“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
‘Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”
Jesus Is Born in the Hearts of Those Who Believe in the Word of God
When we look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we see that such Gentile women as the harlot Rahab and the Moabite woman Ruth were among His ancestors. The word Gentile implies a sinner. But these Gentile women were the ones who had put on the grace of God by their faith. They believed in God’s Word and His servants. In short, Jesus’ genealogy shows the succession of faith.
Likewise, Mary was also a woman of faith. An angel had said to Mary that she would conceive in her womb and bring forth a Son, and that she should name Him Jesus. So Mary had said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
In those days, if an unmarried woman got pregnant, she was stoned to death as punishment for her fornication. The man with whom she slept was also stoned to death. Despite this, Mary accepted into her heart what the angel said. So by the time Mary went to Bethlehem with Joseph to register for the census, Jesus was already conceived in her womb. As the delivery day was imminent, she gave birth to Him there in Bethlehem.
There were shepherds in the nearby fields tending their flock, and when these shepherds heard the news of Jesus’ birth from an angel, they went looking for Him and worshiped Him. Elsewhere in Matthew 2:4-5, it is written that King Herod asked the Pharisees and the scribes where Jesus would be born. They told him that He would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. My fellow believers, you can be blessed only when you actually practice your faith. Just as James 2:17 says that faith without works is dead, without practicing your faith, you cannot defend your faith, nor is such faith a living faith. Although these Pharisees and scribes knew that the Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, they did not go there to worship Him. This shows that they were not the children of faith.
My fellow believers, God’s mind is different from ours. In our human minds, it’s easy to think that Jesus would be born as a prince in a palace or in a rich, aristocratic family. But Jesus, God Himself, was actually born in a shabby stable of livestock and was laid in a manger, a trough used to feed the livestock. Here in this town called Bethlehem, He was born not even in a room at the inn, but in a stable of livestock, and he was laid in a manger. Like this, against our human expectations, God had laid the Baby Jesus in a manger in a shabby stable.
It’s written in Isaiah 55:8-9, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” As this passage says, it was God’s idea to lay Jesus in a manger used to feed animals. In our thoughts we may think that it would have been more honorable and respectable if Jesus was born as a prince or in an aristocratic family, but God’s thoughts were far different from ours.
It’s written, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” The hearts of those who have received the remission of sins are filled with joy, and these hearts are at peace. Romans 4:8 says, “Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.” Who then, are such blessed people? They are the ones who have accepted the righteousness of God, and therefore whose sins are not recognized by the Lord no matter how many sins they commit.
The shepherds here went to Bethlehem as told by the angel and found the Baby Jesus Christ. These shepherds had emptied their hearts of greed. The wise men from the east who had seen a brilliant star and followed it were also able to see the Baby Jesus. In contrast, the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees did not come looking for the Baby Jesus Christ even though they knew that He was born in Bethlehem. This means that even though they knew of the birth of the Savior, they did not accept this as their practical faith. The shepherds had run to Bethlehem in haste and there they had found Mary, Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. They told what the angel had said to them, and all those who heard it marveled at the things that the shepherds said, but Mary kept them all and pondered them in her heart.
It’s written, “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” This passage means that the glory of God has come to us who have accepted the Word of God, as it is written in Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” It means that we are the light. Since we ourselves are the light, it also means that we must shine this light to all those who still are in darkness. Unless we shine our light, everyone will perish. In other words, those of us who have received the remission of sins from Jesus must preach this gospel of the remission of sins to everyone.
A while ago I read in the newspaper that an elderly woman donated all her life savings, amounting $3 million, to be used for some good cause in this world. Although this may seem like a good deed from a worldly point of view, in God’s sight, such acts are never good deeds. This elderly woman would have found some self-satisfaction from her deed. But when viewed based on God’s standard, it ultimately was not a good deed. There is absolutely no good deed in this world. This world itself is completely devoid of any virtue.
The Lord Was Born on This Earth as the Savior
The Lord came to this earth exactly as promised in the Old Testament. God had said in Isaiah 62:6-7, “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, And give Him no rest till He establishes And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” This means that those who have become the children of light must shine the light ceaselessly.
Whenever I meet anyone, I always preach the gospel without ceasing. Here, “you who make mention of the LORD,” refers to none other than God’s servants. God has made them never hold their peace day and night. I, too, am trying my best to preach the gospel always. It is through the lips of God’s servants who have received the remission of sins that the gospel of Truth is spread, proclaiming that Jesus Christ took upon all our sins by being baptized and blotted them all out by shedding His blood on the Cross, and that He has given us everlasting life by being resurrected from death. The Bible also says that we should give the Lord no rest till He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise on the earth (Isaiah 62:7). This passage means that we should pray to God incessantly lest He should stop working for the salvation of the lost.
