Sunday, December 28, 2014

Behold He Comes! (Revelation 22:12-21)

Throughout our Advent season, we have been focused on the first chapter of the New Testament, Matthew Chapter 1, and looking at how Christ came into the world. Today is the Sunday between the end of Advent and the beginning of a brand new year which is filled with many great unknowns for us. Over these final weeks of 2014, we’ve seen television programs and articles in print and online that have attempted to summarize the year just past and to prognosticate about what the year ahead will hold. Of course, we have no way of knowing what will happen in the year ahead. The future to us is entirely unknowable, with one notable exception. We know that one day in the future, Jesus will come again. In a way, this Sunday is a microcosm our entire lives. We live between the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas and the unknown day of His return. Therefore on this significant day it seems fitting to look at the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation Chapter 22, and consider afresh the return of our Lord Jesus.

We are first presented in these verses with …

I. The promise of Christ’s coming (vv12a, 18-19)

Most us learned at a very young age that promises are often broken. It is a consequence of life in a world broken by sin. Because our word is often not taken at face value, we make promises. Because our hearts are able to deceive even our own selves, we break promises. There isn’t a one of us who has not broken a promise made to others, or been broken by the broken promises of others. But there is One who has kept every promise He ever made. The Bible tells us that God is not a man that He should lie (Num 23:19). We are told that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and that it is impossible for Him to lie (Heb 6:18). When God makes a promise, we have every reason to trust that promise completely. Jesus Christ is God incarnate – fully God and fully man – and His promises are completely true and trustworthy.

Notice in verse 12 that His promise is stated: “Behold, I am coming.” Of course, this is not the only place He promises this. Throughout the Gospels, there are literally dozens of promises in which Jesus says that He is going to return. Besides these statements, there are numerous other passages in the New Testament in which Christians are directed to set their hopes upon His return. This is a promise that we can count on!

Notice that Jesus also speaks of the timing of His coming in this promise. “Behold,” He says, “I am coming quickly.” There are two ways to understand this word quickly. One is to understand it to mean that His coming will be swift. That is, once the events surrounding His return begin to occur, they will transpire rapidly. The Bible promises that His return will occur in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. But quickly can also mean that His coming will be soon. We know that His coming will be swift, but will He come soon?

There are several considerations that we must reckon with as we answer that question. First of all, it must be noted that every generation of Christians since the first century has understood Jesus’ promise to mean that He could come within their lifetimes. But, since some 2,000 years have elapsed since He made this promise, there are many who have concluded that we’ve exceeded all human understanding of the word “soon.” Well, perhaps we have exceeded the human understanding of “soon,” but not the divine understanding of it. You see, God exists beyond the realm of space and time, where past, present, and future meld together in one eternal “now.” From the persepective of an eternity with no beginning or end, 2,000 years or more could still be understood as “soon.”

Remember that Peter points out this very thing in 2 Peter 3. There, he says, “In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking … saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” But Peter says, “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” It is good news for the world that 2,000 years still counts as “soon” on God’s timetable, for in His patience, God is granting all mankind the window of opportunity to turn from their sins and trust in the Jesus Christ to save them. And that brings us to another of these considerations about the timing of this promise.

The Bible makes several specific predictions about things that must occur before the Lord Jesus returns. Now, all of these things are the subject of a wide array of interpretations and we will not dwell on them or on this variety of interpretations today. We will simply say that there are legitimate views on these things which would see all of them as having come to pass already. In other words, there are no events left to be fulfilled which would prevent the coming of the Lord, with one possible exception. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. The word translated as “nations” there is the word “ethne,” which refers not to geo-political entities (lines on a map), but to ethnic entities. We call them “people groups,” people who are bound together by language and customs. According to the latest research of the International Mission Board (as of December 1, 2014), there are 11,168 people groups in the world, and 2,982 of them have no known access to the Gospel. So, there are some who would say that Christ cannot return until those peoples have access to the Gospel. Now, I affirm the sense of urgency that this perspective intends to press upon us, and this is one of the reasons that I passionately promote engaging unreached people groups in the task of world missions. We simply must get the gospel to these unreached peoples! Give that Lottie Moon offering, and give it generously and sacrificially. If you are able to, go with us on a mission trip where we seek to get the gospel into the ears of these people groups!

However, there are other perspectives that we need to consider. For example, some of these people groups who presently have no access to the Gospel are located in places where Christianity thrived in centuries past, such as North Africa and the Middle East. But in these places, the violent sweep of Islam has all but eradicated the church. So, while some of these peoples do not have the gospel today, it is quite possible that their ancestors had a vibrant Christian witness in their midst.

We also must consider that Jesus did not promise that every individual person in those people groups had to hear the Gospel, only that some from that people must hear the Gospel. There are representatives of these unreached groups coming to America as refugees, as students, and to work. Here, and in other places, some from these unreached peoples are encountering the Gospel, and we must be diligent to share Christ with them while they are here. Also, there are places where no missionary has been granted access in the modern era, but where the internet is readily available! There’s a lot of garbage on YouTube, but there is a lot of Gospel on there too. We have ways to track traffic to our website and our sermons online, and we get hits from places where missionaries cannot go! We never know when someone from an unreached people in an impenetrable country might click a link and be presented with this Gospel witness. So, for all the statistics we can calculate, there are even more that we cannot calculate about the global spread of the Gospel. We may not know when the last of the world’s peoples have heard the Gospel as a witness. 

So, could Jesus return in 2015? He certainly could. In fact, there are three days left in 2014, so we may not even see 2015! But I am not making any predictions, nor should you. We could be decades, centuries, or millennia away from His return for all we know. Jesus was very clear when He said, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Get that – no one knows except God the Father. Jesus said that even He, the Son, does not know. Well, if He is God, how can He not know? It is not that He lacks the capacity to know. Being fully divine, He is omniscient. Rather, it is something of a self-limitation. In His role as the Son, Jesus has chosen to yield some things to His Father. And one of those things is the timing of His return. Because He is also omnipotent (meaning that He has all power), He has the ability to limit the exercise of His omniscience so that this matter remains solely in the prerogative of God the Father. So, if someone claims to know when Jesus is going to return, you can just write them off.

We need to be mindful of the warning in verses 18 and 19. Just as John is about to close the book of Revelation, he says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” If I can attempt to paraphrase that warning, it seems to me that John is acknowledging that there are some things in end time prophecies that are certain and specific, and some that are difficult to understand and interpret. But if we call into question what is certain, or make something that is not a certainty to appear as though it were, then our salvation is called into question. Stick to the book! What does the book say? It says He is coming again! Believe that! What does it not say? It does not say when. It does not answer all of our curiosities or satisfy all of our fancies. So don’t attempt to say that it does or to twist it to fit your system or opinion. Don’t add to what is there, and don’t take away from what is there. He is coming. Be ready. But don’t try to set a date or listen to anyone else who does. Stick to the book and don’t tinker with it. He has promised that He is coming, and He is coming soon. That’s simple enough to understand. So believe it, and live as though you believe it.

Now, moving on from the promise of His coming, we see …

II. The purpose of Christ’s coming (vv12b-15)

Do you remember what it was like when you were in school and you got called to the principal’s office? When I was in school, they had an intercom in the classroom, and every now and then I would hear this announcement: “Could you please send Russ Reaves to the office.” Terror would come over me. “Oh man, what did I do this time?” Well, in reality, I could make a long list of offenses, so I guess I was thinking, “Oh man, what did I get caught doing this time?” But there were a few occasions when I was called in for a good reason. But, on the long walk down the hall, all I could think of was how bad I was going to get it. I wasn’t worried too much about what the principal could do to me; I was worried about what would happen when news reached home! I always kind of wished they would say in the announcement why I was being summoned – is this a good thing or a bad thing? What is the purpose of this trip to the office?

When we hear that Jesus is coming again, we may have a recurrence of that sense of uneasiness. He’s coming again? Hmmm. I wonder what that will mean for me? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? But unlike the long walk to the principal’s office, we can know for sure the purpose of Jesus’ return because He has told us. And He has even told us whether it will be good news or bad news for us. He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Everyone is going to get what is coming to them when Jesus returns. In school, I got away with a lot of bad stuff because I was smart. I could pull it off without getting caught. But Jesus says that He is the Alpha and the Omega – that’s the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This means, at least in part, that no one pulls the wool over His eyes. We don’t have any secrets hidden from Him. He was before all things and will be after all things, and everything that takes place between the beginning and the end is well within His scope of knowledge and insight. Is that good news or bad news? Well, it is both.

