“WHERE THE CHRISTMAS STORY BEGINS”
1. I have been a Christian for almost 30 years. During that period of time I have tried to pay attention to what is going on around me, and have sought to compare what people who claim to be Christians are doing with what the Bible says people who claim to be Christians should do.
2. It got me in trouble with another Baptist pastor recently, when he made reference to preaching a sermon and then inviting people to come to “an old fashioned altar.” When I challenged him on the issue of having an altar in the auditorium, and pointed out that altars are pieces of furniture typical only in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and liturgical churches, he became quite angry.
3. However, I think it is good for a pastor to constantly reflect on the conduct of a church’s worship, always examining practice for correspondence to Scripture, always pondering how much our behavior corresponds to what we say we believe.
4. As we approach the Christmas season, there are several things that we must keep in mind as Christians: First, we must keep in mind that the celebration of the birth of Christ is not a Scripturally sanctioned event. That is to say, it is not an event that God’s Word instructs us to observe.
5. As a matter of fact, so tainted was the observation of Christ’s birth by Roman Catholic practice that the Puritans refused to observe Christ’s birth on a particular day, and the New England colonies for many years made the observation of Christ’s birth on December 25th illegal. The celebration of Christmas was even outlawed in England by Oliver Cromwell and by John Knox in Scotland for the same reason.
6. However, since we know that the Lord Jesus Christ chose to honor the Jewish feast of dedication at the Temple in Jerusalem, though it was presided over by vile and wicked priests, and which was not a festival that was authorized by Scriptural mandate, it seems to me that when caution is used one can observe and celebrate to commemorate something God has done.
7. Therefore, I urge you to celebrate Christmas cautiously if you choose to observe that day, not with the gaudy overabundance of plastic and lights and tinsel that detracts from the birth of Christ, after the fashion of the world, but in a somewhat subdued and reverent fashion designed to provoke reflection and thankfulness.
8. Second, we must keep in mind that too often the focus of Christmas is directed with monotonous predictability to only one aspect of the Christmas story, to the exclusion of all else, and even that focus is tragically erroneous in many cases. I mean, if people’s attention are to be directed to the same thing every year, at least make sure the facts are correctly presented.
9. But the Christmas story is obviously much too big and far too important to God’s great drama of redemption to reduce it to a dry recitation of historical facts, or to trivialize it into a carnival. The whole world taxed, the city of David, the shepherds, the angels, the manger, the mother, and the star and the wise men erroneously thrown in at the wrong time. Children are either bored by the whole thing or subjected to something like a Mardi Gras celebration that cheapens the whole thing. Where is the spiritual content?
10. I remember all of those facts from a school play I performed in when I was six years old, back in the days before public schools were bastions of secular humanism devoted to wiping Christianity clean from the culture. What good does all that do anyone when the historical facts are divorced from the reality of Who that babe born and placed in a manger is?
11. So, this morning, I want to take you back to where the Christmas story begins. And where does the Christmas story begin? At the beginning. Please turn in your Bible to the Gospel of John.
12. My text for this morning is John 1.1-3:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and
without him was not any thing made that was made.
13. To make sure it is very clear in your thinking who were are reading about, please drop your gaze down to verse 14, where we read, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
14. Who was it who was made flesh (meaning became a man), and then dwelt among us (the apostle John and the others), whose glory they saw on the mount of transfiguration, and Who was full of grace and truth? My friends, verse 14 clearly identifies this one referred to as the Word as the Lord Jesus Christ!
15. So, there can be no doubt that the One referred to in John 1.1-3, Who the apostle labels “the Word,” is the great and grand subject of the Christmas story, the Lord Jesus Christ. What does our text tell us about the Lord Jesus Christ?
