Good News of Great Joy

Text Luke 2:10 Time 25/12/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Well, it's Christmas morning and we have agreed to come together to worship God. We have sung carols and prayed and read the Scriptures and now we come to the sermon. I think that in a service like this it is best if rather than attempting anything more demanding we try and fasten on just one text that we can try and keep in our heads through the day and hopefully beyond that.
What I want to do then is to focus on Luke 2:10
But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
This is part of the story of the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. After Jesus is born in Bethlehem and placed in the manger by his mother Mary, Luke switches attention to the hills around Bethlehem and to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel, a supernatural messenger from heaven, appears to them and makes this announcement
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Now you will see that the verse naturally divides into three
Do not be afraid/I bring you good news of great joy/that will be for all the people
Therefore I want to say three things to you this morning. It is all very positive.
1. God is mighty and works powerfully but we do not need to be afraid
The very first thing the angel says is Do not be afraid. This, you will discover if you look, is a typical phrase to be found in the mouth of an angel. Why does he say what he says? Well, the fact is that the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of this angel. It was undoubtedly a frightening thing to witness his appearance.
Sometimes we get afraid when we think of the greatness of God and his eternity or of our won mortality. Part of the Christmas message is that we should not be afraid. Sometimes the world inadvertently stumble on this truth and understands a little of it.
If you know the lyrics of the Band Aid single “Do they know it's Christmas?”, often heard at this time of the year, you may remember that it starts in a rather odd way. The first line is a rather predictable “It's Christmastime” but then, rather unexpectedly there is the angel's line “there's no need to be afraid”. Surely no-one in Britain associates Christmas with fear. But, of course, the focus is on Africa, and particularly an Africa that was then familiar with famine. We may have no need to fear but they do. And so further on in the song we are encouraged to “say a prayer” to “pray for the other ones” the reasoning being that for them, unlike for us, “at Christmastime it's hard”. And so we are exhorted when we're having fun to remember that there is “a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.”
This is fine as far as it goes, I suppose, but it would be very foolish to think that the only people who are afraid at Christmas or who have reason to be afraid at Christmas are those affected by famine in Africa. The truth is that we all know fear at certain times – even at Christmas sometimes - and in fact if we thought more soberly – about death and eternity and God – then we would perhaps feel fearful more often, including at Christmas.
Further, the way to deal with fear is not simply to “spread a smile of joy” and “throw your arms around the world” but to look above for some comfort and some encouragement. Yes, it is Christmas time, if we are happy to use that phrase, and there is no need to be afraid – but not because this is world of plenty and it's all going to be okay if we just stick together but because those charged with doing us good say “Don't be afraid” just as God himself calls on us not to fear if certain other things are so.
God is mighty and he does work powerfully but we do not need to be afraid if we listen to the message in this verse we are focussing on - Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
2. We have good news to share this morning that should bring great joy to all who hear
The angel goes on then Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy .... There is an argument here. Why should the shepherds not be afraid and why should I not be afraid either, this Christmas time? The Band Aid idea is that “at Christmastime we let in light and we banish shade” which is a good metaphor but puts the emphasis on what we can do. “In our world of plenty” they say “we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.” But the good news of Christmastime is not really to do with brotherly love or the idea that we can all help each other. Rather, the angel says Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy .... Here is good news and it will make you really, really joyful. But what was that good news? We know don't we. It was the news that a baby had been born in Bethlehem. Now the birth of a baby is always good news but this was a very special baby, of course, who had been born. This was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ himself – the one who would grow up to be the Saviour of the World. This is good news and it should fill us with joy - Good news from heaven not from earth.
When we turn on the news on the radio or television we expect to hear bad news and it usually is bad news. I tried this morning – a deranged woman had attacked the Pope in Rome and someone had been stabbed during a snow ball fight in North Wales.
Sometimes there is so much bad news that it can make us very depressed. I found an article online headed “How to cope with so much bad news in the world” The article begins “These days there seems to be a lot of bad news in the world. Many people are struggling economically. Some people are even losing their homes. The winter weather has been treacherous in spots. Wars are still raging in numerous locations all over the globe. So what can you do to fight off depression during these difficult times?” Three basic answers are given. 1. Listen out for the good news stories that are there too 2. Switch the radio and TV off 3. Especially avoid stories that you find very upsetting.
