This sermon can be listened to or downloaded at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
I think one of the biggest surprises at Christmas is not the gift that you will receive. In fact, many of you know what you are getting. You made your list, check it twice and passed it to family and friends and said get me this or that thing. We do this because a surprise can turn into a disappointment when we were expecting something different. We might get the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong brand, or even the wrong thing. We all have expectations and this is why at Christmas we try to soften or eliminate the pain of disappointment by making our requests. However, you should know meeting expectations only maintains relationships at best because expectations are based on a debtor’s relationship. Expectations come down to “you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.” Thus, our relationship is maintained! However, if you don’t, I won’t…like you, serve you, give to you or stay with you. You might be dreading Christmas with family because your expectations and your family’s expectations are on a collision course. It is almost like you are playing chicken with your expectations. Who is going to bend and change their expectations? Some of you might even be thinking Christmas is going to be different this year. I am not going to get into an argument with my family. They are not going to bait me once again. Others of you are like Martha in the Bible who had the expectation that her sister Mary should help her prepare supper when Mary was content just spending time with Jesus instead of helping in the kitchen. Martha finally turned to Jesus, out of complaint, not out of contemplation of Jesus. Forming expectations is one of the quickest pathways to pain. Larry Crabb says that “anger is usually caused by a blocked goal, and depression is often caused by the anger turning inward.” Maybe you have unmet goal or expectation and it is causing you to be angry or worse depressed? So what do you do, eliminate expectations? For some time, I have just been trying to eliminate expectations through sheer will power when instead I should have been aligning my expectations to God’s Word.
If there is a story in the Bible that demonstrates how to align your expectations to God’s Word, it is the story found in Luke 1:39-56 where Mary and Elizabeth meet. Let’s enter into that story! Read Luke 1:39-56! First, there is Mary. Here is a young girl engaged to be married. I don’t know of a greater time in one’s life when your expectations are at an all-time high. Mr. Right or Mrs. Right has finally come along and all the dreams you have had of a wedding and getting married are now going to be realized. Is that how it is? No, usually there will be something that goes wrong in your plans. The dress doesn’t fit. The ride to the church didn’t show up on time. The flowers aren’t the right colour. For Mary, her wedding plans were all changed. Weddings were a big deal back then. You didn’t go down to City Hall. The wedding lasted up to 7 days and the whole town celebrated. That long-awaited dream was never realized. She didn’t expect that she would have to go to the Motherhood Maternity store instead of the Bridal Shop. The dress didn’t fit for other reasons than eating a few extra chocolates. Mary never expected that she and Joseph would be required to travel to Bethlehem for a census in the final stage of her pregnancy and end up giving birth in a stable.
Then there was Elizabeth. Here is a godly woman, married to a godly man for many years. Her husband was finally getting his chance to serve at the Temple by burning incense before the Lord. Zechariah comes out of the Temple, speechless – he could no longer talk, not just because he saw an angel of the Lord, but because he didn’t believe God’s messenger that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son born well past their child-bearing years, so God gave him some time to think instead of talking. God is giving you a time-out to think over your life and your expectations. And this points to my message today: THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT IS TO ALIGN YOUR EXPECTATIONS TO GOD’S PROMISES! Like Mary experienced, I talk to many of you who have had certain plans for years but they are now changed. Today I challenge you to align your expectations back to the promises of God.
