ďHOW THE BIRTH OF CHRIST FITS INTO A BIGGER PICTUREĒ
1. You folks have heard me say on many occasions that context rules. What I mean by that statement depends upon the context. But the truth is, what is said or what is written or what happens is best understood against the backdrop of what has been said before, or what was written before, or what has happened before.
2. ďYe shall not surely dieĒ sounds like terrific good news . . . until you understand the context in which that statement was made by the serpent to Eve. God had already told Adam that if anyone ate the forbidden fruit he would die. So, what the serpent said sounds good in isolation. But in context it should be recognized that the words he spoke to Eve were lies, were dangerous, and if heeded would lead to catastrophe. And that is exactly what happened.
3. I say that to show you the importance of setting this Christmas season in its proper context. More specifically, I say that to show you the importance of setting the birth of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago in context. Too often people think of Christmas as a secular gift-buying frenzy at worst, or as a religious holiday that is isolated from the context that makes its celebration truly meaningful at its best.
4. This morning I will attempt to show you how the birth of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God, fits into a bigger picture than you might ever before have considered. To that end, I want you to turn to an unusual text for a Christmas season sermon, Luke chapter 20, beginning with verse 9.
5. While you are turning to that passage, let me state that it is a parable. Since it is a parable, you need to be careful not to try to extract more meaning and principle than was intended by our Lord. Parables in Jesus Christís day were primarily used to teach a single truth or principle. The truth taught by this parable is that no matter who the Father sent to the children of Israel, whether they be the prophets of old or His Own beloved Son, the people would not respond, they would not give to God His due.
6. Those things said, stand and read Luke 20.9-19 with me:
9 Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.
10 And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.
11 And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.
12 And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.
13 Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.
14 But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.
15 So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?
16 He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
17 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
18 Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
19 And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
5. This parable is obviously a story, and it is not to be taken literally. But it does give you an overview of Godís dealings with His people from the beginning down to the days of Christ on earth. This understood, and since it is Christmas season, let us together step back and consider four views that will set Christmas in context for you:
1A. First, There Is THE BROAD EXPANSE OF GODíS DRAMA
1B. In your bulletin is an insert that divides the time before the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ into eleven phases, or unequal periods of time. On the back page of your bulletin you will see a diagram that begins with a picture of the earth and ends with the cross of Jesus Christ and an arrow pointing to the future.
2B. I would like you to use the insert to get the information that you will use to fill in the blanks underneath the diagrams on the back page of your bulletin when you get home. Do this with your family and it will help both you and your kids to get a feel for the flow of important history, from Godís creation to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. I say important history because what should be most important to you is not what happened to the Incas in the Andes mountains, to the Celtic tribes in Ireland or Scotland, to the Masai in East Africa, or to the Ming dynasty in China, but what happened in Biblical history as a result of Godís involvement in the flow of human events to bring the Savior to mankind.
3B. With the insert in one hand and the bulletin in the other hand, notice that the first period of history is labeled Adam to Abraham, with the word Primeval to the right. If you cannot see that, turn your insert over. When you get home write the word Primeval under the diagram of the earth.
4B. Next, there is a diagram that looks like descending steps. It refers to the descent of Godís people from the promised land to Egypt, and represents the second phase of history, from the time of Abraham to the time of Joseph. Remember, these are not equal periods of years, but are memorable phases of history. Under the steps you will write Patriarchal, because during this phase we have the lives of Israelís patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
5B. The third phase is labeled Joseph and represents that period of time when those few Jews moved to Egypt when Joseph served Pharaoh with favor, extending over four centuries to the time when the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians. Under the box containing a diagram of links of a chain you will write the word Bondage.
6B. From the time of Moses to the time of Joshua, the fourth phase, was the time the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, a period of forty years. Under that meandering line you will write the word Wandering.
7B. Turn your insert over. Joshua to Othniel is the fifth period of time, when the Israelites conquered the promised land and subjugated the Canaanites. You will write the word Conquest under the diagram of a fortress, representing the strongholds of Israelís enemies.
8B. Sixth, Othniel to Samuel. You may not recognize Othniel, but he was one of a number of Judges called by God to deliver the people. Samuel was the last Judge. Under the line that curls like a spring, representing the cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance and restoration the people experienced under the Judges, you will write Judges.
