Community Group Study Notes
- Have someone in your group provide a brief, 2-minute summary of Sunday’s teaching.
- Jesus came to make God known (Read John 1:18). What do we know about God that we wouldn’t know fully if Jesus had not come?
- One of the ways that Jesus verified that He was God was through the miracles He did while on earth. Identify some of the miracles that He did that you are familiar with and discuss what they teach you about Him.
- Jesus is the Perfect God-Man. He came as a Man to identify with us and so we could identify with Him. He came as God to save us. What are some appropriate responses that we can offer to Jesus because He is God?
- What is one action step you can take in response to what you heard in Sunday’s message?
So, how many of you, by a show of hands, have already sent out your Christmas cards? We didn't get yours yet, so I was just wondering. Our address is ... No, we won't do that. But, I'm sure that if you don't this year get a Christmas card like this one, you have before in your life. On the cover it says something like this.
"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village where He worked for 30 years in a carpenter shop, and then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never stepped foot into a big city. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of those things that are usually accompanied greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property that He ever had on this earth, his coat. When He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave at the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today, He is the centerpiece of the human race, and the leader of the column of progress. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that have ever reigned, put together, have not affected life on this earth, as that one solitary life." James Allen Francis wrote that prose at the end of the 19th Century.
Speaking of this one solitary life, this one man who has influenced life like no other ... and maybe the reason He has, is because He was no ordinary man. His enemies would love for you to think that He was. You can even hear it in the derogatory way that they refer to him as "this man". For example, when He sat down with people that the religious elite would never sit down with and break bread, they said this of Him in Luke 15, "For the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" And in John, when Jesus healed the man born blind, the religious elite harassed this healed man, and begged him, harassed him, demanded of him, that he do this in John 9, "'Give glory to God by telling the truth,' they said, 'We know this man is a sinner.'" And then when Jesus stood before Pilate, and Pilate had the choice of releasing Jesus or Barabbas, they said this in Luke, "'Away with this man. Release Barabbas to us.'"
But we know that He was no ordinary man because of the way He entered the world. He was born unlike any other before, then, or since. Everyone within the sound of my voice has had a similar bringing into the world like mine. My story started on August 16th, 1958. I know about the birds and the bees, so you really have to back up nine months when my story began, just like yours. A dad, a mom, a conception, a womb, a birth, and here I am. But, when we approach Bethlehem, we're moving into unchartered territory, and territory that has not ever been traveled since. Because, you see with Jesus, we're not looking at Christmas at a becoming, we're looking at a man who was not created. He came.
But, there's a ground rule. It's a ground rule that all of us need to consider when we're looking into what took place at Bethlehem, because we recognize that we are stepping on very, very sacred ground. Paul wrote these words in 1 Timothy. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." When Paul calls the birth of Jesus, "God manifested in the flesh," he calls it a mystery, and that means that we look into what took place at Bethlehem not to figure it out, but to worship. That entrance, called the Virgin Birth, or better yet, the Virgin Conception ... because His birth really at Bethlehem was like any other. His origin was not.
There are four gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You know that. Mark starts his gospel with the baptism of Jesus. But, both Matthew and Luke present His story in a very similar way. And John also talks about the entry of Jesus into this world in a very different perspective. First of all, Matthew writes these words, "This is how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, came about. His mother, Mary, was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through Isaiah the prophet, 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means God with us.'"
And then Luke writes these very similar words, "The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.' 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.'"
And John also talks about the entry of Jesus into the world, as I said, from a totally different perspective, perhaps the perspective of heaven. He writes these words in John 1. "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Both Matthew and Luke, and John tell us that it's because of the activity of the Spirit, that Jesus was not created, Jesus came. But, we're immediately faced with the gigantic implications of these words and this child that we look into this morning. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus would be Mary's child, and that would mean that He would be fully man, but John, remarkably tells us that He would also be God with skin on. The mystery is beyond our comprehension. We heard this just a moment ago sung over us. Think about this. The artist inside the paint, the architect inside the plan, the author inside the page, all hail the infinite infant God. How do we deal with such a thing?
