The Promised Sign, Immanuel
Updated: Jan 3
December 18, 2022 |The Promised Sign, Immanuel| Matthew 1:18-25
This morning we are looking at an old, familiar story of an infant born of glory. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. God come down to us. And what I want to do this morning is very, very simple. I want us to gather around and lean in to hear the story of who Jesus is and why he came. I want to behold Jesus together this morning, considering his might and glory, his humility and love, and his presence and peace.
Last week Pastor JD brought up questions that come from hard times in our life. Questions like God why did this happen to me, why did this person have to die, God if you’re good why did this…insert whatever bad thing you want. For me personally the time of the most doubt in my faith came after my 15-month deployment to Afghanistan. I was filled with a rage and left to wonder why I made it home and my friends didn’t. I, of course didn’t have an answer for that at the time. It was only through Job did I understand the sovereignty of God and that He is Lord, and I am not. That He is infinitely greater than I. For these other questions we understand that bad things happen to good people because of sin. That when Adam and Eve fell, the earth was cursed, and as Paul puts it in Romans all creation has been groaning waiting for our redemption. We can never and will never understand the ways of God, but we can look to this passage as proof that He has not left us nor forsaken us. While we will never have all the questions surrounding suffering answered, we do know that because of what we celebrate as Christmas, that there is an end to all suffering.
The birth of Christ is the promised sign that He is with us. It’s an unmistakable sign that God has not and will not abandon us. Though there will be times in our lives we will never understand, that’s ok. As we can see just in our passage today Joseph clearly didn’t understand the events happening at this time in his life. It’s awesome to me that when life doesn’t make sense, when its hard and confusing and even more so when it is painful, it comforting to know that God hears our groans and sees our tears. And better yet He has an answer for them. That even though you and I by our sin declared war of God, He sent a baby. It is to this shocking answer that we look to know. He is more than we thought possible and everything we are in such a desperate need of. He’s God, He’s man, and His name shall be called Immanuel.
Matthew 1:18-25 18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus
JESUS IS GOD
Having the privilege of growing up in this country is that you are exposed to the story of Christmas, but this at the same time can lead complacency in understanding the impact of the incarnation of Christ. I encourage us to dig deep into what the scripture is showing us. This baby growing in Mary’s womb is not just another baby born long ago. This baby that is growing in Mary’s womb is divine. Notice how in VS 18 the scripture plainly tells us “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. And again, in VS 20 as the angel of the Lord tells Joseph the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. The distinction of these words is so heavy. From the HS. This is an important distinction that Jesus has no earthly father therefore does not have the sin nature that has been passed down through Adam. Birth is always something to marvel at, but this is something that can never and will never be repeated. This child conceived by the Holy Spirit is divine and it is the embodiment of John 1:14…and the word became flesh. It means that God is coming.
We must also consider what an earth-shattering discovery this must have been for Joseph. See Matthew calls him a just man and his betrothed wife was found to be with child before he knew her. For Joseph to be a just man he would have feared God and followed the law closely. See in this day a betrothal lasted a year and intimacy during this year was considered immoral. And in order to separate from Mary it would have taken an official divorce decree. Joseph would have been within his right under the law to have her put to death by stoning, because during this time it would have been considered adultery. What Joseph does next is a lesson for another time, but in short, he chooses restraint and mercy seen in his unwillingness to put her to public shame. He instead he waits, and God intercedes on His and Mary’s behalf. The angel of Lord comes to him and opens his eyes to the truth that the baby was not from man, but God Himself. Understand what the angel of the Lord is telling Joseph, that the creator of All, the Sustainer of all, the one who is above everything and over everything has humbled himself to come down to earth in the form of a human baby.
The incarnation means that glorious God came down to us in the form of the man Jesus. This is what sceptics and the world find so difficult to accept Jesus is God. It’s easier to think of him as semi-God, something like God but less than. I mean, could glory like that inhabit flesh like ours? Many sceptics try and say that Jesus never claims to be God in scripture, but let’s take a quick look of what the Bible says about Him. Just for starters…
John equated and identified Jesus with God in John 1:1,14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Paul confessed Christ as God in Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
The author of Hebrews exalted Jesus as God in Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Jesus himself spoke of the glory he shares with the Father in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Previously in John 10:30 Jesus identified himself with God, as God, “I and the Father are one.”
In John 14:1, Jesus called people to “Believe in God; believe also in me.” No wonder the Jewish leaders charged him with blasphemy (John 5:16-17). He proclaimed himself equal with God because He is God.
Jesus told Thomas that to know Him is to know the Father (John 14:6-9). He said no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 6:44). He claimed the same knowledge as God in Matthew 11:27 when He said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
The birth of Jesus is not about another baby boy born in humble beginnings who grew into merely a great teacher, or great healer, or great orator, or great leader. Christmas is about the God of glory coming down from heaven to save His people from their sins. It is the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8).
