Christmas - Week 3
The first two weekly notes preparing us for this Christmas season, taken from the book Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller, have had us look first at Isaiah chapter 9 and then the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17. From Isaiah we saw that Christ, the true Light of the World, “came” to a people living in deep darkness. Then, through the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew highlighted several things to us proving that Jesus was a real person with a real lineage and that lineage, which uncharacteristically included the names of many women, demonstrates the grace of God to us. You are probably thinking, okay, it is time to get to Luke. Well, we still are not there yet. This week we will be focusing on the last half of Matthew chapter 1 and then next week we will be looking at Matthew chapter 2. It will not be until week five of this series that we begin to look at the Christmas message as recorded in Luke.
As you read the note for this week, open your Bible or Bible app to Matthew 1:18-25 and read through it before reading the rest of this note if possible. Matthew here gives us a much more succinct account of the birth of Jesus. This account is not covered anywhere else in the four Gospels. That said, what else is it that God wants us to learn here in this first chapter of the New Testament?
Here in this first chapter, we get some insight into the kind of man Joseph was, what he was challenged with upon finding Mary pregnant during their betrothal or engagement and we also learn that God sent an angel to speak to and prepare him similarly as He did with Mary as recorded in Luke. Here Joseph learns that this coming baby is God, He is yet human, and He is with us.
First, let’s look at the point of Jesus being “God”. An angel tells Joseph that this baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Joseph is to be the father only in a secondary sense. God Himself is the real Father. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 in verse 23 and gives Joseph the most direct statement of who Jesus was to be. There the angel tells Joseph and then Matthew tells us that Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Underline that word in your Bible. That one word, Immanuel, is more meaningful than you may realize.
Jewish scholars had known of this prophecy for some 700 years but they did not think it could be taken literally. Why is that? The Jews had a very distinct view of God that was different than all other religions. Western religions from Rome and Greece would have no problem with this statement of God coming as a human for they taught that often in regards to Zeus or Hermes or there many other gods. For Jews however, they believed in a God who was both personal and infinite. He was not a being within the universe but was instead the one that created it and therefore above everything else. Jews would not even pronounce His name, the name “Yahweh”, and even fearful to spell or write it. He was too holy. He was the great “I Am”. Yet Jesus Christ through His life, His claims, and His resurrection, convinced His closest followers that He was not just a prophet telling them how to find God. He convinced them that He Himself was God and had come to find us.
The Gospel of John, the only other of the four Gospel’s besides Matthew written by one of the original twelve disciples / Apostles, gives us similar insight. John 1:1-3, tells us that Jesus is “The Word” who was never created, who existed with the Father from the beginning, through whom everything was made. John, similar to Matthew, tells us this right off the bat at the beginning of his Gospel. Paul, also a Jew, tells us this in Colossians 2:9 where he states that “all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus bodily”. In other words, He is not just a third or a half or part of the Godhead but all of the divine substance. He came literally as “God with us”.
All through the Gospel’s, Jesus proves this point. Many today know this intellectually and give it lip service. But if Jesus really is God, what does that mean for us practically?
Here is where we get to the word “incarnation”. You have heard me say that the greatest thing in the Bible, the thing everything else points to, is Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. There are some that will argue, and with very good reason, that the event of equal importance in Christianity with the cross is the actual incarnation itself. The beginningless, omnipotent, Creator of the universe took on human nature without the loss of his deity so that Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, was both fully divine and fully human. J. I. Packer, the author of the book “Knowing God”, puts it rather starkly:
“God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby; unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is the truth of the incarnation.”
Packer goes on to state that it is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve. If there is a God, and He has become human, why would you find it incredible that He would do miracles, pay for the sins of the world or rise from the dead? Read that last sentence again. If you do believe Jesus was “Immanuel”, then you should not struggle with believing everything else the Word says about Him. This is Christmas.
If Jesus really is God and you choose to believe in Him and not hate or reject Him as many do or just as bad, simply ignore Him, then you must center your whole life on Him. No other response makes sense now just as was evidenced as Jesus walked the earth some 2000 years ago. The modern world is filled with people who say they believe in Jesus, that say they understand who He is, but it has not revolutionized their lives. There has been no lasting change. The only way to explain this is that, contrary to what they claim, they have not really grasped the meaning of what we see here in verse 23 that Jesus is “God with us”.
The claim that Jesus is God gives us great hope also. A God who was only holy would not have come down to us in Jesus Christ. A God that was an “all-accepting God of love” would not have needed to come to earth either. He would have just overlooked everything and embraced us. A God of moralism or relativism would not have bothered with Christmas either. Our God, Jesus, the true “God with us”, had to come Himself and do what we could not do. He doesn’t send someone. He does not send a committee or a preacher to tell you how to save yourself. He comes Himself to fetch us. He comes literally to “rescue us”. He, God, wants to live in you and through you! To do that, He, the Light of the World, had to “come” to all of us living in a land of deep darkness.
