God With Us
Passage: Matthew 1:18–23
If you were here last week, you know that we are walking our way through the first two chapters of Matthew this Advent season. Last week we looked at Jesus’ genealogy which communicated something about His humanity and today we look at something about His divinity.
This time of year, if you watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or National Geographic, you will see shows with titles like ‘In Search of The Historical Jesus.’ What that means is that they want to know the real story of Jesus. They don’t really believe He was divine. They don’t really believe in things like the resurrection or the virgin birth. They want to know the truth.
Now, we would expect this from non-Christian sources, but what’s interesting is that it is happening among people who claim to be Christian as well. According to a Pew Research study, 30% of mainline Protestant church members say they are Christian, but don’t believe in the virgin birth.
A friend of mine told me recently about a lunch that Tim Keller was invited to not long ago at a very liberal seminary in New York City. He was at a table and the professors and pastors were going around the table talking about how the main need in Christianity today is for people to let go of the miracles. And specifically, to let go of the resurrection and virgin birth. So they are going around the table talking about this and it finally gets to Tim and his wife. Tim said, “I actually do believe in all the miracles. In fact, if I didn’t I certainly wouldn’t be a pastor or a professor. I’d hang it all up because if we lose the miracles, there is no Christianity left.”
So, why is that? Why are miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection so important? Because without them, we are left with a Jesus who cannot defeat death, cannot save us from our sin and cannot be a mediator between God and man. In short, we’re left with a normal man and our whole religion is worthless. All the major claims of
Christianity absolutely depend on Jesus being fully human AND fully divine. Christianity depends on a qualified mediator between us and a holy God. This mediator has to be human because only in His humanity can he truly empathize with our plight having been truly tempted in every way. But only in His divinity can He remain truly sinless in these temptations. Only then can He go confidently to the Father on our behalf.
And in our passage this morning after having supported Jesus’ human claim as Messiah, Matthew now focuses on Jesus’ divine claim as Messiah. He actually uses the same Greek root word for genealogy in last week’s passage and birth in this week’s passage. It seems clear to me that Matthew’s goal is to establish the divine line now that he has established the human line. And in this passage, we have two proofs of Jesus’ divinity. Those proofs are given in 1) how He came and 2) what He was called. So that’s what I want to focus on this morning.
- How He came
Jesus came as a baby born of a virgin. Look at verse 18: Now 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
So in this day and age, we are talking about a Mary who is between, say 13 and early twenties. Probably more toward 13. Mary and Joseph lived in what we would consider to be a very small town and they were betrothed at a young age. Betrothal would be something more binding than an engagement, but less binding than a marriage. The covenant was there, but the consummation was not. A betrothal was so significant that you actually had to file for a legal divorce to call it off.
The only two accounts we have for Jesus’ birth are from Matthew and Luke. Luke is written from Mary’s perspective and Matthew is written from Joseph’s perspective. Many commentators point out that Luke, who has impeccable Greek, in Luke 1 and 2 writes the most Hebrew sounding part of the New Testament. Why? Well, many people believe Mary wrote down her account of what happened in Hebrew for Luke and he just translated it. So, in Luke you have this young girl overflowing with excitement, but in Matthew you have a much more sober and somber account of a man who just found out that his wife to be is pregnant by someone else. Can you imagine how Joseph felt? This girl he grew up with and who had made a lifelong promise to him is now pregnant. And Joseph knew he wasn’t the father.
And there are a few common ways people attack the virgin birth story. Some people attacking the divinity of Jesus here say things like, “Well, they just didn’t have the scientific knowledge that we do now and for that reason they thought she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” They knew how people got pregnant 2000 years ago. No 21st century science is necessary for Mary and Joseph.
I’ll be honest, I have wondered if the virgin birth were not true, do you think Mary would have confessed that as Jesus was being tried and crucified? It could have potentially saved His life and I have to believe that Mary, like any good mom, would do anything to save her son. But she didn’t, because it wasn’t true.