What are God’s promises? I find three promises in this passage:
1) Jesus brings the Holy Spirit! (v. 35, 41)
2) God, the Mighty One, does great things for the weak and humble! (v. 49-51)
3) God satisfies the hungry with good things! (v. 53)
Let’s start with how Jesus brings the Holy Spirit! We find in the verse 35 that the angel said to Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Often, when we think of Christmas, we think of Christ coming down to earth in the form of a baby. However, before that ever happened, we need to realize that it was the Holy Spirit’s work of conceiving Christ in Mary’s womb. It wasn’t God the Father having relations with Mary as Mormons believe. It was the Holy Spirit overshadowing her. This was a spiritual act that resulted in physical birth. Without the Holy Spirit’s work, Jesus would not have been conceived supernaturally nor would we have God with us. The Holy Spirit was the source of Jesus being divine. He legitimized what would otherwise be illegitimate. Jesus came as Emmanuel, “God with us” so that He could bring the Holy Spirit “God in us.” I remember Christmas this way: Christmas shows that God the Father is for us so He sent God the Son who is with us to bring God the Holy Spirit who is in us. But what is the big deal about God being in us? It makes all the difference in the world and all the difference in your life. Look what happened when Jesus who was full of the Holy Spirit even in Mary’s womb visits Elizabeth. When Jesus shows up inside Mary, and the two women first greet each other, Elizabeth becomes full of the Holy Spirit (v. 41). One may even make the case that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment when Jesus showed up because in verse 15 we know it was promised to Zacharias that John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” and then in verse 41, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Jesus arrives which is emphasized again in verse 44. One commentator puts it this way, “When the one mother recognized the other, the unborn forerunner felt his Master’s presence and was himself filled with the Holy Spirit and that Spirit then filled also his mother.” John, even in the womb as the forerunner of Jesus, was anxious to see Him and was trying to communicate for everybody to take note of the One who would take away the sins of the world. John was the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 25:23, “the older shall serve the younger.” John would serve Jesus! As an aside, I think this elevates the importance of the unborn and why we need to protect them. Jesus as the bearer of the Holy Spirit causes people to be changed. Elizabeth immediately starts to prophecy and in a loud voice (this wasn’t meant to be kept quiet), “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This pregnancy wasn’t meant to stay hidden. Mary when she hurried off to visit Elizabeth wasn’t being “put away” as they used to send off unwed girls who were pregnant to have their babies. The divine conception of Jesus was to be linked with a well-known miracle of Zacharias having a vision after 400 years of silence from God and then his wife becoming pregnant after her childbearing years. In the same way as Abraham and Sarah had a child in their old age, so did Zacharias and Elizabeth. God was doing a new thing. It was a fresh start. It still is! Jesus’ birth was kept from Herod knowing but we can’t say that Jesus’ birth was hidden. Elizabeth, like her unborn son, was a herald of Jesus’ coming! We know that this was the work of the Holy Spirit because she even proclaims, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (v. 43) Elizabeth calls Jesus Lord! The only way for her to know this was through the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul later explains 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit always makes much of Christ!
You might wonder how does this affect your life? First, it is the Holy Spirit that conceives spiritual life in you. You were dead in your transgressions (Eph. 2:1) and so the Spirit has to conceive new birth in you that will result in tangible results on earth. Jesus says later on to a religious teacher named Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5-6) Being filled with the Holy Spirit causes you to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord or director of your life, like Elizabeth did. It also fills you with joy. My one son drew a picture in Sunday School of Mary with Jesus in her womb. I posted this on Facebook and one person commented on Mary’s freckles, which showed Mary was Irish. Actually, my son Noah has freckles so he was just relating to her. What I love about this picture is how happy Mary and Jesus are! I don’t believe that Mary begrudged being pregnant nor did Jesus feel like he was forced to come down to earth because nobody else could do the job. God the Son didn’t sigh and say before coming to earth, “I’ve got to go rescue some stinking rebels who Lucifer duped. I’ll be back in a little bit Father.” Jesus and Mary welcomed the assignments and this joy was contagious! (v. 38) That same joy is for you to have and to spread! Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with joy and your service toward others will change.
But it will also change others. Another outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that you encourage others. Elizabeth encouraged and strengthened Mary. We could say that this was fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) These aren’t virtues you can muster enough strength and effort to add to your life. They are the fruit of the Spirit working in you. Imagine how being filled with the Spirit could change your workplace, school and neighbourhood. Imagine how it can change your Christmas!
A final outcome of being filled with the God’s Spirit is that you also become filled with the God’s Word. If you study Mary’s Song, known as the Magnificat, you will see that it is a collage of Old Testament Scriptures. Keep your spot in Luke 1:46-55 and then notice the verses up on the screen. Verse 46, “My soul magnifies the Lord” comes from Psalm 34:2-3. Verse 48 proclaims, “For He has regard for the humble state of His bondslave” which is an allusion to Psalm 138:6 and Exodus 21:1-6. Verse 50, “His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him” sounds similar to Exodus 20:6 and Psalm 103:17. Verse 51 declares, “He has done mighty deeds with His arm” is almost a direct quote from Psalm 98:1 and Isaiah 40:10. Verse 53 shouts, “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty-handed” is first found in Psalm 107:9 and then Jesus expounds on this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Mary even makes reference in verse 55 to the covenant given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2, that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (NIV) meaning Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit will result in being filled with the Holy Scriptures. God will give you a hunger and thirst for His Word!
So do you have the Holy Spirit inside you? In order to do so, you must believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on a Cross for your sins. The Apostle Paul puts this way in Ephesians 1:13, “In Him (Christ), you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Notice the process, you first listen to the message of truth, then you respond by believing in Him and then you are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Today, Jesus is still bringing the Holy Spirit to live inside you and empower to live the life God wants for you – joy, strength and most of all, a new boss or Lord of your life – God, not you any longer!