Allow me to touch lightly on five attributes of the babe in the
manger that are mentioned here, and which are very appropriate topics for
private meditation and reflection, lifting from the pages of Arthur
Pink’s fine Exposition of the Gospel of John, which I would
recommend that each family obtain and read:
1A. First, WE SEE THE IDENTITY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“In the beginning was the Word”
“The reference here is to the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. But why is the Lord Jesus Christ designated ‘the word?’ What is the exact force and significance of this title? The first passage which occurs to our minds as throwing light on this question is the opening statement in the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.’ Here we learn that Christ is the final spokesman of God. Closely connected with this is the Saviour’s title found in Revelation 1:8 — ‘I am Alpha and Omega,’ which intimates that He is God’s alphabet, the One who spells out Deity, the One who utters all God has to say. Even clearer, perhaps, is the testimony of John 1:18: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.’ The word ‘declared’ means tell out, cf. Acts 15:14, and 21:19; it is translated ‘told’ in Luke 24:35. Putting together these three passages we learn that Christ is the One who is the Spokesman of God, and One who spelled out the Deity, the One who has declared or told forth the Father.
Christ, then, is the One who has made the incomprehensible God intelligible. The force of this title of His found in John 1:1, may be discovered by comparing it with that name which is given to the Holy Scriptures — ‘the Word of God.’ What are the Scriptures? They are the Word of God. And what does that mean? This: the Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father. But let us enter a little more into detail: —
(a) A ‘word’ is a medium of manifestation. I have in my mind a thought, but others know not its nature. But the moment I clothe that thought in words it becomes cognizable. Words, then, make objective unseen thoughts. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done. As the Word, Christ has made manifest the invisible God.
(b) A ‘word’ is a means of communication. By means of words I transmit information to others. By words I express my self, make known my will, and impart knowledge. So Christ, as the Word, is the Divine Transmitter, communicating to us the life and love of God.
(c) A ‘word’ is a method of revelation.
By his words a speaker exhibits both his intellectual caliber and
his moral character. By our
words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned.
And Christ, as the Word, reveals the attributes and perfections of
God. How fully has
Christ revealed God! He displayed His power, He manifested His wisdom, He
exhibited His holiness, He made known His grace, He unveiled His heart.
In Christ, and nowhere else, is God fully and finally told out.”
2A. Next, WE SEE THE PROXIMITY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“and the Word was with God”
“This preposition ‘with’ seems to suggest two thoughts. First, the Word was in the presence of God. As we read, ‘Enoch walked with God,’ that is, he lived in fellowship with God. There is a beautiful verse in Proverbs 8 which throws its light on the meaning of ‘with’ in John 1:1, and reveals the blessed relation which obtained from all eternity between the Word and God. The passage begins at 8:22 where ‘wisdom’ is personified. It tells us of the happy fellowship which existed between the Word and God before ever the world was. In 8:30 we read, ‘Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.’ In addition to the two thoughts just suggested, we may add that the Greek preposition ‘pros’ here translated ‘with’ is sometimes rendered ‘toward,’ but most frequently ‘unto.’ The Word was toward or unto God. One has significantly said, ‘The word rendered with denotes a perpetual tendency, as it were, of the Son to the Father, in unity of essence.’
That it is here said ‘the word
was with God’ tells of His separate personality:
He was not ‘in’ God, but ‘with’ God.
Now, mark here the marvelous accuracy of Scripture.
It is not said, ‘the word was with the Father’ as we might have
expected, but ‘the word was with God.’
The name ‘God’ is common to the three Persons of the Holy
Trinity, whereas ‘the Father’ is the special title of the first Person
only. Had it said ‘the word
was with the Father,’ the Holy Spirit had been excluded; but ‘with
God’ takes in the Word dwelling in eternal fellowship with both the
Father and the Spirit. Observe,
too, it does not say, ‘And God was with God,’ for while there is
plurality of Persons in the Godhead, there is but ‘one God,’ therefore
the minute accuracy of ‘the WORD was with God.’”
3A. Third, WE SEE THE DEITY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“and the Word was God”
“. . . or, more literally,
‘and God was the word.’ Lest
the figurative expression ‘the word’ should convey to us an inadequate
conception of the Divine glories of Christ, the Holy Spirit goes on to
say, ‘and the word was with God,’ which denoted His separate
personality, and intimated His essential relation to the Godhead.
And, as though that were not strong enough, the Holy Spirit
expressly adds, ‘and God was the word.’
Who could express God save Him who is God!
The Word was not an emanation of God, but God Himself made
manifest. Not only the revealer of God, but God Himself revealed.
