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In the Christmas series, "Breaking News," Pastor Philip De Courcy examines the profound news delivered on the first Christmas - the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord. This event marked the dawn of a rescue mission of unparalleled magnitude as God became man to bring salvation to humanity.
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At this stage in the service, we want to turn our attention to God’s Word to Luke 2:8. I want to speak on the subject breaking news. Listen as we read God’s Word together, “Now, there was in the same country, shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, and this will be the sign to you. You will find the babe in swaddling cloth, lying in the 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 and goodwill toward man.’ So it was when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph.” Someone has said that’s the first Christmas rush right there. “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen him, they made widely known the saying which was told him concerning this child. And all those who heard it marveled at the things which were told him by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told them.”
A five-year-old boy had one line in the church Christmas pageant. Dressed up as an angel he was to appear at an appropriate moment and enthusiastically announce, “Behold, I bring you good tidings.” After one pre-performance rehearsal, the young fellow did ask his mom what the word tidings meant, and she explained that it means news. So on the night of the big performance, the boy comes onto the stage. But under the glare of the spotlights, he takes some stage fright and for a moment he forgets his line. But then he remembers what his mom had said and he recovers in time and shouts, “Boy, have I got news for you.” That’s a good recovery.
In fact I’ll tell you this, that’s a great rendition of what we read about here in Luke 2. Because this boy’s paraphrase certainly captures the excitement of that first Christmas. And the colossal nature of the news that’s now breaking, that’s being presented to these shepherds by the angel, and then a host of angels concerning the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was indeed good news of great joy and it was centered upon the fabulous fact that in the city of David, that’s Bethlehem, a Saviour had been born, who was Christ the Lord. God had become a man to rescue men. On that cold and wintery night, heaven announced to a sleeping world that the grace of God had appeared, bringing salvation to all men, Titus 2:11.
Now that is news. That’s headline grabbing news. That’s history making news. God was made a man to rescue man. The eternal Word who was God, who was with God from the very beginning was now a speechless babe, the one who is described in Daniel as the Ancient Of Days, the one who has inhabited eternity has now a birthday in time. That’s the marvelous message of Christmas. That the one before He took on flesh, the one who no one could look upon and live, was now to be found beneath the indifferent gaze of cattle and oxen in stable in the city of David. That was announced that first Christmas. That the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ had taken place and with it a rescue mission of gigantic proportions was now underway. Because the one who was born would someday die for the sins of the world. The Lord Jesus Christ had been born to die, to liberate mankind from the ever present fear of death and from the impending threat of damnation.
Listen to what John says as he gives his commentary on that scene and the purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Listen to this, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” That’s the whole purpose of this. There’s a rescue mission going on. God hasn’t come to rub it in. God has come to rub it out. He’s announcing the possibility of peace. Not so much universal peace, but a peace between heaven and earth, a peace between God and man that has not yet existed because of man’s rebellion, man’s lawlessness, man’s sin. But through Jesus Christ, according to Colossians 1:19-20, He would make peace through the blood of His cross.
That’s what we’re talking about here when we listen to this announcement. Christmas is all about Easter. Boy, how the angel got news for those shepherds. And I want to spend a little bit of time with you tonight looking at an aspect of this breaking news. But as we come in to Luke 2, we have in this section three Christmas cards and three Christmas carols. If you look at chapter one and chapter two, there are three Christmas cards. The first Christmas card was sent to Elizabeth and Zacharias announcing the birth of a special Son. The second Christmas card is sent to Mary telling her that the child she would give birth to is the one born from on high. And the third Christmas card comes to the shepherds who are watching their flock by night in the fields and they are told that indeed a Saviour has been born in the city of David who was none other than Christ, the Lord the promised Messiah, God come in human flesh.