This is the central concept of the Gospel – God, the Mighty One, does great things for the weak and humble. Mary was humble and so was Elizabeth. N.T. Wright reminds us that “Mary might have felt proud and Elizabeth resentful. Nothing of that happens.” You see Mary could have been proud about being chosen to carry the Son of God. However, her only boasts were of how the Lord had done great things for her. Her pride is praise for God! And then Elizabeth could have been resentful. She could have thought, why didn’t I have this child sooner in my youth when I had more strength and energy. I once heard that Zacharias and Elizabeth were shown the kindness of God by having John later in life and probably avoided the grief of having to watch their son be beheaded. Or Elizabeth could have thought, why didn’t I get to carry the Messiah since Mary is not even fully married? However, neither woman thought about herself or what others would think, they thought of God and praised Him for His kindness toward them. God entrusted them with His dynamic duo, “the Christmas Cousins,” because they were humble. This is most evident by Mary’s statement in verse 48, “For He has regard for the humble state (literally humiliation) of His bondslave.” What is a bondslave? A bondslave, which is a favourite term that the Apostle Paul calls himself (Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1), was a slave who after seven years of slavery was freed. However, according to Exodus 21:1-6, if that slave decided that he or she loved their master then could offer themselves as slaves for life to their master. This would be demonstrated by standing against the doorpost of the master’s home and having an awl pierced through their ears. Young people, is that what your earrings represent? That big earing symbolized unending loyalty and service to the master. This was what Mary was doing by offering her life to God as her Master. And yet, she was being humiliated because of the Holy Spirit conceiving in her. But notice what God does with those who love him, who are unendingly loyal to Him. He takes their shame and replaces it with honour! For all generations since, the Bible has proved true; Mary has been called blessed! This is why Mary can say that God has done great things for her and holy is His Name! The ultimate thing that God did for Mary was to save her. Yes, she was still in need of a Saviour (v. 47)! And so her Son Jesus, was also humiliated as God’s bondslave. However, He wasn’t pierced to the doorpost but to a tree for Mary, and for you and for me. Do you believe that truth today? The Cross is what will humble you. Your source of humility will occur by remembering the great thing God has already done for you at the Cross. You no longer need to strive and therefore, you no longer need to boast. You might start to get puffed up because of your money, your job, your education, your family or your possessions but thinking about what Christ did on the Cross will put all of that into proper perspective. Comparing yourself to Christ on the Cross crucifies your pride!
The last promise of God is that God satisfies the hungry with good things. Christmas often involves lots of food. I know that I have added the extra pounds already this season. But Mary identifies a different kind of hunger – the hunger of the soul! Does your soul hunger for something that will last? You know how so much of life ends in disappointment. God doesn’t give His children junk food. God gives His children good things. In contrast, the rich leave empty-handed. Why? The rich are usually clamoring for more or they are proud. They think they became rich because they were smarter or better than others. However, you know that money doesn’t satisfy. In the end, you will not keep it. We all die and leave it behind. As Richard Lenski says, “Without God’s grace no man can be rich.”
And it is God’s grace that overcomes relationships based on debt and owing each other. When you realize that everything good in your life comes from Jesus – the Holy Spirit, your salvation and your satisfaction – then your expectations are properly aligned with His promises and you are able to overcome the disappointments of not only Christmas, but all of life. And then the pain of Christmas turns into the praise of Christ! You can sing loudly “Joy to the World.”
CONCLUSION: Expectations often lead to disappointments and pain. I saw this very vividly on Friday night as my youngest son Luke said he wanted to marry his mommy. We told him that he would have to marry another girl. He started balling. Maybe your expectations are misguided? Maybe this is what has you feeling sad or angry? The solution is that we must align our expectations with the promises of God. Through Jesus, He promises the Holy Spirit, great things for the humble and satisfying the hungry with good things. Will you let God surprise you this Christmas with His promises?
 This concept was first brought to my attention from Andy Stanley’s iMarriage series.
 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1951), 78.
 N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 16.
 I heard this taught by Rick Baker at Calvary Baptist Church, Oshawa, ON.
 This term comes from Dr. Stephen Davey’s “Christmas Cousins” series on his “Wisdom from the Heart” radio broadcast at http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/wisdom-for-the-heart/listen/jumping-for-joy-part-1-309983.html. Accessed December 16, 2012!
 Lenski, 92.
One of the major doctrines of orthodox Christianity is the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is often attacked by other sects and religions. For example, Muslims believe only Allah is God and therefore, Jesus who is a prophet, cannot be divine. Groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons see Jesus as divine but a lesser god. Hindus believe in many gods and so attack the oneness of God. Therefore, in order to respond to our friends from other religions with the Gospel and more importantly to worship the One True Living God, we must believe in Him as One in Three persons. In fact, it almost sounds like an oxymoron or contradiction in terms to declare the “Oneness of the Trinity.” However, this study endeavours to explain that we can only know the Oneness of God and the Gospel through the Trinity.
