A Hollywood Christmas Part 4
Die Another Day
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 22, 2002

 

Well it’s almost here, and almost gone. By the end of the day on Wednesday it’ll be over. The presents will be opened, the turkey will have been eaten, the carols will have been sung and for all practical purposes Christmas 2002 will be but a fond memory.

And yet it is only 17 weeks until we celebrate Easter. Wednesday we will celebrate the birth of Christ and in four months we will commemorate his death and his resurrection. 119 days, just a little under a third of the calendar year. And with that thought in mind we need to ask ourselves, “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?” How far from the cradle to the cross?

This morning we’re going to explore that question a bit. We’re going to look at it from different angles and see what answers we may find.


“How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?”


1. Geographically

Let’s first take a look at it geographically. You might ask a tour guide, “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?” “Well” he might responds “Geographically, it’s closer than you might think. If you were in Bethlehem and were to walk down the road toward the northeast, it would only be about eight kilometres to the city gates of Jerusalem.” Just a two-hour walk from the sleepy little town of Bethlehem where Christ was born to the bustling streets of Jerusalem where Christ was crucified (just outside of the city).

He might go on and tell us, “You know, it’s not far at all, and there’s a lot of history on this road. Why, it was in Bethlehem that Rachel was buried, and it was to Bethlehem that Naomi and Ruth came, and where Ruth married Boaz. King David was born and raised in Bethlehem and the prophet Micah wrote in Micah 5:2:

Micah 5:2 (NLT)
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.

It was to this little town that the carpenter Joseph came from Nazareth with his young, pregnant wife to be counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. No it’s not very far at all from Bethlehem to Calvary, geographically speaking.

 

2. Historically

So let’s ask someone else. Let’s ask the historian: “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?”

“Well, historically,” he might respond, “it’s a lot closer than you might think. Compared to the Millenniums that have come and gone since God spoke the world into being, thirty-three years is a relatively short period of time. It really isn’t that far from the starlit eastern sky of Bethlehem to the darkened midday sky of Jerusalem. There is only a short lifetime between singing angels to cursing soldiers, from tears of joy to tears of grief. Just a few short years from swaddling clothes to a crown of thorns, from dimples and stubby fingers to blood stained cheeks and nail pierced hands.”

And yet as close as it might be, it is a sad fact of life that not many have made that thirty-three year journey from Bethlehem to Calvary.

It is much more comfortable to talk about a cooing baby than a bleeding corpse. The historical journey from Bethlehem to Calvary should be a short one but too many people prefer the cradle to the cross. It seems much less offensive to read to our children words like:

Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)
“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Than it is to read words like:

Luke 23:33 (NLT)
Finally, they came to a place called The Skull. All three were crucified there—Jesus on the center cross, and the two criminals on either side.

It’s easier to read the first passage than the second, and yet it was the same author who recorded the events in Luke 2 and Luke 23. The two passages both speak of the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, and yet many still prefer Christmas trees to Easter lilies and they try and separate the one from the other.

Everyone loves Christmas with its bright lights, upbeat music and gifts in pretty paper. People who may give very little attention to God and the Church pay a great deal of attention at Christmas time, even if it is unintentional. And even though we whine about the commercialization and secularization of Christmas we need to realize that whether society wants to admit it or not, they are joining in the celebration of Christ’s birth. Every advertisement for Christmas keeps the name of the Messiah in front of people. And while Wal-Mart may not play songs like “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” or “Jesus Loves Me” over their P.A. system, they have no problem proclaiming the birth of Christ to everyone in the store with songs like “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

But Easter is different. Even though there have been attempts to capitalize on it as a holiday it runs a distant second to Christmas. People prefer to talk about births and babies rather than crucifixions and corpses, but whether we want to admit it or not there is but a short distance, historically, between Bethlehem and Calvary.

 

3. Spiritually

Let’s ask one more person. Let’s ask a Theologian: “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?” What do you think the answer will be?

