Making the ‘Christmas sermon’ relevant for today’s culture
22 December 2003
If you think that the average ‘Christmas message’ doesn’t move non-believers, you’re not alone. This might help some pastors reach more.
It’s that time of year! During this Christmas season, I heard several sermons on the birth of Jesus. Now, in our Western culture that is rapidly losing its once-Christian worldview, Christians and Christian leaders need to use this time, more than ever, to challenge non-Christians. But will they give the vital message people need to hear at this time of history?
I was thrilled to be able to bring a friend who has struggled with the Christian faith for his entire life to church this Christmas season. Just before we arrived, he asked me a question that has been troubling him. I was fascinated to note that he didn’t ask about Jesus and the manger, or about the shepherds or the angels who proclaimed the birth of Jesus on earth—instead, he asked, ‘Why do many Christians use organ transplants to prolong their life or try to prolong the lives of their children when they’re born with problems when God has deemed it was their time to die?’ He continued, ‘Why wouldn’t a Christian accept their death that comes from God? Shouldn’t they just accept it if they are true Christians and want to go to heaven instead of trying to survive on this earth?’
Now, why would he ask questions like that? The answer is that increasingly, the culture is losing the true meaning of Christmas because the education system and the media continues to indoctrinate people to reject the Bible as absolute truth. Instead, the Christian faith and the Bible is attacked and ridiculed and condemned as a ‘book of stories’ because so-called science has supposedly proved it cannot be true—particularly in its history in Genesis.
I’m sure my friend wasn’t expecting an answer. After all, such questions as the ones he asked have been leveled at Christians for years. (Sadly, many Christians don’t know how to answer such questions, because they, like him, have not believed the true history of the world from Genesis—which explains the origin and meaning of death.)
Now, I was sure the sermon we were about to hear would be from a pastor who assumed people believed the Bible. I thought he would remind them of the babe in a manger and why He came to earth. I realized that my friend needed answers, so he would know that he could trust the Bible before he even heard the sermon. I was pleased he had asked me what was on his heart and what was obviously stopping him from considering the Christian faith.
My friend had viewed death, suffering and dying as something God must be responsible for. He did not understand that death was an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), an intrusion due to sin. Death wasn’t something that God made and declared ‘very good’ in Genesis 1:31, but a result of sin. I explained that God created a perfect world, and because the first man Adam sinned, death entered the world as the punishment for sin. I had to explain that the earth was not millions of years old as he had been indoctrinated to believe, and thus there was not death, disease and bloodshed for millions of years before man’s existence.
I continued: When man sinned, God as a righteous and Holy creator had to judge sin with death. He also withdrew some of His sustaining power to cause man to experience a taste of what happens without God. Thus God is permitting things like disease, suffering etc., to happen, but He isn’t the one to blame for this—man is. Then it was like a light bulb came on in my friend’s head. With this new view of God, the Bible started to make sense to him.
Sadly, there are many people within the church who accept the supposed millions of years, instead of the truth as given in Genesis. Because of this, they don’t have valid answers for people like my friend, but instead would ignore his questions and instead relate the story of the babe in the manger in the hope my friend would start believing this. [See The god of an old earth.]
Many people struggle with accepting the truth of Jesus and the Bible because they have the wrong view of history. They, like my friend, have been indoctrinated to reject the Bible as a true account of history and the meaning of life. This is a major stumbling block for so many people believing God’s Word and being saved.
Knowing that many non-Christians view God like this and also knowing that they only set foot in church about once a year, I’m praying that Christian leaders will take advantage of this opportunity and address these issues, that are relevant issues for where the culture is at today, while speaking during this Christmas time. This could make such a difference in the lives of many who have a faulty view of God, and thus challenge them concerning the truths of the Bible.
Foundation of Christmas
In one sermon that I already heard, the minister said ‘let’s turn in the Bible to the foundation of Christmas.’ Then he said to go to Luke chapter 2. I immediately thought to myself, ‘That’s not the foundation of Christmas. That was the first Christmas.’
The foundation of Christmas goes back much further. It starts in the first book of the Bible—Genesis. The initial reference to the birth of Jesus is in Genesis 3:15.
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
The prediction of the Virgin Birth (seed of a woman) of Jesus came immediately after Adam and Eve sinned. Though they were sentenced to die, God in His mercy gave a promise of redemption through the one who would be born of a virgin—Jesus Christ.