9B. Seventh, Samuel was instructed by God to anoint Saul and later David to be kings over the Israelites. After David died Solomon became king. Your insert reads Samuel to Solomon and covers a period of 120 years. When you get home you will write the words United Kingdom.
10B. Solomon to Zedekiah is the eighth phase, and you will write underneath the words Israel and Judah, the words Divided Kingdom. After Solomonís death civil war split the country into Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
11B. The ninth phase covers the period known as the Babylonian captivity. Your insert is labeled Zedekiah to Zerubbabel. Zedekiah was the king who ruled when the Babylonians overwhelmed Judah and Jerusalem and took the people to Babylon for 70 years. Babylon is modern Iraq. You will write under the box the word Exile. Inside the box you will want to write Babylonian captivity. Zerubbabel was the descendant of king David who led the people back to the land from Babylon.
12B. The tenth phase reads Zerubbabel to Malachi. This covers what we call the post-exilic period, when the people were allowed to return under Zerubbabelís leadership, when the Temple was rebuilt, and when the walls surrounding the city were repaired. You will write the word Return under the names Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, the royal descendent of David, the prophet of God, and the governor of the region under the Persians who ruled the area at that time.
13B. Under the dashed line you will write the word Silence. During this phase four hundred years passed during which time God sent no prophet, during which time no Scripture was written, during which time first the Greeks and then the Romans swept into the region and established their rule. The silence was broken and the darkness was penetrated by the light of John the Baptistís preaching, the man who was the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is about to move in human history once more.
14B. Please put your bulletin and insert aside and I will review the sweep of history in a slightly different way:
1C. The Bible begins with God creating the vast expanse of our physical universe. But He quickly moves from the galaxies and stars, to the trees and grass and birds and mammals, to focus His attention on one man and one woman; Adam and Eve.
2C. For centuries God focused His attention on certain key men; Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Then Godís attention shifted from a man named Moses, and then a man named Joshua, to a nation named Israel. And though prominent men appear in the Bible through the centuries, God is dealing with a nation, Israel, and a people, the Jews.
3C. From that nation of twelve tribes, God will make use of a certain tribe; Judah. From the tribe of Judah, He will make use of a certain house; Davidís. And through that nation of Israel, and that tribe of Judah, and that house of David, God would bring all the way from glory to this race called man His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
15B. There are different ways of considering the broad expanse of Godís dealings with mankind through the centuries. I have shown you two very briefly. What is beneficial, however you accomplish it, is to become aware of the grand themes and the sweeping events that God has orchestrated to fulfill His divine plan to bring into this world a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Sometimes we get so immersed in the minutia of the details of the Christmas story that we do not clearly see the things He has done over the centuries.
2A. Next, THE PARABLE PICTURES GOD SENDING HIS SON
1B. The Lord Jesus Christís parable likens God the Father to a man who planted a vineyard, who then leased the property to husbandmen, or vine tenders. The husbandmen represent the Jewish people who work Godís vineyard. The servants who are sent to collect what is due represent Godís prophets, sent into the midst of the people from time to time. But as the people rejected the prophets of God, so the husbandmen in the parable beat, shamefully entreat, and send away empty the manís servants.
2B. This cycle is repeated again and again, just as God sent prophet after prophet into the midst of His people. Each time the result is the same. Just as the Lord Jesus Christ lamented, ďO Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee,Ē these servants of the certain man in the parable are thoroughly abused.
3B. So, what does the certain man in the parable then do? He sends his beloved son, Luke 20.13, desiring that the husbandmen reverence him when they see him. You would think that the son of the landlord would be treated with respect, but no.
4B. Verse 14 reads, ďBut when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.Ē What the Lord Jesus Christ predicts in this parable the apostle John states in his Gospel: ďHe came unto his own, and his own received him not.Ē
5B. That portion of the parable that is critical to our understanding of Christmas is verse 13: ďThen said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.Ē
6B. My friends, in this verse the Lord Jesus Christ reveals to us the mind and heart of God in sending His Son to be born in a manger. ďI will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.Ē
3A. Third, There Is THE SNAPSHOT OF CHRISTíS ARRIVAL INTO THE HUMAN ARENA
1B. This is that portion of Biblical truth that we normally and typically focus our attention on at this time of year. We recite verses and produce Christmas plays that feature Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem for the taxation and not finding anyplace to stay. Then we show the shepherds watching over their flocks by night, the appearance of the angels, and the shepherds going to see the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
2B. This is all good. There is nothing wrong with these facts and details, since they are absolutely true to history and did in fact occur. As well, we will typically show the wise men from the east who came several years later to worship the Christ child, and to give Him gifts.
