SS Lesson for 12/13/2020
Devotional Scripture: Isa 7:10-14
Today’s lesson focuses on the unlikely hero Joseph of Nazareth. Joseph’s background was unremarkable in a number of ways. First, his place of residence, Nazareth (Luke 2:4; 4:16, 22), was a tiny village well off the beaten path. In Joseph’s day the town was so insignificant that it is not mentioned in contemporary sources outside the Bible. Even the first-century Jewish historian Josephus didn’t include Nazareth in his list of Galilean villages subdued by the Romans during the great Jewish revolt of AD 66-72. The majority of the inhabitants of Nazareth would have worked as subsistence farmers or day laborers, living the peasant lifestyle typical of Rome’s occupied provinces (compare John 1:46). Second, even within Nazareth, Joseph’s social standing would have been nothing special. In Matthew 13:55, its residents were dismissive of the adult Jesus, calling him “the carpenter’s son”—a reference that reveals Joseph’s trade. The Greek word often translated “carpenter” could refer to a skilled woodworker, boutique craftsman, or construction worker. In the first century AD, Galilean laborers like Joseph were employed on major construction projects funded by the Roman client-king Herod Antipas, where they worked with stone, wood, and other materials to build roads and public buildings. Joseph may have spent most of his life working on the new and elegant Roman colony at Sepphoris, a three-mile walk north from Nazareth. Life was hard for poor laborers in that era, a fact that may explain why Joseph apparently did not live to see Jesus’ ministry. While he is mentioned as the father of the adult Jesus in John 6:42, he last appears in the Gospels in Luke 2:41-50, a story that took place when Jesus was 12 years old. In ancient times, tradespeople like Joseph were not protected by labor laws or collective-bargaining contracts. As a result, they were subject to long workdays, dangerous conditions, and the typically high levels of taxation that Rome levied on its subjects. It is highly unlikely that Joseph had received any kind of formal education, and almost certain that he could not read or write with any level of proficiency. Were it not for his association with Jesus, Joseph would have been lost to the pages of history. But despite his humble origins, Joseph stood out among his peers in at least two respects. First, Joseph was a descendant of King David (see Matthew 1:1-16), and thus a member of Israel’s royal line. This fact explains why Joseph took his pregnant wife from Galilee to Bethlehem (a Judean village about six miles from Jerusalem) to register for the Roman tax census (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:1-4). Bethlehem was David’s hometown (1 Samuel 16:1). David was widely understood to be the ancestor of the coming Messiah, who would rule Israel on David’s restored throne (2 Samuel 7; Jeremiah 23:5-6). The second way Joseph stood out among his peers is part of today’s lesson.
20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
1:1. From the very first words of his Gospel, Matthew recorded his central theme and character. Jesus Christ is the main character in Matthew’s presentation, and the opening verse connected Him back to two great covenants in Jewish history: the Davidic (2 Sam. 7) and the Abrahamic (Gen. 12; 15). If Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of these two great covenants, is He related to the rightful line? This is a question the Jews would have asked, so Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage in detail.
