Perfection Comes In Unusual Ways
Scripture: Matthew 1:1–25
Perfection Comes In Unusual WaysMatthew 1:1-25
December 16, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
The elect king was an impressive physical sight (1Sam. 9:2; 10:23). He was chosen by God (1 Sam. 10:24) and personally anointed by the great prophet, Samuel (1 Sam. 10:1). He was humble, hiding among the baggage at his inauguration (1 Sam. 10:22), and courageous in providing Israel many military victories (1 Sam. 14:47-48).
Yet despite all of Saul's successful endeavors that we have recently covered, the man, when viewed through the eyes of history and especially the eyes of God, was a failure (1 Sam. 15:11). He destroyed his own life and nearly destroyed the nation. His reign intended to bring deliverance and hope to the people (1 Sam. 9:16) ended with death, exile and idolatry (1 Sam. 31:1-6).
Last week, when we concluded 1 Samuel on this rather dark note, I left you with the following question: "Was all hope lost for the people of God?"
One thing we definitely witnessed in our past study in 1 Samuel was the unseen hand of God. Through the pages of Scripture we were able to see His unseen hand providentially working in the lives of His people. When they were cornered, God brought a way out. When they were down, God brought encouragement. When they were proud and disobedient, God brought discipline and correction. And when they were defeated, God worked all things together for good. Hope was always around the corner for a bright tomorrow.
Saul was a failure, but in the back of our minds was always chapter 15, verse 28. There we were told God had selected a "better" man to eventually replace Saul. And unlike Saul, this one will be "a man after (God's) own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; cf. Ac. 13:22). He will save the nation. He will restore righteousness. He will turn the hearts of the people back to God.
But just when our hopes are high we became acquainted with David. And it doesn't take long to realize that even the best of men are men at best. Even the man after God's own heart made mistakes, acted selfishly and disobeyed the Lord. And if we read through 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel and into 1 Kings, we see that even Israel's greatest king fell short in bringing the ultimate hope and deliverance that Israel needed. God would have to bring forth a king even better than the best king, even better than king David!
In 2 Samuel 7 verses 12-16, God made the following promise to David. Though not explicit, the thought of a bright and better future was again on the horizon.
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever" (cf. Psm. 89:29).
Unfortunately, within two generations the nation of Israel soon divided. And for hundreds of years the bloodline of David continued through the kings of Judah. Some of these kings were good. Others outright wicked. The bloodline reigned until 586 BC when Jerusalem fell at the hands of the Babylonians. The nation was led away into captivity. Again, was all hope lost? In the back of our minds is the promise of a greater king, an eternal king in the line of David.
After a long four hundred years of God's silence had passed since the writing of the final book in the Old Testament, God's light once again pierced the darkness. Faithful to fulfill His promises and to demonstrate His love for His people, which goes beyond the nation of Israel, God provided the long awaited King (cf. Jn. 18:37). In Galatians 4 we read, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
The King came for an unusual purpose that was least expected. And the King came in an unusual way that was also least expected. Like people today were the people back then - the King arrived and most people missed Him. As the people were looking for deliverance and relief, God's remedy, His greatest gift had appeared before their very eyes and within three decades they would nail Him to a cross.
Do we look for hope and fail to see God's solution? As we begin the book of Matthew this morning, I have entitled today's sermon, "Perfection Comes in Unusual Ways." King Jesus had arrived!
1. AN UNUSUAL LINEAGE
First, an unusual lineage.
Matthew's gospel begins in chapter 1 by presenting the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The goal of the author is to authenticate the ancestry of Jesus proving that He is from the royal line of King David. So as we read the lineage in verses 1-17 we are not surprised to see other kings, other descendents of David mentioned - people like Solomon (David's son) and Rehoboam (David's grandson) and the descendents that came after them like: Abijah and Asa and Jehoshaphat and Uzziah.
Yet what does surprise us in this rich legacy of mighty kings is the fact that many of these men were wicked. Moreover, in the lineage in Matthew 1, we read about the pure and sinless King Jesus mentioned with family members that we would be embarrassed to bring up at any dinner party. We all know great grandpa David was a murderer, but do we remember that Rahab was a prostitute, Tamar was a schemer, Ruth was a Moabitess and Bathsheba was an adulteress. It is one thing to announce the lineage of David this way, but certainly another to trace the family history of Jesus Christ, God's Son!
No doubt the author had his intentions to prove the Kingly decent of the Messiah to the Jews (the purpose of the book, I believe), but I think there is also an underlining meaning that the Holy One coming from heaven would also dwell among sinners and not be ashamed to call them His friends (Mt. 11:19). His mission was to "seek and save the lost" (Lk. 19:30). In His own words He said, "For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt. 9:13). The very One who crafted the world into existence and called sinners to be His forefathers is the One who has arrived in an unusual way with an unusual mission. For by grace He will call sinners to be His descendents as well.
As J.C. Ryle once said, "If Jesus was not ashamed to be born of a woman, whose pedigree contained such names as those we have read today, we need not think that He will be ashamed to call us brethren, and to give us eternal life."
2. AN UNUSUAL BIRTH
In addition to an unusual lineage, Jesus also had an unusual birth.
We were immediately tipped off regarding the unusual nature of Jesus' birth in the closing lines of the genealogy. In verse 16 we read, "Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah." The prior sequence of fatherhood had been altered. Joseph's role is not stated. Maybe Jesus belonged to Joseph's royal line, but physically, His decent is traced to His mother.
Any doubt about the unusual arrival of the Christ is removed when we continue reading. If His human lineage is explained in verses 1-17, His divine lineage is explained in verses 18-25. Follow along as I read verse 18: "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."
