Christmas Eve 2018

2018 Messages

Todd uses the story of the rich, young, ruler to encourage and motivate us to not go through Christmas superficially and bow to Jesus only for a moment, but to realize that hope has come through the Lamb of God to take away our sins. We don't just keep commandments and we don't attain to righteousness, it is a gift of God because God is good and He loves us. Christ still does miracles and still changes lives; because of this, we should share this just as the shepherds shared about His birth.

Todd WagnerDec 24, 2018Mark 10:17-20; Mark 10:21; Luke 2:15; Luke 2:20

Male: It was a night just like any other. The sun rose and set again while Israel waited. It had been 400 years of silence, four centuries without a word from God through his prophets. Generations lived in eager anticipation of a message from the Lord and died without a word from heaven. The Israelites faced foes from outside and corrosive forces from within, from the Greeks and Romans who conquered the nation to the Sadducees who thirsted for political power and the Pharisees who burdened Israel with strict religious laws.

In those decades of silence, how many gathered their children and grandchildren around the fire and shared stories of God's faithfulness? How many in Israel still worshiped the one true God who spoke creation into existence, who formed mountains, seas, and deserts with a single word? Did they know their Creator who formed man out of the dust and gave woman the breath of life? Did they understand that Adam and Eve's sin, like the sin of all humankind to follow, would separate us from a perfect holy God and commence the biggest search and rescue mission ever undertaken?

How many learned that God silenced mankind's wickedness through a worldwide flood that wiped out all but a handful of souls, the family of Noah, the only righteous man standing before God in those days? Were young minds struck with wonder at the stories of God's mighty work during Israel's years of slavery in Egypt, Moses' pleas to Pharaoh to let God's people go, or the 10 plagues that devastated Egypt and sent God's people on a wild escape straight to the banks of the Red Sea?

Did grandparents tell of God's mighty hand that parted the sea and allowed the fleeing Israelites to walk on dry ground to freedom? Did stories of God's redemption inspire future generations to fear the Lord or did their hearts slowly drift toward apathy and discouragement as their ancestors did while wandering in the desert? Did they know of God's faithfulness as he helped Israel conquer their enemies and retake their land? Were they filled with dread when they heard of Israel's return to idol worship and rejoiced at God's forgiveness of his children?

Could those who knew God's statutes have imagined that the Lord would use ordinary, unworthy people: Rahab, a prostitute; Jacob, a schemer and deceiver; Ruth, a pagan; David, a king and philandering murderer; Mary, a pregnant, unwed woman, and her betrothed to bring into this world the only one who is worthy of our praise?

As Israel groaned under the brutal hand of Roman occupation, how their hearts must have longed for the Messiah, the consolation of Israel, the one who would set the captives free. Imagine the yearning, the anticipation, the wonder, as fathers and sons, daughters and mothers gathered around the fire, discussing the rumors overheard in the streets that tonight might be different, that something extraordinary was happening, that the long silence from heaven was finally broken.

[End of video]

That first Christmas didn't scream with joy. It was a Christmas that still left people wondering if anything had really happened. After all, this long-awaited promised Messiah was still a baby, if he was any king at all. There was still cold and hopelessness, there was still great darkness, and only a few folks…in fact, insignificant people, people who were written off as worthless inside society, shepherds, had ever even heard at this point that the night had come.

The night didn't seem very holy. It still seemed pretty hopeless. It's a lot like today. One of the things I've mentioned to friends over the last couple of years is that if we really want to enjoy Christmas, really celebrate Christmas, really get the full impact of what happened at Christmas, then we should practice Advent in a way that, frankly, the world would take note of.

For a long time, around the Easter season the church has always denied itself of something during what we call Lent in order to anticipate the sacrifice that was ultimately made by Jesus, this child who was to grow, to die; by denying itself of some comfort, some physical provision during the Lenten season, in the same way Christ denied himself comfort and exaltation as he came on earth to be a provision for sin.

