3rd Wednesday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, the word of God for our consideration this evening is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 1 (read text)
Joseph was in a bit of a predicament. His bride, Mary, whom he no doubt had strong feelings for was now found to be pregnant. It’s important for us to understand a bit about the marriage customs of this day. It wasn’t as if Mary and Joseph were engaged as we might think of engagement practices today. In this time Joseph and Mary were betrothed perhaps is the best way to put it. Betrothal in this custom was the first stage of marriage. Joseph and Mary had gone and signed the papers and were legally married as husband and wife but they would live separately for some time, even up to a year, before they would have a ceremony and festival after which they would live together as husband and wife. It was during this period of time when Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
But Joseph, knowing that the baby in Mary’s tummy was not his, using his mind and his own reasoning immediately assumed that Mary had been unfaithful to him. He had a right to make the divorce public and accuse Mary of unfaithfulness and tarnish her reputation and even demand that she be stoned for being an unfaithful wife –which was the punishment for being unfaithful in Jewish law. He also had the right to impound Mary’s dowry and even regain the bride price for which he paid her family when they were betrothed. The fact that Joseph had in mind to divorce Mary shows that he affirmed the Bible’s condemnation of adultery as sin, but the fact that he didn’t want her to suffer capital punishment for her sin shows his incredible mercy. So, he was going to divorce her quietly and secretly to spare her any additional shame. So Joseph was finding a way to both be righteous and obey God’s law as well as be compassionate. Is it not ironic that Joseph is for the right reasons, about to do the very wrong thing?
So God has to intervene. There is in this an important lesson for us. Not only does Joseph NOT understand what is going on here, but on his own he simply can’t. On his own and working with his own mind Joseph CANNOT comprehend what is happening- the only option his mind can fathom is that Mary was unfaithful to him. What God is doing here has to be revealed to him from someone, not him, outside of him.
The same is true for us. The ways of God are not possible for us to figure out on our own. In other words it’s utterly impossible for anyone of us to come to faith in God and in His Savior on our own. On our own we can’t understand God, on our own we can’t understand God’s ways, on our own we can’t know the truth and believe it. And this is precisely what we confess in the third article about the Holy Spirit: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.”
It’s essential to understand that God has to reveal to us His purposes, His plans, His program to save us. So, what did God do for Joseph? God intervened. God’s revelation of His plan came in two ways. First, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. And second through God’s Word recorded by the prophet Isaiah. The angel said, “Joseph son of David.” Hmm, son of David, a descendent of great King David, the Savior was going to come from the descendents of David. So Joseph, the son of David, is to take Mary as his wife so the baby to be born from her will legally be Joseph’s son. The legal lineage which was traced through the father and his ancestors would show that Jesus was from the house and line of David. As Luke records Mary was also from the line of David.
And the most important revelation that we could never come up with on our own is part of the angel’s announcement to Joseph: Mary’s child was to be named…Jesus. He wasn’t just to be given any name that the parents thought of; God selected what His name was going to be and revealed it to Joseph. Then God gave the reason for the name: “Because he will save his people from their sins.” You see, the word “Jesus” is from the Hebrew word “Ya-shah”, which means, “to save.” So every time we hear the name “Jesus,” we’re hearing, “Savior.” When we say, “I believe in Jesus,” We’re confessing that we have a Savior! That we’re saved! Talk about a name which means something!
And that thought’s both humbling and uplifting. You see, there’s a reason why we need Jesus to be our Savior. In infinite mercy God has given us His Word in which He reveals to us His will and His works and His ways. God wants us to focus on His Word because it is His gift to us and His tool to work on our hearts, to enlighten our minds, and give us spiritual understanding. So He commands us to dig into His Word with diligence. And yet we fail to do that. We fail to read the Bible at home, fail to do home devotions, fail to come to worship Him, etc. God has given us His Word that is so far greater than our minds and yet so often we let our reasoning get the upper hand and question God or question His ways or doubt His promises to us. But how could that be? How could God give us such clear words and we treat them flippantly and callously? Our hearts are sinful, sin darkens our understanding.
Perhaps most tragically, we fail to appreciate the miracle of … Jesus. Jesus isn’t just a man, He’s GOD! Can you imagine? The Almighty, eternal, all-powerful God was willing to become … one of us! The Almighty, eternal, all-powerful God was willing to become a human being! Can you imagine the greatness of that? Can you imagine the awesomeness of that? Can you imagine the depth of love which God has for us humans, that He’d be willing to do that? And He WAS willing to do that! He DID do that! And I confess quickly, I fail to appreciate the awesomeness of that. I can’t even comprehend the awesomeness of that! What a weak, frail, unknowing, unappreciative human being I am. How much I deserve God’s condemnation. How much I need … a Savior!
And what do you know?!? God names His Son … JESUS! He could have named him whatever He wanted! He could have named him John or Sam or Joe or Gerry or Phil or Bob or whatever He wanted. But He named His Son … Jesus! Why? To reveal to me that I have been saved! To remind me that my sins have been forgiven! To remind me that the full payment for sins was made by God Himself! To remind me that, because Jesus died and rose, I’m going to go to heaven! God named Him “Jesus” to remind me that I can live life with full and complete confidence, knowing that every day of my life, I have a Savior.
And it is that enlightenment, that understanding that makes all the difference in life. God enlightens my mind and my heart every day of who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t just a title, but it’s who He is: my Savior. And that’s the key. Knowing Jesus and who He is is the key that unlocks Scripture and the mind of God. It’s knowing Jesus and who He is that brings true enlightenment to life and the world. It’s knowing Jesus that brings true understanding.
And notice what the angel’s words do. God’s message carries with it the very power to bring about the understanding that is needed: Joseph did exactly what God through the angel told him. So thank the Lord that He uses His Word to enlighten my understanding; to tell me the good news of who Jesus is
The name “Jesus” reminds me that the Almighty, Eternal, All-powerful God … has come to save me! The name “Jesus” reminds me that my sins are forgiven. The name Jesus reminds me that God has come to save me! Amen.