************ Sermon on Matthew 1:22-23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2009
Christmas Day 2009
As we were leaving a restaurant this past week, the hostess said "Happy Holidays." "Happy Holidays?," I said. "How about Merry Christmas?" "We can't say that because some people get offended." "What about people like me who get offended the other way?"
Even the White House has gotten involved in this kind of behavior. They now have a "Holiday Tree" instead of a Christmas tree, they have sent out cards that say "Happy Holidays," and you can bet there is no nativity scene anywhere on the premises.
We all know about the push to take Christ out of Christmas. Some do it because they hate the Lord. Others do it because they want to be politically correct. Still others do it because they believe the name of Christ is offensive. And, then there are those who are just blame embarrassed by the claim of the virgin birth.
One of the first exposes of the beliefs of our ministers was made by Redbook magazine way back in August of 1961. The publishers hired one of the top pollsters in the nation to survey seminaries preparing men for Christian service in Protestant churches. Here are some of the results of the ministers in training in 1961:
-56 percent rejected the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.
-71 percent rejected that there was life after death.
-54 percent rejected the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
-98 percent rejected that there would be a personal return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
Do you think things have gotten any better since? And, if the pastors don't believe any of this, can we expect anything better from the people in the pew?
Regardless of what liberals or the politically correct crowd may do, we still preach Christ from this pulpit and our focus on Christmas Day is not presents or trees or Santas or lights but the baby Jesus.
I The Birth of the Immanuel
A Our text tells us that the birth of Jesus fulfills a promise made through Isaiah:
(Mt 1:22-23) All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: (23) "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."This is a quote from Isaiah 7:14.
Let me explain the setting. Ahaz was king of Judah. Syria and Israel declared war on Judah because of her refusal to join their alliance against the rising power of Assyria. King Ahaz turned to Assyria for help. During his preparations for the coming war, King Ahaz was warned by Isaiah not to rely upon the military might of Assyria but, instead, to put his trust in the Lord (Is 7:1-9). King Ahaz, however, did not follow Isaiah's advice. So, God sent Isaiah to Ahaz again. Remember what Ahaz was told? "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights" (Is 7:10). "Ahaz, ask for a sign, any sign!" Ahaz refused claiming he could not put the Lord to the test (Is 7:12). What happened next? The Lord gave a sign anyway:
(Isa 7:14) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
There is lots of disagreement among scholars and pastors about the exact meaning of this text. Yet, its essential meaning is easy enough to follow: a young virgin woman will get pregnant and will give birth to a son named "Immanuel." This boy will be a sign. A sign of what? A sign of God's presence and protection on those who trust in the Lord. And, a sign of God's curse on those who trust in an alliance with Assyria.
Now, remember, any text has to make sense to its original readers. Therefore, this is not just a prediction about the birth of Jesus. So, Isaiah and his wife – formerly a virgin – have a son. Before the boy is 8 or 9 years old, the two nations of Syria and Israel are destroyed. Isaiah's son ends up being God's guarantee that He is with His people to guard and protect them – he is "Immanuel."
According to Matthew, the baby born on Christmas Day, the baby lying in the manger, is also the fulfilment of this promise.
B The fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah on Christmas Day, then, does not mark the beginning of God being with His covenant people. Rather, it marks the climax of God being with His covenant people.
Remember God's promise to Abraham? Abraham was told to leave country, people, and family. Abraham was told to go to an unknown land. Abraham must have been apprehensive and scared.
(Gen 15:1) After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
Remember an 80 year old Moses before the burning bush? At that time God gave Moses a great commission: to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. Moses felt inadequate for such a task and said so: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Ex 3:11). And God said in reply, "I will be with you" (Ex 3:12). And He was. While traveling in the wilderness, the children of Israel only had to lift their eyes forward and upward to see that the Lord indeed was with them, even as He promised. As we read in Exodus:
(Ex 13:21-22) By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light ... (22) Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
When Joshua was apprehensive about taking over from Moses, God reassured him with these words:
(Deu 31:23) "Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you."
