NO CHRISTMAS STORY

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By Ray Foster

 

 Q. How many gospels are there in this book, the Bible?

A. The usual answer is that there are four gospel books of the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Q. What topic or subject is commonly in the thoughts of many this time of year (December)?

A. The story of the birth of Jesus, sometimes called the Christmas story. If you are a deep student of theology, you may call it the "incarnation".

Q. How many of the gospels tell this story of the birth of Jesus?

A. Two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke tell the Christmas story of the human birth of Jesus.

I discovered this with interest. The obvious question that came to my mind was Why is the story of the human birth of Jesus not told in all four gospels? The humanity of Jesus means everything to us. With the greatest event that has occurred in all the history of the world, why would only two of the four gospel writers narrate this event? Because this time of year we are thinking about these things, I would like to spend this Sabbath and the next considering these things with you. This Sabbath considering why Mark and John's narratives do not tell the story of the human birth of Jesus, and next week re-read and relive that most wonderful story with you.

Let's first go to the book of Mark, because that book is before the book of John in the Biblical order.

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

Mark 1:2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

Mark 1:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark 1:5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

Mark 1:6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

Mark 1:7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

Mark 1:8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

Let us look at this text verse by verse and ask the Holy Spirit to bless us with the blessing that He wants us to get from this passage.

PRAYER

Mark 1:1,2 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

The focus is on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This tells us that the beginning of the gospel is in the work of the forerunner of Jesus Christ. It tells us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This baby that was born in Bethlehem was God's only begotten Son. It tells us that John the Baptist's work was the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus. It tells us that the work of this forerunner of this gospel was prophecied before it happened. That tells us that there was planning and preparation before the event. This was not a matter of nine months development. God had thought of this, planned for this, prophecied about this for a very long time before the event. Jesus did not become the Son of God with His birth as a human. He was the eternal only begotten Son of God from the beginning. These facts and considerations all go to show the importance of the event of the birth of Jesus as a man.

Mark 1:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

The message of the messenger, which was the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, was a message of preparation: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord". This tells us that we are not able to just directly receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. There must be a work of preparation before we are able to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the nature of this preparation? The message continues: "make his paths straight." By nature our paths are not straight. Before sin entered Adam and Eve ran straight to meet Jesus every evening and looked forward to that time with their Maker. After sin, they made a crooked path and ran this way and that way to hide among the trees when they heard the sound of the voice of Jesus in the cool of the day. The necessary preparation to meet Jesus is to get rid of our sins. That is what John the Baptist preached: "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." So here we see an incredible thing. Even the approach of Jesus as a human Baby, as a Carpenter, as a Teacher sent from God to reveal the love and compassion of the Father, even here, preparation is necessary in order to see and appreciate and receive Him. Perhaps one of the most sad and most touching verses in all Scripture is: "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." Why did they not receive Him? It was because they did not see or feel their need of the necessary preparation. They did not accept or believe they needed preparation. Without making the preparation, they could not receive Jesus as the Sent of God. They could not receive Him as the Son of God. They rejected Him with the question: "Is not this the carpenter's son?"

Notice something very interesting here about the messenger of the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mark 1:5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

John's ministry was apparently most successful. John had the numbers. John baptized more than his quota. The record of his ministry says that they all came and they were all baptized. What more could be wanted or asked?

The next statement in the gospel according to Matthew tells us what more was wanted and asked: Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

Matthew 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

Matthew 3:10 And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

You remember when Jesus asked the Question: What about the ministry of John, “was it from God or was it from man? You remember the answer He received: "We cannot tell!"

Mark 11:33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell.

Beloved, can you tell the message of preparation, the message that calls for victory over every sin and cleansing from every sin in the life - that is being sounded in the world today to prepare for the second coming of Jesus, is it from God or is it from man? Can you tell?

How will it be seen and known by all, including yourself, that you can tell? What did John the Baptist say to the scribes and pharisees? "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." If we say and do not; if we hear and approve of the right but don't do it, don't live it, then we are like the foolish man that built his house on the sand. The coming storm is going to sweep us away because we have not built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. Beloved, now is the time to build on the Rock Jesus Christ by receiving and doing His sayings day by day. In order to experience knowing and doing God's will, there is a necessary work of preparation. That preparation is doing what we do know to be the Lord's will in our lives today. That is the preparation for learning and doing more of God's will, to study Scripture to know His will in order to do it.

