He Is the Savior Who Is Christ the LordPastor Lutzer | December 8, 2013
Look not to your own abilities but to the grace of Christ.
Selected highlights from this sermon
When we consider the Good News of the angels, we are confronted by the deception of our own hearts. We try to convince ourselves that we do not need grace.
But the Good News remains the same. It is for everyone who sins, and that means all of us. Will we acknowledge our plight and accept the grace of God? Let us not depend upon our own abilities, but rather look to the Savior born in Bethlehem. We need the life that only Jesus can give.
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Let me begin today with a question. What do you think is the greatest enemy of Christianity and grace? We might be tempted to say that it is the new atheist, that it is humanism. Someone else might answer that question by saying that it is really other religions. It’s Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Islam that are oftentimes the enemy of Christianity. We might be more accurate if we were to say that it is Satan because he stands against everything that Jesus Christ stands for, but the question is, how does he do his work? That’s the question.
I’d like to suggest today that the real enemy of Christianity exists in every country, in every home in the world, and in every human heart because the real enemy is the deception of the human heart. It is the deception of human nature because the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” And the way that manifests itself is by an exaggerated sense of our own goodness.
We believe that we are better than we really are, and the reason is because we don’t know how good God is, and we think that God is something like us, and He accommodates Himself to our sin and to our need, and so we really don’t have that much to fear because after all we’re good people.
Back in the days when I was a boy I remember being at what we would call here in the United States a state fair, and we walked into the house of mirrors. Now if you’ve ever been in a house of mirrors you know that you go into one room and you are tall and skinny. You go all the way to the ceiling. And then you walk into another and you are short and very fat – very fat. And then you go into some, and you know the bottom part may be very thin but the upper part is the opposite of thinness - however you want to describe it.
Most of us go around looking for a mirror to make ourselves look good. And there’s a part of our personality that is the manager side and it wants to manage the way in which people see us, and it is always on guard lest something be exposed or something happen to us that will in some way tarnish our reputation, or something that perhaps will call into question who we really are, and so we have this image that we need to maintain.
Well you know this is the second in a series of messages entitled Who Is He In Yonder Stall? Last time we noticed that the angel, Gabriel, said, “He shall be called the Son of the Most High.” Today we also have an angel, and perhaps it IS the angel, Gabriel, speaking and saying, “He shall be called a Savior.” A Savior, Christ the Lord!
Would you take your Bibles and turn to Luke 2? I know that you know the story very, very well. We’ve heard it every single year but we need to hear it again. We never outgrow the Christmas story simply because we never outgrow the Gospel, and so I’m picking it up actually in verse 8 of Luke 2. The words are very familiar.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” What an experience!
Let me set the context. First of all we’re introduced here to the shepherds. You need to know that being a shepherd you knew that you would be despised and you’d be looked down upon. Shepherds were generally considered to be thieves. They were like vagabonds. They had a bad reputation because they also did not keep all the niceties of the law. They didn’t wash themselves regularly and furthermore, they were oftentimes unskilled and what is more, they would be out in the field sometimes for weeks at a time without taking a bath. So when they arrived in town everybody knew it. Even the blind people would know that the shepherds had arrived.
But it is to these shepherds in the outskirts of Bethlehem that the angel goes, and the Bible says that the Angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were filled with fear. And who wouldn’t be filled with fear? I mean when you think of it they were filled with fear for two reasons. First of all it was because of the inbreaking of the invisible world into the visible world. You and I need to understand that there is indeed the invisible world, and by the way, these stories of angels are true. This isn’t mythology. When God entered into the world all of the heavens were involved. All of the angels, the Bible says, looked forward to this event because they looked forward to our redemption. And so they show up in the Christmas story and in a number of different places.
I mean I want you to visualize it. You’re out and it is night. It is dark, and suddenly from one end of the sky to the other you have this bright light and you have an angel speaking to you. Wouldn’t that give you the heebies-jeebies? I would think it would. You have to look that one up in the dictionary. (laughter) I mean it was just frightening.
There’s another reason why they were afraid. It’s because particularly in the Old Testament whenever God broke into the visible world it was a time of dread for people. I think, for example, of Mount Sinai where God says, “Stay away. Don’t even come close to the mountain because whoever comes close may be incinerated.” They will possibly be put to death because God says, “I am holy.”