But, there are also some biological implications, and impossibilities as well. You remember learning this in biology class, that the sex of a child is determined by whether or not the dad is carrying an X or Y chromosome. If Dad is carrying an X and it combines with the mom's X, you have a girl. But, if Dad is carrying a Y and it combines with the mom's X, then you have a boy. So, if the child in Bethlehem is a boy, where did the Y chromosome come from? We are really only faced with three possible options to consider, and what I want you to consider is what is the most plausible and reasonable explanation for why there is a boy born in Bethlehem.
The first option is this, that Joseph and Mary came together before marriage. Now, in today's society, the idea that Mary was pregnant when she got married is almost like a big yawn, but back then, it would be the scandal of Nazareth. In fact, both of them would be liable to be stoned. But, this is the record of the gospels, that Joseph and Mary did not come together, but if they did, it would make the gospel record untrue, and you and I would be forced to move on to somewhere else to find ourselves a savior. Because Matthew records these words, "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary home as his wife, but he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." So, either that record is true or it's false, and if it's false, we need to move on to find another savior.
There's a second option, Mary and a Roman soldier. Years after ... and I mean years after the exit of Jesus from this world, some sought to discredit the virgin birth by saying that Mary had an affair with a Roman soldier. You see, Nazareth was a Roman outpost, and there would be soldiers throughout the street at all time. But, that would make the virgin birth a myth that was created to cover up the illegitimacy of an affair. And again, if this is true, that she had this child through an affair, you and I need to move on and find another savior.
So, we are left, really, with only one other option, and that is that the Holy Spirit placed the Y chromosome supernaturally into Mary's womb. If the right answer for this child born in Bethlehem is not what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, then the Bible writers perpetuated a lie. One person wrote these words, "If the virgin birth of Jesus is untrue, then the story of Jesus changes greatly. We would have a sexually promiscuous young woman lying about God's miraculous hand in the birth of her son, raising that son to declare and believe that he was God, and then later joining his religion. But, if Mary is nothing more than a simple con artist, then neither she nor her son should be trusted." I heard one skeptic say that, "Jesus went down with his parents to Egypt, learned a few magic tricks, came home with a God complex that got him into trouble, in fact that got him killed."
But, is that what we have? Are you and I following a myth? Peter would like to suggest otherwise when he wrote, years later, "We do not and have not followed cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming, the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. We knew that when we followed him, we were following God."
So, I ask you this morning, have we been deceived ... deceived into believing a most massive coverup of Joseph and Mary coming together, until their wedding night, or of an adulterous affair of Mary and a soldier? You see, this virgin birth story was something that Mary could not defend or explain. Did she ever escape the rumors and the gossip? It would even seem, from the biblical record itself, that it was something that Jesus never escaped. Most scholars believe that when the religious elite said to Jesus these words, "We are not illegitimate children," what they were really saying to Jesus was, "At least we know who our father is."
Do we have to accept the virgin birth by faith? That Matthew, and Luke, and John give us the real story? That Jesus was fully God and fully man? That He was conceived of the Holy Spirit? Because there is no paternity test. There is no way of physically proving that His entrance was supernatural. Are we left with something that we can't prove? Or is there another way of looking at this? Obviously there is, or I wouldn't have brought it up.
What if we looked at His life, who He was, and what He did as evidence, after the fact, of an extraordinary entrance? I use this passage to explain what I mean. In John 3:8, Jesus said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear it sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." If you were here last week, Jonathan used that passage to talk about the new birth, but this phrase, "so it is with everyone born of the Spirit" including Jesus. You see, you and I do not know where the wind comes from, but we see its effects. "So also, that which is born of the Spirit," Jesus. We don't know how that came about, but we see its effects in the way that He lived, and what He was, and what He did.
And so, if I saw it that way, then maybe the best way to capture this message would be something like this. The virgin birth means that God put skin on. We should marvel. The virgin birth means that God put skin on, and our response, we should marvel. I want to give you evidence that proves, after the fact, that Jesus was actually God with skin on, but I have only objective this morning. It's that you would marvel, that you would adore, that you would exalt, that you would magnify, that you would worship the one who put skin on to save you and me from our sin. Because, in Jesus, my friends, we have God. And I want so desperately for you to see that again.
