Immanuel – God With Us – Christmas 2017

Christmas 2017

God With Us

Genesis 3 – Entire

Matthew 1:18-25

AUDIO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE

The two passages we’ve just had read for us are not usually considered together – in fact, they are so vitally linked that we must consider them side by side in understanding Christmas.

I know I have mentioned the trip Sky and I took last month to attend the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society. As always there were several hundred academic papers read by theologians, philosophers and others who are committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, and to furthering our understanding and application of them.

One of the sessions we attended was a festschrift for Dr. Vern Poythress, who has been professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia since 1987.

A festschrift is simply a collection of writings brought together as a book to honor a scholar at a certain point in their career.

At this festschrift, several of the contributors to the book also spoke, and several made comments about Dr. Poythress’s prodigious Bible memorization. He has committed huge amounts to the Bible to memory, many portions, both in English and in Greek.

But when asked initially about his memorizing, he mentioned that first of all he memorized the first three chapters of Genesis. Because, as he said, everything else in the Bible flows from those chapters.

Indeed, when we come to consider something like the incarnation of Christ at Christmas, the truth is, the Son of God becoming incarnate as Jesus, living, dying on the Cross and rising again – none of it makes a lick of sense without Genesis 3 especially.

Jesus didn’t come to earth in a vacuum. He didn’t just appear disconnected from human history nor the rest of the Biblical story.

He came as the focal point of the Biblical record. He came in answer to the prophecy and promise that God gave to humankind back in the Garden of Eden. As the fulfillment of the Divine prophecy and promise which came directly out of and on the heels of – The Fall. The descent of mankind into the darkness and wretchedness of sin.

He came especially, to address the key element of the Fall, the problem out of which all human misery flows – separation from God.

To state the issue as simply as I can: Sin separates. And it is this dis-integration, this dreadful separation in all of its manifestations which is at the heart of the Christmas story.

To get to that, let’s go back to see what I mean when I say that sin separates, and that this separation is at the bottom of all human woe – and  – Christmas.

Genesis 3 as we have already seen, records the Fall of humanity into sin by means of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Let’s look at it afresh.

Genesis 3:1–5 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

The 1st separation we encounter is a Separation from God’s Authority. Satan’s suggestions take precedence for Eve over what God had already said. He assumes an authority to re-interpret God’s words. And ultimately, she does the very same thing.

The result of this is a Separation from God’s truth. God’s revelation is questioned. God doesn’t communicate well is the accusation. He didn’t mean what He said. You must make His Word fit into your understanding, and not go back to Him if clarification is needed.

Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Once God’s authority is left behind, and His truth obscured, the natural result is Separation from God’s Wisdom. Human wisdom takes precedence. God has said X – but I know better.

And as the text records, once God’s wisdom is left, Separation from God given structures is inevitable. The woman leads and the man partakes without ever rebuking the serpent. Man had authority over all the creatures, but now he wimps out. Woman who is there is help man serve God most effectively as one with him, suggests another path, and he doesn’t resist. Abdication from responsibility.

Genesis 3:7 “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Separation from Innocence and Purity. Now their eyes are open in ways they were not designed for. They see things but not from a vantage point of innocence and purity, but one of lewdness.

Genesis 3:8–11 “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Separation from FELLOWSHIP with God.

Genesis 3:12 “The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Separation from one another. Adam throws Eve under the bus! All marital and relational strife can be traced back to sin, on the part of one or both parties – but sin is always at the root of driving us apart.

Genesis 3:13 “Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Separation from God ordained responsibility. Responsibility for her own actions, and responsibility over creation.

Genesis 3:16 “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

Separation from original joy and fulfillment.  The very roles God had given to bless and help mankind flourish become painful and are seen even as onerous or restrictive.

Genesis 3:17–19 “And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Separation from original purpose, fruitfulness and joy in labor.

Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Separation from life. Mankind was made to live. And now, we will die.

Genesis 3:22–24 “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Separation from the Presence of God. This, in the final analysis is the great, ultimate, terrible, tragedy and result of sin. In this case, God removed Adam and Eve from His presence in judgment.

This, is the state of humankind from the Fall forward to today.

Now in one sense – it is true, God is omnipresent – everywhere present at the same time. But in another sense – He is altogether absent.

Trapped in our guilt and sin, the beauty of God’s presence, the wonder of it, the desire for it and the love of it – the ultimate blessing of it is gone. And apart from some means of taking away our guilt, cleansing away the defilement of our sin and brining forgiveness of it – we remain without hope.

Or as Ephesians 2:12 so graphically describes the plight of one outside of Christ: At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Sin separates! It disrupts and corrupts everything having to do with mankind. It dis-integrates the fundamental unity of the Cosmos as God has created it.

And it is into such a world – so wretchedly separated from its Creator and sustainer, that Christ comes.

He comes to a guilty humanity – guilty along with Adam in our rebellion against God’s rightful authority over us: A guilt we ratify every time we still disobey and live beneath the glory we were created in – to reflect His eternal perfections.

To this dark world, to these rebellious people who want to rule ourselves rather than bend the knee to Him – who serve our fleshly wants and desires above His perfect desires for us – who seek our own happiness above what we were created for – and could give little care as to whether or not He is actually in the picture, as long as we think we are happy – to such He came.

To you, and to me.

And apart from Divine love flowing from the Giver rather than the attractiveness of the loved – there would be no hope.

But there IS hope, a hope first found in one portion of Gen. 3 we didn’t examine, and then in the other passage we had read this morning.

Yes, Mankind had sinned.

Yes, Mankind in our sin had ushered in all manner of human suffering and woe.

And yes, God banished us from His presence, and even put a barrier in the way of our finding our way back to the Tree of Life as a just penalty for our sin.

But He also promised us something. At the very same time God pronounced His curse on Satan for his role in tempting our first parents and encouraging the Fall – He also announced that someday , God would intervene and that one born to this same rebellious and fallen race, would be the very means to reverse the damage done. To the Serpent God says:

Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The woman will have an offspring, who will take on this Tempter and will suffer in so doing, but will deliver the decisive crushing blow against him. An ironic separation to sever what should never have been an alliance.

And what will that look like? For that We go to our Christmas passage.

Matthew 1:18–25 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

God, the offended, holy, just and perfect God, will come to His offenders – and be present with them again, and end the banishment enacted at the Fall. And this restoration of His presence with us, will begin the redemption of what was lost in the Fall, until all is once again as it should be in Him.

In reverse order to all the separation we saw in the Fall –

Separation from the Presence of God.  Vs. 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

We could not go to Him – but He would come to us. Jesus – is God WITH us! Not far off. Not estranged. Not impossible to reach – but walking among us and restoring all things.

Separation from life. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Separation from original purpose, fruitfulness and joy in labor. 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Separation from original joy and fulfillment.  John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Separation from God ordained responsibility. Revelation 5:9–10 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Separation from one another. John 13:34–35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Separation from FELLOWSHIP with God. 1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

Separation from Innocence and Purity.  1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Separation from God given structures. 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

Separation from God’s Wisdom. Colossians 2:1–3 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Separation from God’s truth. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Separation from God’s Authority. Colossians 1:13–14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God WITH us, is the beginning of the restoration of all things in and through Him.

And this beloved is Christmas. It is God taking the full initiative to restore sinners to Himself by the 2nd member of the Godhead – becoming incarnate – that He might not just be among us – but that we might be WITH Him – forgiven, cleansed, redeemed from our Fall – and made new creatures.

Christmas is the at the heart of the Gospel. It is God bringing salvation to lost sinners – and the very beginning of restoring all things to Himself. It is God with us. Now I must ask – are you with Him?