God Is With Us

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 1:18-25

Something happened 2000 years ago that was so important, we still divide history by it. That something was the birth of the man we know as Jesus Christ.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25, NIV

When really important people stage an arrival, they do it in an impressive fashion: The limousine pulls up. The red carpet is rolled out, cameras flash, bands play and crowds cheer. When God chose to enter our world as one of us, his birth was humble, obscure and ordinary in every way – except one big one.

HERE’S HOW IT WAS

Matthew starts in a very matter-of-fact fashion to tell about an event that is utterly astonishing. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” he says, and then, without any further introduction or explanation, he says that Jesus had no human father. Mary was his mother, but she conceived and gave birth entirely apart from any contact with a man.

The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is presented in Scripture as a simple fact, a historical event. It’s not a myth or legend, and this story is not a fairy tale. It’s just “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” Notice the details: though Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married, Mary was discovered to be pregnant “before they came together.” At the end of the passage the point is repeated for emphasis: Joseph had no union with Mary until after she had given birth. Notice also Joseph’s very normal and understandable reaction to the news of his fianc?‘s condition (v. 19). He knew he couldn’t be the father, so he drew the only possible conclusion a man could under the circumstances, and since he loved Mary and wasn’t vindictive, he resolved to divorce her quietly rather than push for the full penalty of the Law against adultery. Sometimes skeptics say that the story of Jesus’ virgin birth was included in scripture because people back then had a primitive and scientifically ignorant world-view. They could believe in miraculous events because they didn’t know how the world works, but we are too intelligent and sophisticated to accept such things. That’s how the logic goes. But Joseph and Mary, it’s clear, understood where babies come from. The virgin birth was just as great an impossibility, humanly speaking, to people in the first century as it is to people in the twentieth century. This is no fanciful invention, a myth made up by one or two of the apostles to lend a supernatural aura to Jesus, who then persuaded the whole rest of the early church to accept their fantastic tale. No, this is how it actually happened. This is the historical record. It happened at a definite time and place. It happened to particular people, people with names and families – a carpenter named Joseph, his fianc? Mary. It happened in a specific way. The girl became a mother; her womb sheltered a child, grew big with life, and then the baby was born with the same joy and the same pain of all the other billions of births that have happened since the world began. Yet the mother remained a virgin. That’s how it was.

But the virgin birth is more than a mere fact of history. The Qu’ran teaches that much. Did you know that every devout Muslim believes that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary? We need to go beyond the fact that it happened to discern what this event means. The truth which this miracle directs us to is the doctrine of the Incarnation. That’s the word Christians use to describe it. The virgin birth, we believe, is a sign, pointing to Christ’s special, that is to say unique, nature. He is the God-Man, God incarnate, enfleshed, perfect humanity and perfect deity united in one Person. As to the mechanics of the Incarnation, the “how” and “why” of it all, we are not told much.

Matthew says simply that Mary “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” This is holy ground, and it’s best that we tread lightly. The mystery of the union of the divine and human natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ is something far beyond our full understanding. Nor should we try to guess at the manner in which Mary conceived or offer non-biblical reasons why the virgin birth was essential. Scripture doesn’t say that this was the only way God could become human, or the only way Jesus could be preserved from inheriting original sin. Scripture does not imply that sex within marriage is sinful, nor does it hold up virginity as a superior state. It simply describes the sign for us. So biblical Christians will prefer to keep a reverent silence rather than say more about it than the Scripture warrants. That it is a marvelous sign we unhesitatingly affirm. That it signifies the mystery that in Jesus God and human nature unite, that it is the indescribable miracle of God made man – this we joyfully confess.

But observe too that Matthew does tell us one specific thing about the purpose of this miracle. It happened in fulfillment of the ancient prophecy of Isaiah: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: `The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, `God with us’” (Matt. 1:22-23). Jesus is truly and fully Immanuel. That is his name. He is “God with us.”

I remember many years ago hearing a letter read in church which had been received from a group of Christians in China. China was the scene of one of the most intensive missionary outreaches in modern history during the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. And then with the coming to power of Mao Zedong and the People’s Republic of China in 1949, all the Christian missionaries had to leave. The small Chinese church became the object of intense persecution: many were killed or imprisoned, some went underground, some fell away. The Chinese Christians were effectively cut off from the rest of the church. For many years almost the only contact they had was through radio broadcasts of the gospel sent out faithfully by several Christian organizations, including Words of Hope. And we could not even be sure they were being heard; there was no way for anyone to respond. During the time of harshest persecution, a letter was received by some Christians in the west from representatives of the Chinese church. When it was read, you could understand why the Chinese authorities had allowed it to be sent. It went something like this:

“We are good Communists here. We don’t need your western religion, your Christianity. We don’t agree with your teaching or your Bible. Please leave us alone.”

And below the signature was a P.S., just a single word: Immanuel. But that one word changed everything, it gave a completely new meaning to the message. God was still with them, even in their darkest hour, and because of that, they were holding on.

When you know Jesus Christ, it can make all the difference in your situation too, even in your darkest hour. He is “God-with-us.” One of my favorite Christmas songs, Charles Wesley’s “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” says this about the baby in Bethlehem’s manger:

Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,

Hail th’ incarnate Deity –

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Immanuel.

Yes, Jesus Christ, Mary’s little baby, is our Immanuel, God come in person to be with us so that whatever happens, we need not fear. We may not have everything we want, but we can have him, and that’s everything we need.

A BABY WITH TWO NAMES

Immanuel is one name of the baby whom Mary miraculously bore, but he was given another name as well. He’s the baby with two names. “You are to give him the name Jesus,” the angel told Joseph, “because he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). If the name Immanuel tells us Christ’s unique identity, Jesus points to his special work. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning “The Lord (Yahweh) saves.” The name describes the function or task for which he came. Jesus, as his very name expresses, is the Savior. That is why he came – not just to be an example, not to teach, not to show God’s love in merely a general way, not only to heal the sick or raise the dead, but to save. Of course he does all those other things too, but this is his central purpose for entering the world.

And what kind of Savior is Jesus? The Jews of his day were looking for a champion who would bring political deliverance from the domination of Rome. They wanted an earthly Messiah. But Mary’s Son is given the name Jesus because, in the words of the angel, “he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). He is a Lord whose kingdom is not of this world. He is not just another political revolutionary who will promise what he can’t or won’t deliver. He’s the only Savior, as his name says. There is no other name under heaven whereby one can be saved, according to the Bible (cf. Acts 4:12). The ancient world was filled with the fear of death. Most people believed that heaven and earth were populated by a throng of demons, a whole host of evil spirits that barred the way to heaven. The only way to get past them was to learn their names, compiling lists of passwords, and by this esoteric knowledge gain the power to open the countless gates those spiritual forces guarded. Imagine how it must have come as good news to hear the announcement that there was only one name in all of heaven it was necessary to know. That really was gospel, good news! In our day, I think the challenge is different. It seems to me that most people today don’t believe there are many roadblocks on the way to heaven – they tend to think there aren’t any at all. The commonest belief in our society is that everybody will be saved by calling on any name they choose, or even without calling at all. We need to proclaim the truth today as never before that Jesus is the Savior, and the only Savior. He is Immanuel, and the only way to know the living God is to know him. He is Jesus, and the only way to be saved is to believe in him. His names say it all.