Christmas Series: Getting a Handel on Christmas: Getting a Handel on Christmas (7) – Good Tidings

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on December 21, 2003

Isaiah 52:7

Good Tidings

Gospel is a word derived from an Anglo-Saxon word,
godspell, which means “the story concerning God.” Especially the story
of God’s salvation.

In the New Testament that word that is behind our
English gospel or between that is the equivalent of the word gospel
very often in the New Testament, good news, is the Greek work
, from which we get, evangel, the gospel or evangelism, to
tell the gospel, to tell the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we’ve already sung about the gospel today. We’ve
sung about the good news in the carols we’ve been praising God with today, and
we’ve heard the choir sing about the gospel and sing the gospel to us, both in
the solos and in the chorus. But I want us to appreciate the content of that
gospel message–the stuff of this good news about which we sing at this time of
year, but often do not reflect upon. I want us to see why it would have been so
exciting, so encouraging for believers to hear this good news announced to them
by the angel, and to hear the chorus of heavenly angels singing “Glory to God”
because of its announcement. I want us to realize to whom it was surprisingly
given, and I want us to appreciate the only proper response to it. So, before we
hear God’s word read and proclaimed, let’s pray for God’s Spirit to illumine our
hearts and minds as we hear His word read. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, this is Your Word; it comes from
Your heart. You wrote it. Help us to receive it then as Your Word, and not
merely the word of man. By Your Spirit, help us to understand it and, more than
this, to hear it with our hearts in such a way that we believe it, embrace it,
and live it. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.

Isaiah 52, verse 7. This is God’s Word.

“How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
says to Zion,
Your God reigns!”

Thus far, the reading of God’s holy Word. Now, turn forward
with me to Luke, chapter 2 beginning in verse 8. You’ve already heard this
passage sung in the libretto of Handel’s Messiah based upon the beautiful
language of the King James version. Let’s hear it in the New American Standard

“In the same region there were some shepherds
staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an
angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone
around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do
not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for
all the people; For today in the city of David there has been born for you a
Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a
baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with
the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men
with whom He is pleased.”

And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

I want to focus on three things with you this morning.
First, what is the gospel? That is a fairly important question. What is the good
news? What is the gospel announced by the angel, proclaimed by Jesus Christ,
established by His life and death and resurrection, proclaimed by His disciples,
his apostles? What is the message of salvation that we call the gospel? Where
does it come from? Where does this good news find its roots? That’s the first
question I want to ask.

Secondly, I want to ask to whom is it given? I want
you to pause and reflect for a moment on those to whom this message first came?
It’s a little surprising when you consider who this announcement comes to.

And thirdly, I want us to think about the proper
response to that gospel How should a person respond to this kind of an
announcement? What’s God expecting of us in response to His announcement of good

Those three things I’d like to meditate for a few moments
with you.

I. What is the gospel?
Let’s start with the gospel. What is the gospel? Those who
appreciate this gospel that we articulate, perhaps, often ourselves in
conversation with those who don’t know Jesus Christ, or who are wrestling to
come to a knowledge of what it is that Christianity teaches about eternal
fellowship with the living God. Perhaps we articulate it ourselves; perhaps we
sing about it and don’t think about it. What are the roots of this gospel? As we
ask the question, What is the gospel? I want us to consider three things

First of all, what does the Old Testament teach us
about the gospel? Secondly, what was thought when a person heard the words “good
news” in the Roman world around the time of Jesus Christ? And thirdly, what does
the New Testament teach us about the gospel?

Let me ask you to take your Bibles and turn with me
all the way back to II Kings 7:9. The phrase good news is used repeatedly
in the Old Testament. It is from the Old Testament, perhaps especially from
Isaiah that the gospel writers of the New Testament draw some of the rich
substance of the proclamation that they want to make about Jesus Christ, but the
first use of the word good news in the Old Testament begins in a fairly
depressing situation. Do you know when the first usage of good news
occurs in the Old Testament? It’s when the Philistines are announcing the death
of Saul, and they actually cut Saul’s head off and send it back into the land of
Philistia, and they pronounce to all the people the good news that their enemy
is dead. That’s a common use of good news in the Old Testament, in Roman
times, and in the New Testament. That is, the good news of victory of one’s
armies against one’s enemies.

