The Spirit of Christmas Past

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1 Peter 1:10-12 (Prophecy)

INTRODUCTION: Today is the first Sunday of Advent which means we are working our way towards Christmas over the next four weeks. Christmas trees and lights are going up all around. Christmas songs are on the radio and in the mall. Christmas shopping has commenced and travel plans are being made. And you are beginning to hear things like: “The spirit of Christmas is in the air!”

That’s an interesting phrase, “the spirit of Christmas,” and when we say it we usually refer to the feeling of Christmas. Christmas just feels so good in so many ways. It’s a time of giving and generosity; it’s a time for family and friends; it’s a time for church and worship. Christmas carries so many memories and traditions that when we see the decorations and hear the songs, we get swept away in a wonderful feeling that we often call the spirit of Christmas. As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Well, our message series is also called “The Spirit of Christmas” but we’re going to spin that phrase a little differently. This Advent Season I want us to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in Christmas.

The Bible teaches us that God is one God who exists eternally as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We often call this the Trinity. Although the three persons of the Trinity carry out different roles when it comes to such things as creation and salvation, all three are present at all times, and all three have essential roles. And the same is true when it comes to Christmas.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the forgotten member of the Trinity because we put so much emphasis on God the Father and Jesus the Son. And this is especially true at Christmas. We think about God the Father at Christmas who sent his Son into the world. Of course we think about Jesus. He is central to the whole thing. We rightly remind each other that Jesus is the reason for the season, and when we say “Merry Christmas” we often emphasize the “Christ” in Christmas – “Merry CHRISTmas” as a way of remembering Jesus at the center.

But the Holy Spirit has an important role to play as well. So this year we are going to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in Christmas. It’s probably something that many of us haven’t thought about a whole lot. We know what God the Father did at Christmas: he sent his Son into the world. And we know what Jesus did at Christmas: he came into our world as a little baby boy. But what does the Holy Spirit have to do with Christmas? Quite a bit actually, as we shall discover throughout this series. (Read 1 Peter 1:10-12 and pray.)

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In Charles Dickens’ novel, The Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who show him the various portions of his life. Dickens called these ghosts the Spirit of Christmas Past, the Spirit of Christmas Present, and then the scariest one of all – the Spirit of Christmas Future. We are borrowing from Dickens for our message titles in this series, although we are using the word Spirit to refer to the Holy Spirit rather than to ghosts or spooks.

Today we are talking about “The Spirit of Christmas Past.” Because in the Bible Christmas does not begin the day Jesus was born. The story of Christmas begins thousands of years in the past, and pieces of the story appear throughout the whole Old Testament. The Old Testament Scriptures anticipate the coming of the Messiah, or Christ, whose name appears at the very beginning of the word Christmas. In fact that’s what the whole season of Advent is about. It is a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas. It is a reminder of the centuries of waiting leading up to the time of Christ’s birth.

So what was the role of the Holy Spirit in these centuries leading up to Christmas? What was the role of the Spirit in Christmas Past? The passage we read earlier from 1 Peter reveals a key role for the Holy Spirit in the years leading up to Christmas. And that role has to do with Old Testament prophecy.

I. The Spirit’s role in Old Testament prophecy

So that’s where we begin this morning: the Spirit’s role in Old Testament prophecy. What was this role, and how does it play out with regards to Christmas?

   A. Prophets spoke from God by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)

First of all, we learn from the Bible that the prophets who spoke in the Old Testament spoke from God by the Holy Spirit. Look at 2 Peter 1:21: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

The prophets did not speak their own words. They did not speak their own thoughts or offer their own opinions. Rather they spoke the very words of God, and they did this through the supervision of the Holy Spirit. It’s a simple principle: no Holy Spirit, no prophecy. And so all the prophets who foretold Christ’s coming did so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

   B. All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20)

But the prophets not only spoke of Christ’s coming. Their words were also written down in Scripture. And the Holy Spirit had an important role in that as well. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16) That word “God-breathed” speaks not only of Scripture coming from the mouth of God but also through the Holy Spirit. Our English words “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” are all the same word in the Greek, and so when we speak of Scripture as “God-breathed” we are really talking about the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.

We read in 2 Peter 1:20: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) This is from the same passage we just read that said all prophecy comes through the Holy Spirit, but here prophecy is also connected with Scripture.

So what is the Holy Spirit’s role in Old Testament prophecy? The prophets of old prophesied through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures were written down by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. All the prophecies of Christ recorded in the Old Testament came about because of the Holy Spirit. He is truly the Spirit of Christmas past.

II. Key prophecies relating to Christ’s birth

So what are some of these prophecies? There are over 300 prophecies of Christ recorded in the Old Testament, but let me share with you just three key prophecies relating to Christ’s birth.

   A. The seed of the woman (Genesis 3:14-15 → Galatians 4:4-5)

The first prophecy is found in the first book of the Bible right after the first human beings fell into the first sin. After Adam and Eve sinned against God, we read God’s words to the serpent in Genesis 3:

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

The serpent represents Satan, and so this was really God’s curse on Satan himself. God’s word of judgment on Satan here in Genesis 3 is also the first prophecy of Christmas. How will the great Satan be defeated? Through the birth of a little child. An offspring of Eve – the seed of the woman – will crush Satan’s head, although Satan will also strike his heel at the cross.