You think, for example, of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve you know walked with God in the cool of the day. They had a wonderful time walking with God, and then they sinned, and they were full of shame, and now they were walking in the garden and they hid themselves because if there is anyone that they do not meet at that moment it was God. It’s like a thief who is in the process of stealing and suddenly the police shine a light directly on them and they are caught. Anybody but God! May it be a newly created lioness, but not God! And yet God said, “Adam, where are you?”
These shepherds knew that whether it was an angel or a different manifestation they would be exposed for their sin and their need, and so they were filled with fear. By the way, we’ve lost that fear of God, haven’t we? I think, for example, of Martin Luther when he was performing his first mass there in Erfurt (and today you can go there and you can see the table where this actually happened), and he trembled because he thought that he would be struck dead in light of the fact that he was doing what he believed to be a miraculous act of taking ordinary bread and ordinary wine and turning it into the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. And he expected to be struck down because of the terror of the Almighty.
So the angel said to them, “Fear not.” You know what the good news is going to turn out to be. The good news is that we’re going to be invited to come to God and we no longer need to fear because “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Oh, we do need to fear God because of the consequences of our sin, and because of the way in which God disciplines us, but that dread and that fear of eternal damnation will be taken away because in the Old Testament it was “Stay away, stay away!” but the message of the Gospel is going to be “Come. Come to God.”
Now with that background I would like us to see three features of this good news, and I’ve called it the Gospel because that’s what the word Gospel means. We talk about the Gospel. It’s the good news. First of all, it’s for everyone. You’ll notice what the angel says. The angel says, “It is to all people.” It’s specifically for all people (the last part of verse 10). And we can see this even in the Christmas story geographically if you can think of Rome as being in the center of the world, ruling the world. It’s like Augustus being the spider and all of the other countries the spider webs and he sits there.
Notice the providence of God here because it is Rome that must coincide with God’s purposes in Bethlehem. So it is Caesar Augustus who gives the decree that would mean for this couple that they go to Bethlehem during this enrollment. And so Caesar must act because God has to get this couple down to Bethlehem so that Jesus is born there. Now theoretically if he had done this a month later or a month earlier Jesus might not have been born in Bethlehem. But even there you already see that Jesus is born in the country that touches Europe and Asia and Africa – right smack in the middle – and He will be a Savior for everyone who believes on Him.
He is the Savior geographically. He is the Savior linguistically, so that in the end you have people from every tribe and every nation and every tongue giving Him glory. He is the Savior of all people vocationally. He will even save these shepherds with their bad reputation.
In addition to that He is also the Savior morally. He is going to take people from the depths of sin and those whose lives have been devastated by sin and He’s going to save them and exalt them. You’ll notice the angel says to the shepherd, “For unto you is born this day a Savior.” It’s for you and it is for me. It is for us.
So first of all, the Good News is really for everyone, but there’s a second feature and that is that the Gospel is good news but you can’t understand the good news unless you understand the bad news, and that again has to do with the human heart. You know, as a pastor, I really do believe it’s my responsibility to help you and to help myself diagnose the human heart because our capacity for self-deception is so huge. We deceive ourselves in so many ways that I don’t want to be deceived and I don’t want you to be deceived. And the way in which we know the human heart and its great need for salvation is by first of all looking into the Word of God, and then secondly, looking into our own hearts and seeing that there is within us the love of deception.
You know, it was the German philosopher, Goethe (And by the way, it is Guertuh. It’s not Gothee, or the way that most Americans pronounce it. He’d never recognize it. It’s Guertuh.) who said, “Only God knows who I really am and may He preserve me from finding out.” That’s the way in which he looked at it. Could we just take a moment and ask God to show us who we really are?
You see the bad news is this. Sin is far worse than you and I think it is. That’s the bad news. And we take sin and we minimize it in different ways by what we call it. Nobody sins anymore. They just make some bad choices, and you’ve heard people say, “Okay, I made a bad decision but that doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.” Well, you know what the Bible says. The Bible says that we’re not sinners because we sin, but we do sin because we are sinners fundamentally. And even the good things that we do that we think will balance it out are tainted by sin.