A more emphatic and unequivocal affirmation of the absolute Deity
of the Lord Jesus Christ it is impossible to conceive.”
4A. Fourth, WE SEE THE ETERNITY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“The same was in the beginning with God.”
“The ‘same,’ that is, the Word; ‘was,’ that is, subsisted, not began to be; ‘in the beginning,’ that is, before time commenced; ‘with God,’ that is, as a distinct Personality. That it is here repeated Christ was ‘with God,’ seems to be intended as a repudiation of the early Gnostic heresy that Christ was only an idea or ideal IN the mind of God from eternity, duly made manifest in time — a horrible heresy which is being re-echoed in our own day. It is not said that the Word was in God; He was, eternally, ‘with God.’
Before we pass on to the next verse, let us seek to make practical application of what has been before us. . . . ‘How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or — how?’ A more important question we cannot consider. What conception have you formed, dear reader, of the Being, Personality, and Character, of God? Before the Lord Jesus came to this earth, the world was without the knowledge of the true and living God. To say that God is revealed in nature is true, yet it is a statement which needs qualifying. Nature reveals the existence of God; but how little it tells of His character. Nature manifests His natural attributes — His power, His wisdom, His immutability, etc.; but what does nature say to us of His moral attributes — His justice, His holiness, His grace, His love? Nature, as such knows no mercy and shows no pity. If a blind saint unwittingly steps over the edge of a precipice he meets with the same fate as if a vile murderer had been hurled over it. If I break nature’s laws, no matter how sincere may be my subsequent repentance, there is no escaping the penalty. Nature conceals as well as reveals God. The ancients had ‘nature’ before them, and what did they learn of God? Let that altar, which the Apostle Paul beheld in one of the chief centers of ancient learning and culture make answer— ‘to the UNKNOWN GOD’ is what he found inscribed thereon!
It is only in Christ that God is fully told out.
Nature is no longer as it left the Creator’s hands: it is under
the Curse, and how could that which is imperfect be a perfect medium for
revealing God? But the Lord
Jesus Christ is the Holy One. He
was God, the Son, manifest in flesh.
And so fully and so perfectly did He reveal God, He could say,
‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9). Here, then, is the answer to our question, and here is the
practical value of what is before us in these opening verses of John’s
Gospel. If the believer would
enter into a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God, he must prayerfully
study the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the
Scriptures! Let this be made
our chief business, our great delight, to reverently scrutinize and
meditate upon the excellencies of our Divine Saviour as they are displayed
upon the pages of Holy Writ, then, and only then, shall we ‘increase in
the knowledge of God’ (Col. 1:10).
The ‘light of the knowledge of the glory of God’ is seen only
‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ (II Cor. 4:6).”
5A. Finally, WE SEE THE CREATIVITY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
“How this brings out, again,
the absolute deity of Christ! Here
creation is ascribed to Him, and none but God can create.
Man, with all his boasting, is unable to bring into existence a
single blade of grass. Observe,
that the whole of creation is here ascribed to the Word — ‘all
things were made by him.’ This
would not be true if He were Himself a creature, even though the first and
the highest creature. But
nothing is excepted — ‘all things were made by him.’
Just as He was before all things, and therefore, eternal; so
was He the Originator of all things, and therefore, omnipotent.”
1. It can be wonderful and glorious to preach and to sing of the Babe born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger.
2. But our Christmas story can become flawed, incomplete, if we are not careful to start at the beginning, if we are not wise to tell the whole story.
3. Where is Jesus now? More than 25 different passages in the Bible show Him to be sitting in His present session at the right hand of the Father on high.
4. Where was He before that? He walked the earth among men before His death, burial, glorious resurrection and ascension to heaven.
5. But where was He before that? It is His coming from there to here that gives us cause to celebrate Christmas, does it not? And Christmas is the event of His arrival from somewhere else to here, is it not?
6. Where was He, then, before? And by before, I am not talking just about immediately before. Where was He in the beginning? Who was He in the beginning? What was He is the beginning?
7. In the beginning, way back at the start, in eternity past, He is the Word. He is always from the beginning with God. He is always from the beginning Himself God. This means that He is eternal. And He created everything.