Deep within each and every one of us, there is a yearning for justice. We might rejoice when we get away with a wrongdoing, but we don’t rejoice when someone gets away with doing us wrong! We don’t rejoice when a guilty person walks free. We don’t rejoice when a crime goes unsolved, when a fugitive remains on the loose, or when no one is penalized for an atrocity. We want to see wrongs made right. We want to see justice, and not seeing us feels like a kick in the gut. We have to admit, even when our justice system works well, it can only render a proximate justice, never a perfect justice. But Jesus is coming to exercise perfect judgment and render perfect justice. Everyone will get what he or she deserves, a justice meted out by the just judge who knows every aspect of the ordeal inside and out. When we think of the wrongs committed against us, against our loved ones, against innocent people, and generally in the world at large, this gives us reason to rejoice. All wrongs will be made right when Christ the King returns.

But, if we are honest, there is an uneasy reality in this as well. If perfect justice will be meted to all people, then surely we are not exempt ourselves. In our heart of hearts, each one of us knows the depths of our own sin. We may not admit it, and we may not talk about it, but in the dark of night when our head is on the pillow and it is just us alone with our thoughts and with a God in whom we may or may not even believe, we know that we are a guilty people. Millions of dollars are spent every year by people trying to remedy an insatiable sense of guilt. You know why so many people feel guilty? Because we are guilty! The Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). There are none righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10). And that includes you and me. We are sinners. That is bad news. But the Gospel is good news, because sinners are who Jesus came to save when He came into the world the first time.

Notice the word of blessing in verse 14: “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” The image is of a people who, en masse, are covered with filthy garments. The garments are stained by the vileness of our sins. But there has been a remedy provided. These robes, and the sinners wearing them, can be washed and made clean! Earlier in Revelation, John saw a vision of a great multitude in heaven who were described as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The Lamb is none other than Jesus. So, here is the image: the entire human race is covered in the filth of sin. Jesus comes in, perfectly holy and righteous. His garments are bright and white. But He has come to enact a great transaction of grace. Not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because He is good and He loves us, He has taken our filthy garments and put them on Himself, and He has gone to the cross to bear the penalty of our sins. In His death, He shed His blood to wash away our sins. Having done that, He gives back to us, not the old sin-stained garments, but the garments of His own righteousness. He has washed our robes clean in His blood and taken away every stain. Those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior do not get the judgment they deserve, but instead, they are welcomed into the eternally glorious city of heaven, and given access to the tree of life of which they might eat and live forever with Him. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” He took the wrath we deserve, and gives us the blessing of life everlasting with Him in return. Perfect justice was given for our sins, but it fell on Christ, our substitute, as He died on the cross.

For those who have not washed their robes in His cleansing blood, there is no such blessing. The promise for them is that they will be “outside.” They are barred from entrance into heaven. Eternity for them will mean an endless outpouring of justice for their immoralities, their murder, their idolatry, and their lies. Apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, every single one of us could fall into one of those categories in verse 15. But because of that saving grace, those who have trusted in Him find themselves under the blessings in verse 14.

He is coming to exact a perfect judgment with perfect justice. That is the purpose of His return. No one will be able to say on that day of judgment that they did not get what they deserved; no one, that is, except those who have been saved. Jesus took what we deserved, so we could enjoy what He deserves: a blessed eternal union with God in Heaven.

We come now to …

III. The invitation of His coming (vv17)

There’s a popular song that asks, “What are you doing New Years Eve?” Let’s suppose there was a big party that everyone you knew was going to attend, but you haven’t been invited. Your friends say, “Oh, come on, you can tag along with me. I’m sure they won’t mind.” Most of us would feel uneasy about that. But it would be different if the host of the party were to call you and say, “Listen, it would really mean a lot to me if you would come. I would love for you to come.” Then, as your friends prod you to go, you would know that they are just echoing the wishes of the host of the party.

As we think of Jesus’ second coming, and the offer of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ, a great invitation has gone out to all the world. It comes from the host Himself. Verse 17 says that the Spirit says “Come!” The Spirit is God the Holy Spirit. He is calling you and inviting you to come to Jesus. But the call echoes forth through others who have already come. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” The bride is defined for us elsewhere in Revelation as the Church of Jesus Christ. We who have already come to find salvation in Jesus Christ have become His messengers, taking His gloriously gracious invitation into all the world. And all who hear this invitation, and understand the wonder of it, add their voice: “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” This call is going out into all the world. Every time anyone hears the good news of Jesus Christ, the Spirit and the Bride, and all who have heard this news, are beckoning “Come!” Maybe you are hearing that call today. You say, “That is just the preacher talking!” Well, the preacher is one who has heard that call for himself, and he is part of the Bride, the Church, all of whom are echoing the voice of the Spirit of God inviting you to come to Jesus and be saved.

Who should come? The Bible says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Are you thirsty? You say, “Thirsty for what? I have a sink at home, so I have plenty of water.” But the call is not to physical water. It is to living water. When Jesus was speaking to a woman by a well in John 4, He told her that everyone who drinks that water would thirst again. We know that to be true from experience. If you are thirsty you drink, but in time you are thirsty again. And the same is true for every desire and longing in our lives. Our lives tell the tale of one dissatisfaction after another. We found something that we thought could satisfy us, and maybe it did for a while, but soon we were empty again. Again, we thirsted. But Jesus told that woman that if anyone would drink the living water that He alone is able to supply, they would never thirst again, but that water would spring up within them into a well of eternal life! He is offering you an endless of supply of that which will satisfy your deepest longings forever – in a word, He is offering you Himself! It is a gift you cannot buy. It doesn’t matter if you have great riches or are completely destitute. It is not for sale. It is only available for free. That is why it is called “grace.” You don’t deserve it, you can’t earn it, and it is not for sale. But for no cost whatsoever, other than the cost of turning from sin and trusting in Him come what may, you may have this living water and be eternally satisfied in Jesus Christ. He is the provision for thirsty souls, and all thirsty souls are beckoned to come and drink freely from this water of life!

If you have never come to Him to partake of this living water – living water that satisfies, and living water that saves by washing us clean from our sins – I can think of no better way to ring out the old year and ring in the new than by turning to Him today. This is Jesus, who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has past away and all things are made new in Him. You can leave 2014 and enter 2015 a new creature, having been born again by faith in Christ. Do not delay that decision, because He has promised, He is coming quickly.

And when we hear that promise, those of us who have turned to Him by faith and been saved respond as John did. In verse 20, Jesus says once more, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” This is the prayer of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord says He is coming, and we say, “Amen! We believe that! And we ask you Lord to come quickly!” This world is broken! We ourselves are broken! But we have this great hope: that Jesus Christ is coming, and how we long for that day when all wrongs will be made right, and all faith become at last sight! When this broken world presses in on you, when your broken down body reminds you of your frailty, and when your own heart betrays you and you find yourself being lured back into the snares of the sin from which you have been delivered, Christian, incline your ear to heaven and hear the promise: “Behold, I am coming quickly!” And raise your voice in the cry of anticipation, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

How to Celebrate Christmas (Luke 2:8-20)

How do you celebrate Christmas? A study done by the Pew Forum last year indicated that 86% of Americans gather with extended family or friends on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day; the same percentage buy gifts for family and friends. Meanwhile 79% of Americans put up a Christmas tree, 65% send Christmas cards; and only 54% attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. So, to paraphrase an airline flight attendant, we know you have many options when it comes to celebrating Christmas, so we want to thank you for choosing to celebrate it with us.

If you wanted to be more creative, you could adopt some more unusual customs that are practiced elsewhere in the world. According to a 2010 article from Travel and Leisure’s website, in Guatemala, the devil is burned in effigy on a bonfire. In Japan, eating at KFC for Christmas is so popular that some locations require reservations. In Wales, friends go from home to home singing, accompanied by someone dressed up as a dead horse.[1] Or maybe you are like Ebenezer Scrooge, who sternly rebuked his gracious nephew, saying, “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine!”

Undoubtedly your family has its own Christmas customs, as does mine. But if we really want to know how to celebrate Christmas, we need to look no further than the passage of Scripture which has just been read, Luke 2:1-20.Here in the first Christmas, we find examples of the best ways for us to honor Christ and celebrate His birth in our Christmases! After the angel announced the good news of the Savior who had been born in Bethlehem, and the angelic host erupted in a song of cosmic praise, the shepherds, and those they encountered, celebrated the coming of Christ into the world in ways that we would do well to emulate!

I. Come and behold Christ the Lord! (vv15-16)

In the familiar song, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” we sing the familiar words, “Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels! O come let us adore Him, o come let us adore Him, o come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” As we sing those words, we are giving voice to the ancient shepherds who heard the angelic announcement. While they were out in the fields with their flocks, the angel appeared and said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” This was more than an announcement of good news, it was an invitation to come and meet this Child and behold Him for themselves.