And so, let me provide for you these four basic evidences that He was God with skin on. Here's the first. We should marvel by His claim to be sinless. We should marvel at His claim to be sinless. Jesus, himself, in front of His enemies, by the way, not in front of His loyal friends, but in front of His enemies, asked this question, "Which of you can prove me guilty of sin?" Really, a legal question. "Which of you, who of you, can actually pull me into a court of law and prove me guilty of one sin?" You recognize that Jesus Christ is the only one who would dare say something like that. For me to say, "Which of you, in a court of law, can prove that I have ever sinned once?" You might want to respond with a question, "How long do you need?"
Bring my wife up. Bring my friends up. Bring my son, his wife, my four-year-old granddaughter, bring her up. Marco, my grandson, he's too young. He doesn't know any better. Bring anyone you want, and it wouldn't take long for you to convict me of not only one, but many sins. Who says these kinds of things but Jesus? And the reason why you and I know that we would never say that is because deep down inside, we all know that we've done wrong. Give you a test ... Stare into someone's eyes. They say that the gateway to the soul is through the eyes, so stare at someone in their eyes, and at some point, they will have to deflect and turn away. Do you know why? Because you know that if you have someone looking deep into your soul, they're going to find something that you don't want them to find because we've all sinned. Can you imagine what it must have been like to look into the eyes of Jesus and see perfect holiness? Can you imagine what it must have been like for Him to look into you? Those piercing eyes, a perfect holiness and love.
So, the first evidence, I believe, that demonstrates that He's God with skin on, is that He's without sin. Secondly, we should marvel by His miracles. We should marvel by His miracles. The gospel writers actually record 37 different miracles done by Jesus in His lifetime. And the Apostle John says we're not even scratching the surface. In fact, he said it this way, "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name."
So, the miracles of Jesus were designed to convince those who would not ordinarily believe that Jesus, in fact, was God with skin on. I'd like to offer just two, two that every single time I think of them, cause me to marvel. The first, He calmed the storm. You remember this story. Jesus is in a boat with His disciples on the Sea of Galilee. I've been in Israel, and I've seen the kind of boat that He was in. Ain't no way I'm getting on that boat. But, He is on this boat with His disciples, and a sudden storm arose that was common. Again, when we were in Israel, there was a cold, hard rain the whole time we were on the Sea of Galilee. And so, this sudden storm arose, to the point that it even frightened experienced fishermen on that boat. And you remember what they asked Him while He was sleeping, "Don't you care that we perish?" He just got up and calmed the storm. I began to think of what that must have been like.
So, one of the favorite things that I like to do is ride a bike, and one of my favorite destinations is Niagara Falls. It's about a 30 mile bike ride, so it's a nice ride. I set off from our home in Amherst and began riding down River Road and it started to sprinkle. I thought well that's no big deal. But then it started to rain, and by the time I got to the Falls proper, I actually had to hide under the overpass going to Goat Island because it was raining so hard. I sat there for about a half an hour and realized that it wasn't letting up, and so, I decided, well I really have no other way to get home, and it's getting dark, so I might as well ride back because I'm already wet. Once you're wet, you can't be more wet, so I figured well, I'm just going to ride and keep riding. I'm coming down Buffalo Avenue, and finally into River Road, and I'm entered into North Tonawanda. This is the middle of July and it starts to hail. Have you ever had hail hitting your bicycle helmet? It's not fun.
So, I can just imagine, suppose that someone rides up next to me and begins to commiserate with me about the "Yuck, this is terrible." He said, "Wouldn't you like it to stop?" And I would say, "Of course, I would." And he looks up to the heavens and says, "Stop!" And it does. Do you think my reaction would be like the one that they had in Mark, where he says, "What manner of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?" That's the first miracle.
