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GOD WITH US, IMMANUEL

Matthew 1:18-1:25
Key Verse: 1:23

Merry Christmas! Today’s passage is God’s Christmas message through Matthew to Joseph, to all of Jesus’ people and to all those who want to know about the birth of Jesus Christ. This passage tells us how the birth of Jesus came about, what he does and who he is. May God speak to each of us very personally.

First, Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. In verse 1-17 Matthew recorded the genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing the human origin of Jesus, as the son of David, the son of Abraham, reaching to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. That was the historical background of Jesus’ birth. Now, in today’s passage, Matthew narrates the spiritual background of Jesus’ birth. Verse 18 says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph…” Those who read this part may question, “What? A mother is going to be married to a man? Is this to be the second marriage?” Then it is written continually, “but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” In Luke’s gospel this is written in detail. One day God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to Mary who was engaged to Joseph and delivered God’s message that she would be with child before her marriage. Then, Mary had a genuine question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Who can give the answer to such a scientific question? But at this the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). Such a thing would be possible through the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of God. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God created all things out of nothing including the very human life. When we consider God’s creation, a baby’s conception by the Holy Spirit is possible and quite understandable. Even so, it is a miracle.

In all of human history no baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit except for the baby Jesus. All human beings were born through natural conception as the descendants of Adam. All the descendants of Adam who came into this world by natural birth natural get old and from time to time become sick and die. No one can overcome this category. Last Year Justin Trudeau became the Prime Minster of Canada. This year Donald Trump became the American president-elect, Fidel Castro of Cuba died, and Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Columbia, won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. People’s evaluations of them vary. Yet one thing is certain: they are all in the category of Adam’s descendants. In history, people known as great such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mohammed, Buddha, were all descendants of Adam. But Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. So Jesus was not a descendant of Adam. He is the Son of God in his divine nature. And he was to be born of the virgin Mary. So he had also a human nature born in flesh. His life on earth demonstrated both his human nature and his divine nature. He was limited by time and space. He was thirsty and hungry, and tired after a long walk. He had to sleep. Also in sharing humanity, he experienced physical and mental suffering, the agony of a soul, the pain of crucifixion, and death. But in his divine nature he did numerous miraculous works no human could do. He healed many with incurable diseases: he opened the eyes of the blind, made the deaf hear, the mute tongue speak, and the lame walk, and cleansed men with leprosy. He drove out demons from men and made them sound. He even raised the dead. He fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and called the stormy sea with his word of command. He walked on the water. He performed these miraculous works not to show up himself but to help suffering people and his disciples. And according to Hebrews 4:15, “he has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” He died but rose again. His resurrection from the dead was the final proof of his divine nature. According to Romans 1:3-4, he as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Jesus is a perfect man and a perfect God. . In that sense he is unique in human history. He is incomparable. In his bountiful wisdom, God sent his Son Jesus into this world conceived by the Holy Spirit and born in flesh. Jesus is God-man. Some people live like animals and become animal men. Some others strive to live a good life and become saints, saintly men. But Jesus is God-man, and this is a mystery of God. This is the basis of Christianity faith along with God’s creation. In the following parts we will think more of the meaning of this.

Second, the saving work of Jesus (19-22). Look at verse 19. “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.” According to the Jewish law at that time, one year of engagement was tantamount to marriage and the couple could be called husband or wife. So Joseph was referred to and considered as Mary’s husband at this time. He was a righteous man, who had a right relationship with God. However, how could he comprehend what had happened in Mary? Most certainly he could not believe what had reached to his ears, Mary’s pregnancy. He tried to ignore what his ears had heard, but he could not with the question, “how” resounding in his mind endlessly. The more he thought of it, the more he was confused and bewildered. Joseph’s momentary sense of betrayal as a young man engaged to Mary could be more than one could imagine But Joseph was not a hot-tempered man who was reactionary and revengeful based on just what he had heard. He was thoughtful and considerate as a godly man. We can infer that when he considered it, he did not hear anything about the other part and no other evidence except Mary’s raised stomach. According to the law at least two witnesses were needed for a right judgment. He must have agonized before God and prayed and prayed. Then his final resolution was to divorce her quietly not exposing her to public disgrace. That was the best thing he could do in that situation. He wanted to save Mary in all he could do, although his life could have been in jeopardy. Indeed he was a righteous man who loved God and loved Mary. In him we see an image of Jesus.