I know that this sounds a lot worse than it really was because you have to remember that when you are sitting next to somebody on a plane, and you are giving him or her some hard truth, you always have to smile. I try to smile all the time. So here I am next to this very self-righteous old woman – self-righteous because she doesn’t need redemption. She’s lived a good life. So I said to her, “Are you are ungodly? Would you characterize yourself as ungodly?” She said, “Are you kidding?” (I mean how ungodly could you be?) “I’m ungodly?”
I said, “You know, I’m really sorry about the fact that you’re not because that means that Jesus didn’t die for you.” She said, “What do you mean that Jesus didn’t die for me?” I said, “The Bible says that Jesus died for the ungodly so apparently you don’t qualify (laughter) according to your own assessment.”
So today nobody sins. They all make bad choices. Years ago I told you about walking along Clark Street here and there were a bunch of school children who were on their way somewhere and the teacher was trying to keep them all on the sidewalk, and there was little Matthew (maybe 10 years old) and he walked with one foot on the sidewalk, and the other foot on the street. And she said, “Matthew, you’re making some bad safety decisions.” (laughter) Boy, when I was 10 years old (more laughter) our teachers would have spoken more plainly than that.
So we minimize sin by what we call it. We minimize sin by how we compare it. Let me tell you this. If you’ve never had a disagreement in your marriage both of you are not needed I would say. That’s my view. (laughter) You know, “You did this and this.” “Okay, I messed up here but it’s not as bad as you,” and on and on it goes. Right? We compare ourselves. We find somebody who is worse than we are. We minimize what we’ve done by the way in which we compare it. We minimize it because we define it. We define it only in terms of our outward actions, and all the things of the heart are left untouched, when Jesus said that that’s what God looks at. Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. And we also minimize it by how we deny it.
I’m told that if you live with an alcoholic, and thank God I’ve never had to do that within my own extended family, they will not take any responsibility. Everything belongs to somebody else and talk about denial. If you’ve ever counseled someone who has been in an immoral relationship, you’ll know that they will lie and lie and lie until you have to extract the truth from them like taking a sliver out of your hand with tweezers. Why? It’s because the managing part of us comes and says, “I am in charge here. I need to preserve my reputation.” And that’s why I said it’s the greatest enemy of grace. Grace comes along and we think we’re too good to need it.
So that’s the bad news. What’s the good news? What was the news of great joy that the angels brought to the shepherds? The good news turns out to be grace - that Jesus Christ will live and He will die and He will die in our place. And dying in our place, therefore, and receiving our sin, and us receiving His righteousness in return, God can now do the same things for us as He does for His Son.
Is Jesus going to rule? Yes, Jesus is going to rule on a throne. Are we going to rule? Yes, we are going to rule with Him, the Bible says. Does Jesus inherit all things? Yes, He’s going to inherit all things. What does Paul say in Romans 8? He says we inherit all things. God loves us with an everlasting love. God loved Jesus with an everlasting love. Jesus pleases the Father. Someday in heaven when we are finally rid of all of the sin, we’ll be pleasing to the Father. That is grace and it is the grace of God’s acceptance and His forgiveness.
It was Paul Tripp who made the statement that the forgiveness and the transforming power of grace extends as far and as deep and as wide as the devastation of sin. You see, there may be somebody listening today who says, “You know, I have sinned too much,” so it’s like Luther said, “Natural man goes from pride to despair. Pride is on the one side and despair is on the other. Both need grace.”
A young pastor who I was listening to said that everybody is desperate. There are some people who know that they are desperate. There are other people who don’t know that they are desperate but everybody is desperate standing before God. Without grace we are all desperate and therefore that is the depth of our need. And you see, once we begin to understand what grace means it means so much more than simply coming to Jesus and having your sins forgiven, though thank God it means that.
Have you ever struggled with a sin that you just can’t get rid of? And when you do, what do you do to yourself? What we do is we promise each other and we promise ourselves that we’ll never do that again because we remember the guilt and we remember the shame. But we do, don’t we? And you see the reason that we do is we think to ourselves that this is going to be won by human determination. That’s the way in which it’s going to be won. You and I soon discover that even wills that have been yielded to God are very weak. The way of freedom is to look to Jesus who won the victory, who made the provision, and so we come to Him and we say, “Oh God, I look today not to my own ability to say no, but I look to your grace. I look to your victory and my focus is going to be outside of me to what Jesus did because He is a very, very gracious Savior. (applause) And so the Gospel is bad news but it’s also very, very good news.
