Every Christmas there is a battle. Should manger scenes be put on courthouse property? Can children sing Christmas carols in school programs? In one school the debate was whether the words to Silent Night could be changed to “Cold Winter’s Night” to make the service more acceptable. Stores wrestle with whether to advertise “Christmas Specials” or to call them “holiday specials”?
Some of this concern is out of respect for the celebrations of Hanukkah (a Jewish Celebration commemorating the overthrow of the Syrian domination of Jerusalem in 165 BC and the subsequent consecration of the temple and the miraculous burning of the temple light for 8 days with only one day of oil.) and KWANZA (a holiday invented in 1966. It is an ethnic celebration designed to celebrate African Americans.) We can respect this consideration but opposition to Christmas is not coming from Jewish People or from African Americans. The opposition is coming from those who want to eliminate Christianity from every aspect of public life. There are those who hate Christianity.
In our text this morning we learn that this is nothing new. People have been turning their backs to the real message of Christmas ever since Jesus came to earth the first time. In John 1:9-11 we read these words,
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
We are told that the true light (as opposed to false lights) came into the world. He was the initiator. He was the One that sought us. Second, notice that He came to give true light to everyone in the world. Christ’s purpose was not to annoy, assault or restrict us. He came because He wanted us to see. He wanted us to know God and to understand the purpose for which we were created. He came to bring us life.
Who Doesn’t Like Jesus?
So, the question is: since Jesus is the one initiating the relationship and since He is doing so for our good rather than our harm, what kind of a person would reject Him? John identifies two groups of people.
He tells us, “though he was in the world and the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him”. This would be like a child not recognizing his parent or an employee not recognizing his employer or a soldier not saluting the General. It is ridiculous. Jesus made the world but when He came to earth, people ignored Him. We ignore Christ when we don’t pay attention to Him, when we don’t honor Him as Lord, when we don’t trust Him as our Savior.
But it wasn’t just people in general that did not recognize Him. Even the Jews, the chosen people of God largely rejected Him. We are told that “he came unto his own but his own did not receive him.” This would be like Jesus coming to a worship service and having us ignore Him or dismiss Him because He didn’t know what He was talking about. Think about the absurdity. The one we claim to worship is rejected.
The Jews had spent their whole lives looking for the Messiah. They eagerly anticipated the day when He would walk the earth. Their ceremonies pointed to Him, their prayers longed for Him. But when He arrived, they rejected Him. They missed Him. The same thing happens in churches around the world. Religious people are so involved in their religious acts they pay no attention to the Savior who is reaching out to them.
Why do they dislike Jesus?
But why didn’t the people receive Him? Or even better, why don’t people receive Him today? Let me share with you several reasons. This is not an exhaustive list but I do think these are the most common reasons.
He isn’t what people expected. The Messiah the Jews were waiting for was to be a conquering King. They were looking for a victorious warrior rather than a humble servant. They were looking for one who would call them to battle, not one who would summon them to be servants. They were looking for someone who would reward them, not call them to repent.
The same thing happens today. People want a Savior who will make all their problems disappear. They want someone who will tell them that everything is great. They want someone to serve them, not someone to serve. They have an unrealistic expectation.
Remember what it was like to finally get out of school? You looked forward to graduation because you would be “on your own”. You dreamt of all the things you would buy. You dreamt about all the places you would travel. You looked forward to finally being free. Yet, when you graduated the reality was different from the dream. You didn’t have money to buy all the stuff you wanted, you didn’t have the time or energy to travel or to maintain the active social life you imagined.
Now I don’t mean to imply that following Jesus will disappoint. It is just the opposite. Following Christ boldly is an adventure. We never know where He is taking us and we don’t know how God is going to provide for the things we need. It’s an adventure called faith that is better than anything this world has to offer.
My point is that people choose not to receive Jesus as He is; they want to make Him into what they want Him to be. It is similar to the way some people view marriage. They get married convinced that their mate is going to change and be what they want them to be . . . . let me know how that works out for you. Our job is to turn to the true Christ and not continue to wait for some imagined Savior.
He Refuses to Cover Over Sin. People reject Christ, especially today, because He is politically incorrect. Jesus came into the world telling the truth. He doesn’t excuse sin by
Calling it a disease (as we do with alcoholism, gluttony and materialism)
Blaming it on others (our parents, the government, our environment) (as we do with many of the social sins)
Excusing it by saying, “Times have changed”. (Like we do with sex before marriage).
Or trying to make the sinful behavior virtuous through a careful media blitz. (Like what is happening with homosexuality).
Jesus doesn’t do this. He calls sin by name. He condemns, drunkenness, homosexuality, hatred, prejudice, gossip, greed, laziness, and other forms of sinful behavior. Jesus challenges people to take responsibility for their own lives and their behavior. He tells them they need to change, admit the truth, and repent.
This doesn’t play well in our society. We all have areas of darkness in our lives, parts of our lives and character we don’t want others to see. When Jesus comes into a life the light exposes what is in the darkness. Most people don’t want to face the truth of their sin, they want to pretend they are fine.
John says it well in John 3:19ff
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
He Tells us We Cannot Save Ourselves. Jesus speaks against the prevailing religion of today: the “I can do it myself” faith. Every other religion tells people they can get to heaven, nirvana, or paradise because of some good deed (in the case of Islam, this could be a terrorist act) they must do.
At the time in which Jesus was living, the Jews believed that they would be saved if they lived good enough lives. They believed if they followed the religious ritual, tried to do good things, and kept their rebellion to a minimum, they would be blessed. They would receive God’s blessing, favor, and ultimately, eternal life.
This is the way many people view it today. They believe good people go to Heaven and the bad people go to Hell. Every other religion (and some that masquerade as Christian) focuses on rules that need to be obeyed and rules that need to be followed to get to Heaven. “Follow these rules and you can save yourself.” In most funeral services it sounds like the person is going to Heaven because they were “a good person”.
When I talk at a funeral about a person being a “good” person, I always want to make it understood that the person is good in comparison to some people . . . not in comparison to God’s standards. By God’s standards there is “no one righteous, not even one.” Even the best people have no hope of Heaven apart from the grace of God.
Jesus has a different approach. To be a follower of Christ we must admit our helplessness to save ourselves. This goes against our yearning for self-sufficiency. We want to make our own way and control our own destiny. In essence, we want to be God. We don’t want to have to submit to God. We don’t like what Jesus is telling us.
He Says He is the Only Way. Jesus told those who would listen that “he is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.” Since no one comes to the Father except by Jesus, He is claiming to be the only way to God. These were radical words in Jesus’ day and they are fighting words today. Today you dare not say one way is better than another because someone is going to say, “Who are you to say that your way is right and mine is wrong?” Of course the answer is pretty simple, “I didn’t say it, Jesus did.”
Jesus announces that the only people who will be right with God are the ones who put their faith and trust in the work of Jesus on their behalf. Is that arrogance, or is it the truth spoken by the one who was God become man? When I go to see the Doctor I don’t want him to tell me that I’m fine if I’m not. I want him to tell me the truth. When I know the truth, I can address that truth.
Jesus tells us the truth. He draws a line and says those who are one side of the line are right with God and those on the other side of the line are not. It’s pretty simple actually. People want to dodge what Jesus said. They want to avoid His claim to be the only way. Instead they want to talk about Jesus the humanitarian, Jesus the one who loves everyone, and Jesus the wise teacher. Certainly Jesus WAS compassionate, wise and loving but He also stated that He was the only way to a relationship with God.
I spent some time on jury duty recently. I was a juror for one trial. This particular case was about a city ordinance that had been violated. The Defense attorney had an interesting defense. He started by addressing the issue and then started to try to get us sidetracked on a number of side (and irrelevant) issues. Never once did he imply that his client didn’t violate the ordinance. Not once did he give a reason for this violation. He tried to confuse the issue through truckloads of words. We found the defendant guilty.
You can respect and celebrate all kinds of things about Jesus. However, if you do not acknowledge Him as God and the only One who can save you; if you are not willing to trust and follow Him, you are not a Christian and you are not headed to Heaven. There, I said it!
Let’s draw some simple conclusions. First, we should not be surprised when people hate us for being a Christian. Jesus warned his disciples, “All men will hate you because of me.” (Lk. 21:17). In John 17 Jesus talks to the Father and says, “I have given them your word and the world hates them.”(Jn. 17:15) We should not be surprised when some try to erase Christ from Christmas.
If we stand up for the truth of the gospel some people will be offended. If we are a faithful witness we have to call sin what it is and we can’t compromise on how a person gets to Heaven. Of course, we should never be offensive in our manner, but the message will be offensive to many. Jesus told us that a “servant is not greater than his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Mt. 10:25] We shouldn’t be surprised when some reject the message of Christ.
Let’s turn this around. Please hear this: If it is your goal to be popular and accepted by the world, you will have to compromise the gospel in some fashion to reach that goal. The question we must all answer is this: what do we want more: to be popular or to be faithful? If we want to be faithful, there will be times when we will stand for things that are unpopular. Frankly, I see that only getting worse, rather than better.
Second, we need to be careful that we don’t become victims of “politically correct” Christianity. It is easy for us to adopt the watered down version of Christianity. Life is certainly easier if we adopt the Christ of the world. It is easy to serve a Christ that we don’t need to trust, we don’t have to obey, and a Christ that will never ask us to sacrifice or serve. We must not even settle for a Jesus that is a republican or a democrat. To do so is to compromise His character in some fashion. We must strive to follow the true Jesus and not the Christ of the world.
Third, we need to take a hard look at the teaching of Jesus for our own lives. Are you sitting here today excusing your rebellion against God because it is socially acceptable? Are you justifying some sinful behavior by blaming someone or something else? Are you making excuses instead of turning to the Lord for forgiveness and a new beginning?
Are you trusting in your own goodness to get you into Heaven? Are you comforting yourself with the notion that you are better than average so you have a good shot of Heaven when you die? Friend, if this is the case, you’ve misunderstood Jesus. He announced that no one is good enough. We have all gone astray. We are every one of us like sheep without a Shepherd. If you think you are good enough for Heaven you have either vastly overestimated your goodness or vastly underestimated the stench of sin to a Holy God.
It’s possible that there are some here who are dabbling in various religions. Perhaps you are taking a little from this belief system and a little from that. You may fashion yourself to be a Christian Buddhist, or a New Age Christian. You may be feel that the teachings of Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Mohammed, Buddah or L. Ron Hubbard can lead you to God. Such notions are not Christian! None of these people or systems can lead you to God. Only Jesus can do so. The only way of salvation is through the One who left the throne room of Heaven to become a man and give His life as a payment for your sin and mine. He is the only way.
I encourage you to take a good look at Jesus. See Him for what He truly is. Recognize that He is your only hope. See that He should be pursued over everything else in your lives. Trust Him completely. Admit the truth about yourself and cling to the offer of forgiveness and new life through Christ alone. It’s not the easy way, it’s not the popular way, but it is the true way to forgiveness and new life.
The Jesus who came to earth in Bethlehem didn’t come merely to inspire us or to warm our hearts. He came to provide a way of forgiveness and new life. He came to deliver us from the world. If we don’t understand that fact, we don’t really understand what Christmas is all about.