16 Dec 2018

The Crisis Of Christmas [Matthew 2:16-18]


The birth of Jesus Christ is not just an icing on the cake. He is the most crucial gift to a lost and sinful world. To fully appreciate the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to understand a dark and even unpleasant background story that God has given through the pen of Matthew in the massacre of the innocent children. It is the Horror of a sinful world depicted in a maniac like Herod that reveals to us how badly wrong this world has become because of our sin. It is the Hostility in a sinful world that shows us how much Christ loves us that He still came for us. And it is the Hope for a sinful world confirmed in fulfilment of ancient prophecies that bring us great comfort for our souls. Find out more in this message, and may you see the glory and brilliance of the gospel in "The Crisis of Christmas"


Sermon Transcript

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Now Christmas is a wonderful season isn't it and I think today I would focus on this season where our attention and thinking will be on and Christmas is my favorite time of year, it's a time where you hear of all those Christmas songs, Christmas jingles, you will smell those Christmas roasts as you go along the streets, you will hear of people just greeting one another, you'll see sales they are going on, everything is just nice and the picture I have about Christmas is something warm, something very snug and, and nice, it's, it's a picture of people in a warm room in cold winter time.

Now I know we are living in Singapore. We do not have snow here but that's the picture I have and it's nice, it's warm. In fact, Christmas is a time I first met my first girlfriend who is now my wife and so Christmas is always sweet and warm and pleasant and beautiful.

However, I want to let you know actually in the Bible, not everything is pleasant that is associated with Christmas. Christmas is not always associated with nice things, pleasant stories and pretty stuff. Actually, there is a story that is quite dark and frightening and scary that is associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. You say, what is that story well, the story is given to us in Matthew chapter 2. It's interesting that I look back and I realize I didn't preach on this passage at all as we went through the Gospel of Matthew.

So I'm coming back to this passage and this is a passage that tells us of a massacre. This is a passage that tells us of a big huge slaughter. This is a passage that brings shivers down the spines of mothers and fathers living in Bethlehem because the Bible tells us that there was a governor of Israel named Herod. Herod was the governor of Israel in those days and he heard that there was a baby boy born and this baby boy one day will become the king of the Jews. Now he was the governor and he will not tolerate any opposition or challenge.

So the cunning, but natural way of thinking is I got to eliminate my opposition, so once he found out that the King of the Jews is born, he sought to know where He is born so that he may kill Him. But after asking the wise men, the wise men did not quite reveal this to him he decided to go on to Plan B which is a very blunt way of eliminating Jesus and that is to kill all baby boys or infants below the age of two, toddlers before earlier than younger than the age of two to this was a very frightening scene.

This is nothing pleasant nor nice nor comforting, this is horrific, this is slaughter this is carnage. Well, why does God give us a story like this in the Bible well in Christmas time you think about nice things and so it's very rare for us to hear a message associated with this passage during this season, but I think there's a reason why God puts it here in the Bible isn't it.

After all, it is God, I believe, we believe, who inspired Matthew to include this story. If it is too irrelevant or scary He could have removed it but God puts it there for us to learn and so this morning I just want to do a very simple job of explaining why this passage or this story is worthy of your attention during this Christmas season.

So, number one, what does this passage teach us. I think number one the passage teaches me about the horror of a sinful world. This massacre, this carnage tells us speaks of, the horror of a sinful world take a step back, don't just think about this story, but take a step back as I did when I was thinking about this passage.

When God gave us the Bible, He gave it in two parts as well rather it's a, accumulation of many authors writings and now we divided it into two parts. The first part is what we call the Old Testament and the very beginning of the Old Testament is the book of Genesis, Matthew is the beginning of the New Testament.

So the book of Genesis tells us of the creation of the world and in the first two chapters it tells us how God created everything and then God gave a summary, God gave a conclusion, God gave a verdict of the creation He has done and He said it was? 50 marks if you are in an exam. He said it was very good then you get that 100 marks alright. He said it was very good excellent, perfect and actually when you read the Bible it was a perfect world really, there was no sin, there was no sickness, there was no death, there was no massacre there was no cruelty there's no carnage, there is no sorrow, it was very good.