The Oneness of the Trinity is evidence throughout the Bible starting at Creation where we see God creating humans, “Let us make in our image” (Genesis 1:26). (NOTE: Many scholars do not see this verse as the evidence for the Trinity and refer to the word “us” as the “majestic plural” but a literal reading of Genesis 1 I believe shows otherwise.) We also know that God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit all were involved in act of Creation. (Gen. 1:1-2; Col. 1:15-16) Another evidence of the Oneness of the Trinity in the Old Testament, or at least the Father and the Son, is found in Proverbs 30:4 (NASB), “Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!”
However, it is the New Testament where we see the full-out expression of the Oneness of the Trinity in the life of Christ. Check out the following:
- The Birth of Christ – God the Father sends an angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26) to announce to Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32) through “the Holy Spirit coming upon her” (Luke 1:35).
- The Baptism of Christ – As Jesus was being baptized Luke records “the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:22) This is why in part we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! (Matt. 28:19)
- The Mount of Transfiguration – Jesus is glorified and a voice from the cloud says, ‘This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” (Luke 9:35) We know that the Holy Spirit had already come upon Jesus. (Luke 4:18)
- Comforting the Disciples – In John 14-16, called the Olivet Discourse, Jesus comforts His disciples by telling them that He is going to heaven to prepare a place for them, and they need to trust in God and trust in Him (John 14:1). In the meantime, Jesus promises them that the Holy Spirit will be with you (John 14:16).
- Prayer – Jesus prays in John 17 that His disciples would be one as He and the Father are one (v. 11, 21, 22). Jesus even declares to the Father that “all I have is yours and all you have is mine” (v. 10). If we go back on John 16:15 Jesus introduces that divine ownership is three-fold, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All these instances of the Oneness of the Trinity give pictures into the Divine Community but the best picture of the Oneness of the Trinity is the Cross. Immediately, some of you are thinking that God’s Oneness is most fragile at the Cross since Jesus declared “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) God the Father, and I believe God the Holy Spirit, forsook Jesus when He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). So how does the Cross best demonstrate the Oneness of the Trinity? Oneness describes the character of God but also has the following purposes and benefits:
1) LOVE: Reproduction – Out of God’s love, joy and intimacy, He created man out of His image (Genesis 1:26-27). But because man rebelled against God and no longer understood God’s love, He sent Jesus to earth. Jesus then came to the Cross to demonstrate His love for the Father and the Father’s love for Him and out of that love we are born of God (John 14:31; 1 John 4:7). Births, though painful, create joy between parents and child. This is why in Hebrews 12:2 states that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the pain of the Cross. Jesus’ joy was to be reunited with His Father and the Spirit while gaining for Himself many sons of glory.
2) JUSTICE: Justice was Served – Sin and Evil has created a Divine Courtroom scenario with multiple persons to take on various roles. You need One Member of the Godhead to act as Judge, another to act as Witness of the crime and another to act as Penalty-bearer (2 Cor. 5:21). God the Father acted as Judge (Psalm 50:6), the Holy Spirit testifies as witness (1 John 5:6) and Christ served as the One who paid the penalty for our sin (2 Cor. 5:21). But since Jesus was innocent and all three members of the Godhead were unjustly hurt at the Cross for our sakes, all three needed to be vindicated and to conquer the devil, the enemy of our souls. This is why God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9; Acts 2:24), the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 8:11) and Christ raised Himself up from the dead as promised in John 2:19. Now it is God’s character that protects those who have been rescued from sin and who continued to be accused by the Evil One (John 17:11; Rev. 12:10; Zech. 3:1-2)
3) CARE: Intercession – Because of the Cross we now have Jesus who lives to make intercession for us to God the Father (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:33-34) and we have the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us when don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This means that at all times two persons of the Godhead are praying and interceding to the Father on our behalf! This is amazing! Theologian Cornelius Plantinga describes God’s care for us as part of His very nature: “The persons within God exalt each other, commune with each other, and defer to one another…Each divine person harbours the others at the center of his being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance, each person envelops and encircles the others…God’s interior life [therefore] overflows with regard for others.”
Now at our own human level, God’s oneness is demonstrated in two places:
- Marriage – A married man and woman are considered one by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5). Their oneness fights evil and immorality (1 Cor. 7:2), produces children (Gen. 1:28) and cares for others.
- The Church – Jesus prays that His disciples would be one (John 17:2) and they are (Eph. 4:4). The Church’s oneness fights evil (Eph. 1:18-23), reproduces (John 15:5; Matthew 28:18-20) and cares for others (Galatians 6:10).
Therefore, as we reflect and live out God’s Oneness, it causes us to love God and others and change the world. How are you going to demonstrate the Oneness of God in your life today?
 Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 20-23.