In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their ‘flying machine’ off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” And he totally missed the big news – man had made his first mechanical flight!
In slightly more than a week’s time, we celebrate Christmas. As we approach this festive season, we may get lost in the activities, festivities, shopping, partying, gifting… that we miss the big news of Christmas… Jesus came. Jesus came. That is the big news of Christmas! And this morning, I want to examine from the gospel of Matthew, 4 reasons why Jesus came and what it means for us today. [PRAY]
1. To save us – our salvation
Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
The talk of the town recently must be the riot that happened last week in Little India. I don’t know what your thoughts are concerning the incident, but what Singaporeans expressed towards the foreign workers involved ranged from outrage (“They’re not welcome, get them out of here”) to some sympathy (“Perhaps they have unexpressed frustrations that boiled over”).
What saddened me was while there was a riot happening on the streets, there was another ‘riot’ happening online. On social media. There were Singaporeans who took the opportunity to take potshots at our government (“See lar, bring in so many foreigners”), our police force (“Take so long to bring the situation under control”) etc. Sometimes the biggest evil is not external, but internal.
This is a close parallel with what we read in Matthew 1:21. The gospel of Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience. The Jews were anticipating their promised Messiah, their Saviour. That’s what the title Christ means, Messiah. His name is Jesus. His title is Christ. Jesus the Christ. Jesus the Messiah.
But the Jews did not recognise Jesus as their Messiah. Why? Because they were anticipating a Messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of Rome/the Roman empire and restore their nation. They were waiting for a Mighty Warrior who would crush their enemy and save them from tyranny. But Jesus came to deal with a greater enemy and a greater tyranny. Not Rome on the outside but sin on the inside. Their sin.
Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
If I were to ask you this question “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?”, what would you say? Perhaps for some of us, career. I’m being overlooked for the promotion that is due me. Students might say, studies (duh!) Or perhaps relationships, as in, I’m not in one! Forever alone. Parents might say, my biggest challenge? My children! I identify, I so identify. What’s your biggest challenge? How many of you would say, my sin. The lingering influence of the old nature. My rebellion and disobedience against God. My tendency to stray from Him, to go my own way, live my own life. My coldness of heart in my walk with the Lord. And Jesus came to save us from this. He has solved our greatest challenge.
Someone once wrote, “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.”
Christmas reminds us that when God gave Jesus to us, He gave us His most precious gift of all… a Saviour. If we have repented and trusted in Jesus, He has saved us from Satan, sin, eternal death, hell. He has given us eternal life, salvation and heaven. Friends, if the only thing that God gave us was Jesus, that would be enough, that would be more than enough. And the reality is everything else you do have today, apart from Jesus, is a gracious gift. This Christmas, even if you don’t have gifts under your Christmas tree, even if you don’t have a Christmas tree, we should treasure afresh the gift that is Jesus.
You see, even though the Christmas tree is not found in Scripture, but there was another ‘tree’ the Bible does talk about. Galatians 3:13 “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”. On the Cross of Calvary where Jesus was crucified, He shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. He bore the curse of sin and death upon Himself in order that we might be set free from it. That tree that Jesus was crucified on has become a Tree of life for us. So this Christmas, when you see a Christmas tree, pause and reflect and give thanks, because Jesus came to save us.
2. To be with us – our communion
Matthew 1:22, 23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
My wife and I recently celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. We dropped off our children at my parents place (thank you mom/dad) and went out for a simple dinner. One of things I enjoy doing with my wife is simply talking with her. Although we are quite different in many ways, we’ve got different tastes in many things, but at the core… the important things, we are on the same page. I view this as God’s wisdom, blessing and grace when He brought us together. When we talk about God and His purpose for us, we are one. I enjoy talking with my wife.
Compared to when we were dating, we obviously spend less time talking (that’s the challenge with having kids and work). But I believe the depth of our conversations has grown. And hopefully, by God’s grace, the depth of our marriage will continue to grow. After all, that’s what marriage is all about isn’t it?
