Christmas Eve Service - Matthew 1:18-25. Immanuel, God is with us.
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. (Matthew 1:18-25)
On Sunday we preached from this same text. As I prepared to speak on this text I had one great concern. I wanted to make sure that I preached this text in such a way that Jesus would be our main focus. In so many ways, Matthew has made that objective easy for us to accomplish.
He begins this gospel with an affirmation that Jesus is the Christ in verse 1.
He concludes the genealogy of Jesus by stating again that He is the Christ (v.16).
He wraps up the entire first section of this chapter, verses 1-17, by reaching the climax with the birth of Christ and Jesus is placed above all others in his genealogical line.
He begins the second section of this chapter with describing how the Christ has been born.
He tells us that Jesus will have the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.
He speaks of the divine conception of this child through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He speaks of how all of these things fulfill the words of the prophets in Scripture.
And Matthew highlights Isaiah 7:14 which tells us that these things mean that Jesus is Immanuel – God is with us.
However, in other ways Matthew has complicated this goal of keep Jesus as the priority and focus because he connects the coming of Jesus Christ with all of the other issues that would be associated with God manifesting His Son among men through a virgin who was betrothed to a man.
As you can imagine, this could get really messy very quickly. And yet, among all of the confusion and chaos we see two faithful and righteous people living out their faith in very commendable ways. They respond so well to all of this that they capture our attention in a good way and not in a bad way. Their responses don’t complicate matters. Their reactions reflect a godly heart and not a worldly disposition. Therefore, when Matthew speaks of them they do deserve to be given our attention because their faith is commendable and their responses glorified God.
It would seem that there are two valid ways to consider this text. First, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the Christ. He is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is no ordinary child, He was conceived in His mother, Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit. His birth was a miraculous event that was promised beforehand by the prophets. He was sent to rescue His people from their sins and be a faithful and merciful mediator between us and the Father.
Secondly, this is a text that also speaks about the practical circumstances surrounding these events. Specifically, we see how Joseph and Mary dealt with what was happening. Matthew begins our text with these words, “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.”
Let’s begin by taking a look at the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and then consider the fact that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
Matthew tells us in verse eighteen that Mary was betrothed to be married to a man named Joseph. In the Jewish culture there were three stages to a betrothal. First, the parents would commit under contract that their children would one day be given to each other in marriage. Secondly, at some point the couple would be considered legally married even though the marriage had not been consummated. They would spend this time getting to know each other and preparing for their wedding day. The third stage was when the husband would take the woman to be his wife and they would consummate the marriage.
It was in this second stage of their relationship that Mary was found to be with child. Matthew makes it clear that this pregnancy was not the result of promiscuity between Joseph and Mary (18). And Luke’s gospel makes it clear that Mary had not had any sexual relations with anyone at this time (1:27-28, 34). She is pregnant through the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35;Luke 1:20).
The angel of the Lord had talked to Mary about what would all happen and she had consented for this to happen (Luke 1:25-38). However, Joseph had not yet become aware of this until after this had come to pass. He probably became aware of all of this after Mary returned home from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home three months into the pregnancy (Luke 1:56).
When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant he knows that he is not the father. He probably finds it impossible to believe the story that Mary tells him. So we see in verse 19, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
Joseph is a just man, he is a righteous man, so he responds in a thoughtful, measured and cautious manner. He does not respond in an angry, bitter and uncontrolled manner. In all of this Joseph seeks to protect her and refuses to shame her. He does not go out and spread nasty rumors; instead he quietly contemplates what he is to do.
In all of this you see how Joseph is led by his integrity even though he fears that he had been betrayed. We see that Joseph’s disposition towards righteousness and uprightness directs his steps even under these difficult circumstances. As I result of this two of my favorite proverbs come to mind,
Proverbs 11:3 – The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
Proverbs 11:6 – The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lusts.
Joseph may not have known the significance of all that was going on but the righteous disposition of his heart was directing him at this time. You and I will be thrust into some chaotic and confusing situations and in those moments the inclination of our hearts will surface. If our heart is established in grace and bent towards integrity, uprightness, and righteousness will handle it well. If our heart is treacherous and crooked then these things will be revealed at that time.
Let me bring out a couple observations that catch my attention in all of this. First, notice that a heart that is inclined to righteousness and uprightness is quick to obey the word of the Lord as if it were a command. I say this because the angel never gives Joseph a command. The angel never gives him an imperative; but that is exactly how Joseph takes it. We read in Matthew 1: 24, “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did all that the angel commanded him…”. Grace is a strong motivation to obey God in all things. A heart that is bent towards righteousness will read the Word of God and immediately seek to do it even if obedience will cost us greatly.
