Faith in the Lord
December 23, 2007
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 Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
A. Nazareth was a small and insignificant town. Nothing great or noteworthy ever happened in Nazareth until this day. Isolated in a small sheltered valley, built on a hill, this little city was home to a simple family who had a daughter named Mary. She was probably around 14 years old. She was betrothed. Betrothed is like being engaged but betrothal in that day meant more than it does today. Being betrothed meant that Mary’s father had entered into a formal agreement for marriage with the groom’s father. Joseph’s father had already paid a bride price to Mary’s father. The betrothal was legally binding. It was a pre-marriage marriage. They had pledged their faithfulness. The engagement could not be broken except through divorce. Mary would be called Joseph’s wife and Joseph would be called Mary’s husband even though they had not become married yet. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who was from the house of David.
B. On this seemingly routine day in Nazareth, something spectacular was about to happen. The angel, Gabriel, was visiting the quiet, hidden town of Nazareth. Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary was disturbed by this to say the least. An angel was addressing her. Then Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Then Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Can you imagine? How amazing and wonderful and shocking. Mary’s response is absolutely beautiful. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Then Gabriel left.
C. How many minutes or hours did Mary just sit and wonder, think, imagine, cry, and laugh? What was going through her heart and mind? No eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has in store for His people. She could never have guessed. This was more than the wildest imagination could produce. This was amazing. The Savior of the world was coming. And she would be his mother.
D. Mary went and visited Elizabeth for three months. After that visit, she was three months pregnant and now she was returning home. She was pregnant. She knew how and why. But now she had to tell Joseph. What must that conversation have been like? Did she try to convince him? Did Mary cry? How did Joseph respond? Did he talk to her? Was he angry? I can hear the questions – “Why, who was it, why?” What did Mary say when he asked who the other person was? In whatever Mary told him, he either did not know or he did not believe that she was pregnant because of God’s predetermined plan, because of God’s story. All Joseph saw was promises broken and unfaithfulness. For Mary, it must have in that moment seemed confusing and somewhat hopeless. To have her husband seeking to divorce her. Can you imagine the emotions that must have accompanied this situation? How could she bring God’s Son into the world as a woman divorced because of the accusation of adultery? It was an unbelievable situation. She was pregnant as a virgin headed toward divorce because of being falsely accused of adultery. What would she do? Just what she had been doing all along. She would believe in the Lord.
E. Mary exhibited incredible faith in God.
1. She had more questions than we can imagine. Gabriel’s explanation did not warn her or give her answers to her questions but she still believed. She did not need all the answers because she knew and believed in God. She believed that God was trustworthy and what He had said was enough for now. She did not let what she knew or didn’t know inspire doubts but instead inspire faith. Mary believed that nothing is impossible with God.
2. I love what Anselm said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand. The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof…and the worshipping heart needs none.” Do you know what this unbelievable and very scary circumstance brought into Mary’s life? Faith. She believed God and she didn’t have to have all the answers. She had God and His promise and that was enough.
A. Joseph was an upright, morally just man. He was to marry his beautiful and pure bride. Remember, Mary was favored by God and must have been an amazing young lady. But the young woman who was a perfect choice for Joseph was found to be pregnant. How could he have missed a flaw such as this in Mary? And who was this one and where was he who was party to this sin? Joseph probably was trying to figure out how and when it happened. Mary had abruptly gone to Elizabeth’s house for three months and now returned several months pregnant. His wife to be was unfaithful. He could humiliate her like he was humiliated. He could put her to shame like he was feeling shame. But being the just man he was he determined to divorce her in private instead of publicly, to prevent more shame. I am sure he couldn’t believe this was happening to him. It was an unbelievable state of affairs.
B. Joseph having considered all his options was ready to carry out the divorce when Gabriel showed up one night in a dream. He announced to Joseph that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. He said that the child that she was carrying was, in fact, the Son of God. He would save His people from their sins. Gabriel told Joseph that he would be privileged with naming the Son of God, “Jesus.” Can you imagine? The unbelievable became the unimaginable. He knew now there was hope for his marriage. They would not divorce. Not only that but now there was real hope for Israel. He woke from his sleep and I am sure, ran to see Mary because he believed in God. Even though, Joseph had many reasons to be afraid. What would people say, what would happen to them in the future, how would he find a job with this new reputation? Still, he chose to believe. He had God and his promise and that was enough.
C. Joseph showed up at Mary’s house. Maybe he was crying with tears of joy, streaming down that strong face, and the words came – “Mary, I believe you, I believe you, I will not divorce you. I will take care of you. His name will be Jesus and He will save us all from our sins.” Can you imagine the celebration they shared knowing that what was happening to them was the plan of God, the story of God, to save the world? It was a celebration born from a decision to trust in the Lord.
III. The decision to believe
A. Mary and Joseph both trusted the Lord. They believed and obeyed and God did exactly what He told them he would do. Mary had a son and they called his name, Jesus. When Jesus was born and they held that little baby boy, at that moment all their trust must have seemed so rewarding. They were not disappointed. No feelings of shame. Joseph and Mary certainly knew that the Old Testament told them that those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame (Isaiah 28:16; 49:23). Joseph had felt shame; he wanted to try to alleviate Mary from even more shame by quietly divorcing her, shame, nothing but shame. But when they trusted the Lord there was no shame. They trusted the Lord and He delivered on his word. Had to be an incredible experience.