I always thought one of the ways we should celebrate Advent is by not using electricity for the entire month of December. I mean, when we're done with the Thanksgiving holiday and whatnot, go ahead and put your Christmas lights up. Just don't turn them on. In fact, turn all of your lights off. Every night when it gets cold, only use a fire to warm your house. Every night when it gets dark, only use candles and a fire to light your surroundings.

Can you imagine how much we would look forward to December 25? Can you imagine how we'd be glad to go to 11:00 service, just waiting for the lights to come on at midnight? You wouldn't be as excited about maybe the gift that was under the tree as much as the fact that your tree lights could come on. If you drove home and all of a sudden into the darkness came a great light, that light had come into the world…

It was a picture of what the prophets claimed happened that very first Christmas, but it didn't look like a lot of light had come. It was just a small light, a dim light, a baby born to a teenage girl with some pretty radical claims. Our world that's on the back side of Christmas continues now to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of who this child was, because he didn't come and accomplish everything at one time that he was said to accomplish.

He came this time to accomplish something that the people who looked for the Great Deliverer were not ultimately expecting they would be delivered from. They wanted to see the oppression of Caesar and Alexander the Great before him and the Medo-Persian Empire before that and Babylon before that and Assyria before that… They wanted to see the Caesars of the world destroyed. They didn't want to see the thing that ruled inside their hearts and brought corruption to them dealt with, but God said, "That's your greatest enemy."

So the child was born to die and to be a sacrifice for men. A lot of men say they've understood that sacrifice. They don't just know the story. They genuinely personally have come to believe that Easter and Christmas are inexplicably tied together and that Easter and Christmas, this birth of this child who was born to die, is a source of great hope for them, yet we wait for the promise of that child accomplishing everything he said he was going to accomplish.

Our world right now is suffering a lot from a despair and depression. Loneliness is a national epidemic. People who study mental health and just the health of the nation will tell you that the leading cause of death in America right now is not obesity, not cancer, not heart disease; it is loneliness…loneliness and isolation, broken relationships. People who are not experiencing lives filled with joy are two times as likely as people who are heavy drinkers to die early.

People whose lives are lonely are three times as likely to die as people who are obese. Both heavy drinking and obesity are often related to loneliness as it goes. For three consecutive years now, the life expectancy of Americans has decreased despite all our medical advances, because it's still a dark place in a lot of people's lives in this world. It doesn't look like hope has come, because maybe we know the story of Christmas, but not a lot of folks have actually embraced the story.

This Christmas child grew up to be a great leader and to reverse some of the effects of sin in this world, and as he did, he gained some notoriety as a teacher. There was a guy who came up to him, and he had a couple of good Christmases strung together. Things were going pretty well with him. He was not oppressed. He was, in fact, in a position where he could oppress others. He was not old and fearful of death. In fact, he was young. And he wasn't lacking. In fact, he was called rich. This rich young ruler had an interaction with this child who was born at Christmas.

Now when you start to think about texts in your Bible that are Christmas texts, a lot of people don't go to Mark 10 and the story of the rich young ruler, but I think we should, because especially given what Christmas is supposed to be about, you're going to find out that here comes this rich young ruler who bumps into the child of Christmas and says some things about the Christmas child that you would think would say he understands Christmas, but you're going to find out he doesn't. I thought we could learn something from him in the midst of our loneliness and despair and the world we live in that needs a little bit of light.

Matthew 19 is another place he shows up, but we're going to look in the Mark passage. This is what it says in Mark 10. "As He [Jesus, this Christ child] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him…" Watch this. He actually went through an outward sign of acknowledgement that this Christ child wasn't just a child, that this man who was born to parents of very little account, in fact, was a very great man. He was a King.

This rich young ruler knelt before him and began asking him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The response Jesus gives to him is pretty interesting. He doesn't say, "Well, thank you for the encouragement that you think I'm a teacher and that I'm a good one, as a matter of fact." He says, "Why do you call Me good?"

