Bible Text: Luke 2:1-20 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus
Pontius Pilate spent ten years as governor of Judea. The Roman Emperor Tiberius, the adopted son and successor of Caesar Augustus, sent him to govern the province in AD 27. It was at the beginning of his ten-year term as governor, in AD 30, that he sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to death by crucifixion. It was then that Pilate asked Jesus the question, “What is truth?” And for Pilate, as for most today, the truth didn’t matter. Pilate was a politician. What he did he did for political reasons. Jesus was innocent. That was the truth. Pilate knew that. He said it. But that truth wasn’t convenient for a young governor who had no interest in upsetting powerful and riotous Jewish leaders. So Pilate chose the “truth” that best suited him and washed his hands and sent Jesus to the cross.
Why start a Christmas Eve sermon with Pontius Pilate, 33 years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem? Because the only time Jesus refers to His birth is there, before Pontius Pilate, 33 years after He was born to the virgin Mary and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. He says to Pilate, “For this reason I was born and came into this world, to bear witness to the truth.” For this reason I was born. And it is so beautiful that there at his birth you find in brilliant light the truth that Jesus spent His life preaching and His death and resurrection bearing witness to. It’s right there in Bethlehem in that manger within that stable.
Because there in Jesus’ birth you see the truth that God is in total control. That’s the first thing. Nothing happens randomly. Nothing in your life is accidental. Your birth wasn’t a chance occurrence. Your childhood. Your spouse, your lack of one, your health, your sickness. Your death won’t be either, and nothing in between is an accident. God is in complete control. And He works it to good for those who love Him, for Christ’s sake. Everything is for Christ’s sake. You belong to Christ, then God moves worlds for you, He sets up and topples kingdoms for you, because that’s what He does to bring His Son into the world. We just sang it, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Every prophecy – “But you Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are least of the tribes of Judah, out of you shall come a King who will shepherd my people Israel,” every promise – “And the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Immanuel,” “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given,” every plan of God, “In your Seed all nations of the earth will be blessed,” God orders it all and all history besides, so that He uses the pagan Emperor Augustus to bring it about, this birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. This is the truth Jesus was born to witness to – your God is not the Grand Architect who builds the world and then moves on to the next project. He is not disinterested either in you or in the going on of this world. He is your Creator who rules and orders everything and He works it for good for those who belong to Jesus.
Second, is the truth that you are a sinner. You see it in the fear on those shepherds’ faces. You see it in that word, “Savior,” the angels proclaim, that you need saving. You see it in the fact that Mary, a pregnant woman, is relegated to the stable, because it would have disrupted someone else’s convenience to put her in the upper room. You see it everywhere on that night of Jesus’ birth. And you had better see it in yourself. Jesus couldn’t talk that day, because he was a baby, but when He did talk, His first words recorded in the Bible, when He was in the Temple as a twelve-year-old boy, He said, “I have to be about My Father’s business” – God the Father gave Him things to do, to say, and when you hear Him open His mouth again in the Bible, the first thing He says is, “Repent.” Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus was born to bear witness to the truth, and the truth is he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. If you want Him as Savior, you will own with all His saints on earth that you are a sinner, that you need saving from your selfishness, from your apathy, from your greed, and from the destruction and death and wrath of God it has brought on you.
Third, the truth is that the world around doesn’t care. It will go on acting as if nothing is wrong. Caesar will tax, the pregnant woman will be neglected, Herod will sleep in his palace, and God will work His wonders and reveal His glory only to the poor and lowly. The pleasure-seekers who just want to have fun in life, the political animals who can only think of power and peace and glory in worldly terms, the self-righteous who simply don’t care, they see nothing that night, hear nothing, care nothing for it. So amazingly, here in America, more people will hear about Santa than about Jesus this Christmas. And more people will talk about peace in Israel than the peace Jesus brings. And more people will care about a long weekend than the greatest event that has ever occurred, the incarnation of their Creator. Pilate is not the exception. He is the rule. What is truth? What does it matter? What does it get me? But to the poor and lowly the good news comes and God’s glory is revealed. And the truth He speaks gives greater pleasure and riches and peace and contentment than all the world could offer.
Because, finally, the truth of the night of Jesus’ birth is that God became a little baby. Not all the sin and darkness and unbelief of all the world stopped Him from joining our human race. God so loves the world. And His word is not wrath, is not punishment, is not judgment against sinners, but peace, goodwill to men. He means us good; He means us nothing but good. He’s not found in a palace, to shout orders and make men serve Him. No, He’s found in a manger, humble, poor, come to serve you, moved by a love that passes all understanding. The God whom the world cannot contain, contains Himself in a little helpless body, joins the human race, shares all the misery of sinners. This is the sign the angels pointed to – a Savior who is Christ the LORD, the LORD, the Creator, where will you find Him? Not on his throne of judgment, not in the heights of heaven where you cannot access him. In a stable, in a manger, in swaddling clothes, in human flesh and blood. He comes humble because He comes to bear the sin of the world, and not only our sin but our judgment and our corruption and our death and all our sorrow. He bears it because He cannot bear for us to bear it.
This is His love. It’s the truth that Jesus was born to witness to. For this reason I was born, Jesus said, and then He went to the cross. And there you see God once again in complete control. You see Him use Pilate to crucify His dear Son as He used Augustus to bring Mary to Bethlehem to bring Him into this world. And you see once again the truth that you are a sinner, because Jesus is bearing your sin. And you see the world walk by and Pilate wash his hands of the whole affair. But you don’t walk by and you don’t imagine there are greater things or better things than this. Because here on the cross and in that manger is the truth that God has become a man, that He loves you so much that He humbles Himself for you and serves you and takes your punishment and bears your corruption, suffers and dies and rises again, all to give you peace and life and communion with your Maker. For this I was born, Jesus said, and so we celebrate tonight the birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Merry Christmas.