Again, this may be of use for some people but it isn't that helpful really. Rather, we need to see all the bad news in the context of this wonderful good news that Jesus Christ has come. God has sent his one and only Son into the world to save the world through him.
This is our focus this morning then – it's on good news, the good news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who can save us from our sins and from death and from the Devil and from hell itself. What greater good news could there be? What joy it is, what great joy, to know that God so loved this world that he gave his one and only son into the world to save sinners from eternal wrath.
According to the news this morning the Archbishop of Canterbury has been preaching about the fact that children are growing up too fast in our society and that may be so but it is not the message he should be preaching for Christmas Day is it? No we say Do not be afraid here is good news of great joy – Sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem!
3. This good news of great joy is for everyone who will hear
The whole sentence spoken by the angel is this - Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. That last phrase is very significant. He doesn't say Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of you shepherds or Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the Jews. No, he says, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. This is good news of great joy for everyone.
That means good news for all of us present this morning. You can know real joy and solid good news if you know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him. Try and meditate it on this today – It's Christmas time – no need to be afraid. Why? Not because we have plenty to eat and lots of family and friends around us but because Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners!
It also means good news for all those who are not present this morning. They too can know real joy and solid good news if they know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him. The question for us is how we are going to get that message out in the year to come. There is no need to be afraid because Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners! Let's begin with our won family and friends and see what we can do. The shepherds we read (17, 18) spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. We also ought to spread the Word and who knows may be others will be amazed and turn to Christ.

The wise, righteous Saviour is come

Text Jeremiah 23:5, 6 Time 06 12 09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
At this time of year we often think about the first coming of Christ, his incarnation. We often have sermons on the announcements to Mary and Joseph, the birth in Bethlehem, the shepherds’ visit, and so on. We have looked many times at what we’re told of these events in Matthew, Luke and other parts of the New Testament. It is important to remember always, however, that each of these events was prophesied back in the Old Testament. When the disciple Philip first met Jesus he went to his friend Nathaniel and he said (John 1:45) We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
This is something that Matthew, for example, is very interested in. In Matthew 1 and 2 we get a frequent refrain - All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet/for this is what the prophet has written and so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet/Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled/So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets (1:22, 2:5, 15, 17, 23). Matthew quotes Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Hosea. Other New Testament writers draw attention to other prophecies by these and other writers, including the psalmists. Of course, not all the prophecies are directly quoted in the New Testament. There are too many for that. If we have a real interest in Jesus and his birth and what he did in coming to this earth then we will want to consider all of them in turn, those that are quoted and those that are not.
What I want us to do today is to consider just one prophecy – that found in Jeremiah 23:5, 6:
The days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
(Background) Jeremiah, often known as the weeping prophet, was the son of a priest from Anathoth and was called to be a prophet in his youth. He went to live in Jerusalem and was of great assistance to King Josiah in his work of reformation. He saw Josiah’s death as a national calamity. After this he endured much persecution and opposition but resolutely prophesied against the wickedness of succeeding kings and warned of the coming exile. He lived to see Nebuchadnezzar’s invasions and was released from the prison where he had been consigned when Jerusalem was overthrown.
His prophecy is a collection of 23 different sections, arranged in five books. The first book contains an introduction followed by seven messages reproving the Jews for their sins. The verses we are looking at are found in the final part of this book (Chapters 21-24). This prophecy begins in the time of King Zedekiah when Jerusalem was under attack from Nebuchadnezzar. The King had sent two men to Jeremiah to ask him to enquire of the LORD. But Jeremiah has no good news for them. God himself will fight against Jerusalem and Zedekiah will go into exile. The only hope is in surrender. The people are proud and sinful and must turn from their wicked ways.
In Chapter 22 Jeremiah is told to go to the palace and give a strong call for justice if the Davidic kingship is to continue. Otherwise the palace and all Jerusalem will be ruined. He especially attacks the way Judah’s kings had increasingly devoted themselves to building up their own luxury while neglecting the poor and needy. He predicts the ignominious burial of exiled King Jehoiakim and defeat for those who follow him.
In Chapter 23 Jeremiah continues to berate Judah's leaders but a ray of light comes in when God promises (3, 4) that he himself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing. This prophecy speaks of a future return from exile. The verses that follow go even further and promise even more. Let’s look at them. We want to say four things.
