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Series:  The Challenge of Christmas - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 10, 2006

We are thinking about The Challenge of Christmas.  I’d like to begin by sharing a poem.  This was in a sermon by Chuck Swindoll.

’Twas the day after Christmas,
When all through the place

There were arguments and depression -
Even Mom had a long face.

The stockings hung empty,
And the house was a mess;
The new clothes didn’t fit…
And Dad was under stress.

The family was irritable,
And the children - no one could please;

Because the instructions for the swing set
Were written in Chinese!

The bells no longer jingled,
And no carolers came around;

The sink was stacked with dishes,
And the tree was turning brown.

The stores were full of people
Returning things that fizzled and failed,

And shoppers were discouraged
Because everything they’d bought was now on half-price sale!

’Twas the day AFTER Christmas -
The spirit of joy had disappeared;

The only hope on the horizon
Was twelve bowl games the first day of the New Year! (1)

Can you relate to that?  Oh yes.

Last Sunday we began a look together at the Challenge of Christmas.  Do you ever feel like Christmas is a challenge?  There are 15 more shopping days ’til Christmas.  Its like a finish line that we have to get to.  Along the way we’re suppose to be enjoying ourselves - eating a lot - having warm fuzzy feelings - taking time to celebrate Jesus’ birth and doing all the church stuff. 
So many of us feel that - like outside were supposed to be one way - and inside we’re tired - rushed - empty - and trying to keep our feelings in check.  We keep telling ourselves, “You can get through this.”

That’s not what we’re looking at.  The real challenge of Christmas is how we live after Christmas - living out the implications of Jesus’ incarnation - living out those implications every day of our lives.  That’s really what we’re looking at here.  Because in all of the stuff of Christmas - and things we go through getting to the finish line - we don’t want to miss what God is saying to us - the profound difference He desires to make in our lives.

I invite you to turn with me to Philippians 2.  On your sermon notes you’ll also find the key verse we’ll be looking at this morning -  Philippians 2 - verse 8.  We’re going to read this verse out loud together.  Its familiar.  So, we need to get it fresh in our minds.  Then we’ll come back and make two observations.

Philippians 2:8: 
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

It’s been said that the way to the cross is through the manger.  Have you heard that?  Paul - in Philippians 2 - what we began looking at last Sunday - Paul has been writing about the incarnation - the manger.  In verse 8 - he focuses on the cross.  There are two observations what we need to make from verse 8 - thinking through incarnation and the cross.

What Jesus Did.  Say that with me, “What Jesus did.”

Verse 8 says that Jesus was
“being found in the appearance as a man.”

When Jesus was walking on earth people asked,
“Who is this man?  Where did this man get this wisdom?  How can this man perform these miracles?  Who is this guy?”  At Jesus’ trial - when the false witnesses came forward to make accusations against Jesus - they said, “This man said these things...’”  When Peter denied knowing Jesus, Peter said, “I don’t know the man.”

The Greek word for “being found” is “euretheis”  which has the idea of intense investigation - finding things out for ourselves.  When the disciples traveled around with Jesus - eating with Him - sleeping with Him - telling campfire stories - roasting marshmallows - as they did every day human things - scrutinizing Jesus as He did those things - those who interacted with Him - found Him - to be human.

People didn’t ask,
“Is this a spirit?  Some kind of divine apparition?”  “Perhaps Jesus is a Klingon surgically altered to look human?”  They didn’t ask those questions because they knew Jesus to be human.  Jesus really is God in human flesh - fully God and fully man - God incarnate.  His humanity bears up under investigation.

When Paul writes that Jesus was “
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” - we need to consider what Jesus did by remembering His humanity.  Point being:  Jesus experienced every part of the crucifixion to the fullest extent of what could be experienced as a human.

Think with me about the implications of that truth.

It is extremely difficult to imagine a type of death more hideous than crucifixion.  The pain is so beyond words to explain that they had to invent a new word to describe it.  “Excruciating” literally means “out of the cross.”  Think about that.

