One can read the Christmas account over and over, and marvel every time at how much is packed into these opening chapters in the life of Jesus.
The miraculous visitation of an angel to the aged Zechariah as he served at the Temple – finding out that he and his wife Elizabeth would soon give birth to a son. A revelation he was not at all ready to believe until he was struck by the angel and rendered unable to speak for the next 9 months. Unable to speak until their son, the baby, who would become John the Baptizer was born.
The birth of this baby, as miraculous as it was, was soon to be eclipsed as a teen-aged Mary visiting her older relative Elizabeth announced her own miraculous conception. A conception far more miraculous than even Elizabeth’s.
Elizabeth and Zechariah had been married many years and tried unsuccessfully to have a child. Mary however was not married. She had not been intimate with a man – even her fiancée Joseph. But here she was – pregnant.
She too had been visited by an angel telling her of this miraculous birth. And her very arrival at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth had sent Elizabeth into a spontaneous song of praise regarding the child Mary was carrying.
Luke 1:42–45 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
This sparked a most wonderful song in Mary – often called “the magnificat” – Latin for the opening line “my soul magnifies The Lord.”
Mary stays with Elizabeth and Zechariah until John is born – and then returns home – only to be quickly ferried off to Bethlehem – the hometown of Joseph’s family because of a government tax registration.
And there, in that sleepy little village, under very spare circumstances Mary gives birth to her firstborn son.
This too is attended by unusual events as they are visited by a group of shepherds saying they had been visited by angels and told about this birth. So they had come to see him.
Then later, dignitaries from the far East arrive saying they had been following a divinely appointed star of sorts to bring them right to where Mary, Joseph and the baby were. And they both worshiped the child, and brought tribute to him of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
All in all – this account is amazing at every turn.
But I’d like to turn our attention both this week and next to something that just this year stood out to me anew in the Biblical account.
It is how this child is so fully and powerfully identified for us in 7 labels applied to Him in the short passage we had read for us this morning.
Just how wonderfully the Biblical text leaves us with no doubt who this really is. And in the process, give us pause once again to consider the wonder, the miracle, the stunning reality of the incarnation – and what it means for humankind.
Now the first of these names is given to us also in a most unusual way – another angelic visitation. But this one, to Joseph – the child’s earthly father.
The account is as follows: Matthew 1:18-21
Matthew 1:18–21 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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
While it is right and fitting that much is made of Mary and her being chosen to carry the baby, the truth is this man Joseph is somewhat of an unsung hero.
One does wonder about the character of the man who God would choose to be the father figure to this child. We know so little about him.
In the genealogy immediately preceding these verses, we see that he stands in the royal lineage of David the King. But pretty remotely and obscurely.
He is not a wealthy man, just a humble carpenter from a pretty backwoods town.
True, King David had hailed from here as well, but it really was quite an obscure village, just a few miles distant from Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. Podunk.
But here Joseph was, in a pretty tough spot. He loved Mary, and was engaged to her. But she was pregnant, and he knew he wasn’t the father. Does he believe her story about an angel visiting her and telling her she’ll conceive a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit – apart from the normal means?
His first inclination is to separate himself from the whole debacle. He’s a “just man”. Upright. He’s not up for the way this is going to be viewed by everyone else – including himself. And at the same time he really does love Mary.
The only way he can think to bring some sort of resolution is to divorce her quietly – rather than raise a ruckus where he might have had her tried and punished for adultery. To just step away. Go on without her. He didn’t want to shame her any more than what was going to happen anyway. But he couldn’t marry her either. So the text says this is what he “resolved” to do. It was decided.
That is, until he too receives a divine visitation – in a dream. And it must have been quite the experience, because as we know, he goes on to marry Mary, suffer the reproach and shame – especially in that culture and in that day – where everyone would just assume he had taken advantage of her before marriage. And he agrees to raise the child as his own.
The angel told him 3 things:
- Don’t be afraid to marry her. Yes it will be hard, but don’t let fear stop you.
- Mary has NOT been unfaithful or promiscuous. She is in fact pregnant by a supernatural act of God by the Holy Spirit’s working.
- She’ll give birth a boy, and you – you Joseph, are to name him Jesus – Joshua. And not because you have an ancestor by that name- but because of the boy’s mission.
“He will save His people from their sins.”
What was he supposed to do with all of that?
Just what he did. He married his sweetheart, endured the stigma of her inexplicable pregnancy, and for at least a few years more – since we know Jesus had 4 named brothers and at least 2 sisters – raised Jesus as his son.
And so, as directed, he named him – Jesus.