Then how did God help this godly young man Joseph? Look at verse 20. “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.” Help for Joseph came from above when he struggled before God. The news of the baby Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit came to Mary, and then now to Joseph. It is written in the Bible twice. Again, Jesus is God-man with his divine nature and human nature as well. Why is it so important?

The angel continued, “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.” After the news of the baby Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit the message of his saving his people is given. According to Matthew’s gospel even before his birth this gospel message was revealed. In Luke’s gospel right after Jesus’ birth, the good news was proclaimed by an angel of the Lord, “Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you…” Here an angel said, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the LORD saves. At that time when we think of the situation of the Israelites, it seemed that they needed urgently to be saved from the Roman occupation. It was true that they were miserable under the merciless rule of Rome. Yet, before God, their fundamental problem was sin problem, both nationally and individually. This is true for all human beings regardless of title, career, or learning. Sin makes a man unhappy and miserable. Sin ruins a family, and destroys a society and a nation.

Then how does he save his people from their sins? Jesus, as God-man, first of all, was sinless and innocent. All the descendants of Adam are sinful and they are all sinners before God. Sinners cannot save other sinners as a blind man cannot lead other blind man, and as a drowning man cannot save other drowning man. All sinners are together perishing in the sea of sin and death. Jesus is sinless. So he is qualified to save sinners. But, that’s not all.

According to the Scripture, how he saves his people is through the forgiveness of sin. And Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” As lambs without defect had to be sacrificed in the Old Testament for outward ceremonial cleansing, innocent Jesus as unblemished Lamb of God had to be sacrificed for the forgiveness of man’ sin. His very life was the redemption price for the sins of men. So while his death was approaching, he said to disciples that he came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). And at the last supper he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27). While he was hanging on the cross, the passers-by and religious leaders hurled insults at him, saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.” (Mt 27:40-42). In their mockery there was a paradoxical truth: he could not save himself so as to save his people from their sins. No one’s life but his innocent very life was demanded as a ransom sacrifice for our sins. His sinless lifeblood had to be spilt out for the forgiveness of the sins of all of us. Even taking a blood-test is unpleasant to many of us because of the needle. We don’t want to see our blood shedding even a drop of it. We also don’t want to see others’ blood shedding even on TV. But the lifeblood of sinless Jesus had to be poured out for us. Now whoever comes to him recognizing their sins in repentance can be forgiven and saved from their sins and all the consequences of sin including eternal condemnation.

In our time, young people are taught in school to live in this world with a scientific mind and try to understand human life from the viewpoint of science. At Harvard University a professor presented in his class a case study in which therapeutic methods were used to help a man uncover a deep hostility and anger toward his mother. This helped the client understand himself in new ways. Then the professor was questioned how he would have responded if the man had asked for help to forgive her. The professor responded that forgiveness was a concept that assumed moral responsibility and many other things that scientific psychology could not speak to. “Don’t force your values…about forgiveness onto the patient,” he argued. When some of the students responded with dismay, the professor tried to relieve the tension with some humour. “If you guys are looking for a changed heart, I think you are looking in the wrong department.” However, many are looking for a changed heart. Secular reason, all by itself, cannot give us a basis for sacrifice, redemption, and forgiveness. But the Bible clearly articulates the basis and reality of these concepts. Furthermore, Christianity is not a theory but life. Jesus came to give his innocent life as a ransom price for all sinners so as to save them from their sins.

There was a very intellectual man with probably more than 2 or 3 Ph.Ds. He was a great scholar and renowned national leader. But he came to Jesus at night after hearing about Jesus’ miraculous signs. Probably, he came at night to avoid people in fear of jeopardizing his own fame. Right away Jesus was able to know why he came. Jesus knew his inner deep agony beyond his great learning and position and fame. Jesus knew that he longed for true happiness and something eternal transcending this mundane transitory world. So he said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus wanted the man to experience the real happiness of the kingdom of God in this world and have the true hope of the eternal kingdom of God through being born again. However, at this the man responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” His question, “How can a man be born when he is old?” seemed to be a similar question as Mary’s, “How can a virgin have a child?” in its impossibility. However, while Mary believed the Lord had said through the angel Gabriel, this man surpassed Jesus’ teaching with the power of his knowledge, saying, “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb” meaning, “That’s stupid.” Spiritually speaking, he was less than a kindergarten kid. He was completely blocked to the spiritual world by his scientific mind. Then Jesus answered to the question deeply buried in his heart, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again,’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:1-8). We don’t know what happened to him that night. He seemed to disappear forever. However, surprisingly around three years later he appeared as one of the two who buried the body of Jesus, bringing a considerable amount of mixture of myrrh and aloes. In that dangerous time when the world rejected Jesus by killing him on the cross, the man named Nicodemus became courageous and identified himself as a follower of Jesus. It is almost certain that when he looked up at the cross of Jesus, and saw how he suffered and died, he could believe that Jesus died for him, recognising his terrible sins before God and repenting and putting his faith in Jesus with the eternal hope of the kingdom of God.