But as you know, chapter 3 tells us how men slipped into sin, rebelled against God disobeyed Him and now sin penetrated the world and so thousands of years rolled by and then when we come to Matthew chapter 2, the beginning of the New Testament, we see a contrast Genesis 1 and 2 very good Matthew 1 and 2, not very good, that's an understatement right, it's very bad.

What has this world turned out to be, that there will be such cruelty, such barbaric acts and there was I think therefore an intention in this passage to shock us and to confront us with the horror of a sinful world. You see, sin is not something innocuous, sin, it is not something that is subtle, sin is not something that you leave it alone, it's not going to do anything to you, sin is going to destroy this world sin is going absolutely defile you, sin is horrible.

I remember more than a year ago it was around Christmas that I read about a certain post which is about a certain painting. The painting is by a French painter named Léon Cogniet and the painting is called The scene of the Massacre of the Innocents, it's a painting that you could still find in France today and the painting describes Matthew 2, the carnage, the massacre, the slaughter of the baby infants and it looks like this.

The painter is very careful not to draw out, paint out bloodshed, but to show you the horror that must've gripped Bethlehem in those days. If you were a mother and you have heard the edict from Herod that all baby boys under two will be killed, what would you do, you will flee, you will run and you will be horrified and this is the picture that he drew.

He drew mothers carrying their boys running down the flight of stairs and in the foreground will be this lady holding a baby boy, barefoot because she has just been on the run and you could see the terror and the horror in your eyes. Léon Cogniet wanted to convey to us the horror of Herod's sin, the horror of a man's blood thirsty act but there are people who say, not only did he want us to see the horror of Herod's acts, he wants us to see something else because he says if you focus on the picture more, you will see that this lady is really looking at, at you.

She's really looking at both you and me. It's almost like the painter is conveying we are no different from Herod. The horror of sin in this world is not just something that they experienced back in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, the horror of sin has infected every single one.

The Bible tells us all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The Bible tells us in Romans chapter 3 a, a portrait of sin in our lives, go back, read that and be stunned by it, how God describes our mouths, our lips, our hands, our feet, it is not a pretty sight at all, it is a pretty horrific picture.

I remember there was someone in this church who came up to me after service and asked me, Pastor, why do you always use such strong words to describe us. You say that we are wretched sinners, you describe us as so vicious and ugly, why would you use such strong words?

I said it's not me, it's not I who have chosen those words I, I see that description in Romans chapter 3, because that's the way God sees us and really that's reality for us. We like to think of ourselves as quite pleasant people, there's a Chinese saying "ren zhi chu xing ben shan" which means the origin of man is kindness and goodness.

But the Bible doesn't teach that the Bible tells us that we are all conceived in iniquity. We are, born in sin, we are an ugly, dirty, hideous, cruel, vicious people, give me the right environment, give me the right provocation I can be a Herod.

So it's not wrong for us to imagine that the painter is conveying a message to you and for to me and I think it is not wrong for us to see that Matthew chapter 2 is written for us to see the horror of a sinful world, not just about Herod, not just about Herod's soldiers, but you and me, we are equally sinful.

You say why is this important during Christmas time? I think it's important because it's only when we understand how sinful and how depraved we are that we can appreciate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. See, we don't appreciate the Gospel, if we don't understand how horrible sin is.

I used to work as a doctor as you know and I've seen patients suffer, but I've seen patients recover and you know when they recover they are so grateful that they will buy gifts and presents, now they have already paid their doctors but they would still want to bring nice stuff food and so on, it's very common, don't you think don't you realize, that they will bring the stuff to the doctors, to what, appreciate the doctors, why because they were really miserable in their sickness. They really suffered with the cancer, they were really struggling with life, but now that they are saved, they are so grateful, and Christians we don't even do that because we have failed to understand and recoil and realize the horror of sin in life.

