This sermon was preached on Friday, December 24, 2010. Once again, this is not specifically based on Ephesians but it fits with other sermons, so here you go.
[The service began with a traditional hymn sing, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by John Wade, ca. 1743 and “The First Noel”, traditional English carol, ca. 1871. After Pastor offered a traditional welcome for first time guests and visitors, we had an opportunity to Skype with Rob and Ireida Grabill, Pastor’s son and daughter-in-love who are serving as missionaries in India. It was a touching moment, as we were able to share greetings around the world. The service continued with a re-enactment of the Christmas Story by members of the church. Following that a video was shown of members of our congregation from countries around the world telling of their Christmas celebrations. Then Pastor Tom Reigel sang “Some Children See Him” by Wihla Hutson and Alfred S. Burt, 1951. Following is Pastor’s final Christmas Eve message. ]
Thank you so much, Pastor Tom. As I share with you briefly tonight from the Christmas story, I want to read just two verses from that story. It’s the verses that deal with the angels singing to the shepherds [Luke 2:13-14]: Suddenly a great company of the Heavenly Host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”
Imagine what it was like that evening. The shepherds are out, just minding their own business, just doing their daily routine, not thinking, not expecting anything like this to happen. And all of a sudden, there is this incredible appearance of angels who appear to them and announce that Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah, the King, has come, singing in the air. Well, 2000 years later it’s a little difficult for us–not many of us are shepherds out in the fields–to relate to it. But I came across something here recently that happened a few weeks ago in a food court in a mall in Canada. I hope you enjoy it. [A video plays of a flash mob singing “Hallelujah Chorus” from George F. Handel’s Messiah, composed 1741. It was organized by Alphabet Photography and happened in Welland, Ontario on November 13, 2010. You can see it here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE ] Yes, amen! [Congregation applauds] Let’s give Him praise! He is worthy of all praise, amen? [Many in the congregation respond with “Amen!”]
Well, that passage of the great Messiah is taken from the book of Revelation. We talked about this last Sunday. The day will come yet when Jesus rules and reigns over all the Earth. His government will increase. But when the shepherds had this announcement, it wasn’t that passage from Revelation. It was, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” Actually, that’s a troubling phrase. When translators translate it, they quibble a little bit on the translation. It was at a time in world history in which Rome was attempting to bring world peace by conquering more and more of the world, and dominating it. It was called Pax Romana. They wanted to bring peace to the world by domination over the world so that wars would cease, Pax Romana.
But what is Pax Christos, the peace of Christ, peace to men on whom His favor rests? Well, we saw already in the narration that God favored Mary, but obviously this phrase includes more than Mary when it says, “men on whom His favor rests”. So who are we talking about? Are we talking about an ethnic group? Is it just the Jewish people on whom His favor rests? Well, obviously they were God’s chosen people. And yet, the New Testament is very clear that it’s more than the Jewish people.
Is it good people? Well, if you say to people, “Who goes to Heaven?” a lot of Americans, most Americans probably, will say, “Good people.” And where do we draw the line? We always draw the line that includes us. [He chuckles and the congregation laughs.] Worse than us, we’re not so sure. Better than us, yeah. But we’re, almost always, just over that line. We curve it to include us. So if you look at everybody, probably 90% of Americans think they’re the good people. But the Bible says [Romans 3:10, KJV]: There is none righteous, no, not one. We are all sinners. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].
Is it people with the right circumstances? “Oh, I can have peace if everything around me, if the people around me were different.” We addressed that on Sunday again with Mary. Mary had peace that night, even though all of her circumstances were wrong. Her reputation had been shredded. Please understand, her reputation was zero. They had gone from Nazareth to Bethlehem, at least three to four days, if not six to seven days journey with very little assistance, and when they get there, there is no room in the inn. There was nothing going right for her, and yet, she had peace.