1. Consider Jeremiah’s prophecy about Messiah’s days, days that have now come
One old writer talking about prophecy speaks of ‘The great prediction which runs like a golden thread through the whole contents of the Old Testament … regarding the coming and work of the Messiah.’ He says that ‘The great use of prophecy was to perpetuate faith in his coming, and to prepare the world for that event.’
One of the ways we can be so very sure that Jesus really is Messiah is the way he fulfils so many of these prophecies so clearly. The argument is simple – for someone to fulfil something predicted many years before suggests that the prophet had this person in mind. However, it is possible that this is mere contrivance or coincidence. If, however, the person can be demonstrated to have fulfilled more than one well attested prophecy then the likelihood of a prophetic link is increased. The more prophecies fulfilled the less likelihood of it being mere contrivance or coincidence. In the case of Jesus of Nazareth we can demonstrate that he fulfilled scores of Old Testament prophecies and is undoubtedly the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecy.
Some people have done a lot of work on this. A Dr Peter Stoner wrote a book back in the seventies where he takes just 8 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and using the law of compound probabilities, calculates the probability of one man fulfilling them as “1 in 10 raised to the power 17”. In longhand, this is 1 followed by 17 zeroes. To envisage such a number Dr Stoner says if you took one silver dollar for each digit and laid them across the State of Texas it would fill it two feet deep! If you then stirred them up and asked a blindfolded man to find a particular one he'd have the same chance as the prophets prophesying 8 things and seeing them fulfilled in one man. Fulfilling 48 prophecies by chance is apparently one chance in 10 to the power 157 (not sure how many noughts that is). Jesus didn't fulfil just eight or 48 prophecies, he fulfilled over 300!!!
This prophecy begins The days are coming, declares the LORD. This phrase and a similar one are used by Jeremiah more than once, most famously in Chapter 31 where he says The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Jeremiah is pointing his hearers forward to a future time, a time beyond their own, when God was going to do certain things. It is clear from the New Testament that these times have now arrived.
Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:20, 21) that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. That’s how Jeremiah and others were able to speak of things beyond their own time. Peter also tells believers (1 Peter 1:10-13) that the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. That’s why Jeremiah used a phrase like in the days to come then – because he knew he was not only serving his own generation but one to come also. He did not know exactly when these things would happen but he knew that they would. Living now so long after Jeremiah we can say with certainty like Paul (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11) everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, including Jeremiah 23:5, 6 so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope and. It was written down … for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
So this morning I can say to you – the days have come! They’re here. Think of a child waiting for a birthday or for Christmas Day. Waiting, waiting, ... then - It’s here! He’s been! These are the days in which we live, days when prophecy has been fulfilled when we can say It’s here! He’s come! How thankful we ought to be for such a privilege, how joyful.
2. Consider Jeremiah’s prophecy about Messiah’s origins, his Davidic roots
So what exactly does Jeremiah say that God says about the days to come, the days that have now actually arrived? Well, God says that he is going to do something. He is going to raise up to David a righteous Branch. Lots of people are interested in their roots these days. They like to trace their family trees in its various branches. David, of course, was the greatest King of Judah. He was one who God spoke of as a man after his own heart and the one to whom he promised an eternal kingdom. Yet even by this time David’s dynasty was not in good shape. It was well under the thumb of the reigning power of the day – the Babylonians. We know too that things got worse. Already King Jehoiakim was in exile and others would follow too. Then after the return from the exile, although Zerubbabel was made governor there was no restoration of the Davidic kingship. By the time we come to the dying years of the period BC, as you know, a foreigner is on the throne in Jerusalem, King Herod, and he is only really a puppet king, the real power being that of Rome, the dominant political power of the day. As for David’s descendants we know that they were poor people like Mary and Joseph, a carpenter and his young bride to be, living in the backwater obscurity of a one donkey town called Nazareth.
Now, imagine getting out this prophecy of Jeremiah to read at such a time. What would you make of it? Jeremiah clearly says that God is going to raise up to David a righteous Branch who will be King. A descendant of David, in other words, is going to be king. From that unpromising looking stump a branch is going to grow up. How very hard it would have been to see how it could possibly happen at such a time – and yet it did!