In fact, many references to Jesus’ birth have their foundation in Genesis such as Jesus being a descendant of Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-14). Ultimately, the foundation of Jesus’ birth goes back to Genesis. This is where a Christmas sermon should start—particularly in a culture that has been brainwashed to believe this part of the Bible cannot possibly be true. Why would these people listen to a sermon about Bethlehem, the stable, the shepherds and the Wise men—if they already think the Book this all comes from cannot be trusted.
Genesis is where we first learn about the bad news of Adam’s sin that allowed death to enter into the creation. In today’s culture, people continually preach the good news of Jesus but fail to teach the bad news in Genesis. This is why many don’t listen to the good news because they failed to understand the bad news in Genesis.
We need to teach people to understand why they need Jesus before they’ll understand their need to receive Jesus. They need a proper foundation—they need to be taken back to Genesis and first of all be taught that modern science has not disproved this historical document but actually confirms it. Then they need to be taught the foundational truths of Genesis that enable one to understand what the babe in a manger is all about.
Why Jesus had to be born
Back in Genesis, the bad news of Adam’s sin was punishable by death (Genesis 2:17). Romans 6:23 confirms that the wages of sin is death. Adam and Eve sinned, so something had to die to cover that sin. This is why God killed animals to cover Adam and Eve’s sin (Genesis 3:21). Although we don’t know what animals were sacrificed, we have often pictured it as a lamb as a foreshadowing of the Gospel. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the final sacrifice to cover peoples’ sins on the Cross.
The Israelites followed this pattern by presenting sin offerings to cover their sins by sacrificing an animal life for their disobedience to God. But an animal can’t take away the sin of a man, as humans are not related to any other creature—man was made in the image of God.
But God is a God of grace. When someone rightly decrees punishment to someone for their crime, then, out of love, takes that punishment upon themselves—that’s grace—and mercy. This is why our creator, in the person of Jesus Christ, had to come into the world—He became a human (but remained God) so He could pay the ultimate penalty for our sin. Please see Jesus Christ our Creator (Biblical Defense of the Trinity).
God sentenced man to death because of our sin. He showed His love for us by exercising grace and took the punishment upon Himself. Jesus, being God, came into the world just like any other person—by being born. Yet Jesus lived a perfect life so that He could be the final sacrifice to cover all people’s sin. This is why Jesus was born and why Jesus had to die. This is why Jesus is called ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45)—He in effect became a ‘new Adam,’ a ‘perfect Adam,’ so He could die for the descendants of Adam and offer them a free gift of salvation.
The Bible says the greatest act of love is when one lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The God of the Bible displays this kind of love.
Was Jesus really born of a virgin?
Beside Genesis 3:15, Isaiah also predicted that a virgin would bear a child and this would be a sign.
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
These prophecies were manifested in Mary, a virgin. She delivered a baby boy who was called Immanuel—meaning ‘God with us.’ For more on the virgin birth please take some time to read the Virginal Conception of Christ and The Isaiah 7:14 Passage (offsite).
Besides, Joseph couldn’t be the father of Jesus! The genealogy of Joseph in Matthew 1:1-16 yields that Jeconiah (variation of Jehoiachin) was a direct ancestor of Joseph.
Why is this significant? Please read the curse given to Jehoiachin from Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD “ … For no man of his [Jehoiachin’s] descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.”
Jesus, sitting forever on the throne of David, could not have been Jehoiachin’s descendant since no descendant of Jeconiah, thus descendant of Joseph, could inherit the throne of David. Therefore, Mary had to be a virgin. Isaiah confirms that Jesus will reign on the throne of David.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Significance of the wise men
How many wise men were there? We simply don’t know; we just know there was more than one but we know they brought three gifts. The passage in Matthew 2:1-11 make it clear that these Magi traveled from the east following a star [see What was the Star of Bethlehem?] that led them to Israel.
These wise men were searching for the Christ, the promised Messiah. From the account of the wise men, they were from the ‘east.’ This is likely the orient. The fact that men came from such a vast distance to honor the baby Jesus with gifts give a powerful testimony to the history related in Genesis and the faith of these men.
How could men that far off have known about a promised messiah? When people groups were scattered from the Tower of Babel [see Towering Change], they went to all parts of the earth. Their descendants continued migrating until people were living on six continents! Please see The sixteen grandsons of Noah.
The ‘east’ was no exception. The Chinese, for instance, have records of the Genesis account and the message of Christ written in the symbols of their language. They even have records indicating that they were to sacrifice animals to the one true God who was the creator and the one who rescued man during a huge flood. Please see The Original Unknown God of China.
