Tuesday, December 20, 2016
"God With Us" Sermon: Matthew 1:18-25
“God With Us”
December 18, 2016 Second Reformed Church
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul recounts a mystery in the form of what was likely an early church creed: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16, ESV).
And Paul writes to the Colossians: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”
(Colossians 1:15-20, ESV).
There is a profound mystery in the truth that God became a human while remaining wholly God and wholly human in one person. How do we explain the Infinite, Almighty God, walking and teaching among humans in a real, complete, human body, united, but distinct, not confused or mixed, God and human in one person? We can’t. Even if we had the right words to explain how this is true, our minds are too small to understand them. We can only say that this is what the Bible teaches – the Very Word of God – and God the Holy Spirit has witnessed to my – and every other Christians – spirit that this is true.
As we consider the Incarnation this morning, we will not answer how it is possible, but we will see what Joseph learned and understood when the angel visited him.
And we see, first, this morning, God the Holy Spirit caused Mary to become with child.
“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.’
Mary was betrothed to be married to Joseph. Being betrothed is like being engaged. However, in first century Israel, betrothal was considered a binding, legal arrangement. If you were betrothed to someone, you didn’t just “call it off,” as we do with our engagements, a legal proceeding – a divorce – would have to be granted to break the betrothal.
It was also the practice at this time that a woman who was betrothed to a man would continue to live with her parents for one year, during which time there would be no sexual contact with the man. After that year, she would marry her betrothed.
Sometime during this betrothal, Mary realized that she was with child. She told Joseph, and Joseph, out of love and kindness towards Mary, decided to divorce her quietly. If a woman became with child during the betrothal, the man could take her to court and have her exposed and labeled a harlot – he could even fight stringently enough to have the courts impose the death penalty for her unfaithfulness. Joseph wanted none of that – whomever the cause of her being with child, he loved Mary too much to cause her shame – or worse, -- so he planned to seek a quiet divorce.
But as Joseph slept, an angel of the Lord visited him and said, “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.”
Notice that the angel identified Joseph as being in the line of King David. Why? Because the Savior was promised to come from the line of Kind David – the Savior to come would be a Davidic King.
But, how can Jesus be considered in the line of David, when He is not Joseph’s biological son? The same way all three of my sisters and one of my brothers are “Butlers” – by adoption. Joseph adopted Jesus and Jesus became a legal heir according to the line of David. So, Jesus is the son of David to fulfill the prophecy of his line.
The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. What would he have to fear? It was scandalous to be with child before marriage – minimally, there would have been gossip about Jesus being illegitimate or of Mary being unfaithful. Any way you look at it, Mary’s being with child and giving birth to this Child would be talked about – and not in a nice way.
And at this time, the angel revealed to Joseph that God the Holy Spirit had caused Mary to be with child. This was not a crass fertilization like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology speak of. No, God the Holy Spirit, Who caused the Creation to form as He hovered over the waters in Genesis, caused Mary to be fertilized in a supernatural way. What was the process? We are not given that information. But, if God can cause everything to exist out of nothing, surely He can cause a woman to be with child without a man’s participation.
We can ask, why did God chose to cause Mary’s being with child and put Jesus in David’s line by adoption, rather than having Mary and Joseph wed and give birth to Jesus together?
The answer here is, in order for Jesus to be born sinless – without a sin nature – He had to be conceived miraculously. Every mere human being – the product of a man and a woman – since Adam and Eve – is born a sinner, inclined towards sin, and Jesus had to be born as Adam was created – sinless – for Him to accomplish His work of salvation.
So, God the Holy Spirit caused Mary to become with child so Jesus would be born a sinless human being, and He was adopted by Joseph and, thus, brought into the line of David.
This is why we must believe and defend the Virgin Birth. It is widely attacked and dismissed as nonsense, but if Jesus was born of mere human means, then He would not be sinless and He could not be our Savior. If Jesus was not born of the Virgin, He cannot be our Savior.