By time Jesus finally made it to the cross He’d been flogged - that alone is a study in agony - flesh being shredded and stripped from the body.  He’d been beaten, spat on, mocked, a crown of thorns shoved down over His head.  He’d carried that cross beam at least part way to Golgotha.

When they laid Jesus out on the cross they drove 5 to 7 inch spikes - nails - through His wrists and feet - severing and crushing vital nerves.  Searing jolts of unimaginable pain would have shot though His body.  When the cross is raised and set into place Jesus’ arms are stretched - probably six inches beyond their normal reach.  His shoulders are dislocated.

Death by crucifixion is ultimately a slow process of asphyxiation.  Stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into an inhaled position.  In order to exhale - Jesus would have had to push up on His feet  - causing the nails to tear through the flesh of His feet - pushing up enough to relax the tension on the muscles just enough to exhale.  That went on and on - and agonizing process of pushing up - exhaling - letting down - pushing up - exhaling - until exhaustion took place and the victim simply couldn’t breathe anymore.

The slowing down of the breathing - because of that process - probably resulted in an increase of acidity in Jesus’ blood leading to an irregular heartbeat.  In other words, Jesus could have ultimately died of heart failure.    

Then there was the shame of hanging on a cross - a death reserved for thieves and murderers - being hung before His family and friends.  And grief - not for Himself - but for those standing around the cross - jeering - laughing - mocking - arrogant.

In Exodus - God sent plague after plague - frogs, insects, and locust - oh my.  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened - arrogant.  Finally there’s one last plague.  All the firstborn in Egypt will die - from the first born of Pharaoh down to the firstborn of a slave girl.  Even the firstborn of the cattle.  Its and immutable death sentence hanging over every firstborn.

The only salvation is to sacrifice a 1 year old unblemished male lamb.  Kill the lamb.  Put its blood - where?  on the doorposts and across the lintel.  When the Lord passes through Egypt and sees the blood of the lamb - He’ll “pass over” that house - spare the firstborn within.

In His Levitical Law God took that Passover lamb and prescribed it as a an offering for sin.  The animal was placed on the altar and the one making the sacrifice - the sinner - would put his hand on the animal to signify the transfer of guilt - that the animal was taking the place of the sinner - taking the penalty for the sin - dying in the place of the sinner - so that the one making the offering - the sinner - would be pardoned by God and cleansed of the sin and the guilt.  The innocent dying for the guilty. 

Isaiah wrote,
“He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

John the Baptist was out beyond the Jordan river - baptizing and calling God’s people to turn from their sins - to turn back to God - that the Christ is coming - the one Isaiah prophesied about.  John sees Jesus coming towards him.  And John cries out,
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) 

Peter writes,
“He Himself - Jesus - bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

Paul writes in Romans: 
“For while we were still helpless - condemned by our own sin - at the right time - at Passover - on the cross - Christ died for the ungodly” - each one of us. (Romans 5:6)

We’re desperate.  Immutably condemned in our sin.  With no way out.  Destined for eternal punishment and separation from God.  Only God is capable of forgiving our debt.  Only a man could pay it.  What did Jesus do?  Jesus - God - took on humanity - took our place - endured the cross for us. 

First observation.  What Jesus did.  Second observation. 
How He Did It.  Say that with me, “How He did it.”

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company pulled into a gas station to get gas.  He went inside to pay.  When he came out he noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the gas station attendant.  It turned out that she knew him.  In fact, back in high school before she met her eventual husband - the Fortune 500 CEO - she used to date this man - the guy working at the gas station.

The CEO got in the car.  The two drove in silence.  He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke. 
“I bet I know what you were thinking.  I bet you were thinking you’re glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a guy working at a gas station.”

said his wife.  “I was thinking that if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be working at a gas station.” (2)

Paul writes that Jesus “humbled Himself.”  The Greek word is “tapeinos.”  It has the idea of lying down level with the ground.  The form of the verb is an aorist active.  Which means that Jesus did it to Himself.  Grab that.    Jesus chose - voluntarily placed Himself in a position low enough to be used - even as the ground beneath our feet - to be trampled on by humanity - even crucifixion.

