The following sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook on Sunday morning, December 12, 2010
On December 9, 1965, the hit TV shows “The Munsters” and “Gilligan’s Island” were preempted by a hour half animated special. While the comic strip “Peanuts” had been a hit in print since 1950, no one really knew how popular a television special based upon the comic strip would be. But on that night in 1965, over 50% of all American television sets were tuned into the very first showing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Just in case you are one of the few people left on the planet who has not watched this classic Christmas story, let me tell you how it goes. The story begins with a classic Charlie Brown statement:
“I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
To which Linus replies,
“Charlie Brown, you are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy is right. Of all of the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Brownest.”
The story is about a depressed Charlie Brown, whose mailbox was empty of Christmas Cards and whose Christmas play was turning into chaos. He decided that what the play needed was a Christmas tree to put everyone in the mood. When Charlie returned with a sad, baby Christmas tree, he was greeted by laughter by his friends. They said,
“Boy, are you stupid Charlie Brown. You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?…You’re hopeless Charlie Brown…You’ve been dumb before, but this time you bit it.”
After being left alone on the stage with no one around but his best friend Linus, a frustrated Charlie Brown cries out,
“I guess you were right Linus; I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is about. Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about?”
And then in one of the most dramatic moments in television history, Linus, the blanket carrying best friend of Charlie Brown, walked to center stage, the lights dimmed, the spotlight came on, and Linus read the Christmas story from the second chapter of the gospel of Luke.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the 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, good will toward men.’”
Linus then picked up his blanket, returned to the piano, and said to Charlie Brown, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
I think one of the reasons the show was such a hit was that Charlie Brown expressed what so many of us feel: “I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” What is it that we are supposed to “feel” during the Christmas season? Are we supposed to go around singing all of the time, with a constant smile plastered on our face? Is the season a time to focus on giving to others for a few days so that we can return to being our normal selfish selves the rest of the year? Why was this child born? Why did the angels appear to the shepherds? Does anyone understand what Christmas is all about?
There comes a time when we all have to answer that question, or else just walk around being the Charlie Brownest of them all. As a preacher of the gospel, I hear the question of Charlie Brown, and I feel compelled to answer it. And so, with all due respect to Charles Schultz, this is what Christmas is all about.
The Eternal Plan of God (Ephesians 1.9-10)
The meaning of Christmas does not start on the hillside of Bethlehem with a group of shepherds, and it does not begin with a group of Magi traveling from the east. To understand what Christmas is all about, you have to go back to before the creation of all the world, to before God created the heavens and the earth, and ask what was His purpose for making something out of nothing? The Scriptures tell us that the eternal plan of God used to be a mystery but has now been made known to us. Listen to the words of Ephesians 1,
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1.9-10 NIV)
The eternal plan of God, put into motion even before the creation of the world, was to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the headship of Christ. Head means “authority”. The eternal plan of God is to bring all things under the authority of Christ. I would suggest to you today, that if we don’t get that, then we really miss the meaning of Christmas. The eternal plan of God is to bring all things under the headship, under the authority of Christ.
If you miss this, then Christmas might be a season of giving or generosity, a season of love and kindness, a season to care for the least of these, and while all of these things are good and noble, none of them resemble the meaning of Christmas as presented by the Word of God. God’s eternal plan, written before the foundation of the world, was to bring all things under the headship of Christ, and Christmas is a part of that plan.
The Free Will of Mankind (Isaiah 53.6)
With that purpose in mind, the One True God created the heavens and the earth, and created men and women in the image of God and gave them the breath of life. But He did not make them as robots who would automatically live under the headship of Christ. And He did not make them as animals who just live on instinct. No, the Creator made them with hearts, souls, and minds. And with those souls, He gave them the gift of free will. Each of His creations would be given the freedom to choose to either be under the headship (authority) of Christ or to go his or her own way.
We don’t need the Bible to tell us what happened, but it does. The Bible says “We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53.6). Each of us has decided in our own heart that we don’t want to live under the authority of Christ. “We all have sinned” (Romans 3.23). We have all said “No” to the eternal plan of God. We don’t want Christ to be the head of our emotions, of our money, of our careers, of our lust, of our greed, of our free time, of our vacation, of our families, or of our friendships. No, we want to be the head of our own lives, and we want to live they way that seems right to us.
The Wages of Sin and the Wrath of God (Romans 1.18)
Now, at this point of the story, what do you think should happen? There is a Creator God who created humans who freely chose to rebel against the eternal plan of the Creator. What should the Creator do about that? Should the Creator simply ignore the rebellion of His creation? Should the Creator just forget about His eternal plan? Should the Creator do all that He can to do to make these rebellious, ungrateful humans happy and healthy and comfortable as they totally mess up what He created?
Jesus told a story that helps us understand the situation. He used the illustration of the owner of a vineyard who leased his pride and joy vineyard to tenants (see parable in Matthew 21.33-41). The tenants not only refused to pay the owner his portion at harvest time, but they beat any of his servants who were sent to collect the owner’s portion. “What will the owner do with these tenants?” Jesus asked. Those who were listening gave the obvious answer,
“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (Matthew 21.41)
The only logical, next step in the story is that the Creator hold those “miserable wretches” accountable for their rebellion. After all, His eternal plan, His design for Creation was that all things would be under the authority of Christ, but every single person had decided to go his or her own way. Of course, like six year old children, we didn’t think it was all that big of a deal to do what we wanted to do and to ignore the will of the Creator. But look at it from His perspective. The Bible says,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2.1-3 ESV)
From God’s perspective, we were sinners who followed the Evil One, Satan himself, and happily carried out the desires of our sin nature. And from His perspective, we were children deserving the very wrath of God. So, what the Creator did next was the only reasonable thing to do. His anger and wrath was stirred against the sin of mankind. The Bible puts it like this,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1.18)
The Creator and King of Heaven was rightfully angered by the rebellion of humanity. Listen t the words of the prophet Isaiah,
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it….I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. (Isaiah 13.9-11 ESV)
The King returns to Judge (Matthew 13.24-30 and 36-43)
And so, just like in the story that Jesus told about the owner of the vineyard, the only logical and reasonable thing for the Creator to do was to return to His vineyard and to “put those wretches to a miserable death.” In His own words, Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25.31)
Jesus loved to use stories to help us understand reality from His perspective. He told one about the Kingdom of God that went like this,
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13.24-30)
Fortunately for us, this is one of the few parables that Jesus explained to His disciples.