3B. But these events donít mean very much without the context of history leading up to these events. Neither do these events mean very much apart from the underlying reasons behind these events. Why did Jesus Christ come from heavenís glory and take upon Himself human flesh? Why did the wise men come to worship Him that was born King of the Jews? Why did Herod send soldiers to kill all the children of Bethlehem in a savage attempt to exterminate the life of the Christ child?
4B. How effective is the snapshot of the Christmas event apart from its historical context, and apart from the underlying doctrines related to the what and the why of it all? Keep this in mind: Most everyone knows the basics of Christmas. But how much effect does that truth, isolated from its context, have on people? Almost no effect at all. Amen?
4A. Finally, We Note That THE PARABLE PICTURES CHRISTíS SACRIFICE
1B. In verse 13 of Luke 20, the parable speaks of God sending His beloved Son. In verse 14, we read of the rejection of Godís Son. And, indeed, almost immediately after the worship and adoration of the shepherds, the angelic host, and later on the wise men, the rejection of Christ began. Herodís butchers descended on Bethlehem and Joseph and Mary had to flee with the Christ child to Egypt. After that it never really changed, until they finally crucified Him. And we see this in verse 15: ďSo they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.Ē
2B. What you notice in this parable that is oftentimes not generally noticed is that the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ, which led to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, are linked together. The one led to the other. The latter was the necessary consequence of the former.
3B. You cannot separate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for sins from the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The events are not separated in the mind of God. The events are not separated in the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to this earth. And the events are not separated in the desperate need of sinners for a Savior Who will come, take upon Himself their sins, and then suffer and bleed and died on the cross to atone for those sins, so those sinners can be reconciled to God.
1. So, we have seen the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ from two different perspectives. We have seen where it fits into the big picture of Godís unfolding drama of redemption, and we have seen up it close, where the Christmas story is usually seen at this time of year.
2. The purpose for stepping back to take in the panoramic view of history, to see the grand sweep of Godís dealings with mankind, to consider the parable we have looked at, is to see the connection.
3. The birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago is connected to what went before. But what went before? Adam sinned, the race died. The birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is also connected to what came after. But what came after? The Lord Jesus Christ took my sins upon His body and suffered Godís wrath as my substitute.
4. It is wonderful to see the Christmas story each year. It is delightful to see your children in programs in which the events of Christmas are acted out and remembered later in the childís life because of that acting out.
5. But it is even better when Christmas is placed into its proper context. Real meaning comes with context, whether itís the meanings of words, the meanings of actions, or the meaning of the birth of Christ.
6. I close with this poem that pays homage to the bigger picture, of which Christmas is the celebration of a very important part:
We sing to Thee, Immanuel,
The Prince of life, salvationís Well,
The Plant of Heaven, the Star of morn,
The Lord of Lords, the Virgin-born.
All glory, worship, thanks, and praise,
That Thou art come in these our days!
Thou Heavenly Guest expected long,
We hail Thee with a joyful song.
For Thee, since first the world was made,
Menís hearts have waited, watched, and prayed;
Prophets and patriarchs, year by year,
Have longed to see Thy light appear.
O God !óthey prayedófrom Sion rise,
And hear Thy captive peopleís cries;
At length, O Lord! salvation bring:
Then, Jacob shall rejoice and sing.
Now Thou, by whom the world was made,
Art in Thy manger-cradle laid;
Maker of all things great, art small,
Naked Thyself, though clothing all.
Thou, who both heaven and earth dost sway,
In strangersí inn art fain to stay;
And though Thy power makes angels blest,
Dost seek Thy food from human breast.
Encouraged thus, our love grows bold
On Thee to lay our steadfast hold;
The Cross which Thou didst undergo
Has vanquished death and healed our woe.
Thou art our Head: then, Lord, of Thee,
True, living members we will be;
And, in the strength Thy grace shall give,
Will live as Thou wouldst have us live.
As each short year goes quickly round,
Our Hallelujahs shall resound;
And, when we reckon years no more,
May we in heaven Thy Name adore!
Insert Diagram #1:
Insert Diagram #2:
 John 1.11
 Philip Schaff, Christ In Song, (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2003), pages 44-45.