The Servant King

DECEMBER 9, 2012

Although I’m enjoying relatively good health and hope to be around for several more years, I knew it was time to get my affairs in order and I did last week. I took care of things such as an updated will; Advanced Directives for Health Care and my obit. I even wrote a one sentence opening statement for it (I’ll explain later) which will be followed by whatever else my wife and our children and I want to include.

This morning’s sermon is a continuation of last week’s. I concluded it by saying: “So instead of spending a lot of time thinking about accounts of near-death experiences, as inspirational as some of them are, and things such as Santa and Rudolph, and Jingle-bells, and Christmas presents; get a printed copy of this message, find a quiet place, and read it slowly. Then think about it for fifteen minutes. If you do, those of you who are already Christians WILL enjoy a foretaste of Heaven on Earth.”

I had a hunch that for various reasons, some of you folks couldn’t spend fifteen minutes out of a total of 10,080 minutes that are in a week to take my suggestion. That’s why I’m going to preach it again today (just kidding). I hope I made the point in that sermon that Jesus was a humble servant who delighted in doing His Fathers will. This is a stark contrast to an awful lot of His followers in our country today who are proud self-centered people. However, it’s nothing in comparison to what life was like at the time of the birth of Christ.

1 About this time Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the nation. 2 (This census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 Everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this registration. 4 And because Joseph was a member of the royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; 7 and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.

8 That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! 12 How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.”

15 When this great army of angels had returned again to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They ran to the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story expressed astonishment, 19 but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and often thought about them. 20 Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks, praising God for the visit of the angels, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:1-20 (TLB)

Commenting on those scriptures in his informative commentary on Luke’s gospel, R. Kent Hughes wrote that, “The opening words of this famous section of Scripture provide the setting for this, the greatest of all stories, by informing us that Caesar Augustus was ruler of “the entire Roman world”-“all the inhabited earth” (NASB). “Historian John Buchan records that when Caesar Augustus died, men actually “comforted themselves, reflecting that Augustus was a god, and that god’s do not die.” So the world had at its helm a self-proclaimed, widely accepted god and savior. Luke, the historian and theologian, wants us to see this as the tableau for understanding the coming of the real Savior. The contrast could not be greater.”

“Inside Rome, in the Forum, the doors of the Temple of War had been closed for ten years and would remain closed for thirty more. To memorialize the peace, the famous monument Ara Pacis Augustae propagandizing Augustus’ peace had been erected. Rome and Augustus had bludgeoned every foe into submission. There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace-a Hitler’s peace-and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.”

“Caesar Augustus relentless arm stretched out to squeeze its tribute. Even in a tiny village at the far end of the Mediterranean. Thus it came about that a village carpenter and his expectant teenage bride were forced to travel to his hometown to be registered for taxation. It was a miserable journey; Mary was full- term, which forced a slow, rolling gait as she walked those eighty miles. Perhaps, if she was fortunate, she had borrowed an animal to carry her. But whatever their situation, she traveled in the dust and cold of winter, bearing the distressing knowledge that she might have her first baby far from home. From her mother, and from nearly everyone who cared about her.”

“Joseph and Mary capsulized the mystery of Grace-the King does not come to the proud and powerful but to the poor and powerless. As it is so often in life, things were not as they seemed to the world around, because humble Mary and Joseph were the adoptive father and birth mother of the King of Kings. Seven hundred years earlier, the prophet Micah had prophesied: “But to you Bethlehem Ephrathah, through you are small among the clans of Judah [such an inconsequential little town!], out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2).

“And now the poor couples forced journey to Bethlehem to pay taxes would set the stage for the fulfillment of that Messianic prophecy. They appeared to be helpless pawns caught up in the movements of secular history, but every move was under the hand of Almighty God. The Messiah would indeed be born in tiny, insignificant Bethlehem! As the Virgin traveled, her steady beating heart, hidden from the world, kept time with the busily thumping heart of God.”

“The Creator had woven Himself

a robe of virgin flesh.”

“The baby Mary carried was not a Caesar, a man who would become a god, but a far greater wonder-the true God who had become a man!” “The journey left Mary increasingly weary as she trod those dusty miles to the south, and when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem they were exhausted-especially Mary. Then the pains began. Perhaps at first young Mary was not sure it was her time and did not say anything to Joseph. But when there was no doubt that it was the real thing, she told him-probably with tears. Remember, she was only thirteen or fourteen years old.”

“We are all familiar with the haunting simplicity of Luke’s description of the birth: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (vv. 6-7a). In Bethlehem accommodations for travelers were primitive. The eastern inn was the crudest of arrangements. Typically it was a series of stalls built on the inside of an enclosure and opening onto a common yard where the animals were kept. All the innkeeper provided was fodder for the animals and a fire to cook on. On that cold day when the expectant parents arrived, nothing at all was available, not even one of those crude stalls. And despite the urgency, no one would make room for them. So it was probably in the common courtyard where the travelers’ animals were tethered that Mary gave birth to Jesus, with only Joseph attending her. Joseph probably wept as much as Mary did. Seeing her pain, the stinking barnyard, their poverty, people’s indifference, the humiliation, and the sense of utter helplessness, feeling shame at not being able to provide for young Mary on the night of her travel-all that would make a man either curse or cry.”