So I think CS Lewis is right when he said, A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity, you will not appreciate the Christian faith, you will not appreciate what Jesus has done for you on the cross, unless you recover a sense of sin in your life and I tell you what's the result when man don't realize the horror of sin and how beautiful the Gospel is, we start to detract from preaching the Gospel that saves us from sin to giving a false Gospel that is all about health and wealth.

It's common, common reason because we don't realize sin creates a far worse festering wound in our lives than mere lack of money, the diamond of the Gospel must be contrasted with the velvet of sin, the black velvet of sin and so this Christmas time oh yes there will be a lot of celebration, a lot of nice music, nice food, but let us remember that the Gospel is beautiful in the context of the horror of a sinful world. Matthew 2 is essential to really understanding Christmas.

There's a second reason why I think we need to understand this passage and that is not only do we see the horror of Herod's act, the horror of a sinful world, we see the hostility in a sinful world that Jesus Christ faced. You would have thought that if God sends His Son, you would have thought that if God sends a Savior to save man from what he cannot save himself from, which is sin, the world will be grateful the world would receive the Savior and say wow thank You God we welcome Your Son but that's not what we see because when Jesus was born into this world.

The Bible tells us Herod wanted to destroy Him as I've said, Herod killing all the toddlers before, before the age of two is not because he just wanted to kill baby boys but because he just wanted to kill Jesus. He was hostile towards Jesus, he wanted to eliminate Jesus and even after Herod died and the new governor comes in place, we are told that Jesus cannot go back to Bethlehem.

Later on in Matthew 2, verses 22 to 23, Joseph and Mary, parents of Jesus had to bring their entire family away from Bethlehem they have to go somewhere else, go Nazareth. Well what does this tell you, Jesus faced hostility from the day He was born, God is giving you a little glimpse into the future of the life of Jesus, in this world He will find no home. Didn't He say foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

Well, this little story is a depiction of what John said, He came to His own and His own people did not receive Him. Jesus lived a life filled with persecution and hostility, He was not received. You know what's the Christian faith, in Singapore, it seems to be quite a cool thing for you to say I'm a Christian when people ask you what's your religion, it's quite cool, right. I mean come on if you think of all the religions which one sounds most cool, I'm biased you say.

Well I, I think even as a nonbeliever some 20 over years ago if you asked me, what's the religion, the most cool sounding one maybe, Christian lah, not bad lah By reading the Bible doesn't tell us Christianity is a cool religion. The Bible tells us actually Christianity is a very despised faith. It's a very persecuted faith. Why, because Jesus Himself was persecuted.

This week, you might have come across a particular man, his name is Wang Yi, who is Wang Yi you say, well, he's a pastor, he's a pastor who is actually pastoring today in China in Chengdu, a big city where the pandas come from. Well he comes from there and Wang Yi is a well-known pastor.

Why, because some 12 years ago in 2006 he was one of the few who had the privilege to meet with President George Bush in the White House. So he's a famous man in China, not many Chinese people get to meet President George Bush right, but he did. He is a pastor pastoring today at early rain covenant Church in Chengdu. There are some 500 members there it's an unregistered church in China.

Generally there are two kinds of Christian churches, there is the unregistered church and then there is the registered church. The registered churches are those that you have the register with the government. So they control what is preached, and a lot of things, it's state controlled. The unregistered ones are those who say we don't want to be state-controlled we, we believe it must be controlled by God, we must follow God and not some government and so he belongs to an un-registered church.

So on December 9 when is that, last week there was a raid on his family, the elders of the church and approximately about hundred members of early rain covenant church andit was filmed, it was it was videoed, it was put on social media and this crackdown, this clamp down, this detaining of the elders, pastors, the members of the church became big news.

It was not just news in religious websites, it is not just Christian news, it became mainstream news. In fact, it is mainstream news, even here in Singapore. You sure, yah, I was on, I was away on holidays but on my feeds and so on I, I read China cracked down on unofficial Christian church.