Story was told of an elderly couple and they were in the car driving up towards a traffic light that had turned red. As they pulled to a stop, another car pulled up alongside them. In that car, there was a young couple, obviously very much in love. Lovey-dovey. Cuddling close to one another, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ear. The elderly wife turned to her husband and said, “How come we’re not close like them anymore?” The husband paused and then replied, “Well, I haven’t moved.” That’s sad.
And yet, this may very well be a picture of some of our relationships with God. When we first became Christians, many of us experienced deep joy. We loved opening His Word and spending time with God in prayer and worship. But as the years went by, we lost that sense of blessing and intimacy. Our walk has become stale, routine… boring. Let me risk being politically incorrect here. How many of us came to church on time today? How many were late? Sure, there are legitimate reasons why we get delayed. Unexpected traffic jam. Children not co-operative. Etc. But habitual lateness is a problem. It’s a symptom of something deeper. We have lost the sense of wonder of God. We no longer long to be in the presence of God. It was not meant to be like this.
Immanuel. God with us. You see, Jesus came not only to save us, but also to be with us. Jesus could not be with us if He did not first save us. Sin has to be dealt with, if not a holy God could not dwell with unholy people. But now that God has dealt with the sin problem, He longs to be near to us. He longs to be close with us. He longs for intimacy.
I still remember my wedding day. Standing before the altar exchanging the wedding vows with my wife. “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” “I give you this ring as a pledge of my constant faith and abiding love”. Then after the ceremony, our pastor said, “You may now unveil the bride. I now pronounce you, man and wife. What God has joined together, let no man separate.” And then we walked down the aisle together. What if after we exited the sanctuary, we turned to one another and said, “Well, that was fun. Now that it’s done, see you around some time. Bye!” And then we went our separate ways. Illogical right? What’s the point of marriage? Relationship. Intimacy. What’s the point of becoming Christians? Relationship. Intimacy. With God.
People of God, let me ask you a loving question. How’s your walk with God? Are you growing in intimacy with Jesus? And I’m not talking about whether you attend church on Sundays. Do you take time to read His Word daily? Do you spend time communing with God in prayer daily? Some of you may say, you don’t know how busy I am. And you’re right. I probably don’t. But I do know that busyness is not the issue. Again, busyness is only a symptom. The issue is the heart.
Recently, I went for surgery to correct recurrent shoulder dislocation. After the treatment, I was given about a one and a half months medical certificate. When I was given that amount of MC, I thought to myself, finally, I have time to slow down and spend some extended time with the Lord, perhaps catch up with some reading of some Christian books. I can spend time with my wife and children. And while I did do some of that, guess what else I did. They say that confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation. (Here goes my reputation!) I spent time online window shopping (and actual shopping!) I spent time watching shows.
What I learnt from the Lord during this period is that busyness is not the problem. The problem is the heart. Because we will always make time for the things that are important to us. Isn’t it true? Not matter how busy we are, we will always make time for what we consider precious to us. Is God precious to you? Immanuel. God with us. Because God longs to be close to you, would you commit this day to walk with Jesus afresh. And as you do so, may God grant you His grace for a heart change. That you would desire God. That you would experience His loving presence increasingly each day. What better way than to start this Christmas? Jesus came to save us. Jesus came to be with us.
3. To change us – our transformation
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When Jesus began His public ministry, He began with this call in Matthew 4:17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” From then on, Jesus began to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. He taught concerning kingdom ethics and values from sermons such as the famous Sermon on the Mount. He demonstrated the power of the kingdom in miracles of healing, deliverance, provision etc. But significantly, Jesus also called men unto Himself as His disciples and He sent them out to do the same, preaching and demonstrating the power of the kingdom.
The lives of these men who were called by Jesus were so radically transformed that they went on to radically transform the world. And Jesus wants to do the same with us as well. The verse we just read in Matthew 6:33 shows us the kind of transformation involved. It’s a transformation that results in a whole new orientation to life. God wants to change us.
Speaking of change, let’s do a fun Christian quiz here…
How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? 10. 1 to change the light bulb and the other 9 to pray against the spirit of darkness.
How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? Only God can change a light bulb.
How many Pentacostals does it take to change a light bulb? Just 1. Their hands are already in the air.