My fellow believers, the Savior was born on this earth. “Merry Christmas!” Merry Christmas! Say it with me: Merry Christmas!
My fellow believers, it is entirely by God Himself that our salvation has been achieved, not by any of our own efforts. Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
Are you godly? No, you are not. It’s not because we are godly, because we have done some good deeds, that we have been saved, but it is only by faith that we’ve been saved. The Bible says, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). It is by faith that you enter the everlasting Heaven of glory. It is by faith that you receive eternal life. It is not by doing something on your own, by adding your own merits, that you are saved and made righteous. As Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” our salvation is indeed a gift from God. A gift is something given freely. A reward, in contrast, is something that you receive for doing something good, and so it is not a gift. It is by faith that we have received salvation. It is by faith that we have obtained everlasting life.
Obtaining everlasting life by faith is so simple and easy. It is written, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). When the Israelites were bitten by serpents in the wildernesses in their long journey to the land of Canaan, whoever looked at the bronze serpent on the pole was cured, just by looking at it by faith (Numbers 21:9). It was that easy.
So what happened then? Today, there are many people who, after receiving the remission of sins and being born again by listening to the gospel of the water and the Spirit, return to the world again. It’s because salvation is so easy to obtain that they don’t take it seriously and return to their own thoughts, their own acts, or to the things of the world. So when we look at Christmas cards congratulating the birth of our Lord, we see so many cards depicting the manger in a romantic and artistic light, showing the Baby Jesus as a well-groomed aristocratic offspring clothed in such luxurious garments as silk, with pink, chubby angels sitting next to Him.
The birth of Jesus, however, was not such a luxurious event like a fairy tale. It’s because people view it according to their own thoughts that the birth of Jesus looks so fantastic and His salvation seems so easy. In reality, the Lord was born in a manger, not a palace, for the lowly. He also bore all the sins of this world by being baptized by John the Baptist and made us sinless. All these things are real, and it is also undeniably true that Jesus was crucified to death to bear the condemnation of the sins of mankind, rose from the dead again in three days, and has given us everlasting life.
Let’s turn to Philippians 2:8 here: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Though the Lord had asked God the Father to take away His cup of affliction, He still submitted Himself to the Father to do His will, and in this obedience He was crucified to shed His water and blood (John 19:34). That is how He has saved us from all our sins and our eternal death.
However, those who reject this salvation, taking it trivially, sing Christmas carols to congratulate the birth of Christ without even realizing its true meaning. Whenever Christmas comes around, all the religious groups and worldly people are suddenly interested in charitable works, launching all kinds of campaigns to help the poor. This means that even Christianity has turned into a religion of merits that seeks salvation by one’s own effort. Christians say, “Still, I can be saved only if I do good deeds. So I need to do as many good deeds as possible.” This, however, is nothing more than man’s own thought, and God’s thoughts are completely different.
Let’s turn to Titus 3:3-7 here: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
My fellow believers, the Bible makes it clear here that we have been saved by faith, not by our own works, good deeds, or abilities. Ephesians 2:8 also says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Like this, our salvation is a gift that the Lord has given us freely.
Let me use an analogy to explain it better. Let’s say that it snowed all night long, but your little son cleared the driveway in the morning for you. So you gave him a watch to reward him. This watch then is a compensation for your son’s work, not a gift. It’s not something that you gave him for free. In contrast, God has given us our salvation as a gift. In other words, salvation is received for free. Yet despite this, in our own minds we think, “But still, I have to do some good deeds.” Such minds and thoughts of our own belong to the Devil.
When Jesus came to this earth, the Bible says that there was no room for Him. This points out that the hearts of people were filled with the things of the world, with the virtues and vices of the world. In His parable of sowing the seeds, the Lord said that some fell on the road and the birds came and ate them up, as the surface of the road was so hard with all the people traveling on it. In other words, there was no soft ground where the seeds could be planted. That’s why the birds came and picked them up clean in no time.
Why did this happen? It was because no seed could root into the soil. Like this, if one’s heart is filled with the trivial things of the world, such people cannot accept the gospel of the remission of sins. They can’t receive the gospel of the remission of sins into their hearts. But the Lord also said that some seeds fell into a rich field and produced a crop by a hundredfold or sixty fold.
What Is True Faith?
Matthew 2:11 says, “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” It’s said here that the wise men from the East “fell down and worshiped Him.” This clearly shows that it’s not Mary or Joseph whom they worshiped, but it is the Baby Jesus whom they bowed before and worshiped, and it is to Him that they opened their treasures and presented gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The gold here denotes king, implying that Jesus is the King of kings. When we turn to Exodus 25:6, we see that incense was used when sacrifices were offered in the Tabernacle of God, as the verse says, “Oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense.” When incense was burnt like this, God accepted it in pleasure as a sweet aroma as the burning incense ascended to Heaven. Put differently, this means that God is pleased to listen to our prayers.
