Saturday, June 28, 2008

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST


We are looking at the record in the Bible of “the incarnation”; how God the Son, the second Person of the triune God, took on a human body and manifested Himself to us as the Lord Jesus Christ. In Luke, we read about the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, and we see that Mary laid Him in a manger, which is an animal feeding trough. It shows how God the Son has laid down all His glory and came as a man, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and He humbled Himself by being born under the poorest of circumstances. And now we enter into a passage that shows us how God orchestrated all the events surrounding the birth of Christ to His own glory. From man’s perspective Christ was born as a poor little baby, but from God’s perspective this little baby was the most glorious Lord of heaven and earth. Let us read this here in Luke 2:8:

Luke 2:8
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:9-10
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 good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Luke 2:11
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:12
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Luke 2:13-14
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.

Luke 2:15
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Luke 2:16
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Luke 2:17
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:18
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:19-20
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:20
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And so, the question arises:
Why did God announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds?

Why the Shepherds? (Luke 2:8-20)

Look at the wonderful things God was, and is doing.

But why did God reveal this wonderful display of Christ’s glory only to these uneducated shepherds?

No one else but these shepherds! Is this not reflecting that God reveals Himself only to a select group of people?

Yes! This is how God operates most of the time. In fact, this was the night crew. These were the apprentice shepherds. They were given the most undesirable job among shepherds. They ranked among the lowest on the shepherd-totem-pole. These were the only people in all of Israel who were made aware of Jesus’ birth.

And why did God choose them?

When we go through the Bible we can see that God has an intense interest in shepherds. Abel, the son of Adam, was a shepherd. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were shepherds. The children of Israel in Egypt were shepherds. Moses, who grew up as a prince in the palace of Pharaoh, became a shepherd for 40 years. David, the man after God’s own heart, was a shepherd. The prophet Amos was a shepherd. The Lord Jesus Christ is called “The Good Shepherd”. And the Apostle Peter, who was a fisherman by trade, was appointed as shepherd, because the Lord Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep”.

Is that the end of the list?

No! The role of pastors, and elders, and deacons, is the role of a shepherd. We must care for the flock that God has given us to care for, and we must feed them the pure spiritual food, and we must guide the flock into all things profitable for the furtherance of the Kingdom. And all those whom God has saved, He has made them ambassadors for Christ, which implies that you too have received the mandate to nurture and care for all those baby-Christians God has put under your wings. We have the knowledge of salvation. Therefore we must lead the sheep and the little lambs into green pastures, and lead them to drink the water of the Gospel. We are not in this world to take care of ourselves. Christ does that for us. But we are here in this world to be of service to others; to take care of the sheep and the little lambs, and we lay down our life for that purpose. David killed the lion and the bear. That is the role of a shepherd. We too must be militant shepherds, ready to defend our sheep from the attacks by Satan through false gospels, which are around us all the time. That is why God revealed His glory to the shepherds, and only to the shepherds. God was thinking of us. Here, in Luke 2:8, God brought the message of Christ’s birth to the shepherds by night.

Why by night?

We too watch over our sheep by night, because this world is in spiritual darkness. It is the darkness of the dominion of Satan. Let us now move on to the next verse.

The Angel of the Lord (Luke 2:9-10, Exodus 3:2, 20:2, Jude 2:1, Revelation 1:16, Hebrews 13:8, John 6:44, Matthew 1:21)

Luke 2:9-10
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 good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

There are 64 appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the Bible.

Whom do we understand this Angel of the Lord to be?

In Exodus 3:2 the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in a burning bush. And from the rest of the story we understand that it was not an angel but it was God who was talking to Moses. In Jude 2:1 the Angel of the Lord spoke to all Israel, and said, “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers”, and we know that this was not an angel who was speaking, but God Himself, for God said in Exodus 20:2, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”.

Who delivered us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage?

The Lord Jesus Christ did that. His payment on the cross was the cause of our deliverance from bondage to sin and Satan. And so, when we search carefully all the other occasions where the name “The Angel of the Lord” appears we can conclude that this was not an appearance of an angel, but it was an appearing of Christ. It was Christ who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush; and in Jude 2:1 it was Christ who spoke to the children of Israel about their deliverance out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Here also in Luke 2:9, it was Christ who appeared to the shepherds in the field, and His glory manifested itself as light that shone round about them.

How can we describe this light of the glory of Christ that shone round about them?

