Contrasting Christmases
December 20, 2022

Contrasting Christmases

Psalm 1; Luke 2; Matthew 2

Someone has said that life is full of contrasts, and as far as I can determine, they are right. But most of these contrasts are self-determined. Psalm chapter one deals with the main contrast, the one that determines all the rest. It involves the choice we make in how we choose to walk in this life. Look at what it says.

Blessed is the ma0n who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” (Psalm 1 NKJV)

It comes down to the choices we make. We can choose God and His word to live our lives by and prosper, or we can walk according to our own ways, make our own choices based upon our own reasoning, and in the end perish.

It is such a contrast that we see within the Christmas story, a contrast between those who are ready and willing to receive the good news, like the shepherds and the Magi, or Wise Men, and those who are not, like King Herod and the religious leaders of that day. Their stories our found in Luke 2, and Matthew 2.

What I like specifically about the story of the shepherds, is that in that society they were considered both social and religious outcast, unclean in the eyes of Jewish law. But here’s what I’d like to share. That if these shepherds are important enough for God to send His angels to proclaim this wondrous event, then so are we. God loves everyone, especially those who feel unworthy and outcast, for that truly was the life of a shepherd.

The story of the Wise Men is interesting as well. They not only represent the aristocracy of that time, but also the rich and educated. In fact, they weren’t even Jewish. They were Gentiles who studied the stars, but also the times. And so here are these Wise Men coming to a small unremarkable town right outside of Jerusalem, and then bowing down before a baby, just like the shepherds, the common folk of that day.

And so, these scenes reveal both rich and poor, the aristocracy and the common man all bowing in adoration before the baby Jesus who was and is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But when we look at King Herod, we see a different scenario. We see darkness, hatred, and death. In Matthew’s gospel we read a frightening account.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16 NKJV)

And this is the same way that many people today react to the news of Jesus Christ. Several years back, I read a story about an atheist group who put up a huge billboard in New York’s Time Square that shows Santa Claus with these words, Keep the Merry,” and underneath is a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross with these words, “Dump the Myth.” (Show picture in PowerPoint presentation)

Why do some people react like Herod, filled with darkness and despair, and others are filled with love, happiness, and an adoration for Jesus Christ? Why such a contrast?

I think we can find our answer in what these Scriptures tell us about all three, the shepherds, the Magi, and Herod.

Willingness to Receive

“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.’” (Luke 2:15b NKJV)

Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” (Matthew 2:1b-2 NKJV)

There is a basic truth that God works through people who are willing to receive His message.

The shepherds were willing and prepared to receive this wonderful “good tidings of great joy,” because every day they were reminded of this very need. These shepherds were keepers of the temple flock, those sheep that would be used by the Levitical priests in offering up blood sacrifices for the people’s sins.

These shepherds would watch these innocent lambs being taken by the temple priest, sold to remorseful sinners, and then sacrificed upon the alter for their sin. Literally, the people would lay their hands on the head of these lambs while confessing their sins, and then the lambs were killed in their place.

Now, this was in accordance with the Law of Moses.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11 NKJV)

And so, these shepherds realized that sin was so awful in God’s sight that it required the shedding of blood and the giving of a life, that is, an exchange of one life, the lamb’s, for the life of the sinner. So, it is appropriate that these shepherds should be the first to hear about the “Lamb of God” who would be “the Savior, Christ the Lord.”

They were ready to hear the good news. Their minds were uncomplicated. They were not great theologians. They didn’t think of reasons not to believe. They just believed. Their hearts were ready and when angels proclaimed the good news they listened and accepted it with great joy.

The Wise Men were also willing to receive the good news. They too were prepared. They had studied the great prophets of Israel, especially Daniel, because they came from the same general area. And Daniel gave the most time sensitive prophesy regarding the coming and death of Messiah the Prince, which was 483 years after the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem.

Therefore, they were probably waiting for the sign in the heavens that would announce this coming king, who was called in the Bible, “The Star of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). So, when the star appeared they were not only prepared but also willing to receive this good news, which will take us to our second point, but first let’s look at Herod.

What a contrast Herod was to these two. Not only was he not ready, but he also didn’t even know about the Messiah or about where or when he would be born. And he definitely wasn’t willing to receive this good news of great joy. Look at what is said.

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:3 NKJV)

Other versions say that he was not only troubled, but very disturbed. But it wasn’t only Herod, but all of Jerusalem. The king and all the religious folk were disturbed. Even the priests and teachers of the law weren’t willing to receive this news, and the reason I say this is because only the Wise Men left for Bethlehem to search for the baby who would be Messiah the King, all the others stayed at home.

The reason people miss the real reason for the season is because they are worshipping either materialism, or their own philosophy or religion, and as such they are unprepared and unwilling to hear the truth. They have ignored the signs and God’s word, not to mention the Lord God Himself, and have become cold and insensitive.