How do you have peace this Christmas, and even furthermore, the question is—the generic here is men, it’s men and women—“Are you one of those people on whom God’s favor rests?” That is the question tonight. Are you one of those people on whom God’s favor rests? You say, “It’s all people.” Yeah, God wants His favor to rest on all people, but obviously the phrase does not necessarily include everybody, because not everybody is walking in His favor. We know of serials murderers and great war criminals of history, and so forth. So who are we talking about?
Well, Jesus came as a child but grew to be a King. In the Bible, it’s very clear, John 14:6, Jesus says: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me. He makes a claim unlike any other religious leader, saying, “I am the way to God, I personally, not what I teach. I personally am the way to God.” And they He dies a death to shed His blood for our sins, and He rises again and ascends into Heaven to prepare a place for us. John 3:16 sums up the Gospel, says [KJV]: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, [he repeats] whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life. John 1:12 tells us this [again, KJV]: To as many as received Him, and believed and called on His name, to them gave He power to be called the sons of God. Who are the ones on whom His favor rests? As many as receive Him.
Now some of you are going to receive some gifts tomorrow that you’re just going to be thrilled about. And some of you are going to receive some gifts that you are going to act like you are thrilled about them [congregation laughs]. “Oh”–you know the Christmas face–“wow! Words fail me. I don’t know what to say. You shouldn’t have. I mean, really, you shouldn’t have. [Congregation continues to laugh.] I normally wear an extra-large and this is a medium. That’s a goal to shoot for this year. If I put in pain and sweat for all year, maybe by next year, I can put this on.” You know what I mean. You know, for a lot of people, the gift of Jesus is that way. “Thanks, God, but no thanks. Can I return this for a Wii? Can I return this for a new video game? Not exactly what I was hoping for.” But we all need a Savior. None of us gets out of this life alive.
And He gave Himself for us, and He asks us to give ourselves in return. I’m always happy when I hear someone, on their deathbed, committed their life to Christ, finally say, “Jesus, I surrender to You.” And they give God the last week of their life. It’s wonderful that they say, “Yes”, and God is always so forgiving, always so loving. He said, “Yes” first, so He receives them, but what a shame to live their life for themselves for all their life, and give God a week that they can’t do anything for God. Not much in return, is that? And still, God is gracious. It is far better that someone gives God their life as early as possible—it’s never too late–and surrenders and says, “Lord, You gave all for me. I give my life to You.”
So let me answer the question, “Are you a person on whom God’s favor rests?” Well, there’s nobody here who hasn’t been blessed in a lot of ways, so we all have received His common blessing. But in addition to that, I submit to you that you are not here tonight by accident, amen? You are not here by accident. God spoke to you. God made you aware of tonight, and you responded and you are here, not by accident, but by purpose, God’s purpose. And now you hear a Gospel message, that Jesus came as a mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus Who died for our sins to provide everlasting life. If the Holy Spirit is touching your heart tonight, then His favor is resting on you. Don’t turn away from His favor. His favor is resting on you right now. Why would you say, “No.” Why would you say, “I’ll just regift this for somebody else. It’s not for me.” Why would you turn away from His peace? His peace is for you.
Peace on Earth. Not everybody receives that peace, and there’s people all over the world right now, they may be fighting in the Congo, they may be in North Korea, they may be struggling in the jungles of South Africa or South America. Let’s put them aside right now. How about you? His peace is not an external peace, it’s an internal peace, peace in your heart that no matter what happens, you have peace like Mary had that night.
Would the children come who are going to help me? They are going to sing “Silent Night” tonight, [Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, 1818] and then we have an invitation for you. Children, would you come please, who are going to sing? [Children sing the first verse of “Silent Night” and then the congregation joins in.] Amen, thank you, children. You can be seated.