So, what about all the other ANE myths of a virgin birth. Is Matthew just stealing from them? Robert Jackson and I were at the Roman Forum this year and a tour guide was talking about all these other myths that existed from which Matthew clearly borrowed. What do we do with that? Well, Matthew knew about them! And he seems to be saying, “I’m not making this up or borrowing from other myths. This was prophesied long ago in Isaiah 7.” Look at verses 22 and 23a: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son..”
This isn’t the only prophecy though. It’s just the one Matthew quotes. Look at Genesis 3:15 right after the fall of man. God is the one speaking to the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." - Genesis 3:15
For thousands of years, people wondered why does God say it’s the offspring of the woman that will bruise the serpent’s head? Why not the man? That would be more normal in Hebrew culture. The Hebrew word we translate as offspring is literally ‘seed.’ Only Mary had a seed to contribute to Jesus. No human man did. So we see the ground work being laid for the virgin birth at the very beginning of time.
Maybe the other virgin birth myths came about from these prophecies. I was driving my kids this week and one of my boys said, “Who do you think hates Christmas the most? I think it’s the Grinch. Then, my other boy said, “I think it’s Scrooge.” Then, my daughter, Ivey, said, “Hmm, I’m pretty sure it’s Satan.” Maybe there is a spiritual enemy who knew this prophecy and he worked in other cultures to confuse it.
I don’t know, but I do know that Matthew isn’t asking us to take the virgin birth alone.
This is the beginning of the story and Matthew is asking us to read to the end. The virgin birth is far from the craziest part of the Jesus story. Jesus dies and comes back from the dead. That’s where all this is headed! The virgin birth is pointing to that. And if we look at the story as a whole and believe that God can do that, then the virgin birth is almost easy to believe.
I had a Sunday School teacher and really good friend about 8 years ago walk away from his family and the faith. And for him, the virgin birth was hard to get past. And I just kept coming back to the resurrection. The resurrection is the most provable part of the entire Christian story. Any good historian will at least give you that. Hundreds of people saw him. The Romans couldn’t find the body they were guarding to hush these rumors. Disciples who were utterly depressed became incredibly invigorated. Matthew wants us to take the virgin birth as a part of the whole story. A hugely important part, but still, just a part of the evidence of Jesus’ divinity.
But, I want to pause for a second here as I talk about those who minimize the miracle of the virgin birth and address those who extend It. I lived in Italy for five years and I have dear friends who extend this miracle. They say that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Well, we know that’s not the case because Matthew says ‘before the came together.’ He didn’t say they never came together. Then in verse 25 he says ‘but knew her not until she had given birth..’ We know that Jesus had brothers. There is nothing in the Bible that in any way insinuates that Mary remained a virgin. Nor is that in any way necessary after Jesus is born.
Ok, returning to our narrative. Mary is pregnant and what does Joseph do? He’s a good man, who knows he can’t marry her now, but doesn’t want to put her to shame, so he resolves to divorce her quietly. That is, until, God intervened. Verse 20: But 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.”
Jesus was born of a virgin which supports his claim of divinity. But we can’t overlook something in the way the divine King broke into this world. He did it as a baby. The most powerful being there is entered our world in the most powerless and unthreatening way possible: as a human baby. I mean, a baby giraffe can walk like five after birth.
It got this from JD Shaw, but if you come home late one night and you hear a noise in your bushes and you look and there is a grown man there, what are you going to do? That probably depends on if you carry mace or not. But it’s safe to say that you will be highly alarmed. What if that noise was a dog or a cat? Not as alarming as a grown man, but still, you don’t know if it’s safe or not. But what if it’s a human baby? All your defenses will go down. There is no way that baby can hurt you.
98% of the hospital visits I have made in my pastoral role have been baby births. The average age of Grace Bible Church during my time there went from 13 ½ to about 18.
And in all the times I visited new parents, do you know what I never heard them say?
“Fear not! It’s ok. The baby won’t hurt you.”
Paul in Philippians says that when Jesus came to earth He emptied Himself. That doesn’t mean he ceased to be divine, it means he added humanity to His divinity by taking on flesh. And in taking on flesh, He also took on pain, suffering and humiliation that He would have never experienced otherwise.