I suspect the answer would be, “Spiritually, it’s a lot closer then you might think.” And yet still too many people are content to leave Jesus in the cradle.

You see, a Christ child is a safe Christ because he makes no demands on our life. But the birth of the child in Bethlehem would be of little consequence without the death of the man on Calvary. Christ didn’t remain a child, he isn’t forever an infant. Listen to what Luke wrote in chapter 2 verse 52:

Luke 2:52 (NLT)
So Jesus grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.

What was Luke saying? Simple, Jesus grew up. The child grew and matured; he became a toddler, a pre-schooler, a school-aged child, a teenager and an adult. And then as an adult he was crucified on a cross at Calvary for you and for me.

You see, without Calvary, Bethlehem was pointless. Christ could have been born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, taught and healed and performed miracles and then died an old man and all we would have had is a wonderful example to follow. But it took the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross to take away the sin of the world. The converse is also true. Calvary would not have been what it was if God had not chosen to enter this world as a child and to live as a man.

You see, it was not a man who was born in a cattle stall, neither was it a god. And it was not a man who died on Calvary’s cross, nor was it a god. It was Jesus Christ, God incarnate. 100% God and at the same time 100% man. And it is here that the paradox of the incarnation leaps out at us. I can’t fully explain to you how all this worked. But Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time. That’s what the Bible teaches. That’s what I believe.

I also can’t fully explain how Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin, but the fact that I can’t explain it doesn’t in any way alter the fact that he was conceived in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit. Nor can I adequately explain how Jesus, dying on a cross could pay the price for all the wrongs I have done 2000 years later. But it did.

Spiritually, it is just a short distance from Bethlehem to Calvary. So why don’t we make the trip? Why are we content to stay in Bethlehem when there is so much waiting for us just 8 kilometres down the road? After all, Bethlehem holds the promise of eternal life but it’s Calvary that holds the gift of eternal life.

Maybe we can understand it better if we look at those who were there 2000 years ago and look at who could have made that trip themselves.

 

Who could have made the journey?


Who could have made the journey from Bethlehem to Calvary? Well, let’s look at who was at Bethlehem to start.

A. The Innkeeper

Who was there? Well, the innkeeper was there. How could this man know that when he turned away that couple from Nazareth that he was assuring himself a place in history.
Luke 2:7 records what happened that night:

Luke 2:7 (NLT)
She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.

The innkeeper wasn’t being malicious, he didn’t have anything personal against Mary and Joseph, he just didn’t care. The inn had been packed for days with the census going on. Well, maybe it was. I don’t know if the inn was actually full or if we need to take a closer look at what the passage tells us

“…there was no room for them in the village inn.”

You see Luke didn’t say that there was no room in the inn, what he said was there was no room for THEM in the inn. Just kinda makes you wonder if the place was really full or if demand had outstripped supply and prices had soared beyond the reach of the ordinary person. I wonder if there would have been room in the inn if Joseph had of been the personal carpenter for King Herod? Just a thought.

But for the purposes of the message this morning, let’s look at the innkeeper as representing the vast majority of people on that first Christmas. They didn’t know that Mary had given birth to her first born son, and if they knew they wouldn’t have cared.

Isn’t that the way it is today? People rush about their business, they go here, they go there. There are trees to find and trim, Christmas lights to put up, presents to buy and wrap, a turkey to stuff and cook.

A. The Innkeeper – represents people who don’t know and don’t care

And there are a lot of people just like that innkeeper. They’re not antagonistic about the real meaning of Christmas, but they don’t really care. They really don’t care that Christ was born, they don’t care that he lived for 33 years, they don’t care that he died on a cross for them, and they don’t care that after the third day he rose from the dead. For them Christmas has no real meaning. They don’t attend any Christmas services, they don’t read the Christmas story or see any Christmas pageants. They’ll get a few days off work, a turkey dinner and some presents. That’s all Christmas means to them. As for the rest of it, they really don’t care.

 

B. King Herod

Then there was King Herod.

Matthew 2:16 (NLT)
Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him.