And so, this Christmas are we willing to receive the good news? Is our heart prepared for the real truth of Christmas? Are our ears open to hear the good news of God’s amazing love through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Savior who is Christ the Lord, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?

Willingness to Take a Journey of Faith

“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15b NKJV)

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1 NKJV)

When both the shepherds and the Wise Men received the message they were willing to step out by faith and take a journey to see, but not Herod.

I love what the shepherds said, “Let’s go and see this thing that has happened.” It wasn’t “Let go and see if it is true,” but rather “Let’s go! Let’s believe God.” They didn’t sit down and discuss the possible ramifications or the impossibility of such an event. Rather they just went by faith believing God and His word.

And then there were the Wise Men who took a much longer and a far more expensive journey, bringing with them gifts of great worth, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Can you imagine the conversation they had with their friends and neighbors?

  • “What’cha doing?” – “Taking a trip.”
  • “Where’ya going?” – “Not quite sure.”
  • “Do ya have a map?” – “Nope, just a star to follow.”
  • “What’cha going to find?” – “A King.”
  • “What’s his name?” – “Don’t know, but when we get there, we’re going to worship him.”
  • “Have you seen a doctor?”

Talk about a journey of faith! This is the quintessential definition of faith, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1 NKJV).

Faith really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to those who are unwilling to receive the message. Faith is hard to explain to those whose hearts are not open to God or to His word. Consider Abraham. It says that He believed God, and God accounted such belief, such faith, as righteousness, and in the end, he was called a “friend of God.”

But for Herod there was no journey of faith. In fact, there was no faith at all. When he heard the message, he was unwilling to receive it by faith, so instead of accompanying the Wise Men on their journey he sent them off to find Jesus, and then to come back and let him know.

“Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” (Matthew 2:8 NKJV)

And so, while Jesus, the Messiah King was born only a couple of miles away, there was no faith in Herod’s heart, nor on the part of the religious leaders towards God or towards His word.

And that’s the problem. People don’t possess a heart of faith, so they are unwilling to take a journey of faith to find Jesus. They can’t believe in a virgin birth, angels announcing the glorious birth, the star that guided the Wise Men from afar. Therefore, they cannot believe in the reason for the season, Jesus coming to this earth to die for our sins. And so, they call it a myth, or say, “That’s nice for you, I hope you find what you are looking for,” without ever opening their eyes by faith and finding their Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Willingness to Pay the Price

Finally, the shepherds and Wise Men were willing to pay the price and to make the sacrifice.

“They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16 NKJV)

“And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 11b NKJV)

Now you might be wondering what was the sacrifice or price paid by the shepherds? Well, it was a major decision and sacrifice to leave their sheep to fend for themselves. The sheep were their livelihood, and it was in the night that wolves would come and attack and kill the sheep.

It took faith on their part to leave their flocks to seek the Lamb of God and entrust their flocks to the Good Shepherd.

The wise men also sacrificed and paid a price as well. They left behind their families not to mention their source of livelihood to follow a star. They traveled a long distance, a journey that held great peril from robbers, thieves, not to mention the ravages of such travel. And then to offer this child gifts of great worth, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Herod, on the other hand wasn’t willing to make such a sacrifice and to pay such a price. He wanted to keep his power and his throne and wasn’t willing to give them up to this young upstart who was called, “King of the Jews.”

Conclusion

Christmas is all about sacrifice, because Christmas is all about surrendering all that we have to come to the Lord Jesus, because Jesus surrendered all to come to us. He left behind His glory and power to become a baby, born to a poor family, and into a nation that was under the subjection to the Roman Empire.

Eventually Jesus surrendered His life upon the cross, taking the punishment for our sins and dying so that all who would believe, all who come to Him by faith, surrendering their lives willingly, will never die but have eternal life with Him in heaven.

Christmas means giving. Not just brightly wrapped gifts to people we love but giving ourselves willingly over to the One who willing gave Himself, Jesus Christ.

And so, Christmas is all about contrasts and the choices we make. Are we willing to receive the good news of Jesus, and by faith willing to come to Him, giving ourselves fully to Him by asking Him to be Savior and Lord of our lives.

Or are we going to choose to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the pathway of sinners, and sit in the seat of those who scorn and disbelieve, who hate Jesus and all He stands for, who in the end will be like chaff that the wind blows away and is burned.

Every year at Christmas this line is drawn. On one side are those who like the shepherds and Wise Men come and worship and adore Him. And on the other side are those who are like Herod, cold, hard, and resisting all that the Lord God is trying to do in their lives.

Into which category do we fall? Who best represents us?

Please know that God wants to take all those who are like Herod and make them into shepherds and Wise Men. But that is a choice that He has given for us to make. Is our heart prepared to accept the truth and willing to receive His message? Are we willing to make this journey of faith, from unbelief to belief? And are we willing to surrender ourselves wholly over to the Lord and accept His gift of Salvation during this time when God gave the greatest of gift of them all by sending His Son, Jesus?









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