Sunday, December 08, 2013

Missing Christmas: Religious

The shepherds story amazed everybody but nobody else went to see Jesus.

Luke 2:8-20  That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  10  but the angel reassured them. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  11  The Savior--yes, the Messiah, the Lord--has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  12  And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."

13  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others--the armies of heaven--praising God and saying,  14  "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased."

15  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."  16  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

17  After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  18  All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished,  19  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  20  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

The dirtiest most despised outcast of Jewish social groups were the people that watched sheep. This is the same group of people that the Egyptians didn't like either.  (Genesis 46:33-34) The shepherds didn't have the opportunity to maintain the ceremonial washings and observe all the religious festivals and feasts. They didn't have the opportunity to allow religion to come between themselves and God.

These shepherds were just outside of the city of Jerusalem, possibly staying in the fields that are between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, possibly caring for the sheep that would be used in the temple sacrifices. How fitting it is that they were the first to know that the Lamb of God had arrived!

The amazing thing is that the shepherds were excited about Jesus birth and they went to see him and then they gave their testimony about what happened and nobody else went to find Jesus. All of Jerusalem missed Christmas except for some shepherds.

Why did Jerusalem miss Christmas? They missed Christmas because of religion. These people were very religious, they visited the temple on a regular basis, they made their sacrifices, they followed all of the ceremonies and attended all of the feasts and festivals and yet they missed Christmas. They were looking for a great leader; not a child in a manger. They were looking for relief from the Romans: not for somebody that would tell them to love their enemies.

They hoped for a leader who would support their religious system, Jesus opposed everything that they thought was important when he gave the Sermon on the Mount, they were disappointed in who Jesus is. He offered truth that would free them from the tyrannical, demanding, oppressive, legalistic religion the scribes and Pharisees had burdened the people with but the majority of people were so established in their religion that they wouldn’t listen to the good news.
2 Corinthians 11:14-15  But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  15  So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.
Religion can be a deadly trap, ritual and rules help us feel spiritual when we are not, church tradition will send you to hell if that is all you have. Church membership isn't going to help you when you step into eternity, being baptized and taking the Lord's supper isn't going to have any value to you when you stand before God. Satan loves religion because it helps us feel righteous even when genuine righteousness is found in one place.
Romans 3:20-22  For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.  21  But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.  22  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
You may be a follower of Jesus and you may be on your way to heaven but you may miss Christmas because of religion. We can pack the church calendar with a lot of good things that keep us too busy this time of year. We need to focus on and be thankful for the gift of being made right with God through Jesus.