Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church

December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve 2023


Christmas Eve 2023 Senior Pastor, Robert Dennison, preached this message on December 24, 2023.

We keep singing today about Emmanuel. That means God with us.

And last week we had a message called the night before Christmas and that’s actually still what it is today. I just want to review that a little bit so we can put the whole story together.

But I’d like to read from a Philippians chapter 2 verses 5 through 8. Well we read, adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus who existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant taking on the likeness of humanity.

May we pray. Heavenly Father as we briefly look at your word today let us be reminded of the miracle of the mystery of Christmas that you sent your son that he came in the flesh that we might have eternal salvation. In his great name we pray. Amen.

What we read here is that Jesus before he came to earth he existed in the form of God. That means that he literally was God. He was with God. He had been with God throughout eternity. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit in an eternal relationship.

And not only did he exist in the form of God but it tells us here that he was completely equal with God to the extent that he didn’t even have to reach out. That’s what that word exploited means to grab a hold of. He didn’t have to grab onto something because it all belonged to him. He existed in the form of God. He was completely equal with God.

And when he came to earth, the mystery is, and we call it a mystery because we can’t completely understand it, but God is able to do all things.

When Jesus came in the flesh, he was 100% God and he was 100% man. He wasn’t half and half. He wasn’t a new type of being, but he was completely God and completely man, and that’s part of the mystery that we can’t understand, but that is what the word tells us happened.

But when he came to live among us, he emptied himself. He took on the form of a servant. He didn’t come as a great king. He didn’t come to a royal household. We all know the story. He came humbly. He was born to a virgin and he was born to an earthly father, Joseph, who was a carpenter, into a poor family.

And in doing this, he gave up all of the worship of the angels in heaven. He gave up the glory of heaven. He gave the constant adulation in heaven. Instead, he came to live among us in a way that God had never lived before.

Because when Jesus came as a baby, all of a sudden, unlike he had been in heaven, now he was vulnerable. He needed parents to take care of him. He needed someone to change his diapers. He needed someone to provide him with food, and he grew up in a life where he experienced pain, tiredness, being hungry, having his best friends turn against him.

He emptied himself of what he had in heaven, of many things, so that he could come and live among us and understand us.

It goes on to tell us in Philippians 2 that when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming even to the extent of being obedient to the point of death. And not just a calm death, but the worst possible death.

He came knowing that eventually he was going to die on the cross, and being 100% man, he was going to suffer 100% as any other criminal would have suffered on the cross.

Why is it that he took on this body? Why did he come?

We have to go over to Hebrews chapter 9 where we find out Jesus had to have a real body so that Jesus could have real blood because God required that there be a sacrifice for the sins of all the world.

We read in Hebrews chapter 9, “according to the law, almost everything is purified with blood.” That means that they would use blood to purify objects, but even more importantly, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.

Because God is a just judge, when there is evil, it has to be punished. Just as we don’t want to judge in this world that we know today to let criminals go free, we understand there needs to be a punishment for wrongdoing, for sin.

So it was that God required, in order for there to be forgiveness, not just for a few sins but for everyone’s sins, Jesus needed a body so that he could shed his blood on the cross for us.

And then, praise the Lord, it tells us in verse 26, “but now he has appeared just one time at the end of the ages for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

In other words, we don’t have to die for our sins. Even if we could, we would not be a perfect sacrifice. But Jesus Christ came and he died on the cross so that our sins could be removed from us. That’s why he allowed himself to die on the cross. It wasn’t because he needed to pay for his sins, because he was completely sinless as God in the flesh. But he came and he died on the cross for us.

That’s why he came into the form of a child on Christmas, so that he could have a death on the cross. But the next question is why in the world would he want to do that for us? In John chapter 3, it tells us it’s because he has a great love for us. Many of us know this verse from our childhood. We read in John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way. He gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

God didn’t give all of his wealth. He didn’t give all of his riches. He gave his Son. And if we stop and think that if we were to give our children to let them die as a sacrifice, not for good people but for evil people all over the world, we would have to have an enormous amount of love. And that’s the extent to which God the Father loves us. That Jesus didn’t come to die for what we would call good people, but he came to die for the most vile people, the most vile sinners. And the reason for that is because God has always desired to have an eternal intimate relationship with each and every one of us.

What does that relationship look like? Scripture uses many different metaphors to describe it.

God has called us as being our father, so he wants to be the best parent for us that provides for us and protects us.

But we also learn that he wants us to be a brother with Jesus Christ, so we have family relationships in this intimate relationship with the Lord.

He wants to be our father. He wants to be our brother. And Jesus even told his disciples, “Now we are friends.”

Father, brother, friend.

It goes on to describe that the relationship that God wants to have with us is equal to the intimacy of marriage. That Jesus is to be the groom and we are to be the bride.

And lastly, he wants to be our Lord, meaning he wants to take care of us. He wants to give us instruction on how to live the right way.

The intimate relationship that God gave his son for us to die on the cross is so comprehensive it can’t be defined by just one type, but it has to be this family, this friendship, this marriage, and that’s the relationship that God desires with us.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God wasn’t surprised. He didn’t say, “Oh wow, I didn’t expect that coming, now I got to figure out what to do.”

Before he created the world, he knew Adam and Eve were going to make this wrong choice and turn against him.

And if it had been me and I had seen that coming, I would have said, “Well, I’m not going to create them because they’re going to turn against me.”

But God, in his great love, he created them knowing that they were going to turn against him because he wanted human beings to be able to make a choice to follow him. He didn’t want to force them to be robots or computers that would serve him, but he wanted them to have the choice: we can love you and have a relationship, or we can refuse it.

