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THE BIRTH OF CHRIST AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

SERMON PRESENTED ON 12-21-13

 

       While many treat the Christmas season as a secular holiday. I trust that for us the Christmas season is seen as an opportunity to reflect on the momentous event of the birth of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.  Without the birth of Christ there would have been no crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We would not have a savior and we would have nothing to look forward to beyond this physical life.  The birth of Christ is central to our Christian belief system.  It is the starting point for the Christian theological system. Christianity exists because of the birth of Christ.  The very name Christian is derived from the name Christ.    

      When Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Son of God, Gabriel said that the child that would be born would preside over a Kingdom that would never end. The Kingdom is a reality because of what took place in a small town called Bethlehem in southern Judea over 2000 years ago.

       The Christ event involves many things.  It involves the ministry of Christ. It involves His death and resurrection.  It involves His ascension to the Father.  It involves His establishment of a new covenant whereby all of mankind has opportunity to live forever.  It involves His bringing to light the dynamics associated with the Kingdom of God.  But it all starts with His birth. To celebrate the birth of Christ is to celebrate the beginning of our salvation. When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the Shepherd’s, they announced that a savior had been born.  The angels are seen as rejoicing because of this.  It is more than appropriate that we also rejoice because of knowing that a savior has been born. 

       When we sing “Joy to The World, the Lord is Come,” we are acknowledging the birth of this savior.  When we sing “The First Noel,” we reflect on the fact that a savior called Christ the Lord was born into this world.  The word noel is the French word for Christmas and is from the Latin natalis which simply means birth.  In singing "The First Noel," we are simply reflecting on the birth of a man that would change the course of human history.  When we sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King,” we are reflecting on that joyous occasion when God the Father facilitated the birth of Jesus and began the process whereby mankind would have opportunity for eternal life.   

       We sang the song, “What child is this?”   This song asks the question what child it is who was born in a manger and yet greeted by angels?  What child is this who was visited by Shepherds at the direction of angels?  What child is this who was given gifts as to a King by magi coming from the east?

        If you would have been there at the birth of this child it may have been hard to answer these questions.  After all we are looking at a baby boy looking every bit like any other baby boy.  There is no evidence to suggest this boy had a halo around His head as some artists have portrayed Him as having.  Nothing in the account of his birth indicates He had a special glow or some other physical indicator that He was anything more than a normal looking and behaving newborn. And yet He was born to become the savior of mankind.  He was born to become king of the Kingdom of God.

      As this child grew it became apparent He was no ordinary child. Sometime after His birth, His parents took Him to the temple to be consecrated.  At the temple was a man named Simeon who Luke says was waiting for the consolation of Israel.

       Luke 2:25-26:   Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

       Here we have a righteous and devout Israelite looking for the consolation of Israel.  The Greek word translated “consolation” means comfort, encouragement and exhortation in the Greek language.  Simeon, along with many in Israel, was anticipating the coming of a new era for Israel.  He had it revealed to him that he would remain alive until the facilitator of this new era referred to as the “Lord’s Christ,” would appear. The Lord referred to here is God the Father. It was the Christ of God the Father who Simeon was waiting to see.

       The Greek word translated into the English word Christ is Christos and means “anointed one.”  So when the Scriptures say “The Lord’s Christ” it means “The Lord’s anointed.”  This Greek word is derived from the Hebrew for Messiah which also means “anointed one.”   The Hebrew word for Messiah appears 39 times in the OT and generally refers to a priest, prophet or King of Israel who was considered anointed by God.  In that respect there have been many Messiahs or anointed ones. 

       In the OT, the Hebrew word from which we get the English word Messiah is almost always translated into English as “anointed one.”  Of the 39 times this word appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are only two passages in the OT where this word appears to be associated with the coming of the anointed one revealed in the NT.  The coming of the man named Jesus. These two passages are in Daniel 9:25 and 26.  This is the famous 70 weeks prophecy.

       Daniel 9:24-27:  "Seventy `sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish  transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.  "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven `sevens,' and sixty-two `sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two `sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven.'  In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."

       I could easily preach several sermons on the 70 weeks prophecy detailing what is being discussed here but that is for another time.  For our purposes today, I want to summarize what is being said here.  During the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the Babylonian armies had invaded Judah, destroyed Solomon’s temple, much of the city of Jerusalem and had taken most of the people captive.  Daniel was among the captives in Babylon. While in captivity, Daniel determined by reading certain Scriptures that the length of the captivity was to be 70 years. After the fulfillment of these 70 years, the Jews would be allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.

       Daniel 9:1-2: In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes  (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian  kingdom-- in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.