"Why do you come up before me, the child of promise, the one the angels sang about, the one the prophets told about, the one kings came to honor, the one who has shown not just with his words but his deeds that he is, in fact, something more than just a mere man? Why do you kneel before me and call me good? No one is good but God alone."

This is what's interesting. The word he used for good is not like "You're a better teacher than others." The word he used for good is the word for holistic or perfect. What Jesus said to this guy is, "Hey, listen. No human on earth is a perfect teacher. No human on earth is completely good. Every human is flawed. You call me a perfectly good person and teacher? If you understood that, you would know I wouldn't lie and everything I said is true. You kneel before me, and you start your conversation with me by asking what you can do to inherit what only perfect people can inherit."

I started to think a little bit about Christmas. I love the fact that we gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the fact that light has come into our dark world, that hope has invaded our dark hearts. There were a few things I learned from this rich young ruler who knelt before the Christmas child that were instructive to me. I want to share them with you.

  1. Outward signs of piety are no assurance of actual internal surrender. Why? Because this man ran up and knelt before him, yet he wasn't actually acknowledging that he was the King who had come to bring hope. It looked like it, if you were watching from a distance, in the same way that America and the world is going to be filled with people who are going to celebrate the birth of the Christmas child in terms of outward appearances, in terms of maybe attendance and observance, but outward signs of piety are not necessarily assurance of an inward surrender.

  2. Correct professions of faith are not to be confused with having a correct position before the Father, who is the author and giver of life. Not only did this man run up and kneel before Jesus, but at this point he began calling him and saying, "You are a good teacher. There's something different about you. I believe you're the child of promise. I believe you are the hope that has come into the world. You're the desire of the nations. I believe there's peace on earth because of you." That's what the man proclaimed, yet you're going to find out he still had a deep concern.

  3. A concern for spiritual things does not ensure that there is a condition of spiritual trust in a person's heart. This man who had heard about the fact that there was a promised child who had grown who had evidenced that he was, in fact, the child of promise by the works he had done didn't take the promise the child had offered, so he was still insecure about the fact that he was at peace with God. I want to note one last thing, and then I want to break this down for you.

This rich young ruler, you're going to find out, had confidence in his own behavior. In fact, let's just go back to Mark for a second and watch what happens after Jesus rebuked him by saying, "Hey, listen. If you knew that I was, in fact, the intrinsically good one, then you would know you're not intrinsically good and you would know there's no way you could ever have a relationship with a holy God. I've told you that I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me."

In the story as it continues, Jesus says to this young man, "You know the commandments…" It's interesting, because Jesus now starts with the sixth commandment, seventh commandment, eighth commandment, ninth commandment, and then he jumps back and grabs the fifth commandment, and they're all commandments about how we deal with one another.

"You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness** , Do not defraud[other people], **** Honor your father and mother ***.'"* It's pretty clear that this rich young ruler, who had had a couple of good Christmases as far as the world was concerned and was doing pretty well in life, was still struggling with something. Even though he was concerned about eternal life, it didn't mean he had any real peace that comes with those who understand who he's talking to.

If he had paid attention to what Jesus said, Jesus would have already shared with him, "Hey, you need to know that while Moses says you shouldn't murder, I say to you that if you look at a brother with hate in your heart…" Haven't we all at one time? "…you're guilty of murder. If you look at a woman or a man with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery."

Jesus says, "The righteousness as you guys understand it is not the righteousness of God. God is not looking for external conformity. What he's looking for are people who love him in spirit and truth and people who are like him. Because all men have sinned and all men fall short of the glory of God, you're all in darkness and you all need a Good One who can be a sacrifice for you." That's why he, Jesus, said he is the child of promise who has come to take away the sins of the world.

