The Three Greatest Miracles in Jesus' Birth
Sunday, December 24, 2017, I will be preaching from Matthew 1:18-25, which is a marvelous account of Christ's birth. Often we think of the fuller narrative in Luke 2, but Matthew has his own succinct story of the birth of Christ.
There were three miracles that occurred in the birth of Jesus and all are present in Matthew's account. Normally we only think of the virgin birth, but there are actually three astounding miracles.
Shielding Jesus from Sinfulness
Matthew 1:21 (NASB95) “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
This passage certainly implies and I think clearly indicates that Jesus was sinless. How can he be our Savior if he needs to save himself from his own sins? Our Savior must be sinless. That would normally be a problem because sinful parents have sinful children. Some claim that our sin only comes through the man and since Jesus didn't have a human father, he would be sinless. However, sin comes through both man and woman according to David.
Psalm 51:5 (NASB95) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
So Jesus would have had a sin nature just from his mother, Mary. However, the Holy Spirit shielded him from sinfulness (Lk 1:35). This is a miracle of Christ's birth. That he could be born to a human mother and yet be without sin. And it was necessary for him to be our perfect sacrifice, the Savior who would save us from our sins.
The Hypostatic Union
Matthew 1:23 (NASB95) “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
Theologians use this term to describe the fact that Jesus is both God and man. Jesus was God and became man. Of course he had to become man in order to be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Jesus needed to be of the same nature as the offenders he would save. Only a human can die for other humans and be an acceptable substitute that appeases God's righteous wrath.
And he would also have to be God. Jesus had to be free from all the demands of the law himself--he had to be sinless. Only God is sinless. Only God could have a death that was sufficient for all sinners and was efficacious for all believers for all eternity--the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. And only God could do that in three hours on one sad Friday.
Christ's birth is miraculous because Jesus became the God-man.
The Virgin Conception
Matthew 1:18 (NASB95) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20 (NASB95) But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:23 (NASB95) “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
We think of it as a virgin birth, but it's more properly understood as a virgin conception. We know that Joseph and Marry didn't consummate their marriage until Jesus was born (Mt 1:25), but that seems to be a decision they made on their own to avoid any accusations that Joseph was actually the biological father of Jesus. Nowhere were they commanded to refrain until Jesus was born.
While this is the miracle that most of us think about when considering the birth of Christ, it's might be the least of the three. How hard is it for the God who created the world, who created biology, to overrule the creation he created? But it's still a great miracle and it's still significant. It was a fulfillment of prophecy given over 700 years before (Is 7:14).
So there are the three greatest miracles surrounding Christ's birth and all found in Matthew's account. How many did you know?
You Need the Church
This morning I came across this blog post--I don't even know the author. However, I encourage you to read it.
She makes a great point that since we need the church, it's good for us to have a commitment that keeps us coming to church. Serving in your church can be that commitment, and there are lots of places to serve: ushering, nursery, security team, greeters, ABF teacher, SS teacher, children's church, orchestra, accompaniment, sound room, and others.
I've seen it too often. A church member gets busy with life and asks to be let out of a ministry commitment. Sometimes that might be necessary, but what happens too frequently is they then become detached from the church. Pretty soon their attendance suffers. Sometimes it ends with them not attending anywhere.
If you have a ministry commitment that tires you out and sometimes you just wish you were done with it, don't wish that. Instead, thank God that he's used that to keep you coming back to a community of believers that will help you grow. That's what church does. We don't grow without it; we can't grow without it (Eph 4:11-16).
Yes you might attend just as faithfully without a ministry commitment, but maybe you won't. Praise God for a ministry responsibility that gets you to church every week. It's where you should be. It's where you need to be (Heb 10:24-25).
A year ago I preached on this passage in our Hebrews series. I was looking over it again today, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize it as a blog post.
A background note: The KJV and NKJV use the word, chastening. That has led many to think that this passage is just about punishment. Or that what the author is talking about is something punitive for specific disobedience. However, it’s really the word, discipline. And discipline is whatever God uses to bring us to maturity, to correct us. Remember that we are not condemned (Rom 8:1). We won’t ever pay the price for our sins. Jesus did that on the cross. However, we are God’s children and we will be disciplined. He wants to make us like Christ in any way that we’re not.
God disciplines His children…and it’s good. Hebrews 12:4-9 tells us how to reinterpret suffering. How to recast hardships. By reinterpreting I mean that we come to a true understanding of them. We come to God’s understanding of them.
There are four reinterpretations we need.
