Archive for December, 2009

Too Good to Be True? Christmas Eve 2009

Posted: December 25, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
preached by Rob Sturdy on Dec 24, 2009

A sermon from Luther’s Church Postil for Christmas Day from (Luke 2.1-14).  Notice how Luther distinguishes those who lived in plenty and comfort from Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the night of the savior’s birth.  This distinction is hammered home by his convicting series of questions at the end of the second paragraph.  “What has Bethlehem when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?”  Indeed.  If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing. 

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Marylack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

Martin Luther, Church Postil  1.1.138

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Posted: December 23, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized

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Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

This was quoted from a post by C.J. Mahaney that you can find here

I’m not sure why I haven’t sent folks to visit Andy’s blog before.  He’s a local pastor, serving Prince George Church in Georgetown.  He has even visited Trinity, where he was  a guest teacher on our marriage night.  I’ve excerpted a great little post he wrote a few weeks ago on Luke 14.7-11.  Go on over and pay him a visit

Luke 14:7-11 tells us that Jesus is at a party, a dinner party and he has noticed something – people wanted the places of honor at the banquet. Now, in this setting people did not sit at tables, but reclined, and those places closest to the host were the places of honor. People wanted the places of honor so that they could show their importance. So Jesus tells a parable – a story.

Jesus says that instead of taking the highest seat, and risk humiliation because a more distinguished guest may arrive, you should take the lowest place, so that the host may move you up.

But is Jesus just giving us a great scheme to allow us to get honored at parties – the key is take the lowest place and then wait to get bumped up to a higher seat and you get honored and everyone wins?

No, Jesus is not providing a scam to enable us to climb the social ladder covertly, because the flaw in the plan is what happens if we take the lowest seat expecting to be bumped up and the host never comes to us; we just remain in the lowest seat.  If our motive is to take the seat simply to get moved up, and the host does not move you up, we would sit there seething, angry and humiliated.

That is the key to the story – we are to take the lowest seat without expectation of moving up. We take the lowest seat willingly, happy to remain there, not threatened or worried by issues of status or position. And in taking the lowest seat, we are by our actions lifting others higher than ourselves, happy for them to take the places of honor.

Jesus’ parable is not just about humility, it is also about witness – taking the lowest seat witnesses to those at the party; about what is important in a persons life; about where a persons security is based and about Christ. It makes a statement.

read the whole thing here

I don’t pretend to be a good preacher, however I do think I know one when I see one.  And after studying several good ones, from various points in the 2000 years of Christian preaching I’ve noticed something.  The very best ones are not very original.  Rather, they rely heavily on the Scriptures and equally heavily on those Christian saints who have gone before them.  The point is expressed very well by Spurgeon in the excerpt below.  A good preacher doesn’t preach a new thing, but an old thing.  A good preacher isn’t innovative, but a copy cat.  A good preacher doesn’t come with his own message, but the message of Jesus Christ.  All the good ones have done this.  And the smart ones copy those who have done it well.

Christ’s testimony was final.  His was the last testimony, the last revelation that ever will be given to man.  After Christ, nothing.  Christ comes last:  he is the stepping stone across the brook of time.  All who come after him are only confirmers of the testimony of Christ.  Our Augustins, our Ambroses, our Chrysostoms, or any other of the mighty preachers of olden times, they never pretended to say any thing fresh.  They only revived the gospel- that same old fashioned gospel which Christ used to preach.  And Luther and Calvin, and Zuingle, adn Knox, they only came to confirm the truth.  Christ said “finis” to the canon of revelation, and it was closed forever.  No one can add a single word thereto, and no one can take a word therefrom.  We Dissenters are sometimes charged with inventing a new gospel.  We deny it.  We say that our Owen, Howe, Henry, Charnock, Bunyan, Baxter, Janeway, and all that galaxy of stars did not pretent to anything new; they only preached the same thing over again, they only revived the things that Christ said, they only professed to be confirmers of the witness, and not witnesses.  And so it has been with teh great men we have lost during the last century.  Whitefield and his brother evangelists, and men who stood in the same position as Gill, or Booth, or Rippon, or Carey, or Ryland, or some of those who have just been taken away- they did not pretend to any thing new.  They only said, Brethren, we come to tell you the same old story; we have got just as much as God bestows; we are not testifiers of new things; we are only confirmers of the witness, Christ Jesus.

-Charles Spurgeon, “Confirming the Witness of Christ”, Sermon XIV

Just in case you found yourself thinking about the incarnation this time of year, whether you’re a preacher preparing for your Christmas sermon or a lay person looking to get introduced to a deep mystery, I have handily provided below several past posts from this blog on the incarnation for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

Kierkegaard: A parable of a king and a maiden a heart wrenchingly beautiful parable on the nature of God becoming man

Jesus, Puberty, and the Mid-Life Crisis:  this is a short post I wrote some time ago teasing out some of the implications of the incarnation on various stages of life.  Heavily leaning on the early church theologian Irenaeus, this focuses on the doctrine of recapitulation.

Abraham Kuyper: on the Incarnation Kuyper was a highly intelligent and influential theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition.  Kuyper’s is a very earthy description of the incarnation, pointing out that once the Son of God took on flesh, his body was nourished with the blood of Mary, a child of fallen Adam.

Octavius Winslow: Jesus Wept Winslow was a puritan theologian.  His focus is principally on the human emotions the eternal Word wed himself to at the incarnation.

Spurgeon:  The Incarnation and Birth of Christ Spurgeon, famous Baptist preacher from London and “last Puritan” holds a kingly picture of the child in Bethlehem.  This one in particular is easy to get lost in worhsip.

Milton: Paradise Lost In this excerpt from Milton’s famous Paradise Lost we see the intra-Trinitarian conversation between God the Father and God the Son about how to go about redeeming sinful humanity.  Deeply moving stuff.

Augustine: City of God In this excerpt Augustine here draws out the logical conclusion of sola Christus (I know it is an anachronism) through the incarnation.

Theodore Beza:   in this excerpt Beza demonstrates why the Christ must be fully God and fully man

Calvin’s Christology:  This is a longer essay I wrote on Calvin’s Christology, dealing chiefly with his complex view of the incarnation