The eternal Son of God became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary and was born in order to save His people from their sins.
Perhaps you say, I have heard that before, that is not new. Yet newness is not something you hear for the first time. Nor is newness something that is different. Newness is something that is unspotted, perfect. Newness is a wonder which glows only brighter and warmer.
The birth of God’s Son into our nature is new, ever new; for it is the wonder of God’s grace. It provides a new, a fresh, wonder, peace, joy, and comfort – because it is the message of the grace of the eternal God.
It is the truth that God has so loved His children that He gave His Son to be born in their flesh, to take away their sin and death, to place that sin upon Him so that His children might live eternally. When that message is placed in your heart by God’s grace, it is ever new and it will shine more and more until the perfect day (Prov. 4:18). Nothing is more important for you at this moment than to grasp this truth and, by the grace of God, to hide it in your heart. Nothing! Not the hopes that you would have as a child for the future. Not the trials that you experience as an aged person. Not the burdens upon your heart as a parent. Not the stress that is mounting in your soul as a man or as a woman. This is all that is important: that you know by faith Immanuel, God with us. That you know by grace Jesus, who saves His people from their sins. That you know the wonder of God’s grace.
In the book of Matthew, in chapter 1, we are told the history of the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew begins that chapter with a very straightforward account of the events connected with the birth of our Lord. He is giving this gospel account to fellow Jews to show that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. That is why he starts by tracing Jesus’ ancestry through His step-father, Joseph, back to Abraham. In his account, Matthew answers the two most important questions which can be raised about the birth of Jesus. Those two questions are these. Who is this person? And what did He come to do? Matthew answers those two questions with one word each, in fact with a name for each. Who is this person? Immanuel, God with us. What did He come to do? Jesus, He has come to save His people from their sins.
When your heart, by the grace of God, is led to rest in Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus, the One who saves His people from their sins, then your heart is given to know the wonder, the ever-new wonder of the grace of God. And you then have everything you could ever possess.
The wonder of God’s grace is found, first of all, in who this child is. He is Immanuel, God with us. Mary and Joseph, we are told, had become engaged (v. 18). The word “espoused” is stronger than just engagement. It was a legal commitment made, a promise to marry. It included everything except living together. They were betrothed, solemnly promised in marriage. After a period of time set down, and after the wedding celebration, the man would take his wife and live with her in the sexual union. But, although they had not yet come together in the intimacy of that sexual union, they were regarded as husband and wife. For the angel says to Joseph in verse 20, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife.” Although they had not yet come together, lived together in that sexual union, Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Ghost. Luke, chapter 1, tells us how this came to be. Gabriel had been sent to Mary. He had unfolded to her that she was highly favored of the Lord. “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son; and shalt call his name Jesus.” He had explained to her that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and the power of the highest would envelope her. Therefore, the holy Thing which would be born of her would be called the Son of God.
We gather that Mary had not taken Joseph into her confidence concerning this visit of the angel. For Joseph is puzzled. His betrothed and beloved Mary is pregnant. Yet his own conscience is clear. They had not been together sexually. He can only assume the worst. The girl whom he dearly loved had not been faithful to him and to God. So we read in verse 20 that “while he thought on these things,” that is, as he turned them over and struggled under them, he had two options according to the law of God. He could make her a public example, which meant that she would be stoned. The law of God in Deuteronomy 22:23, 24 provided for that punishment. But Joseph was not willing to make her a public example, we are told. He was minded, rather, “to put her away privily.” Rather than public justice, Joseph wanted, by a private means, to set her aside, to break off the betrothal. We are told that this Joseph, her husband, was a just man. He was a regenerated man, a god-fearing man in his heart. In love for Mary he did not want to make her a public example. But his heart was filled with pain and hurt. Nevertheless, he wanted to do what would bring the least amount of shame to Mary. He would put her away privately.