Furious is a good word. Herod was so angry that he ordered the execution of all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. Yeah, I guess furious is a good word. Herod was definitely hostile to the true meaning of Christmas.

Sociologist Robert Lynd said:

“There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”
~ Robert Lynd

Herod would fall into the second category of people.

It’s not Christmas that people like Herod really resent, it is the religious nature of Christmas. And those are the people that Herod represents.

B. King Herod – represents people who resent the religious nature of Christmas

They are kind of like the two ladies who spotted a cross in a store window at Easter, and one commented, “Some people will try to put religion into everything.”

People like Herod like Christmas, but they’d prefer to keep Christ out of it. They would have us trade the manger for a toy store, they would have us swap Jesus for Santa and exchange the cross for a Christmas tree. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things in and of themselves, unless they replace what Christmas is really about.

 

C. The Shepherds

Then There Were The Shepherds.

Luke 2:8,16 (NLT)
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep… They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

The shepherds must have been impressed. I mean, a huge group of angels appeared to them and lit up the night sky. And they were given this personal invitation to go to Bethlehem and welcome this newborn child. Not an everyday occurrence.
So the shepherds went and found Jesus and were so inspired that on their way back to the field they told everyone they met about what they had seen.

But that’s all we know about them. We don’t hear anything else about the shepherds. We don’t read about an old shepherd making his way to the cross to weep at the feet of Christ. None of the disciples were shepherds, nor were there any surprise witnesses at the trial of Jesus.

No, they stayed in Bethlehem. Perhaps for them it was too far to travel to get to Calvary. Perhaps when the chills and thrills stopped they fell back into everyday life.

C. The Shepherds – represent people who are “flash in the pan” Christians

It’s easy to believe when angels appear before you. It’s easy to believe when someone feeds 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. It’s easy to believe when someone turns 180 gallons of water into wine. It’s easy to believe when miracles are happening and life is dandy.

But it’s not always as easy to believe when you’re sick, the kids are crying, the washing machine is overflowing and the car won’t start. Or when you get laid off work, your spouse leaves you and your parents are dying. All of a sudden belief isn’t nearly as easy. But we can’t live forever in the manger at Bethlehem. The reason the Christian faith has survived and flourished over the past 2000 years is that there have been some who, after the angels have gone and the heavens are still and life is life, they still believe.

The shepherds were an integral part of Christmas, but I really wish that we saw them again somewhere outside of Bethlehem.

 

D. The Wise Men

Then there were the Wise Men.

Matthew 2 records the story of the wise men. We talked about them last week. And we talked about how we really don’t know very much about them. We don’t know where they came from, how long they had been traveling, how many of them there were or where they went afterwards. They glide into the story, present their gifts and then just as quietly they disappear. But we do know that their belief cost them something.

However little that we know of the wise men we do know that they came from a great distance bearing their gifts of love. They brought Gold, frankincense and myrrh, but greater than any of those gifts was the fact that they brought themselves.

D. The Wise Men – represent people who are sincerely seeking Jesus

And they’re willing to pay a price to find Him.

 

But out of all of the people that were there that first Christmas, there is only one that we know for sure followed Christ from Bethlehem to Calvary.

E. Mary

Her life was changed forever by the child that she had that day. Every moment of every day would be changed from that point on. You see Mary’s was not a half-hearted experience, or a part-time commitment. She was 100% committed to the child she called Jesus. And she was there at his death.

John 19:25 (NLT)
Standing near the cross were Jesus' mother, and his mother's sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.

E. Mary – represents people who are 100% committed

And that is what He is looking for today. Because it’s only when we are completely sold out to Jesus that we will be able to make the trip from Bethlehem to Calvary. This Christmas I trust that we will bring to Christ the one gift that he is looking for, and that is that we can say just like Mary did in Luke 1:38.

Luke 1:38 (NLT)
“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.”

 

 

(adapted in part from How Far From Bethlehem to Calvary? by Denn Guptill)


 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2002 SunriseOnline.ca