I know this is the day before Christmas and I also know that it is traditional to focus on Angels, Shepherds, Wise Men and the events recorded at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. But I ask you to look past those events this morning. In fact, I ask you to look past the years Jesus lived, the death He died in our place, and His glorious rising from the grave in life-changing victory.
I take you to a scene somewhere forty days after the resurrection of Jesus. He has been teaching His disciples for weeks now and has just told that He wants them to share what they have learned with the whole world. And then, suddenly Jesus began rising from the earth and into the clouds and out of sight. Try to imagine the scene.
The disciples were surely standing as a group looking up into the sky with their mouths open. Perhaps they cast an occasionally questioning glance to each other but I bet nothing was said. While they were still standing and looking into the sky . . .
suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:11]
What a great question: “Why are you standing there looking into the sky?” It was a question that put the focus where it needed to be. The angels called the men to stop standing around and get on with things. I hope you see that this is a good question for us at Christmas as well.
It is easy for us to just stand around and stare at the stable. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the historical event and miss the practical relevance and implications. Over the past weeks we have looked at the divine nature of Christ, we’ve seen that He was the one promised by the prophets, we’ve seen that his birth was unique, and we have pondered the wonderful truth that He came to die for us. So here we stand on the brink of another Christmas. Perhaps we are left with our mouths and hopefully our hearts open. And now it is time to ask,”So, now what?” It is time to be challenged to stop looking and start responding.
This passage in Acts prompts us to address three crucial questions.
WHO IS JESUS TO YOU?
When the disciples left the spot where Jesus ascended they had a crucial question to answer, Is it true? Did we imagine all we have just been through or have we really been introduced to God’s Son? This is the same question the Shepherds had to ask, and the Wise men, and Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon and everyone else involved with the birth of Christ. Is it really true?
The disciples enjoyed their time with Jesus. They enjoyed the miracles, the great conversation, His wonderful warmth and friendship. But now He had returned to Heaven and they had to ask, “Where do we go from here?” “Do we serve Him with our lives or do we go back to the way things have always been.?”
The first crucial question of Christmas is this: “What will you do with this Jesus?” It’s great to sing the carols. It is heartwarming to take part in the programs. It’s fun to buy presents and to receive them. It is fun being in the “spirit of Christmas”. But, is that all there is to it?
For many people that IS all there is to the celebration. When Christmas is over it is amazing how quickly things “get back to normal”. It’s kind of like the summer camp experience. While you are at camp you are singing songs and testifying of your love for Jesus. And then camp ends and you head home. For a few days there is a lingering glow but before long things are back as they always have been . . . a few great memories but no real change.
Is that the way Christmas is going to be for you? The real question of Christmas is this: “So what?” What difference does it make that God became man, died for our sin and rose again? Will Christmas make any practical difference in your life?
As you come to Christmas day it is my hope that you do so with new life in your heart. It is my hope that you will really surrender to His Lordship. It’s my prayer that you will really trust Him, follow Him, and obey Him in your living. It’s my hope that you will realize that the promises He made are not slogans in an advertising campaign . . . they are truth! There is real forgiveness. There is real hope. There is new life. There is strength for the journey. There is meaning for our existence.
Right up front this morning I am going to ask you to awaken out of your daze. Forget the great programs, look beyond the wonderful music, do more than learn new facts . . . make a decision. Get alone with God and be honest with Him. Tell Him you believe. Ask Him to begin His work in you. Begin to trust Him for you today and your tomorrow. You don’t have to tingle, you don’t have to cry, you don’t have to feel emotional, you don’t have to recite any “magic words”. But you do need to be honest and sincere. Make this the Christmas you allow the Savior to give you new and eternal life.
WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING?
Remember the words of Jesus to the disciples,
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]
The second great question of Christmas is, “What do I do now?” Jesus told the disciples that He wanted them to be His witnesses. He wanted them to spread the word about His coming and the offer of salvation that He has given. In fact in Matthew Jesus is quoted as telling the disciples “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
It’s not enough to have the warm glow that comes from a personal relationship with Christ. He has given us a job to do. The Shepherds left the manger and told everyone they saw. The disciples dispersed and told the world. Paul went from being an opponent of Christianity to being it’s greatest proponent. What about you? Who can you share the message with? Who needs to hear the gospel from you?
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. . .Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’sambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. [2 Cor. 5:16-20]
God has given us the responsibility of telling others about Him. This thought terrifies many people. And there are a couple of reasons it does so. First, we may be afraid to tell others about Christ because we are afraid of facing rejection. We don’t want to be labeled a religious freak. We don’t want our friends to turn away from us.
But how special ARE these friends if we are not willing to tell them how to find life, how to escape eternal punishment, and how to know a forgiveness that will set them free? If we care about these people, how can we NOT share the message with them?
There is a second reason we are reluctant to share our faith: we aren’t sure what to say. We want to tell others about Christ, but we don’t know how. You and I somehow have this feeling that we can’t tell others about Jesus unless we can do so like Billy Graham or our Pastor. I like the way someone has described it, we are called to tell people about Jesus in the same way one beggar tells another where to find bread.
You don’t have to be able to answer all the questions. You don’t have to be able to quote lot’s of verses from the Bible. What you are asked to do is to tell how the truth of the gospel changed your life. You are asked to present the facts (who He was, what He did, why He came) and how those facts have changed you. If there are questions you cannot answer tell your friends you will find the answer or refer them to someone who does have the answer. Remember, YOU don’t save anyone . . . . God does. Our job is to point them to the Savior.