Myrrh, on the other hand, was used to treat a dead body. It symbolizes the unchanging Truth. My fellow believers, Jesus Christ was baptized to bear all the sins of this world, and because of these sins, He shed His blood on the Cross and died there, and thereby saved us all. This, according to 1 Corinthians 1:23, is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Why is it then a stumbling block to the Jews? The Jews were full of themselves as the rightful heirs of Abraham. They could not tolerate that Jesus, a Man who had little to show in His outside appearance, was preaching the gospel to them, claiming that He had the authority to remit away their sins, and that because of Him everyone would be sinless. For the Jews who were rich in their hearts and filled with their own righteousness, Jesus’ gospel of the remission of sins became an unacceptable stumbling block. It was foolishness to the Gentiles. Whenever I open my mouth to preach the Word of God, a lot of people just laugh at me. It’s because they don’t understand the Word of God. In the days of Jesus, people at that time used to think that nothing good could ever come out of Nazareth.
Yet despite this, God had begun His great work of salvation through a lowly body. Jesus said in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” It’s precisely because Jesus had come to this earth incarnated in the flesh of man that just before He was crucified, He said to God the Father, “Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). In other words, because the Lord had put on the flesh of man at that time, He also felt all the pain and suffering that ordinary people felt. So you can imagine just how terribly painful His crucifixion was. That is why He had asked God the Father to take away His cup. Yet even so, He still fulfilled the will of the Father in obedience, saying, “Not what I will, but what You will.”
It’s also written in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Although the Lord is God Himself, because He was incarnated in the weak flesh of man, He had to suffer the pain of death. Despite this, He still asked God the Father to do the Father’s will rather than the Son’s will, and in obedience to this will of the Father, Jesus died on the Cross, and by rising from the dead again, He fulfilled the will of God the Father.
The revelation of God was fulfilled. The Divine Incarnation means that the Lord Himself appeared in the image of man and obeyed the Father to the point of death by crucifixion. Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. God Incarnate obeyed the Father to the point of His death on the Cross, and so this Divine Incarnation, when it’s seen just from a carnal point of view, is a gross humiliation. That God Himself was incarnated in the flesh of man and appeared in the image of man means that He humbled Himself to the lowest of all. In this way, by being baptized, the Lord accepted all the sins of the world onto His own body, died on the Cross, and thereby blotted out all the sins of the lowly. That is how the glory of Heaven descended upon the earth. Like this, the purpose for which Jesus was born on this earth as a Baby was to solve the problem of our sins and the concomitant problem of destruction.
Let’s turn to Isaiah 53:2-6 here:
“For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
My fellow believers, the grief and sorrow here were surely ours to bear. Yet for our sake, God Himself bore this grief and sorrow and died in our place. Romans 5:7-8 says, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
My fellow believers, as all of us were like sheep, we had gone astray each in his own way. Sheep’s sight is myopic. Because they are myopic, they can’t see anything else except what’s right in front of them. So when they are grazing, they follow the grass that’s in front of them, sometimes right up to the edge of the cliff to fall to their death. Like this, we human beings also follow what our eyes can see in this world. But all the things we see in this world are corruptible, and so we can’t help but perish if we follow them. This is ingrained in our human nature.
The Word of God says, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). That is why, to those who passed away long ago and those living in the present alike, and both Christians and non-Christians, God has planted everyone’s heart with a yearning for what is eternal. While living in this world, everyone wonders at least once in his life, “Where did I come from, and where am I heading?” In other words, the human heart is also mindful of eternal things.
Jesus Christ has opened the way to Heaven by tearing down the veil that separated us from God. It is written in the Scriptures, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20). Now, we have come to enter the Kingdom of eternal life thanks to the atoning salvation of Jesus Christ. We are now able to abide in Jesus always. Do you understand this?
Let’s turn to Matthew 27:51 here: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” My fellow believers, the veil of the Temple was indeed torn in two from top to bottom. This means that we are now able to come boldly to the throne of God’s grace, just as it’s written in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Such a miracle unfolded when the Lord passed away on the Cross, saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) At that very moment, the veil of the Temple was torn into two from top to bottom. In the age of the Old Testament, only the High Priest could step inside this veil once a year with golden bells attached to the hem of his garment, and in there he offered a sacrifice to obtain the remission of sins for his people. But now, with the death of Jesus, this veil of the Temple was torn into two. This means that our salvation was completely fulfilled.
My fellow believers, on this Christmas, let us all realize why the Lord came to this earth incarnated in the lowly flesh of man, and why the Baby Jesus was laid in a manger; and let us all accept this grace into our hearts. Jesus is our true Savior. Let all of us then confess that He is indeed our Lord.
Finally, to wrap up this sermon, let us together read the passage from Luke 2:29-32:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” Amen!