Don’t Overstate Your Suffering—It’s Not As Bad As You Believe (12:4-5)
•Hebrews 12:4 (ESV) In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The audience of this epistle had suffered. We know that from Hebrews 10:32-34. They have suffered public abuse, loss of property, and even imprisonment. Those are substantial losses. This is not light suffering they’ve experienced.
But they hadn’t experienced loss of life of anyone in the community yet. Why mention this obvious fact to them? Surely they know they haven’t resisted to death yet. Why say it? Because our temptation is to overstate our hardships. And it’s not as bad as you believe. It’s really not.
You see our tendency is to think that we are the center of the world—certainly the center of our worlds. And that makes us look at our hardships as more difficult than they really are because they are happening to us.
But Scripture wants us to get perspective. We need to look around us and sympathize with the suffering of others. We need to bear one another’s burdens. When I’m suffering, I find it hard to think about the hardships of others. I can only see my own pain.
If we don’t understand God’s discipline it leads to two sinful responses found in verse 5…
•Hebrews 12:5 (ESV) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
You Disregard God’s Discipline
If we get focused on our pain we can assume it has no purpose. It’s just the random stuff of life happening to us now. God has a purpose for your hardships. He never wastes pain, so don’t treat it lightly.
You Become Discouraged
This is probably the more likely sinful response. You get tired of God’s chastening. It seems so oppressive that you actually lose heart.
I think one of the difficult lessons that Christians learn over and over again is that God is not interested in making our lives pain free. Salvation doesn’t mean that your life suddenly becomes wonderful and prosperous and your car never has expensive mechanical problems.
God is not concerned with that vision of life. He has bigger plans for you. He actually wants you to be like His Son, Jesus. And He will discipline you and me to get us to that objective.
Don’t Think God Has Abandoned You—He Only Disciplines Those in the Family (12:6-8)
•Hebrews 12:6–8 (ESV) For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Here’s where our understanding really needs to change. We really need to reinterpret our hard times. Discipline means that God loves us. It’s actually the assurance that God loves us. A lack of chastisement is a bad sign. God disciplines those that He loves.
A father that doesn’t discipline, doesn’t love his child. You can say you do, but if a father doesn’t discipline his children, then he doesn’t care how they turn out. That’s a sign of indifference, but not a sign of love. So the father that loves his children will discipline them.
And it’s the same with God. It’s a sure sign of sonship to be chastened by God. Adversity, suffering, and hardships are the tools that God uses to sanctify His children. Suffering is not a sign of abandonment by God. No, it’s a sign of His love. Hardships don’t indicate God’s rejection. They are clear evidence of God’s fatherly care.
This is radical reinterpretation of suffering. Rather than being an indication of God’s indifference, it is a mark of His love for His children. Suffering should assure us of God’s care, not make us question it.
Don’t Resist God’s Discipline—You Can Submit to God (12:9-10)
•Hebrews 12:9–10 (ESV) Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
This passage makes an argument from the lesser human relationship to the greater. Our fathers might have poorly disciplined, but we still submitted to them. Can’t we also submit to our heavenly Father? With our human fathers it was their duty to discipline us and our duty to submit. Your father might not have disciplined well, or you might not have submitted well, but those were the responsibilities. Therefore, submit to the God that does discipline well.
Don’t resist God’s discipline. Why? Because…
God is Wiser Than Your Father
Your dad may have been mistaken in his discipline, but your heavenly Father will never impose any discipline that isn’t for your good. God doesn’t make arbitrary judgments.
God’s Purpose Is Better Than Your Father’s
Your dad was a sinner. So he made decisions about discipline that were often at least tainted by sin. That means that sometimes he disciplined you for his own convenience. Sometimes it wasn’t about your character, it was about what was best for him.
But God has no such limitation. God disciplines so we may grow in holiness. We are to become like Him. Your trouble is used by God to make you grow into holiness.
Don’t Focus on the Pain—the Result of Discipline Is Worth the Trouble (12:11)
•Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
In the moment, nobody enjoys discipline. When we’re in the midst of God’s discipline, it’s easy to focus only on the pain. Sometimes it does hurt so much. We lose something that we really value. God uses the pain to conform us to Christ’s image, but at the time, it doesn’t seem worth it to us.
But it bears good fruit. The outcome of suffering is substantial and pleasant. The period of discipline is followed by one of joy. We grow in righteousness through discipline. When reinterpreting our suffering this way, we can actually submit to it in the present. “Peaceful” reflects that the man that believes God’s discipline is designed for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious.
