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December 24, 2017 The Incarnation

 

READ Matthew 1:18-23.

 

Christmas is almost upon us. It is the day that many followers of Christ celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior. We do not know the true date of Jesus’ birth and December 25th was chosen by the ancient church in order to persuade new converts to cease celebrating a pagan holiday, Saturnalia, and instead celebrate an event that was real: the incarnation of the true God, the birth of Christ. Despite the date’s pagan origins it is good to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and God is in the habit of transforming pagan things into good things.

 

Our text this morning tells us that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. She was engaged to Joseph when this happened and Joseph was unaware that she had been impregnated without the agency of man. So, he was going to divorce her secretly. The word for “divorce” here simply means “to release” or “to send away.” Joseph assumed that she had been unfaithful.

 

But an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him that her conception was by the Holy Spirit. The angel said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus…” The name Jesus is the Greek form of the name Yahshua or Joshua. Mary would have heard “Yahshua,” which means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh delivers,” Yahweh being God’s name in Hebrew.

 

In America, most parents name their children names that are either popular at the time or names that have a pleasant sound to the ear. In ancient Israel they gave their children names after a close relative or because of the meaning of the name.

 

Yahshua was a popular name in Jesus’s time. Parents often named their children names that would give them hope. The “saving” designated by the name Yahshua meant saving the people of Israel from their oppressors because the Jews were frequently oppressed by other nations. They wanted to be set free. But the angel specifies that it would not be the typical salvation from foreign oppression that the child would save the Israelites from, but he would save them from their sins. No mere human could save people from their sins. This is the second clue that the child was more than human.

 

Matthew then comments that this all was to fulfill what was spoken by Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel. He further comments that the name means “God with us.” This is the incarnation. The word “incarnation” derives from the Latin word incarnatio, which means “being made flesh.” It is a good word!

 

The name Immanuel was the name of a baby boy in Isaiah’s time,  the prophet’s own son, but (as with other names) it simply meant that during his life that God would be with his people in delivering them from Syria to the north. It was a name of hope. But the near fulfillment for Isaiah would point to a time 700 years later when a child would be born who would fulfill in a greater and truer way the name Immanuel. This child would be, in reality, God with us. God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ!

 

Later in the gospel of Matthew Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” There were many answers then just as there are still many answers now.

 

  • Muslims say that he was just a prophet like all the other prophets.
  • Mormons say that he is the spirit brother of Lucifer.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses say that he is Michael the archangel.
  • New Agers say that he was an avatar, an enlightened messenger, and we can all become avatars.
  • Humanists say that he was just a good teacher.

 

But Jesus Himself and his apostles identify him as undiminished Deity. After his resurrection he appeared to his disciples but Thomas was not present. He did not believe that his Lord has risen. He didn’t believe the testimony of the other disciples. Eight days later Jesus appeared to them again and this time Thomas was with them. When he saw Jesus and was able to touch him he said: “My Lord and my God.” Did Jesus rebuke him for calling him God? No, he did not. Instead, he said, “You have believed.” (John 20:29) Thomas believed three things:

 

  • That Jesus rose from the dead
  • That he is Lord
  • And that he is God.

 

We must believe these three things. Oh, these are beautiful things to believe!

 

  • The resurrection proves that Jesus is who he claimed to be. It also gives us an assured hope of our won resurrections yet to come. Death is not the final gate.
  • His Lordship is what we need. We need someone to guide us and direct us because we cannot rightly guide our own lives. If we did not have a Lord each one would do what is right in his own eyes and we are too foolish to know what is right all of the time. But we have Someone who is right all the time!
  • His Deity, the truth that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh, communicates to us how much God loves us. God did not just send anyone. He came Himself in the Person of His Son.

 

Jesus and Thomas are not alone in their testimony that Jesus is God. There are many passages of Scripture that testify to this wonder. Three stand out above the rest. And, they are easy to remember: John chapter 1, Colossians chapter 1, and Hebrews chapter 1.

 

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then, in verse 14, John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word became flesh! That is the incarnation. God came to earth!

 

Colossians 1:15-16; 19. READ.

 

Hebrews 1:8-9. READ. Here, God the Father calls his Son “God!” What greater testimony do we need? In verses 10-12 the author is quoting Psalm 102. It is revelatory to see that Psalm 102 is clearly speaking about the God of heaven and earth!