Jesus. This is the first of the 7 names we read in this portion, and we cannot help but pause and feel the weight of it.
Jesus, also sometimes spelled Joshua – is a name that means just what the angel said this Jesus would do – it means “savior” or “Jehovah saves.”
And nothing is more central to the person and the work of Jesus in coming into the world than this reality – the reason WHY Jesus came, WHY God became incarnate – is so that He might save His people from their sins. Redeem us from our lost condition back to God.
The first thing we need to see then is that the purpose of the incarnation and the life of Jesus is not open to question. Redemption is at the heart of all the incarnation is about.
It’s become popular over time for people to assign their own speculations to why Jesus came.
It was popular a few years ago to look at the incarnation in terms of Jesus simply being the best example of humanity in love and self-sacrifice.
Now there is no question He was that. But it is also true that merely being an example does nothing to deal with other people’s sins. And that is what we read here – He came to save His people from their sins. He came to redeem us.
This example model fails in at least 2 ways.
1. It may make us see what we ought to be – but it has no power to enable us to be that way ourselves.
A mere example provides no power.
A person having suffered a severe spinal injury, rendering them a quadriplegic, is not helped to walk again by watching videos of master gymnasts performing their feats. Such examples are powerless to meet the need. It can’t touch the source of their weakness.
So it is that we who are dead in our trespasses and sin as the Bible describes us, are not made suddenly alive to righteousness simply by seeing someone else live in perfect righteousness.
2. A mere example can’t erase guilt.
The best and highest example of what a human looks like living in perfect righteousness, does nothing to deal with MY, or YOUR, personal guilt before God.
Someone in prison for crimes they’ve committed has not the slightest mitigation of their guilt by watching others obey the law. They’ve already been tried, convicted and are serving a sentence. How does someone else’s guiltless-ness, impact MY guilt?
It doesn’t. It can’t. That’s the point.
No, the idea that Jesus came to be an example of love and mercy and righteousness to fallen mankind may create a longing in us to be that way – it may evoke awe and admiration – but it doesn’t contribute even the smallest thing in helping us become that way.
Another purpose often suggested as to why Jesus came is that Jesus came to be a great teacher.
And that is true as far as it goes.
But just as you can teach a blind man all day, everyday about the properties of the visual spectrum – and never enable him to see by virtue of all he comes to know – so here.
If Jesus’ merely taught us a way of salvation, or even lived it perfectly Himself, WE are still unable to do it.
Remember Jesus’ own words in this regard: Matthew 5:20
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The scribes and the Pharisees were the very epitome of religious people in Jesus’ day. And, they were the most religious in the one and only religion God ever established: Judaism.
But Jesus tells us that the righteousness we need to be acceptable to God must be better, higher, more pure than the most pious, godly, religious men of His own day.
Remember what even the Apostle Paul said about himself before he was converted and was still a Pharisee?
Philippians 3:4–6 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
How can that be? How can we be more righteous than one who scrupulously and zealously followed the Law of God? What hope then is there for any of us?
Which is precisely the point of what Joseph was directed to name the Christ-child:
You will call Him Jesus – for HE will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus didn’t come to show us the way of salvation, nor to teach the way of salvation – He came to actually save us! To redeem us. To reclaim those who were lost that we might be restored to the Father.
No matter what Jesus may have taught, without His substitutionary death at Calvary, we could not be saved. There is no method or doctrine that saves apart from His actual work.
The root of a false and damning Christianity-so-called is that if we follow the Christian philosophy or system – that will save us. But it won’t. It can’t.
He, must save us. He, must redeem us, we cannot redeem ourselves. And this becomes the foundation of everything Christmas is truly about.
It is HE who must save. Not merely make a way – but do what it takes to actually save us from our being sinners, and from the guilt of the sins we already bear.
No wonder then we hear the words of the Apostle Paul echo all of this in Philippians 3:8-9
Philippians 3:8–9 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
The righteousness we need, is one imputed to us, granted to us by grace through faith in this Jesus and what He did to save His people from their sins.
Which then leads us to the 2nd name applied to Him in this portion – and the one that opens up to us how it is He can do this – how He can save us, redeem us the way He does.
Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
And now we begin to get insight into this Jesus that makes it clear how such a salvation is possible.
Once in a conversation with His disciples, Jesus was telling them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
Of course His point wasn’t that having money or wealth is inherently evil. The problem is that people, especially in Jesus’ context, took wealth as a sign that God was pleased with them and was blessing them because He was pleased with them. So they began to trust in that wealth accordingly.