This confirms that they knew much of the biblical account at some point after the Tower of Babel. While many lost this precious information in the East we know that some still retained it—the wise men. These men from the orient were no doubt wise. Unlike many of their contemporaries who had lost the history in the Bible, they knew that Jesus was coming. This confirmation of biblical history and trust in the Scriptures is a testimony of the accuracy of the biblical account and the Tower of Babel.
Many in today’s culture have also lost the true history in the Bible. They have accepted the history of ‘millions of years’ and, just like the contemporaries of the wise men, have failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
Significance of baby Jesus
Jesus’ entrance into the world was fascinating! Fulfilling prophecy, having gifts brought from afar, having local shepherd men honor him, having a king attempt to assassinate him (Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:16-18) and fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-15) were a few miracles that hint at the importance of this child.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
God, the Son, left His sanctuary to be made lesser in the form of a human. He left behind heavenly perfection to live as one of us. This child restored the broken relationship, due to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3, between man and God.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Jesus came to earth at a very significant point in earth history too. Let’s consider the past and get the big picture of this significance. Please see the graph.
In Genesis when Adam and Eve were the only people on earth, 100% of the people believed and trusted in God. As time progressed people stopped believing and trusting in God.
In Genesis at the time of Noah, his family was the only ones on earth that still believed and trusted in God. So the percentage was rather low considering the population had continued to grow.
After God sent the Flood, Noah’s family were the only ones on earth, so the percentage was again nearly 100% of people believing and trusting in God.
As time progressed, God kept calling the Israelites back to Him. Ultimately, though, as the population of the earth re-grew, the overall percentage began to drop. Just before Jesus’ birth the bulk of the world’s people were not believing or trusting in God.
Even the Pharisees, Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus, were not trusting in God but following traditions and not what God was actually saying in the Bible—otherwise they would have been expecting the Messiah.
The wise men knew, and John the Baptist, who prepared many in Israel for Jesus, knew. This is still a very low percentage of people believing and trusting in God when Jesus was born. Jesus came when few believed and trusted in God.
When Jesus came to earth it was a low point in earth history, so His timing was very significant, but the mission was completed perfectly and we now have the opportunity to return to God as a free gift in Jesus Christ.
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Should we celebrate Christmas?
According to Archbishop Ussher, Christ was born around 4 BC. What day was Jesus born? We don’t know nor does Scripture reveal this date. So the date selected as Christmas (December 25th by the Gregorian calendar) was probably not the date Jesus was born. The issue though isn’t about the actual date but about taking time to remember Christ’s entrance into the world.
There are criticisms from skeptics and criticisms from Christians. Please take some time to read The defense of Christmas.
Some people have even suggested to me that Christmas was evil and we shouldn’t partake in it. What follows is my personal view […] but I note the Bible says:
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
If we give thanks and honor God in what we do (Ephesians 5:15-21), then how can it be evil?
Some have reminded me that the day Christmas is celebrated was born out of Roman pagan holiday. Then I remind them that we should honor and celebrate God on every day of the year. Why should we, as Christians, refuse to celebrate God on this day? We can serve God on any day and at any time. In fact the Bible encourages this:
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
‘Forever,’ includes the day we celebrate Christmas.
Some have reminded me of the decorated trees in Jeremiah 10:1-6. Then I remind them that it wasn’t the tree that was sin but the hearts of those who used them to honor false gods. If they had done it to honor God then the outcome would have been different.
If someone honors God with a decorated tree (as opposed to false gods) then how can it be sinful?
Some have reminded me that Christ never told people to honor His birth with a holiday. I remind them that Christ never forbade it either. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not here to force anyone to celebrate Christmas. But there is no reason to forbid anyone from honoring God on this day by remembering Jesus’ birth. For those honoring God in a special way this holiday season please remember that:
Christmas should be a time when we remember that Jesus came to earth to save us from Adam’s sin.
Christmas should be a time when we recall that God became lower than the angels to be born, live, suffer and die for us.
Christmas should be a time for us to remember that we as Christians have an obligation to leave the comforts of our everyday life to help those less fortunate just as Jesus did for all of us.
It is a time for us to answer the questions that non-Christians are asking when they come to church this holiday season. Please visit our Q&A page to be prepared to answer the questions people need to hear.
It is a time for us to explain to people who don’t know God the bad news in Genesis as well as the good news in the Gospels so that they too can enjoy the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Please take some time to read Here’s the Good News.