Now 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” (v. 20). The angel of Jehovah, sent by the mercy of God, came with a command: Don’t be afraid to take her to your house, to protect her, to shield her from society which would regard her as an immoral woman. The angel came with an explanation. Apart from this explanation, Joseph would be tortured in his mind. The child, says the angel, the child within her is of the Holy Ghost. Mary has not sinned. The Son within her has no human father. God has conceived this child in the virgin. It is in this way that Immanuel has come to us. Matthew makes plain that all of this was done in fulfillment of prophecy (vv. 22, 23). Here Matthew has his eye upon the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. We read: “Now all this 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.” God’s promise, given long ago by the prophet Isaiah, has now come to pass, says Matthew. The virgin has brought forth Immanuel. The girl chosen of God eternally as the one through whom His Son would come, the woman who was thus highly favored of the Lord, is with child by the work of the Holy Spirit within her. And therefore the child is no ordinary child but is God with us. He is nothing less than God in human flesh. Without stopping to be God, not becoming less than God, He now becomes a human babe. He takes to Himself a true humanity, for Mary is with child. She felt life within her for the first time, the kicking within her womb. She went through the birthpangs and the attending pains of childbirth. Unattended, save by Joseph, and maybe Joseph was not even there, in a dark cattle shed. Yet this child of Mary is more than just a man. Call His name Immanuel, for He is God with us. The prophet had 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.”
We ask the question: How? In fact, a thousand questions might come to our mind. How was the human nature of Christ formed? How can God be in the womb of the virgin? We want everything neatly tied up. But it is not the time for that. We will ask, and perhaps learn, more of this in glory. But right now the time is the time to bow and worship. This is the wonder. This is the wonder surpassing the wonder of the Red Sea when the Lord, by His hands, pushed the water up into walls and dried the floor for Israel. This is a wonder which surpasses the miracle of Jericho’s walls tumbling down before the people of Israel. This is a wonder even greater than the forming of the worlds in the beginning when the eternal God spoke and it was so. This is the One who is truly God and truly man. All that may be said of God may be said of Him. All that may be said of man is true of Him, yet without sin. The Word was made flesh.
There is a hymn that I find so expressive. “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 at this point are fatal. The cornerstone of redemption is found in the Redeemer’s person: who He is. Hear and understand. Jesus Christ is able to do what He did because of who He is. Mary’s womb shines upon Jesus’ cross. If you do not understand the virgin birth and receive it by faith, you cannot understand the cross. The One who bleeds upon the cross pierced and wounded is very man. The value of the suffering and His worth rests on the fact that He is very God of God. He is God, mighty to save.
It is a blessed thing to meditate upon this. He whose cry pierced the night in Bethlehem is the One who spoke worlds into being. He who nurses from a poor maid’s breast is the One who upholds all things by the Word of His power and for whom all things exist. Have you ever wondered about it? I am not asking if you comprehend. But I am asking whether holy wonder and awe has filled your mind over this gospel. It is the wonder of God’s grace. God gave His Son – for whom? For His children, eternally chosen of grace alone; for His children who are miserable sinners.
What love is this? The sinless One, the One to whom nothing can be added, takes the place of the sinners who have nothing. The Son of God puts Himself in the place of those given to Him of His Father, chosen of grace. That is the wonder of God’s grace.
And the wonder becomes too much for our hearts to contain when we answer that second question: Why did He come? What did Immanuel come to do? The answer is found in the word “Jesus.” She shall bring forth a son, says the angel. And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. “Jesus” means “Jehovah salvation.” As Jesus, He is the One who saves His people from their sins. We must drink every one of those words down into our hearts. He has come to save, to deliver from the greatest evil, our sin, and to bring us to the greatest good, which is God. That means that sin is not a phantom. Sin is not a theological notion picked up by the Jews in the wilderness. Sin is an ugly reality from which no one but Immanuel can save us. He has come to save His people; that is, He has not come to save every human being. He did not come to hope to save all, to make it possible to save all if only they would add something to it. No, He has a people given to Him of the Father’s eternal grace. All that the Father gave to me, He said, shall come to Me (John 6:44). As Jesus, He is the Son of God, not come in an attempt to save. He is not God’s part, doing all that God can do and leaving the issue unsettled, waiting to see what human will shall decide to do with Him. No, He shall save His people from their sins. He shall do all to earn their salvation and to work it in them and to keep them in it.
