period of peace. And it had wonderful consequences.
The reforms of Augustus as well as his long life contributed to the idea that he was something more than human -- he was certainly a hero, but the Romans thought of him in religious terms. 8 He was the god-king who was the saviour and benefactor of his people. He was commonly addressed as soter, ‘Saviour of the world’, and as adopted son of Julius Caesar, ‘the Son of God’.
The money coined had his head on it. His successor, Tiberuis, had coins with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus’. The imperial cheer-leaders and followers of Augustus were called Augustiani, in contrast to the followers of Christ, who were called Christiani.
His popularity led him to really move forward and assume religious status among the people. He made himself chief priest of the civic religion and the public censor. 8 What was allowed in moral terms and what not, was determined by Augustus. He was the standard of moral issues. He was the supreme ruler, the king, the emperor and his authority (auctoritas) was absolute.
8 Under his leadership the Roman Empire was known for its achievements. He provided a material and political base of cultural achievement. This is the age of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. Augustus was worshipped as the political reformer who had the power to bring peace and prosperity. Augustus began building and rebuilding Rome. This public works program gave citizens jobs and helped to increase Augustus' popularity among the people of Rome. Since access to the provinces was essential for control, he made sure that the roads were kept in repair, and in some cases built new roads. Augustus felt his city should tower over the rest of the world.
8 But the Augustan reforms were not limited to political, economic and social issues alone. They also envisioned a fundamental change in Roman culture itself. Augustus tried to turn Rome into a world capital and taught the Romans to identify their destiny with the destiny of all mankind. They were the chosen people who would bring peace and stability to a violent and changing world.
The Romans looked forward to a world composed of the most diverse elements and people. The Empire would be synonymous with the world.
Augustus put forth a series of moral legislation that was designed to improve the morals and restore republican virtue. To the public Augustus appeared very moral and upstanding, but in reality, he was anything but. In the guise of finding out secrets from enemies, he would often have sexual relationships with women who were related to these "enemies.”.
8 Under the rule of Augustus, many facets of the government ran very smoothly, leaving the impression that Rome was at peace. War was a distant thing, confined only to the most rugged frontiers. Thanks to the huge amounts of wealth from Egypt that were kept by Augustus after the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra, Augustus was able to throw elaborate feasts, festivals and celebrations for the people of Rome, to further the notion that peace had well and truly been achieved.
8 The Pax Romana, or Roman Peace has been said to be almost a "miracle." He set up a government that was able to maintain a peace for many centuries. A system of imperialism was put forth that lasted for centuries.
8 Heavenly peace
These were the times when Christ was born. Even the Jews in Palestine, although not under self-rule, enjoyed the fruit of the Pax Romana. They were under the Roman Empire, but they enjoyed its peace and prosperity. It was under the reign of Augustus that Herod was allowed to complete the new temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.
Then one night, while the shepherds were minding the sheep in the fields of Bethlehem, the heavens tore open with the angelic host singing a song of exultation. They sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)
8 It was a proclamation of the good news. The previous angelic proclamations were directed particularly to the persons to whom the visions came. The joy of this message is for all the people of God; the shepherds are only representative of the larger group who anticipate and long for the deliverance Messiah brings. The benediction of praise expresses not merely the hope for the future but the reality that has become actual in Messiah’s birth: To God in the highest, glory!
Gloria in excelsis Deo: The life and ministry of Jesus, the new-born Saviour, would bring glory to God in the highest. His ministry would bring peace on earth to those on whom the favour of Go rests.
To his people on earth, peace! Why?
8 The reference to the “glory of the Lord” in verse 9 is of special significance. In all references in the Bible to this expression (which occurs in this form 39 times in the Bible) it designates the appearance of the Lord Himself to show his holiness, but also to represent his divine and merciful presence among his people like in the times of their rescue out of bondage from Egypt. God would make his home amongst his people. We read in Exodus in the finest of details about the commands God gave to Moses to prepare the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, the ark and the worship of the people of Israel. When Moses completed all the work and after everything had been done according to God’s command that the following happened:
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)
God’s people were directed by this glorious presence and direction of the Lord.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out;
but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. (Exodus 40:36-37)
In almost the last chapter of the Bible we hear about the New Jerusalem. Here the “dwelling of God is with men.” (Rev 21:3) This city shines “with the glory of God”. Here is no temple in this city, because the Lord Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light (21:22-23).
Then on Bethlehem’s field the glory of the Lord shone upon them. The meaning of all of this is that God, through his Son, Jesus the Christ, would now dwell with his people. The old covenant sealed by the sacrificial blood of bulls would now be fulfilled in another sacrifice – that of Jesus Christ. More than that: This Christ will give a New Jerusalem – and God will dwell with his people forever. That’s why the angels proclaimed:
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
The peace which the angels announce is not the external and transient pax Romana; it is the peace which heals the estrangement between sinful men and a holy God. The Christ is the Saviour. The baby to be named Jesus is the Saviour, the Messiah and the Lord.
8 He is Lord – not a mere baby in a crib. Before Him people and peoples would bow in adoration and homage. He is more than the Caesar. He is the Son of the Living God. Through Him God created the world, and by Him God saves the world. He gives life, because He is life. Without Him, life is not possible and life eternal is eternal torment and punishment.
8 He is Saviour, because the world is lost in sin and needs a Saviour sent by God to stand between Himself and lost mankind. Christmas tells the story of salvation and redemption. It tells the story of peace with God.
8 He is Messiah, the Christ, the anointed One sent by and from the Father. He is the One who would crush the head of the serpent to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament so that we can become inheritors of the heavenly kingdom.
8 His kingdom is not from the world. It includes this world, but it is not of this world. He is King over all kings, all those who claim to be Augustus, offering a human utopia.
The question is “Was there a need for peace in the time of the birth of Jesus?” If they had about everything under Augustus, why then this peace? Why would people today be bothered about peace, if we live in relative peace? Why would people listen to the message of angels about the peace of Jesus Christ, if they have a government, and even a United Nations, who will secure peace?
Let’s keep the following in mind:
8 Because all heaven and earth are God's creation, and because man is created in God's image, God is the great and inescapable fact; the knowledge of God is indisputable knowledge. When men in unrighteousness or injustice suppress or deny that knowledge, they cannot evade the necessity of God, and so they declare or create new gods in their image, or in terms of their imagination (Rom. 1:18-25). The most powerful, and most deadly, of these new or false gods has, through the centuries, been the state. The state, as a false god, claims total jurisdiction, and it declares itself sovereign or god: Caesar August did that, and the people were willing to worship him as god.
Men, denying the true God, cannot escape having a god, and the modern state is the great Baal (or Lord) of modern man. The cry of modem man is a political cry, "O Baal, hear us" and save us (I Kings 18:26).
8 The Message of Christmas is the message of two kings: Augustus (or a worldly god), the peacemaker, or Jesus Christ, Ruler of rulers, the Saviour of sins sent by God. Either one, but not both.
The peace of Christ is peace because He saves from sins and curse. The peace of this world is perhaps the absence of war, but it is not everlasting.
Praise God for the birth of his Son. Amen.
Hymn No 178: “O bless the Lord, the God of Israel” Tune 168)
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)