Matthew 1:21 | Christmas Rejoice!

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Christmas is just a few short days away. I love it. Christmas is one of two main holidays that Christians celebrate. Easter is the other holiday and it is in many ways more important, less celebratory, but more reflective. I love both and what they mean for me as a Christian. Christmas and Easter are linked from the very first Christmas. Part of that link is one of the things that seems odd when we read the Christmas Gospel. The Angel tells Joseph to call the child “Jesus” and then references the prophecy of Isaiah that says his name will be “Immanuel”.

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). Matthew 1:21-23 ESV

I am familiar with the name Immanuel because it is part of the Christmas tradition every year. One of my favorite Christmas songs is centered around this name. It is an old hymn hundreds of years old even before being translated from Latin to English generations ago.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

Matthew was kind enough to translate Immanuel from Hebrew for us so that we can know the name means “God with us”. Jesus being born of a virgin is God himself taking on the form of a man. God with us is a profound thing to contemplate. Could it be that the Creator of all things would limit himself to the physical form of a baby? God is giving himself as a gift to all people. Rejoice! Because a king is coming to restore Israel. A king is coming to set right all the wrongs. A king is coming to provide the ransom to those in captivity. Matthew in the opening genealogy of chapter 1 takes extra care to make sure the audience knows that Jesus is linked to king David and Abraham as the rightful king of Israel.

 

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 ESV

 

If the prophecy said the son’s name would be Immanuel then why did the Angel instruct Joseph to name the baby “Jesus”? The Angel hints at the reason by telling Joseph exactly what this baby will accomplish in life.

 

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 ESV

 

This baby who is God with us will “save his people from their sins”. God has come, Rejoice!, to save people from their sins. If God coming to earth in the form of man is profound then God coming to earth to save humanity is even more amazing and that is a nod to the future reflective holiday in Easter. What is required of Jesus in order to save his people, the ransom to be paid, comes at an extreme price.

 

Jesus is not a random name. The Angel was instructed to provide this name because this name also reveals more of God’s intention for Immanuel.  Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation”. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Yĕhowshuwa`” which means “Jehovah saves”. Matthew’s audience would have understood Jehovah to be the formal name of the one true God. The name Jesus literally means “God Saves” and Immanuel is the promise that God is present and God has not abandoned his creation. Do not believe those that think God does not exist or that God is not an active participant in this life. God is with us now and God is actively involved.

 

Salvation belongs to the Lord [Jehovah]; your blessing be on your people! Psalms 3:8 ESV

 

Jesus is God and Jesus saves. Jesus will save people from their sins. The Angel as a messenger of God is revealing the next step of God’s grand plan to restore Creation and to reconcile people. This baby we celebrate today will save us tomorrow. Does this king know you? Will he count you numbered in His kingdom? Dear reader if you have not already done so now is the time call on Jesus “God Saves”.

Isaiah 9:6 | Christmas Gift

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Christmas is upon us. The celebration should be about the birth of Jesus more than the consumerism, but I still enjoy the lights and everything about Christmas except for my expanding waistline. One well known Old Testament promise that foretells the birth of Jesus is found in Isaiah chapter 9. The people of Israel wanted to be an autonomous nation free from the constant threats of evil kingdoms around them. Unfortunately, Israel looked more like the evil nations around them than they looked like a nation called by the one true God. But God in his mercy wanted them to have hope and to trust in him first.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 ESV

The messiah would be a winning King. He would lift the nation above all the other nations and everyone would bow to his authority. The Disciples recognizing Jesus as the messiah were excited for him to establish that kingship and take over the world. Jesus would destroy the hated roman empire and then Jesus would establish the Disciples as the new rulers of all the people. John and James even pull Jesus aside and tell him they want the left- and right-hand spots in his kingdom. Presumably they want the most important and powerful roles when this promised child comes into power.

37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  … 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Mark 10:37; 41 ESV

When we read the prophecy of the Old Testament about the birth of Jesus it is no wonder the disciples had expectations about what Jesus came to do. Not until after his death, burial, and resurrection did they finally understand God’s timeline. Even the night Jesus was arrested Peter was expectant of a war that Jesus would win. One can imagine the disciples looking at Jesus as the Soldiers came to arrest him. “Jesus! Now? Now is the hour? We will win with your power!”

49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Luke 22:49-51 ESV

Here is more text of the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 9. The disciples were confused because they knew these verses. This promise was built into their very culture.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

If the baby was not born to sit on the throne of King David and reestablish the nation of Israel then did God fail? How could the disciples be so wrong about Jesus? How could God have failed? God has promised to do this out of his own “zeal” so it will be accomplished. The disciples were not wrong. God had not failed. God’s plans will always be accomplished, but up until this point, even today, God has not established Jesus on a throne. This brings us back to Christmas and why it is so wonderful. Let us look at the birth announcement that came the night of this amazing birth.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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!” Luke 2:10-14 ESV

The birth of Jesus came with a proclamation of peace on earth. Peace between God and men. Jesus represents the greatest act of mercy and outreach to all people the world over. Even today Christmas songs sing of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. The disciples were ready for Jesus to crush their enemies. Jesus came to die for their enemies. The Disciples were ready to rule over everyone. Jesus came to serve the world with his perfect sacrifice. Even today Christians would do well to take note of this example from Jesus.

Christmas is the opening act of the prophecy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”. Let us live in this moment and take inventory of where we stand with God. Have we embraced the wonderful gift he has given through Jesus. That gift is reconciliation with the Creator of all things. There is nothing greater that could be given this Christmas than a relationship with God himself.

the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 6:23b ESV

The Greatest Gift

The weeks leading up to Christmas are busy. Wrapping up school before the break begins, winding down projects at work, or beginning the always insane shopping season for gifts are just starters. In the quiet before sleep at the end of a crazy day I want to contemplate the greatest gift ever given since we are in the middle of this giving season. Personally that might be the gift my wife gave me at Christmas years ago, a copy of Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, as way of telling me we would be parents for the first time eight months from that Christmas season. While memorable it is not the greatest gift ever. There is something greater than that gift. It is a gift even more personal, more lasting, and more amazing. I am reminded of this gift in a powerful way by the classic carol Hark the herald angels sing

“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

I am hit by the words “God and sinners reconciled” and I realize that line sums up the greatest gift ever given from one person to another. God the Creator wraps Himself up in the flesh of a man, humbling Himself as a servant, to reconcile Himself to His Creation. Yes you heard that right. God became a man, Jesus, to reconcile you and me to Himself.

Satan called Jesus the “Son of God”

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:3 ESV

Jesus called God his Father.

In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:17-18 ESV

It is this claim that got him killed.

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” John 19:7 ESV

How is it that Jesus, whom we celebrate in the Christmas season reconciles God and sinners? Because Jesus is God in flesh giving Himself up in our place. We have rebelled and run from God. God’s perfect love provided a way to reconcile what God’s perfect judgment had condemned. As a gift God provided Himself as punishment on our behalf.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 ESV

That is right, God’s gift of Jesus once accepted is reconciliation which is life itself. I have accepted Jesus and therefore the gift made me, a dead man, alive. Have you accepted this gift? We celebrate this gift every year as the most joyous time of the year for good reason. Do not reject, leave unopened, or ignore the greatest gift ever given.