When is this report, 10th of December and it says Christians in China are split between unofficial house or underground churches, like the early rain covenant church and state sanctioned churches well he's not allowed to continue the way they have continued, there's a crackdown what they're doing. So Wang Yi, before he was detained, he knew about it and he actually wrote something, a letter that was to be read 48 hours if he should be detained for longer than that.

And so while he's detained till today and this is what he wrote, I just took two paragraphs from a letter written in Chinese and he said, my Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws, he calls this wicked laws because he believes it is un unrighteous for the state to curb that religious freedom and he is standing up for it for that in a nonviolent manner, but he says the key is that he's joyfully bearing all costs.

He understands he understands that the Christian faith is not always cool and trendy and popular, actually the Christian faith throughout history is despised, is rejected, is persecuted. It's somehow Singapore here, we think that we are the cool bunch.

Actually, you should be, we should be a despised bunch, we should be a rejected bunch and he knows that, he feels that, he is experiencing that. He goes on to say, I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Now I think he is in prison, in detention, understanding that, he's surprised I think he's saddened, but I don't think he's surprise because that's what happened to Jesus and that's what the followers of Jesus must expect, they who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

Well, in Wang Yi church, there are several elders, another elder who has been detained is Li Ying Qiang, this man standing to your left as you look at the screen. Li Ying Qiang, also, likewise, before he was detained, wrote a letter, he actually read it out and you can actually find this on social media on Facebook and his letter was about, Jiao Hui Ru He Mian Dui Bi Po. How does the church face up to persecution and in English translated this is what he said,

Dear or beloved brothers and sisters and fellow workers thank the Lord, this guy is weird, thank the Lord? I thought I would write wah lau, this government I thought I may do something I think at least complain about the authorities but he didn't do that. He opened with thank the Lord what is his perspective, what is his biblical perspective that allows him to say thank the Lord, let's read on.

Just as the year 2018 is about to end, God has given us a what, what, what, reward ? I thought reward is a holiday somewhere, a car somewhere, what is this reward, reward in the form of this large-scale persecution that arrived on December 9. I really wonder if I could say something like this if I should be persecuted. But thanks be to God, there are men and women today who understand the Christian faith is one that meets with hostility.

Since yesterday evening until noon today, over hundred pastors, elders, staff, brothers and sisters have been taken away. As of now we still do not know where they all are and even if we did know, it would be difficult for us to help them. But, thankfully, we know for certain that the Lord's loving face is shining upon them, they are within the gracious sovereign providence of the Lord, He will be with them in the midst of their chains and trials.

The apostle Peter says beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of God and of Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

We are willing to pay an even greater price to bear witness to the great work of the Gospel in our lives. We are willing to have 200, 300 or 500 people arrested and imprisoned. May the whole world know that we are joyfully willing to receive this persecution for the sake of our faith, may you all be filled with joy in the Gospel of Christ, may you welcome, be filled with hope, the even heavier cross and more difficult lives that lie ahead of you.

Are you a Christian today, are you a believer of the Lord Jesus Christ, would you say that I'm a follower of Jesus, then let me ask you, are these words, something that you could imagine yourself saying, because let me be clear, let us be clear, Christianity is not being in a cool building like this, in a cool religion called Christianity and building a cool empire on this world.

Christianity is following Jesus and Jesus lived a life filled with hostile persecution. That's what Christianity is, that's what it means to take up the cross and he says Christ is Lord grace is King bear the cross keep the faith.

This story in Matthew reminds us of the hostility in a sinful world. You know, Christmas is a time where we have nice family times together we have nice turkey, ham, we've Christmas presents, we have nice Christmas jingles. We enjoy this season and you know what, we almost feel like this is home. This is my ultimate joy, this world is my oyster, this world is what I live for.

Matthew 2, reminds us, this is not the world I live for, this not my home. I should faced hostility, I should be uncomfortable here because my real home is with my God in the heavens above, that is what Christianity is all about.

This Christmas don't be tempted by all the sales going on, no, do go and buy your things, it's good stewardship sometimes. But don't ever buy those things and imagine you're building your home here, this is what you live for, its for the world above and this Christmas would you be willing to step out of your comfort zone and to tell people the Gospel.