1:2-17. Matthew gave Jesus’ lineage through His legal father, Joseph (v. 16). Thus this genealogy traced Jesus’ right to the throne of David, which must come through Solomon and his descendants (v. 6). Of particular interest is the inclusion of Jeconiah (v. 11) of whom Jeremiah said, “Record this man as if childless” (Jer. 22:30). Jeremiah’s prophecy related to the actual occupation of the throne and the reception of blessing while on the throne. Though Jeconiah’s sons never occupied the throne, the line of rulership did pass through them. If Jesus had been a physical descendant of Jeconiah, He would not have been able to occupy David’s throne. Luke’s genealogy made it clear that Jesus was a physical descendant of David through another son named Nathan (Luke 3:31). But Joseph, a descendant of Solomon, was Jesus’ legal father, so Jesus’ right to the throne was traced through Joseph. Matthew traced Joseph’s line from Jeconiah through the latter’s son Shealtiel and grandson Zerubbabel (Matt. 1:12). Luke (3:27) also refers to Shealtiel, the father of Zerubbabel, in Mary’s line. Does Luke’s account, then, mean that Jesus was a physical descendant of Jeconiah, after all? No, because Luke’s Shealtiel and Zerubbabel were probably different persons from those two in Matthew. In Luke Shealtiel was the son of Neri, but Matthew’s Shealtiel was the son of Jeconiah. Another interesting fact about Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of four Old Testament women: Tamar (Matt. 1:3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5), and Solomon’s mother (v. 6), Bathsheba. All of these women (as well as most of the men) were questionable in some way. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes (Gen. 38:24; Josh. 2:1), Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba committed adultery (2 Sam. 11:2-5). Matthew may have included these women in order to emphasize that God’s choices in dealing with people are all of His grace. Perhaps also he included these women in order to put Jewish pride in its place. When the fifth woman, Mary (Matt. 1:16), was mentioned in the genealogy, an important change occurred. The genealogy consistently repeated, the father of, until it came to Mary. At that point Matthew changed and said of whom was born Jesus. The “of whom” is a feminine relative pronoun (ex hēs), clearly indicating that Jesus was the physical Child of Mary but that Joseph was not His physical father. This miraculous conception and birth are explained in 1:18-25. Matthew obviously did not list every individual in the genealogy between Abraham and David (vv. 2-6), between David and the Exile (vv. 6-11), and between the Exile and Jesus (vv. 12-16). Instead he listed only 14 generations in each of these time periods (v. 17). Jewish reckoning did not require every name in order to satisfy a genealogy. But why did Matthew select 14 names in each period? Perhaps the best solution is that the name “David” in Hebrew numerology added up to 14. It should be noted that in the period from the Exile to the birth of Jesus (vv. 12-16) 13 new names appeared. Many scholars feel that Jeconiah (v. 12), though repeated from verse 11, provides the 14th name in this final period. Matthew’s genealogy answered the important question a Jew would rightfully ask about anyone who claimed to be King of the Jews. Is He a descendant of David through the rightful line of succession? Matthew answered yes!
1:18-23. The fact that Jesus was born “of Mary” only, as indicated in the genealogical record (v. 16), demanded further explanation. Matthew’s explanation can best be understood in the light of Hebrew marriage customs. Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. The waiting period was to demonstrate the faithfulness of the pledge of purity given concerning the bride. If she was found to be with child in this period, she obviously was not pure, but had been involved in an unfaithful sexual relationship. Therefore the marriage could be annulled. If, however, the one-year waiting period demonstrated the purity of the bride, the husband would then go to the house of the bride’s parents and in a grand processional march lead his bride back to his home. There they would begin to live together as husband and wife and consummate their marriage physically. Matthew’s story should be read with this background in mind. Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23). While little is said about Joseph, one can imagine how his heart must have broken. He genuinely loved Mary, and yet the word came that she was pregnant. His love for her was demonstrated by his actions. He chose not to create a public scandal by exposing her condition to the judges at the city gate. Such an act could have resulted in Mary’s death by stoning (Deut. 22:23-24). Instead he decided to divorce her quietly. Then in a dream (cf. Matt. 2:13, 19, 22), an angel told Joseph that Mary’s condition was not caused by a man, but through the Holy Spirit (1:20; cf. v. 18). The Child Mary carried in her womb was a unique Child, for He would be a Son whom Joseph should name Jesus for He would save His people from their sins. These words must have brought to Joseph’s mind the promises of God to provide salvation through the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37). The unnamed angel also told Joseph that this was in keeping with God’s eternal plan, for the Prophet Isaiah had declared 700 years before that the virgin will be with Child (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14). While Old Testament scholars dispute whether the Hebrew almâh should be rendered “young woman” or “virgin,” God clearly intended it here to mean virgin (as implied by the Gr. word parthenos). Mary’s miraculous conception fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and her Son would truly be Immanuel... God with us. In light of this declaration Joseph was not to be afraid to take Mary into his home (Matt. 1:20). There would be misunderstanding in the community and much gossip at the well, but Joseph knew the true story of Mary’s pregnancy and God’s will for his life.
