“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 Who Came into the History of Mankind
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman Empire was ruled by Caesar Augustus (63 B.C.~ A.D. 14), and it was expanding its territory throughout the whole known world. It was no exaggeration to say that Rome was ruling over the entire known world at the time. It is against this background that Emperor Augustus ordered a population census in all the colonies of Rome. This occurred on the first year in the Western calendar. Since this is when Jesus Christ was born, it is 1 AD. Like this, Jesus Christ is an actual historical figure and our Lord.
Our Lord was born during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God had prophesied about His birth some 700 years before this, and when these 700 years had gone by, our Lord was indeed born. He was born through the body of the Virgin Mary.
At the time the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus, she was engaged to a man named Joseph. Here in today’s Scripture passage, it’s said that these two went to Bethlehem according to the decree requiring everyone in the Roman territory to be registered, and as Mary neared her delivery day, she gave birth to Her Baby in Bethlehem. With Mary going into labor, they needed to find a place for her to give birth. So they knocked on inns looking for a room, but as they were all filled with travelers who had come for the census, in the end, Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger used to feed animals.
Around that time, there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock in the fields, and an angel of the Lord appeared before them and said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” So God’s angel made the birth of Jesus Christ known to the shepherds. When the angel said, “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,” suddenly a multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared in the sky and praised God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” After praising, the angel and the heavenly hosts ascended back to Heaven.
The shepherds went to Bethlehem and found the Baby Jesus, and they delivered to Mary and Joseph what the angel and the heavenly hosts of the Lord had told them. They had heard them sing, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Put differently, as our Lord had come to this earth, He was to bring peace to everyone who would rejoice over the good new of the Lord’s coming.
Just as the shepherds here and all those who rejoiced at the coming of the Baby Jesus and believed in Him found the peace given by the Lord, in this present age also, there are some people who have found peace from the Lord and goodwill from God. Who are they? As Christmas is upon us, we should take this opportunity to ponder on this issue. There are many people living in this world, but who among them has found peace and goodwill before God? The Bible says that this grace is found by those who honor God, those who fear Him with their hearts and want to venerate Him, love Him, and worship Him, and those who want to praise Him and believe in Him. It is such people in whom God is pleased and to whom He gives peace. In other words, the Lord blots out all the sins of such people and blesses them with the fertility of the earth.
Indeed, it is actually for sinners that our Lord came to this earth. Those who find goodwill before this Lord, and who put on His love, are none other than those who love God, fear Him, and want to serve Him in their lives. Although their acts are lacking, in their hearts they yearn to find God and serve Him, and although they may be arrogant and proud before the world, they humble their hearts before God and honor Him, desiring to serve Him in obedience to His Word. It is in such people’s hearts that our Lord dwells and blesses them.
Christmas Is for Those Who Are Looking for God
My fellow believers, why did Jesus Christ come to this earth? It’s for those who yearn to find God and go to Him that Christ came to this earth incarnated in the flesh of man through the body of a virgin. All of us are utterly inadequate. But despite our insufficiencies, we still love God truthfully, we want to serve Him, and we want to praise Him together with the heavenly hosts, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Many people have found this grace. Those who have found goodwill from God have all been saved. When our Lord was born and laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, it was the shepherds tending the flock who heard this blessed news for the very first time. While these shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, a messenger of the Lord appeared before them and spoke to them, and as the glory of the Lord shone around them, 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.”
The Lord had come. God Himself, the Prophet, the High Priest, and the King of kings had come to this earth incarnated in the flesh of man. Just as it had been promised in the Old Testament, the Savior was indeed born in the land of David, in a town called Bethlehem. The angel then said to the shepherds, “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” That God Himself became a Man and came to this earth, and that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger—this itself is the greatest event of all. It is the greatest miracle of all miracles.