Then Paul writes that Jesus “became obedient.”  The word is “upekoos.”  Its really two words put together:  “upo” meaning under - and “akouo” meaning to hear.  To obey is to place ourselves “under” the authority of what we “hear” - the instructions - the will of the one giving the instruction.

What did Jesus say in the Garden of Gethsemane?  On the night He was betrayed?  As He was praying to the Father?  “Not my - what? will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  That’s choice.  Jesus chose to obey God the Father - who sent His only Son - Jesus - into the world to be our Lamb.

How did Jesus do what He did?  He humbled Himself and obeyed God.

There are a number of places we could go with this.  Let me suggest two implications for our lives - two questions that need answers.  Hang in there with these.  These are really challenging.

First question:  Are you willing to die for others
?  Ask yourself that question with me.  “Am I willing to die for others?”

In 451 AD the various branches of the Church sent representatives to a place called Chalcedon - just outside of what is today Istanbul.  The debate at the Council of Chalcedon was whether or not Jesus was fully God and fully man or something else and what that might mean.  It was an important council.  What we’ve been looking at today - Jesus fully God fully man - was affirmed at Chalcedon.

If you’ll bear with me a bit of Armenian history - the Armenians missed that council.  We were absent.  Armenia - at that time - was controlled by Persia.  The Persians had insisted that the Armenians worship their gods.  The Armenians - who were Christians - refused.  So, in 451 - while the rest of Christendom was gathering to argue over who Jesus is - 66,000 poorly equipped - untrained - Armenians - surrounded by traitors on every side - followed a guy by the name of Vartan Mamigonian into battle against 300,000 well armed - well trained - crack Persian troops - and got creamed defending their people’s right to worship Jesus.

Reading the history of the night before that battle two things are very evident.  First, that the Armenians felt called by Jesus to fight that battle - that they were obeying God.  There was an understanding that - while the battle was physical - behind it all, the warfare was spiritual.  The future spiritual direction of the nation was on the line.  That night - baptisms took place.  Communion was shared.  Men joined together in prayer.  They worshiped God together.  They took time to get their hearts right with God - to put themselves under His will.

Second, it is very evident that the Armenians knew that they were going to die.  The priest who led the services the night before the battle - when he preached his sermon - imagine, what would you say to men under those circumstances - knowing you’re going to get martyred - the priest - leading the prayer and communion service - sharing from God’s word with the men there - he used these very verses here in Philippians 2 - words affirming the deity and humanity of Jesus - His incarnation and His sacrificial death - on behalf of each one of us.

Jesus said,
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his - who?  friends.  You are my friends...” (John 15:13,14a).  John encourages us, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11).

May the love of the brethren increase - even in death.  Are we together on that?

Let’s go one step further.

Paul writes in Romans 5 - verses 7 and 8 - writing of Jesus’ death for us - Paul writes,
“For one will hardly die for a righteous man - why die for someone already going to heaven - though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die - perhaps its easier knowing the good and worthy character of the person we’re dying for - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

What was it Jesus said? 
“But I say to you...love your - who?  enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)  Isn’t that what Jesus did for us?  Loved us - died for us - even while we by our sin have made ourselves to be His enemies?

Are we willing to die for those who are against us?

Let me put this slightly differently - maybe a little easier to digest.  Paul writes that Jesus was obedient even to death - even to death on a cross.  That little phrase
“even to” tells us the extent of Jesus’ obedience.  Follow this:  Jesus didn’t obey God by dying.  He obeyed the Father, so utterly, so as even to die.  The extent of Jesus’ obedience was His willingness to die - which He did - for us.