The Gospel writers go to some length to assure us of it. In Matthew and in Luke we have careful genealogies demonstrating how both Mary and Joseph were direct descendants of David. It is no accident that Jesus is born not in Nazareth but in Bethlehem, the city of David. We sang it – "Once in royal David’s city". Matthew also speaks of the wise men who came looking the King of the Jews at Herod’s court. From the stump of Jesse (as Isaiah 11:1 puts it) a shoot came up; from his roots a Branch that would bear fruit. He was like a root out of dry ground, very dry ground. He is great David’s greater son. This emphasises three things for us
1. He was born a man
In Romans 1:3, 4 Paul speaks of God’s Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Never forget the humanity of Jesus – he was like us, he shared our flesh.
2. His was a royal birth
Nevertheless he was born a king. Yes, he was born in obscurity and poverty but he was a king. In his veins flowed the blood of a woman of royal birth. The man who acted as his father was himself of royal birth. He was a branch of David.
3. He is a king
Matthew and Luke carefully show that he is the rightful heir to David’s throne. He is no usurper or minor royal. He is Mary’s firstborn son, the Son of David, the Son of God. He is, by the providence of God, the rightful heir to the throne established by God.
4. He is righteous
We ought to note finally under this heading that he is called a righteous branch. We shall return to this later but realise that he is
1 Righteous in himself
2 The author of righteousness for others; a branch that brings forth and bears the fruits of righteousness, from whence all those that are ingrafted into him come to have righteousness.
3. Consider Jeremiah’s prophecy about Messiah’s character, his perfect kingship
Jeremiah then goes on to speak of the character of this righteous branch of David. What he is doing here then is to describe for us the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. What is he like? So much could be said but here three leading characteristic are highlighted. We need to consider them. Consider
1. His wise rule
Jeremiah describes him as a King who will reign wisely. We have already established that he is a king. Here we are told that he will be a wise king. He will reign wisely. The world has known many kings and many of them have ruled foolishly in one way or another. Few have been truly wise kings. This King, however, is all-wise. You can go through the whole of Jesus’s life and you will see that at every point he is wise. His every step is marked by wisdom. He never makes a bad decision.
That is why he must be the Lord of your life. None of us is wise by nature. We do foolish and wicked things, things that we ought not to do. When Jesus becomes our Lord then we need only look to him and he will guide us in the paths of wisdom. He guides us through his Word and shows us the way through. Look to him for wisdom at all times.
2. His just actions
Jeremiah adds and do what is just and right in the land. Not only is he a wise king but one whose actions are just and right. Again, many earthly kings have been corrupt and crooked. But not the Lord Jesus. As we have already said, he was righteous himself and he enables others to be righteous too. We only see the beginnings of all this now but one day the Lord Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. Then every injustice will be righted. Look to him now for righteousness – for justification and sanctification.
3. His saving activities
Next, Jeremiah says In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. Perhaps this is the most obvious thing about Jesus – he is the Saviour. He saves his people; he keeps them safe to the end. That is why once you put your faith in him you can be sure that all will be well. Like a wall of fire around them Christ protects and delivers his people. Oh look to him to save you. He alone can!
4. Consider Jeremiah’s prophecy about Messiah’s nature, his divine being
The final thing to notice is the very last sentence here. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. This is very important to note. When we see the word LORD in capitals in our Bibles, it stands for God’s special covenant name. It appears in various combinations – The LORD our healer, the LORD our Banner, etc (Jehovah Ropheca, Jehovah Nissi). He is also the LORD our righteousness, Jehovah/Yahweh Tsidkenub. Perhaps some of you remember singing that R M M’Cheyne hymn that uses that phrase. The important thing to see here is that Jeremiah is giving the Messiah he speaks of is divine. He is God. The JWs are flummoxed by this verse.
We must not miss this. Yes, he is 100% man but he is also 100% God. That is how we can be sure of his wisdom, his righteousness and his power to save. Look entirely to him and to all he has done in his birth, life, death, resurrection and session.
Who is he in yonder stall, At whose feet the shepherds fall?
’Tis the Lord, Oh wondrous story,
’ Tis the Lord, the Prince of glory,
At his feet we humbly fall,
Crown him, crown him, Lord of all.
Jeremiah saw it from afar – like a distant mountain. We can see it today in all its glory. Look and see!