How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? 22. 3 on the Light Bulb Task Force who submit their recommendation to the 6 member Finance Committee. If they approve, they bring a motion before the 12 member Church Board. If the board approves, they bring it before the congregation. If they vote in favour, the responsibility to carry out the light bulb change falls on the janitor, by which time, he discovers another light bulb has burned out.
How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? CHANGE?!?!??!?
Well, this is a joke. We laugh about it even though we probably find some truth to it. But when it comes down to change, God is very serious about it. He desires nothing less than total transformation in our hearts and lives. What does mean and what does that look like? Well, there are really only 2 ways to live. A self-centered life or a God-centered life. When Jesus comes into our lives, what He wants to do is replace the self at the centre of our universe so that HE becomes the centre of our universe.
Matthew 6:33 is a familiar verse. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When we read this, we think first in terms of priority… God wants us to make Him our priority. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, if all Christians made God our priority, that would be awesome. But making God our priority may not be the best way to live it out. Let me illustrate this by asking a question: How many of you believe that we should tithe to the Lord, raise your hands.
Followup question: Net or gross income. Just kidding! Tithing is a good thing right? Maybe that’s how we demonstrate seeking first the kingdom of God, by setting aside a portion of our income to give unto the Lord and the work of His kingdom. Let me followup with another question. True or false question. We are stewards of what we own.
It’s a trick question. We are stewards. But stewards do not own anything. Everything belongs to God. Our time, our talent, our treasure belongs to God. It’s a gift from God and therefore we are to steward what He owns and entrusts us with. God does not so much want us to make Him the priority in our lives, but to make Him pre-eminent in our lives.
What’s the difference? If God was a priority in my life, well, first thing I do when I wake up… do my quiet time. Read my Bible, pray. Done. Given God priority. Then off I go to work or to school, cussing at the driver who dared cut into my lane, complaining about the traffic jams and the government that let this happen, slacking off in the office or day-dreaming in class, coming back home and getting upset at my wife or parents or kids or the dog. And before I retire to bed, I secretly watch some pornography. But I did give God “priority”.
What if God was pre-eminent in my life? I sought the Lord when I woke, read His Word, basked in His presence. Asked Him for wisdom and strength for the day. When the driver cut me off, I was angry but decided to release forgiveness. Stuck in traffic, I prayed for our government to be wise and just in ruling our country. When I reached the office or school, I honoured God by being a good testimony in my hard working attitude. As the day ended and I returned home weary and exhausted, I relied on God’s power to love my wife and children or honour my parents, and to treat my dog nicely. Before I retired to bed, I was so tempted to watch pornography, but the Holy Spirit was prompting me, and I decided to act in obedience to flee temptation and I went to sleep. That is giving God pre-eminence in our lives.
So how do we give God the pre-eminence in our lives? Two simple ways, nothing earth-shattering. First. Listen to the words of Jesus Matthew 16:24-27 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” True life is found in surrendering our lives to Jesus and following Him. True wealth is found in exchanging our earthly treasures for heavenly ones.
Friends, today, surrender your life… your singleness or your marriage, your studies or your career, your family, your children, your hobbies, your bank account… to the Lord. You say to God my whole life is Yours. Use me for Your kingdom. Transform me for Your glory.
Second. Related to our second point today, is simply to spend time in God’s presence. Transformation is the sovereign and gracious work of God. We cannot manufacture it. It’s not through self-effort. But we must give Him time and space to speak to us, convict us… and as He does, we simply obey, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. The old hymn goes… Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus. But to trust and obey. Jesus came to save us. Jesus came to be with us. Jesus came to change us. And the reason why He needs to change us is because He wants to use us.
4. To send us – our mission
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 is a familiar passage of Scripture. Many Christians know this passage, where Jesus commissions His disciples, as the Great Commission. As I was preparing today’s sermon, it struck me for the very first time, that the gospel of Matthew actually begins and ends with a similar theme. Matthew 1:23 Immanuel (which means, God with us). & Matthew 28:20 I am with you always, to the end of the age. What’s the theme? God with us! The presence of God. The presence of God bookends the gospel of Matthew. This is absolutely significant. It means, people of God, that God’s presence was not meant for us, the Church, to enjoy for ourselves. God’s presence is also the impetus for mission. God’s presence encourages us and sustains us on mission (He is with us always). God’s presence means His mission will ultimately succeed (to the end of the age).