Galatians 4 in the New Testament speaks of the fulfillment of this prophecy:

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Jesus is the seed of the woman who was born into our world to defeat Satan and to bring us into God’s forever family.

   B. Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14 → Matthew 1:22-23)

Another key prophecy relating to Christ’s birth is that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Look at Isaiah 7:14 where we read:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

This is an amazing prophecy foretelling the virgin birth of Christ more than 500 years before it took place.

Now the virgin birth may also have been hinted at in the earlier Genesis prophecy where we are told it is the seed of the woman who will prevail, no mention of a man’s involvement. But the prophecy becomes much clearer here in Isaiah. Matthew recognized this prophecy as fulfilled in Christ when he wrote this about Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

   C. Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2 → Matthew 2:4-5)

A third key prophecy concerning Christ’s birth has to do with the place of his birth. We read in Micah 5:2:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

God literally moved heaven and earth for this prophecy to be fulfilled. First God worked a miracle whereby Mary became pregnant with Jesus without the help of a man. (We will talk about that more next week when we talk about the Spirit of Christmas Present.) Next God arranged for her marriage to Joseph who belonged to the line of David. Finally God prompted the worldwide census causing Joseph to bring Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus at last was born.

When the Magi came to Herod asking about Jesus, Herod called together the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. We read in Matthew 2:

He asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written.” (Matthew 2:4-5)

And then they quoted the prophecy from Micah 5:2 about the birth of the Messiah.

III. The reason the Spirit gave us these prophecies

So we have three key prophecies relating to Christ’s birth – all three of which were fulfilled in Jesus, all three of which were given through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But we still haven’t looked at the reason the Spirit gave us these prophecies. Why did God give us all these prophecies of Christ’s birth in the first place? Why didn’t God just have Jesus born at Christmas without all of this preparation and all these prophecies through the Spirit?

We started off this morning with a passage from 1 Peter, and I would like us to return there as we answer these questions: Why did the Spirit give us these prophecies? Why was it so important that Jesus’ birth was a prophesied event?

In this passage Peter tells us three things about these prophecies of Christ. He tells us their main focus, their main content, and then their main audience.

   A. Main focus: grace (1 Peter 1:10)

First of all, their main focus was grace. Look at 1 Peter 1:10:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care … (1 Peter 1:10)

When Peter speaks of the message of the prophets, he sums it all up as a message of grace. The prophets who foretold Christ “spoke of the grace that was to come to you.” The grace of God is God’s kindness extended to us even though we do not deserve it because of our sin. That grace came to us at Christmas when Jesus came, when God sent his Son as a tiny baby into our world. The main focus of the prophecies was grace.

   B. Main content: Christ (1 Peter 1:11)

The main content of the prophecies was Christ. Look at verse 11. The prophets who spoke of this grace searched intently …

… trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:11)

In the Bible the Spirit of Christ is simply another name for the Holy Spirit. So here we see the Holy Spirit once again working in the prophets in the past to make these prophecies. And we see that the content of their prophecies was Christ – specifically, the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

Now when we hear about Christ’s sufferings, we usually think about the cross. And that makes sense because that is where Christ suffered the most. But the Bible views all of Jesus’ human life as part of his sufferings. In becoming a human being Jesus left his perfect home in heaven and gave up many of his rights as God. In taking on flesh he experienced tiredness, hunger, and thirst. And so the sufferings of Christ of which the prophets spoke actually began at Christmas when he became a baby, born in a manger, born into our troubled, sinful world.

   C. Main audience: YOU! (1 Peter 1:12)
      – that you might hear the gospel and believe

The main focus of the prophecies was grace. The main content of the prophecies was Christ. And now we come to the main audience of the prophecies. And here Peter tells us something that is absolutely amazing. Even though the prophets searched their own prophecies for clues about Christ who was to come, event though they put time and effort in trying to figure it all out, they were not the main audience for their prophecies. The main audience was not the prophets themselves, or even the first people they spoke to, but Peter says the main audience for these prophecies is you! It’s you! Look at verse 12:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

What was the main reason the Spirit gave us these prophecies? They were given for you that you might hear the gospel and believe. The gospel is the good news that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to be our savior. He was born as a baby on Christmas day. He lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, and then he offered up his life on the cross for us that we might be forgiven and brought back into relationship with God. Those who preach the gospel to you today do so by the same Holy Spirit who spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament. The main audience for the prophecies is you that you might hear the gospel and believe.

CONCLUSION: What role did the Holy Spirit have in Christmas past? The Holy Spirit was behind all of the prophecies leading up to the birth of Christ at Christmas. Christmas was not a second-guess or an afterthought. Christmas was God’s plan from the beginning. As soon as the first man sinned, God gave the first prophecy of Christmas: he spoke of the one who would come to save us from all our sins.

God is sovereign and in control of all history. And if God can take care of all history, you can trust him with your little piece of history. You can trust him with your life. You can trust the Savior who was born on Christmas day. You can trust the Holy Spirit who prophesied the birth of Christ and now brings you the gospel of Christ – the same good news that the angel proclaimed that first Christmas so many years ago: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

© Ray Fowler

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