My preparation for this year’s Christmas Eve service took me to the normal places – Luke 1, Luke 2, and Matthew 1. But then I went to some unusual places in relation to our celebration of Christmas – Matthew 20 and 26, and Revelation 19.
We are all familiar with the Gospel accounts written by Matthew and Luke; the birth announcement, the responses of Mary and Joseph, the angelic worship and pronouncement of joy and peace to a needy world. The Christmas story of the Christ child is a much-needed reminder of God’s love for His creation day by day.
But this is only part of the Gospel story. Yes God sent His Son to bring joy and peace to mankind. But how was that accomplished in the birth of Christ? The birth of Christ was the announcement of the coming of the King. But it also announced the commencement of God’s Genesis 3 plan – Jesus was born to be the Redeemer of a fallen mankind. This is where the Church must remember to place the emphasis.
This reminder however, creates a bit of uneasiness in much of the Church today. That uneasiness is the sad fruit of the Church having forgotten its mission. The Church should not be focused on making sure people can feel the emotional warmth of a good nativity story and nothing more. As Erwin Lutzer said recently, “Are we really at a place where we think we have won something because Target employees say ‘Merry Christmas’”?
The Gospel story includes Jesus’ testimony that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). That is the point Jesus made clear in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal at the hands of Judas. Read these words again only now through the lens of the Christmas story. “Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it with you in My Father’s Kingdom” (Matt. 26:27-29).
When we consider Jesus’ view on the purpose of His life we see clearly it always pointed to Calvary and beyond. The beyond He describes as God’s eternal Kingdom. Please note in the Mathew 26 passage above that Christ’s followers will celebrate with Him at another supper. This brings us to Revelation 19.
What we find in Revelation 19:1-9 is a picture of a celebration in heaven. This is the same celebration Jesus spoke of during the Last Supper. Note what exactly is being celebrated: (1) Verse 1 – God Himself – “Hallelujah” means praise be to Jehovah. (2) Verse 1 – Salvation – the fact that God has provided and those in attendance have received. (3) Verses 1-3 – God’s glory in His works. Then, (4) Verse 6 – God Himself again as well as God’s reign/rule over His creation. (5) Verse 7 – God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises. This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where all those who place their faith in Christ will be in attendance. Finally, (6) Verses 8-9 – God’s grace and mercy in offering forgiveness of sins through faith in the finished work of Christ.
This passage chronicles the futures of both those who place their faith in Christ and those who do not. In light of this, what should be our response as believers in Christ? Should we be satisfied with a culture that allows us to place nativity scenes in public places or that permits our children to sing Christmas Carols during school plays? What exactly have we won in those things?
I want to suggest that we focus our attention on other things. I believe God’s people must get the message right for ourselves first and then we must speak and live this message to our culture. This will require honesty followed by repentance and confession for having fallen short. Our lives will be fundamentally changed. For example, since God is worthy of being worshipped and will be for all eternity as Revelation shows us, are you doing that day by day? Are you striving for godliness in all that you do? In every relationship, at your place of employment, in your every word and deed are you making God glorious?
Secondly, the saints in Revelation 19 were worshipping God because of His reign and rule in power and might. Is God reigning and ruling in your life with power today? Is God your sovereign Lord? Here’s one very simple way to know – do you have peace and are you at peace? Do you live day by day under the authority of God’s peace and are you actively pursuing peace with His people? Remember the angelic announcement in Luke 2? Note specifically verse 14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Friends, if you are resting in the sovereignty of God you will be at peace even in the most trying struggles.
Third, note that the saints are offering God praise and are worshipping Him as a means of glorifying Him. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him.” Are you living day by day for the glory of God? I did not ask if you are doing stuff for God. God is not interested in your stuff nor your activities offered to Him as a cheap substitute for yourself. King David realized this misguided attempt to please God by confessing, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). God has called each of His children to set aside their own kingdom building activities and join in His Kingdom building. Every choice we make every day is focused either on our own little “k” kingdom or God’s big “K” Kingdom.
Revelation 19:7 gives us a fourth point to consider this Christmas season. As God’s people our rejoicing and gladness is a result of the relationship by faith we have with Christ our Lord. This relationship requires that we make ourselves ready for this great celebration to come. Is that our focus? This relationship with Christ should fundamentally change how we view life. Are we focused on making ourselves and others ready for the day described here? Shouldn’t all our relationships be cultivated with the love of Christ in mind?
Finally, this passage offers us a beautiful picture of God’s grace and mercy. Note verse 8 – “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean.” The “her” friends is the Church, you and I, the saints of Christ. God extends His grace to us and having received His forgiveness we are transformed from the inside out by receiving a new heart capable of loving God and people. This transformation occurs in several contexts. Positionally we are transformed from enemies of God to children of God and joint heirs with Christ. In life through our experiences we grow in holiness. This is the process often called experiential sanctification. This means day by day we are being made ready or being prepared for the events we read about in Revelation 19.
This is a picture of the meaning and purpose of Christmas. Christ born to be the Redeemer of fallen mankind. His work of redemption in this world is not limited to a manger in Bethlehem but instead comes through Calvary’s cross and an empty tomb.
The Christmas season is a critical time to understand afresh your calling as God’s children as well as the mission He has called you to. Will you shoulder the mantle of Christlikeness to a world desperately needing to see Him? Will you humbly submit yourself to the One who redeemed you with His very life? Will you lay hold of the things that have eternal importance today?
We sang this third stanza of Robert Robinson’s classic hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing yesterday. I offer it here as a fitting benediction and for your meditation as a reminder of the things we celebrate every day not just during the Christmas season. God bless you today as you seek Him.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.