I’m going to ask everybody. Would you bow your heads for just a moment tonight? This is the very most important part of the service, and that’s saying “Yes” to Jesus. He’s reaching out to you. He doesn’t have gold, frankincense and myrrh in His hands. His hands are the gift, ready to receive you if you’ll receive Him. It’s a relationship. It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. It’s knowing Him, believing and trusting in Him, and allowing Him to sit on the throne of your heart. Will you allow this baby who was born in a cradle 2000 years ago to be King of your heart? That’s the question. Will you receive Him? The Holy Spirit is speaking to you right now, and all you have to do is say “Yes.” While heads are bowed, Christians are praying, how many would raise a hand and say, “Yes, I’m saying yes to Jesus tonight. I’m saying yes to Him. I receive Him. [A hand goes up here and there at first, and he responds.] Yes, thank you, sir for that hand. Yes, thank you, ma’am. You can put it down. Others that would join these? Yes, thank you. How many would say yes to Jesus? Yes, thank you, thank you, young man. Others who would—yes, thank you, thank you. [He interrupts himself as more hands go up.] Thank you, all across this auditorium. Others who would say yes to Jesus, yes to Jesus? Otherwise, what’s Christmas about? What’s this all about if it’s not about this [he points to the crèche set up at the left side of the stage], what is it about? It’s about Him, it’s about Him. It’s not about State College Assembly, it’s not about the kids, it’s not about the presents. It’s about Jesus. We’ll give just a moment longer. How many others would say yes to Him tonight, yes to Him. It’s all about Jesus. [He pauses.] Thank you, Lord.
I know that the chairs are tight tonight. If you’ll look at me, even if you didn’t raise your hand, we have a booklet for you tonight. You want to say yes to Him, you are the person that God’s favor is resting on tonight, and you’re responding to Him. We have a booklet–ushers, would you come for each section?—a book called “Living in Christ”, and we want to give that to you tonight as a gift to begin a new walk with Christ, to begin 2011 following Him, following Him. You say, “Following Him like someone else?” No, following Him like He calls you to. If you’ll just, as the ushers come back the aisle, if you raised your hand or even if you didn’t and you would like one of these, just slip up a hand that they can see you and they’ll be happy to pass that to you. Let’s welcome these tonight who are coming to Jesus. [Congregation breaks into applause and he says] We’re going to pray. Yes. I want to pray with you in just a minute. Let me share with you, I know that the rows are tight and it’s tough to move around so because of logistics, we’re going to ask you, before you leave, at the very end, it says “Follow Up Card”. What that means is I want to write you a letter and just be able to encourage you in the decision you are making tonight to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you will take that to one of the information desks and of course, if you are a first-time visitor, we’ll be happy to give you another gift as well as we said earlier. That way I can be in contact with you and we can follow up on this decision you have made. Would you bow your heads with me? Let’s pray together. Let’s say it all together.
[Prayer] Dear Jesus, thank You for being willing to come to this earth in a very humble beginning in a manger, and to grow and become the Lord and Master of our heart and of the world. I surrender my life to you tonight. I confess that I have sinned. I ask You to cleanse me of my sin. I invite You to sit on the throne of my heart. I give You my life tonight, in Jesus’ name. Amen, amen.
This will be the greatest Christmas you ever had! Let’s praise God. Amen, amen! [Congregation applauds again.] If you’ll simply fill that out, we’re going to sing. We’re going a little bit over what we had planned. We’re going to sing a carol or two before we go. Fill that out, take it to the information desk and I’ll send you a letter. God bless you. Welcome to the family of God. It’s bigger than State College Assembly, amen? [Many in the congregation respond with, “Amen!”] Amen. [To our song leader] Andre, thank you for helping us tonight. Let’s stand and sing together. [The service continues with singing “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts and George Fredric Handel, arr. by Lowell Mason, 1848; “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, a traditional carol from England.]
[Prayer] Father, I pray Your blessing on each one. Give everyone a wonderful Christmas this year. We thank You for Your love. Thank You for coming, dear Jesus. You are the reason for the season. Bless each one, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God bless you! Merry Christmas! Amen!