And with these three Christmas cards there comes three Christmas carols. If you look at chapter one in verse two and chapter two, you’ll see that in chapter one we have the first Christmas carol, which is Mary’s Magnificat that is followed up by Zechariah’s Benedictus in chapter one also. And then what we have in chapter two here in the passage we read is the angel’s Gloria in Excelsis Deo! And what we want to do for a few moments is make a start at looking at the third Christmas card and the third Christmas carol. And as you look at the third Christmas card and the third Christmas carol, the first thing that stands out is what I call the angels. It’s an aspect of the Christmas story we tend to overlook, but let’s look for a few moments at the angels.
The narrative that we read here in Luke 2:8 begins with probably the third appearance of the angel Gabriel. He’s described here as the angel of the Lord, but we probably have here the third appearance of Gabriel. He’s already come to Zacharias in chapter one verses 18 through 19. He’s already appeared to Mary in chapter one verse 26 through 28. And I think I’ll be consistent that it is Gabriel who comes to these shepherds and announces to them that a Saviour has been born, who is Christ the Lord. Earth has been invaded by heaven. God is with us as us so that someday by trusting in Jesus Christ we might be with Him. That’s the great and glorious news that those angels announce. And it starts here with one angel, Gabriel. As if that announcement was not enough, Gabriel himself is then joined by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and singing verses 13 and 14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward man.”
Little footnote. Ironically, it’s an army that announces peace. Because the word host is a word that carries the idea of an army. There’s a host, there’s rank after rank after rank of angels here who have made up a heavenly choir and it’s an army that announces to the world God’s goodwill, God’s gracious intention to bring peace through the death of His Son and the subsequent resurrection. In fact one commentator says that Luke’s Gospel resounds with angel songs and the music of their wings. In fact the construction of the Greek here would point to the fact that this is a section of a heavenly host. What we’ve probably got here is the front row of a choir that extends the whole way to the throne of God. All of heaven is singing at this point, praising God because heaven is invading earth. This is history’s D-Day, so to speak, when God has come to liberate man from the fear of death and damnation because of their sin and rebellion.
This is a prodigal planet and yet God comes to it in an act of goodwill and grace. And that’s a ticket I would like to have had. That’s a concert I would like to have been part of. Can you imagine the sights, the sounds, the sensations? In fact, William Hendriksen one of the great Presbyterian commentators argues that there is a pleasing parallelism in the praise of the angels. Which points to the fact there may have been something antiphonal going on here. Because you’ve got a contrast between heaven and earth, between God and man, between glory and peace. And maybe one section of the angelic choir sings one of those words and it’s followed up by another section of the angelic choir singing another one of those words. It’s antiphonal, it’s stereo, it’s beautiful. It would’ve been wonderful to be there.
But here’s the thought I want to think about with you. I think this is a role that the angels would’ve relished announcing the Saviour’s birth. I want you to think for a few moments with me about the involvement of the angels in the Christmas story because I think it’s a fascinating element of the story. They relished this role. There was no shortage of volunteers if volunteers were asked for to go and do this very assignment. In fact if you step back from the text, angels have a threefold role in the Bible. Did you know that? They are messengers, ministers and minstrels. Messengers, ministers and minstrels, that’s a study in itself. But let me just go over it very briefly.
The word angel means messenger. And they’re often found in the Bible as God’s couriers and that’s certainly the case here in Luke’s Gospel as they announce the Saviour’s birth. It was an angel that came to Mary. It was an angel and angels that came to the shepherds to announce, to carry the message of the Saviour’s birth. Angels are messengers.
Secondly, angels are ministers. God’s holy and elect angels are not only messengers, they are servants. We might call them God’s Secret Service. They do heaven’s bidding both in heaven and on earth. In fact, let me go to Psalm 103 just to give you a flavor of this. In verse 20 we read, “Blessed be the Lord and bless the Lord you his angels who excel in strength, who do his word, heeding the voice of his word. Bless the Lord all you his hosts, you ministers who do his good pleasure. Bless the Lord all his works in all places of his dominion.” Angels stand to attention. They stand ready. As soon as God barks an order, they’re on their way to the far-flung corners of heaven or to the streets and lands of earth.
