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LUKE 2:16

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 21, 1997

This morning I’d like to share one verse of scripture - Luke 2:16 - which says, “And they - the shepherds - came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.”

The carols we’ve been singing this morning have helped us to visualize this scene. Christmas carols help us to capture the mystery - the beauty - the emotion of Christmas - to recreate in our imaginations the scenes of the first Christmas - the crowded inn - the smelly stable - the sleeping city - the star shinning over the waiting earth - the lonely shepherds in the field - the blazing, sudden glory, of the heavenly hosts breaking through the darkness - then the contrast of the stable with the sleeping baby and the wondering hearts that come to worship and kneel before Him - Immanuel - God with us.

One carol we sing asks the question:

"What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?"
And the chorus answers,

"This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the son of Mary."
I am sure the shepherds asked the same question when they went into the stable on that first Christmas: "What Child is this?" And this morning the same question is asked of us, “What Child is this?” “What is the answer to this question? Who is this Child and what significance does His coming have for our lives?”

When the Shepherds came to the manger the answer was incomplete - no one had an adequate answer. Mary, you remember, "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." She didn’t know what the answer was.

It is impossible to answer the question until we see the full record unfolded in the gospel - accounts of the silent years in Nazareth and the coming of age of Jesus - His baptism by John - the trudging up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea with his disciples - the teaching - the miracles - and finally, the last crowded dramatic week in Jerusalem that culminated in His crucifixion - and resurrection.

And then the moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out upon the waiting disciples - the sound of a rushing wind in the wonder of Pentecost. Its only then - after seeing these events - that we begin to get a full answer to this question, "What Child is this?"

In 1646, the great Dutch painter, Rembrandt completed his work, The Adoration of The Shepherds - Rembrandt's interpretation of the visit of the shepherds to the Child in Bethlehem. Its a simple scene in a stable, and there in the foreground are the mother and Child, with Joseph in the shadows in the background.

Peering over into the manger where the Child is lying are the shepherds. Behind the manger Rembrandt has painted a ladder - leaning against a beam - in the shadows it casts - there is the form of a cross. And on the beam against which the ladder rests is a rooster - the symbol of betrayal.

And the light illuminating the whole scene is not coming from outside - or a nearby lantern - but from the manger. The faces of those looking in are put into sharp relief as they look down, and you can see that the light is coming from the Child himself. This is Rembrandt's way of saying that the story of Christmas is the story of salvation - by means of the crushing inner agony of betrayal - and the outer agony of crucifixion - that the Child in the manger would become the world's Deliverer and Redeemer. This Child is not just a baby lying in a manger. He is the hope of mankind.

The prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light - those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us....His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of host will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2,6,7)

I recently read an account of a man - back in the 1800’s - who had visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from lack of sleep. He couldn't eat, and he avoided his friends. The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition. Concluding that his patient needed to have a good time, the physician told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles.

"You must go and see him," the doctor advised. "Grimaldi is the world's funniest clown. He'll make you laugh and cure your sadness."

"No," replied the despairing man, "he can't help me. You see, I am Grimaldi!"

We ask, "Why this emptiness? Where is there hope? What's wrong with humanity? What's wrong with life? Why is the world in a continual mess? Why is the news always of murder and violence and hate and corruption and darkness? What relevancy does this Child have for my life?"

The Bible tells us the answer - "Man's sin," - that’s what lies at the root of it all, the terrible taint that all of us possess that can never be washed away by our own efforts. And, Jesus is the light that shines in this darkness. In Jesus, God has solved the deepest problem in human life---the problem of human sinfulness.

“What Child is this?” - This child lying in the manger in Bethlehem is the answer to mankind’s greatest need - He is our Savior - the one true hope of mankind. The good news of Christmas is that every one of us who has found Jesus - who has come to Him and who follows Him - finds again and again that He has the power to cleanse us - to put away the guilt of the past - whether the last 50 years or the last 5 minutes - to renew us - to restore us - to set us free with a clean slate - and empower us to live life in the power and grace of the living God.

This past week I had lunch with a few pastors and one pastor in particular who had come from Liberia - Pastor Hananiah Zoe. From his tribe - Pastor Zoe’s parents were among the few first believers in Jesus Christ. When he was 5 years old a persecution arose and a tribal mob attacked the missionaries and native believers in his village - killing one Christian - burning their property - and imprisoning Pastor Zoe’s father. Pastor Zoe was taken into the home of a missionary couple - and through them he came to know Jesus as his Savior.

Today Pastor Zoe is involved in church planting and discipleship in Liberia and west Africa - and their ministry is primarily among those who are Animists and Muslims - two religions of great hopelessness. As people turn to Jesus they bring them into their home and disciple them for 10 weeks - train them - ground them in the word - help them to understand their spiritual gift - and then send them into the mission field. In this way thousands are coming to know Jesus as their Savior - and there are literally hundreds of villages asking to hear about Jesus Christ.

As you can imagine there is also a tremendous amount of persecution - especially from the Muslims and animists - who are fanatical and against anyone coming to Christ. This persecution continues with the sanction of the governments involved. One of the persecutors was Commander Mohammed - a member of the Liberian Army - who had literally killed thousands of Christians - often by very cruel means. Commander Mohammed had also killed Pastor Zoe’s brother.

This really is a true story. One day Commander Mohammed - who is a descendant of the original Mohammed - an Imam - a Muslim religious leader - went to a mosque to call the faithful Muslims to prayer. He went up the minaret and began to call them to prayer - and as he was calling out - Jesus appeared to him and said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” And this Commander Mohammed - who had killed thousand of Christians - came to believe and trust Jesus as his Savior.

When he went down to the Muslims who had gathered for prayer - he told them, “Jesus is real - I’ve seen Him - He’s alive - He’s God.”

Its miraculous that they didn’t kill Mohammed. They dragged him out of the mosque and striped him of all his military medals - uniform - and sent him off in disgrace. Having no where to go he ends up at the church. Where he’s brought into the house of Pastor Zoe - whose brother he murdered - for discipleship - and training. And now, all Mohammed wants to do tell people about Jesus!

I asked Pastor Zoe, “There’s been so much persecution - do your people struggle with forgiveness?” He told me that Mohammed came to his house with nothing - he shared his clothes - slept in his house - shared everything for this time of discipleship. This is something only Jesus can do - to bring this type of healing and love - when we are surrendered to Him. Today, these two are brothers in Jesus Christ - and their love for each other is a testimony to others of what Jesus can do in our lives.

This is the living reality of who this Child is - this is Jesus - our Savior - the light in our darkness - the Wonderful Counselor - Mighty God - Eternal Father - Prince of Peace.

The first word of the angel to those shepherds in the field was "Fear not. Do not be afraid." In Bethlehem is born your deliverer - your Savior. It doesn’t matter what burdens you carry - what Herod or the Romans or any government might do - or the clever manipulative minds of men. Jesus is born.

And the question today for each of us is this: What Child is this? Who is Jesus in your life? A baby lying in a manger? Or the Savior who has come to take away your sins and lead you in life for God.

I am told that the words "Fear not" appear in the Bible exactly 365 times. Once for every day of the year. Not just at Christmas - but each day of our lives - we are called - not to fear - but to trust. To answer the question, “What Child is this?” with, “This, this is my Savior - He is my Lord.” And to trust Him with our lives - to allow Him to recreate us - to renew us - to restore and heal us. And lead us in God’s love and graciousness.