30 Minute Radio Lesson - WAVG Radio 1450 AM

Clarksville church of Christ

December 19, 1999

Speaker: Richie Thetford

"Not the Manger, But the Cross"

It's the Christmas season and people everywhere are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Christ. But does the Bible teach that we are to celebrate the birth of Christ, or is this something that man has thought of and is now something that many do because of tradition? Good morning and welcome to another presentation of "What Is Truth?" here on WAVG radio 1450. I'm Richard Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ. I want to thank each and every one you for taking the time to listen this morning as we examine yet another truth of God's word. This morning we are going to be looking at some Bible facts concerning the world's celebration of Christmas. It is my hope and prayer that those of you that are listening today will honestly examine your heart to ensure that you are in fact doing only those things religiously that are pleasing to God. I want to encourage you to have your Bible readily available so that you can examine the scriptures to make sure that what I am presenting is in fact God's will for you. Remember, the Bible clearly states that we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). It is my hope that each one of you this morning will have the kind of heart that the Bereans did back in the first century. It was said of them that "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). By looking at the Bible passages, you can see for yourself that what I am teaching this morning can in fact be backed up by book, chapter, and verse in the Bible. This is so vitally important as we strive to do only that which is authorized by God and not what some man may say about a given subject. Now I invite you to please have your Bible ready and let's study together another truth of God. Today, we are going to look at what the Bible teaches concerning our remembrance and emphasis of Christ, the manger or the cross?

This coming Saturday will be a day that is commonly known as Christmas. Many traditional things are done in the name of religion such as "plays, musicals, special event services, and on and on." However, we are going to find that the Bible clearly teaches that our emphasis should not be on the manger, but the cross of Christ. The apostle John wrote in John 12:44: "Then Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me." In other words this tells us not believing in Christ "only" but also in the one who sent Him. First of all this morning, let's look at some errors of the Christmas tradition that surrounds all of us.

As we travel through the neighborhoods during this holiday season we can see manger scenes placed in many of the yards. At this manger scene, who is it that is usually standing over the manger gazing at the baby Jesus? Usually you have Joseph and Mary and three wise men. In addition, the scene is decorated very lovely with all the appropriate fixings to dress up the manger and the surrounding area around it so that Mary and Joseph would have a very comfortable place in which to lay the newborn baby Jesus (Luke 2:7). It is portrayed as a perfect, beautiful manger. But in reality, the manger is a feed trough that is found in a stable. In Bible times mangers were made from clay mixed with straw or from stones held together with mud; sometimes they were carved in natural outcroppings of rock, certainly not a prepared, beautiful manger as portrayed today, just waiting for baby Jesus.

In addition, most every scene shows three wise men standing over the baby Jesus. But the Bible tells us that the wise men came to a house, not a stable. Listen to the words of Matthew 2:11:"And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh." A closer examination of the scriptures will show that it was the shepherds, not the wise men, that saw the manger. Luke 2:8 says: "Now there were 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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." Not only were the wise men not at the manger, but why is there always three of them being portrayed as being there. No doubt it is because the Bible says that the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Since there was three different gifts mentioned, most have concluded that there must have been three wise men. But think about that for just a moment. What if I received some money, a shirt, and a tie. Would you necessarily conclude that I received these gifts from only three people? Could there not have been more than three that gave me these gifts or perhaps only two people gave me these gifts. All that you would know for sure was what I told you I received, you would have no idea how many people actually gave them to me.

Another error or the Christmas tradition is placed on the time of the season that man celebrates Christ's birth. In all actually, as most scholars have concluded, the time was probably before November 1st. Why? Because Luke 2:8 states that the "shepherds were living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night." Historical scholars tell us that in that part of the country, the shepherds would not generally be in the fields at night after November 1st and certainly not as late as December 25th. In our own country, we know that the farmers and ranchers have certain times that they do things, depending upon the season.

Now we come to the error of the celebration of the Birth of Christ as a religious holiday or event. Friends, I ask you, was there ever any mention of a birthday party being held in honor of our Lord in the Bible? Did the apostles ever celebrate His birth after the ascension? There is never any mention of a Christmas tradition in heaven. What we do know is that the celebration and observance of Christ's birth is of tradition only. Some things concerning His birth are true while other things are made up or imagined by man. The Bible does tell us what we are to observe and teach to others. Notice what some of these passages say:

Matthew 28:20: "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Matthew 15:8-9: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."

Colossians 3:17: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus...."

Galatians 1:8-9: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again,if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed."

2 John 9: "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son."

These passages of scripture tell us that everything that we are to do and practice religiously must first come by the authority of Christ. Therefore, it would behoove all of us to be very careful to make sure that we are only practicing only those things that he has authorized us to do. Now friends, I am NOT trying to demean the birth of Jesus as is spelled out in our Bible in Luke 2:10-20. I am only saying that our emphasis should be placed on His death, burial and resurrection and not His birth. In addition, I am NOT denying the virgin birth of Jesus as is stated in Matthew 1:18-25. It was truly a miraculous thing how Christ came into this world, born of a virgin. I am NOT destroying prophecy because I know that Micah and Isaiah prophesied of the birth of Christ, that it would truly be a marvelous event (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9:6). I am NOT demoting Mary because I can read where she was highly favored (Luke 1:26-31, 46-49). And I am NOT saying these things just because I am trying to defend "our" views on this subject. Some people may say "You church of Christ people think that you're better than the rest; You're just upholding your view of things." Friends, it is not "our" view, it is the Bible view. It is God's holy and inspired word. We are only trying to advocate the view of God for all of man to clearly see. The prophet Isaiah wrote: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote:"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other" (1 Cor 4:6).