Again ask the question.  Are we willing to die for others?  If we’re willing to go to the extent of death - should God require that of us - if we’re willing to die then anything less should be a tad easier.

Would you lay down your life for your wife?  Your husband?  Your kids?  Your siblings?  The person sitting next to you today?  What about your worst enemy - if God asked that of you?

What if the extent of what God asked of you was to spend some of your time with them?  To listen to them?  To communicate?  To be more helpful?  Change some annoying habit?  To lay aside your rights?  To forgive or be gracious to them?

Too many Christians - especially in the USA - we’ll say that they’ll obey God - unless the cost is our comfort - unless the sacrifice is too great - unless we need to give up our little indulgences.  We’ll obey unless God wants to touch our IRA - the bank account we’re holding on to for security.  We’ll obey unless we need to live in a smaller home - drive a different car - walk.  We’ll obey God as long as it doesn’t mean giving up our right to hold a grudge - harbor anger - to defend our rights - hold onto our prerogatives.  That’s not death.

What would happen at home - at school - at work - if we we’re willing to obey God - to deny ourselves - to obey even to the extent of death?  How would our relationships change - husbands and wives?  How would our witness in the community for Jesus change - if we were willing even to die for one another?  For this community?

First question:  Are you willing to die for others?  Second question - believe it or not this second question is even more of a challenge.  Here it is: 
Are you willing to be died for?  Ask yourself that with me, “Am I willing to be died for?”

When I was in college
- down at BIOLA - I took a rock climbing class.  One of the skills they taught us was how to belay our rock climbing partner.  In other words - when you’re climbing you have this rope attached to you that’s held at the other end by your partner.  The theory is that, while climbing, if you ever lose your grip you won’t fall - very far - because your partner will be holding you up with this rope.  As you might imagine - its very important to have confidence in the person holding the rope.

One of the exercises we did - to practice our climbing skills - was to climb Sutherland Hall.  Sutherland Hall
is a large building in the center of the school - about 1½  stories high - that has bricks sticking out of the outside wall at regular intervals.   Each brick sticks out about an inch - which made it easy to climb up the wall - lots of hand holds and places to step with our feet.

One day - while we were climbing the walls of Sutherland Hall - we were told that we were going to practice falling.
  I realize that for some people that comes easy.  But this was a little different.  As we got to the top of the wall - 1½ stories up - without giving advance warning to our climbing partner - who we hoped was hanging on to the other end of the rope - we were suppose to let go of the bricks and fall.

I was just down there about a month ago and I took another look at that wall - this time from the perspective of age and wisdom.  I must have been nuts. 
That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  To consciously let go of my secure grip on those bricks and put my life in someone else's hands. 

It is more blessed to give than to - what?  receive.  It’s also easier.  That’s why this question - am I willing to be died for - why that question is such a challenge for us.  It ruffles our pride.  I don’t mind my neighbor coming over and asking for my help.  But it’s a long walk next door when I need to ask for his help.  I’m doing just fine hanging on to this little brick.  I don’t need nobody to die for me.

Sometimes we suffer in silence - holding on - trying to keep it all together.  But God has given us each other.  We need to let go of our self-sufficiency and trust what God provides through others to us.  This congregation - in so many ways - has been used by God to help meet physical - emotional - spiritual needs.  People here genuinely care about others.  You should never feel alone here.  I know its hard.  But let us die for you.  Let go of the brick.

Most important.  Jesus is the lamb who’s died for you.  That’s why He came - for you. 

Whatever you may be hanging on to - a little brick sticking out of a wall.  That brick may be - past sins - guilt - old wounds - anger - trying to reason out stuff on your own - muddling along trying to solve the issues of your.  Today - you can know His forgiveness - His healing - His power and sufficiency in your life.  Let go of what you’re hanging on to and let Him hang on to you.



1. Charles R. Swindoll, from the sermon “Since Christ Has Come… What’s Happening?”  12.27.92
2. Ortberg, John,
Love Beyond Reason, Zondervan, 1998

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.