We testify of Christ in several ways,
- by the words we say (and yes, we do need to say them)
- by the things we do
- by the values that drive our life. . . consistency is the greatest testimony of a changed heart.
We can share Christ with others in many ways,
- by sharing an appropriate verse from the Bible
- by showing compassion to those who are hurting
- by inviting someone to worship with us
- by giving someone a book that affirms the message of Christ
- by planting little “seeds” in the things we say, the choices we make, the concern we show
It is not as important HOW you share the gospel but THAT you share the gospel. It is great that we can celebrate Christmas and know the joy of understanding the real reason for the celebration. But this joy was never meant to be kept to ourselves. We are to share with any and all who will listen.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR HIS RETURN?
I suggest that there is another crucial question that needs to be raised, “how do I prepare for the future?” The angels made a startling declaration:
This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:11]
All throughout the New Testament there is a recurring theme: Jesus will return and when He does, it won’t be as a humble child . . . it will be as the glorious King. We should look at the manger and realize that it is just the first act in God’s plan of redemption. That act is followed by the Savior’s death, His glorious resurrection, His stunning ascension, the giving of the Holy Spirit and these things all lead up to the finale . . . His return.
When the Bible tells us about the return of Christ it tells us several things: it will be sudden, it will catch people by surprise, and it will be unmistakable. There will be no advance notice other than what we already have. It could be today . . . it could several hundred years from now. We don’t know . . . but we should be getting ready.
I know this is hard to grasp. I have trouble too. The events of Christ’s life were a long time ago. We must admit that we find ourselves wondering if He really will return at all. In 2 Peter 3 the apostle Peter addresses this very question and says that it is easy to think that Christ is not coming as He promised because we have been waiting so long a time. But Peter reminds us that God is always true to His Word. He only needs to say the word and the Lord will return. His delay is not due to inability but due to His mercy. He is giving us time . . . time to tell others, and time to prepare.
I think it is valuable for you and I to realize that in once sense or another we will all see Jesus soon. We will either see Him in His return or we will see Him when God calls us home. In John 14 Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (v. 3) One way or another we will stand before Him . . . and it may be sooner than we think. We have no time to waste.
So, how do we prepare? First, we need to be sure of our own relationship with the Savior. We must be sure that we have placed our trust and confidence in Him. It’s easy to put this aside until another day. But I have two questions: First, “How do you know that you have another day?” And second, “Why, put off this wonderful relationship with God?” The first thing we need to do to prepare is to make sure that our trust is in Christ. We need to make sure that we belong to Him.
Second, we should develop our relationship with the Father. We should be getting to know and love the Lord we will enjoy for the all of eternity. We do this by spending time with Him, by reading His writings to us, and by spending time talking with Him in prayer. He wants us to cultivate our relationship with him. Other relationships are important but none are more important than this one. As this relationship grows we will come to delight in Him more.
Third, Peter says that if we understand that He might come at any time, we should be living godly lives. Simply put that means we must adjust to the values of the Kingdom. We need to be doing what He tells us to do and living by the values He calls us to affirm. Christ calls us to stand with Him . . . not just to stand around him and “ooh” and “ahhh” at Christmas.
Think about a little baby. Lots of people come by and admire the child. But within a few day they have forgotten the babies name. They admired the child but were not committed to the child. Those committed to the child allow that child’s life to affect every element of their life. It affects their sleeping, their spending, the way they use their time. Having a child changes your life.
Is this bad? Do parents consider this a tiresome burden? No. Most parents would tell you that they would make every sacrifice again. They would tell you that the greatest times of their lives resulted from those sacrifices. The greatest joy came from the investment they made in their children.
The same is true of Christ. Many “oooh” and “aaah” at the Christchild. at Christmas and then walk away until next year. Some are busy doing religious things and taking notes about things God says but never put them into practice. But those who understand, those who believe, those who know they will see Him again are different. Their entire life changes. They are looking to align their lives with the Master. They are looking to serve Him at every opportunity.
Look at it another way . . . suppose you are a student. At the beginning of the year you are told that you will have a paper that is due on a certain date. That paper will be the basis for the grade you get in the class. If you know this what should you do? You should prepare. You need to do the research. You need to write many drafts of the paper. The foolish person waits until the last minute and hopes they have enough time and knowledge to fulfill the assignment. The wise person is working on the project constantly.
We know that some day we will stand before the Lord of life. We know that our lives will be laid bare before Him. What will you do? Will you get to work at living a godly life? Will you submit your life to His Lordship? Or will you keep putting it off? What changes do you need to make in your life?
As we stand on the threshold of another Christmas I ask you: have you addressed the crucial questions of Christmas? Have you believed or are you just along for the ride? Are you looking for ways to share His message with those around you? Are you beginning now to prepare for the day when you will see Him face to face? They are vital questions.
People are excited about Christmas for a number of different reasons. Many, perhaps most, are excited because of the superficial things. They are “standing and looking at the manger” and when the holiday is over they will simply walk away until next year. For them, it is a tradition, an enjoyable ritual. They stare at the manger because “that’s what you do at Christmas”. They are unmoved and unchanged.
But others will look at the manger and realize that God’s entry into the world changes everything. They will come to the Christ of Christmas and find forgiveness and new life. They will find motivation for godly living. They will spend the rest of their lives looking for opportunities to share His grace with those around them. They will be changed.
So, perhaps the most crucial question is: Which group do you belong to?