This is the key to all that follows in Jesus’ life and death. It all makes no sense apart from the fact of what He came to do. He did not come merely as an example of a kind and generous, loving man. Why would God allow such a kind and generous man to die such a death? Why would God deal with Him as He did on the cross? The agony of the cross came not from man but from God. He cried out, not: “My disciples, My disciples, why hast thou forsaken Me?” But He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Jesus came for substitution, to stand in the place of those sinners God gave to Him in the will of His grace.
He is God in our flesh, so that He might save us, save us by bearing the penalty which is due to our sin, while standing in our place. He comes in the virgin’s womb that He might bear on Him all the arrows due to God’s children, that He might come under our judgment in order that we might live.
Now perhaps someone is saying, “Oh, that is the trouble with you preachers. You burden the simple Christmas story with trappings of theology. You are talking to us today of sin and guilt and God and judgment. Don’t you know that this Saturday is Christmas? Let’s have some cheer here.” God says there is no cheer in your life, there is no cheer in the world, apart from Him and what He did. There is no cheer apart from this gospel. All the cheer of man which sets aside the realities of sin and God and judgment and does not know how sin can be forgiven before God, all such cheer is the cheer of an insane asylum. This is our joy: He shall save His people from their sin! Implied in that is that we need to be rescued. Implied in that is that sin deserves punishment. Implied in that is that God is a holy God. If all that you see in the Christmas story is the sentimental account of a lowly birth, a birth of one who became the best man who ever lived on the earth, that is because of your carnal nature which wants to avoid the issues of your sin and your nakedness before God. Behind the birth of Jesus Christ stands these realities: our sin and God’s grace. God’s mighty grace to give His Son so that we dead sinners might be saved and brought back to God. And if that is not the joy that is in your heart, then you know not the joy of the birth of Christ. Every word in that statement is true: He shall save His people from their sins. Every word is true because He is Immanuel, God with us. He is Jesus, Jehovah salvation. He is the One who has come from the Father to deliver us from our sins and to make us kings and priests of God.
Now bow down in wonder and worship!
Do you believe these things?
The amazing fact is that Joseph did, by the grace of God, believe. We read, “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.” The amazing thing that God did in Joseph was that Joseph believed the message which was impossible. A virgin had conceived by the Holy Spirit? The son would be God with us? Without any hesitation, Joseph arises and obeys, believing all that has been revealed to him of the Lord. There is the wonder of grace, too. The wonder of grace is when God takes a dead, hardened heart, a heart filled with suspicion against God, a heart which is an enemy against God, and that heart, now, by a wonder of God, believes and embraces the gospel. God says, this is My Son, My only Son. This is My Son who is the Savior. Hear Him. Bow before Him, for He alone is King. Embrace Him by faith as the Savior. Throw the weight of all your sins upon Him. He is Immanuel; He is Jesus.
Do you? Do you trust in Him for time and eternity? Do you know that all of your sins are freely pardoned through Him? This is the wonder of the grace of God. God works that in you. God raises you right from the dead. And that is new! Oh, that is always new. God’s grace giving me to believe in His Son. That is ever new. That is never old. That cannot be old-God opening the heart to behold and to believe in Immanuel, in Jesus.
Never will it grow old. And that is the only thing that is important. That leads us, that compels us, that drives us to bless and magnify God. No matter your outward state of life, no matter the burden of your heart, no matter the trial of your faith, no matter the pain of your body. Child of God, let us repeat the words of the virgin: My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God the Savior. For He is Immanuel – God with us in sorrow and in grief. He is more. He is God with us in our sin and in our debt before God. He is the Jesus of the cross who has saved us from our sins. This is the light which shines ever brighter within our hearts until the day when we shall stand before Him in eternal glory.
Bow in wonder – the wonder of God’s grace.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Bless it unto our hearts. We praise Thee now and eternally for the gift of Thy love, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.