8. Staggering truths to someone who has celebrated Christmas every year, but without thought, without truth, without reflection. What are you to do with such truths? What are you to do?
Brother Isenberger comes now to lead us in song before this
1. Sometimes a person can get too close to a fine painting to see the genius of the artist. There are certain things that can only be seen close up, to be sure. But there are other things that can only be appreciated by taking several steps back, so the eyes can take in the whole painting at once.
2. Admittedly, God’s unfolding drama of redemption is far too vast to be taken in all at once. The grand design of the infinite God simply cannot be grasped in a sweeping panorama of appreciation. But there are blessings to be had by sometimes taking a step back to see more of the canvas than can be seen up close.
3. Christmas is a time each year when the tendency of preachers and Bible Christians is to approach very closely, to focus intently upon a limited number of narratives or prophecies, to squeeze the juices out of the Christmas story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
4. But today we step away from the canvas to take in more of the scene. Particularly, we have stepped back far enough from the canvas to look at the beginning. We have noticed the identity of this One born in Bethlehem: “In the beginning was the Word.” We have seen His proximity to God: “and the Word was with God.” We have seen His deity: “and the Word was God.” We have seen His eternity: “The same was in the beginning with God.” And then we saw His creativity: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
5. My friends, that is a great deal for anyone to digest in a day. What are we to do with it all? It is so profound. It is so sublime.
6. My recommendation is that you slow down. I urge you to put the hustle and bustle on hold this afternoon. Relax. Think. Meditate. Contemplate. Reflect. Ponder.
Before you go home, let me give you three trains of thought to
pursue that arise from our consideration of today’s text in God’s
1A. First, CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT A PERSON, NOT PRESENTS
1B. We mouth the words with our lips, but I wonder how many of us seriously deal with the historical event we supposedly remember and celebrate at Christmas time? It is our chosen anniversary of the birth of the Son of God.
2B. But how much of a serious consideration of the implications of Christ’s birth is swallowed up by materialism, by carnival type celebration, by distraction and annoyance? Certainly there is nothing that can possibly please God or exalt Christ by the sterile secularism that characterizes so much of the Christless Christmas season, with its emphasis on Santa Claus, indulgence, and silliness.
3B. Your challenge, and the great task before you if you are a parent, is to make sure that Christmas for you is about a Person and not about presents. That’s why I grow concerned for people’s spiritual welfare when they make such a big deal about the trappings of Christmas.
4B. People are capable of only so much. So, if there is a great emphasis on presents, how much room can be left in a person’s attention for devotion to the person of Christ? Where we live, all of our neighbors have really elaborate decorations and Christmas trees . . . but we are the only ones who ever go to church.
Do you suppose people so exhaust themselves with presents and
parties and pretense that they have little attention left over for the
person of Jesus Christ? I
wonder, sometimes, if the parents of little children can go so overboard
with the outward trappings of Christmas that their little ones are robbed
of the simplicity and the importance of the birth of the Christ child.
You heads of household need to think about such things this
afternoon, as you decide what your family’s Christmas will be like this
2A. Next, CHRISTMAS IS A BEGINNING, NOT AN ENDING
1B. It is very clear from our exposition of John 1.1-3 that the Lord Jesus Christ’s beginning did not occur at the time of His birth. His beginning did not occur at the time of His conception in His mother’s womb. As the Lord Jesus Christ’s beginning is from everlasting, which is to say that He had no beginning, so we must recognize that Christmas is not the beginning, but only a beginning. In actuality, the birth of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas was the entrance of the eternal God into our world as a man.
2B. But what did the Lord Jesus Christ then do when He stepped across the threshold of humanity to take upon Himself our nature, yet without sin? I will let His cousin, John the Baptist, describe His purpose in coming. In John 1.29 he introduced the Savior, just returned from being tempted of the devil for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, to his own disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
3B. He came to take away sins. That is how John introduced Him, and that is remarkably similar to the angel’s explanation of His coming to his stepfather Joseph, when he described the events that would overtake his future wife, Mary: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
4B. But how would this One born in Bethlehem, Who is the eternal God and Creator Who became a man, take away the sins of the world, save His people from their sins? He would grow to the maturity of manhood and would then suffer and bleed and die, shedding His blood for the remission of sins. After that He was buried, where His body lay for three days and three nights. Then, just as He said, He rose up victorious over sin, death, Hell and the grave, and some days later ascended to His Father’s right hand in heaven, where He remains until He comes again.