The second one is when He walked on the water. Now again, we've heard that so long that we might be, "Okay, well He walked on water." But, He also did it in front of His disciples, and there's a whole lot going on. I've emphasized some words so that you can see that there's a whole lot going on. It's recorded in Mark, Chapter 6. "Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn, he went out to them walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately, he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage. It is I. Don't be afraid.' Then he climbed into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely amazed."
I highlighted three things here. First, He's walking on the water in front of very Jewish men who knew the Old Testament really well. And I say that because there's only one other story in the Old Testament where someone is walking on the water, and it's God. Psalm 77, "The water saw you, God. The water saw you and writhed. The very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water. The heavens resounded with thunder. Your arrows flashed back and forth, your thunder was heard in the whirlwind. Your lightening lit up the world. The earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters though your footprints were not seen." The only way your footprints could not be seen if you are walking on the water.
And now Jesus, God, is walking on the water. There's a second thing I highlighted. The account of Mark says that He was about to pass them by, and please do not think that Jesus is just kind of like doing one of these things. "I know you're struggling right now. See you on the other side." That phrase "pass them by" is also used in the Old Testament. Do you remember the story in Exodus 33 when Moses said to God, "Let me see your glory?" And God says, "Here's what I'll do. I'll tuck you in between the cleft of the rock, and I will let my glory pass you by." And so, when Mark tells us that Jesus was about to pass them by, he is really saying, "Just like God passed by, and allowed Moses to see his glory, so Jesus was about ready for his disciples to see his." The glory is of the only begotten of the Father.
There's one other thing that I highlighted. When Jesus got in the boat, He said, "Don't be afraid. It is I." That's a fine translation, but what Jesus really said to them was, "It is I Am." The same name that God gave to Moses years before, when Moses said, "Whom shall I say is sending me?" God said this to him in Exodus 3, "'I am who I am.' This is what you are to say to the Israelites. 'I am' has sent me to you." Now, you have to realize when Jesus said, "I am," He again is speaking to Jews who were afraid to even speak this name. It might be something hard for us to understand in our OMG culture, that the Jews would not pronounce the name of God. And here is Jesus, pronouncing the name of God, and using it for Himself. It's as Mark Batterson said, "In the Old Testament, God started a sentence, 'I am', and when Jesus came, He finished it." "I am the bread of Life. I am the door. I am the true vine. I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life." He uses the name of God because He is. He is God. And His miracles show that.
There's a third thing that I want you to see. We should marvel by His resurrection. We should marvel by His resurrection. We should not be surprised that One with a supernatural entrance into the world would have a supernatural exit, a resurrection. This is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. You visit the tomb of Muhammad, and you'll still see his bones. You visit the tomb of Buddha and you'll find that he's wrapped in his grave clothes. You go to the tomb of Jesus, it's still empty, because He got out of the grave, and His disciples were so convinced because they had seen Him by many infallible proofs, that He got up out of the grave. Acts 17:6 says they literally turned the world upside down.
And there are some things that make His resurrection even more stunning, and I realize I talk as a fool when I say that. What makes it more stunning, His resurrection, is that He predicted it. When Jesus, you remember, in the Temple, overturned the tables, the religious elite wanted to know by what authority He did those things. "What sign do you give us that gives you the right to do this?" And Jesus said this in John 2. "Destroy this Temple, and I will raise it again in three days." He said the same kinds of things to His disciples. In fact, three different times, He said to them in the gospels, "I'm going to Jerusalem. The religious leaders, they're going to turn me over to the Romans, and I'm going to be crucified, but in three days, I'll give up out of the grave." And if they really had believed that, don't you think they would've been sitting on the hillside outside of the tomb waiting for that to happen? He predicted His own resurrection. Not only that, He controlled it. No one else ever could possibly make that claim.
He said these words in John 10:18, "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." He, in getting up out of the grave, was exercising authority that the Father had given Him to get up out of that grave. You know how important that is? Paul tells us, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that verifies He was God with skin on. He says this in Romans 1:4, "And who, through the Spirit of holiness, was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead? Jesus Christ our Lord."