And not only did God know that they were going to sin, but he also knew before he created the world that Jesus, one day, would have to come in the flesh so that he could die on the cross for our sins, in order that our sins could be forgiven, so we could have this ongoing intimate relationship with God.

God wants to have a relationship with you, and that desire began way before the world was created. And he’s given his most precious son because he loves us, because he wants to have that.

You know, the angels declared to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David, a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” That was the first proclamation of the good news, and that’s where we get the word gospel – it means the good news.

And when we talk about the gospel, we just have to understand the whole picture. The first thing is that God created the world and it was good – everything that he made. But Adam and Eve, as I mentioned, made a choice, and that was a destructive choice because immediately they started blaming one another.

They were cast out of the garden. Sin came into the world, which brought with it death, weeds, and all the problems that we face today. So their one choice created this great destruction of the world.

But personally, at least for us, we are in a deadly condition. Meaning that unless God steps in and corrects the problem of sin in our life, we’re going to spend eternity away from him.

But the good news, the best part, is that God sent a gracious cure. And that word grace means it’s completely free. We can’t buy it. We can’t do enough to earn it. We can’t attend church enough. We can’t do enough kind things to other people. We have to completely depend upon this medicine, this cure that God offers us. And that cure comes in Jesus Christ. By him shedding his blood on the cross, he provides for us exactly what we need so that we can have an intimate relationship with the Lord.

And praise the Lord, once we come to accept this cure, now God begins in us to make us a new creation. And God promises not only are we renewed, but eventually all the world is going to be returned to the good situation that it was initially intended for.

But the last part of the gospel is that just like any gift at Christmas, you can go out and spend as much money, you can pick out the perfect gift, you can wrap it so it’s absolutely beautiful, and hand it to that person that you love. And if they don’t take it, it doesn’t benefit them in any way.

And so it is with the good news with the gospel that God is offering to everyone this gift of salvation, but we have to receive it. We can’t just set it to the side and look at it.

And Scripture tells us how we do that. We call out to the Lord and we say, “Father, I believe that Jesus Christ is your son, that he died on the cross, he was buried, and he rose from the dead. And I believe that not just in my head, but I’m placing my faith in you, meaning my entire life.”

And secondly, it says that then when we do that truly, we’re willing to tell others. We proclaim with our mouth that now Jesus is the Lord of our life. And that is the best gift of Christmas that we can all have, that Jesus came that we might have a restored intimate relationship with God the Father.

Rod Mattoon shares this story about a Persian monarch who reigned in opulence and splendor and living among the wealth and comfort of the royal palace. Yet he had a great concern for the common people, so he frequently would dress up as a poor man, leave the palace, and mingle with the lowliest of his subjects.

One day he visited a fireman. Now it’s not a fireman like we have today because this fireman didn’t put out fires, he actually made fires. It was his job to heat the water in the bathhouse.

So they didn’t have water heaters back then. They would have large pools that were raised up, and somebody had to crawl under the pool and start a fire. As that fire warmed the bottom of the pool, it would make all the water nice and warm for the wealthy people. Because this would have been a very poor fireman that was down in the pit under there, keeping it all warm.

But the Shah, dressed in tattered clothes, descended a long flight of steps down to the tiny cellar where the fireman sat on a pile of ashes, tending the fire. And the ruler, in his disguise, sat beside him and talked with the man. And at lunchtime, the fireman was so generous that he shared his humble meal of bread and water with his guest, who he did not realize was the Shah.

Eventually, the Shah left that day, but he enjoyed his talks with the fireman so much that he returned day after day. And his heart was filled with sympathy for the man who sat there all alone in the cellar, day after day. And during this time, the fireman, who’d been lonely all his life, opened his heart to his kind, compassionate friend who gave him wise counsel.

Well, finally, the Shah just couldn’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and he decided to reveal his true identity to his friend. He then asked the poor fireman, “I’m the Shah, whatever you want, I will give it to you.” But to his surprise, the fireman sat and looked at him with eyes of love and wonder.

And thinking that he had not understood him, the Shah offered again. He said, “Look, I’ll elevate you to the highest position of nobility. You can be the ruler over the city.” But the fireman said, “Yes, my lord, I understand you. But leaving your palace to sit here with me, to partake in my humble food and listen to the troubles of my heart, even you could give me no more precious gift than that. You may have given rich gifts to others, but to me you gave yourself. And I only ask that I can be in your presence and be your friend forever.”

The fireman understood that the greatest gift was not what the Shah could give him, but to give him himself and his friendship. And that’s what Jesus Christ did for us, and that’s what we should desire to have from him: friendship. We read in Ephesians chapter 3, “This is my prayer for you today, that you would understand the love of God. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the Saints what is the length, the width, the height, and the depth of God’s love. And to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”

So it is today when we celebrate Christmas, we need to remember what Jesus came to really give us: to give us an intimate relationship with the Lord. By placing our faith in what he did for us on the cross, calling out to God and saying, “I believe this today, and I want to have this intimate relationship with you.”

That’s our prayer as a church, that’s my prayer for each and every one of you. But most importantly, that is what God’s desire is for you – to have this intimate relationship. And I would just encourage you today, if you want to talk to somebody more about that, just briefly, anybody that has a name tag on would be glad to sit down and talk to you.

I think if you pick up a gift bag, there’s going to be some more information about how to come to know Jesus Christ through faith. Please pick up one of those today.

Would you bow with me in prayer? Heavenly Father, we thank you for your word that you’ve given us, for the precious gift of Jesus Christ. Father, we thank you that you desire to have an intimate relationship with us that far surpasses anything that we can know or understand on this earth.

Father, those of us that do know you, we look forward with great joy to the day when that will be fully realized. And we will stand in your presence, see your son face to face, and know you truly how you are and more fully understand your great love for us.

In Jesus’ name, we thank you for all of these things. Amen.