We can infer from Revelation 1:16 how bright that light was. There we read in Revelation 1:16, “And His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength”. When the Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos, His brightness, indicating His glory as the Judge, would equal His glory at the time of His birth. Because God was already infinitely glorious before He created heaven and earth, therefore He cannot become more glorious after Christ went through the cross experience. From our human perspective we cannot understand such things, but God says in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever”. It was such a fearful sight for John that he fell to the ground as dead. Then Jesus said to him, “Fear not”. Just think of it what a fearful sight this was for the shepherds, who suddenly saw this appearance, bright shining as the sun. And so, the Lord had to assure them, “Fear not”. But on the Last Day the unsaved will be in great fear, for they will all be cast into Hell, not one excepted. But God says to us, “Fear not”. We still honor Him and reverence Him as our God and Savior, but we do not fear Him any more as our Judge, because we have been judged already at the cross. If we have been saved Hell is not the object of terror any more. We have become sons of God. We deserve to go to Hell, because we came into the world as slaves of Sin and Satan, and as enemies of God. We came into the world as liars and with hearts full of anger. But if the Lord Jesus Christ has saved us, then Hell is no more a threat to us. If Christ has saved us, then He has changed our hearts forever into hearts that long to be in the presence of Christ, and in the presence of fellow saints.

If Christ has saved us He has turned our hearts around, from hearts of sinners to hearts of saints. But we realize that it is only by the mercy of God, and by the grace of God, that God has done this, and that we may escape Hell. If we would be aware of our spiritual condition, then this is the change of heart that we should ask for. But, of course, when we were unsaved we did not know what we should ask for. And that is why the mercy of God, and the grace of God were necessary for our salvation. Without it no one can become saved. And that is why the Lord Jesus said in John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”.

Only then do we understand the glorious news that the Angel of the Lord brought to the shepherds. Only then can we sing in our heart this good news, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come”, and we know that Christ has come to pay for our sins. The fact that He came as a baby was nothing to celebrate about. That was just the beginning of His coming. But that He came to pay for our sins, to pay it vicariously, to pay it in our place, that is great reason to celebrate, for this means that we do not have to go to Hell.

But for whom did the Lord Jesus pay their sins?

Did He pay for the sins of all mankind?

When we read at the end of Luke 2:10, “to all people”, does this mean that He paid for the sins of the entire human race?

We realize that this cannot be, because this glorious news did not bring great joy to the scribes and Pharisees, and it did not bring great joy to king Herod and his court, and it did not bring great joy to most people in Jerusalem. We have here again a test whereby God is testing mankind: “Do we harmonize the words of Scripture?”

Do we dare to harmonize the words God spoke, and which God recorded in the Bible?

God says in Matthew 1:21, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins”. Which means, “on the cross the Lord Jesus Christ saved only His people from their sins”. No one else but His people! And that does not refer only to the Israelites, the children of Jacob, but it refers to the remnant chosen by grace from all the nations of the world. And therefore the words “to all people” must be understood like “all the world” in Luke 2:1. God has His remnant saved by grace out of all the peoples of the world. And so we see that God fulfilled His promises to all His people, to all His elect, by making this declaration.

God Fulfilled His Promises (Luke 2:11-12, Isaiah 43:11)

Luke 2:11
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:12
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Unto you!

Unto whom?

Unto you, shepherds, is born this day a Savior! Unto you who are the shepherds of this world, unto you the caretakers of this world, is born this day a Savior.

Can you hear what God is saying?

Unto US is born this day a Savior. Christ, the Savior, the Anointed One, the Redeemer of all His elect, was born unto US about 2000 years ago.

Why was He the Savior?

Because He went to the cross for us, that is why. When God said, “Rejoice, for unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”, God was not pointing to the baby, but God was pointing to the cross. It is only through the cross that Christ is a Savior. It is only through the cross that Christ established His Kingdom. And the sign of the cross started here in Bethlehem, in the city of David, about 1000 years earlier, when God promised to king David that from his loins the promised Messiah would be born. And this promise to David ties back about 1000 years earlier to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob. For this reason the Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who can be our Savior. Now read what God says in Isaiah 43:11, “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no Savior”. God says here that He is the only One who is Jehovah, because when you see the word LORD, with all four letters capitalized, it stands for Jehovah. God says that He alone is called Savior. But God says in the New Testament that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who can be our Savior. Therefore, when we harmonize the Scriptures we conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ is Jehovah. The New Testament also says that Jehovah is One God, but manifests Himself in three Persons. Therefore God the Father is Jehovah, and God the Son is Jehovah, and God the Holy Spirit is Jehovah and yet there is only One God Jehovah. We do not try to understand this, but we are careful to use only the wording of the Bible so that we do not introduce heresy. Paraphrased God says in Isaiah 43:11, “I am Jehovah, your Savior”!

He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, who went to the cross to purchase us body and soul, and who went to the cross to purchase Himself a Kingdom. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, and therefore He came into the world as a baby.