1:24-25. As soon as Joseph awakened from this dream, he obeyed. He violated all custom by immediately taking Mary into his home rather than waiting till the one-year time period of betrothal had passed. Joseph was probably thinking of what would be best for Mary in her condition. He brought her home and began to care and provide for her. But there was no sexual relationship between them until after the birth of this Child, Jesus. Matthew simply noted the birth of the Child and the fact that He was named Jesus, whereas Luke, the physician (Col. 4:14), recorded several details surrounding the birth (Luke 2:1-7).
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
22 "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.
12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Through a character in one of his plays William Shakespeare posed the question, “What’s in a name?” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2). Most of the names we give to our children have meanings, but we rarely pay much attention to those meanings. We do not think of the fact that Anna means “grace” or that David means “beloved.” We are not conscious of the fact that Timothy means “honoring God.” Unfortunately, we also do not always think about the meaning of the name Jesus. Certainly, people who use it in profanity do not think of its meaning. Neither do those who drop the name casually. But God thought it important enough to make doubly certain that that was the name given to our Lord. It is significant that the name Jesus means Savior. Of course, he would have been our Savior no matter what his name. But surely it was for our benefit that God chose the name Jesus. But we must also wonder if it did not have an effect on Jesus himself! If your name is Joy, do you feel a need to be cheerful? If your name is Faith, does it affect your conduct? In Hebrew culture the giving of a name was always regarded as highly significant. If you are called a Christian, does it affect your life in some positive way—a way that others can see this Christmas season?
2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."
19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.
2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.'"
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?
20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.
24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,
25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
The genealogy of verses 1-17 demonstrates the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew shows that our Lord is the descendant of Abraham and of David, and thus the fulfillment of the covenants God made with each. Having proved the humanity of Jesus (and the right human pedigree), he must now disclose the divine origin of the Messiah. The Messiah was not only human; He must also be divine – God with us. Verses 18-25 describe the process by which Mary became pregnant, not by Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 20 When he had contemplated 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 as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 25 but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus (emphasis mine).
Time does not allow for a full exposition of these marvelously rich verses, but I do want to make a few observations.
First, notice how Matthew focuses the reader’s attention on Joseph, while Luke places the spotlight on Mary. The end result is a very balanced account of our Lord’s conception and birth. But why would Matthew feel it necessary to draw our attention to Joseph? For one thing, it is through Joseph that the legal line passes from David to Jesus. While Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he was the legal father, and thus Jesus was the “Son of David” through him.
Matthew makes a point of emphasizing the fact that Joseph was a “righteous” man (1:19). He was indeed. I fear that we may fail to grasp the important role that Joseph played in the early life of our Lord. While we cannot be dogmatic about this, it seems to be generally accepted that Mary was quite young when she had Jesus – probably a teenager. It is usually thought that Joseph was somewhat older (it seems that he must have died before Jesus began His public ministry). I believe that Joseph was righteous when he purposed to divorce Mary privately, rather than to seek the full penalty of the law. Last month Governor George Ryan of Illinois pardoned four men on death row, and he commuted the death sentence of many others to a life sentence. He did this because a careful investigation had proven the innocence of some, and called into question the guilty verdict pronounced upon others. Ryan noted that while some called it “the courageous thing to do,” it was simply “the right thing to do.”
Joseph must have known Mary well; he knew her character, her purity, and her honesty. She had to have told Joseph that she was not guilty of sexual immorality, and no doubt she reported the words of the angel, and the response of Elizabeth. Mary’s story was incredible, and yet somehow Joseph could not help but wonder… . In his righteousness, he chose not to seek the death penalty of the law. Putting Mary away privately allowed for time to pass, so that perhaps the truth of her testimony could be confirmed. Is this speculative? Yes it is, but I would remind you that Matthew has been careful to inform us that Joseph was a righteous man. Because of this, I am of the opinion that Joseph’s actions in response to Mary’s pregnancy are those prompted by righteousness.