Notice what the shepherds did. They said to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” And we read that “they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph and the baby as He lay in the manger.” How else should we respond to the good news, the Gospel, that a Savior has been born for us? We, who are separated from God by our sins, have been invited to come and meet the One who was born to take away our sins. The Christ of Christmas’s manger is the Christ of Easter’s cross. This baby would grow to live a life of perfect righteousness, completely free from sin, and He would die to be our substitute, so that in Him our sins can receive the full penalty they deserve under the holy justice of God. He takes our sins, and He offers us His righteousness in exchange. This is how He becomes our Savior, as we turn from our sins in repentance and claim Him by faith as our Lord, trusting Him to save us and reconcile us to God. You have heard the good news – a Savior has been born for you. Have you come to behold Him by faith for yourself, and call upon Him to save you? If not, then this is the best of all possible ways to celebrate Christmas – to receive Christ as the gift of Heaven given to you as your Savior to rescue you from sin and reconcile you to God.

II. Go and tell the good news to others (v17)

These shepherds had a story to tell! They had seen and met the Savior! God had become a human being in the person of Jesus the Christ, and they had just seen Him with their own eyes! They had to tell others what had happened to them. The Bible says, “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” As James Montgomery Boice said, “If their story was not worth telling, then no story that has ever been told is worth telling.”[2]

Not only did they have a story to tell, they knew that other people needed to hear this news as well. They needed to know that a Savior had been born so that they could have hope and peace with God as well! These shepherds knew that they lived in a world filled with people who were lost, confused, and dying. Their world was no different than ours. All around us are multitudes who are, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, without hope and without God in the world. Lost, confused, dying, and separated from God the Father – this is the universal human condition. But Jesus had come to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that we might come to the Father by faith in Him (John 14:6). People who are lost need to find the way. Jesus is the Way! People who are confused need to find the truth, and Jesus is the Truth! People who are dying need to find life, and Jesus is the Life, and He said that no one comes to the Father but by Him. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us who have met Jesus and trusted Him as our Lord to proclaim to others that all of their desperate longings can be satisfied eternally in this Savior who has been born for them. We who have met Christ can celebrate His birth by announcing the good news to a world that needs to hear it!

III. Hear the good news with wonder (v18)

During the Christmas season, we have the good news presented to us in a variety of ways. There are the songs that sing of Christ’s birth. Christmas cards express Christian messages of faith, hope, and love. Our hearts are warmed every time we hear Linus tell Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. We hear these things, but do we hear it with wonder? The Bible says that those who heard what the shepherds were saying “wondered.”

You know how your ears can become to dull to sounds you hear over and over again. Our house is right under the flight path of jets taking off at PTI. Nine years ago, it kept us up at night. Today we hardly notice it. But when someone visits our home for the first time and hears it, they wonder if we are under attack or something. They are amazed that we don’t even notice it. I suppose for some, the Christmas story is kind of like that. We have lost our sense of wonder at it. But if we would celebrate Christmas in the right kind of way, we would chase after that sense of wonder and never let it out of our grasp. How can we “get used to” or “get over” this astounding news of the grace of God? How we grow dull and merely yawn at the message that God has become one of us and come to save us? Perhaps we need to pray and ask God to help us recapture the wonder and amazement of the miracle of Christmas that this Savior has come. That would be a good way to celebrate Christmas – to revel in wonder, and to ask the Lord to multiply that wonder exponentially in our souls, as we hear the glad tidings that Christ the Lord has been born to save us!

IV. Treasure the good news and ponder it (v19)

Around my office, I have many things that I treasure. There’s a sculpture that my grandfather made, pictures of my kids, and pictures they have drawn, pictures of my wife and my friends, objects I have brought back from my travels, and so on. And within all of our hearts, we have similar kinds of treasures. Memories of magical moments when we wished that time could just stand still. We cherish them and cling to them, pulling them to the forefronts of our minds just to behold them for a minute and smile. The Bible says that Mary treasured this moment, when all of these things were occurring around her – the birth of her child, the visit of the shepherds, the stories they told of angels who had visited them, and the memories of her own visitation from an angel who announced God’s plan for her to bear this child. These things, and many more, “all these things,” Mary treasured and pondered in her heart. To “ponder” is to reflect meditatively. When one is pondering, he or she is thinking intently about something, piecing it together like a puzzle, and tying together the strings of understanding and meaning. Mary was connecting dots in her mind, reflecting on God’s mercy and grace to her, and considering all that the birth of this child meant to her, and what it would mean to the whole world.

This is how we are to celebrate Christmas. We are to take the truths of God’s word as treasures into our hearts and ponder them. We are to take “all these things” in: the promises and prophecies that foretold the birth of the Savior, and the narrative accounts of how it came to pass, and the Gospel truths that proclaim the salvation that Jesus was born to bring us. We ponder them, reflecting meditatively upon them. We ponder the moment when these things became real to us personally, that moment when we first turned to Christ in faith and trusted in Him to save us. We ponder how His grace has worked within us since that day. We ponder the promise of heaven and the hope of eternity spent in God’s presence, all because this Savior has been born for us! We ponder the miracle, and we ponder the mystery, and we ask the Lord to deepen our understanding and sharpen our affection and adoration for Him as we rehearse these treasures in our hearts and minds. It would be a wasted Christmas if we take in all the customs and traditions and do not spend time pondering the treasures of who Christ is and what it is that He has done for us, is doing in and through us, and will do with us forever. Though there is much perhaps that we do not understand, we cling to Him by faith, and ask Him to enlarge our faith into understanding, and to do so evermore until our faith becomes sight and we behold Him face to face.

And then finally, we can celebrate Christmas as we …

V. Go back with glory and praise to God for the gift of the Lord Jesus

Verse 20 says that the shepherds went back – back to their fields, back to their flocks – but they went back as changed men. They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. They were caught up in the worship of God-in-Christ.

There have been many popular Christmas songs over the years that asked why the special feeling of Christmas can’t last all year long. Maybe you have wondered the same. Within a few days, the presents will all be unwrapped and put away, the tree will come down, and we will go back. For some who are here visiting family and friends, you will go back home. For those who have enjoyed a few days off, you will go back to work. We have to go back. But we do not have to go back the same. If we have truly celebrated Christmas – if we have beheld Christ, if we have told the story, and heard it afresh with wonder, if we have treasured these things and ponder them in our hearts, we can go back praising and glorifying God for all that we have heard and seen concerning this Lord Jesus who was born to save us. We can go back with a fresh commitment to worship the Lord Jesus every day, and to serve Him with gladness, filled with His Spirit and with songs of praise in our hearts. Then we will know that we have really celebrated Christmas, and the amazing thing is that everyone we meet will know it as well. And perchance, as we explain to them how we have celebrated Christmas, they may come to celebrate it in this true way as well.

Richard Walters gave me a copy of a wonderful prayer a few days ago, and I think it captures my own sentiments and my prayer for us all as I bring this message to a close:
May you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the magi, and the peace of the Christ Child!

[1] Accessed December 18, 2014.
[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Christ of Christmas (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2009), 170. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Card from Isaiah (Matthew 1:22-25)

On Christmas Eve, 1939, C. S. Lewis penned a letter to his brother which begins, “I have been thinking much this week on the absurdity of Christmas customs in an infidel society, specially the Christmas card. Waiving the great absurdity of celebrating the nativity at all if you don’t believe in the incarnation, what in heaven’s name is the idea of everyone sending every one else pictures of stage-coaches, fairies, foxes, dogs, butterflies, kittens, flowers, etc?”[1] A few weeks ago, my wife was shopping and a woman approached her and showed her two Christmas cards, and asked, “I’m sending these to my business clients, and I was wondering, which one of them do you think is less offensive?” So, that is where we are now? Donia’s advice was for her to send the one that expressed her genuine thoughts, and if she was worried about offending others, maybe she shouldn’t send them at all. After all, a “Merry Christmas” card might offend an unbeliever, but a “Seasons Greetings” card might offend a believer. Maybe this woman was overthinking it, or maybe she was just keeping up with customs. And some go about it very early. You barely get the Thanksgiving turkey thawed out before the Christmas cards start rolling in. Well, I suppose there is nothing wrong with an early Christmas greeting. After all, the Bible announces messages of Christ’s birth even centuries before He came.

In our text in Matthew’s Gospel today, we read that all this – all of the events surrounding the coming of Christ into the world – took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. And the prophecy that is quoted here is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah the prophet lived and ministered over 700 years before the birth of Christ. Talk about beating the Christmas rush! But here in this ancient prophecy is a clear, distinct message that announces and celebrates the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world. According to Matthew, you simply cannot understand what took place two thousand years ago in Bethlehem at the first Christmas without understanding that it had been foretold by the prophet centuries in advance. The verses we have read today are inseparably connected to those which come before it, which we have examined throughout this Advent season. Beginning with the genealogy in verses 1-17, and continuing through Joseph’s dilemma in verses 18-21, there is an unmistakable emphasis on one particular aspect of Jesus’ birth. He was born of a virgin.