5B. So you see, Christmas is not an isolated event in human history. It is a dramatic scene in God’s drama of redemption. It is the intervention of God into the affairs of mortal men such as He has never before intervened. But He is not finished with us. During this period of time after His birth in Bethlehem, especially between the time of His ascension to glory 2000 years ago and His second coming in power and great glory, He is gathering to Himself a people.
6B. And who are those He is gathering to Himself in preparation for His second coming? Those He will save from their sins, those whose sins He will wash in His Own precious blood, those who trust Him as their own personal savior, those who are His sheep and who hear His voice and who follow Him.
So, to the redeemed Christmas is not an isolated event on the
yearly calendar to be exploited for presents and then forgotten about the
next day in preparation for big football games.
It is a pivotal event in history that led to the sacrifice of
God’s Lamb for my sins and made possible my forgiveness. But to those of
you who are not converted to Jesus Christ, whose sins are not forgiven,
the birth of Jesus Christ was the coming of the One Who will some day sit
in judgment of your sins. That’s
something else to think about and discuss with the family.
3A. Finally, CHRISTMAS IS A DELIGHT TO SOME, A DANGER TO MOST
1B. How wonderful it is to celebrate the birth of your Savior! How glorious to celebrate the first advent of your King! But, O, how foolish to celebrate the coming of the One Who will prove to be your undoing, Who will be your Accuser and Judge.
2B. For you see, while Jesus Christ is Savior and Friend, Comforter and Lord, to those who are His, to those whose sins have been clean washed away in His precious blood, it is quite another story for those who are not saved in the end, who remain Christ rejecters, who choose to embrace their sins while refusing to embrace the Savior.
3B. So, while Christmas is a delight to the child of God, it is a danger to the sinner. But do they realize, these lost people? Are they aware, these Christ rejecters and Christ refusers? No. The average fool who celebrates Christmas, though he is not converted, reminds me of something George Whitefield once commented on when he told of seeing some criminals riding in a cart on their way to the gallows. They were more concerned with “who should sit on the right hand of the cart” on the way to the gallows than they were with their own approaching deaths.
I greatly fear that many who are closer to their eternal
destruction than they were are concerned only about the superficial
aspects of Christmas, the presents associated with Christmas, the laughter
and gaiety associated with Christmas, and have no regard for the ominous
future that lies ahead.
1. What will you do with Christmas? How will you deal with this God Who became a man 2000 years ago? Will you celebrate with presents so much that you have no room for consideration of the man Christ Jesus?
2. Will you strive to be so much like everyone else in your approach to Christmas that you end up with the same eternal destiny as everyone else who celebrates Christmas?
3. There are some things that need thinking about this Christmas season. There are some issues to ponder. There is a destiny to think about. There is a Savior to embrace. What in the world are you doing?
4. Jesus Christ is not a babe in a manger, and there is a danger in imagining Him to be a babe. He was not only a babe even when He was a babe. Neither is He hanging on a cross, an Object of such casual familiarity that He is all but ignored.
5. He was only on a cross for a few hours, and I object to Him always being portrayed by some as either a helpless babe in a manger or a dead figure on a cross. You see, He is neither helpless nor dead.
6. Who He is now He has always, from eternity past, been. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Deal with Him on that basis and it is more likely that you will celebrate Christmas correctly.
 John 10.22ff
 Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), vol 1, pages 20-21.
 Ibid., pages 21-22.
 Ibid., page 22.
 Ibid., pages 22-24.
 Ibid., page 24.
 Hebrews 4.15; 7.26
 Matthew 1.20-21
 Quoted in Elisabeth D. Dodds, Marriage To A Difficult Man, (Laurel, MS: Audubon Press, 2003), page 96.
 Hebrews 13.8