She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (1:21 NIV).
Christmas is a time for wish lists, whether others give you theirs or you ask what they would like, or others request them from you, or you happily volunteer yours lists to them. We all have items on our lists that we would like to have. Yes, that includes you! We all have plans and purposes that we would like to see happen. By the way, how did your plans turn out this year? Truthfully, this year was nothing like I had hoped for last December. I praise the Lord for the many gracious blessings that he poured out through Christ. But there were many items that I never put on my yearly planner—but God did.
God is the Greatest Planner. The Sovereign, Holy, and Wise God always plans what is best for his glory and for the good of his chosen people. But we do not always see life the way that the Lord of all views it. The history of the first Christmas is a clear example of this difference in evaluation. While a long acquaintance with the story of the birth of Jesus Christ might produce a kind of sentimental charm, it is not the way we would have written the story. A quick reading of the first seventeen verses of Matthew one might leave us with the impression that we have been set up for a glitzy, exciting dramatic account. For in these verses we read of great men, like Abraham and David, and of great events like the exile to Babylon and how God stuck with his people in the long years after that event, since there was still a long line of people who were heirs of the promises made to Abraham and David. Now certainly, God will send the Messiah in regal splendor to crush the oppressors of his people, in order that they might live happily ever after. But if we listen to the story written in God’s word, we can learn much about God’s purposes.
God’s purpose was to send a Savior to save his people from sin (1:18-21). At first glance the way to God’s goal seems very strange.
Joseph, who was a descendant of Abraham and David, is overwhelmed by circumstances that seem to be contrary to God’s law. Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary, whom he esteemed as a good and godly woman. But unexpectedly, she tells him that she is with child, by the creative power of the Holy Spirit. Now Joseph, like any man would be, is rather suspicious and incredulous. After all, all humans are born through the union of a man with a woman, aren’t we? Therefore, he decides to break their engagement, which in that culture required him to divorce her, since an engagement to marry was binding. All Joseph’s dreams for a happy life seem to be crushed.
But the Lord gives Joseph a new dream. It is a dream that involves his heartache. That is often the way the Sovereign Lord of all chooses to work in us and through us. He uses our tragedies to mold his triumphs. This displays his glory and honor in a greater way. He takes what is bitter and makes it sweet. The Lord’s angel verifies the story that Mary has told him. She is expecting because of the Holy Spirit’s power working in her. The Lord tells him to replace his fears with confident action.
God’s message about Mary’s child will be the foundation of a better hope for Joseph and for all God’s people. The Lord makes Joseph a participant in the story. In faith, he is to take Mary as his wife. He must rely on the Lord’s word to do this, for he has no other way of knowing if her account of her pregnancy is true. And in faith Joseph is to name her child Jesus, which means “the Lord saves”. Joseph must replace his fears with a faith that works.
The important point lies in the significance of the name “Jesus”. The son born of the Virgin will be the Savior of his people. But this salvation is not a physical deliverance. Instead, Jesus will rescue his people from their sins—from guilt and condemnation and from the power and finally the presence of sin, which is ruinous and damning.
Here is what Jesus does: When he saves people, he meets their true and basic needs. He saves us from our past, in our present, and for a glorious and joyful future with God forever. The question is, “Has Jesus saved you?” Right now, you may have the best Christmas present that you will ever receive—salvation by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
God’s purpose was also to be with his people (1:22-25). This purpose had been declared seven hundred years earlier through Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 7:14).
Matthew clearly teaches us that Isaiah’s words were significant far beyond the time and setting to which he originally spoke. The wicked King Ahaz had rejected the sign that the Lord offered through Isaiah. So the Lord gave a sign to all Israel. Now the time had come for its fulfillment. Here is an important idea in Matthew and the New Testament Scriptures: promise and fulfillment.
Matthew by the direction of the Holy Spirit applies the words of Isaiah to what happened to Mary. A virgin gave birth to a son. How could this be? It took the power of God. Every hope we have rests on the power of God. Can God do what is otherwise impossible? Yes, God can!
Through the virgin birth, God the Son came to be with his people. Here we encounter what is beyond human comprehension. We can know the fact that the Messiah or Anointed One is both God and man. But how can this be? The Bible never presents a full explanation, but instead presents many facts of Christ’s true deity and true humanity. The Son of Mary is also God over all. This is a mystery (1 Timothy 3:16), and the best response is to worship.
What we must notice and lay hold of is that God did this to be present with his people. This is a great idea of Christmas: God with us. God has a purpose to be with his people forever (Revelation 21:3). God is not far away; he has come near through Jesus the Messiah. The Lord the Son took the form of a servant to save his people and in the process to have an earned lordship over all humanity, because of his obedience to the Father’s will (Philippians 2:5-11). In doing this he makes us citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, where we will be with him forever (Philippians 3:20-21).
As we look forward to being with the Lord forever, free from sin and rejoicing in the glory of God Almighty, we can know that the Lord is still with us, as Jesus the Messiah promised (Matthew 28:18-20). Here is something for you and me as we journey through this world. Life might not work out according to our plans. But all will work out according to God’s plan, because he has planned to be with you and me forever. Believer in Christ, remember this in the days ahead. Everything is all right when the Lord of Glory is with you!
Grace and peace,