We see it in verse 16, which says of Joseph that he was “the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” Matthew has carefully constructed this sentence to make it clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. In verse 18, it is specified that Mary was found to be with child when Mary and Joseph were “betrothed” and “before they came together,” that is, before they had consummated their marriage. This pregnancy was the result of the divine activity of “the Holy Spirit.” Again in verse 20, the message that the Lord sends to Joseph by way of His angel is that “the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Here in verse 23, Matthew ties Jesus to the prophecy of the virgin who will conceive in Isaiah 7:14. In verse 24, he states that Joseph preserved Mary’s virginity is maintained even after they finalized their marriage, until Jesus was born, presumably so that there would be no question about the nature of His birth. Over and over again, Matthew makes it clear (as Luke does as well in his Gospel) that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus.

As Machen says, “It is perfectly clear that the New Testament teaches the virgin birth of Christ; about that there can be no manner of doubt. There is no serious question as to the interpretation of the Bible at this point. … The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false.”[2] Of course, it would seem to us Evangelical Christians who hold to a high view of biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and authority, that the answer to that question should be obvious. Yet sadly over the course of the last hundred years or so, we have seen many notable Christians defect from orthodox belief in biblical Christianity, and not surprisingly one of the first doctrines to be jettisoned is that of the virgin birth of Christ. For example, Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was one of the most popular and influential pastors in America in the early 20th Century, boldly proclaimed from his pulpit, “I want to assure you that I do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and I hope that none of you do.”[3] In the middle of the 20th Century, William Barclay, one of the best-selling biblical commentators of all time, wrote of the virgin birth, “This is a doctrine which presents us with many difficulties; and our Church (the Church of Scotland) does not compel us to accept it in the literal and the physical sense. This is one of the doctrines on which the Church says that we have full liberty to come to our own conclusion.”[4] Coming closer in space and time, near the end of the 20th Century, Barnes Tatum, a self-proclaimed Methodist and the emeritus professor of religion and philosophy at Greensboro College (a Methodist college), said that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth “represent theological fiction.”[5] Meanwhile a more encouraging survey released just this week from the Pew Forum revealed that 73% of Americans do believe in the virgin-birth, including 96% of Evangelical Protestants.[6]

Coming back to our text, we want to explore today this account of the virgin birth of Christ, and specifically the ancient prophecy that it fulfilled. I’m calling it Isaiah’s Christmas Card. Here we see the source of the Christmas message, the specifics of it, and the subject of it.

I. The Source of the Christmas Message is God Himself (v22)

When it comes to the story of the virgin birth that we find in the Bible, we really have only two options of how it came to be recorded. Either it is a true story, or else someone made it up. There is no shortage of people who believe that the account is completely fabricated. But here, we have to ask ourselves, who made it up, and why? Did Matthew make it up? Supposing that he did, why would he? We have to admit, it does not make the story more believable, does it? And Matthew, who was a Jewish person, would be taking a great risk to make up a story about the infinitely holy God of the Hebrews becoming a man, and becoming one through such means. He would surely be branded as an arch-heretic for even suggesting such a thing. But, supposing he took this risk and made up the story for some reason, then the next thing we must suppose is that Luke happened upon his account, took it as plausible, and borrowed from it for his own story. Again, we have to ask, why would Luke do this? He was a medical doctor, and surely if anyone knew that virgins can’t bear children, he did! And we also have to wonder why Luke chose to tell the story from a completely different vantage point and including so many different details than Matthew did.

Well, perhaps we have it backwards. Maybe Luke made it up, and then Matthew borrowed from him. Luke was a Gentile, and perhaps he wished to create a backstory for Jesus that would align Him with the great heroes of pagan mythology who experienced supernatural births. But, as we noted last week, there are really no such parallel accounts in the pagan mythologies. Those stories have nothing in common with this one, and just a simple review of them would illustrate how vastly different the birth of Jesus came about when compared to those myths. But supposing he did this anyway, we would have to wonder why Matthew, the Jew, would copy such a story, and if he did, why he would have changed so many of the details? It seems that we must look elsewhere for a source. And thankfully, Matthew tells us the source of the Christmas story.

He says that all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord. Where did the story of a virgin born Savior come from? It came from the Lord! These are God’s words which were spoken. But, in His usual manner of dealing with the human race, God did not announce this message audibly from the heavens. As He so regularly does, He used a human agent to deliver the message—in this case, the prophet Isaiah. It was spoken by the Lord, through the prophet. The prophet was, if you will, God’s mouthpiece to deliver this message.

We need to understand a little bit about the original setting of Isaiah’s prophecy here. You recall that the Lord had promised to David that He would have a descendant who would reign forever and ever. Well, when we come to Isaiah 7, the descendant of David who was reigning over the southern kingdom of Judah at that time was a wicked king named Ahaz. Ahaz was in a bit of a jam. The superpower of Assyria was threatening to sweep across the region and conquer every nation in its path. So, Pekah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had entered into an alliance with Rezin, king of Aram (or Syria) to defend themselves against Assyria. They were putting pressure on Ahaz to join them, but Ahaz had refused. This did not set well with the alliance, so they turned on him and threatened to overtake Judah and install their own king, the son of Tabeel, as a puppet king in his place. But Ahaz had other plans. He had already secretly tried to gain favor with the Assyrians to protect himself against Rezin and Pekah. Now this plan meant almost certain disaster for Ahaz and all in Judah, because the Assyrians would surely just turn around and conquer Judah for itself. So, it is into this situation that the Lord sends word to Ahaz through Isaiah. The Lord longed to be the protector and defender of His people, not for them to trust Assyria to do it. So the prophet comes to the king and says that the Lord is willing to make him an offer he can’t refuse. He gives the king something of a “blank check” and says, “You name it, any sign you want, to prove that the Lord will protect and defend you and preserve the nation and the throne of David, according to His promise.” But Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, probably because deep in his heart, he was an unbeliever and had already planned to carry out the alliance with Assyria. So, the Lord speaks through the prophet and says, “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign.” And the word “you” here is plural – we’d translate it “all y’all”: “The Lord Himself will give all y’all a sign.” And the sign is that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and He would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The miraculous birth of this child would prove to Judah that the Lord had not forsaken His people or His promise to David. The Child would be the embodiment of the message that the Lord wanted Ahaz and all of Judah to believe by faith, that God truly was with them. But because Ahaz had already turned his back on the Lord, he would not live to see the fulfillment of that promise. He would see the Assyrians conquer the alliance of Rezin and Pekah, but he would not see Judah spared. In time, the Assyrians were overcome by the Babylonians, and the Babylonians would come in and take all of Judah captive into exile. But the Lord’s promise remained in tact. One day, the child would be born who would take the throne of David and reign forever. Centuries came and went, Judah went into captivity and came back, but continued to be dominated by one world power after another. Even at the turn of the first century, the Romans had the nation under its thumb. Many undoubtedly forgot about, and even gave up on the promise of Immanuel. But all of that was about to change.

The source of the Christmas message is God Himself, delivered through the prophet Isaiah. Peter says (2 Peter 1:11) that prophecy does not originate in the human will, but “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Isaiah was doing just that. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he had announced God’s message of the virgin born Savior who was coming to set His people free from the oppression, not of foreign powers, but from the oppression of sin that separated mankind from God. As the angel told Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins.” This was the Christmas message, announced centuries in advance by God Himself through His prophet Isaiah.

II. The Specifics of the Christmas Message are well detailed (v23a)

If you scan the headlines of the tabloids in the supermarket aisles, you will probably see things in the coming weeks about some psychic or fortune teller’s predictions about things to come in 2015 or things that were fulfilled in 2014. You are undoubtedly familiar with the name of Nostradamus. It has been said that this 16th Century occultist predicted everything from the Great Fire of London, to the rise of Napolean and Adolf Hitler, to the September 11 attacks, and the election of Barack Obama (by name) as the final president America would ever have. It would be pretty impressive if he actually predicted those things, but did he really? Most of the time when we hear that Nostradamus predicted something, it is either entirely fabricated, or else Nostradamus’s words have been stretched to absurdity to fit the circumstances. Nostradamus wrote in vague, almost nonsensical language that would be impossible to understand or interpret.

This is markedly different from biblical prophecy. Granted some biblical prophecy is very difficult to understand or interpret, but given the proper historical and theological backgrounds, we find that biblical prophecy is usually very detailed and specific. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 is a great example of that.