When I was in seminary many years ago there was a professor who taught us who knew the Bible very well. In fact, I remember taking a course from him in the Minor Prophets. You know that’s Malachi and all those other prophets, and he would never bring a note into class. He’d come into class and he’d open his Bible and he’d begin to teach. He knew the Bible so well that there was a rumor that perhaps he had helped the apostles actually write it. (laughter) I mean he knew it that well. He’s still teaching there (a class or two) and he’s in his 90’s.
Somebody asked him this question. “All right, you’ve done all these studies. You know the entire Bible. There are many books in your library that go from the floor to the ceiling. What do you have to say? What’s the bottom line that you’ve learned? And he said, “What I’ve learned is this. I’ve learned that I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” That’s what he learned. (applause)
Now the Bible says that the angels brought news of great joy. Well who wouldn’t be joyful? I mean imagine having acceptance before God. Imagine having an entrance into God’s presence. Imagine the barrier between us and God being taken down. Simply imagine it. Of course it is news of great joy, and that’s why during the Christmas season we celebrate Jesus as Savior, the news of great joy.
Now I want us to nail this down in a way so that we really understand its full implications. First of all, when it comes to salvation we don’t just need a teacher. We need an actual Savior. Jesus is the Savior. I told you before about the Parliament of World Religions where I was looking for a sinless Savior. I went to the various booths that were there – Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Nobody had a sinless savior. And you see the reason why Jesus is the only one who can bring us to the Father is because you’ll notice what the angel says. “He shall be a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord” (That is Jesus Christ – God) because He’s the only one qualified to save us.
Sometimes I preach on the doctrine of assurance of salvation. One way that you know that you are not saved is if you still believe at this moment that there are other ways of salvation. If you say that this other religion out here is just as good as Christ, and following this person is as good as following Jesus, you still do not understand the Gospel. Everyone who is converted understands two things. “I’m converted by Jesus Christ and what He did for me,” and secondly, “There is no other way.” (applause) “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Why? You’ve heard me say it many times. He’s the only qualified Savior, Christ the Lord.
Second, it’s important for us to realize that we don’t need help. You know, sometimes when you pray for people, especially if they are not Christians or don’t understand the Gospel,
they’ll say, “Oh yes, pray for me. I need all the help I can get.” You are beyond needing help. Your situation is much more serious than simply needing help. You need life that only Jesus Christ can give. You know if you are drowning and you still are conscious somebody can throw you an inner tube or something and you can grab it, or you can grab a rope and you can kind of help yourself. That’s not the imagery of the Bible. The imagery of the Bible is that we are dead in trespasses and sins and we are not even able on our own to grab the rope. God has to come down and we are already unconscious and He has to make the decision, pluck us out and bring us to safety because if that doesn’t happen we are lost. That’s why the Bible says salvation is of the Lord.
Years ago when we were in Canada we used to sing a song that I don’t think I’ve ever heard here in the United States. It’s an old Gospel song and the words are wonderful. I think that the tune is a little hokey. That’s maybe why we don’t sing it very often, but it goes like this.
I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry
And from the water lifted me,
Now safe am I.
That is the Gospel. In our desperation we call up and we are saved.
Not to put too fine a point on it but all the other religious teachers of the world are drowning, and what they are saying is, “Let’s join hands together and enjoy the descent to the bottom of the lake.” They are not saviors.
Unto you is born this day in the city of David an actual Savior and your life may be as devastated as towns after a tornado with all the devastation of sin. But Jesus had that in mind when He died so that if you receive Him you too will be exalted. You too will be forgiven. You too will be given the gift of eternal life to which you can make no contribution at all.
I was talking to a young man one time and he said, “Well you know my parents used to always tell me, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’” No wonder the guy was bound in blindness and sin. God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who know they cannot help themselves. (applause) That’s whom God helps.
Do you see now why I said at the beginning of the message that the greatest enemy of Christianity is the deceit of the human heart? I said that because there are some of you who are listening to this who are saying, “You know, I’m still a good person and I don’t think I need the Gospel. I don’t think that I need grace.” You may be sitting there just allowing all this to sort of pass over you because you are glorying in your deception.