Because the foundation of Christianity is this Christ who accepted rejection and scorn, we are going to have to accept it in our lives as well. To follow Christ doesn’t mean more earthly glory for us in this life for us, it usually means less. But, the less glory we have, the more we model the humility of Christ and the more the Kingdom of God is strengthened and expanded through us. And the only way to be ok with that is to see the degree to which the divine Jesus suffered by adding flesh to his divinity for your sake.
And you might think, “Yeah, I hear you Jim. God to baby is a big jump, but no one dislikes a baby? Entering the world through a baby doesn’t bring you scorn.” What if that baby came through a virgin birth in a small town. What do you think Jesus would have heard all His life. Terrible things I can’t say in a sermon. Look at what the Pharisees say to him in John 8: You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality." - John 8:41a
Do you hear it? Jesus chose to come to us in the most humble and approachable of ways. He wanted all of us to know that He understands our pain and that is one more reason He is our perfect mediator.
Matthew and Luke are clearly presenting a savior of both human and divine origins. The only person to ever live that was fully man and fully God. The God-man, Jesus Christ. Tempted in every way we are, yet without sin.
So, we see how Jesus’ divinity is supported in the way that came here. Now, let’s look at how it’s supported by what He is called.
- What He Is Called
He is called Immanuel: God with us. 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.) Matthew 1:23 The prophet quoted here is Isaiah. Now, the original context of this verse is pretty hotly debated, but what we do know is that the times are dark. The Kingdom of Israel is divided between the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The southern kingdom is led by evil King Ahaz, through whom the messianic line would go forward. Israel has joined forces with Syria, King Ahaz refuses to follow Yahweh and things look bleak. The entire future of the Messianic line is at stake here and Isaiah is saying that regardless of what you do, Ahaz, God will continue the line He started.
Now, at this point people can be confused and ask, “Why is Jesus prophesied to be called Immanuel, but the angel says to name Him Jesus? Did the angel not know his Scripture?” I don’t think that was the case. Jesus has many names. King of Kings, Lord of Lord’s, Wonderful Counselor, Lamb of Judah, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace. Immanuel was one of these names. Each name communicates something about Him and Immanuel communicates as much as any of them.
Immanuel means: God with us. Literally, with us and there are four aspects to this statement that I want to draw out. First, if Jesus is God with us, then He is divine. Some people argue that God with us just means that God is blessing us by sending Jesus, but he’s not literally God. Really? Then why is he also called Everlasting Father and Mighty God by the same prophet? There is no way to get around the Biblical claims that Jesus is God.
This week John McArthur, a very well known pastor with a huge radio following, went on Ben Shapiro’s weekly show. Ben Shapiro is a well known conservative talk show host and Jewish. It was actually an enjoyable show. Knowing what I do about both of them, I expected it to get a bit explosive, but it didn’t. But Shapiro’s main argument was that Jesus was a good man, but not God. He was a good Jew, but not God. To which John McArthur asks, “Why then was Jesus killed? If He was a good man and a great prophet, why did the Jews kill Him? They killed him because He claimed to be God.”
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me,
Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. - John 14:9
The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." - John 10:33 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. - John 5:18
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." - John 8:58
We have options to decide what we think about Jesus, but simply a good man is not one of them.
Second implication of Jesus as God with us: We will never be alone. God with us doesn’t simply mean that Jesus came as God and then He left. Jesus as God with us means that He is always with us if we believe. Do you know the last words of Jesus that Matthew records? And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:20.
God with us means God, through the Holy Spirit, is always with us. No matter how stressful things are. No matter how scary things are. No matter how lonely things are. No matter how frustrating things are. He will always be with us. But what if at this point you’re thinking, “Jim, I hear you, but I just don’t feel God with me right now.”
If that’s you, I want you to know that I have been in seasons like that. I have walked with many through seasons like that. If you’re here today and you don’t feel like God is with you, my question to you is this: are you seeking Him? You could be a Christian or a non-Christian and my the question is the same. If you aren’t a Christian, the answer is simple. You don’t feel God because you don’t believe. But that could all change right now if you seek Him.
