How did you pick the names of your children? When my wife, Julie, and I were choosing a name for our firstborn son, we picked Sam because it seemed like a good, strong name. When our daughter came along a few years later, we named her Martha because when our friend, Charlie Shedd, talked about his wife Martha, her name would roll off his lips like music as if it was the most beautiful name and person in the world. So we learned to love the name, too.
Names are an interesting thing, when you think about it. When we look at names in the Bible, we see they take on greater significance than just distinguishing one person from another. In fact, in Hebrew thought, a name was extremely significant.
Names weren’t chosen because it reminded them of Aunt Hilda or Uncle Harold. Parents chose names that would embody the personality and characteristics they wanted to see developed in their child. We also see the importance of a name in the New Testament. In times of crisis – if a person’s life or outlook changed – often their name was changed. Saul became Paul, for instance. When Jesus got hold of Peter, his name was Simon. Later Jesus changed it to Peter, which was in effect the name Rocky.
In today’s reading from Matthew, we’re looking at the name Christians declare as the name above all names. The story begins with a man named Joseph, who was very troubled. He had been betrothed to Mary. This commitment was far deeper than what we know today as an engagement. It was almost the same as being married without living together or having sexual relations. Midway through this engagement period, Mary became pregnant. Joseph, knowing the child couldn’t be his, was hurt and confused. Being a righteous man, but also kind, Joseph decided he would quietly break off plans with Mary in such a manner as to not publicly disgrace her. But just as he was about to do that, God’s angel spoke to Joseph in a dream and gave him some insight and direction as to what he should and shouldn’t do next.
Throughout Scripture, God frequently spoke to biblical characters through dreams. If you sense God is speaking to you through a dream, I would advise you to check it with Scripture before you follow through or act on it.
Joseph received his message in a dream. God’s message to Joseph was this: Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for this child within her is a special child conceived by the Holy Spirit. (Just as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary . . . “) The messenger is telling Joseph this is no ordinary child. This child is both God and man. In fact, a few moments later, Matthew describes Jesus as Immanuel, God with us.
I like this statement by the great author and theologian C. S. Lewis as he describes the amazing virgin birth of Jesus. “Jesus was conceived when God took off the glove of nature and touched Mary with his naked finger. Thus Jesus did not evolve up and out of history.”
Jesus is the Son of the Father from eternity, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man. Many people have come to understand and believe this about Him after a lot of reflecting and research, like John who wrote in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, . . . and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word (meaning Jesus) became flesh and lived among us. We have seen His glory, as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” John then goes on to say, “No one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Jesus is no ordinary child. He is God in the flesh.
God’s messenger also went on to tell Joseph this (and it’s where I want to focus today): “She shall have a Son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This statement answers the very question we have been addressing in this sermon series, “What Child Is This?” It’s the name that says it all, for it literally means, “the Lord saves.” This child will one day save His people from their sins, the messenger said. What child is this? This child is our Savior! He is the infinite God man who came to save us from our sins, which is our greatest problem.
I love this saying I came across years ago:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so He sent us a Savior.
You and I have a deeply-rooted problem; we are sinners, rebels going our own way before God. We are self-centered, egocentric, by nature sinful and unclean, looking out for number one and trying to run our own lives without God. In essence, we are trying to be our own gods. The Bible tells us the consequences for sin is death: spiritual death, no relationship with the God who created us, and an eternity spent without Him.
But here is the good news: While we were still sinners, rebels, enemies, God in His love gave us His Son. He came after us to save us from sin and death and the power of the devil.
Some of us believe we are a really good person. We compare ourselves with others, believing God grades on a curve. I may not be perfect, but at least I’m better than that person! However, the Bible says ALL of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not one of us can stand before God with our spiritual resume and say Look! I deserve to have a relationship with You and get into Your heaven, God. No, we fall way short. We lack perfection in God’s sight.
Let’s pretend God started an all-universe Hall of Fame called heaven. If you consistently play errorless baseball batting a thousand – let’s say for at least a dozen years – you can get in. Impossible, right? Even Miguel Cabrera, who’s probably the best hitter in baseball, can’t play up to those standards. Likewise, you and I as spiritual beings cannot live up to the standards necessary to have an eternal relationship with God in heaven. On our own, we always fall short.
God, who loves us, is a just and holy God. He can’t simply ignore our sinfulness. He can’t allow the impure into His heaven. This is sinful humanity’s problem. However, God provided the solution. This is what makes the gift of a Savior so special. While we were hopelessly, helplessly lost, God in His mercy and grace gave us a Savior – Jesus. He grew up, became a man and lived the perfect life of obedience, which made Him the perfect sacrifice to pay for your sins and mine.
This is exactly what Jesus did for us; He sacrificed His life. He allowed Himself to be crucified on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem as a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He took our punishment upon Himself. The greatest transaction in history took place at the cross. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and endured the wrath of God’s holy judgment at the cross. Now He offers you and me His saving cover of righteousness. Through His sacrifice, there is forgiveness for my sinfulness. Jesus saves. He is the Savior everyone needs.
I came across a little devotional years ago by a fellow named Paul Richardson. He writes, “There it stood – the best tree in the lot. It was the second Christmas of our married life, and, with newlywed-like impulse, we decided to forgo the 2′ high plastic tree that graced our coffee-table the year before. We had found the perfect tree instead. It was wide at the base and came to a perfect point on top. With blissful Christmas cheer we paid the $25, moved it into our ‘77 Chevy Citation, and drove to our apartment.
“I cleared a spot next to the couch and set it up in the corner. At least I tried to set it up in the corner. Our perfect tree immediately fell turning our tree stand into green and red scrap metal. Another tree stand and multiple attempts only brought about the same problem. The tree just wouldn’t stand up! When I probed into the forest of green needles, I discovered our perfect tree had a huge flaw. The base of the tree began straight and centered, but the middle of the trunk contorted into pretzel-like twists, bending this way and that, but coming out straight at the top. It was perfect on the outside but hopelessly flawed within. It could never stand on its own.
“In our not-so-perfect Christmas tree, I saw the story of Christmas. On the outside we like to show that we have it all together, but inside we know differently. Hurts, pains, disappointments, anger, and bitterness. Worse yet, the Bible says our souls are contorted by sin. No matter how many ornaments my wife and I hung on our tree, we knew it could never stand on its own. Likewise, no matter how many ornaments we attach to our lives, we can never be right with God on our own.
“The Christmas story is not about God seeing how nice we were and coming down to spend time with sweet people. It’s the story of God seeing twisted, hurting, sinful people and coming down to die for us. It’s a story about love. God came to save us from sin, and while it entailed the joy of a new baby being born, it ended up with Jesus taking our sins upon Himself and dying as our substitute on the cross.”
What do we do with this discovery that has been revealed to us in this message? Matthew’s Gospel puts the spotlight on Joseph and shows us. Joseph believed the message and acted upon it. He awoke from sleep and counted on the promises of God. He went into action.
How about you? Have you awakened to this word from God of what He’s done for you through Jesus Christ and acted on it? Have you received it? That is what we are called to do. Here is the answer: Just receive Him. Like the Christmas carol says,
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may here His coming, but in this world of sin.
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
When Jesus enters in, you will be saved. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer