Christmas Through the Ages - Romans 1:1-4; Galatians 4:4-5 - Skip Heitzig
One source says that of all the Christmas songs that are sung this time of the year, three of them stand out as being the most popular Christmas carols of all. And they are, in this order, "Joy to the World", "The First Noel", and "Silent Night". Great songs, right? All great songs. However, I do have a little something against each one. Let me explain. "Joy to the World", it's an awesome song. It's one of my favorite all time songs, actually. It was written by Isaac Watts in the 1700s.
But did you know that when he wrote "Joy to the World", it has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever? He wrote it about the second coming of Jesus, rather than the first, and if you go through the lyrics, you'll spot that. You go, oh, I see about Jesus ruling and reigning over the earth, which the Bible says will be a second coming. And that's what he had in mind, and that's what he wrote it for. But that's OK. It's appropriate to sing "Joy to the World" at this time of the year, because Jesus came and yet, he promised he is coming again, so it's absolutely appropriate to do that.
The second song is "The First Noel". Again, a stellar tune. The first noel, the angels did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay, in fields where they lay keeping their sheep. Here's the part that gets me. On a cold winter's night that was so, what? Deep. So you picture shepherds hunkering down, 12 foot snowdrifts, it's really cold outside. The only problem with that is Jesus was born in the Middle East in Israel. And I've been there at all seasons of the year, and they don't have weather like that.
And besides that, historians are actually telling us that Jesus probably was not born December 25th. I hate to burst your bubble, but most scholars will pinpoint the date somewhere between March and May where he was born. And think about it, if Caesar Augustus is demanding the whole world goes back to their city of origin for a census, a registration to take place, he's not going to do it in the worst part of the year. He's probably going to do it at a more favorable time of the year for travel.
The next song, "Silent Night". Great song Silent Night, holy night. All is calm. Since when was the birth of any baby a silent night where all is calm? Bright, maybe. But not calm and not very silent. So they couldn't get a room. They had to be forced to a manger. And so the streets were packed full of people. The inns were packed full of people. It was noisy and boisterous out there, and a baby was being born inside. Great song but not too accurate.
Allow me to give you what I consider one of the great Christmas carols. It's not on the top three lists, but it's one of my favorite. And I like it, not because of the beat, or the key that it's in, or the memory that the song evokes. But I love it because of the theology that's in the song. And by the way, it was a song penned by a theologian, Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote this song.
Hark! The Herald Angels sing, glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all you nations rise. Join the triumph of the skies. With angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The Herald Angels sing. Great theological truths in that song. But the second verse is even better. Listen to how much truth he packs into one verse. Christ by highest Heaven adored. Christ, the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold him come, offspring of the virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail incarnate deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell. Jesus, our Immanuel. Hark! The Herald Angels sing, glory to the newborn King. I love those truths in that song. But there is a phrase in that song that I'm drawing your attention to. The phrase is, late in time behold him come, offspring up the Virgin's womb. I have two questions to pose to you this afternoon.
Number one, where did Christmas begin? And number two, why did it happen then? Why 2000 years ago in Bethlehem? To answer those two questions. I offer you two verses of scripture, two passages of scripture. One is found in the book of Romans, the first four verses of Chapter One, where Paul says, Paul, a bond servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God. Here's what I want you to listen to.
Which He promised before through His prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning His son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. The second is Galatians, Chapter 4, Verses 4 and 5, where Paul adds this truth.
And when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons. So where did Christmas begin exactly? Did it happen at the manger? Was that the start of Christmas? Did it begin at the manger when Jesus was born in Bethlehem?
Or did it start when the shepherds heard the angels announcing in the sky that something was happening in Bethlehem that they should go check out? Or did Christmas begin when the magi showed up eventually in Bethlehem with those presents to give Christ? Or did Christmas begin earlier than that, say the book of Daniel, when he saw this great vision of a kingdom filling the entire earth, ruled by one person called the Son of Man?
Or maybe we could go back further. Did Christmas begin in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, where Isaiah in Chapter 7 said, the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel. Or perhaps, two chapters later, that's when Christmas began. You know the passage. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end.
Upon the throne of his father, David, to order it and establish it from this time forth, even forever, the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Incredible prophecy of scripture. Is that when Christmas began? No, to answer the question where it began, we have to go all the way back to the beginning of the story, the beginning of the book of Genesis itself. Genesis opens up, you know the story. God created stuff, and he liked it. That's Genesis 1 and 2 right there. God made stuff, and he looked at it, and he'd go, I like that. That's good.
Then he'd makes something else and go, that's good. He'd make something else, that's good. And he then created his crowning creation, made in his image the Bible says, humankind. Man and woman. The glory of God manifested in these two people, obedient, sinless, in cooperation with their Father. It was all very good, God said. Until we get to Chapter 3. Chapter 3 is the uh oh chapter, because we discover that because there is free will, that first man and first woman decided to disobey God, not cooperate with him, estrange themselves from him, cooperate with this serpent in the story, this being we know as Satan.
And because they listened to him and followed him, they, in effect, became children of the serpent, children of the devil. And they were so alienated from God, and God took it so seriously that he kicked them out of the garden and would not let them return. And so now we're reading that story, and we go, now what? Now what's God going to do? He gave mankind free will. This is what they did with it. Will God ever do anything to redeem and restore his fallen creation?
We're left wondering until we get to Chapter 3, Verse 15, of the book of Genesis, and it's as if God says, yes. I have a plan. I'm going to do something about this. And Genesis 3:15 is called by theologians, and I'm going to give you a fancy word to impress your friends and family with after church. Ready? Protoevangelium. Just throw that around at dinnertime Protoevangelium is a word that means first gospel. The first time the good news is mentioned or anticipated. The protoevangelium is Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 15.
What does that say? It says this, I will put enmity, God says to the serpent, to Satan, I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head. You will bruise him in the heel. Now we don't quite know what that means yet, if we're there at that time that is given. All we know is there is going to be a conflict. That's what enmity means. There is going to be animosity or conflict between you, Satan, and the woman, Eve.
How? Well he goes on, between your seed and her seed. Again, we don't exactly know what that means since seed is a word that can be either plural or singular. It can mean many or it can mean one. So we don't know what it means until the next phrase. I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. Now listen. He, he will bruise you in the head. You will bruise him in the heel. So now we know that seed isn't many. It's one.
There is a he in this story. There is a he that is anticipated. A him that is coming. So all we know is there is going to be a conflict, and the conflict will then end when one comes to strike a fatal blow to the head, the authority of the serpent, Satan, and that he will receive a minor, temporary wound, a bruise in the heel. So we keep reading this story, because it's the offspring of the woman, it says. Well, that's everybody. Everybody's a son or daughter of Eve.
But we keep reading the story, and we discover that Cain kills Abel. Adam and Eve have another son called Seth. The story goes on where God, because the populations of the earth are so wicked at the time of Noah, that God destroys the entire world, via a worldwide flood, except for how many people? Eight people. Eight souls are spared. So we know that it's going to be someone from the lineage of Noah, because those are the only people that will be left on the earth to repopulate it.
We keep reading the story, and we discover who that is. That one of the offspring of Noah is a guy by the name of Abraham, and God gives a promise to Abraham in Chapter 12 of Genesis. In Chapter 22, Verse 16, of Genesis, God says, I'm going to bless you, and I'm going to bless the world through your seed. Then the promise goes from Abraham to Abraham's second son, the first son of Sarah, by the name of Isaac. Genesis 26. Then the promise goes again to Isaac's second son, by the name of Jacob, in Genesis 28.
And then that promise goes to Jacob's fourth son, by the name of Judah, in Genesis, Chapter 49. And we keep reading the story, and God makes a promise to David, from the tribe of Judah, that he will have a descendant who will sit upon the throne and rule the earth forever, and ever, and ever. So we have a line established from Adam, to Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Judah, to David.
No wonder when we open up the New Testament to Matthew, Chapter 1, it begins by saying, the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, and it's traced all the way back. The line is traced and preserved all the way back, so it's the genealogy of that he, that him, the one who is going to crush the serpents authority, preserved in history. By the way, Jesus Christ has three basic credentials that separate him from every other belief system.
Number one, his impact on world history. Number two, his bodily resurrection from the dead. And number three, fulfilled prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy. Did you know that the prophets of old spoke in advance of Jesus' birth, life, death, and even resurrection? And when I talk about prophecy, I don't mean a good guess. I mean, there are multiple contingencies that cannot be controlled or known about in advance, but these things are written in detail before they happen.
All of that to authenticate that the scripture, what we call the Bible, is different from other holy books. It is the word of God. And the word of God predicts the work of God through that one who is coming. So that's that Romans 1 passage I just mentioned. Concerning his son, whom he promised before through the prophets in the holy scriptures. That's when Christmas began. Second question, why then?
Of all the periods of human history, did you ever wonder why 2000 years ago, in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, in a place called Bethlehem? Why did God send his son there? Why not to Rome, at least? Or Athens? Some major town. Why then? Why there? Well, that second passage I mentioned to you, Galatians 4, Paul writes, and in the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law.
He says it was the fullness of time. The word fullness is pleroma. It means ripe, right, plump, full. You might be scratching your head going, why was that the right time? I mean, I would think this would be the right time. Think of the technology we have today. Think of the technology that could help God out to get his message around the world. I mean, Bethlehem could have been a Facebook Live event.
It could have been streamed in high definition television on satellite around the globe in real time. Joseph could have done an Instagram story right there in the manger. The shepherds could have taken selfies with the angels. Hey, right there. Don't move. Got it. The magi could have tweeted out where the star is tonight, and the next night, and the next night. But Paul says that was the fullness of the time. It was the ripe time, the right time, the full time. Why?
Before I get to that, let me just tell you something you can apply to your own life. God is never late. He's never early. He's never late. Now sometimes you think he's late. You're just early. God, you could have done something. I gave you plenty of time. Where were you? If you would've just followed my instructions, this could have been avoided. But God is never late. When Jesus first comes on the scene, the first words out of Jesus' mouth, recorded by Mark, are these words, the time is fulfilled.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel. This is the time. You remember Solomon said, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. So why was that the right time? Well let me suggest to you, it was the right time spiritually. You see, the Jews for centuries had been oppressed by oppressors, all the way back to the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Syrians, now the Romans. They were always crying out for a deliverer.
But secular history has recorded that there was a messianic fervor, a fervency, a heightened expectation of deliverance at the time of Jesus, unlike other times in history. They were waiting. They were ready. No wonder when John the Baptist came on the scene, they said, they asked him, are you the one? Are you that guy? Are you that he who is going to fix all this? He said, no I'm not the one. So it was the right time spiritually. Let me also suggest, it was the right time culturally.
You see, before Jesus time, there was a guy named Alexander who thought he was really great. Alexander had this crazy dream to make the whole world Greek. That was his dream. He wanted to Hellenize the world. He wanted to Greekize the world. He wanted to give the world a common language and a common culture, his culture, the Greek culture. And he pretty much succeeded. It was said that you could travel from India to Britain and speak one common language, Greek.
So there's a common language. Ideas can now spread freely. By the way, Greek, as far as my studies have taken me, is the most precise language to convey human thought that we have. So things are just being set up. It's the right time spiritually, culturally. And let me suggest also, it was the right time politically. You see, the big kid on the block at that time, you know this, was the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire was at its very peak of strength at the time Jesus was born. What does that mean?
Well they had enforced something they called the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. It was an enforced peace. They built roads, 250,000 miles of mostly paved roads. You can still see remains of them today. 250,000 miles of roads, and along the roads were posted soldiers to keep the peace. So now you can have people traveling speedily on those roads, and safely because of the Pax Romana, spreading their exact ideas in a common language around the world. And when the fullness of the time had come.
Listen to the next verse, the next phrase. In the fullness of time, God sent forth his son. Notice how he wrote that. He didn't say, and when the time is right, Jesus was born. Though that's true, he was. But when the time was right, God sent forth his son. Now the phrasing suggests preexistence. It suggests that he was somewhere else first to be sent forth from there to here. God sent forth his son. Now that shouldn't surprise you.
Even Jesus thought that way and spoke that way. When he stood before Pontius Pilate at his trial, and Pilate was asking about truth. And he said, what is truth? Jesus said, for this reason, I came into the world, to bear witness of the truth. Just, also, as Isaiah said, for unto us a child is born. Unto us, what? A son is given. So let me spell it out. Jesus existed in the presence of God the Father. Jesus being the second member of the triune God.
And at just the right perfect time in history, as seen fit by God, he sprung into action and sent forth his son from his presence to ours. The incarnation. Why? Why go to all that trouble to have it predicted and the lineage to preserve the seed all the way down? Paul tells us. That in the fullness of the time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, here it is, to redeem. To redeem. Redeem is a word from the slave market in antiquity.
To redeem means to buy back, and it was used to go to a slave market, and you would put down the redemption money. You'd put down the hard, cold cash, and you would buy a slave for yourself, or you would pay the price to set the slave free. That was redemption. To buy back, to pay to set a slave free. So Jesus came from heaven to earth to the slave market of sin and paid the price so we could be taken to his house and adopted as his sons. So listen to the whole verse.
That in the fullness of the time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons. You're not slaves anymore. You're sons and daughters of the living God. You've been bought with blood. The price has been paid. You are his, because the seed has come to end the dominion of the serpent.
So now, can you understand why I love that Christmas carol so much, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"? That one phrase, that one verse that I quoted. That he is worshiped, praised, by highest heaven adored. Christ the Everlasting Lord. Late in time, behold him come. Offspring of the virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail, incarnate deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell. Jesus, our Immanuel. Hark! The Herald Angels sing. Glory to the newborn King. Now that's a song that is so rich in truth.
Now compare that song to another very popular song. The world loves to sing this song during this time of the year, and this song, in comparison to those other songs, it's a weak, insipid, counterfeit. I think you'll recognize it. You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list. He's checking it twice. He's going to find out if you're naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. Does that threaten you? Of course, it does. It was designed to threaten you. It was designed to scare children into being good, for goodness sake, because Santa's coming.
Now I believe that there existed a person in history, history shows, named Nicholas, who was a pastor. He led a church, and he gave gifts to the poor, and he helped people who were enslaved, and that's where it all comes from. But not like the song says. And in all respect to the jolly fat guy, Santa Claus ain't Jesus. But when you teach your children that song, you're teaching them that Santa is a transcendent being with powers equal to God. I mean, he's everywhere. He can do anything.
He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows what you're thinking. He know when you're awake, and he rewards you based upon your deeds. If you're good, you get a reward. If you're bad, you won't get the gift. How different Jesus is. He's not there once a year. He's with you every day, all year long, and he gives you gifts not based on your performance, but on his performance. And he extends mercy and grace when you don't deserve it. By the way, something else about Santa Claus, you can't trust him.
Oh, he threatens all year long, and he promises all year long. You better be nice. You better not be naughty, or you're not going to get any presents. The truth is, it's a lie. I've been naughty so many years, and at Christmas, I still get presents. So do you. How I love our Jesus. I can trust his promises, and I can trust his threats, and he is coming again. He came once, and he is coming again. And we celebrate him now, but do you know what?
Just as Christmas has been celebrated through the ages, anticipated by the prophets through the ages, predicted through the ages, do you know that Jesus and the event that happened at Christmas into his lifetime will be celebrated, not just in the past ages, but in the future ages? Ephesians 2, that in the ages to come, he might show us the exceeding riches of his grace in Christ. So we're sort of in the middle. We're in the comma between ages past and ages future. I love Christmas.
I'd love you to know Jesus, the one that we celebrate personally. If you don't, we do this all the time. We're used to it. It's simple. It's simply making a decision to follow Jesus. If you've never done that, I'm going to give you that opportunity in a moment, right where you're seated. To let the Lord, Jesus, who stepped out of heaven and came to the earth, to step into your heart, step into your life, and bring life change in you forever.
Oh, but you don't know my past. I don't need to know your past. You don't know my past. Some of you do. But I love the word forgiven. How about you? And you can be forgiven if you're not, a brand new creation in Christ. Would you bow your heads with me and your hearts?
Father, how thankful we are that Christmas began in your heart, in your mind, long before any of us ever existed.