Notice that the event which the Lord foretold through Isaiah was said to be a sign. Matthew doesn’t include that part, but in Isaiah, it says “the Lord Himself will give you a sign,” and then follows the portion that Matthew includes here. So, we have a sign. A sign is something out of the ordinary that is taking place to arrest our attention and reveal or affirm a revelation about who God is and what He is doing. And what is the sign? The prophet says, “Behold,” which means, “Look! See!” What are we looking for? “A virgin will be with child and bear a son.”

Now, there are a lot of folks who say that Christians have distorted Isaiah’s message here, and that the Hebrew word we translate as virgin really means a young woman of a marriageable age. They point out that there is another Hebrew word which specifically means virgin, and if the Lord had intended to speak of a virgin, He would have used that word. Well, in fact there is another word that specifically means virgin, and this word in Isaiah could possibly refer to a young woman of a marriageable age. However, in every occurrence of this word in the Old Testament where the meaning is clear, it seems to only be used to refer to a virgin. Machen observes that there is no place where the word is clearly used of a woman who was not a virgin, and “one may well doubt, in view of the usage, whether it was a natural word to use of anyone who was not in point of fact a virgin.”[7] Moreover, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek 200 years before the birth of Christ, the greatest Hebrew scholars in the world chose a Greek word for this passage which exclusively means virgin, and that is the same word that Matthew uses here. So, in speaking of the virgin, we are not dealing with a Christian interpolation, but rather with what seems to be the intended understanding of the original message.

Furthermore, Matthew actually translates the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 better than most of our English versions do, for he includes the definite article, “the virgin,” where most of our English translations exclude the article in Isaiah, and render it “a virgin.” In fact, in the Hebrew, the definite article is present. We are talking about a very specific person: the virgin. Which virgin are we talking about? We are talking about the pregnant one! Search the annals of history, and you will find only one: Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is the sign – a pregnant virgin will give birth to a son. You see, if the word only means “a young woman of a marriageable age,” there is nothing noteworthy of that. It happens every day, all over the world. That would not capture our attention and interest. But, a pregnant virgin? That gets our attention! That’s a sign to behold!

So, Matthew tells us here that all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. The Christmas message, foretold in the ancient Christmas card from Isaiah 7:14, comes to us from God and with specific detail.

III. The Subject of the Christmas Message is Immanuel (v23b)
Signs exist to catch our attention, and then to direct our attention to a greater truth. A stop sign is painted bright red and has reflective material on it so that it is hard to miss. But the point is not to stop and gaze on the beauty of the sign. The point is to see the sign, and understand that there is a reality to which the sign points. If you do not stop here at this sign, you could get a traffic violation, points on your license, an increase in your insurance rates, or worse, you could seriously injure or kill someone, including yourself! The point is not the sign itself, but the specific law and a general safety concern that the sign symbolizes.

So, the Lord announced through Isaiah that there would be a sign given to prove to His people that He was faithful, that He was with them, and that He had not abandoned His promises. The sign is a pregnant virgin. She is what catches our attention, but then we are directed to a greater reality beyond the sign. The point is really not about the virgin, but about the child she will bring into the world. She will bear a son, and His name will be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The message of Christmas, in Isaiah’s day, in the first Century, and today, is about this child who was born, who is God in the flesh. He is God with us.

But what about this name, “Immanuel”? Did not the angel command Joseph to call the child “Jesus”? And did he not provide the reason? Since “Jesus” means “The Lord saves,” this was to be His name because He had come to save His people from sins. So, why does the prophecy not say “Jesus”, but “Immanuel”? So far as we know, no one ever called Jesus by this name, but if we were to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?”, the name “Immanuel” would be a fitting answer. Who is Jesus? He is God with us. That is as good an answer as anyone could give in three words. The eternal God had come to dwell among us as a man, to be with us, and to rescue us from our sins by His life, His death, and His resurrection.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with the arrival of Immanuel, God with us, in the person of Jesus Christ. It ends with this same Jesus promising His people that He will be with us always even to the end of the age. Having reconciled His people to Himself by saving them from their sins, He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. For all eternity, He will be God with us, Immanuel.

Isaiah sent his Christmas card early – 700 years early. But in it, he proclaimed the wonder of Christmas. God Himself was speaking through the prophet to announce that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and that Son would be God in human flesh, Immanuel, our Lord Jesus. That is what Christmas is all about. As we go about this week exchanging greetings with others, let us be sure to point them to this Jesus, who is God with us, as the one who can save them from their sins. Isaiah’s message was Matthew’s message, and it is our message, because ultimately it God’s message, announced to the world at Christmas time and every other day of the year. Because of God’s love for us, He has come to be with us, and He has done all that was necessary to save us from our sins. The greatest Christmas gift ever given is Jesus, the gift of Immanuel, God with us. If you have never personally received that gift, I pray that you would find in this Christmas card from Isaiah an invitation to meet the Lord Jesus today and experience the wonder of God with us.

[1] Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (Vol. 2; New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 307.
[2] J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (New York: Harper & Bros., 1930), 382.
[3] Quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1971), 16.
[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Vol. 1, Rev. Ed.; Daily Study Bible Series; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 20.
[5] Mark A. Kellner, “Virgin Birth Under Dispute.” Christianity Today (November 14, 1994). Accessed online, December 17, 2014,
[6] Accessed December 17, 2014.
[7] Machen, 288. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Messy Miracle of Christmas (Matthew 1:18-21)

Christmas is a season of wonders. We tell a wonderful story about a wonderful Savior, and we sing wonderful songs, and have wonderful celebrations. But Christmas can also be a time of worries. We worry about the busyness, the stress, the expense, family conflicts, painful memories that resurface, and so on. It seems like a strange juxtaposition, doesn’t it? Worries and wonders? If only we could have the wonders without the worries, that would be a truly authentic Christmas experience, wouldn’t it? Well, not so fast! It seems that Christmas wonders have always been accompanied by Christmas worries, even going back to the very first Christmas. In our text, Matthew tells us the Christmas story from the perspective of Joseph. As we might expect, it is filled with wonder. But even moreso than our own Christmas experiences, it is also filled with worries. He describes to us the miracle of Christmas, but not without the mess of Christmas. And this messy miracle of Christmas is our good news, our Gospel, which makes our salvation possible. So, we want to explore the miracle, but not without also examining the mess of Christmas.

I. The Mess of Christmas (vv18-19)

Contrary to popular belief, the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is not found in the Bible. The exact origin of that phrase is hard to pin down, but it has been around for a very long time. In reality, however, godliness is sometimes found in the messiest of places. Consider the first Christmas. Jesus was born in the first-century equivalent of a barn, wrapped up and put in a feeding trough. It was a far cry from the sterile environment of modern labor and delivery wards. But even before the moment of His birth, there was a mess surrounding the circumstances of His coming. Three such “messes” are set forth in verses 18 and 19 of our text. There was a complicated relationship, a scandalous pregnancy, and an expedient plan.

There are approximately 1.35 billion active users on Facebook. There are 11 options that a Facebook user can choose for his or her “relationship status.” It is estimated that 3% of users (40.5 million) choose “It’s complicated” as their relationship status.[1] That status likely describes a wide range of scenarios, most of them less than favorable to be sure. If Joseph and Mary had been Facebook users, it is possible that they would have had to choose “It’s complicated” as their relationship status, simply because there is no other option that describes the kind of relationship they were in.

Verse 18 says that they were “betrothed.” We don’t have anything like “betrothed” in our culture. Betrothed is more than single, more than engaged, and less than married. In a betrothal, a couple were considered to be husband and wife to one another, but not yet married. They would continue to live apart, and during the time preceding the wedding, the husband would prepare a home for his bride. Often a betrothal was arranged by the parents, and since marriage typically happened at a far younger age than it does in modern America, even young children could be betrothed to one another. Both parties in a betrothal were required to remain sexually pure; physical consummation could only occur after the wedding. To terminate a betrothal was not as easy as breaking off an engagement. Because betrothal was legally binding, a divorce was required to end the relationship. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Into the already complicated relationship of Joseph and Mary, another mess develops: a scandalous pregnancy. Matthew says it this way, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (v18). Like us, Matthew has the privilege of knowing the details of the situation in hindsight. In the moment, however, the only person (besides God!) who knew the details was Mary. In Luke’s account, he records how the angel had appeared to her and revealed that she would bear a child, while remaining a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But keep in mind, at this point, Joseph has not seen any angels or received any revelations. All he knows is this: his betrothed bride-to-be is pregnant, and it is obviously not his child. Of course, I am sure she has told him that the child was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit, but if you put yourself in his shoes, you have to agree that this would be hard to believe. After all, virgins do not conceive babies. For Joseph, all signs indicate that Mary has been unfaithful to him. This is a real scandal.