But, in fact, we confess, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Second, the angel instructs Joseph to name his Son Jesus.
“‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’
People give names for many reasons. One reason a child is given a certain name is the meaning of the name. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones just became a father for the eighth time, naming his latest son Deveraux Octavian Basil Jagger – Octavian meaning “eighth.”
When God gives someone a name – which He does on a number of occasions in the Scripture, there is always a meaning behind the name. the name, “Jesus,” which was a very popular name at the time, means, “God saves.”
The angel reveals the reason behind giving Mary and Joseph’s Son that name – “for He will save His people from their sins.” One of the works of salvation that Jesus came to do was to save His people – all we who believe in Him – by paying the debt for our sins – which He did as He received God’s Wrath on the cross.
John writes: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2, ESV).
So, let us remember that Jesus was given His Name by God through the angel of the Lord to Joseph to label Him as the One Who takes away the sins of His people.
Third, the Virgin Birth was prophesied.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
In Isaiah chapter seven, we read that around 730 B.C. Ahaz is King of Judah in Jerusalem, and Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, the King of Israel, declare war against Judah.
God tells Ahaz not to worry about Rezin and Pekah, because God will destroy them and their nations after the sixty-five years of the prophecy of Amos are fulfilled, (which comes to pass as the Assyrians conquer Syria and Israel in 722 B.C.)
And then we read:
“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: ‘Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.’ And he said, ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!’” (Isaiah 7:10-17, ESV).
God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, which will confirm God’s promise to save Judah from Syria and Israel, but Ahaz refuses to choose a sign for his assurance – he insults God’s generous care – so God says He will choose the sign instead and says that the virgin will conceive a son and call his name Immanuel, and before he is old enough to understand the difference between evil and good, Syria and Israel will have been destroyed by the Assyrians.
We know that Israel and Syria were destroyed by the Assyrians about ten years later. What we don’t know is who the virgin was who bore the son in Ahaz’s time. That is left a mystery. What is not a mystery is that God often gave prophecies with multiple fulfillments. This prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Ahaz – some 700 years before the birth of Jesus – and God tells us in His Word that this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.
Matthew explains that the name “Immanuel” means “God with us” – in Jesus we understand that the name refers not to the name Jesus was given – Jesus was named “Jesus,” as the angel instructed – but Jesus is called “Immanuel” – that is, “God with us,” because Jesus is God Who is with us.
Do we understand?
Jesus is “God saves” because Jesus – the sinless Man saves us from our sins – and Jesus is “God with us” – the Very God Almighty incarnate in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the real, whole, sinless human, Jesus, and He is at the same time, the One Almighty God, in one person.
Jesus has to be wholly God as well as wholly human to be able to keep the Law of God perfectly, survive the Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who will ever believe in Him, and physically rise from the dead.
Finally, Joseph obeyed.
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Joseph understood that Mary’s being with child was a miraculous work of God.
Joseph married Mary, and when the time came for her to give birth, Joseph gave Him the name Jesus, as he had been instructed, adopted Jesus, and began to raise “God with us” with his wife, Mary.
As we consider the Incarnation this Advent, let us remember that the promised Savior had to be completely and sinlessly human and completely God in the same person to secure salvation for all who will believe.
Let us keep before us the mystery that is the Virgin Birth of the real human Baby Who is also God Himself. God came to be with us in the person of Jesus Who needed to be fed and changed and taught His A, B, C’s, though He had created everything in existence. It is a profound mystery. It is the Wisdom of God in salvation.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we see that Your Word tells us that Jesus, our Savior, Your Son, is a real human being, and He is the One God, and we are perplexed. Comfort us in knowing that Jesus is a real human being who has experienced humanness, but not sin, so He can sympathize with us and understand what we go through. Comfort us in knowing that Jesus is God, so our salvation is secure in Him, and He is with us now, and will be with us for all of eternity in His Kingdom. It is in hope we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.