This rich young ruler responds to him and says, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Yet he was still insecure. He goes, "As far as men go, not only have I had a few good Christmases materially; I'm a pretty good guy morally, because in the way that I understand murder and adultery and defrauding people and lying to people and honoring mothers and fathers, I'm at the top of the heap, yet I'm still insecure."

It's amazing to me how many people who will celebrate the Christmas story don't understand the message of Christmas. They're still religious people, and they're not people who have had peace. They're not people who have hit rest. Listen to me, rich young rulers, people who are largely not discontent with their lot in life, people who have more power than they are being powerlessly oppressed, people who maybe aren't facing impending death; they're still young enough in their health that they think things are going on.

I know inside of you God has put eternity in your hearts, and you probably know something isn't all just right. Maybe there's loneliness in you. Maybe all the hope Jesus was to bring hasn't come to you. Jesus wants you to hear this Christmas message. People who are still religious, people who are still trying to obey commandments in order to have peace with God are people who don't experience peace with God.

Let me give it to you this way. Works-based religion, people who are committed to different acts of performance… Works-based religion always produces either a false security based on prideful self-righteousness or real insecurity and bitterness based on fatigue, fear of failure, or performance anxiety. That was the condition of this rich young ruler who came before the child of Christmas. He said, "Teacher, I've kept all of these laws ever since I was young, yet I don't have Christmas joy in my heart."

He said, "I've kept these things." Just because somebody has self-confidence in their character does not mean they're going to ultimately have salvation before our King. That was exactly the case with the rich young ruler. Many of us in this room are going, "Hey, I'm not as bad as most people. I'm better than most people, in fact. I've largely done okay," but having self-confidence in your character does not mean you're going to have salvation before your King.

Jesus does something really interesting with this rich young ruler. He shows him, "You may have kept in your own mind's eye the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and fifth commandments, but you didn't keep the first, second, and third commandments." The first commandment is "Don't have any other gods before me." The second commandment is "Don't make any likeness or any idol you worship more than me." The third commandment is "Don't use my name in vain." He did all of those things.

He walked up and called Jesus a good teacher, yet he didn't acknowledge that he was the intrinsic Good One, contrary to his own nature; that he was a sinner who needed a Savior and only a Good One born of a virgin who had come from God as a perfect God-man could provide a perfect sacrifice to a holy God. He didn't acknowledge the disparity between him and Jesus. He thought he was a good person himself. So, he used praise of Jesus in vain, and he had something he loved more than God. So Jesus shows him that because he loves him.

The Scripture says Jesus looked at him and felt a love for him, so he addressed him and showed him his need. He said, "One thing you lack: go and sell everything you possess and give it to the poorso for your sake thief won't steal, moth won't destroy, rust won't depreciate, and you can invest in eternal things that will be a treasure to you, and follow me, because I'm the God of life."

It says that at that point the rich young ruler went away because he owned many things. In other words, there was something else he trusted in more than the child of Christmas. He knelt before the child of Christmas, he said glorious things about the child of Christmas, but he had a false sense of self-righteousness and, at the same time, a deep sense of insecurity.

This Christmas story is amazing. It's why so many of us who are going to be around the Christmas story, just like this rich young ruler was around the Christmas story, don't have all the peace and the joy of Christmas, because we're not really sure exactly what Christmas has produced. Do you believe he's worthy? Do you believe this one who has come as a child has brought about what you can never bring about through your own works and your own self-righteousness?

Are you at a place of peace? Are you at a place in your life where you know you have peace with God because this Christ child was born to die and to give himself for you, that God made him who knew no sin to become sin on your behalf that you might become the righteousness of God in him? Are you just saying things about him and having empty words that don't acknowledge really who he is and who you are?

God wants us not just to kneel before him in some outward act of piety. God wants us to understand how holy a night this was. The God who requires that the wages of sin be death has brought into this world on this holy night in a way the world can't even fully recognize yet the hope of the world. The God who brought the hope of the world was not going to be finished when he died on the cross. He was going to take his life back up again and was going to be ascended to the right hand of the Father.