When our Lord came to this earth, God brought this news to the shepherds tending their flock prior to anyone else. The shepherds saw the heavenly hosts descending from Heaven and praising Jesus Christ. They were the first to hear with their own ears what the heavenly hosts were saying. Here we need to ponder on the significance of this event. Other than Mary and Joseph, God had announced the birth of our Lord to these shepherds first. This means that just as the shepherds were the first to know about the birth of Jesus, even now, God reveals what will happen to this world to His servants first. We all need to grasp here that God speaks to His servants first, teaches them first, and makes them prepare first.
Soon, the whole world will be engulfed in conflict. Nations will rise against nations, and war after war will erupt everywhere. Just as it is written in the Bible, the Lord speaks and shows everything to the servants of God. Just as our Lord had announced the birth of the Baby Jesus to the shepherds first, today He will also let God’s shepherds know what will happen to this world first.
As such, we need to think about the coming Jesus Christ who will return to this earth again. Soon, the Lord will return to this earth again, but exactly when and how will He return? No one knows the time and the way of our Lord’s return. However, God said that He would reveal the return of the Lord at least to the children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). He said that when the Lord returns to this earth, He will take away all those who have nothing to do with sin. When the Lord comes to this earth again, He will take away those who have received the remission of sins from Him, who fear God, and who have thereby received God’s love and His blessings.
My fellow believers, we must all remember that God had announced the coming of our Lord to the shepherds first. We need to have a proper understanding of its significance and live in this world by faith. We must remember that God is our Savior who brings peace to all who find goodwill from Him.
Because of our inherent limits as human beings, we are always lacking. Because we are all too human, there are also many times when we can’t do everything we want to do. We were all inadequate people, being always sinful. That’s why we needed Jesus Christ. Thanks to Him we could realize our weaknesses and recognize that we were sinners. For those who know that Jesus Christ is God, it’s inevitable that they should be in absolute need of Jesus Christ. Such people also come to believe with thanksgiving that Jesus has truly blotted out all their sins with the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Grateful for this salvation, they are compelled to praise the Lord and give all glory to Him. Moreover, God brings joy and peace to all such people who worship Him.
I had various thoughts as I meditated on today’s Scripture passage. In the night of the first Christmas, God had appeared before the shepherds and spoken to them. What is Jesus Christ saying to us now? I also pondered on who it is that finds goodwill from God. Those who can’t be satisfied by the things of this earth, who yearn to find God, who want to serve Him despite their insufficiencies, and who want be remitted from all their sins and stand boldly before the presence God—it is for these people that the Lord came to this earth. As I pondered on this passage, I gave thanks to the Lord God for making me one of these people yearning for the Lord.
My fellow believers, on this Christmas also, there were some people who were truly looking for God. According to our gospel newspaper, some of them came to our Church in Deajeon City. They said that they were coming to our Church as they heard the Word of the Lord and realized the Truth. The Lord blesses those who obey the Word of God even if it does not quite fit into their own understanding and logic. Rather than saying, “Well, that’s not how I think, and that’s not what I learned,” these people contemplate on what the Word of God actually says and believe in Jesus according to this Word, and God meets with them and blesses them.
I am sure there are such people in this world. Those who don’t insist on their own thoughts before God, who are able to submit themselves to the Word of God in obedience, and who recognize this Word as the Truth—it is these people for whom the Lord becomes their Savior. How many people do you suppose are like these people? How many can we expect to find in this depraved world overflowing with so many sins? There probably aren’t that many. However, regardless of their number, whether there are only dozens of them or millions, the Lord gives the law of peace and the law of salvation to all such people.
We are preaching the gospel to many people, both in Korea and abroad. However, there aren’t that many people who are truly sincere enough to find goodwill from God. Pastor Kim had run a branch mission center for a couple of years in New York, and he told me that most Christians there believed in the Lord like fanatics. Countless people profess to believe in Jesus like that, but how does the Lord come looking for them? Does He appear with thundering, performing miracles and wonders when He meets with them? No, our Lord meets with those who accept the Word into their hearts quietly and silently. He doesn’t meet with those who are just loud with their mouths, but those who sincerely surrender themselves to the Word of God.