(Josh 1:5) No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
God spoke similar words through Isaiah. We've already looked at the "Immanuel." But, now consider what Isaiah says elsewhere:
(Isa 41:10) So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isa 43:2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Do you hear the refrain that is being echoed again and again? God is with His people; therefore, they have nothing to fear!
What a beautiful, comforting, sustaining promise!
II Jesus the Immanuel
A From Isaiah and King Ahaz we need to fast forward some 650 years. We are still in Judah but no longer in Jerusalem; instead, we are in the small town of Bethlehem. And, another baby is born. Matthew tells us this baby, too, is a sign. This baby, too, is a sign of God's presence with His people. This baby, too, is "Immanuel."
Let me review with you what Matthew has told us so far about the baby in the manger. He is "Jesus" – the Savior from sin (Mt 1:1,21). He is "Christ" – the Anointed One, the Messiah (Mt 1:1). He is the "son of David" – the promised ruler of David's line (Mt 1:1,17). He is the "son of Abraham" – in Whom all peoples on earth are blessed (Mt 1:1). He is the eternal Son of God – conceived by the Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Mt 1:20). And, He is also the "Immanuel." "God with us."
B Let me emphasize the last part of the phrase: "with us." "With us!" The eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature. Remember how John puts this?
(John 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.Remember how Paul puts this?
(Phil 2:7) ... [He] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.Remember how Hebrews puts this?
(Heb 2:11) Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.Jesus is "with us." He is one "with us." He is fully and completely and truly human.
(Heb 2:14) Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity ...
(Heb 2:17) ... he had to be made like his brothers in every way ...
C Let me now emphasize the first part of the phrase: "God." He is "God." Remember how John puts this?
(John 1:1-2) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning.Remember how Paul puts this?
(Phil 2:6) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped ...Remember how Hebrews puts this?
(Col 1:15,19) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation ... (19) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him ...
(Heb 1:3) The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Now, think of what this means. No one has ever seen God. But, when we look at Jesus, we see what God is like; Jesus makes God known (Jn 1:18). Jesus is the exact representation of Almighty God. If you want to know the heart of God, all you have to know is the heart of Jesus. If you want to know the love of God, all you have to know is the love of Jesus. If you want to know the will of God, then all you have to know is the will of Jesus. Plainly put, Jesus is God in the flesh; Jesus is God with skin on!
D Jesus is the "Immanuel." "God." "With us." Let's put the two parts together. He is "God" and He is "with us." Think about this: "God with us." Do you realize what this means?
-in Jesus, divine omnipotence moved in a human arm;
-in Jesus, divine wisdom was cradled in a human brain;
-in Jesus, divine love throbbed in a human heart;
-in Jesus, divine compassion glistened in a human eye;
-in Jesus, divine grace poured forth from human lips.
The Christian faith is completely unique here. In other religions, man strives to become God or one with God; but, in the Christian faith it is God Who becomes one with man. So, today, we celebrate the birth of the "Immanuel." "God with us."
On this Christmas Day, congregation, I want you to take one thought home: that God is with us, that the "Immanuel" has been born. The meaning of Christmas is that God is now with us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The baby Jesus is the "Immanuel." He is "God with us." All of God's fullness dwells in Him. He is God with skin on.
What does this mean for you and me? This means God will never leave, forsake, or fail His people – just as in the days of Ahaz and Isaiah. He is always there. Even the Lord Jesus discovered we cannot say that about any person for when the disciples fled and Judas betrayed Him and Peter denied Him, the Lord Jesus was all alone before His accusers. But God, He is always there. Again, I think of what the Apostle Paul says,
(Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.He is always there and we can always depend on Him. No matter how desperate conditions become we know that God is with us. Especially in our fight against sin and Satan – our two greatest enemies, God is always there to save, to comfort, and to strengthen.
Take any situation that we might suffer through: unemployment, death, divorce, bankruptcy, poverty, illness, surgery, pain, hurt, cancer, sin and temptation. "Immanuel" means that God is with us even in such situations. Immanuel means that even in such situations God surrounds us with His love, His presence, and His Spirit. Immanuel means that even in such situations we are not left on our own. As Paul puts it, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31).
Jesus is "Immanuel" – "God with us."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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