Yet another man was pursuing worldly pleasures and success. But in reality he became a restless wanderer with his sin of sexual immorality. He was getting old, nearing forty, but he had no sense of marrying and establishing his family. But when he was touched by the gospel of Jesus, man’s reality of sin and judgment and eternal punishment and Jesus’ eternal salvation through his death and resurrection, he came back to his senses and repented of his sins before God. He became a changed man being saved from his sins and all the consequences of his sin, and finally married a woman of God at the age of forty-one. At his wedding, he was full of thanks to God and to those who served him, shedding many tears. He has a clear direction in life that his family be the family of Jesus’ disciples, denying himself and taking up his cross daily and following in this world. He strives to bear good fruit in the second part of his life. We praise Jesus who was born to give his sinless life as a ransom sacrifice to save his people from their sins.

Third, God with us (23-25). The angel’s message, “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” is not all the message Matthew delivers in his gospel to the readers regarding Jesus’ birth. Matthew, uniquely, goes further in his gospel. Verses 22 and 23 say, “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.’” The prophet Isaiah had prophesied in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This promise was given to a very wicked, fearful, unbelieving and proud king, Ahaz, by the Lord himself through Isaiah, around 700 years before Jesus’ coming. At that time, nobody could imagine how this promise of God would be fulfilled. But Matthew could find the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus being born of the virgin Mary. At this fulfillment of God’s promise he must have been amazed. Matthew’s quotation, however, is not an exact quotation, but a kind of free quotation (or paraphrase). Isaiah 7:14 says, “The virgin…will call him Immanuel,” but Matthew 1:23, “They will call him Immanuel.” Surely Matthew quoted in this way by God’s inspiration. How wonderful it is that they will call him Immanuel. Who are they? They are his people, the people throughout generation who would put their faith in Jesus. They would call him Immanuel out of excitement and joy and happiness and thanks and love. Then in excitement it is easy to forget the meaning. So Matthew added, “…which means ‘God with us.’” The meaning is God with us. Again the meaning is God with us. The meaning is not “God with him,” but “God with us.” “God with him” was obvious. But “God with us” was not obvious. It was an impossible thing. The distance between God and us was infinitely far, as far as the east is from the west, furthermore as far as the heavens are from the earth. But the distance became so close that now it is God with us in Jesus. What an amazing blessing! In the original New Testament in Greek, at the beginning there is the word “ιδου” pronouncing “id-oo’” meaning, “Look!”, “Behold.”

Who is God? God is the almighty Creator God. He is the righteous God. He is the holy God. He is the infinitely loving God. Then how great “God with us” is! What is the opposite of “God with us”? It is “God against us.” “God with us” was true in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were so happy, having fellowship with God. God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they would hear the sound of the Lord. There was no barrier between God and man. But when they disobeyed God’s command, sin came and separated God and man. “God with us” was broken. Afterward, sinful human beings became enemies of the holy and righteous God and so, objects of his wrath. “God with us” changed into “God against us.” There was enmity/hostility/war between God and men. This was an invincible wall, barrier between God and men. Since then all men longed for “God with us.” God also longed for men with God. In the Old Testament, a temporary means was God dwelling in the tabernacle God had commanded Moses to build, and then in the temple built in Jerusalem by David’s son Solomon. It was through animal sacrifice system. Now Jesus is our temple through his death and resurrection. “God with us” became true in Jesus. The barrier between God and sinners was removed in Jesus. It is paradise restored. Each individual who believes in Jesus and receives his grace of forgiveness of sins has been given this unfathomable blessing of God. Apostle John expressed this blessing and privilege this way, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:11-14a).