Secondly, notice that Joseph applies this command to everything he heard from the angel and even more. We read in Matthew 1:24-25, “...he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” The angel did tell Joseph not to fear to take Mary to be his wife. And the angel did tell Joseph to name the child Jesus. But the angel did not mention anything about not consummating this marriage. However, Joseph’s heart was bent toward righteousness and so he responded this way.
Thirdly, Joseph eagerly did what the Lord commanded. He took Mary to be his wife as soon as he awoke. He did not seek more proof or wait to see if the child born was a boy. He believed all that had been spoken to him and he acted quickly upon it. Prior to this, one of the commendable things that Joseph did was that he pondered these events and considered what his response would be. There are a lot of occasions when a Christian should move slowly and should carefully think about our responses; but when the Word speaks to us clearly we should be quick to obey.
Mary and Joseph responded to all of these things with faith and obedience. Together they faced every challenge and together they experienced every blessing. In all of this we see that chaos can be a very beautiful thing when our heart is inclined to living righteously before the LORD.
Let us now look at the fact that this child is Immanuel, God is with us.
R.C. Sproul spoke of the incarnation in this way, “What we celebrate Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, as important as that is, but what is so significant of the birth of that particular baby is that we have the incarnation of God Himself.”
Incarnation means that the second Person of the Trinity came in the flesh.
Ezekiel Hopkins helps us to see just how profound this is when he writes, “It was the almighty power of God that united Himself to human nature, to frail flesh. He put forth His power, only to make Himself weak. Is it not almighty power that the infinite and inconceivable Godhead should unite to itself dust and ashes.”
He continues by saying, “...God was pleased to raise up a second Adam, who should be not only sinless, but impeccable, and to exhibit Him unto the world as the most perfect representation of His own holiness. His birth must be miraculous, that it might be pure.”
We looked at Matthew 1:1-17on Sunday and saw that though Jesus came through the genealogical line of forty-two generations. Yet, Jesus was unique and special among all of them. In that family line we saw that all of them had sinful natures and corrupted dispositions. But Christ, though He did come humbly and in weakness, He was without sin.
God had promised many times in the scriptures that He was going to do something special through a descendant whose lineage could be traced back through David and through Abraham (Psalm 110). Matthew gives evidence that Jesus’ lineage can be traced back through both of these men. Jesus is the long awaited King through whom the whole world would be blessed.
But the promise that God would redeem a people from their sins goes back even farther than Abraham. We first find that God will act decisively to save people all the way back in Genesis 3:14-15 when God curses the Serpent in the garden after Adam sinned. God said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 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.”
Scripture, however, speaks of this promise having been discussed before God had ever created the world. For example, we recently saw this in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in Him.”
Before Adam sinned and brought about all of these disastrous consequences upon mankind, the Godhead established what theologians call the ‘Covenant of Redemption’. This was a covenant that was made before the creation of anything. It was a covenant between the three persons of the Trinity in which they would act in a sovereign way to save sinners who were powerless to save themselves.
The Father initiates and designs the plan of redemption.
The Son is given the responsibility to accomplish that plan of redemption.
And the work of the Holy Spirit is to apply that work of redemption to us.
The LORD was not surprised by Adam’s disobedience in the garden. An eternal plan had already been conceived and agreed upon. Through this plan Satan would be crushed, his kingdom of darkness would be destroyed the LORD would save those who had been held prisoners in deep darkness and spiritual death.
This plan should not have surprised anyone. God has promised to do this many times; and yet, many were not aware of what God was doing. Many were unable to see what the LORD was doing around them. The apostle John speaks of this when he says in John 1:9-11, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.”
There were some, however, who with the help of the Holy Spirit, were able to see that God was fulfilling His promise through this little baby that was born. People like Anna and Simeon, the Wise Men, the shepherds in the fields, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph. Throughout Jesus’ ministry many more came to see that Jesus was the promised Savior who was to come. The apostle John says in 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 by the will of the flesh nor of the will of men, but of God.”
This evening we have considered Jesus' birth and the circumstances that surrounded it. Immanuel has come in the flesh to save men from their sins and to give them eternal life. Can you truly celebrate Christmas with this in mind or are you still in darkness? Do you have a personal relationship with the Lord? If not, let your heart act as promptly as Joseph did to be obedient by faith to the things you have heart.
As we celebrate the holidays we will experience so many things as we interact with our families and friends. Even though there may be many times when our schedules, conversations and responsibilities may seem to get in the way of staying focused upon Christ, we have been reminded that a heart that is under the influence of grace will be inclined to honor God rightly in all these moments. May our hearts be full of faith, joy and grace this holiday season as we honor the LORD and glorify Him in all of our celebrations. Amen