Where is this child?

Luke 2:12 says, “Ye shall find the babe lying in a manger”. But literally the Greek text does not say “a manger”, but “The Manger”. It means that the Lord Jesus Christ, who says of Himself that He is the Bread of Life, is found in Bethlehem, which means the House of Bread, lying in The Manger, which is referring to the Bible as the Manger. There only in the Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ found by all those who love His appearing. He is not found by watching a movie about Christ. Making a movie about Christ is as cursed in the eyes of God as making an idol from wood or stone and falling down before it in adoration. Such people are under the curse of God. The Angel of the Lord said to the shepherds, “Ye shall find the babe lying in The Manger”.

How many babies were there in Bethlehem lying in a manger?

Only One! These shepherds knew where to find a manger. They took care of animals who in the winter time were cared for in a stable, and they were fed from a manger. The shepherds would not have to look very long. They knew where all the stables in Bethlehem were. And this was a sign to us also. We too know where we can find the true Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. If we read and write in English, then The Manger we should be looking in is the King James Bible. This is the only English Bible where the translators have made a concerted effort to produce as much as possible a word by word translation from the Hebrew and Greek text. The Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Textus Receptus are truly the Bible that God has handed down to us. But since most of us do not read Hebrew and Greek, the English King James Bible is the best alternative. That was spiritually The Manger that the Angel of the Lord was referring to. And then we read about:

A Multitude of the Heavenly Host (Luke 2:13-14, Hebrews 11:12, 1:14, Revelation 5:11, Ephesians 1:5,9, Philippians 2:13)

Luke 2:13-14
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.

What a stupendous sight this was.

How great was this multitude of the heavenly host?

We do not know exactly. But the same word “multitude” has been portrayed in Hebrews 11:12 as a very great multitude. In Hebrews 11:12 God says of Abraham, “Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable”.

This is indeed a great multitude.

Would God hold back any of the armies of heaven, or would He allow every angel to go and show themselves to the shepherds, to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ?

There is no reason why God would hold any of the angels back to defend the forts of heaven. They were not under attack. And so, we can conclude that all the angels went out to the earth and made themselves visible. Normally angels are not visible. Angels are “ministering spirits who are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). But for this occasion they took on some form and showed themselves.

How many angels are there?

We read in Revelation 5:11, “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands”.

10,000 x 10,000 = 100 million.

Unfortunately this is still an inadequate estimate of the number of angels; because the word translated “ten thousand” is the Greek word for “myriads”, which is a words that infers certainly much more than ten thousand. One thing is sure, there are much more than 100 million angels. Just imagine that you would be able to see one million people. Napoleon invaded Russia with half a million soldiers. That was already an army so great that it stretched all the way to the horizon. We cannot imagine how great an army of 100 million is. The army that came to show themselves to the shepherds was even greater than 100 million angels. We cannot comprehend so many angels. But we do know that this meant that the entire night sky from one end to the other was filled with these glorious beings, each one of them shining as the sun. And together their joint voices must have sounded louder than thunder. Whether these angels were saying or singing, it was glorious. And they were saying, “Glory to God in the highest”.

Why would God create such a display of His glory before these poor shepherds?

God did that for His own glory.

Why did God save us?

God did that for His own glory. That is the whole purpose of salvation. But God does not reveal His glory to the reprobate of this world. God reveals His glory only to His elect. We must remember that these shepherds represented all the elect of God who are having the privilege of hearing the message of salvation. Besides Mary and Joseph, these shepherds were the only ones who came to know Jesus personally. And listen to the good news the angels were bringing. Literally they said, “On earth peace in men of good will”. And the Greek word they used for “good will” is the same word that has been translated more often as “good pleasure”. For example, God says in Ephesians 1:5, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will”.

Here the word “good pleasure” is the same word. Also in Ephesians 1:9 God said, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself”.

Here also the word “good pleasure” is the same word.

Also in Philippians 2:13 God said, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”.

Again, the word “good pleasure” is the same word. We can conclude then that God says in Luke 2:13, “On earth peace in men of God’s good pleasure”.

Who are those who receive the good pleasure of God?

They are those whom the Father has drawn to Jesus. These are the only ones who will experience the “peace of God that passeth all understanding”. No man of himself is of God’s good will. No man of himself is of God’s good pleasure. Only those to whom God delights to reveal Himself will be drawn to know the Lord Jesus Christ personally from the Scriptures. We experience this earth as a vale of tears. But in the midst of all this suffering we can have peace and tranquility in our heart, because God gave us this peace in our hearts. And so it was with the shepherds who received this good news. They said:

Let Us Go and See (Luke 2:15-18)

You cannot blame the shepherds for lack of enthusiasm. They were excited. We read in Luke 2:15-18,

Luke 2:15
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Luke 2:16
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Luke 2:17
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:18
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

They said, “which the Lord hath made known unto us”.