They’re not only messengers, they are ministers. And it would say this, their ministry is more hidden than open due to the fact that they’re not embodied, they are ordinarily invisible. That’s why we’re told in Hebrews that we may entertain an angel unaware. Abraham did back in the Book of Genesis. It was an angel who warned Joseph to take the Christ child out of Herod’s reach and flee to Egypt, Matthew 2:13. They’re not only messengers, they’re ministers, but they’re something more. They’re minstrels, minstrels. They are those that sing and praise God. They love to shout and they love to sing God’s praise.
In fact I would say this, it’s probably their number one job. It’s the thing they love to do most. It’s their true calling. Heaven is wallpapered, if I might put it like that with worshiping angels. I won’t turn to it for sake of time, but if you go to Revelation 5, you’ll see the living creatures which is probably a description of angels. You’ll find them singing to the one who is worthy to be praised, the one who created all things for His pleasure, the Lamb who has redeemed a countless number of people out of every tribe and tongue and nation. Are we surprised to find them here? That first Christmas, singing, praising God and announcing in a wonderful fashion that God has visited earth from on high.
By the way, I think it was A. W. Tozer who said this, “If you don’t like singing and you don’t like worship service and you find them rather boring, then you’re not ready for heaven yet.” It’s just a fact because heaven is a place where the praise of God is heard and expressed day and night. Heaven is wallpapered with worshiping hosts. That’s why I say they must have relished this role because they love to announce good news. They love to minister and they love to worship. This was a perfect role for an angel.
I want to develop that just for a couple of seconds. This keen interest on the part of angels, I would say number one, they would’ve relished this role because it was utterly historic. All right? That’s sufficient in and off itself. There was something extraordinarily out of the ordinary when it came to the birth of this child, and so they were going to get to witness this. They were going to get to be part of the high watermark of redemptive history. All of history has been building up to this moment. This is what the prophets had prophesied. This is what the poets had written about. They wanted to be party to that. We read, don’t we, of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that it was witnessed by angels.
Listen to 1 Timothy 3:16. 1 Timothy 3:16 of how, “He was taken up into heaven. God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” There’s a compressed theology there, but I want you to note what’s noted. The angels saw this, so they must have relished this for that reason alone, but there’s a second reason more important and it has a punch for us as we come to a close tonight.
If you’ve got a Bible, go with me to 1 Peter 1. 1 Peter 1, because here’s a verse that very few of you have read recently or meditated upon recently. Verse 10 of chapter one of Peter’s first letter, “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when he testified beforehand of the suffering of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that not to themselves but to us, they were ministering the things which are now being reported, things which angels desire to look into.”
There’s an interesting verse that. You’ve got to cut and paste and bring over, as it were into Luke 2 and drop it in there. They would’ve relished this role because of its historic nature and they would’ve relished this role because they are fascinated by the thought of redemption. The whole issue of salvation is something that interests them greatly. In fact the word that’s used here look into is used in John 20:5 and John 20:11, of those who stood down and looked into the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fixed, eyes wide open, mouth dropping, He’s gone. That’s the word. They, the angels look into salvation like that. They marvel at God’s plan, which was hatched before the foundation of the world, which was promised as early on as Genesis 3. Which was prophesied and written about throughout the Old Testament. And the clock has been ticking, and now the Son of God is about to be born, the one who would die for the sins of the world.
That’s why they would’ve relished this task. Because salvation holds a fascination to them, and I wonder why. There’s a whole lot of reasons, but I’ll tell you, I think there’s one that’s really interesting. Remember, these are the holy and elect angels because the Bible tells us about a group of fallen angels called demons who rebelled against God and God cast them out. And the interesting thing about this is when the angels sinned, there was no redemption, no way back. God cut off all communication and burned all bridges. And according to Jude and Peter, those fallen angels are held in chains, reserved for the day of judgment. Their fate is sealed.