Many in churches today look at the incarnation and immediately go to Philippians 2:5-11. They teach that when the Son of God became human, He did not lay aside His deity but that He did empty Himself of His glory, of any of His divine prerogatives. He in essence became ordinary losing His beauty and power. Many have taken this passage in Philippians and tied it together with others and basically made new church movements and denominations from it. The author of the book we are referencing though makes a different point from this passage. He points to this passage stating that Jesus emptying Himself was actually an act of humility, a voluntary restraint of the power He still fully possessed as “Immanuel”. Jesus humbled Himself, accepting hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice, and misunderstanding leading finally to a death that involved such agony – spiritual even more than physical – that His mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely men. The Christmas Spirit is one that empties itself and looks upon all men the same, just as Christ did in His incarnation. His “humbling himself” literally meant that He did not think of Himself first. He voluntarily sat His own self aside and chose to think of others first. That is how the Christmas spirit is to shine in us.
Being fully human also brings great insight and fulfillment to the title we saw in Isaiah where He is called “Wonderful Counselor”. Since He was “fully human in every way” as Hebrews 2:17 says, that means that He suffered, was tried, was tested, and as such is able to help others whenever they find themselves in similar circumstances. He now has infinite power to comfort because of what He Himself went through, most especially what He went through on the cross as the whole world went dark for three hours at the crucifixion.
It would have been astonishing enough if the Son of God had become human and simply lived temporarily among us and then left, leaving a set of teachings. But His designs were infinitely greater than this. The purpose of the incarnation is that we would have a relationship with Him. The God of the OT that was so terrifying and holy that you could not even look at Him. God now had become, in Jesus, a human who could be known and loved. When God showed up in Jesus Christ, He was not a pillar of fire, or a tornado but a baby. There is nothing like a baby. They can be picked up, hugged, kissed, and they are open to it, they cling to you. Why would God come this time as a baby rather than a firestorm or whirlwind? Because Christmas shows us that He did not come to bring judgment to His children but rather to bear the judgment they deserved. He came to pay the penalty for the sins of His chosen children, to take away the barrier between humanity and God, so we can be together with Him. He came so that He can be “God with us”, fulfilling that relationship with us today through the Holy Spirit whom is always present with God’s children.
Now, let’s consider the personal side of what Joseph was facing after he discovered that Mary was pregnant and the angel reveals to him what is happening. One point to consider is that Joseph’s relationship with Mary and with Jesus was going to require courage. Joseph knew that everyone in their society and village will know this child was born less than nine or ten months after our wedding. They will all know she must have already been pregnant. They will think either we had sex before the wedding or that Mary was unfaithful to me. We will be shamed, socially excluded and rejected. We will be second-class citizens forever. So here in Matthew, chapter 1, we learn that if Jesus comes into our lives, we, just as Joseph, can kiss our hopes goodbye of ever being loved by everyone. If you want Jesus in your life, it is going to take courage. It is going to take bravery. There is a “cost to discipleship” as Ron Corzine reminded us in a sermon October 2020.
One, you will need courage to take scorn that will be heaped upon you from the world. Can you imagine what Joseph’s buddies said to him when they learned Mary was already pregnant? His close friends did not have an angel come visit them so I am sure they had a lot of scorn to dish out to him.
Second, having Jesus in your life will mean you have to give up your own right to self-determination. In those days it was the husbands absolute right and responsibility to name their children. Joseph had to give up that right and name the child as instructed by God. If Jesus is in your life, you are not His manager. He, this baby born in Bethlehem, He is your manager. If you want Jesus in the middle of your life, you have to obey Him unconditionally. You want Him to name you. He made you. He knows who you are, what you were made for, what will fit you. You cannot truly know who you are until He comes into your life. You embrace that life is not about you, but now about Him.
Third and finally, you must have the courage to admit you are a sinner. In chapter 1 and verse 21 you see the entire mission of Jesus; “He will save His people from their sins”. You may think that his main mission was to empower us and love us. Well, He did do that but first and foremost He came to forgive us, because everything else comes from that. This means you must have the courage to say “I am a moral failure. I don’t love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I don’t love my neighbor as myself. And, therefore I am guilty, and I need forgiveness and pardon before I need anything else.”
If you think it takes a lot of courage for you, just think about the courage it took for Jesus to come and be with us. Only Christianity says that one of the attributes of God is courage. Jesus became mortal and vulnerable so that He could suffer, be betrayed, and killed. He faced all these things for you, and He thought it worth it! Think of the darkness He faced and you will find it greatly strengthens you in your darkest times. You will find that the only way to get out of the darkness is by “looking unto Him”.
Why did Jesus do all of this? Simply put, because of love. A pure God-kind of love; Agape love. The kind of love that truly denied and restrained self for the prize that lay before Him. What was this prize? It was a bride; a bride that we are a part of. Recognize that today and put Him at the center of your life and your Christmas.
Next week – “Where is the King”.