18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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 1:18-23)
The incarnation, the birth of Christ is about much more than what took place on Christmas morning. It is about all the days that have come and gone since then, and all the days that will come. Christ came on what we celebrate as Christmas morning, but His coming affects all of who we are as believers and all we will ever be. As we enter into the new year, we can do so with faith, assurance, boldness, courage, and confidence simply because Christ came.
When Jesus came to this earth He brought to us a grander, more complete understanding of God the Father. We can see God, God the Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which, through His birth, His coming into the world as a baby, and eventually growing up and ministering to people, walking on the earth in a body like ours, all of that helps us to better know the Father, to understand more about God Himself. We get to see deity in human form as we study His life. We get to see Him living under human conditions like we experience daily.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of God the Father, He is very mysterious to me in many ways. He is a Spirit, He is everywhere. That in itself is hard for us to understand and comprehend. What is that like? If God is omnipresent, then that means He is in the remotest parts of the universe. How do we comprehend that? I don’t know what that means, what that looks like, how far that is. I don’t understand things that are infinite. But at the same time, if He is everywhere, omnipresent, then He is also right here with us. He is at the farthest parts of the universe and He’s right here; He’s far and He’s near.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
And we know that, as Scripture speaks of the Father, we can’t see Him.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)
And so when we think about God the Father, we read about Him, we meditate on Him as being a personality, we can do that, we can study the doctrines of God the Father, and yet He may seem distant from us, mysterious, hard to comprehend. That’s how it is for me. It’s hard for me to grasp. He is not like us in that He, the Father, does not have a body, we don’t see Him, we don’t interact with Him as a human, as one we can relate to very well. He may seem distant to us for these reasons.
And I don’t know about you, but it also seems sort of appropriate that we don’t really comprehend Him, that He does seem distant. What I mean is, who am I to be near the almighty God who possesses all power and might? And yet, this most amazing thing happened! It is what we have been reading and singing about during this month of December. The most incredible event took place. Our God who may seem distant in all His might, power, even in mystery, He came near. Not only near in spirit, but even in body.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
God came to us as the Son, with a body. He came to us to be with us in our humanity, as our example to follow, and for our salvation. And also to help us understand that He is not just some alternate personality to God, or of a different nature, because we have this in John 14.
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:9-11)
I love that passage. I love it because it helps me to understand God the Father better. When Jesus came in bodily form, He came representing and in full agreement with the Father on all points, in every conceivable way. There are not two beings, really three including the Holy Spirit, who are in more agreement than they are. We know this because He said, “I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” And so we get to see God the Son on earth, living in conditions and in relationships that we can understand, that we can comprehend. He condescended willingly to that position as a man to help us and to save us.
Many people have said, and maybe you’ve heard people around you say things like, “I really like and appreciate Jesus, but not the God of the Old Testament.” Do you ever hear that? I would say, “How can that be?” They are in essence one, they are in full agreement, they have never had a disagreement, there is no conflict among them! Never has been and never will be.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)
That speaks of the incarnation of Christ, His birth into our world. He came to be with us, God with us, Emmanuel. God with us in the person of Jesus Christ.
As I have been doing some research for a writing project, one part of it has been to simply read through the gospels while focusing on how Jesus, the incarnate God, relates to people, people like you and me. It has been fascinating. I mean to see all the ways God the Son serves, loves, speaks truth, corrects, leads, teaches, shows compassion and care, stands up to false teachers, remains silent at times, prays for and forgives people, is patient with us. It is just fascinating that we get to see, not just a man, but God the Son, in the gospels, living out the character of a divine, holy being. Because Jesus came to this earth in a body, as a baby, we can see Him, in a sense, as we are, except perfect! He became flesh and dwelt among us, John writes. He is Emmanuel, God with us!
And so since He came to the earth, walked around the earth, with people around Him, we have answers to questions like, “How do I treat my neighbor?” Read the gospels! How did Jesus treat His neighbors? Or, “How should I relate to those who might openly oppose me?” Well how did Christ do that? Or, “What does true love look like?” We have His example. “How do I stand for truth when I know others may find it offensive?” We have Jesus Christ to look to through the gospels, the written accounts. We get to see how He lived among people, and as a follower of Christ that ought to be exciting to us. We have a model, we have an example, He is in the Scriptures. And we have this because He came as a man to the earth. This is a significant result of His incarnation, of His birth. He came into our world and He walked among us. God with us.
He also leads us. In Micah we have an Old Testament prophecy of the coming Christ. Here we see how He interacts with us, He leads us, makes us secure forever, and is our peace.
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:4-5)
Jesus came to shepherd His people, to lead, provide for, protect, to show us the way to abundant life. And He is our peace. He has shown us the Father, come near to us, and shepherded us. He gave Himself so that we can be His and follow Him. He came from heaven to earth, He came to live in persecution and to die for us, He has shown us the way and provided that way for our eternal salvation. God has met us, He came to us. He did all the work, everything necessary to make the sacrifice so that we can live with Him. He came as an example, a model, someone we can follow, that we can watch.