But in the Old Testament, especially, good news
becomes associated with God’s victories over God’s and His people’s enemies. In
the passage you have before you, if you turned to II Kings 7:9, there is one
example of it. You remember the story. Samaria is under siege by the and there
is famine in the city of Samaria; there is no food. The people are beginning to
starve to death and the Syrians are intent against them, and there is no hope.
In the middle of the night, God causes the sound of armies to come into the ears
of the Syrians and they panic and they think Israel has hired the Hittites and
the Egyptians and they are about to descend upon us in the middle of the night.
We’d better get out of here. And so they abandon camp. They leave everything
behind. They leave food behind, they leave clothes behind, they leave tents
behind, they leave weapons behind, and they get. Meanwhile, there are these
lepers, and they’ve been doing some calculations. They figure they are going to
die; they’re going to starve to death in the city of Samaria. And so they say,
“Look, why don’t we go out to the enemy camp and ask some of the enemy soldiers
for food? Because what can they do? Kill us? We’re going to die anyway. So,
instead of dying of starvation, we’re going to take a chance and go out and ask
them for some food.” So they go out and get to the camp and what do they find?
They find lots of food and no enemies, and they begin eating to heart’s content.
This is great. Four lepers, a gazillion pounds of food and they are just having
a wonderful time. And then they realize, “We can’t keep this to ourselves. We’ve
got to go back to the city and tell the people there’s food to be had here.”
What do they say in II Kings 7:9? They said to one another, “We’re not doing
right. This day is a day of good news.” You see, God has won a victory
for His people. In this case, His people literally have not lifted a finger and
He has driven their enemies away. It’s a day of good news. In the Old Testament,
you see, good news means the message of God’s victory for His people just like
He performed in this case.

Now, turn forward to Isaiah 52:7. You can keep your
finger in Isaiah for in just a moment, we’re going to turn forward just a few
chapters for our third example. The second thing that good news is
associated with in the Old Testament is the message of God’s reign. That,
despite the fact that God’s people may seem to be oppressed, forgotten, and
downcast because of the control of those who hate them, their enemy; yet God
reigns and He will bring the victory for His people. That’s what is being told
to us in Isaiah 52:7. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who
brings good news who announces peace, and brings good news of happiness who
announces salvation and says to Zion your God reigns.

Now, as a matter of fact, the gospel has been
preached in the Old Testament since Genesis 3:15, ever since God said to the
serpent that he would bruise the seed of the woman’s heel, but the seed of the
woman would crush his head. The gospel has been preached in the Old Testament.

But in Isaiah 52, the gospel is flowering in a
particular context. It had been some 400 years since David reigned on the throne
of Israel. And now, in the time of Isaiah, the northern kingdom and the southern
kingdom have not only been sundered, but the northern kingdom has been lost
completely. And Judah is beset by all her enemies and will, very frankly, in a
few years after Isaiah’s time of ministry, be taken off in exile to Babylon.
When she comes back out of Babylon, she is not going to come back to Palestine
under the rule of the Davidic king; she’s going to come back to Palestine with
her once proud people under the rule of foreign dictators. This will be the case
for 500 years. When the message of salvation which we have heard announced in
Luke 2 is given, it is given while the people of God are yet under the
domination of foreign rulers, the Romans. And Isaiah is saying here that God has
not forgotten His people and that He is going to send messengers on the
mountains with good news that God reigns and that God will save His people from
all their foes. This is a hope in the midst of hopelessness for Israel.

And so, in the Old Testament, the good news
is the message of God’s reign, His sovereignty
. No doubt the people of God
envisaged this promise, this prophecy being manifested in some kind of a Davidic
king, just like David 400 years before had defeated all his enemies with armies
and restored rule and established rule in Jerusalem. No doubt they conceived
salvation coming in that way. We’ll see a little twist on that today, but they
were expecting this good news because it is used here in Isaiah 52:7 of
the message of the messenger that is bringing news of the victory and the reign
of God on behalf of His people.

