The Wonder Of Grace
December 16, 2001 / No. 3076
Dear radio friends,
Perhaps for most of you who are listening to this message today, there will be nothing new, that is, nothing that you have not heard before. I intend in this message to proclaim the gospel that God’s Son became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary, that He was born as the One sent of God to save His people from their sins.
Yet, we must understand that newness is not necessarily something that is heard for the first time, something different. But newness is something that is unspotted and perfect. Newness is a wonder which only grows brighter and brighter, and warmer and warmer. The birth of the Son of God into our human nature is new, it is ever new, it is a wonder, it is new with peace and joy and comfort.
It is new because it is the message of God’s grace. God has so loved His people that He gave His Son to be born in their flesh, to take upon Himself our sin and death so that we might live eternally. When that message is placed in your heart by God, it is new. It is always new.
There is nothing more important for you to grasp than this truth. There is nothing more necessary for your soul than this truth. There is nothing, nothing at all, that happens to you today that is as important as to know this truth: God has given His Son, and in Him is life eternal.
We are going to take our study from the Word of God in Matthew 1:18-25. We looked at the first seventeen verses last week, which spoke of the genealogy of our Savior Jesus Christ. Now Matthew continues in his narrative to give the account of the birth of Jesus Christ from the virgin Mary.
We should remember that Matthew is writing his gospel account under the inspiration of God but, nevertheless, writing it intending it for his fellow Jews to show that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. That is why he begins by tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham.
In his account, beginning with verses 18-25 of Matthew 1, the Holy Spirit through Matthew is going to answer the two most important questions that can be asked about Jesus Christ. Those questions are: Who is He? And, what did He come to do? When you answer those two questions, you have the gospel. Both of those questions can be answered with one word or one name each. Who is He? He is Immanuel, God with us. What did He come to do? He is Jesus, He shall save His people from their sins.
When, by grace, our hearts are led to rest in Immanuel, God with us, and Jesus, Savior from sin, then you know both who He is and what He has done. Oh, then you know the grace of God. And then you have the ever new gospel – the wonder of God’s grace. The wonder of God’s grace is found, first of all, in who the Child born to Mary is. He is called Immanuel, God with us.
Mary and Joseph had become engaged. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise (Matt. 1:18): When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Joseph and Mary were espoused. That word is stronger than engagement. It refers to a legal commitment made to marry. Everything had been done except living together. They were solemnly promised together in marriage. After an agreed upon period of time, they would begin to live as husband and wife.
Although they had not come together yet in the intimacy of the sexual union, they were regarded as husband and wife. We read in verse 20 that the angel appears to Joseph and says, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife.” Although they had not yet come together, although they had not cohabited, Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Ghost. Luke 1tells us how this came to be. The angel Gabriel had been sent to Mary to unfold to her that she was highly favored of the Lord and that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and the power of the highest would overshadow her. Mary had been impregnated by God Himself.
Apparently Mary had not taken Joseph into her confidence in those facts. So, when Mary is discovered to be with child, Joseph is puzzled. His betrothed and beloved Mary is pregnant. Yet his conscience is clear. He can only assume the worst – the girl whom he dearly loved had not been faithful to him or to God. So we read that “he thought on these things,” that is, he turned them over and he struggled with them in his mind. He had two options. He could, first of all, according to the law of God, make her a public example, which would mean that she would be stoned. The Old Testament law provided for that punishment: “They shall stone them with stones that they die.”
But Joseph was not willing to do that. He was minded, rather, to “put her away privily,” or privately. Rather than public justice, rather than make it public, he would want to do this in a private way by divorcement, by breaking off the betrothal.
Now, we read that Joseph her husband was a just man, that is, he was a regenerated man. He had not only been given righteousness by God, but he had been made a God-fearing man in his heart. In love for Mary, he would not make her a public example. His heart was filled with pain and hurt. Nevertheless, he wanted to do what would bring the least amount of shame to Mary.
We read that “while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” God sent an angel with a word of command: Don’t be afraid to take her to you as your wife, to protect her and to shield her from society, which would otherwise regard her as an immoral woman. And the angel came with a word of explanation. Apart from this explanation Joseph would have been tortured in his mind. The explanation was this: The child within her is of the Holy Ghost. Mary has not sinned. The Son within her has no human father. God hath conceived this child within the virgin’s womb.
The angel goes on to say that it is in this way that Immanuel has come. Now all this, says Matthew, was done “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Matthew reminds us that long ago God had prophesied through the prophet Isaiah that a virgin would conceive, a girl chosen of God eternally as the one through whom His Son would come. This girl, Mary, is now with child by the work of the Holy Spirit within her, so that the Child within her is no ordinary child but is God with us. He is nothing less than God united in human flesh, God with us. Without stopping or ceasing to be God, without becoming less than God, He is now become also a human babe. He has taken to Himself a true humanity.
Mary is with child! She felt life within her for the first time and, as the pregnancy developed, the kicking of the child within her own womb. She is going to go through the pains of birth unattended, save by Joseph, in a dark cattle shed.
Yet, although He is truly and really a man, Jesus is more than man. He is Immanuel, He is God with us. Again, as the prophet foretold (Is. 9:6), “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” He is mighty God.
Now we have a thousand questions: How was His humanity formed in the womb of the virgin? How can God be with us in the womb of a virgin? We want everything neatly tied up. People of God, this is not the time for that. We can ask and we can learn more in glory. Right now the time is to bow and to worship before the wonder of the grace of God – a wonder surpassing in brilliance even the wonder of the Red Sea when God caused water to stand on end; and Jericho’s walls, when God spoke and rocks and walls fell down – even a greater wonder than when God formed the world in the beginning, when He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast. The wonder that Jesus is truly God, God of God; and truly man, born of a woman. All that is said of God may be said of Jesus. And all that may be said of man, yet without sin, is true of Him. He, the Word, the eternal Word who was with God, is now made flesh. God was manifested in the flesh (II Tim. 3:15).
Let me read to you a poem.
Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable, sheltered coldly,
In a manger laid?
‘Tis the Lord of all creation
Who this wondrous path has trod.
He is God from everlasting,
And to everlasting, God.
Has this truth come home to your heart with power? Mistakes are fatal at this point. The cornerstone of redemption is found in the Redeemer’s person, who He is. He must be confessed as He was in Matthew 16: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Understand very carefully, Jesus is able to do what He did, and He is able to be what He is, the living Savior, only because of the miracle of the incarnation. Mary’s womb shines upon the cross of Jesus. If you go wrong concerning the virgin birth, you cannot have a Savior upon a cross. The One who bleeds upon the cross, pierced and wounded for our sins, is very man. And at the same time He is God of God, rendering a perfect payment to God and saving us from our sins. He is God with us, mighty to save.
But what did Jesus come to do? This is who He is: Immanuel, God with us. But what did He come to do? The wonder becomes even greater for our hearts to try to contain.
We read in verse 21 of Matthew 1 the angel’s words, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Joseph was told that he must call the child Jesus. Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation.” Why must Joseph call Him Jesus? Because, perhaps, some relative had that name in the past? No, because He is Jesus. He is Jehovah salvation. He is the One who shall save His people from their sins.
Drink every one of those words down into your heart! He shall save, that is, deliver from the greatest of all evil, which is sin, unto the greatest of all good, which is God. That means that sin is not a phantom, a theological notion picked up by the Jews in the wilderness. It is not merely something ministers like to talk about to kill your joy. Sin is the ugly reality of your life. But He shall save. He was sent to save from sin. And He shall save His people. Not every human being. He did not come merely to make salvation a possibility if someone would contribute something to it. Oh, no! He is the One who has appeared with a people given to Him of His Father’s elective grace. He is going to pray in John 10, and again inJohn 17, of all those whom the Father gave to Him from all eternity. Jesus is not the attempt of God to save. Jesus is not God doing all He can do and then leaving the issue unsettled, waiting to see what you are going to decide, waiting upon your power. Oh, no! We do not read that here. He shall save His people from their sins. He shall do everything to bring His people to salvation. He shall obtain that salvation in His cross. And He shall work it in them by the wonder of His love and by His power in the hearts of those who are of themselves dead sinners.
This is the key to everything that follows in the life of Jesus. The life of Jesus in the gospel makes no sense apart from this truth: He shall save His people from their sins. Jesus did not come merely as an example from God, as the kind of a loving man that we ought to be. Why would God allow, we would ask, such a generous and kind man to die such a dark death? Why would God deal with His Son as He did on the cross, giving His Son the deepest agony of the cross when He cried out, not, “My disciples, my disciples, why hast thou forsaken me?” Not, “Roman government, why have you done this to me?” But, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was substitution. It was God in our flesh taking upon Himself the sins of His people so that He might save them from those sins and bear the penalty for those sins so that we would bear them no more. Jesus came in the womb of the virgin so that He might bear all the arrows due to us as God’s children, the arrows of divine justice – that He might take them all away.
Some might say, “That’s the trouble with you preachers. You burden the simple Christmas story with all the trappings of this theology. You talk to us of sin and guilt, of God and judgment, of holiness and substitution, and the need for the removal of sin from the sight of a holy God. Can’t we have some holiday cheer?” There is no cheer in your life and there is no cheer in the world apart from Him and what He has done. There is no cheer apart from this gospel. And if your holiday season is filled with cheer, in ignorance of your own sin and the need of the grace of God to remove that sin, then your cheer is no different than the cheer of a man in an insane asylum. It is folly.
This is joy: He shall save His people from their sins. That implies that we need to be rescued. That implies that our sin deserves punishment. That says that God is holy. If all you see in the Christmas story is the sentimental account of a lowly birth, of one who became the best man who ever lived on the earth, if that is as deep as it goes for you, then you do that because of your carnal nature. And you do that because you want to avoid the issues of sin and your nakedness before God.
Oh, no. Behind His coming in Bethlehem stands the reality of sin. The sin is ours. And grace – the grace is God’s.
He shall save His people from their sins. Who is He? He is Immanuel, God with us. What did He come to do? He is Jesus, He shall save His people from their sins. That is the gospel. Do you believe these things?
The amazing thing that we read about Joseph is, “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (Matt. 1:24, 25). The amazing thing that God does in Joseph is that Joseph believes the impossible. A virgin has conceived by the Holy Spirit. Without hesitation, he arises and he obeys, believing all that is revealed to Him. There is the wonder of grace. To take those who are enemies of God by nature, those with dead, hardened hearts, filled with suspicion and hatred of God, and give them to embrace the gospel – there is the power of grace!
Is this grace given to you – the wonder of the grace of God – to raise you from the dead? Do you see that that is new, that that is always new? The grace of God revealed to me? That does not grow old. And that is the most important thing ever.
And that compels us, that drives us, to bless God, to say with Mary, “My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior.” He is Immanuel, God with us. He does not bear the name in vain. He is Jesus, He shall save His people from their sins. That is not an idle name. That is the reality. And that is the light that shines in our heart, brighter and brighter, until the day when we shall see Him face to face. And we shall be lost, then, lost forever in the wonder of redeeming grace.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee! We thank Thee with joy unspeakable for Him – Immanuel, Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.