They confused God’s covenantal promise to bless them materially if they remained faithful to Him, as salvation itself.
An fatal error many make even today in Christianity – confusing outward prosperity with spiritual blessing or standing.
So when Jesus debunked that idea, their immediate retort was if a rich man who is obviously so blessed by God – can’t enter Heaven – who can?
Matthew 19:25–26 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The answer? God must save. Wealth cannot save. Outward blessing does not save. Man cannot save himself.
With man – salvation is impossible. It is only with God that all things – especially salvation – is possible.
So what does it take for Jesus to save His people from their sin and bring them into the Kingdom of Heaven?
It requires that He must be GOD!
Such is the nature of our lost condition, that salvation requires one who can do the impossible.
One who can truly serve as our representative since He is one of us – human.
But One who can also, somehow, remove our guilt.
One who can pay the price for our sins.
One who can stand in our place and reconcile us to God the Father – reunite us to Him. One who can make us acceptable to Him when we are so lost and undone in our rebellion and self-government: So defiled by our self-will and love of this world and its sin.
How can fallen man be made right with God when the justice and holiness of God requires that our sin be dealt with and the penalty of our sin fully paid?
Only through the substitutionary death of a sacrifice the Father was willing to receive in place of our own payment.
And make no mistake – our payment was death. Eternal death and separation from God.
As Romans 6:23 so succinctly tells us –
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God Himself must rescue us from His own justice and holiness -without violating His own justice and holiness.
The impossible conundrum solved only by the incarnation.
This can be met only in the wonder of the God/Man coming to stand in our place. Only one who is both God and man could be the perfect mediator between us.
As Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 2:5-6
1 Timothy 2:5–6 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
Able to extend forgiveness to all on behalf of God – with all of God’s own sole authority to do so; and at the same time able to satisfy the justice of God on behalf of man.
Willing to take on our guilt and shame – that we might become the inheritors of the eternal life that belongs to Him alone.
THIS – beloved is Christmas. It is the reconciling work of Jesus. Taking rebellious sinners and reconciling us to the God we have so grievously sinned against and become the enemies of.
2 Corinthians 5:18–20 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
And this is the true Gospel of Christmas – “we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
His name shall be called Immanuel – which translated means: God with us. Oh that we would put our faith in Him – rest the whole weight of our eternity upon His finished work on Calvary.
Not God afar off and unwilling to touch us in our defilement and sin – but God WITH us. Walking and talking and interacting with us as man – and yet divine and able to take our sin upon Himself, while having His righteousness put on our account.
Which then leads us to our 3rd consideration this morning. A 3rd designation for Immanuel who will save His people from their sins: Matthew 2:1-2
Matthew 2:1–2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Yes, He came to save us, to redeem us from the guilt and the penalty of our sins.
Yes, He came to reunite to the Father all who will believe Him and put their trust in His atoning, saving work on the cross as both God and man, God with us. To reconcile sinners to our Holy God.
But He also came as a King, to reign over His people.
To think of Christianity as some imagine it, Jesus came to save us from our sins alright, but that is the end of it. Salvation is – as has been often quipped by others – some sort of cosmic fire insurance and little else.
As though Jesus saves us and that is all we have to with Him other than see Him when He returns – if that. But that is to ignore the fact that He also came specifically as a King, and to rule over a certain people.
And certainly, that People is initially identified as the Jews – God’s covenant people. That unique nation He has set apart as His own, to whom He promised the Messiah.
For the most part, His people rejected Him however. John 1:11 says it plainly.
John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
But yet God was faithful. Some DID believe. John 1:12-13
John 1:12–13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And not only that, but Eph. 2 goes on to tell us that God took the Believing Jews, AND the Believing Gentiles, and from them combined fashioned one new man – the People of Christ.
So that in that amazing action, through faith in Jesus, even we gentiles become inheritors of the blessings of Abraham – inheritors of the same justification by faith He enjoyed. Heirs of all the promises made to Him as father of the Jewish nation.
Galatians 3:29 spells it out –
Galatians 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Through faith in Jesus, we Gentiles become subjects of the Messiah/King who was promised to the Jews!
And that’s just it – we get Their King as our own, and we get to be God’s people with them!
The great promise to Israel is that of the coming Messiah/King to rule them in righteousness.
Micah 5:2 is representative of dozes of verses to that effect.
Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
So this idea that disconnects Jesus’ saving work from His place as our Lord is foreign to the Scriptures.