Thirdly, the good news is used in the Old
Testament of the message that will be brought by the Messiah Himself. It’s not
just that a messenger will tell about God’s victory. It’s that the Messiah
Himself will bring a message. Turn with me to Isaiah 61:1. This is the passage
that Jesus quoted in his home church, if I can put it that way. When Jesus went
to the synagogue in Nazareth to explain to them who He was, He quoted from this
passage. This is what is says.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because He has
anointed Me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent Me to bind
up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the

Can you imagine the reaction of the people gathered
in the synagogue in Nazareth when Jesus closed the scroll and said, “Today this
has been fulfilled in your hearing. I am here. The Messiah is here. I am He, and
I am here to proclaim good news and set the captives free.” You see, there is a
rich background to the Old Testament hope of the good news. The good
symbolizes for people in a half millennium of bondage and servitude
that God is going to send the Messiah to set them free.

Now, move forward to Roman times. In the time of the
Empire, the term, good news, would have had a common currency. That is,
it would have been understood by anyone in the sway of the Roman world. For
instance, when Roman generals would win victories for the nation, the victories
would be announced in Rome and all the provinces as good news. It was
a technical term attached to celebrations of victory. Furthermore, it was also
used interestingly, of what the Romans believed were communications from their
gods, especially through the oracles. As the Roman people would go and visit an
oracle, looking for a word from their gods, they would often refer to those
words as good news. It’s interesting, because God is really going to
speak the word of good news in contrast to the false words from the false
gods of the Romans, and yet He uses that language that would have been
understandable to anyone in the Roman world; they would recognize that God is
communicating a revealed word to His people.

Thirdly, good news was associated with the
cult of the emperor, the imperial cult, the imperial worship of the emperor.
When the emperor’s birthday came around, a proclamation of good news was

Now, into that world comes the announcement that we
have heard sung and read today in Luke 2. Turn there for a moment. What is
the good news according to the New Testament?
The good news is
the glad message of God’s salvation won by Christ and preached by our Lord and
His followers.

Look at Luke 2:10-11, “Do not be afraid, I bring you
good news of great joy which will be for all people, for today in the City of
David, has been born a Savior.” Here we see the announcement from an angel to
these shepherds, that God’s promise from Isaiah 52:7, God’s promise from Genesis
3:15, God’s promise from Genesis 12:1-3, has been brought to pass in the birth
of Jesus Christ. This announcement is the substance of this good news.
We apply it to the gospels, we talk about the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John, the gospels we call them, because they contain this message: the message
that Messiah has come. Can you imagine the joy that would break upon the hearts
of the people of God, under oppression for 500 years, when they hear that the
day of their liberation has come. “Today has been born, in the City of David, a
Savior who is Messiah the Lord.” That is the announcement that the angels give,
and it brings together hundreds of years of hope fulfilled for the people of
God. No wonder there was such a response of joy in those who heard that
message. Their hopes had finally come to fruition. This is the culmination of
the long ago made prophecies of God, and this good news is expanded throughout
the New Testament, elaborated, but it boils down to this: the glad tidings of
the life, the full and free salvation through Christ to sinful men.

Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I make
known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you
received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast
the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered
to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was
raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Isn’t that glorious? The gospel is an announcement of
God’s victory, but as Paul summarizes it, he summarizes it in such a way as to
highlight that the way God’s victory is won is not through a Messianic King
leading massive armies against the Romans until they are expelled from the land
of Palestine, but it is through the life, crucifixion and death, burial, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Son of God comes into the world to bear sin
because our real enemy is not the Romans, it’s ourselves; it’s our sin. And he
deals with that sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

That is the good news of the victory of God. That is
how God accomplishes this victory through Jesus Christ. Of course, that’s hinted
at in the very announcement of the angels. Everything makes sense when the angel
says, “Don’t be afraid. I’m bringing you good news of great joy for all the
people. For in this day in the city of David is born a Savior who is Messiah, is
Lord.” Up to that point of the announcement, everything makes sense. Here’s what
doesn’t make sense. When the angel says, “OK, and here’s the sign. Here’s how
you’re going to know. When you see Messiah, the Lord He is going to be in a
gigantic palace surrounded by hoards of attendants.” Nope, it doesn’t say that.
Kings of nations are going to be gathered around Him. It doesn’t say that.
Here’s how you’re going to know it. He’s going to be wrapped in cloths and lying
in a feeding trough.