And how important is that? How important it is to believe in the resurrection. Your eternal destiny rests on what you believe about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I'm not making that up. Paul said this in Romans 10:9, "If you declare with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." It is placing our full confidence in the God with skin on, who got up out of the grave that gives us eternal life. And John, for us, it's a hope. For Kathy, it's a reality. Jesus Christ got up out of the grave and someday, we will as well.
There's one other thing I want you to see. We should marvel when He returns. We should marvel when He returns. No one ever has reentered this existence, but someday, Jesus will. He will come back, and the final verification that Jesus was born of a virgin birth ... because this was the way that God chose to enter this world ... will be when He comes back. And when He comes back, this will be fulfilled. John wrote these words, "The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven which said, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever.'" His return will be the worldwide verification of what heaven has always known. He is worthy of all praise because He is Lord, and His followers long for that day, not to get out of this lousy world, but just because they can't wait to see Him. It is an evidence that you have life, that you long for His appearing.
Paul said it this way, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." Maybe this is a way to understand this. Probably one of the most significant days, if not the most significant day, in the life of my Drake family, and the Giambra family, was on August 18th, 2014. That was the day my granddaughter was born. And so, towards the end of the evening, we all went over to Millard Suburban, and of course Jonathan and Gabe are in the birthing room, and along are Michelle and Pat, Gabe's mom and Jonathan's mom, and they're in the birthing room, and all the family is outside in the waiting room. And then the texts start coming. The first couple texts said, "Nothing's happening." And after a long while, we got this text, "Something's happening!" And then, "She's coming." And then finally, "She's here." And what an incredible delight. Grandparenting changes your life, doesn't it? What an incredible delight.
I need you to understand something. I'm 60 years old, and I've been in church all my life, and I can't tell you how many messages I have heard, and songs I've heard sung about the second coming of Jesus. And after I hear those kinds of messages, it's almost something inside of me that wants to look up at the sky, only to conclude, "Nothing's happening." But, someday, and I don't know if it will be in my lifetime, but it will be in some, we'll look up into that sky, and we'll say, "Something's happening. He's coming. He's here!" And then, my favorite verse in the Bible will become a reality. "On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people, and to be marvel at among all those who have believed. This includes you because you believed our testimony to you."
We will marvel at His return. It would seem to me that the most logical and spiritual response at His return would be to marvel. But, remarkably, the Bible tells us that there will be a different kind of response when He returns. And John wrote these words in Revelation 1, "Behold he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will mourn on account of him." So, as simple as I can make it, there will be two responses to His return. You will marvel or you will mourn. Why in the world would someone mourn at His return? Because they see it as an end to doing what they've always wanted to do, and Jesus will bring an end to that. It's almost like when my son would always come to greet me when he was a little boy when I came home, except when he wasn't living right.
And maybe today, your response, quite honestly, if you were honest with yourself, would be to say, "I don't think I would marvel. I think I would rather mourn." And my dear friends, may I suggest to you that you need Jesus Christ in your life? And I would encourage you, there are people in our Fireside Room, prayer partners and pastors, who would love to introduce you to Jesus, because that is the only right response, that we would marvel at His return.
And maybe as a believer, you would recognize that maybe I wouldn't marvel because I know I'm not living right. What a better day to make sure you are. The Bible doesn't tell us when He's coming back for one deliberate reason, so that you and I would always be ready when He does. I would ask you, I would ask myself, are we living in a way that will allow us to marvel when He returns? Some day in the clouds, some day to take us to Himself. I urge you. I urge you to know that you are ready for His return.
Father, we worship You. We adore You. We magnify You. We exalt You. We life Your name high, because only You could create such an incredible plan to rescue us, by putting skin on, becoming like us, and going through an awful death, and getting up on the grave, so that some day You can return, where you will make every wrong right. And those of us who have chosen to place our faith in You will marvel at Your return. We utter the words of the Apostle John, "Lord, come. We're ready for Your return." I thank You for this wonderful reality, and I pray to the One who made it all possible, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. And all of God's people said, Amen.