You don’t think it has fascinated the holy and elect angels to look upon God’s intention towards mankind, to actually redeem them, to buy them back, to show His grace and offer His salvation to them? You don’t think they found redemption a riveting truth? You don’t think they asked themselves what must it be like to know the mercy of God? Because that was nothing an angel had experienced, was experiencing, or would experience. They’re fascinated by redemption having not experienced it. They’re thrilled by the thought of it. They stand in wonder that God would stoop to save mankind. That He would offer redemption to them, undeserving as it is.
And friends here’s the kicker, here’s the punch. What about us? If redemption is as riveting to them how much more riveting to us? Is the thought of God’s grace extended to you despite your sin? Is that truth spell binding? Does it produce a heart thumping response? Has our common salvation become common to you? It’s interesting in Jude verse 3, Jude talks about that we have received a common salvation.
That means that there’s no different messages for different people. There’s one message for all people. It’s a common salvation, universal in scope and application. But it must never become common. Paul says in Ephesians 2:4, “That God has loved us with a great love.” Hebrews 2:3 says that we mustn’t neglect so great a salvation.
The angels understand it’s great. They marvel at it. They look into it intently. You don’t think they relished announcing to you as born in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord? Do you people get it? There’s a second chance. There’s grace, there’s mercy where it ought not to be given. It’s undeserved, it’s undemanded, but it’s there for the taking. That’s a challenge. That’s something that should grip us.
And as we wrap up tonight, is that something that’s taking hold of you this season. As a Christian do you marvel that the Ancient Of Days was born in time, that the Word was made a speechless babe, that the one who was the maker of all things was made a little lower than the angels. That He who is the source of life came to die on a cross for you and me in a horrible manner, bearing our sin and carrying our shame? Does that cause you to shout hallelujah? Does it bring you emotionally to a place of renewed brokenness and dedication to God at the marvel of it all?
You know when I was growing up in our little church in Northern Ireland, they used to sing an old hymn, “There’s the wonder of sunset at evening, and there’s the wonder as sunrise I see. But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul is the wonder that God should love me. There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest. The sky, the stars, the sun, but the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul is the wonder that’s only begun. Oh, the wonder of it all. The wonder of it all that God should love me.” It was a wonder to the angels and they didn’t experience it. How much more ought to be a wonder to you and me, the blood brought people of God this Christmas who have experienced it?
John Newton said when he gets to heaven, three things were going to surprise him. One, there were some people there he didn’t expect to be there.
Two, there were people not there that he expected to be there.
But three, most of all given his history as an old slave trader, a drunk, a philanderer, a violent man, the greatest surprise of all that he would be there, amidst the adoring angels, crying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” The angels, fascinating, isn’t it? It was a role they relished because they’ve always been interested in the whole issue of salvation. There was no salvation for angels, but there’s salvation for you and me through faith in Jesus Christ. For those of us that know Him, may we thrill this Christmas to the wonder of it all.
And my parting question is to you if you don’t know the Lord Jesus, will the angels sing this Christmas? You go, “Pastor, what are you talking about?” When you go home tonight, read Luke 15. Jesus tells three stories, a lost sheep, a lost son, and a lost piece of silver. And in each key, it’s when the sheep is fine by the shepherd and the silver’s discovered by the housewife and the son returns to the father, there’s great rejoicing in each of those stories. And then Jesus will say this, “And so there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” And then He says, “And there’s joy among the angels over one sinner who repents.”
That first Christmas concert was a one concert tour. All right, you and I missed it. They’re not singing that right now. But tonight, if you’ll repent of your sin and put your whole hope for heaven in the one who came from heaven and paid for your sin on the cross, the angels will rejoice and envy you that God has set His love upon you, despite your disobedience, despite your sin, and despite your rebellion. Amen.
Cause the angels to sing by putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for this season, for the joy of it. We thank you it interrupts the humdrum of life and reminds us that indeed heaven has invaded earth. God has been with us, and God is with us, and God is for us in the big plus sign of the cross. Oh Lord, we pray that the angels would sing tonight of those who come home to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And Lord, we pray for those of us that know you, Lord, we pray indeed that we would find the wonder and the thrill, the greatness of our own salvation. For we pray and ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.