 

The Incarnation, what we celebrate at Christmastime, is surely one of the two greatest events in history (the other being the resurrection). Let me ask this question. How ought the Incarnation impact us? How should we react to it?

 

  • Some people react to it by ignoring it.
  • Others react to it by avoiding it. They make the celebration of Christmas all about Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves.
  • Others react to it by bringing lawsuits to anyone who puts up a Nativity display on public property or who use the word “Christmas.”
  • Some react to it by celebrating Christmas, even focusing on the birth of Christ, but then seem to forget the significance of it all the rest of the year.

 

When we realize and are convinced of the truth that God has visited us in the Person of the Son, that Christ stepped off of the throne, emptied Himself, and condescended to become an infant, grow to manhood, and suffer it ought to change our life. How?

 

Answering another question will guide us in an answer for this question. How does who Christ is affect the inhabitants of heaven?

 

In Revelation chapters four and five the apostle John is granted a great privilege. He is given a vision of heaven and records what he sees and hears on our behalf. In chapter four God the Father is worshiped. In chapter five the Lamb, which is Christ, is with God and he, too, is magnified.             And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

            be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

(Revelation 5:13 ESV)

 

We see that the inhabitants of heaven, as well as those on earth, desire and attribute four things to the Father and to Christ: blessing, honor, glory, and might. Of these four, three are within the power of the creature to give and one is not. The last one, might or power, the creature cannot give to the Creator. The Creator must give that to himself. The first three are. Therefore, let us consider these three. These are things that we may give to Christ.

 

These are things we ought to give to Christ by virtue of who he is.

 

[1] We ought to give blessing to Christ because He is God incarnate.

            [A] What is blessing? The word in the original language is ευλογια. The root of this word is logia, which is the word for “speaking.” The prefix is eu which means “good” or “well.” Not only is the literal meaning of the word “well-speaking,” but the actual meaning is as well. There is a difference, however, in the way the word is used depending upon the subject. If one in great power or authority is doing the well-speaking then it is actualized. For example, when God blesses what He speaks actually comes to pass. He speaks well and the wellness which he speaks happens. Therefore, when God blesses there is a positive change in either our circumstances or in our disposition.

   When we bless, we are simply making pronouncements. If we have the power we can make pronouncements over our fellow human beings and we can even bring them about. But we cannot bring about any positive changes in God for he is already perfect and self-sufficient.

   When we bless the Father or Christ what this means is that we speak well of them.

 It is such a good thing to speak well of Christ!

            [B] We ought to speak well of Christ among the household of the saints.

                        [i] We may speak well of Him in corporate worship. We bless Him in singing songs and faithful preachers will bless Him in their messages. We bless Him in testimonies and prophecies. This is why it is such a good thing to offer testimonies on how faithful the Lord has been to us in our everyday lives. The time of testimonies that we traditionally have near the end of our time of worship is an important time. It is an opportunity to bless the Lord Jesus Christ. Please, brothers and sisters, make use of this time and bless our Lord!

                        [ii] We may also speak well of Him in our personal times with one another. There are two extremes among Christians. One is seen in those who, whenever they are together with other believers, will talk about everything else except the marvel and wonder of Christ. They will talk about baseball, football, their pets, the movies they’ve seen, anything except the Lord. Something is wrong when that is a pattern. How can you love someone and not be thinking about them most of the time?

            We need to get into the healthy habit of enjoying Christ and sharing that joy with fellow saints.

            The less common but other extreme are those who just want to talk about deep theological issues or doctrine all of the time. When I say “talk about doctrine” I mean some like to be contentious and argue about doctrine. The way to solve both of these problems is simply to bless the Lord! Share how good he has been or what you have enjoyed in the Word recently. Of course, this means that you must spend time in His word and maybe that is the reason why so many speak about sports and movies instead of Christ. They are not spending time with The Lord in His word.

            [C] We ought to speak well of Christ among those who do not yet know Him. It can be something as simple as giving our own salvation testimony or just relating, as we might with our spiritual family, what we enjoyed in the Scriptures. You can never go wrong if you speak well of Christ to others. Some may think you are strange, maybe a fanatic, but what will Christ think?