It took a righteous man, a man of faith, to believe the angel’s words to Joseph in his dream, informing him that Mary had become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. It would take a righteous man to marry this young woman even though she was already pregnant, knowing that everyone would wrongly conclude that he was the father. He knew that people would conclude that he and Mary had sinned. It took a calm and stable man to deal with the traumatic circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus (having to travel to Bethlehem, having no place to stay). Joseph was able and willing to pull up stakes, leave Israel, and take his family to safety in Egypt. He acted with wisdom, and he obeyed the guidance God gave him through a sequence of several dreams. What a gracious provision of God Joseph was to Mary, to assure and comfort her, to share her secret, and to protect her and her baby!
Second, notice how careful Matthew is to clearly declare the virginal conception of our Lord. In verses 1-17, Matthew demonstrated the human origins of our Lord, as well as His genealogical relationship to Abraham and David. Now, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is not only human, He is also divine. The deity of our Lord is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14, cited in Matthew 1:23). The deity of our Lord is also declared by the angel. Mary became pregnant, the angel insisted, not by any human agency, but by the Holy Spirit (verses 20-21). We are clearly but delicately informed that there was no way that Joseph could have been the father of Jesus.
Third, in these verses, Matthew describes the person and work of our Lord by the two names He is given in this passage. In the genealogy of verses 1-17, Matthew links Jesus with two major Old Testament personalities: Abraham and David. Jesus is shown to be “the son of David” and the “son of Abraham,” and thus the fulfillment of both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. Now, in verses 18-25, Matthew describes the person and work of our Lord by means of two of the names He was given: (1) Jesus (Joshua = Yahweh saves); and, (2) Emmanuel (“God with us”).
What’s in a name? Plenty! One’s name was much more significant for a Jew than it is for us. “Abram” meant “exalted father,” while “Abraham” meant “father of a multitude.” Jesus renamed Simon “Peter,” or “Petros,” the rock. The names of our Lord depict His character and His work. Jesus comes from the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation.” As the angel informed Joseph, the child that would be born to Mary would be named “Jesus,” “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is God’s salvation, the One by whom God would accomplish salvation for lost sinners. He alone was qualified to accomplish salvation because He was both God and man. He was without sin, and thus the perfect “Lamb of God,” without blemish. His death on the cross of Calvary was not for His sins, but for ours. Every time we celebrate communion, we worship Jesus as our Savior, as the One who saved us from our sins.
Jesus was also to be called “Emmanuel,” based in part on the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Time does not permit us to consider this prophecy in detail. It is likely that Isaiah did not understand his words here to refer to the Messiah who was to come in the future (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). As with other Old Testament texts that Matthew cites, there is a veiled, future reference to the work of the Messiah, which goes beyond the immediate, literal, meaning of the text. This veiled meaning was not usually made known until after its fulfillment in Christ, and that by the Holy Spirit. “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” In the incarnation, God came to earth in human flesh, to dwell among men. John says this beautifully:
14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known (John 1:14-18).
God’s presence with us was not just for the few years that our Lord walked on this earth. The very last words of Matthew’s Gospel assure the reader that He will be present with us until the end:
18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).
The reason that our Lord is still “with us” is that He has sent His Spirit, to dwell among us and in us:
16 “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
How easy it is for us to lose sight of the significance of “Emmanuel!” In the past couple of weeks, I have been reading through the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. I was struck with how different it is for the New Testament saint, who can experience the joy and comfort of “God with us” in a way that no Old Testament saint could ever do. Consider how different it was for the Old Testament saint. For example, notice the “distance” those who lived in Old Testament times had to keep:
20 And the Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain; and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish. 22 And let the priests also, who draw near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not able to come up to Mount Sinai, because you solemnly warned us, ‘Set boundaries for the mountain and set it apart.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go, get down. And you will come up, and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people force their way through to come up to the Lord, lest he break through against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them (Exodus 19:20-25).