Again, can we see the exclusivity here?

God revealed His glory to the shepherds, and He passed by others in Bethlehem who might be equally qualified. But the shepherds understood their exclusive relationship with God. They said "unto us". They knew what it means to be among the privileged few. They must have left the sheep under the care of the Lord. They dropped everything and went to see the baby Jesus. But that is what God expected from them.

Are we as excited as they were?

When we are confronted with the Gospel, will we be as excited, and can we be expected to do what they were doing?

They went immediately to see the Baby Jesus in The Manger. They came with haste, because we see that “Now is the day of salvation”. Tomorrow may be too late.

And “how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation”? (Hebrews 2:3)

Therefore we too must go to the House of Bread, Bethlehem, to find Christ in the Bible, who is the Bread of Life.

What is our response?

Are we ready to go immediately to the House of Bread?

And what did the shepherds find? Did they just find a baby?

Absolutely not!

According to verse 17, what was “the saying which was told them concerning this child”?

The answer is in verse 11, “Which is Christ the Lord”. It means they found the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed. They found the message of salvation: Jesus is the promised Messiah, who came to be born in the likeness of sinful flesh, to redeem His people from their sins. And then they began to tell everyone concerning this wonderful news. The world marveled and wondered at those things. But that was as far as it went. The world still wonders and marvels about Jesus, or about salvation, or about the historical details surrounding His birth, or around the historical details surrounding His death. The world makes movies about Jesus and rakes up a lot of money from those movies. In the meantime the world has moved into the church and the church has adopted all the morals from the world. You can see it, for example, when you look at what they have done with Christmas. The church stirs up the people by inventing many ceremonies that God has not commanded. The church stirs up the congregation with gospels that feature signs and wonders and healing miracles that are supposed to come from Jesus. The church grows, and they call it the blessing from God, when in fact it adds to their condemnation. And all the while the world wonders and marvels about Jesus. But that is not salvation! The shepherds experienced salvation.

The Shepherds Returned, Glorifying and Praising God (Luke 2:19-20, Psalm 119:97, Colossians 1:15-20)

Luke 2:19
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:20
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

The world wonders about Jesus, and the world wonders about Christians, never understanding what it takes to be a Christian. But Mary kept all these things in her heart. And Mary pondered them in her heart, which means that she meditated on these things. Mary demonstrated that she was a “born again” believer. We read in Psalm 119:97, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day”. That is the mark of a child of God. Psalm 119:97 typifies a true saint, and Mary has all the characteristics of a true saint. The shepherds also were showing that they meditated on these things. The shepherds continued praising God to His honor and glory. The shepherds saw the glory of God when they saw the baby in a manger. This is the natural, predictable, reaction of someone who has been saved. When God has done the miracle of salvation in our heart, we continue to give Him glory to whom glory belongs. Not with outward show, or outward ceremonies, or outward lipservice, but with things going on in our heart. We witness what God has done in our heart. We witness of the faithfulness of God for sending the Messiah into the world as He has promised. And with eyes of faith we know and we have seen that Christ is our Savior. We have come to know Him personally from the Scriptures. We are His witnesses. We are the shepherds of this world. To us has been given the message of reconciliation. Only those who have been born from above are authorized to send forth the true Gospel, because we have been identified with Christ in our new birth. We have seen who He really is. He is not just the little baby in a manger, but He is God Himself who has come in the flesh.

In Colossians chapter 1 God sings of the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God tells us that we are now safe and secure, because we have been translated into the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then we read in Colossians 1:15,

Colossians 1:15
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

Colossians 1:16
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Colossians 1:17
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Colossians 1:19
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell;

Colossians 1:20
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

This passage tells us in no uncertain terms that the Lord Jesus Christ is God Himself. We did not make Him our God. He was God from eternity past. But God broke into time and manifested Himself as a helpless baby. At the same time God was in heaven ruling over the entire universe.

How can this be?

Only God can be in more than one place at the same time. The Lord Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. It does not mean that God the Father looked like the baby in a manger. But the Greek word translated “image” here is the word “eikon”. It means a perfect replica, or a precise copy, or a duplicate. We use that word in computer science, when we see eikons on the screen. But in this passage God emphasizes that Christ was fully man and also fully God. “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell”, which means that all the fullness of the Godhead fully dwelt in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the only way we can rejoice and glorify God at Christmas time. This is the only way we can give
“Glory to God in the Highest”.

AMEN.

By Alfred Chompff

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