Pain wakes us up. God doesn’t waste pain, but He also doesn’t avoid it either. It’s a tool to make us grow. You and I wouldn’t have near the desire to grow if it weren’t for God’s discipline in our lives.
Don’t focus on your pain; instead think about the good fruit that God is growing in your life. Listen, God disciplines His children…and it’s good.
No Evening Service on Super Bowl Sunday?
Why We Don’t Have an Evening Service During the Super Bowl
Our church will not have our normal evening service on February 5, 2017. We started doing this a few years ago when our teens would meet at the church to watch the Super Bowl. They actually used the sanctuary for that night, so we vacated it. We’ve continued it because I am convinced that it’s practically another American holiday and it is best used by our church members differently.
Sunday morning is our main service of the day and we would never cancel or alter it for the Super Bowl. Scripture, however, doesn’t command us to meet twice on Sunday, so I think we can make changes to the evening service. I love our evening services. Most often we have 100+ people that come with a hunger for God’s Word. It’s our designated church family service at Chisago Lakes Baptist. By that I mean it’s when our members care for, love, and listen to each other. It’s more informal, more practical, more testimonial, and more flexible. If you don’t come normally, you’re missing out.
But there are already days on the church calendar when we cancel our evening service. We cancel for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so you can spend time with your family. We cancel Super Bowl Sunday so you can accept that invitation to your co-worker’s house or so you can invite them to your house. Use this evening for outreach, use it for family time, or use it for fellowship.
But most of all please, please cheer against the Patriots. ;)
Sanctity of Life Sunday 2017
Here's what I said in church on January 15, 2017.
Today is Sanctify of Human Life Sunday. I’m glad that President Reagan designated the first one in 1984, and churches have been celebrating it ever since. I also agree with what Russell Moore said in 2009.
I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that we have to say things to one another that human beings shouldn’t have to say. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, economic status. The very fact that these things must be proclaimed is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness. We’ll always need Christmas. We’ll always need Easter. But I hope, please Lord, someday soon, that Sanctity of Human Life Day is unnecessary. (Russell Moore, "Why I Hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday", accessed on January 14, 2017.)
I’m going to make a political statement. I rarely make those. I’m all for defunding Planned Parenthood. Last year those undercover videos were released and we learned that Planned Parenthood is not really interested in women’s health. Of course we already knew that. They are in the business of making abortion available and prolific. They want to murder babies. I want them defunded.
Planned Parenthood was started by Margaret Sanger who was a proponent of eugenics. That’s the belief that some lower ethnic groups or classes shouldn’t reproduce. While Planned Parenthood would reject that philosophy today, ironically their existence still results in more black babies being killed as a percentage of the population than white babies. The racist Margaret Sanger, their founder, would be proud.
It’s interesting to me that white liberals are for abortion when aborted babies are disproportionately ethnic minorities. There is something paternalistic and even racist about white people helping black people kill their babies. And I think it’s good to point out how the application of abortion has a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos.
Abortion is not wrong because minority babies are being killed, but because any baby is being killed. But it’s especially sad that those that our country has a sad legacy of oppressing are most likely to opt for abortion.
How do we respond to abortion. I’m hoping some year not have to suggest this because it will be over. Until then, however…
1.We weep. We cry for the babies that are murdered. We cry for the mothers and fathers that are so deceived by their sin that they think the evil of abortion is a good thing.
2.We pray. We pray for the medical professionals involved that God will reach their hearts. We pray for the mothers that they will trust Christ. We pray for ourselves, that we won’t be calloused to the scope of this tragedy.
3.We love. You and I cannot stop abortion by ourselves, but the Gospel can change lives. Maybe you reach one co-worker with the Gospel and his or her life is different than it would have been. Maybe…maybe a baby isn’t aborted that would have been otherwise.
4.We praise. We praise a God that can forgive the sin of abortion. We praise a God that can forgive our indifference to the plight of the unborn. We praise a God that can forgive mothers that seem to have few options. We praise a God that through Christ can forgive all of us—yes, even you—in spite of our sin.
God, You are a God of great mercy. You save those that deserve only Your judgment. You forgive those that repent and believe. God, we pray that Your mercy would pour down on our country. Abortion is a sinful blight; so many babies have been destroyed by mothers that were misled and deceived. These babies are not a mass of tissue; they are human life that should be allowed to live. Father, please change our country so that we begin to value unborn life. Help more and more women choose to have their babies. Father, help us to offer Your forgiveness to those mothers and fathers that wrongly thought abortion was their only option. May the gospel free them from their sin and grant them the joy that is only found in You.