 

Blessing the Lord, speaking well of Him, to others is a natural and right response to the incarnation.

 

[2] We ought to give honor to Christ because He is God incarnate. What does it mean to honor Him? The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother.” What does that mean? It means to obey them! It is so clear. If you are not obeying them then you are not honoring them. If you are obeying them then you are honoring them. Obeying your parents is not the only way to honor them but it is the best and clearest way to honor them.

   So it is with Christ. The best way to honor Him is to obey Him. Know what he says and then do it. Or, don’t do it if he says not to. If you desire to honor Him, if you set your mind to honor Him, and you ask Him to empower you, you can honor Him.

   We ought to obey Christ because of who he is.

 

[3] We ought to give glory to Christ because He is God incarnate. What is glory? Most of us have a general sense of what glory is. It is akin to recognition and admiration. Our son, Clark, won a wrestling tournament two weeks and received the 1st place medal around his neck. That was glory for him. Fleeting glory but glory nevertheless. Last week, he was in an even bigger, two-day tournament where he got fourth place. He still got a medal but got less glory than the other finishers.

 

I grew up during the cold war when Russia and the U.S. had tense relations. There was the threat of nuclear war which heightened during the Cuban missile crisis when the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy sent a naval blockade to prevent any more missiles being deployed and demanded that the ones there be removed. The cold war also produced an intense rivalry between the two countries in many fields of endeavor. In the space race, the Soviet Union and the US were rivals in exploring space and they won the first round by being the first to put a satellite into space in 1957. The Soviet success caused public controversy in the United States, and Eisenhower ordered the civilian rocket and satellite project, Vanguard, to move up its timetable and launch its satellite much sooner than originally planned. The December 6, 1957 Project Vanguard launch failure occurred at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, broadcast live in front of a US television audience. It was a monumental failure, exploding a few seconds after launch, and it became an international joke. The satellite appeared in newspapers under the names Flopnik, Stayputnik, Kaputnik, and Dudnik. In the United Nations, the Russian delegate offered the U.S. representative aid "under the Soviet program of technical assistance to backwards nations.” The Soviet Union won the second round by being the first to put a man in space in 1961, orbiting the earth one time. The U.S. did not orbit the earth until a full year later when John Glenn orbited in 1962.

 

This rivalry was also present in sports during the Olympics. In 1956 the USSR won the Summer Olympics, beating the U.S. by a fair margin: 32 medals to 17. They won again in 1960 by an even larger margin. In 1964 it was, more or less, a tie (we had 6 more gold; they had 6 more total). In 1968 we won. But another intense rivalry was in chess. The Soviet Union dominated chess, winning the world championship for 23 years straight: 1948 -1971! Our whole nation was transfixed in 1972 when a chess genius from New York, Bobby Fischer, who many consider the greatest player of all time, defeated Boris Spassky in Iceland for the world championship. He came from humble beginnings into a famous person. He received a great deal of glory for defeating the Soviet chess machine single-handedly.

 

In the Bible glory still carries the ideas of recognition and admiration, but it is not regarding such mundane things such as scientific accomplishments, athletic endeavors or chess. It is for displaying the moral character and goodness of God. John chapter 1:             And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14 ESV)

 

The reason the original disciples saw Christ’s glory is because He expressed the life of Father.

 

This is glory: to express God! - to express his grace, his truth, and his goodness.

 

The greatest way to give Christ glory is to live Him out. We can and do give Him glory by praising Him with our lips and with our bodies – raising our hands or falling on our knees. But the greatest way to give Him glory is to express Him in our living.

 

Obeying Him, that is honoring Him, is part of this. But it is more than just obeying Him. It is being transformed from within so that we spontaneously reflect Him. This is glory and this is the best way to give Him glory!

 

[Illus] J.I. Packer.

 

Conclusion: Oh, this is Christmas! A celebration of the Incarnation. Let us celebrate not just one day or one week.

 

  • Let us celebrate the Lord coming in the flesh by blessing every day: by speaking well of Him.
  • Let us celebrate the incarnation by honoring Him: by obeying Him daily.
  • Let us celebrate Christmas by glorifying Him: by expressing Him in our daily living.