Mark 1:6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

What John wore and what John ate was part of the message of preparation for the birth of the Messiah. The same is true today. There is a dress reform message that must be received in preparation for the coming of the Lord. The character of Christ is represented in our dress. There is a health reform message that must be received in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Health reform is designed to give clarity of thought and discernment. Are we ready to receive these messages? John the Baptist was clothed with durable, non-ornamental dress and he ate a pure vegan diet of carob pods and honey. He lived and ministered in the country. In preparation for the coming of the Lord in our day, are we doing what we know in relation to dress and diet and country living? But dress and diet and lifestyle was not the focus of John's message:

Mark 1:7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

Mark 1:8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

After the preparation of doing what we know, the point is not so we can learn and do more, so we can learn more and do more, the point is that the preparation is to with joy and gladness meet and know Jesus! Receiving and becoming like Jesus in character is the point and purpose of the preparation. The object is to know Jesus, to walk and talk with Him and go on His errands and do the will of Jesus! Jesus is the object of the preparation. It is the Holy Spirit that fills the role of Jesus in our lives today. It is not eating pie in the sky by and by that is the point of the daily preparation for His second coming. It is to know and fellowship with Jesus day by day today in the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus once told His disciples, if ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father. It could be said today, if ye have seen the Holy Spirit working in your life, you have seen Jesus working in your life. If the Holy Spirit leads you into all truth and obedience to the truth, then it is Jesus that is leading you day by day.

The purpose and substance of the preparation for Jesus is to have fellowship with Jesus today in the person of the Holy Spirit. The preparation for the second coming is learning to recognize the voice of Jesus in the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you day by day. The purpose of learning to know the voice of God is in order to do His will. Hearing the voice of God speaking in your soul; doing the will of God in obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit day by day, going on God’s errands day by day, this is living the Divine life. This is preparing straight paths before His face. This is preparing for the coming of the Day of the Lord. May the Lord grant us this experience day by day. Now is the time to be familiar with the voice and person of Jesus through His Representative, the Holy Spirit. This is putting oil in your lamp. To know God by personal experience day by day is the only way to avoid the most terrible experience of being told by Jesus: "I never knew you." We are told that the greatest deception of the human mind in the time of Christ was that mental assent to truth constituted holiness. This is still the greatest deception of the human mind in Christianity today. Salvation is presented as being "by faith alone". What is meant by that is that it makes no difference what you do in life as long as you believe that Jesus is your Saviour. That is a lie. What you do in your life shows to the whole world and to yourself if you are spiritually alive or spiritually dead. What we do shows to the universe whose side you are on in the great controversy. Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. What you sow in deeds, is what you are going to reap in deeds. It is only as you live like Christ that you are His indeed. If you say and believe that you are Christ’s and live like the world, beloved, you are deceived and are none of Christ's. The thing that is delaying the Lord's second coming is Christians that say one thing and act another thing. When we get our saying and believing and doing together, then Jesus can come and receive us because we are really His. This is our high calling. This is our glorious destiny.

Let us look now at the book of John. Let's read the first 18 verses and see how God through the gospel of John is telling us the same things as we saw in the gospel of Jesus Christ recorded in the book of Mark.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name [was] John.

John 1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all [men] through him might believe.

John 1:8 He was not that Light, but [was sent] to bear witness of that Light.

John 1:9 [That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:

John 1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

John 1:16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].

Let us again look at these verses verse by verse starting with verses 1 & 2:

John 1:1,2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

Mark begins with the forerunner of the gospel of Jesus Christ who was to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, the Messiah. John begins with presenting Jesus as the Word of God. God has spoken to mankind from the creation of the world. First God spoke face to face with the father and mother of our race in the Person of Jesus. After sin God spoke in an audible voice with no visual appearance; certainly not of His body or image. Today we have the written word with no visual appearance of God. John begins the gospel account by saying that the spoken word was with God from the beginning and was God. So we see a correlation here between the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ as presented by Mark and John. Mark presents John the Baptist who prepared the way for the acceptance of Jesus by calling for repentance and confession of sin. John presents the word of God both spoken from the beginning and then later written in the law and the prophets. The word was given to prepare the way of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah. God's word is not limited to the spoken or written word. All nature and the providences of life reveal God to us. However of all creation and the providences of life, the written word is the clearest revelation of God.