Too many of us however take the Great Commission as the Lame Suggestion. I want you to imagine if your boss at work, perhaps the CEO, or the principal, or for the young people, your lecturer/teacher… they gave you a certain task to accomplish. How many of you would say, “Let me think about it. See if I have time. Maybe when I’m free. Dowan lar, too difficult.” You wouldn’t! You could get sacked. You could get demoted. You could fail your subject. Now consider who it is who’s giving the Great Commission.
Jesus! The King of kings and the Lord of lords. He’s the One who says, “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. GO therefore and make disciples of all nations…” The Supreme Ruler of the Universe, our King and our Master, is the One who’s making this call. And we respond, “Let me think about it. See if I have time. Maybe when I’m free. Dowan lar, too difficult.” People of God, before us is the awesome privilege of being on mission with God. This task is not for pastors and leaders alone. It’s for every disciple of Jesus Christ.
The chief task of the church of Jesus Christ is to make disciples of all nations. If you boil down the mission of the church to its essence, it’s making disciples. We see this clearly in these few verses of the Great Commission. There are 4 verbs found in these few verses. Verbs are action words. 4 verbs. Go. Make. Baptise. Teach. In any passage, there is only 1 main verb. In this passage, that main verb is ‘make’. Make disciples. And the rest of the verbs colour what it means to make disciples. The going (which implies evangelism and winning the lost), the baptising, the teaching… all this is part of making disciples. Church, are we making disciples? Perhaps I should ask a better question, are you personally, individually, making disciples?
Maybe that sounds a bit daunting. Maybe you feel inadequate, not experienced enough, not knowledgable enough, not gifted enough. Well, here’s my encouragement. Many of you know that the Church is exploding in China. Thousands upon thousands of Chinese are coming to know the Lord. But there’s a great challenge. Followup. There are just not enough pastors and leaders to go around. So what happens is the more mature believers have to take on the responsibility of discipling the new Christians. And by more mature believers, I mean those who are 3-month old Christians discipling brand new Christians. How many of you have been Christians for more than 3-months, raise your hands. You can disciple someone. Turn to your neighbour and say, “You can disciple someone.”
What these Chinese Christians do is very simple. What they have learnt from the Lord, they share with the new believers. What they receive, they pass on. That’s discipleship! It’s not rocket science. It’s not for the spiritually elite. It’s for every believer. Do you wish to see CHS grow, not stagnate? Then you must respond to the Lord individually, personally, and make the Great Commission (making disciples) your own calling.
Parents, disciple your children. God has given you a tremendous responsibility to bring them up in the ways of the Lord. It’s not on the Sunday school teachers, God bless them! You have chief responsibility. And why not consider serving as a Sunday school teacher if you’re gifted in teaching children? Young people, tomorrow is the start of TNT camp. While we may have a good number of teenagers joining us in the camp, what happens after that? Who’s going to followup with them? To love them, share the gospel with them, win them, disciple them? God’s challenging you to rise up. Rise up young people and disciple your own generation. Young adults & adults. How about considering discipling these teenagers in Point Community? They need people who have gone on ahead in the journey of faith to encourage them, inspire them, teach them. Pastor Ben and I cannot disciple them all. You can come in to help. But for all of us, the call of discipleship and disciple making is clear. The Great Commission, which is the call to disciple-making, requires intentional living and sacrificial giving. Wherever God has placed us, in our homes, work places and schools, we are to make disciples. And God’s gracious promise is that when we do take Him at His Word, He will be with us.
When we feel inadequate in disciple-making, God says He will be with us.
When we face obstacles in disciple-making, God says He will be with us.
For those who have been involved in disciple-making for a long time and there doesn’t seem to be many fruit, God says He will be with us.
This mission will not fail, He is with us.
Jesus came to save us. Jesus came to be with us. Jesus came to change us. Jesus came to send us.
As we draw to a close this morning, the word of the Lord demands that we respond. There are at least two simple ways which I would like to lead us to respond.
God’s presence is for me – a call to a devotion to God
God’s presence is for mission – a call to disciple-making