There’s a third lesson and that is this. Salvation is free. It has to be because it can’t be purchased. It’s nothing that we can contribute to. I know that I’ve preached on this before, not in this message but a message on this text. I’m just astounded that the angel in effect is really giving them an invitation to go to Bethlehem. You know he says, “This shall be a sign unto you.” I mean that clearly the angel is saying, “Go see Him. See Him for yourself.” And so the Bible says in verse 15, “When the angels went away from them into heaven the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known unto us.’” They went with haste.
I had a Sunday school teacher who used to say this. “You know what happened? These shepherds were out in the field and then they decided that they would go to Bethlehem and so they took the flock and they left it in the hands of one of them. They said, “You stay here and we’ll go.” Well, that’s not what the text says. Now that might have happened I realize but I don’t think that’s what happened.
After this brilliance of the stars of the heavens being even dimmed by the glory of God, and a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men,” can you even imagine one of the shepherds, saying, “Well, you know, I’ll stay here and the rest of you go, and then when you come back tell me what you saw?” (laughter) I think every single one of them went trying to outrun each other, and at that moment they didn’t care how vulnerable their flock of sheep were because that really didn’t matter. You say, “Well maybe the wolves would get them, or maybe the thieves would get them,” but who cares? We have seen the Savior of the world. What difference does it matter, and so they left their flocks behind.
Salvation is free. When the shepherds got there Joseph and Mary didn’t say, “If you pay some money we’ll pray for you that you may be saved,” or “If you give some money God will feel better about you.” That’s not the way people are saved. The gift of eternal life was free, but they did have to leave behind the possibility of a very vulnerable flock.
When you and I come to Christ the gift is free but we might have to leave behind some things. For example, one of the things we definitely have to park at the door is pride. You see that’s why this idea that by going to church, keeping rituals and saying the prayers (and maybe after I am dead somebody will say prayers for me), and maybe if we add them all together we can be saved is self-deception. No you can’t save yourself – not that way. Salvation is a free gift but in receiving it you often have to leave behind something. Some of you have to leave behind your family, maybe not geographically but your family that is opposed to your faith. Or you might have to leave behind a husband. I’m of course figuratively speaking because he might not be sympathetic to your faith, but does it really matter if you see the King, the Lord of hosts?
And by the way, shepherds were despised. When they come back giving glory to God, it says, “They returned glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and had seen as it had been told them, and they verified the story.” Do you think that it mattered to any one of them what the people back home said about them as shepherds? “Oh, you know you’re just a shepherd!” Did that matter? Of course not! Do you see how freeing the Gospel is? Once you and I have been accepted by the King of kings we don’t have to manage that image. We don’t have to always be constantly tweaking it so that we look good. We don’t have to win all the arguments. We don’t have to be right all the time because Jesus has made us right in the presence of the Father and in that we rejoice and we continue to rejoice because of the good news of the Gospel.
Martin Luther said that salvation is wrapped up in a personal pronoun – one little personal pronoun. Look at these two short sentences. “Jesus Christ is a Savior.” That’s one sentence. “Jesus Christ is my Savior.” That’s another sentence. Luther said that even the devil could say the first one. “Jesus Christ is a Savior.” But only a trueborn Christian who understands the Gospel can say, “Jesus is my Savior, my King, my Lord, my God, the one who rescues me from my sin.” Now I hold Him out to you today, especially to you folks who don’t think that you need a redeemer. Acknowledge the self-deception of the heart. Acknowledge that if you saw yourself in God’s presence you are desperate. We’re all desperate but we are great sinners. Thank God that Christmas reminds us that we have a great Savior who saves us from our sins. Wow! Thank you, God!
Father, I pray that all those who have heard this message today may be searching their heart right now. For those who know You may they love You more because they have heard once again the story of your redemption. For those who do not know You, overcome that blindness. Father, show them that they are not as righteous as they think they are because You are more holy than they think You are. Father, I pray that right now many people listening to this (whether here at Moody Church or across the world by Internet or radio) may receive Christ as Savior (even where they are seated). Some may be driving a vehicle when they hear this. Some may be sitting in their living room, and many are listening here right now.
Would you believe on Christ and be saved? Say, “Jesus, be my Savior.”
In His blessed name we pray, Amen.