So we wait another 2,000 years for the promise to ultimately be fulfilled, and God has left us here to be people who acknowledge who the King is, who live still in a world that is dark and despairing where sin still runs through the course of the world, but we live as people of hope whose sin has been dealt with, filled with joy. Even though there's still trouble in the world, we are people of promise, and we believe hope has come because we believe he is worthy.

Do you believe he is worthy? Not just do you sing songs about it, not just do you say things about him, like the rich young ruler, but do you kneel and confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is who he said he was? Do you understand Christmas or are you still stuck in dead religion and, therefore, still dead in your trespasses and sins? Is Jesus worthy to be your Savior?

Father, I pray that this room understands that what you're looking for is people who worship you in spirit and truth, who don't just kneel in a moment by a manger and kneel before you as a teacher but people who have humbled themselves before you so that they're poor in spirit and helpless before a holy God. If it weren't for the miracle of Christmas, that we have been justified by faith and have peace with you through Jesus Christ our Lord…Immanuel, God with us, born into a manger…we are dead in our trespasses and sins. O Father, would you show us that you are worthy in this broken world? Amen.


Not many people who kneel before him really acknowledge him long term, and not many people who sing "He is worthy" really understand, but this room is filled with a bunch of my friends who do understand. We're not just going through some external act of piety. We're not just throwing out niceties before the Good Teacher. We're saying, "Hope has come." This is a holy night we remember in history, that God invaded earth…Immanuel, God is with us.

He is the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of Todd Wagner. He has come to take away the sins of all who know they are desperate without him. When you know that hope has come, it changes everything and makes you sing. He gives you a new song, so you sing, "Joy to the world," but you're still in a world filled with trouble, with thorns and thistles, a world that the child said is still going to be wracked with trouble. Why? Because he's patient toward you, not wishing that any would perish but that all should come to repentance.

So he leaves children, like me, who have been shown the perfect provision of the King who has come until he returns again. The Bible has always talked about two Christmases. He's coming again. There's a song we've always sung around Christmas called "Joy to the World," but it's a song that's really written about the second Christmas, the Christmas you find in Revelation 21 and 22, when he comes and all of the rocks and all of the hills and all of the floods and all of the plains are going to rejoice.

The longing of creation that fell with us on this world that we are God's sovereigns over has fallen, but it's going to be restored. God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, and it will be glorious again, as it should be, and he'll eradicate sin, and all of us who have already had our sin dealt with by trusting in this child not just superficially, not where we're tacking on our own works, but completely depending upon him… All of those who have peace with God by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord will be at peace with him, and we will reign forever.

Now that is a crazy story or this was a holy night. Church, if you're here, there are people who are listening who are trying to figure out if what the angel said is true, and they're trying to figure out if there really are people who have joy in the midst of a world that still is not as it should be. One of the ways they know is we sing now and we live differently. We'll have a chance to live differently in a moment, but we have a chance to sing now. So let's worship our King in the hope that is to come.


Let me tell you who the shepherds were. They heard that song. I'm sure the angels didn't have all that instrumentation, but I bet it sounded great. Can you imagine being one of those shepherds? Let me tell you who shepherds were. Shepherds were people who sacrificed their own comfort to care for others. Shepherds were people who led creatures to living water, bread of life, green pastures.

Shepherds were people who took the message they had been given that night, and it says in Luke 2:15, "When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to the place of that story. Let us get there and see the things the Lord in his kindness has declared to us.'"

What happens is when the Lord declares to you in his kindness the truth of what the Christmas story is to where you don't just go superficially kneeling before it, where you don't just sing songs because they're floated all around you on radios and in society… No, you let that song go right to your heart. When shepherds hear the story the Lord has allowed you to hear, it changes everything. It gives you a new song and it makes you sing, but not everybody lives like that. Some people live like this.