The mess continues as Joseph begins to consider his options. Jewish law prescribed a strict penalty for a woman in Mary’s situation. In Deuteronomy 22:23-27, the law says that if the woman has been raped, she bears no penalty, but her assailant is to be put to death. If, however, it was a consensual act, then both parties were to be put to death. By the first century, Roman influence and a general laxity in application of the Mosaic law in situations like these, offered Joseph two additional options. He could accuse her publicly, have the betrothal terminated by a court of law, and make her the object of public shame and ridicule, and virtually destroying her future. Or, he could divorce her privately in the presence of two or three witnesses and dissolve the relationship. No one would know the details. “She could simply go away somewhere and secretly bear and raise the child” on her own.[2]

Now, Matthew tells us that “Joseph, her husband” was “a righteous man” (v19). Some translations use the phrase “a just man.” The meaning is the same. It means that he was careful in his observance of the law and was committed to obeying God. He would have been well within his rights of legal and moral justice to pursue a public trial and have his cause upheld, whether Mary be put to death or just forever shamed. But, in Joseph’s righteousness, there was also a strong sense of mercy. This is a true mark of godliness – a right and gentle balance of justice and mercy. He did not want Mary to be disgraced, so he planned to send her away secretly. The verb tenses in verses 19 and 20 indicate that his mind was made up, and this is what he would do. It was an expedient plan to fix the situation and be free from the mess.

What a mess! You think your Christmas is messy? I am not sure it can get much more messy than the first Christmas: a complicated relationship, a scandalous pregnancy, and an expedient plan. But it is into this mess that God intervenes and brings the miracle of Christmas! The mess does not stand in the way of the miracle! And in our Christmases, we must be careful that we do not allow the worries to overshadow the wonders. Just as He did in the first Christmas, God can intervene in our mess and concentrate our attention on the miracle. So, let’s turn our attention to the miracle of Christmas.

II. The Miracle of Christmas (vv20-21)

We probably all know people who believe that miracles are an impossibility. They are convinced that miracles have never happened, never do, and never will. Then there are others who call every sunrise, every blooming flower, every baby’s birth, and every stroke of happy providence in their lives a miracle. Well, which side is correct? In fact, neither of them are. We know that because God exists and is at work in the world, miracles are possible. And because we believe the revelation that God has given us in the Bible, we know that miracles have happened in the world. But, the Bible does not lead us to expect that miracles are happening all around us all the time. In fact, even in the Bible, miracles are rare. If they were not rare, we wouldn’t call them miracles. Miracles occur in connection with God’s revelation. When God imparts revelation of Himself to the world, He validates that revelation with miracles. We see it creation, in the time when the Law was given during the days of Moses and the Exodus, and when the prophetic ministry began with Elijah and Elisha. But after the days of those early prophets, we do not see miracles occurring, at least not with frequency or intensity. That is, not until the coming of Christ into the world. In the events surrounding His birth, and continuing through His life, death and resurrection and the ministry of His apostles, we see a great concentration of miracles. After all, in Christ, God was speaking afresh to the world. As the writer of Hebrews says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1). With this new revelation of God in Christ, there comes a new outbreak of miracles, beginning with the events surrounding His birth. We find a number of them recorded in the familiar Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, but we also find a good number of them here in Matthew. There are three in the verses before us today that I want to focus our attention on.

Notice first in verse 20 the miracle of divine communication. As we have already seen, Joseph’s mind was made up. He had determined that the best way to handle his messy situation was to divorce Mary secretly and move on with his life. He had settled the matter in his mind and was well enough at peace with his decision to lay down and go to sleep. We know that he was in a deep sleep, because he had a dream. Dreams primarily occur as we enter into that deep, REM sleep. Dreams are interesting and very difficult to define or analyze. There are many theories about why we dream, what dreams mean, and why some people have more vivid dreams than others. Very few of those theories overlap and agree with each other. But the Bible tells us that something unusual happened in Joseph’s dream. God sent him a message. Now, why should we take this seriously? After all, I don’t take my own dream seriously, so why should I take Joseph’s dream seriously? If you told me that you dreamed I gave you $1,000, I wouldn’t put much stock in your dream. Well, notice how the statement is worded. It does not say here that Joseph dreamed that he saw an angel. But this is not an account of what Joseph did, heard, or saw. It is an account of what the Lord did, and what the Lord showed and spoke to Joseph by this angel. It says that “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” The subject here is the angel of the Lord. God took the sovereign initiative to dispatch His angel to Joseph to impart a message to him.

In this message, the angel of the Lord told Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Through this angel, God was relating to Joseph personally, by name, and speaking directly into his current circumstance. He knew Joseph’s situation, his emotions, and his situation, and He addressed those very things in a direct way. He was assuring Joseph of the truth of the situation, and directing him in a very specific way. He was to go through with his plan to take Mary as his wife in marriage, because she had not been unfaithful or untruthful to him. Her story was true, and if he hadn’t taken her word for it, he could take the Lord’s word for it. It was a miracle of divine communication.

The angel speaks here of another miracle: the miracle of divine conception. The angel said, “the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” We refer to it as the virgin birth, but the miracle of it all was the virginal conception. The birth was very normal – after all, Mary did not deliver Jesus through her ear or her navel. He was born in the very natural way that all children are born. But, the miracle was in the conception. She conceived this child apart from relations with any man, solely by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit who had imparted the child into her womb. That’s a miracle! Not only does this kind of thing not happen every day, it never happened before, and it has never happened since!

Now I want to say a word here about two very common objections to the story of the virgin birth of Jesus. There are some today who believe that miracles are not possible, and that the story of the virgin birth could only be credible to the superstitious, pre-scientific world. It is certainly true that we know far more about biology and genetics today than was known in the first century, but “even the relatively primitive stage of first-century science was sufficiently advanced for people to known that in every other known instance it required a biological father as well as a biological mother to produce a human child.” Thus, the “notion of a virginal conception was no more plausible in first-century Judaism that it is in the [modern] Western world.”[3] After all, it is obvious that Joseph did not believe at first that this was possible, hence his plan to divorce Mary. But we should also note that Mary found this hard to believe as well. In Luke’s Gospel, which focuses on her experience and perspective, when the angel of the Lord tells her that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son,” she says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:30-37). And we must bear in mind that her account was not penned by a backwoods ignoramus; Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14). So the idea that primitive, unscientific people could believe this story easier than the sophisticated intelligentsia of our own day is simply off base. Even the major players in the story found it hard to believe, and yet even the most well educated kind of person in that day came to believe it by faith as a miracle of God.

There is another notion that the account of the virginal conception was fabricated in order to make the story of Jesus’ birth accord with other supernatural births in well-known pagan mythology. However, if one takes the time to investigate the alleged parallels between the biblical account of the virgin birth of Jesus and the supernatural births in pagan mythology, as J. Gresham Machen did nearly 100 years ago in his book The Virgin Birth of Christ, one discovers that there simply are no parallels! In the few accounts that speak of the virginity of the mother, there is no attempt to explain that she conceived the child while remaining a virgin. In almost all cases, there was a sexual act that occurred between the deity and the woman, which caused the conception (hence these stories are categorized by scholars today as divine rape), and in every case, the liaison was prompted by the perverse lust of the deity for the woman. There are absolutely no similarities between these accounts and what we find in Scripture, nor should we expect there to be. After all, the writings of the New Testament served to a great degree to demonstrate how unique and different Christianity is from the religious beliefs of the surrounding pagan world, and not to demonstrate how similar they were. So this theory is entirely without merit. The fact is that, if the story of the virgin birth of Jesus is not true, there is absolutely no reason why any Christian in the first century would have wanted to invent the story.

So we do not have here a primitive, pre-scientific, or pagan myth. What we have is the account of a miracle of divine conception, unlike anything that ever happened in fact or fiction before or after the birth of Jesus.

Now we come to the greatest miracle of all: the miracle of a divine child. Thus far, we’ve only seen the pregame show, now it is time for the announcement of the main event! The greatest miracle of Christmas is not in God’s speaking through angels. It is not even the virginal conception of the baby. The greatest miracle of Christmas is child Himself, and what that child was coming into the world to do. The angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v21). If it is not already obvious from what has come before, it should obvious from this brief statement that we are not talking about an ordinary child! This child has come to do something that only God can do – rescue humanity from sin.

