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DECEMBER13 2015

The Nativity Story

 

In Ephesians 4:11-13 we read:       And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,                  (ESV)

 

Ephesians chapter four is a chapter all about the church. The church was instituted by Christ Himself. It is not a man-made entity. When it is operating the way it was meant to operate it is a beautiful place. It is a place:

 

  • where love is experienced
  • where there is encouragement in the difficulties of life
  • where there is forgiveness from our too-frequent transgressions against one another
  • where there is protection from false ideas and spiritual harm
  • where the Holy Spirit is present in a way that He is not present on an individual level
  • where the saints who participate regularly can grow in Christ.

 

Of course, we are a fallen people so the church does not always function the way it ought to and when it does it doesn’t always do things exactly right. But this is all the more reason to give your support to the local church. If you live in a poor nation and you are in a hospital that has some plaster falling off the walls and some lights that are burned out, you do not move the patients (and that would include yourself) to the woods. Neither do you move to another hospital since all hospitals in this poor nation have the same conditions. No. You re-plaster the walls. You change the light bulbs and you mop the floors. You use the energies that God has given you to make the hospital a better place. We live in a poor nation, spiritually speaking. Our churches are like hospitals and we are both the attendants (the nurses, doctors, and orderlies) while at the same time being the patients. We all have a role to play in making the hospital functional and clean.

 

In verse 11, when it says “he gave…” – that is the ascended Jesus! Jesus Himself gave apostles. We know who they are: blessed and infallibly Spirit-guided people like Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. They wrote the bulk of what we call the New Testament. The prophets in this passage are not the Old Testament prophets that we have preserved in the pages of our Bible, but the prophets that functioned in the early years of the church. We see them active in the book of Acts and in the Corinthian church. We still have prophets today but I think it is evident that their activity is not on the same scale as it was when the church was in its infancy. This makes perfect sense because the primitive church did not have the Scriptures of the New Covenant to guide them as we do today. Evangelists are those whom God has gifted with both the desire and the ability to communicate the gospel and to bring others into the kingdom. A few make their living doing that, men like Billy Graham or Ray Comfort. But the vast majority are people just like you. They hold down jobs but find that they have a burning desire to spread the good news and they do so. Teachers are self-explanatory. You need teachers in every endeavor under heaven, except breathing, and the church is no exception. We need them and the Lord has given them to us.

 

The Lord Jesus has also given shepherds. Shepherds, pastors, and elders are descriptive words for the same office. They guide, protect, defend the faith, and also teach, among other things. Now, all these gifts from the Lord are for equipping the saints. The “saints” are you. Saints are not some kind of super-spiritual person that has to wait until they die before they are recognized as a saint. The word saint simply means one who has been set apart from the world and the NT uses the term to describe all followers of Christ, even those who are in sin, like the Corinthian believers. (Of course, they must not remain in their sins and, if they do, it shows that they were not really saints but only appeared to be so.)

 

So, the elders are here, I am here, to equip you for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, and for the other good things that are listed here in this chapter. The work of ministry includes many things because there are many kinds of ministry. But one of the primary ministries that every Christian has is to minister the gospel to the lost. Some have a special calling to do this. Those are the evangelists. But every believer has this ministry even though it may not be a special calling.

 

One way of equipping you is to preach. One can preach to the lost and this should be done in the marketplace, in the streets, in places of higher learning, any venue where people gather. One can preach to God’s people and, in that case, the content will not often be the gospel but those truths that will help the saints in their quest for sanctification and ministry. We all need more sanctification and we need more ministry. Sometimes the process of getting those is exciting and even fun. But, other times, it can be unpleasant and even painful. But the end product is the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The end product is peace in knowing we are where we are supposed to be. Oh, that is a good feeling!

 

One problem that exists not just here but everywhere in the U.S. is that many (more than you think) either cannot read or do not read or will not read. They either receive or prefer to receive their information visually through images or aurally through stories, not through sermons. Stories are easier to remember. Stories are easier to retell than a message that contains several points accompanied by several Bible verses. Let me say it plainly. People like to hear stories. Most people do not have an interest in hearing or studying an in-depth teaching. Now some do. And, for those that do, our church has resources to enable you to provide that as well. We have tracts, Bibles, and the elders and deacons will make themselves available to you to help your friend or relative discover things in that way. Still, people like to hear stories. Most people do not have an interest in hearing or studying an in-depth teaching. Since this is true we want to equip you to tell stories. Not just any stories, but stories from God’s word. God’s stories! Jesus told stories. These are Jesus’s stories!