The angel's song hasn't come. Loneliness is ruining their lives. The light of the world has not yet flushed into them. It says in Luke 2, five verses later in verse 20, the shepherds went back. They were radically changed by the truth of Christmas. They believed the message, and they glorified God and gave praise to him for all they had seen and heard, that hope had come, that the sacrifice was present, that the sins of men are dealt with, that there's peace on earth. God isn't mad at you. He has set you free. He has come to die that you might live.

When shepherds, true believers, hear that story, they leave. They are changed, and they glorify him and praise him. Into that dark world, all of a sudden, somebody lets go of all of their insecurities and all of their fears, and over there somebody meets Christ and the light is lit. Into the darkness there comes another light, and then somebody forsakes their own self-righteousness and gets away from their own believing in commandments, and up there another light is lit. There's somebody who is freed from dead legalism and all of a sudden starts to say, "No, hope has come," and they give glory to God.

Somebody says, "No, I have been reconciled to God. I've been taught to forgive, so I can forgive. I've been taught to love, so I can love," and all of a sudden a family's life is changed and darkness is dispelled, because all of a sudden humans are brought back together, and then all of a sudden lives are changed. You no longer are some drug cartel meth addict who's ruining society but you're transformed, and right here another life is changed. Read your Watermark News. This Christ child still lives, so he's still doing miracles today, just like he did then.

Into the darkness there comes a great light because shepherds go, glorifying God and praising the people. Here's the question…Is the light of Christmas living in you? There are people out there who don't know it. Maybe they're going to go through it superficially, like the rich young ruler did, and bow before Christmas for a moment but still love their things and not love God, still think that righteousness is something they attain to instead of something God gave them.

Will you be shepherds? Will the hope of Christmas start from the east and the north and the west and the south, and will it cover the earth? Will it start right from here, and will you be believers who when you come to the Christmas story you leave praising God and glorifying him and you become the light of the world in Jesus' name? It's a silent night. It's a holy night, but we're not to be silent. We're to take the holiness of what Christ has accomplished for us and spread it. Watch the way the light of Christmas changes a dark room. Stand and sing with me.


Listen, team. We're a kingdom of priests. Those of us who know who he is don't just light candles. We don't just give superficial praise. We are the light of the world. Christ in us is the hope of glory. Our righteousness is not our own. He saved us according to deeds which he, the Christ child, has done in righteousness. God made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we, through Christmas, might become the righteousness of God in him. It is finished, and we are free.

The world is still dark and we're not surprised by it, but we live with the light of hope because we know he is coming again. He is worthy to open the scrolls. That is Revelation 5, Revelation 6, Revelation 21, and Revelation 22. You are people living in the silent years with all the hope and expectation that the King who would come is coming again. We have an obligation, and if we've truly heard from the Lord we will leave here differently. We don't just light candles. We don't just sing songs. We have a new song, and we go and tell it everywhere we can. That's our privilege and our joy.

We're going to go ahead and blow out those little candles right now, and we're going to light a different one in our hearts. If you're here and you're a guest and you've never understood what it means to appropriate Christmas into your heart, it means just acknowledging your sin, acknowledging God's provision for your sin. You stop trying to keep the commandments as a way to become righteous and you keep the commandments because you know God loves you and he's good. Why wouldn't you do what he says, because he'll die for you to show his love?

Too many people think that because we're good God loves us, and the truth is because God is good he loves us. So let us know how we can serve you. Let us know how we can build into your life and help you grow as his servant and his people. We have time, so we'll just sing the song "Go Tell It" together, and then we'll go out of here and we'll be the lights we just testified we want to be. Let's sing it like we believe it, church. Here we go.


Merry Christmas, guys. We'd love to help you understand more about how you can have peace with God through Jesus if you don't know, but God bless you. We're glad you came. You have a great week of worship. Merry Christmas. We'll see you.