       Daniel goes on to speak of a period of seventy weeks, which he divides into seven weeks, threescore and two weeks (sixty-two weeks) and an additional one week. Biblical scholarship has shown that scriptural writers often designate a day for a year in prophetic writing.  Therefore the weeks spoken of by Daniel are equal to 490 years according to the day for a year principle.

       Daniel writes that, “From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens and sixty-two sevens.” This would be a total of 69 weeks or 483 years based on the year for a day principle.  The issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem appears to have taken place some time during the reign of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes in the early 400’s B.C.   While there are several methods of counting the 483 years, what ever method is used, they all take us to the general time frame of the first century AD.  This prophecy, when looked at in its historical context, takes us to the time of the first century for the appearing of an anointed one. 

       First century Israel knew the time had come for the appearing of the promised Messiah to Israel. The religious leadership had the prophecies of Daniel at their disposal and they were able to figure out the approximate time as to when the Messiah would appear.  It is obvious that Simeon knew the time had come for the Messiah to appear.  Otherwise it would have made no sense for it to be revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. 

       Simeon was waiting for the appearance of an anointed one.  This anointed one was seen as bringing consolation to Israel.  When Simeon saw the child, he took Him in his arms and prayed:

       Luke 2:29-32:  "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

       So here we begin to discover who this child is who was laid to rest on Mary’s lap as the song asks.  This child is identified as the salvation of God. To see Jesus is to see salvation. Simeon testifies that this salvation is prepared in the sight of all people and goes on to identify this salvation as a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel.  So right from the beginning we see this child conceived by the Holy Spirit and birthed by Mary as the source of salvation to all peoples, Gentiles and Israelites.

       Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, was looking at the coming of the anointed one as the promised deliverer to bring Israel salvation from their enemies.  In first century Israel, Rome was the enemy.      

       Luke 1:68-75:  "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us-- to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

       There was also at the temple at the same time Simeon made his statements an aged prophetess who came up to Mary and Joseph and the Child and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child in relation to the redeeming of Jerusalem.

       Luke 2:38: Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

       It is evident that first century Israel was looking to the coming of the anointed one as their ticket to be rescued from Roman oppression.  They looked to the promised Messiah to reestablish the Davidic Kingdom, to restore Jerusalem to its former glory as the center of Israelite governing authority.  At that time in history Israel was subject to the governing authority of Rome.  They craved release from Roman governing authority.  They saw the Messiah as their deliverer much as ancient Israel had seen Moses as their deliverer from Egyptian bondage.    

       It is instructive, however, that the 70 weeks prophecy says nothing about the Messiah coming to restore the Davidic Kingdom.  It says nothing about the establishment of an earthly Kingdom involving a governing authority ruling from Jerusalem.  What we instead see in the 70 weeks prophecy is that the Messiah would be cut off. 

       Daniel 9:26-27: After the sixty-two `sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven.'  In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.

       After the 62 sevens, the anointed one is seen as being cut off which is another way of saying he would be killed.  Earlier in the 70 weeks prophecy the anointed one is called “the ruler.”  Here we see the people of the ruler will come and destroy the city.  We know Rome destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Because of this historical fact, some interpreters believe the people of the ruler to come and destroy the city were the Roman armies who were led by their ruler, the Roman general Titus. 

       But Daniel’s prophecy speaks of the anointed one as the ruler that was to come and it would be the people of the ruler who will come that will destroy the city and the sanctuary.  The people of the ruler, the Messiah to come, was not the Romans but the Israelites.  Scripture shows that the people of Israel are the people of the Messiah who was the anointed one to bring salvation to Israel. Scripture shows that salvation is initially of the Jews.

       The 70 weeks prophecy says, “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.”   On the surface this would appear to relate to the Roman destruction of the city and the temple. The Romans did bring a final and complete destruction to the temple and the sanctuary.  However, a reading of the historian Josephus shows that the Jewish zealots, in rebelling against Roman rule, had already done much to destroy the city and the temple before the Romans even entered the city. The Idumeans (descendants of Esau), who lived to the southwest of Jerusalem became involved in the rebellion and killed thousands of Jews. What followed was the development of many factions, all fighting each other in civil war. The high priest Ananus was killed and non-Levitical priests installed. Josephus felt this marked the beginning of the destruction of the city.

       The 70 weeks prophecy does not show an anointed one arriving to restore the Davidic Kingdom and a ruling authority centered at the temple in Jerusalem.  The 70 weeks prophecy shows the Messiah arriving at a time when the temple and the city were to be destroyed and the Messiah killed.  Daniel writes that “He will confirm a covenant with many for one `seven.'  In the middle of the `seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering."