You see, from the very beginning of the announcement
of the good news we see that Christ’s exaltation is going to be accomplished by
His humiliation. That the way up is going to be gotten by the way down. That
victory is going to be purchased through suffering. That life is going to be
gotten through death. From the very beginning of the angel’s announcement of the
good news, we see that God is going to accomplish this victory in the most
unexpected and surprising of ways. So, there’s the New Testament good news, the
glad tidings of life. Full and free salvation through Jesus Christ to sinful men
purchased by the death of Christ and His resurrection. That’s what Paul says in
1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

II. Who does the gospel message
come to?
So, who does this message come to? Who are the recipients of
this good news, this gospel message of the victory of God on behalf of
His people? Well, you see it in verse 8 of Luke 2. “In that same region there
were some shepherds.” Now folks, we generally have a fairly sentimental view of
shepherds. We have lots of them in nativity scenes all over the place this time
of year. We think of shepherds in light of Psalm 23, and so we highly esteem
them. We have the picture of the Good Shepherd Himself who loves his sheep and
lays down his life for them.

But you need to understand that in the time of Jesus,
shepherds did not have the best of reputations. The legal code did not allow
shepherds to give court testimony before a judge. Why? Because they were
notorious liars. Shepherds were not on the list of the most esteemed
professions. If you had a list of most esteemed professions, shepherds would not
appear on that list. Mark Magee was telling me we had a special kind of workmen,
craftsmen, that we needed to help us this fall at Twin Lakes; and the
construction company was having a hard time finding that kind of worker. I’m not
going to reveal what kind of worker it is in order to protect the
not-so-innocent. And Mark said one day this crew of very clean cut, polite
gentlemen showed up saying, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and just obeying every
direction. And Mark said, “I know that this could not be the crew. You can tell
that they don’t know anything about this particular work. Men in this particular
profession are not known for their social graces. They are not the folks that
you want at your daughter’s wedding reception. They’re certainly not the folks
that you want marrying your daughter.” And this is how the shepherds were looked
upon, and that’s the group to whom God announces, through His angels, the coming
of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Because Jesus
Himself, in quoting Isaiah 61:1, has said, “I have come to declare the good
to the afflicted, to the downcast, to the broken hearted.” Elsewhere He
puts it this way. I didn’t come for the righteous; I came for sinners.

So if you don’t think you need Jesus today, I’ve got
some bad news for you. If you don’t think you need Jesus, He didn’t come for
you. But if you know that you need Jesus, if you know that you are a sinner, if
you know that you are downcast, I’ve got the best possible news. He Himself
says, “I come to declare you good news.” God reaches out in the gospel
to the very lea
st. And those who have been reached out to know this in our
hearts. We know our need. We don’t look over there at those wretched sinners. We
know that the wretched sinner is right here who has been received and redeemed
by the Lord Jesus Christ and made to be part of the family of God. And we
rejoice when others who are needy are brought into our family too because He
came for the afflicted; that’s who He comes to. And what’s the response to this?

III. What is the proper response
to the gospel?
What is the only proper response to this glorious announcement,
this redemption in Christ Jesus? Well, there are two responses. There’s the
response of faith, and there’s the response of praise. The only possible
to the glory of God revealed in the incarnation and life and
ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is to trust Him. To trust in
Him with all your heart. To cast your hopes on Him. To no longer think that you
can be accepted by God apart from Him. To realize that only in Him can you meet
God. To trust Him because He is God’s stratagem, the only hope of redemption.
Apart from Him nothing else matters. Apart from Him there is no hope.
so, the first response of this announcement of the gospel is to trust Him.

The second response is to live a life of praise. When
the angels hear the announcement of this angel to the shepherds, it’s almost
like they break out in praise. They have to break forth with, “Glory to God in
the highest!” because of this announcement. It’s not simply the announcement
that god is finally bringing His Messiah into the world, it’s the surprising way
in which He is doing it, and it leaves the angels to say, “Glory to God,” and
anybody who understands that message is going to want to join in with the
angels. That’s why Robert Lowery, in 1867, could write, “How could I keep from
singing?” If the angels can’t control themselves, and have to break into song,
surely our response is to sing praises to God. The very thought of The Word’s
incarnation, the very announcement of the good news, sets angels
singing. We ought to follow their examples, and respond in wonder, love and
praise to the announcement of this good news. May God help us to do so, even as
we sing. Let’s pray.

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