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13.36-43)
What is the Kingdom of God like? The Creator created a good field, where every crop would live under the authority of Christ. But the Enemy tempted so many to rebel against the Creator, and so became evil seed. When the time is right, the Son of God would send His angels to gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.
Jesus was very clear when He was with His disciples: there was a day coming in the future that the Son of God was going to return to earth as the Righteous Judge to judge the living and the death. The righteous would be ushered into eternal life, the unrighteous into eternal death.
The only problem is that everyone is unrighteous. Every single person sitting in this church building at this very moment was unrighteous. Every single person in this room is a law breaker, a son or daughter of the evil one. Every person in this room is an object of God’s wrath. So when the Son of God returns to judge, guess what is waiting each one of us? The eternal fires of hell.
But God is Rich in Mercy (Ephesians 2.4-8)
And that is where the story should end. There is no reason for it to end anywhere else. The eternal plan of God was for all things to be under the authority of Christ. Each of us has rebelled against the authority of Christ. We all deserved the wrath of God. End of story. At least it should have been.
But for one twist: God is not only a just God; He is also a merciful God. Not only is He a holy God; He is also a loving God. The Bible says it like this,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephesians 2.4-8 ESV)
In one of the most loved of all Scripture passages, Jesus Himself explained it,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3.16-18)
How would the Creator accomplish this? How would the Most High God love the world that has rebelled against Him? Would He just forget our sin? Would He just ignore our sin? Would He decide to love us anyway and just let “boys be boys”?
While that may be the easy solution to us, it would totally mess up His eternal plan. Remember, the eternal plan of God is that all things are brought under the headship of Christ. If He just ignored the rebellion and sinfulness of humanity, then the eternal plan of God would never happen.
No, His plan was infinitely more incredible. In His plan, He sent His one and only Son, the second person of the eternal triune God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Creator and Owner of the Vineyard sent His Son to the lessees. He was born of the virgin Mary, grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, and when the time was right, He offered up His life as a sacrifice for our rebellion.
The Creator God offered up His one and only Son as a substitute for our sins. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah speaking about the Son of God,
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 crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with 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. (Isaiah 53.4-6 ESV)
In the words of the apostle Paul,
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5.21 ESV)
God laid all of our sins upon Jesus, and Christ died for our sin. But as amazing as it is that Christ would die for our sins, even more amazing is it that God raised Him from the dead. On the third day, this same Jesus who was crucified for our sins was raised from the dead, defeating death, hell, and the grave. And He lives today, sitting at the right hand of the Father, waiting for the appointed time to return to earth as the King of all Creation to judge the living and the dead.
The Righteous (Romans 1.17)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become righteous. Oh, there is that word again. Remember the parable from Matthew 13? Hear those words again,
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13.41-43)
It is the “righteous” who will shine in the Kingdom of God. While the sinners and law breakers and sons of the evil one will be thrown into the fiery furnace, the righteous will shine in the Kingdom of God.
And what makes one righteous? A righteous person is one who is right with God. How can a sinner who has earned the wrath of God become right with God? The answer is by faith.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith (Romans 1.17 NIV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2.8 ESV)
What is faith? Is faith just a warm feeling that we get when we think about religious things? Is faith just a wishful thinking for good things to happen? No. The Bible describes faith as belief, new birth, and new lives.
Faith is belief, new birth, and new lives
To have faith means that you believe in the Name and person and mission of Jesus. To have faith is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, that Christ died for your sins, that God raised Him from the dead. Faith is to believe in the eternal plan of God to bring all things under the authority of Christ. Faith is to ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins.
But faith is so much more than just right thinking. The Bible says that if anybody be in Christ, they are a new Creation. The old things have passed away and new things have come (see 2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus said that no one can enter heaven unless they have been reborn (John 3.3). A person of faith is a new person in Christ, a new person who has been brought under the headship of Christ.
And a person of faith walks in new life. As the old things pass away, new thoughts and behaviors come. With every passing day, a believer in Christ becomes more and more like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit within them.
The Meaning of Christmas will be known on the day of harvest
Which takes me back to the meaning of Christmas. Why was this child who was announced to the shepherds born in Bethlehem about 2000 years ago? This child was born so that sinners might be saved from their sins (see Matthew 1.21). This child was born so that we would no longer be objects of God’s wrath but become objects of His love and mercy (see Ephesians 2.1-4). This child was born so that when the Son of God returns to claim the righteous for Heaven, you and I will be able to enter eternity.
Now I want to offer you a simple Christmas quiz: are you ready for the return of Jesus? Are you ready for the day when Jesus will come back in all of His glory with His angels to separate the righteous from the unrighteous? That is the meaning of Christmas, to make you read for His return, to make you righteous for His Kingdom. Are you ready?