But there is of course an even greater reason that He came. He came to save us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
Jesus came not to just give us an example as to how we should live. He didn’t come simply to show us how to relate to others or to respond to circumstances, though those things are important. He came primarily to take care of our most pressing, greatest, most damning problem. He came because we are sinners.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
If this is true, then sin is the problem and the solution is Christ. Simply put, Jesus came to live a perfect life and to die in His sinlessness, for sinners like you and me, in our place, so we can live with Him, without the condemnation that we deserve because of our sin. Jesus came into the world to save us because of our sin.
I think there was a time in our society when that was an easier message to preach. But there is a problem in our modern day thinking with this message. As a society today and maybe even among some of us here today, we may work really hard to try to minimize real sin, or even disregard it altogether. Here is what I mean. From a broad view, I mean culturally, in our culture, we have stopped calling many sins, sin. For a variety of reasons that’s happening. It may seem loving to do that. But if we are not sinners, if our neighbors don’t believe they are sinners, then why would we need to hear a message about salvation from sin? If being an alcoholic is simply a medical disease, or if there is nothing wrong with sexual activity outside of biblical marriage, or if killing an unborn child is simply a woman’s right, or spewing hate speech is just freedom, or if, “I feel like it, it must be okay,” or if rebellion is just what kids do these days, if all these things are true, then what has happened to sin? And why do we need a Savior?
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. To acknowledge personal sin is to begin to understand our need for a Savior. Where sin is acknowledged, hope can then thrive. Hope because Christ can take away sin. I think as believers we need to be careful that we, in an appropriate way, a loving way, call sin sin, and lead others to a loving Savior.
Not only did Jesus enter into our world as God with us and to take away our sins as sinners, but He has promised to always be with us.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
He came to us and He will remain in our lives. His birth, His coming to rescue us by living among us, and His promise of continued involvement with us always is really quite staggering! I read of these things and I think, how can this be? Such compassion on sinners like you and me. But the gospels are clear: He has chosen to love us eternally. From His birth to His death, His life was that of sacrifice.
As we consider the work and life of Christ today, the question I have for you and for me is simply this: if we know Christ has come, has died for our sins, and is coming back, what will our response be to these truths? What would be an appropriate response to knowing that God came and did that for us?
Will we in this season, and in this coming year, will we really choose to live for Him? Will we just say, “Okay, I’m glad to belong to Him, I’m glad He died for me, and I’m glad to have a future in heaven,” or will we say, “Wow, this is amazing! How can I properly respond to these truths and live for Him? What might that look like?”
Christ did walk on this earth. He was here, we read of that and are encouraged by that, but He is no longer bodily on this earth. But we are to be His ambassadors! We are here! We are still here for that purpose. What does your life, my life say about the Lord Jesus Christ? Not just what do we say, but what do we do? How do our lives reflect Jesus Christ?
Are we actively looking at ourselves and saying, “How can I respond to His love for me, how can I represent Jesus Christ well in this world today? In my quiet times, with my family, at work and school, on Facebook, Twitter? Does my life look like one that belongs to Jesus Christ? Am I here just for me, or am I here to make Jesus Christ known? Am I willing to live for Him even if trouble comes from it?” Jesus didn’t hesitate to do that, and we are to be like Him!
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” What does that look like for you?
Part of the glory of knowing Christ is learning to trust Him in this life. It is getting to a place, even if it is extremely uncomfortable at times, of saying in obedience to Him, “Yes, I will deny myself and follow Jesus.” It is confessing a desire to do as He did, live as He lived, to represent Him in this world by, many times, foregoing personal desires, wants, lusts, luxuries, for the sake of making Jesus known and loving Him. And that can come in many forms. For you it may be letting go of a lucrative career choice to better position yourself as a follower of Christ, as the disciples did. It may be letting go of riches for a greater cause, just as Mary took expensive oil and anointed Jesus with it as an act of worship. Maybe for you it will be speaking out in truth as Paul so often did, knowing he would face severe retribution for doing so. What will it look like for you and for me to live for Jesus Christ in the days ahead? What choices will we make? What are we willing to do?
How will we be living sacrifices for the One who sacrificed Himself for us? He entered our world so we can be saved, we can live for Him. He saved us; how will we live for Him? He’s prepared for us an eternity of bliss, of paradise; how will we respond to that today? How will our choices, our lifestyles, our acts of love, our words of truth, how will these things reflect this One, our Savior, who came into our world and gave Himself for us?
Some of these questions don’t have quick answers. Some will take thoughtful, meditative consideration to answer. We are approaching a new year. Can we all take the time to consider how we will practically answer such questions? Maybe with each other here, maybe with your friends, extended family, maybe in your prayer time with the Lord.
The Christmas message, the coming of Christ, His life on this earth, our salvation, all He has done for us, all of these things – the gospel demands a response from us. What will our response be to the greatest event ever? Christ has come, He saves, and He is coming back for us! For us who have believed.
We have been studying through Philippians together this year. Where we left off says this, “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Our aim then, our goal as Christians should be, as was Christ’s, to bring glory to God. To live for Him, for His glory.
God entered our world in the person of Jesus Christ. How will we further His work, making Him known where He has placed us?
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
I pray that each of us will desire more and more, more intensely, to give ourselves to the One who gave Himself for us!