In Exodus 32, the Israelites sinned greatly in Moses’ absence. They convinced Aaron to make a golden calf, and then they began to worship it. God threatened to wipe out the Israelites and to start a whole new nation through Moses. When Moses interceded for the people, God consented to send an angel to lead the Israelites into the land, but indicated that He would not go along with them. Notice the reason:
2 And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:2-3).
God did consent to go with His people. God would dwell in the midst of His people in the holiest place in the tabernacle. Nevertheless there were always barriers between men and God, from the veil of the tabernacle to the priests who separated the Israelite community from God’s presence:
52 “And the Israelites will camp according to their divisions, each man in his camp, and each man by his standard. 53 But the Levites must camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that divine anger will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the testimony” (Numbers 1:52-53).
Men could not approach God without a sacrifice, and then with very clear boundaries. How different it was after the incarnation of our Lord:
1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life— 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us) (1 John 1:1-2).
We come to church, assured that He is present with us. We do not have to offer animal sacrifices. We do not have to keep our distance. And while God is with us when we meet as a church, He is always dwelling within us by His Spirit. He is with us always, even to the end of this age. The One who saved us is the One who abides with us. He promised that He will never forsake us:
5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, emphasis mine)
We do not have to fear coming too close to our Lord, as the Old Testament saints did, and rightly so. In Christ, we have access to God, whom we may approach boldly:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.
Think of it. He who came to save men from their sins promises to dwell with us and in us. How does this happen? How can one experience God’s salvation and God’s presence? Only in Christ. We must confess our sins and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. We must trust in Him as our righteousness. It is then that He will save us and dwell with us and in us. Is He your Savior? Does He dwell with you and in you? That is what He came to do. I pray that you will come to know Him as your Savior and constant companion.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is a classic “Yes, you” story. Throughout the Bible, we see people who were surprised when God called them to do something, and who responded to the call with a “Who, me?” Consider Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:17; 18:12), Moses (Exodus 4:13), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), and Peter (Luke 5:1-10). All these people went on to play key roles in the story of salvation. But first they had to get over the “Who, me?” barrier. Joseph and Mary lived out the classic “Who me?/Yes, you” storyline in a unique way. Neither was particularly outstanding as the world judges such things. But when called, they did what they were asked. How tragic when God has a task but finds no one to respond (example: Ezekiel 22:30)! When we say “Who, me?” God typically responds, “Yes, you.”
Mary Agreed with the Father - As a young girl, Mary the mother of Jesus surrendered to God's plans. Naturally, she had questions and fears. However, Mary exemplifies for Christians what it means to put apprehensions and hesitations aside, listen to the Father's voice, and follow His instructions. God sent a messenger to Mary, possibly the angel Gabriel. The angel announced that she had been chosen to give birth to the Messiah. Mary initially responded in fright, but eventually, she humbly agreed to God's plan. This astounding conception took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph were betrothed at the time this pregnancy occurred. In the Jewish custom, the yearlong betrothal period had binding legal ramifications, even though the official marriage had not occurred. A divorce had to terminate the commitment. Mary attempted to explain the supernatural mystery surrounding her pregnancy to her fiance. Joseph incorrectly assumed that Mary had been unfaithful. Being a merciful, upstanding, godly man, he decided to protect Mary from the penalty for adultery, which could be stoning (Deut. 22:22-24). Instead of dragging her into the public eye to be shamed and killed, he decided to break off the engagement quietly.
Joseph Obeyed the Father - While Joseph pondered his plans concerning Mary, an angel visited him in a dream, telling him not to be afraid to carry through with the marriage. The angel said to name the child Jesus, for He is the Savior of all people. Joseph obeyed. He became the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus but not His natural father. The unique events surrounding the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of the coming Messiah given by Isaiah: Immanuel, "God with us/' would be born to a virgin (Isa 7:14). Mary and Joseph stand out as courageous and obedient followers of God. Their hearts, no doubt, were filled with fear. However, having courage does not mean an absence of fear but rather moving forward in spite of inner anxieties. Their actions should encourage Christians today. Just remember, God is in control He is our shield and our protector.