In fact, the last book of the Bible says that Jesus was the lamb, who was crucified from the very foundations of the world. It was part of your plan. And though Jesus was temporarily bruised as the saying, bruise his heel, it wasn't a fatal blow. He rose from the dead, but that crucifixion ended the authority of Satan to anyone who will put their trust in Jesus Christ. Thank you that you stepped out of heaven, Jesus, to our world.
Not only did you teach great things and do great things, but you have changed so many lives since. Would you change some more? Would you step into hearts of those who are open to receive the living Jesus, not the mythical time of the year that is celebrated, or elements of the time of the year that people talk about. Some even think Jesus was mythical, but the historical Jesus who came in space and time, changed history, rose from the dead, fulfilled prophecy, and can change lives, because he's alive right now.
If you're here, and you haven't given your life to Christ, or you might be a religious or a good person, but you've never truly said, I want God to rule and reign in my heart. I'm going to tell you something, God doesn't want anything for Christmas except to you. He wants you to give him you, to surrender your life to Him and receive his gift of eternal life. If you've never done that, or if you walked away from him and you need a recommitment, right here in this place, I'm going to give you this opportunity.
Right where you're seated, would you just raise your hand up in the air? Just raise it up high. Our heads are bowed. Our eyes are closed. I'm going to keep my eye open. Just raise your hand up. And are raising your hand, you're saying, right over here, Skip. Pray for me. I'm giving my life to Christ tonight or recommitting my life to him. Raise it high, so I can acknowledge it and see it. God bless you to my left. Anybody else? Raise that hand up high. Say yes to the Lord.
Just acknowledge your need by raising your hand. God bless you. Thank you. Anyone else? I can't see in the balcony, so I'm not going to even try. Right out over here to my left. God bless you, sir. In the back, a couple of you. Anyone else? Can I have you stand please? We're going to close this off in just a moment with a song that we began talking about but didn't sing yet. And that's the song "Joy to the World" that was written about the second coming.
It's only appropriate that celebrating his first coming, we anticipate his coming again to rule. But before we sing that, those of you who raised your hands, I'm going to ask you to do something. It might seem a little scary to you, but don't let it be. You're amongst friends. This is a family. As we sing this song, I'm going to ask you to get up from where you're standing. I saw hands over here, and over here, over here, and over here.
Just get up where you're standing, and come stand right up here somewhere close. I'm going to lead you in prayer publicly to receive Jesus. You know why I do this? Jesus died for you publicly, and he said that we can live for him publicly.
God bless you. He said, if you will confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father in heaven. So as we sing this final song, I saw hands go up. You just come and stand right around this platform. It'll only take a minute. I'll say a word of prayer with you, and we'll close that song.
(SINGING) The darkness tremble. Jesus, Jesus, you silence fear.
Come on this way.
(SINGING) Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble. Jesus, Jesus. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Jesus, Jesus. Oh.
Awesome. Just come this way. That's great. We're so glad you're here and so glad you're standing up here. Merry Christmas to you.
(SINGING) Your name is a light forever lifted high. Your name cannot be overcome.
Just take another moment. Anybody else? Anybody else? You're not sure. You remember Christ as a child, or as a teenager, and then you just sort walked away from that, Come and experience forgiveness and truth. Let Christmas be more than just a few gifts under a tree and then, whew, glad it's over. Let it be something that lives in your heart every single day. Anybody else? Anybody else, just come.
(SINGING) Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble Jesus, Jesus, you silence fear. Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble. Jesus, Jesus, and your name is alive that the shadows can't deny. Your name cannot be overcome. Your name is alive forever lifted high. Your name cannot be overcome.
Now I'm going to ask everybody, let's all move this way a little bit. Let's come on right over here, up here. I'm going to lead you guys in a prayer. I'm going to ask you to say this prayer. Let's come over this way. I want look at you in the eyeballs.
OK, so I'm going to pray out loud. I'm going to ask you to pray out loud after me. Say these words from your heart, OK? It's just a simple prayer. Let's pray. Say, Lord, I give you my life. I know I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus, that he came from heaven to earth, that he died on a cross, that he rose from the dead. I turn from my past. I turn from my sin. I turn to Jesus as Savior. I want to follow him as Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen. Give them a hand. Give them a hand.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. How will you put the truths that you learned into action in your life? Let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And just a reminder, you can support this ministry with a financial gift at calvarynm.church/give. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Church.