“If we imagine that Jesus was born in a freshly swept, county fair stable, we miss the whole point. It was wretched-scandalous! There was sweat, and pain and blood and cries as Mary reached into the heavens for help. The earth was cold and hard. The smell of birth mixed with the stench of manure and acrid straw made a contemptible bouquet. Trembling carpenters hands, clumsy with fear, grasped God’s Son slippery with blood-the baby’s limbs waiving helplessly as if falling through space-his face grimacing as he gasped in the cold and his cry pierced the night.”

My mother groaned, my father wept,

Into the dangerous world I leapt.

“It was clearly a leap down-as if the Son of God rose from his splendor, stood poised at the rim of the universe irradiating light, and dove headlong, speeding through the stars over the Milky Way to earth’s galaxy, finally past Arcturus, where he plunged into a huddle of animals. Nothing could be lower.”

“Luke finishes the picture in verse 7: “She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Mary counted his fingers, and the couple wiped him clean as best they could by firelight. Mary wrapped each of his little arms and legs with strips of cloth-mummy like. No one helped her. She laid him in a feeding trough.”

“No child born into the world that day seemed to have lower prospects. The Son of God was born into the world not as a prince but as a pauper. We must never forget that this is where Christianity began, and where it always begins-with a sense of need, a graced sense of one’s insufficiency. Christ, himself setting the example, comes to the needy. He is born only in those who are poor in spirit.”

“The Incarnation provides a marvelous paradigm for Christ’s work in our lives. Every Advent season, and hopefully at other times as well, we are brought again to the wonder of the Incarnation. See the swaddled Jesus, lying in a feeding trough in the stable, the birthplace of common livestock. Look long and hard with all your mind and all your heart. From early times the paradox of the incarnation has given mindboggling expressions. St Augustine said of the infant Jesus:

Unspeakably wise

He is wisely speechless.

“Lancelot Andrews, who crafted much of the beautiful English of the Old Testament in the King James Version, preaching before King James on Christmas Day 1608, picked up on Augustine’s idea and described Christ in the manger as”

The word without a word.

He is in His person the Word of God!
Luci Shaw, in her beautiful poem “Mary’s Song,” says:

Quiet he lies
Whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
Whose eyelids have not closed before.”

“The one who asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…. when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thickness” (Job 38: 4, 9) now himself lay wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

“The wonder of the Incarnation! The omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God became a baby!” “The great historic doctrine of the church is that the Son of God became a real man-not just someone who only appeared to be a man. When he was born, God the Son placed the exercise of his all powerfulness and all presence and all knowingness under the direction of God the Father. He did not give up those attributes, but he submitted their exercise in his life to the Father’s discretion. Though he was sinless, he had a real human body, mind, and emotions-complete with their inherent human weakness.”

“As a real baby in the cradle he watched his tiny clenched fist in uncomprehending fascination, just like any other baby. He did not feign babyhood. He did not say to himself, “You all think I am a pre-articulate baby discovering I have a hand. Actually, I am God admiring my brilliant invention. I am your Creator, and I understand every word you are saying.” Not at all. He was not pretending. This was not a post-natal spoof. He was a baby!” p.85

Speaking of these breathtaking supernatural events in his classic commentary on the gospel of Luke, William Barclay says, “To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. Well might her heart be filled with a wondering, tremulous joy at so great a privilege. Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart. It meant that some day she would see her son hanging on a cross.”

“To be chosen by God so often means at one and the same time a crown of joy and cross of sorrow. The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it. God chooses a man in order to use him. When Joan of Arc knew that her time was short she prayed, “I shall only last a year; use me as you can.” When that is realized, the sorrows and hardships that serving God may bring are not matters for lamentation; they are our glory, for all is suffered for God.”

“When Richard Cameron, the Covenanter, was caught by the dragoons they killed him. He had very beautiful hands and they cut them off and sent them to his father with a message asking if he recognized them. “They are my son’s,” he said, “my own dear son’s. Good is the will of the Lord who can never wrong me or mine.” “A great modern preacher said, “Jesus Christ came not to make life easy but to make men great.” It is the paradox of blessedness that it confers on a person at one and the same time the greatest joy and the greatest task in all the world.”

“Christ enables a man to see himself. It is the deathblow to pride.” “He casts down the mighty–he exalts the humble. He has filled those who are hungry … those who are rich he has sent away empty.” “A non-Christian society is a greedy society where each man is out to amass as much as he can get. A Christian society is a society where no man dares to have too much while others have too little, where every man must get only to give away.” P.16

An Amazon reviewer of “No Greater Love” which is an inspirational collection of the teachings of Mother Teresa quotes her as saying, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” And (this is Mother Teresa quoting Gandhi)…”If Christians were to live their Christian lives to the fullest, there would not be one Hindu left in India.” And last, “Let us put love into action. Let us begin with our family, with our closest neighbors. It is difficult, but that is where our work begins.”

Although I have only skimmed through this book I believe it will be one of the finest I have ever read. Mother Teresa put her God given faith into action and developed a servant’s heart. Do you know who she resembled? Of course you do. Please give a lot of thought to what Jesus and the Apostle Paul had to say about His followers becoming servant’s and the example Jesus gave during “The Last Supper” on the night when He was betrayed.

28…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 (NIV)

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. Luke 22:27 (NIV)

4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:4-5 (NIV)

7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:7 (NIV)

Now I’ll end this sermon with that one sentence opening statement for my obit: “I would like to be remembered most of all as being a far from perfect follower of Jesus Christ, “The Servant King.”

Lord willing, next week….

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December 9, 2012 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized Tagged with:

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