His name is significant. People name children for all sorts of reasons, some better than others. But the name of Jesus was not selected by Joseph and Mary. This name was chosen by God. The name “Jesus” means, “YHWH is salvation,” or “The Lord saves.” The people of God had long awaited a Savior, but there were varying opinions about what He would come to save them from. The word “save” can refer to deliverance from any number of troubles and afflictions, and God is faithful to save and deliver from a wide range of hardships. “He gives food to the hungry, He heals the sick, He comforts the brokenhearted. Many hoped the Messiah would save Israel from its Roman oppressors. But the angel declares God’s agenda. Jesus will not save his people from physical enemies; “He will save his people from their sins.”[4] He will reconcile humanity to God, overcoming the gulf of sin that separates us from Him. He will do this by living the life that none of us can live – a life of complete sinlessness and perfect righteousness; by dying the death that all of us deserve – under the just judgment and wrath of God being poured out on all of our sins; and by overcoming death forever through His resurrection. He did all of this for us, that in His death, He could be our substitute, bearing our sins under the outpouring of divine judgment; and that the merits of His sinless and righteous life could be imparted to us so that we are made right with God in Him. But you understand that not just anyone could do this for us. Only Jesus, because He is uniquely capable of being the mediator between God and man, for He is the divine God-man. In Jesus Christ, the eternal God became a man to save us from our sins.

But notice here that there is a qualification on this salvation. He will save His people from their sins. The Gospel is the good news that Christ has come to save sinners. Only those who are willing to confess that they are indeed sinners can be saved. I had to come before Christ and ask Him to save me, not from what others had done to me, but from what I had done to Him, in rebelling against God from the moment I was born. It is only those who acknowledge their sins before God, and turn in faith to Christ as Lord and Savior who become His people, and who are therefore saved. Have you turned in faith to God in Christ, acknowledging your sin and asking Him to save you? If so, you have become one of His own, and you have been saved from your sins. If you are His own, then you have the assurance that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and that He will complete what He has begun in you (Php 1:6), because He knows those who are His (2 Tim 2:19).

This is the greatest miracle of Christmas: the miracle of the divine child, Jesus Christ, God-in-human-flesh, who has come into the world to save us from our sins. Is your life a mess? Our great and gracious God specializes in messes. He intervened into the midst of a great mess on that first Christmas to bring about an even greater miracle. And He can intervene into the mess of your life, and even the mess of your Christmas, to draw your focus to the miracle of salvation which is found in the name of Jesus Christ, and in no other name. In the midst of whatever mess you find yourself in – whether it is the mess of a sinful life, the mess of a complicated relationship, a scandalous scenario, or even the mess of a hectic holiday – you can turn to Him and ask Him to draw you into the miracle of Christmas: that Christ has come to save us, to make us His own, and to unite us to Himself for all eternity.

[1];; Accessed December 10, 2014.
[2] John MacArthur, God With Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 57-58.
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew (New American Commentary, vol. 22; Nashville: Braodman, 1992), 58.
[4] Daniel Doriani, “The Origin of Jesus, Our Immanuel,” in The Incarnation in the Gospels (Reformed Expository Commentary; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 26.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Family Tree of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17)

Today marks the beginning of Advent, and with Thanksgiving just behind us, we know that Christmas is going to be here before we know it. For some, it is, as the old song says, “the most wonderful time of the year.” For others, it is a time of unparalleled stress and anxiety. For some the anxiety of the season is alleviated by the joys of spending time together with their family. For others, it is that time together with the family that is the cause of all the stress and anxiety. Do you come from a mixed-up, messed-up family? I will let you in on a little secret: most of us do! So, rather than feeling like you have to hide that fact or be ashamed of it, you can just be honest about it and know that plenty of other folks around you can relate to you. My daughter showed me a little pin in a shop while we were on vacation that featured the lovable Disney chipmunks Chip & Dale, which said, “Our family tree is full of nuts.” Is yours? Well if so, a simple glimpse into the family tree of Jesus might be all the encouragement you need to know that God specializes in using mixed-up, messed-up families to accomplish His work.

Usually, a writer wants to grab the attention of his readers right off the bat with something catchy, unique, and interesting. Matthew opens with … a genealogy. Yes, friends, here we have one of the infamous long lists of names that occur sporadically throughout the Bible. These are the passages people come to in their reading and say, “OK, this is just a bunch of names,” and then they skip over them. But we must remember two things before we just skip over sections like these. First, remember that, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable.” This passage, therefore, comes to us not from the pen of a human writer who doesn’t know how to properly arrest our attention from the get-go, but rather from God the Holy Spirit, who has literally breathed these words into print through the use a human author. And, the Holy Spirit has given us this and every other passage of the Bible for our benefit and profit. There is something here that can teach us, that can reprove us, that can correct us, and that can train us in righteousness. Second, we must remember that our greatest hope for eternity rests in the fact that God relates to every member of the human race on an individual basis, and that He is even fond of recording their names in books. The Bible tells us that He has a book called the Book of Life, and only those whose names are recorded therein shall enter into the eternal heavenly city. So, when you come upon a list of names in God’s book, be encouraged, and seek the assurance through saving faith in the Lord Jesus that your name is also recorded in God’s book as well.

Now, as we look here at Jesus’ “family tree” if you will, there are many interesting features I’d love to point out. I am limited by time to focus on three today. Let’s think of them as the roots, the branches and the leaves of Jesus’ family tree.

I. The roots of Jesus family tree run deep into the soil of biblical prophecy.

Have you ever done any serious research into your family tree? For some it is a hobby, but for others it is much more than that. In ancient Israel, establishing one’s lineage was essential for a number of reasons. One’s genealogy could make a difference in a real estate transaction, the inheritance one received, and even how one was taxed. Genealogies also determined who was qualified to serve as priests or kings.

Matthew begins this genealogy, and indeed his entire Gospel, by asserting that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” These three titles are all interconnected. Many have come claiming to be the Messiah. But in order for one to really be God’s anointed Messiah, the Savior who was promised to come and deliver God’s people from bondage to sin, He must be both a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of David. It becomes apparent that Matthew is intent on establishing the link between Jesus, David, and Abraham. David and Abraham had one significant thing in common: upon both of these men, God had bestowed a promise that would affect the entire human race, and in each case, the promise was to find its fulfillment in a son who was to be born.

God promised that He would make Abraham to be a blessing and said to him, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:1-3). God clarified that promise later to Abraham, saying, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 22:18). So, the promise is that God will touch the entire human race across the planet through the life and work of one particular descendant of Abraham.

To David, something similar was promised in 2 Samuel 7. There, as David desired to build a temple for the Lord, God’s answer came to him. David would not be allowed to build the Lord a temple, but the Lord would establish a house for David (v11). God said that upon David’s death, a descendant would come who would build a house for the name of the Lord, and the Lord would establish His kingdom forever (vv12-13). Thus, through his promised descendant, David’s house, his kingdom, and his throne would be established forever (v16). When David heard these words, he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord God, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future.” And then David said something that English Bible translators have still not found a way to do justice with the Hebrew. David said, “And this is the (in Hebrew) torat ha adam, O Lord God.” What does that phrase mean? Well, torat is a derivative of torah – it means “law or contract.” The word adam – that’s the word we translate as the name Adam, but it also means “mankind” in general. So, what David is saying here as he responds to the promise of the Lord is, “This is the contract that You are making with the entire human race, O Lord God.” This son of David who is to come and reign forever will be king over all kings, and will reign over all nations.

Abraham had many sons, and so did David. But one after the other, each one managed to uniquely prove themselves to not be the expected son through a wide range of disappointments. But, God had determined from eternity past how He would send the promised Son into the world. “When the fullness of time came,” the Bible says, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The promised son of David and son of Abraham was also to be the Son of God and the uniquely born son of a woman. Unlike anyone ever born in the history of humanity, God sent His Son into the world as a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of David, yet without a human father. He was born of a virgin. And this also represents the fulfillment of a great biblical prophecy. In Genesis 3, immediately after humanity was plunged under the curse of sin by Adam’s disobedience, God promised that a Redeemer would come as “the seed of woman” (Gen 3:15). And Matthew’s genealogy recognizes this in a very interesting way. Notice in verse 16 how he brings the line down to Jesus. After listing one link between father and son after another, he has finally come to Joseph. But rather than saying that Joseph begat Jesus or was the father of Jesus, he says, for the first time in the genealogy, that Joseph was the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born. He is clear that Joseph was not the father of Jesus, but Mary was His mother – the virgin through whom God brought the promised Son into the world.

There is one additional significant prophecy that the family tree highlights here as well. It concerns a man named in verse 11: Jeconiah. This king was the last of David’s descendants to occupy the throne in Judah before the Babylonian captivity. Because Jeconiah continued in the evil ways of his father and the evil kings who had reigned before them, God declared that Jeconiah would never have a descendant to reign upon the throne of David. In Jeconiah, the line of kings that began with David and extended through Solomon and his descendants came to an end. But almost immediately after that prophecy concerning Jeconiah in Jeremiah 22, there is another in Jeremiah 23 which says that God will send a Messiah who is the Righteous Branch of David. So, the line which extended from David through Solomon has come to an end in Jeconiah, but there will be a new line from David that will produce the Messiah. After all, God had promised in Isaiah 7:14 that He would not forsake the house of David, but would send a child into the world through David’s line who would be born of a virgin, and who would be “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Isa 7:14). 