B. Did you realize through this story, God’s story, that we have a very similar opportunity? We have decisions to make about trusting the Lord as well. We are in no less an unbelievable situation ourselves.
a) We have sinned against God and earned the wages of our sin which is death. We have no hope apart from a Savior. We have no hope apart from God intervening on our behalf. And that is nearly unimaginable, that God would intervene on behalf of those who are at enmity with him, who have rebelled against him and turned to sin. And yet that is exactly what God did. The unimaginable happened. He sent Jesus Christ to be our savior, to mediate on our behalf, in the midst of our guilt and shame. So that those with shame don’t have to be disappointed any longer.
a) Jesus came as the king in the kingly ling of David. He came as High priest. He came as the Savior of the world. The angel Gabriel told both Mary and Joseph to name the baby, Jesus. His name means, “The Lord saves.” Jesus is the Savior.
b) Angels announced his birth saying (Luke 2:10-14), “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
c) The prophets prophesied of the coming of the savior. Isaiah (7:14) told of the virgin birth, the baby to be called Immanuel over 700 years before Mary and Joseph were even born.
d) Immanuel means God with us. Jesus was God’s Son born of a virgin. The virgin birth is one of the essentials of the faith. The virgin birth is a clear reminder that salvation does not come from our efforts but from God’s. God’s son was born of a virgin because of God’s plan of salvation.
e) Jesus’ virgin birth also points to another essential doctrine of the faith. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus was born of Mary, descended from Abraham. He was born a man, lived as a man, and died as a man. He was fully man. But he was also fully God. His origin is not like ours. He was born of a virgin because the Holy Spirit came upon Marry with the power of the Most High overshadowing her and she conceived a child because of God’s plan to become a man to be the savior of the world. He is fully able to bear our sins and to die for us because he was a man. His humanity allowed for him to be our substitute in death for sin. The only way Jesus could be the mediator between both God and man was to be both fully man and fully God. Jesus was wholly able to bear our sins and pay the wages of the sins of the world as God, offering forgiveness and life to all who trust in Him. Without being fully man, Jesus could not have bore our sins. Without being fully God Jesus could not have absorbed the full penalty of sin on our behalf. A finite being could not bear the full penalty of the sins. Only the infinite God could bear that penalty. Salvation is clearly from God and only God could save.
f) Jesus is the Savior and is fully man and fully God. Jesus is the savior of the world. There is no one like him. Jesus is the Christ. He is the gift of God. He is the Savior of the world.
3. Mary and Joseph were unbelievable people. Mary was favored by God. Joseph was a just man. Didn’t matter how good they were, they still had to believe. Without faith in God, their lives would have been so different. A vast disappointment and full of shame if they did not believe. Faith led them into life, into hope, into a life of no shame. It is the same with us.
4. If you don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he is the King, that he is the only savior, that forgiveness for sins only comes through him then you will end up with an unimaginable amount of shame and disappointment, an eternity separated from the God who sent you a Savior. But if you trust in Jesus, you will not be put to shame and you will never be disappointed. In fact, all the shame from all your sin will be washed away and you will be made white as snow and when you die you will not die but you will pass from this life into eternal life, a life for which Jesus died so that all who believe in him will never be disappointed. You have Jesus Christ and His promises to save – and that should be enough. It should be enough because of who Jesus is. He is the Savior. He is the King and He has come to save all those who trust in Him from their shame. Jesus Christ is the Savior.
IV. Deacons come forward - Communion
A. Deacons and Communion - I Cor. 11:23-25
B. We were never told by Jesus to celebrate His birth. I suppose He never told us because it would just be natural for us to celebrate His birth. I am so glad we have set aside a day per year that we make special effort to celebrate Christ’s birth. I love the Christmas celebration. In our celebration of His birth, we should take notice of the fact that Jesus did tell us to remember His death. We are to remember that he was born in a stable that we might live in His mansion forever. We are to remember that He was born to suffer that we might be set free from sin. We are to remember that He was born to be rejected so that we might be received in glory. He was acquainted with sorrows that we might be acquainted with joy. He was born to die that we might live. And with every gift we give and every gift we receive this Christmas, may we remember that He gave His life as His gift for us. Pass the bread and Prayer.
C. We must celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection at the same time we celebrate His birth. Without His death for us, his birth would offer us only condemnation. Without His resurrection, celebrating his birth would be in vain, completely foolish. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because God’s predetermined plan resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, Jesus was not just put to death by people who rejected Him; he was put to death because of the story of God. This plan was God’s story so that we might experience the forgiveness of our sin. Because we earned the wage of death for our sin, God laid on Christ all that we earned so that we might receive, through faith in Christ, eternal life, a gift of grace – free to us, costing the Son of God his very life. And God raised Jesus up from the dead and brought an end to the agony of death. Jesus Christ could not be held in the grave. He overcame sin and death. And now those who believe in Jesus Christ have eternal life with no shame. That is the message of Christmas. Pass the juice – prayer.
D. [Invitation to trust Christ and talk to someone.] After the disciples experienced the Lord’s Supper, they all sang a song together (Matthew 26:30). I want us to sing a song of celebration together in leaving today. May we go out celebrating Christ this Christmas. Remember the prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would be called, “Immanuel, God with us?” Do you remember Jesus’ last words before he ascended to heaven? To those who trust Him, Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” If you trust Jesus, you will not be disappointed. That is a wonderful reason to celebrate Christmas.
Stein, R. H. (2001, c1992). Vol. 24: Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.