It’s absolutely important for us to really grasp the significance of the fact that Jesus was laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. We must admit that we are lowly people. We must also realize and believe with thanksgiving that our Savior Jesus Christ, who came as the Baby Jesus, came to this earth in order to give us the bread of life, and that He shared His flesh and blood freely with us.
Of all things, why was the Lord laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes? It was to give life to us lowly people, to become our Savior. Wrapped in white linen, the Baby Jesus was laid in the middle of a manger carved out of a trunk. The Lord had come to save such lowly people as you and me and give us life.
That Jesus Christ, the King of kings, was born in a dwelling place of animals and incarnated in the flesh of man was to teach us that He is the Lord who came to save the lowly in this world. That is why the Lord, the King of kings, was born in this way. Therefore, those who seek the glory of this world and its riches cannot find Jesus Christ. No matter how hard they may look for Jesus and how fervently they may believe in Him, they cannot actually meet the Savior who was born in a manger, who has blotted out all their sins with the water and the Spirit, and who has saved them from destruction, death, and curses. Those whose hearts are set on this world rather than on God cannot really encounter Jesus. Why is that so? That’s because our Lord came to this earth for those who are truly looking for God and for the Truth rather than the things of this world, and because He came to bring peace to such people.
This is why so many people have been unable to find Jesus Christ so far. Countless people are still trying to find Jesus in a big palace. They try to find and meet Jesus in the high places of churches, or from the learned. But Jesus is not there. Our Lord was not born in a royal family in a palace, nor was He born in a rich family. Instead, our Lord came looking for those who realize that they are nothing, and that their lives mean nothing. Our Lord met with such spirits who yearn to find God, the true Savior of life, and who, like Nathaniel, are waiting for Jesus under the fig tree longing for the Messiah.
The Bible says in Matthew chapter 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” There are those in this world whose hearts are poor even though they are materially rich and prosperous and lack nothing. Those who are poor in their hearts cannot be satisfied with the things of this world. Such people who can’t be satisfied with the things of this world are none other than the poor in spirit. Our Lord becomes the Savior of such people who are satisfied only with the things of God and never with the things of the world,
On the other hand, some people are rich in their hearts even though they have nothing in this world and no possessions at all. In other words, there are some people who are satisfied just with the things of this world regardless of how much they own. Our Lord never becomes the Savior to such people. No matter how our Lord goes to them and knocks on their door, these people absolutely refuse to receive Him. Even when they are told that Jesus Christ has blotted out all their sins, they just won’t accept it. They may be able to receive Jesus Christ if He were to make them rich and prosperous, but when Jesus says, “I have blotted out all your sins with the gospel of the water and the Spirit and made you righteous,” they can’t accept this spiritual news of joy. Such people are not the poor in spirit. They are not the ones who can find goodwill from God.
Jesus Christ can be found only by those who, regardless of whether they are rich or not in this world, and whether they are meritorious or not, are never satisfied by the things of the world. He is found by those who are mindful of God the Creator of all things, who look for this God, who yearn to find Him, who want to believe in His Word that He has remitted away all their sins, and who long to receive this remission of sins. It is such people whom Jesus Christ meets. Like this, it is the poor in spirit whom Jesus Christ meets. That is what it means when the Bible says in today’s Scripture passage, “On earth peace, goodwill toward men!” God meets those who are looking for Him earnestly. He saves those who are searching for Him.
Many Christians in this world also think that this notion is elementary, but they really need to grasp it properly rather than just thinking. Even now, those who are really searching for God, those who yearn to find the satisfaction of their hearts from Him and to be remitted from all their remaining sins, are still looking for God. Even at this hour, our Lord finds and meets such people. In this Church and throughout the entire world, our Lord is finding such people and saying to them, “Do you need Me?” Most people answer this question by saying that they either don’t need Him or are too busy to bother. However, some people do say, “Yes, Lord, I need You more than anything else in this world.” It’s these people who put on the Lord’s goodwill.