Now, notice, Joseph is a descendant of Jeconiah. That means that if Jesus is the biological son of Joseph, then He cannot be the Messiah who will inherit David’s throne forever. But Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph. He is the Son of God, born to the virgin Mary. But how then does He have access to the throne of David if He is not a descendant of David? Well, in fact, He is a descendant of David on His mother’s side. Mary is a descendant of David, not through Solomon and through Jeconiah, but through another of David’s sons, Nathan. How do we know this? We know it from Luke. Much has been made over the differences between the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke. But the solution is actually quite simple. Matthew presents Joseph’s lineage, and Luke presents Mary’s. But Luke does not name Mary in the genealogy, he names Joseph. Why? Well, it comes down to sloppy reading on our part and imprecise translation on the part of our English versions. While Luke 3:23 seems to indicate on the surface that Jesus was “as was supposed, the son of Joseph”, and that Joseph was the son of Eli, there is good reason to understand this instead to read that Jesus was supposed by many to have been the son of Joseph, but was in fact a descendant of Eli. And who is Eli? He must be the father of Mary.

So, Matthew’s genealogy, together with that of Luke, shows us that the roots of Jesus’ family tree run deep into the soil of biblical prophecy to prove Him to be the Messiah.
Having examined the roots of Jesus’ family tree, we move to the branches.

II. The branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond all boundaries and barriers.

We recently had a dead branch cut off of a huge tree in our back yard. That tree stands right in the middle of the yard, but this branch extended out from it all the way across the back property line. Tree branches don’t bother to investigate land plats and survey lines, they just spread out and grow. And the branches on Jesus’ family tree have grown to exceed all boundaries and barriers, as we see here in the genealogy.

Notice how the branches reach wide beyond socio-economic boundaries. This is no list of blue-bloods here. Granted, there are 15 kings on this list, but of many who came before David, and those who came after Zerubbabel, we know very little. We know that some of them were simple peasants and blue-collar kind of folks. Before becoming king, David was just a shepherd as his father before him had been. Joseph was a carpenter. This list includes the rich and the poor, the royal and the peasant, the “Who’s Who” of Jewish history, and the “Who are you” of Jewish history.

Next notice how the branches reach wide beyond the boundaries of gender. In a patriarchal society, usually all that mattered in any discussion of genealogy was the relationship between father and son. Most written genealogies did not even include women. Matthew includes five of them here. Recently one of our college students asked me how I would respond to a statement made by a professor that Christianity had subjugated women throughout history. I can’t exactly repeat my answer here, because of the decorum of the hour. Friends, though you hear this nonsense on a regular basis, you need to know that Christianity almost singlehandedly revolutionized the way that women were treated, valued, and respected in society. And even within the early decades of the church we see that already taking shape in that Matthew is willing to break the customs of the day to include the names of five women in the genealogy of Jesus – something which, by the way, the Gentile writer Luke did not even do in his genealogy. Those five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Then notice how the branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond the bounds of ethnicity. The Hebrew peoples were, and still are, a very ethnically proud people. Consider how Paul says in Philippians 3:5 that he might boast of his heritage before he came to faith in Christ: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” But Jesus’ family tree would be nearly scandalous to most thoroughgoing Hebrews of His day, even if the ethnicity of those represented herein were all that was considered. That scandal is multiplied by the fact that the Gentiles listed are all women. You realize that there is an ancient prayer, still prayed by Orthodox Jews, in which men give thanks to God that they were not born as slaves, as Gentiles or as women. Here in Jesus’ genealogy are several Gentile women! Rahab in verse 5 was a Canaanite – one of the idol-worshiping people that God had determined for Israel to supplant and eradicate as they repossessed the land of promise. Ruth was a Moabite. Moabites were particularly despised as a people because their origins were in the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. The Jewish law prohibited Moabites from entering the assembly of worship to the 10th generation (Dt 23:3). Bathsheba was most likely a Hittite, since that was the ethnicity of her husband Uriah.
As these branches of Jesus’ family tree reach wide beyond all these boundaries, there is a comfort and encouragement to be found. You may believe, for some reason or another, that Jesus cannot relate or identify with you. Friends, the genealogy of Jesus shows us that no matter who you are – male or female, rich or poor, or wherever you are from, the Lord Jesus can and does relate to you and identify with you. God’s promise to Abraham was that his seed would bless all the peoples of the earth. We see how God was preparing the world for the coming of Jesus, and preparing Jesus for the redemption of the world. And that brings us to the final feature of Jesus’ family tree. The roots run deep, the branches reach wide, and …

III. The leaves of Jesus’ family tree fall down upon the righteous and the sinful.
My next door neighbor doesn’t have many trees in his yard. What few were there, he cut down as soon as he moved in a few years ago. But, he has a yard full of leaves. There are trees in every yard around his, so he gets his share of raking duties every fall, even though not a single leaf that falls in his yard comes from his own trees. I feel kind of bad for the guy, and that’s one reason I try to keep my leaves under control. I have lots of trees, therefore I have lots of leaves. But in our neighborhood, everybody gets leaves. No one is disqualified from the “blessing” of spending every weekend in the yard with a rake and a blower, even those who don’t deserve it.
There is this notion that many people have that they are “not good enough” to come to Jesus. Friends, there is a sense in which none of us are good enough to come to Him. That is why He came to us. He came to save sinners. The fact that you are a sinner does not disqualify you from God’s grace in Jesus Christ; in fact, it qualifies you to be a recipient of that grace. If you weren’t a sinner, you wouldn’t need grace and wouldn’t need saving. But we are all sinners – even the best of us – and Jesus has come to save us from our sins.

Look at the line of people whom God used to bring Jesus into the world. Some of these folks belong in the Hall of Fame of godly people; others belong in the Hall of Shame of worldly people. But all of them were sinners in need of grace. Abraham and David are the pillars of Hebrew history, but both were deeply morally flawed men. About half of the kings named were men of faith, but nearly all of them made terrible judgments in their personal lives and as leaders. The other half of the kings listed were desperately wicked.

And then there are the women. Friends, it is not just that Matthew included women, three of whom were Gentile, but it was the scandalous nature of some of these women that would really raise the eyebrow of the original readers of this genealogy. Tamar’s story is recorded in Genesis 38. It is rated R. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced her father-in-law, and became pregnant with twins, one of whom is Perez, the ancestor of the Lord Jesus listed here. As John MacArthur writes of her, “Don’t bother looking for her redeeming virtues. … Scripture records no happy ending to her life.”[1] Then there is that Canaanite woman Rahab. All of Scripture refers to her as “Rahab the harlot.” Even when she is mentioned twice in the New Testament as a model of genuine faith, she is nonetheless referred to as a harlot. The most noble thing she ever did was to tell a lie. And yet God saw fit to include her in the family tree of Jesus as the great-great-grandmother of King David. Then there is Ruth. Though not guilty of a scandalous sin, so far as we know, she was of a despised line that was rooted in a drunken act of incest. She was a convert and a believer in the true and living God, and was rescued from the poverty and shame of her widowhood and childlessness by Boaz, the son of a prostitute. And then there was Bathsheba. The sin is not hidden here even in the genealogy: “David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.” Everyone is familiar with how David seduced Uriah’s wife into an adulterous liaison, and after a failed attempt to cover up his shameful deed, he resorted to murder of Uriah, who had been one of his most faithful and loyal soldiers.

Friends, you may think, “God would want nothing to do with me! He can’t save me. He can’t use me. In my past there is great sin!” Friends, there is probably no sin you could commit or imagine that was not represented in the very individuals whom God used to bring His Son into the world. What have you done, or what have any in your family done, that is any worse than what these had done? Jesus, the sinless One, identifies with sinners! He came from sinners, and He came for sinners. No matter who you are or what you have done – you are not so good that you do not need Him, and not so bad that He cannot reach you. He can save you from your sin and use you in His family tree even as He has used these.

The family tree of Jesus has roots that run deep in the soil of biblical prophecy. It has branches that reach wide across all boundaries and barriers. And it has leaves that fall upon the righteous and the sinful. And that family tree is still growing. In Matthew 12, Jesus pointed to those who trust in Him by faith and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:49-50). Have you come into this family by faith in the Lord Jesus? God has promised to adopt as sons and daughters all those who receive Him. This Christmas season, we celebrate that God has come to dwell among us. He has come through the mixed up, messed up family tree that we read about here. What a wonderful time of the year to tell others that no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they have done, the promised Messiah Jesus can save them and set them free from their sins. He was born to do just that.

[1] John MacArthur, God With Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 31.