For the Christian, I have two thoughts. First, is their sin in your life that is preventing you from experiencing the presence of God through His Holy Spirit? That could be the reason you don’t feel Him.
Second. If there is no overt, unconfessed sin in your life, then look in the Psalms and you see men who don’t feel God, but they keep seeking Him as He instructs. Look at Psalm 13: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? - Psalm 13:1
You’re not a alone, but just because we don’t sense God doesn’t mean He’s not here. Psalm 27: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! - Psalm 27:14
Psalm 40: 1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. - Psalm 40:1-3
For all of us, if we seek God, even in difficult or dry seasons, we will find Him. But there is a third aspect to God with us that goes beyond enduring the trials of this life. If we seek God, through Jesus, we will be saved. Verse 21: She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." - Matthew 1:21
I’m willing to bet that whatever it is that we think is our biggest problem at the moment, it’s not. Our biggest problem is our sin. Now, notice I didn’t say ‘sins’ I said ‘sin’ (Credit Alistair Begg). Our biggest problem isn’t the bad decisions we make, but the underlying disease that causes us to think wrongly and to act wrongly. Sin is our natural inclination to tell God, “I know how to run my life.” And this inclination comes with an eternal death penalty. But the promise in the birth of Jesus is that there is another way. And ‘being saved’ doesn’t just mean getting off the hook. The promise here is so much more.
There is a reason that little girls love stories of a damsel in distress being saved by a prince. Why a prince? Why not an average joe who gets her out and says goodbye? Because a prince doesn’t just save her from something, he saves her to someone. She doesn’t just get out of the dungeon, she gets a whole new life full of riches and love. This is more akin to the kind of saving this Jesus would bring.
This world is temporary, but one day, He will come back, we will be saved and the fourth implication of Jesus being God with us will happen: we will be with Him forever. We aren’t just saved from something, we are saved to someone.
All of human history since the garden has been a yearning to be with God. We have always had to settle for small temples. A temple is a meeting place between God and man. The tabernacle was a temple, the temple was obviously a temple, Jesus physically on the earth was a form of temple and now we who have the Holy Spirit within us are a temple. But we await a day when the whole universe will be a temple and we will live fully in the presence of God. That’s the hope of Revelation, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. - Revelation 21:3
If Jesus is really God with us, in the words of one pastor (Tim Keller), it will cause a crisis in our lives. All of us who are presented with the Jesus of the Bible will have a
crisis. Like the Jews of the first century we will have to run, fight or bow. There is no other option. We cannot with any intellectual integrity say good things about Jesus, but not bow. He purposely closed that door to us.
Joseph’s crisis was when he found out the woman betrothed to him was pregnant by another man. He resolved to divorce her, but God intervened by sending an angel. Joseph was commanded to not be afraid and to marry her. In other words, when Joseph was presented with his crisis, he decided to bow. Joseph’s confusing situation meant that to believe God would have brought him certain shame and embarrassment and it will for many of us as well. We can run, we can fight or we can bow.
This crisis isn’t only a one time thing. There is a first moment of crisis for all of us when we are confronted by the claims of Jesus’ divinity. But this crisis, for every Christian, will rear its head over and over throughout our life. There will be times we want to run from Jesus, times we are tempted to fight what Jesus is asking of us. And when it does, we must continually choose to bow. This is the Christian life. And to those who bow over and over again, to those who endure awaits everlasting love and riches.
Have you noticed that the New Testament writers really don’t talk about the birth of Christ that much? Have you noticed that Mark and John really don’t talk about it? Is it because it’s not that important? Certainly not. It’s because Christmas by itself doesn't fix our problems. Only Jesus return will.
Joni Eareckson Tada says that, “Every Christmas is still a ‘turning of the page’ until Jesus returns.” So, this Christmas let’s use the occasion of the first coming to focus us on the second. Let’s look at the first coming as a down payment of sorts to draw our hearts for the day when He will return not as a baby, but as the God/man coming to establish His reign in every part of this universe.