As we progress in our study this morning I now want to focus our attention on what Jesus Himself emphasized while he was on earth. Nowhere in scripture can we read where Jesus emphasized or held importance to the remembrance of His birth. In Matthew 12:38-40 it says:"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, Teacher, we want to see a sign from You. But He answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." What is the sign, the proof that Jesus was from God? (It was not His birth, but rather His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus predicted His death. The scripture says: "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You! But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men"(Matthew 16:21-23). Friends, the things of God was in the dying upon the cross of calvary for all of man. This is what the emphasis of all the scriptures points to.

We also see that Jesus emphasized what the purpose of His coming to this earth would be. In John 12:27 it says: "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour." Also in John 12:32-33 we read: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die." Jesus came to this earth to save man from his sin. We are drawn to Jesus through His blood that was shed for us as he suffered and died on the cross, was buried, and then arose again on the third day. In this act, He overcame death, so that we too might overcome spiritual death and live forever with Him! We can read in our Bible concerning the Birth of Christ, but learn from the Bible that Jesus placed the emphasis on His life in His death, burial, and resurrection. Prophecy was fulfilled in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. In Luke 24:44-46 we read: "Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day."

In addition to what Jesus emphasized we can also look at what the apostles emphasized in scripture concerning the life of Christ. In the very first gospel sermon delivered by the apostle Peter on Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, we never read once where there was any point or emphasis placed on the manger, or His birth (Acts 2:22-36). Yet we do see where Peter did put the emphasis. In Acts 3:13-15 we read: "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. "But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, "and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses." Later in chapter 4, verse 2 we read: "being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Here we find Peter stating that the importance and answer to our salvation lies in the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

In Acts 17:2-3 we find the apostle Paul preaching. What do you suppose this great apostle would be preaching to those in Thessalonica? Would he be telling these people the importance of observing the birth of Christ? No, the apostle Paul emphasized the very same thing as did the apostle Peter. Here the text says: "Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." Before we go on to our next point of looking at what the cross of Jesus really shows us, let's take a moment to look at some other passages of scripture found in the various epistles that shows us that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is what we should be focusing on, and not the birth of Jesus.

1 Peter 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christfrom the dead."

1 Peter 1:18-19: "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."

1 Peter 2:24: "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-- by whose stripes you were healed."

1 Corinthians 2:2: "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ andHim crucified."

1 Corinthians 15:1-4: "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."

The cross of Christ shows us the enormity and the awfulness of sin. The cross shows us that Christ died for our awful sins. The cross also shows us the tremendous love of God. John 3:16 says: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." We can also read in 1 John 4:9-10: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Had God not sent His son to this earth to suffer, die, and rise again for all of mankind, then we would have no hope whatsoever. It is also seen in the cross of Christ the wonderful grace of God. Paul wrote: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). We can thank God everyday for the grace that He has bestowed upon us. Now we also can see in the cross of Christ that Jesus was born. "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal 4:4). Yes friends, we believe that Christ was born but our emphasis is on His death, burial and resurrection. He lived and died so that we might have life forever.

It is sad that many, many people will be attending plays, skits, and special religious ceremonies during this coming week all in remembrance of the birth of Christ, doing things that Christ Himself never authorized in the Bible. Man has put the emphasis on a part of Christ's life that not even Christ himself emphasized. It is also sad that many people will attend church somewhere this day because they feel that they should at least honor Christ at least one time a year. Many people will be attending somewhere for the first time this year, with no plans to attend again until the next Christmas season. This is all for naught. Jesus said: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9).

We are to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord the first day of every week as Christians partake of the Lord's Supper that He instituted and commanded of us in remembering His sacrifice on our behalf. I encourage you to look at Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-34; and Matthew 26:26-29.

It is so easy to get carried away with all the celebrations that happen during this time of year. On this day many people will attend a church service somewhere to "celebrate" the birth of Jesus, that will not attend another service until this time next year. They will attend somewhere with their family and listen to the "special service celebration" in honor of our Lord, with no intent to really let Jesus come into their life on a daily basis from this day onward. How hypocritical! Friends, I plead with you to not only let the word of God touch your heart today, but each and every day that you live. Why not devote your life to Christ, giving Him room in your heart, and look forward to the blessed hope of eternal salvation with Him. Let's not forget that we do not even know when Christ was born and if it had been important to remember a certain date, then the Bible would have made sure that we knew when it was. The Bible does let us know those things that we need to be aware of and those things that are essential in order to have everlasting life. I would like to invite everyone of you in the listening audience this morning to come to the cross of Christ, not to the manger this holiday season. The apostle Paul let it be known to all when he wrote the Roman letter how one can come to the cross of Christ in order to be saved. Listen to what this beloved apostle wrote in the book of Romans, chapter 6, verses 3-17: "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."

Thank you once again for being in our listening audience this morning. I am so delightful that you have invited me through this radio station to study with you the truth of the Word of God. May God go with you through the week, and may you forever be mindful of what is really important as you live day by day.

This is Richard Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"