In Jesus, God came into the world. And Joseph was to be his father. Of course, not in the traditional sense. He was to be the adoptive father. There is a reversal of sorts here. Notice Joseph didn’t choose to be the father of the incarnate God. Joseph didn’t choose Jesus. Jesus chose him. The child adopted the father. This is the way God works. Starting way back in the Old Testament, Jesus chose a family for himself to whom He would one day come. In the same way God chose to call Abraham or chose Jacob over Esau. God calls who He wishes to fulfill His plan and sees to it that nothing is left to chance or circumstance. He is sovereign over all things to include his Birth and earthly parents.
Why did God choose Joseph? Because way back in 2 Samuel 7, God promised King David one of his sons would rule forever. The angel calls Joseph, “Son of David.” In other words, Joseph had the lineage God promised to bless. More was at stake with Joseph accepting God’s call than another child born into the world. This was the everlasting king promised long ago, coming to rule as foretold. This was God coming to his people to fulfill his promises. This was God being God: coming, speaking, choosing, acting, loving, saving.
This unexpected child turned Joseph’s world upside down. He turned the whole world upside down. The baby in a manger was the Lord of lords and King of kings. The one for whom there was no room in the inn makes room in heaven for sinners. The child who was born like us gave new birth that we may be like him. The boy in Mary’s womb was the glory of heaven. We have been visited not by a vision of God, not by an apparition of God, not even by a messenger of God, but by God Himself.
This is the great hope in which we live. God has come. He stepped into our mess, into our lives, into our experience, into our hopelessness, and brought forth His light. He came to us to bring us to Himself. And He did it not from heaven but from earth. It’s to that we now turn.
JESUS IS MAN
In verse 21, the angel told Joseph that Mary would “Bear a son...”
C.S. Lewis said this about the humility of God becoming a man.
The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.
Jesus is God. He is also man. At no point is Jesus ever less than God. Also, at no time since His incarnation is He not also a man. He is fully man even as He is fully God. Understand how much He humbled Himself in the very act of wrapping human flesh around His divine nature. That the God of Genesis 1:1 would enter this world as a man. And not only would He enter this world as a man, but He would also experience what it means to be human. His birth would be in the humblest of conditions. One might expect King of kings and Lord of lords to be born in the most magnificent palace or today the best hospital in a private ward for just Himself. As we know that is not the way Jesus would enter this world.
Spurgeon in his book Joy to the world says it like this “In being laid in a manger, He did, as it were, give an invitation to the most humble to come to Him. We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ”.
He would grow up just like we did. His body would change and develop and mature. He had to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to do things for himself. He lived a human life just like you live. He ate food. He drank water. He laughed. He felt the comfort of friendship. He experienced the joy of life at weddings and parties. But He also experienced the pain of life. Think about that for second, that you serve a God that has been through the same pain, hurt, loss, and so much more as you! He was pressed by crowds and questioned by the religious leaders. He was tired and looked for rest. He was tempted. He lost friends to illness and death. Remember scripture tells us that He wept for Lazarus. He felt the betrayal of Judas’ kiss on His cheek. He bled. He felt the sting and tearing of the whip on His back. He felt the nail being driven through His hands and feet. He died. He went through it all. The only difference between your human life and His is that He never sinned. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel the effects of sin. He certainly did. Nowhere more than on the cross where He took upon Himself all the wrath of God where your sin and my sin was due.
Jesus is God. Jesus is also man. Fully both. That means God understands your life. He understands you. He’s been in your shoes. Understand that when you cry out to Him, that your pains and sufferings are not lost on Him. I personally take comfort that I may never know the suffering He did yet He calls me to find rest in Him.
He even had a name like you do. In verse 21, God gave Joseph the responsibility of naming his son. “And you shall call his name Jesus.” The name meant something. “The Lord saves.” “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” He had a purpose. His name bore witness to it. He was to save his people. What was He to save them from? From the Romans? God’s people desperately sought freedom from Roman rule. From their suffering at the hands of the Romans? Maybe He was just there to save them from sickness in disease? I mean the crowds certainly followed Him around clamoring for that. But it wasn’t any of those things that He was there to do. He was to save them from their sins. The greatest enemy to man is not anything outside of themselves. It is who we are, the sin we are born with. The most tragic thing about us is not what happens to us but what happens in us: sin. That doesn’t mean terrible things don’t happen to us. They do. But it does mean that we too are guilty of our own sin. As much as we may need saving from all the terrible things in this world, so much more do we need salvation from ourselves—from our sins.
Jesus came on a mission, with a purpose to save. But why did God have to become man to save us from our sins? He’s God, after all. Couldn’t He save us without leaving heaven? In Hebrews 9:22, the author tells us, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In Old Testament, God instituted the sacrificial system in Israel to give them a pathway to forgiveness from sins by sacrificing bulls and goats. But in Hebrews 10:4 the author says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
So why did God require the blood of animals in the first place? Because it was only pointing to what was to come in Jesus. The Bible tells us that there is none righteous no not one. And that the wages of our sin is death. But God in his mercy provided a way of forgiveness in the sacrificial system, but it was only temporary. The blood of animals could never satisfy the penalty of our sin. Man’s sin requires a man’s blood. The only way our sins can be dealt with is if we shed our blood or if someone shed their blood for us. Jesus gave His blood for ours. After living a perfect life, we could never live, He died a guilty death He never deserved. In this death on a tree that He spoke into existence, Jesus credited us with His righteousness. That’s how He saved us from our sins.