This reminds us of what Jesus once said: "They have the law and the prophets. If they do not listen to them, they will not believe if one rose from the dead." This brings us to the concept of knowing Jesus personally. The Bible is the voice of Jesus speaking to you through the medium of the Holy Spirit. If you are not reading and studying your Bible day by day; if you do not spend time with God in Bible study and prayer day by day, you are not spending the time with Jesus, getting to know Him and becoming like Him by beholding Him in Scripture. And this is one of the many paradoxes of Christianity. It is not possible to earn any merit through Bible study. And it is not possible, if you have access to Scripture, to become like Jesus, to know Him, and to grow in the love and likeness of Jesus without daily, prayerful Bible study. So it is important to know and to realize that Jesus wants to talk to you daily through the words of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. It is through this daily communion and fellowship with Jesus in Bible study and prayer that transforms us into His image. This is what it means to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus. It is contact with Him through the Word and obeying what God tells us in His word.

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

Here the focus changes from the Word of God to Jesus Himself. Jesus was not only the Word of God but He was also the creator of everything. Nothing exists that was not made by Jesus. Being the Creator, Jesus was the author of life. More than just being the author of physical life only, Jesus is the author intellectual life, of knowledge, of emotional life – of joy and happiness. In other words Jesus is the author of all life in all dimensions. This is what it means that that life was the light of men. Only in Jesus is man's quest for intellectual, emotional and spiritual meaning found. "There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked."

John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Jesus lived the life that He is the author of. But that life demonstrated and modeled in the sight of mankind was not appreciated or recognized or valued for what it was. The darkness of the natural human heart cannot comprehend the light that is in Jesus. That is why we need to be changed. That is why there needs to be a work of preparation. And that is what the next verse talks about.

John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name [was] John.

John 1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all [men] through him might believe.

And so both Mark and John focus on Jesus Himself and also on the work of preparation necessary in order to receive Jesus. Clear distinction is made between the witness to God and God. The purpose for which God gives us His Spirit is not to make us gods, but to make us witnesses to what we know of Him, the only true God. The greatest perversion of truth is to exalt the creature to the level of God. This can and never will be.

John 1:8 He was not that Light, but [was sent] to bear witness of that Light.

God has created mankind with the capacity of infinite development. However no matter how far mankind progresses or to whatever heights a man or a woman can reach by the grace of God, there is still an infinite gap between the creature and the Creator. This truth lays the glory of man in the dust. This truth is not welcome to the natural heart.

John 1:9 [That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

This week Paul Harvey told of a rescue in the snow of a man that was found by a heat sensing device carried in a search and rescue helicopter or an aircraft. The man was trying to light a fire with his cigarette lighter but there was no fuel in the cigarette lighter and so he could never light the fire. But just the sparks from his cigarette lighter gave enough heat for the heat sensors to find him and he was rescued. That illustrates the natural man's heart. We have no fuel in our hearts, but God has given each of us a flint stone and if we will try and respond to the desire for something better that He has placed in each heart, mankind can be found of God and rescued. More than rescue only, God will provide the fuel and we can burn for Him. But without responding, without accepting the fact that we have nothing and are nothing in and of ourselves apart from God, we remain in darkness and do not accept Jesus as our Saviour, because we see in Him nothing that draws us and resonates with our natural, selfish heart.

John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:

John 1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

It is necessary to believe that He is everything and that we are nothing. It is necessary to accept as a divine fact His greatness and my own helplessness. It is necessary to be grateful for being created for God's glory. To those who believe and receive Jesus as absolute Lord and Creator, He gives power to be changed into the character of God. That is what it means to believe on His name. We must believe that humility, gentleness, preferring others above ourselves is really the best way to go. We must believe that this is the only way to be happy. We must believe that is the only way to glorify God. The phenomenon of believing and thinking that way is a miracle of divine grace. We are not born of flesh and blood with that disposition or mindset. This is a divine rebirth. This is what it means to be born again. Anyone who claims to be "born again" who is not partaking of the Divine nature is not genuine.

John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

This one sentence contains the whole Christmas story in the gospel of John. No details. Just that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. But the character of God, the glory of God, could not be hid in Jesus. Jesus was full of grace and truth.

John 1:15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

John 1:16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].

Each of those sentences could be amplified into a whole sermon each. Flesh and blood have never seen God the Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the only begotten of the Father is the only One who has seen the Father God. And Jesus was before John. Not just three months, but an eternity before John was born. And God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, and He gave His only begotten Son to the human race forever, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

And so all four gospels tell the Christmas story. Mark and John tell a very different story from Matthew and Luke. But it is the same old, old story told in a very different way. However the old, old story is told, it will not change us into His likeness unless we submit ourselves to Him as our Lord and Master in love and obedience. And so the emphasis of the story in Mark and John is on the work of preparation that is needed to receive Jesus into our hearts and minds as Lord and Saviour. Let us all kneel where we are and as we are able and ask the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and show us our sins and our Saviour.