Invite them for the services and you say wah, I was scared, I'm scared of my friends laughing at me, sneering at me, looking down upon me, well that's what you signed up for when you said, I follow Jesus, I didn't sign up for a comfortable life. I signed up for a life, facing the cross.

So this story is useful isn't it, I mean, it gives you the right context of what the birth of Jesus is all about. I know that's quite sad so far but let me end off with a positive note, because this passage reminds us that there is hope for a sinful world. I mean everything seem so chaotic, everything so, seems so scary, out-of-control that Herod is going on this spree, this rampant spree of killing people, killing boys, killing little children.

Is God incapable of stopping these things is it so out of control, no, not really, how do I know that, because the Bible says then was what fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.

All that is happening it is so messy, so chaotic, but it's exactly what God has prophesied centuries ago. In other words, in the midst of all this carnage is the knowledge of hope, is the anticipation of hope that God is doing something according to His plan and what is His plan, that His Son would come and die and save us from our sins.

You know the chapter 2 of the book of Matthew is a great chapter about fulfilling promises because four promises, four specific promises are fulfilled in Matthew chapter 2. Four promises that has geographical identity, number one you have Jerusalem Jesus will be born in, oh, sorry number one, Bethlehem, Jesus will be born in Bethlehem, number two in Ramah, number three, Jesus will be called out of Egypt, number four, He will be called a Nazarene, related Nazareth.

So four specific prophecies are fulfilled in Matthew two, it is almost as if God is saying I am in control, I am in control, I am in control and this is your Savior. So don't lose sight of the fact that God is sovereignly in control even in the carnage of Herod there's hope in a sinful world. Now for those of you who are more interested, the next five minutes, listen on, for those are not so interested or if you already lost, sleep, I'll wake you up after five minutes, alright, I don't want to lose you for the conclusion, that's why.

But Jeremiah was the one who wrote this, so where did Jeremiah write this. He wrote this actually in Jeremiah chapter 31 and verse 15. Now, why I refer to this is because Jeremiah 31 to Jeremiah 34 are four great, positive, uplifting, thrilling chapters in an otherwise quite sad and depressive book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is not an easy book to read because it's sad, it's, it's about God saying that I would judge My people I will punished My people for their sins, I will, I will send them away, they will be deported and so it's very dark.

It's almost like when I'm taking out my cane and telling my kids I'm going to cane them you know what they are going to straight away. That's the face, I mean nobody says ha, ha, I'm going to be kicked, nobody does that, so the book of Jeremiah is very sad is very depressive but in the midst of this book that is rather depressive, there is four chapters filled with hope four chapters that talks about how God will save Israel again and it is in that context that this passage of lamentation and weeping is in because right after this, right after this is God's promise that I would do an amazing work for Israel.

They have been sinning against Me, they've been rebelling against Me because they can't change their hearts, but let Me tell you a secret I'm going to change their hearts, they can't change the hearts, I will do that in the future, that's the hope for Israel.

So God says some 15, 16 verses later or 18 verses later, God says for this the covenant, this is the agreement that I will make with you guys, with the house of Israel, after all these sufferings, after all these punishments, I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, they, they can't obey Me but I'm going to do something different.

I'm going to put My law in their hearts, I'm going to write them in their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be My people and no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother saying, know the Lord you don't have to do that because I'm going to do that for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more, there will be a lamentation talks about Herod's massacre but don't lose hope because I will do something amazing after those days through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, through the sacrifice of My Son, I'm going bring about a grand plan of salvation and I will write that law in their hearts, I will forgive their sins.

So when you look at a passage like this, it was fulfilled by the prophet Jeremiah, to the Jewish mind you say hope, this is, this is a passage of hope God is going to bring in His Son, his Savior and this is hope for a sinful world.

Now if you have been sleeping you can wake up now, that's the point, from the Old Testament and in the New Testament the Bible is telling us that there is hope in Jesus, it was sad that this morning when I was in prayer meeting one of our brethren said hey I was walking in Orchard Road and it is so sad that Christmas today is all about Disney characters and even about Pikachu. No, Christmas is a good time for us to remember the Savior.