The concept that one can have Jesus as their Savior but refuse to serve Him or honor Him as King and Lord of their lives is like saying Sky married me so that she might be rescued from a life of singleness, but doesn’t want my name, to live with me or take on any of the mutual responsibilities of married life together. Beloved, that is not a marriage. And a supposed saving relationship with Jesus that wants no part or parcel with His rightful place as Lord of our lives is no salvation at all. He came to reign. To be King of the Jews.
Jesus tells a remarkable parable about Himself. It begins: Luke 19:12
Luke 19:12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.
He then goes on to say how this nobleman called some servants together and gave them some of His assets to manage until He returned.
Then Jesus makes a most interesting observation: Luke 19:14
Luke 19:14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
Do you see the problem? These citizens He was to rule over, did not love Him – they hated Him. And how is that hatred defined? “We do not want this man to reign over us.”
Nothing else. They simply did not want him to have any authority over them.
Let him be who is is. Let him go off to that far country and receive any honors or position or whatever he might have title to – but the bottom line is – we reject the notion that he should have any authority over us.
Jesus’ continues the parable by telling them how the nobleman settles accounts with his servants when he returns. How he will reward those who managed his assets well, and punish those who neglected to do so.
And the final line of the parable is stunning: Luke 19:27
Luke 19:27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’ ”
The message is unmistakable: Those who want the redemption Jesus dies to accomplish, and want to enjoy the reconciliation to a right relationship to the Father through His redeeming work – must also take Him as their Lord – to reign over their lives – or they remain His enemies.
The people in the parable were content to live in the nobleman’s kingdom, as long as they could have their own lives and as long as they did not owe Him allegiance as their king. As long as they did not have any requirement to serve Him. As long as He left them alone. Such, will not inherit the kingdom any more than those who professed to serve Him and still didn’t – like the one with one mina.
In a sermon on John 12, Robert Murray McCheyne preached: “The poor Greeks said: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Jesus here tells them that a mere sight of him will not do: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” Many people are willing to be saved from hell; but they are not willing to give themselves up to Christ to be his servants and followers; but every one who is under the teaching of the Spirit, gives himself up to be the Lord’s. So Matthew. The Lord said: “Follow me; and he arose and left all, and followed Jesus.” One who is truly taught of God feels indwelling sin a greater burden than the fear of hell: “In me, that is in my flesh, there is no good thing.” “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Therefore, that soul is willing to be Christ’s servant for ever—willing to have his ear bored to the door of Christ’s house.
This will discover hypocrites. Are you willing to be Christ’s servant, to follow him in hard duties, to be brought under the rules of the Gospel? If not, you are a hypocrite. Count the cost of coming to Christ.”
That is quite sobering isn’t it?
Christ has come to Redeem.
Christ has come to Reconcile.
And Christ has come to Reign.
And so it is we sing that glorious hymn of Isaac Watts – Joy to the World.
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.
2 Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
3 No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
4 He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, and wonders of His love.
Christmas is Jesus coming into the world:
Joy comes only when we are delivered from our guilt and shame.
Joy comes only when we have been restored to a right relationship to the God who made us for Himself.
Joy comes only:
When WE no longer reign – for how miserably we mess up our lives when we try for control.
When sin no longer reigns and keeps us captive to rebellion against God, defilement from holiness and slaves to unrighteousness.
When Christ in His limitless love, perfect righteousness, and infinite grace pours out more than we could ever hope or imagine for ourselves in our sinful desires and in this world.
And so the question for all of us today is 3-fold as well.
Beloved, have you been redeemed from your guilt and sin by trusting in the atoning, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross?
Have you placed all of your faith in His saving work instead of trusting in any goodness, good works, or even religion of your own?
Has He saved – you?
Have you been reconciled to the Father through His work? Have you now entered into that sweet, loving and gracious relationship to God the Father – accepted as His own dear child because of Christ’s work on your behalf?
Have you bowed the knee to Jesus as your sovereign, your Lord and your King – to give your life to serving Him in loving response to His saving grace and His rightful place of authority over you?
Oh, do not wait. This is Christmas. This is why Christmas IS Christmas – the purpose of the incarnation of Jesus.
And Christian – what a time to rejoice! What a time to reflect on who Jesus really is and what He has done on your behalf.
Paul reminded us in Eph. 1 how in Him – that is in Christ, we have redemption through His blood – the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the RICHES of His grace – His free gift.
And he goes on to say that God the Father has blessed Believers with “every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ.”
How blessed, how rich we are, and with that, how gloriously we are prized and delighted in by the Father.
People, this is Christmas. Nothing else, and nothing less.
Let this joy fill your hearts, and ring out into all the world today.