The almighty, righteous, holy loving “God with us” is true to each of us in Jesus. In the blessing of “God with us” God is our friend and I am his friend. In the Bible Abraham is called God’s friend three times (Ja 2:23; 2 Ch 20:7; Isa 41:8). Why? It was so that this blessing might come to those to all those who believe as Paul said in Galatians 3:9, “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” While on earth Jesus called his disciples friends as he said in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants...I have called you friends…”

“God with us” is life together. Jesus lived in this world as Immanuel, God with us. He cared for various kinds of people, healing the broken-hearted and binding their wounds. He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. He lived with his disciples and raised them up as future gospel leaders. Christian life can be considered the life of realizing this remarkable blessing and privilege of “God with us.” “God with us” precisely the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and our living by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words and helps us to understand the words of God in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we sin against God and urges us through his words to repent. The Holy Spirit gives us courage to face adverse or fearful situations. He strengthens us to overcome our weaknesses and have the strength of God to challenge impossible situation. He comforts us when there seems to be no human comfort. He helps us to love our neighbours and feed God’s flock of sheep out of love for God. He teaches us to learn God’s compassionate heart for perishing souls and participate in his redemptive work and history. He urges us to pray, “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He guides us to pray in any and every situation. He wants us to know God and grow in the knowledge of God, and to imitate the life of Jesus, coming to resemble the image of his Son Jesus, Immanuel. When people depart, they say, “Good-bye” meaning “God be with you.” It is a good greeting, as the prayer that God be with you, even when nobody is with you. However, when we wake up, may we also remember this “God with us” and start a day in the fellowship with him. We need to enjoy this blessing every day. God wants us to enjoy the blessing of “God with us” increasingly to the full extent. And “God with us” will be consummated in the age to come. It is written in Revelation 21:3-4, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

In 1940 Langdon Gilkey (1919-2004) who graduated from Harvard went to teach English at a university in China. When the Japanese overran the region where he was teaching, he was put under house arrest with other Westerners and finally sent to an interment compound in Shandong Province. Around 2000 people lived together in an extremely difficult environment with scarce food, poor sanitation, and only around 20 toilets for 2000 people. There he found that humanism with faith in the rationality and goodness of men soon reached its limitation, and the lives of those who were religious only by name revealed themselves as fully as selfish and ungenerous as others. He discovered that all human beings were intensely self-interested and selfish in such a station where their lives were threatened. But there he found one person who was different. He was overflowing with humor, love of life, sacrificial kindness for others, and inward peace. He was especially concerned to minister to the teenagers of the camp. When he died suddenly of a brain tumor, the entire camp was stunned. He was Eric Liddell, the former Olympic star and missionary to China whose story is told in the movie Chariots of Fire. I believe that his life was the reflection of his constant life of “God with us.”

Matthew was a terribly selfish man as a tax-collector to survive in this world. He could have money but he could not forgive and accept himself. Others also could not. He was all by himself in his loneliness. No one wanted to be with him. But one day Jesus called him, saying, “Follow me.” When he accepting Jesus’ calling and followed him in true repentance, joy and happiness and heavenly peace and hope filled his heart. He became a sacrificial servant and a blessing to the people of down through generations, particularly through the gospel of Matthew. “God with us” was surely his life and so it is his Christmas message to us. “Who with us” will make all the difference in life.

This year the Toronto Raptors basketball team, Blue Jays baseball team and TFC soccer team did very well reaching to finals. Air Canada centre, Rogers’ centre and BMO soccer field were crowded with people. Yet, while there are the mingling of crowd of people, people are fundamentally lonely until they know “God with us.” People want to make friends including face book friends. Yet, there is no true “with” in human life. In loneliness some commit suicide. Unless there is the life of “God with us”, even the life between a husband and a wife cannot be truly the life of “with.” May God help us to grow in the life of “God with us” so that we can be truly with others.

In verses 24 and 25. “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.” Joseph obeyed the Lord’s command, although it meant close ones’ misunderstanding and people’s severe criticism and accusation. For he trusted in God, who would resolve all problems in the matter of time. And Joseph, a godly man, was a good environment-maker for the birth of the Son of God, and named him Jesus, who saves his people from their sin.

Jesus is God-man, which is a mystery of God. Now God with us is also a mystery. The meaning of Christmas is that Jesus became God-man through virgin birth so that he would save his people from their sins and the blessing of “God with us” may come to each of his people through him, Immanuel. This is Merry Christmas!

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