My fellow believers, when the Baby Jesus was born on this earth, it was the shepherds who first learned of it. In this present age also, there are servants of Jesus Christ and His people who have met God before anyone else. Who are these people then? Those who believe in and spread the blessed news that the Baby Jesus Christ came to this earth, that upon growing up He bore all the sins of mankind by being baptized by John the Baptist at the age of 30, that He was crucified to death at the age of 33, that He rose from the dead again and ascended to Heaven, and that He has thereby saved us — these are today’s people of God and His shepherds.
Through such people who have received the remission of sins, whose spiritual faith grows, and who live with Jesus Christ, countless people in this world can hear this joyful news, that the Savior was born in the city of David. This is the good tidings of great joy for all this world. Therefore, we must all realize exactly how Jesus Christ has blotted out all the sins of the entire human race. We must also understand how He has enabled us to be born again of water and the Spirit. With the water and the Spirit, the Lord has made us God’s own people. The Savior was born in the city of David, and this is the good tidings of great joy for all this world. My fellow believers, through those who have become God’s people first, through His shepherds, everyone in this world will hear this news of great joy.
Over 2,000 years have passed by since Jesus Christ was born on this earth. This Jesus Christ, having come to this earth, blotted out all the sins of mankind through His 33 years of life. Yet despite this, there still are many people drowning, not knowing how Jesus Christ has blotted out their sins. To all such people, we must preach in detail what God has spoken to us exactly as it is. Like the heavenly host here in today’s Scripture passage, we, too, must fulfill this ministry of spreading the good news and praising our Lord with thanksgiving. This is the responsibility of all those who have become God’s people prior to everyone else.
Since I haven’t seen any heavenly host, I can’t describe it in detail, but the word heavenly host refers to the army of Heaven and its workers. This means that there clearly is a heavenly dominion apart from this earthly dominion. The Gospel of Matthew says that God has assigned an angel to each righteous person, and that these angels report to God. As such, we must realize that our lives on this earth are not all there is, and that there is the dominion of Heaven waiting for us. All of us must remember without fail that as those who have become sinless by believing in the baptism of Jesus and His blood on the Cross, there indeed is another world waiting for us. It is the domination of the righteous people born again through the gospel of the water and the Spirit, that is, the Kingdom of Heaven where the people of God shall live. We must never forget that our lives on this earth is not all there is. Remembering that the gospel of the water and Spirit is preached through God’s Church, that God works in His Church, let us all give thanks to God.
Just as it’s written here in today’s Scripture passage, you and I have found God’s goodwill on this earth, and for this, I give all my thanks to God once again. Let us then now think about what it is that we should do. The answer is clear: We should preach to everyone this wonderful gospel proclaiming that Jesus accepted and bore all the sins of this world by being baptized by John the Baptist, that He has thereby made us sinless, that He was condemned in our place on the Cross even though it was we who had to die, and that He has thus brought everlasting life to all of us.
As Christmas is upon us, it’s good that we are breaking bread together and enjoying the occasion. But as the children of faith, let us also gather together in peace and praise God. On this Christmas Eve, there will be a theatrical presentation in the Church, as well as Christmas caroling at dawn. Like the heavenly host here in today’s Scripture passage, we will also praise the Lord in our Christmas caroling. Singing Christmas carols at dawn is a really wonderful experience. While people are still in bed, they can still hear through beautiful music the gospel message that the Baby Jesus was born, that the Messiah had come, and that He has saved them. Through all these things, we can truly thank God and glorify Him. It’s not with our emotion that we thank God only vaguely, but above all else, it is from the depth of our hearts that we thank Jesus Christ for coming to this earth to save us.
I am eagerly waiting for the return of our Lord. When this day comes, the Lord will lift us up to the air, and together with the heavenly host, we will praise the Lord and live in the Millennial Kingdom and then in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven. Although we do not know when this day will come, as long as we are living in this world, we must all spread the good news that the Baby Jesus Christ was born on this earth, and that He has saved us from all our sins, destruction, curses, and condemnation.
I give all thanks to God one more time for coming to earth like this to deliver us from all our sins, for finding us, meeting us, and for saving us all.