But that’s not the only reason He came. He came for so much more. He came not just to redeem us of our sins but to bring us peace between us and the Father. He came not just to deal with us but to be with us, and that’s our third point.
JESUS IS IMMANUEL
Look at verses 22 and 23. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Jesus is His name, the Lord saves. Immanuel is His nature, God with us.
Here’s why this matters so much. At some point we all ask: has God abandoned me? Sometimes we suffer so profoundly that we wonder if God has forsaken us. Look now back to Isaiah chapter 7. We see King Ahaz faced with a great threat of war from Syria and Ephraim. Instead of putting his faith and trust in God for salvation from his enemies he looks to the world for help and salvation. The King puts his faith in the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:1-9) instead of God. Isaiah calls on the king to ask God for a sign to strengthen his faith, Isaiah even tries to steer the king to God in VS 11” let it be deep as Sheol or as high as heaven”. Instead, what does the King do? He mocks God with false piety. Isaiah rebukes him and the nation and gives them the sign that they should have been looking for. VS 14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” This is the sign that we have fulfilled in Jesus that He is not just our salvation but that He is with us. That doesn’t mean life is easy. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to live through trials and tribulations. It doesn’t mean others won’t seek to make trouble or war with us. It doesn’t mean what is precious to us isn’t stolen. It certainly doesn’t mean we won’t have to battle against our own flesh and sinful desires, as Paul puts in Romans 7:17-20. But it does mean you aren’t alone. Your salvation is not dependent on what this world can give. It is not dependent on what you can achieve. It is not dependent on what you can get through your hard work and sacrifice. Your life is dependent on a miracle. And that miracles name is Immanuel and His finished work on the cross.
It is so easy for us to believe God is against us. He has every reason to be, doesn’t he? Our sins are many. Our failures pile up before us testifying to our guilty status. But when we surrender to Jesus and take our eyes off what false security is in this world, we will find that He is not against us but God with us, Immanuel.
I just want that to be settled in your heart today. For the Christian, God is with you. Jesus makes this a reality. Jesus is the guarantee of this salvation. He entered this very real world you and I live in right now. He came into this darkness. He came into this situation. He came into this difficulty. He came into this life of suffering. He came into this fallen world with its constant demands and never-ending criticisms and unwavering conflict. But Christian, Immanuel (God is with you).
God is with you so much so that there is not a single second when He turns from you. He never gets weary of you. He hears your cries. He knows your need. He sees your sin, and instead of turning away, He comes to save and dwell with you. He is your strength when you feel abandoned and alone. He is your defender when you are guilty. He alone is your justifier when you have no defense. He is your surety when there is only uncertainty. He who began a good work in you is faithful. Jesus is more than an action, He accomplishes…salvation. He is also a presence always with you. Jesus came oh so humbly in order to be your savior. Isn’t that amazing?
This wasn’t our idea. It was His. We would never imagine such a thing…us peace with God? We think we need to earn Him, but He gives Himself to the undeserving. He didn’t wait for us to come around. He didn’t wait for our strength to compel Him. He didn’t measure our success before stepping down from heaven. He came to our weaknesses and our failures and our unworthiness. He drove out our darkness with His light. He made Himself our friend when we were His enemy. He sustains our life, and He keeps doing it. In a way this Christmas we’re seeing in Matthew’s gospel is only the start of many Christmases. Christmas is a constant reality because Jesus is ever with us. We know this is true because of what Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus didn’t come for a visit. He came for a lifetime…for your eternity.
Still, perhaps we think we need to be a certain way, act a certain manner, join a certain church, follow a certain set of laws for Jesus to save us. But look at the line Jesus comes from. They’re not impressive moral specimens. They are murderers, adulterers, liars, backstabbers, lawless, sinful, guilty. Jesus himself said He came not for the righteous but the sinner, not for the well but the sick. All we need to have Jesus is need. Our sin makes that one true need for His grace even more apparent. Jesus came to the lowly for the lowly. He’s with all who are weary and need rest, all who mourn and long for comfort, all who feel worthless and wonder…if God even cares, all who fail and desire strength, all who sin and are in need of a Savior. Never forget, He is Immanuel, God with us!
Still, we may wonder how this will all turn out. Won’t we mess this all up, will we? If left alone yes will fail every time. But if we trust in Jesus’s work on our behalf and truly surrender to His Lordship, we will see that the good work God began, He will complete. That His promises are sure. He will raise our dead body to new life at the end of this age. We will live and rule and reign with Him forever, and not even our sin can overcome what Jesus has done. He died for our sin. He rose for our justification. He oversees our sanctification. And one day, with Him, we will receive our glorification. Not because we have earned or deserve it only because He is Immanuel, and He will save His people from their sins.