Now let me be clear we are not saying that Jesus was born on 21 December it's not found in the Bible. In fact, if you study the Bible it is quite unlikely Jesus is born anytime in December. We do not know basically but hey it's a good time for us to remember the birth of Jesus it may not be this day, but let us remember it's about Jesus.

And what is it about Jesus, what's so great about Jesus what's so great about this Good News of Jesus Christ coming and living and dying and rising. Well let me tell you why Matthew 2 tells me number one the horror of a sinful world.

Imagine a world without salvation from sin. Imagine you, if you have not been saved from your sin what kind of a man, what kind of a woman would you be today. I shudder to think what I will be if I was not saved some 20 over years ago. I'm thankful to God for His grace.

Number 2 Christmas means much more, when we remember the hostility Jesus faced. In spite of all the persecution, opposition and crucifixion on the cross, He came for you, He came for me, and number three Christmas means a lot because of the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.

One day our Savior will return again and now He's going to usher in a whole new cosmos, era of righteousness and that is where we will be with Him, Christmas make sense when you place this diamond, this glittering jewel of the Gospel in the background of the velvet black box of Matthew chapter 2.

I pray today this will be a message that blesses your heart may you truly have a Merry, Merry Christmas Let's bow for a word prayer together. Christmas a time of celebration and festivities but it's very easy for us to go about all these paraphernalia, this external trappings of a festive period and forget the essence of it all.

The real joy of the Christian man, the real joy of the Christian woman is knowing Jesus Christ, God's Son and really the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ, God's Son is enhanced when we realize just how horrible sin is and how much He had to face in order to rescue you and me from our sins.

This morning my dear brothers and sisters, my dear friends, think about sin in this world I don't think there's anywhere else in this world that will ask you to think about sin in this world.

Everywhere else in this world will tell, you don't think about how sinful we are because you're actually a good person. This world is actually a good place, life is not that evil and wicked and bad. But no the Bible is brutal in showing us the hideousness, the cruelty, the destructiveness of our sinful ways. Christianity needs to rediscover the sense of sin.

So this morning would you do that, think about Herod, think about the chaos of his world, think about your own life. Would you today think about the love of God for you in Jesus, how He sent His Son, knowing that the world will not receive Him and indeed like a story Jesus Himself gave, the servants will killed the master's sons and yet He came for you.

This morning I want to encourage you to come to Jesus Christ. You know, Christianity is not about you working and earning your way to God because you are absolutely are wretched and hopeless in our sin but Christianity is about God sending His Son to reach you, even when we did not want Him, even when we hated Him, He gave us His Son that He may die on the cross and pay for your sins. I urge you today, the Bible, commands you today, repent and believe.

What do you mean, repent, it means to turn from your sin, to knowledge that you are sinful, to know that you cannot save yourself, to grieve over your sin and now being willing to forsake sin, you turn to God, you believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done on the cross, believe as what the Bible has told you that Jesus is God's Son, He lived a perfect life and He died on the cross so that He can credit His righteousness to you and He can take your sinfulness and suffer for your sake. Why was Jesus rejected, so that you may be accepted, why did Jesus leave His glory in His home above, so that you may join Him in His home above.

Come home to God today through Jesus Christ, He said I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me. I pray today, you will come to Jesus and be saved.

Today we celebrate Christmas we say, Hark the herald angels sing listen the angels are singing, why, glory to the new born King. May the glory, the brightness of our King shine against the backdrop of darkened sin. So Father, we thank You for this morning, we could hear Your Word, I pray that men and women will repent and I pray Gospeliters today would pick up that courage and be witnesses and ambassadors for You. Lord use us to share the Gospel and use us to bring our family and friends in to hear the Gospel.

May this Christmas season not be wrapped around Santa Claus or Christmas trees but may it all be about Jesus Your Son, glory to the newborn King, thank You and pray all this in Jesus Name, amen.