 

Speaking of traditional sermons or traditional teaching, something I have been doing here for four years, I have been told by one very smart person who shall remain nameless (and I do not say they are smart because they said this but just because they are) that they learn something nearly every time I preach. I consider this a great compliment. It means I’m doing my job. Well, today you are not going to learn anything new. I am going to tell a very familiar story suitable to the time of year. The purpose for telling this story is to demonstrate how easy it is to do and to allow for you to remember it in its few details so that you can retell it. In other words, to equip you for the work of ministry.

 

The Story

 

A prophet of God had said that the Messiah (The Messiah was a person promised to come who would deliver people from oppression and subjugation.) would be born in Bethlehem, a small town in Israel, which was the ancestral home of King David. (This in itself is interesting for two reasons: 1. This prophesy was made hundreds of years before it happened. 2. Bethlehem was a very small town – less than 1000! - in a country with many large cities.) But Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee in the northern part of Israel. In those days, the land of Israel was ruled by foreigners called the Romans. And the Roman ruler gave orders for a census to be taken of the entire world that they governed. Everyone was to return to his own ancestral town to register. Now Joseph was a descendant of David, so he took Mary, his wife, and went down to Bethlehem.

It was near the time for Mary to give birth to her Child just as they arrived in Bethlehem. Joseph tried to find a place for them to stay, but because of the census, there was no inn that had any room for them. One innkeeper finally let them stay in a place where he kept the animals. And there, Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son. Joseph named him Jesus because an angel had appeared to both him and Mary on separate occasions and had told each of them to name the child Jesus! Mary wrapped the Baby in cloths and laid Him on the hay in a feeding trough.

In the fields near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their sheep during the night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord was shining down from heaven upon them. This terrified the shepherds! The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born. He is the Messiah! And this will be what you should look for. You’ll find the Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough.

Suddenly, a great number of angels appeared and began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone away into heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So the shepherds hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby who was lying in a feeding trough. When they had seen Him, they spread the news, telling everyone what the angels had said about this Child. All who heard the shepherds were amazed. So the shepherds returned to their flocks praising God for what they had seen and heard.

Mary treasured these things and kept them in her heart.

Some time passed. Then, there came wise men from a far country seeking the Child who had been born King of the Jews. They had seen His star from their country in the east and had followed it to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, they learned that it was in Bethlehem that this Messiah was to be born, so they followed the star to Bethlehem. They entered the house where Mary and Joseph were living and they found the Child. They bowed down and they worshipped Him. And they presented expensive gifts of gold and incense called frankincense, and a healing ointment called myrrh (myrrh is both antiseptic and anti-carcinogenic).

The king in Jerusalem had asked the wise men to find this newborn king and bring word back to him. He said that he, too, wanted to worship the Child, but really he wanted to kill him. An angel warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, but to return to their country by a different way.

When the king in Jerusalem learned what had happened, he ordered that all the boy babies in Bethlehem two years of age and under be put to death. But the angel warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and baby Jesus and travel to Egypt and live there until the king died. After the king died, the angel again told Joseph to return to the land of Israel. But Joseph feared the new king, so he returned to Nazareth in Galilee and there Jesus grew to be a man.

When he was a man he became the greatest teacher the world has ever known and, according to his own words, the One who enable wayward people, like me, to find the love of God.

[Divide the church into five groups. Ask for two volunteers to retell the story. Ask for one volunteer to monitor the storyteller. When they are done the monitor can let them know what portions they missed. Everyone else should listen attentively. If a third person wishes to try they should be encourages to do so. (The more the better! The only restriction is time limitations….but it is a short story!) After the storytelling within the groups, pass out discussion questions. Ask for a volunteer to read out loud the discussion questions. End with a prayer and encouragement for everyone to tell the story and ask a few of the questions (maybe five or six) to two people this coming week.]