       In large part, the coming of Christ involved transition from the old to the new covenant.  At the time of the crucifixion the curtain at the temple separating the holy of holy's from the outer court was ripped in two thus signifying that the Mosaic sacrificial system was no longer necessary.  It had been replaced by the sacrifice of Christ.  The sacrificial system, however, continued until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The war with Rome actually began in A.D. 66 and didn’t really end until the last surviving Jewish rebels were taken at Masada in A.D. 73. It was in the middle of that seven year period that the temple was destroyed at which time the facilitation of sacrifice and offering came to an end.

       The 70 weeks prophecy did not predict the establishment of a physical kingdom to be established at the appearing of the promised Messiah in first century Israel. It predicted finishing of transgression, putting an end to sin, atoning for wickedness, bringing in of everlasting righteousness, a sealing up of vision and prophecy and the anointing of the most holy. 

       As can be seen, these are all dynamics associated with the death and resurrection of Christ.  There is nothing here about a physical kingdom being established to deliver Israel from Roman rule.  But didn’t Christ come to establish the Kingdom of God?  He certainly did.  Establishment of the Kingdom was the primary focus of His ministry.  It was the primary focus of the ministry of Apostle Paul.  It is the primary focus of the entire NT narrative.  But what did Christ say when being interrogated by Pilate before the crucifixion?

       John 18:36: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

       From what other place was the Kingdom?  Christ plainly said the Kingdom he came to reveal was not of this world. It was not a physical entity with a physical ruling authority located here on earth.  He said that if it was his servants would fight on His behalf.  Other than Peter's feeble attempt to defend Jesus at the time of His arrest, no one fought to defend Christ.  So from what place is the Kingdom.

       It is instructive that Matthew consistently refers to the Kingdom as the Kingdom of heaven.  If the Kingdom is of heaven, it would appear heaven is the location of its governing authority.  Scripture reveals the Kingdom to be of God.  The phrase Kingdom of God is found dozens of times in the NT.  Where is God located?   Scripture shows God is located in the heavenly realm and where God is the Kingdom is.   Look what Paul said to the Philippians.

       Philippians 3:14: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  He goes on to tell the Philippians that,       

       Philippians 3:21: our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Here is what Paul and Peter taught about the Kingdom:

       2 Timothy 4:18a: The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.

       2 Peter 1:10: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus seems to identify the governing authority of the Kingdom as located in heaven.

       Matthew 16:19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

        Jesus speaks of the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.  He states that whatever is bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. While the binding and loosening can be done on earth, the power and authority to do so is seen as derived from and taking place in a Kingdom located in heaven. 

       In the past I have brought you sermons in which I identified the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom.  By spiritual I mean the behavioral dynamics associated with the Kingdom.  Christ came preaching a Kingdom that has behavioral dynamics of love toward God and man.  Like any governing authority, which a kingdom certainly is, there are behavioral rules and regulations that must be adhered to.  Jesus, as did Paul, spent much of their ministries teaching the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom.  They taught that we can experience the Kingdom as a present reality by adhering to its behavioral requirements. 

       Jesus and the Apostles clearly taught that the Kingdom of God was about to be established.  They also taught that inheriting the Kingdom was a process that began with repentance and a changed way of life.  These are the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom I have discussed in other sermons.  However, the Kingdom also appears to be a destination that is inherited upon our physical death and our entrance into eternal life.

       1 Peter 1:3-4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 

       Ephesians 1:13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

          It is apparent from the Scriptures that Jesus came to establish the heavenly Kingdom of God by making its spiritual dynamics available to physical human Beings while at the same time providing for us humans the means by which we can inherit the heavenly Kingdom after physical death.  Now I know there is the belief that the ruling authority of the Kingdom will be established on earth at some point in the future.  A discussion of that belief will have to remain for another time.

        My purpose today was to simply show that the 70 weeks prophecy does not address establishment of the kingdom but reveals that an anointed one would be born in the first century who would die for the sins of the world and thereby do away with the Ole Covenant sacrificial system.

       We earlier sang a song that asks the question “What Child Is This?”  This song answers it own question by saying this child is “Christ the King.”   Indeed, this child is the anointed king.  He is the promised Messiah who has made immortality available to all.  This is why we celebrate His birth.  Without His birth there would not have been His crucifixion and resurrection.  Without His crucifixion and resurrection there would not be the availability of eternal life.  In celebrating the birth of Jesus, the anointed one, we celebrate our future.  We celebrate the fact that there is life beyond physical death.

       On July fourth each year we celebrate freedom.  We celebrate the fact that we live in the relative freedom that America has to offer.  In many respects we celebrate a much greater freedom in commemorating the birth of Jesus the Christ.  Because God gave us His Son, We can be free from death.  We can look forward to life eternal in a dimension of existence we can’t even begin to image. 

      

       For an in-depth study of the nature of the Kingdom of God go to:  "What is the Kingdom of God."