The uniqueness of His birth is initially seen in the method of His conception. As stated in the Apostle's Creed: "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary." Two thousand years ago a miracle took place within the womb of Mary. Apart from natural methods, the young woman was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and now found to be with Child, that Child being God Himself. The miracle of miracles, God had taken upon humanity. He had become one of us. And within a person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, while retaining His deity, He was now growing and developing like any other human.
In addition to His unnatural conception was the unexpected fallout that surrounded His birth. You see, everybody knows women don't get pregnant by themselves. Verse 18 tells us that Mary was found with Child "before (she and Joseph) came together" - i.e. before they were intimate.
God had a plan. We get it. But what did the average pious Jews think about a pregnant woman out of wedlock? Maybe the society has softened today, but back then, this was definitely a message of shame (see Jn. 8:41). Shame to Mary. Shame to her family. Shame to the new child. And shame to Joseph.
Because of this, Joseph knew exactly what he needed to do. Verse 19, "And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly."
Though verse 19 says Joseph was her husband, according to verse 18, both he and Mary were not married, only betrothed. Betrothal is similar to our engagements today, only much more serious. It was a binding contract where a couple was considered legally married even though the actual wedding ceremony was often a year away. Why the wait? Here we go, because the betrothal period was a time of testing or probation to prove one's sexual fidelity.
So when every eye was on Mary's "tummy," what was the world to think, moreover, what was Joseph to think when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant?
Verse 19 again, "And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly."
"Listen Mary, I love you but there is no way I can believe anything you have to say. The very proof of your unfaithfulness is growing in your womb before my very eyes. I refuse to move forward with our wedding. I promise to divorce you in accordance with the law that brings to you the least disgrace. I cannot go forward in this relationship with a clear conscience. To do so would be supporting your actions and allowing the world to believe I am the father of that child."
This was Joseph's best attempt to be righteous while at the same time extending as much compassion as possible. And compassionate he was because the law also permitted women in such cases to be stoned to death (Dt. 22:23-24).
At this point we want to scream out of frustration. A young man is calling off a wedding with the love of his life because of something this dear lady was not responsible for! And there stood innocent Mary (estimated between 12 and 13 years old), heartbroken, confused and misjudged. The woman who found favor with God (Lk. 1:30) and was being used by God in the greatest way was in an awful predicament regarding her reputation with others. This isn't fair! We want to step into history and make everything right.
Fortunately, as we move to the third point, someone did! Let's go from an unusual birth to an unusual appearance.
3. AN UNUSUAL APPEARANCE
Just when Joseph was prepared to take action, somebody intervened at the eleventh hour. In verse 20 we read, "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.'" In other words, "Don't let her go, Joseph. Your girl is one of a kind!"
The angel continued. Verse 21, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
Unlike most parents, Joseph and Mary would not be given the opportunity to choose a name for their child. The long-awaited Messiah to whom the entire Old Testament pointed would be called Jesus. In Hebrew that's Jehoshua or Jeshua, commonly translated Joshua. Jesus, a derivative of the Greek name Iesous would be the One to whom the Joshua in the Bible we know pointed. The only difference being that Jesus would lead His people to the ultimate Promised Land of salvation. As the verse continues, "(Jesus) will save His people from their sins." The name Jesus itself means "Savior."
Many people today see little need for Jesus because they see little need for a Savior. And they see little need for a Savior because they fail to understand how their sin has separated them from a Holy God. The Bible is emphatic that we are all sinners and have fallen short of God's expectations. Consequently, His wrath abides on us and we are awaiting eternal condemnation in hell. But through Jesus Christ, the Savior, we can receive forgiveness by grace and be reconciled in our relationship with the Creator. This truth is the heart of all biblical teaching.
- Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- John 3:14-16, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
- John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
- 2 Timothy 1:9, "(God) has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity."
Someone once said, "If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior" (Author Unknown).
We must be very clear as to the biblical reason for Jesus' coming. God sent His Son on a rescue mission to save a world dead in their sin. The Baby born to Mary would one day give of His own life to deliver humanity. His gift of salvation is available to all who receive it through faith. And what a gift of love it was that first Christmas, God Himself wrapped up in the womb of a virgin.
Verses 22 and 23, "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: '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.'"
This prophecy written 700 years earlier and recorded in Isaiah 7:14 was captured beautifully by Charles Wesley in the second stanza of his classic: Hark! The Herald Angel's Sing. "Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th'incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel." Immanuel! God with us!
God's presence among His people in the Old Testament was not uncommon. During their time, both the Tabernacle and the Temple were places where God manifested Himself. But now in a more intimate and personal way, God Himself has chosen, has condescended to be amongst us.
John in his gospel speaks of this reality so well. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). Or how about Paul's words from Philippians 2? "Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:6-7).
With Immanuel now on the scene, God was with us in the most literal and most humbling sense, demonstrating His love for lost humans in rebellion against Him (Rom. 5:8). We can conceive of no greater blessing!
4. AN UNUSUAL RESPONSE
So it was an unusual lineage, an unusual birth, an unusual appearance and finally, an unusual response.
We needed a Savior because of our rebellion, but in the midst of focusing on the sinfulness of humanity (in the last point), we observe the righteous obedience from Joseph (in this point - cf. Mt. 1:19). Based on God's word delivered through the angel, verses 24 and 25 informs us that "Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." Despite the great personal cost to his reputation as well, Joseph faithfully did as he was told and demonstrated to all of us that the greatest response to this message is obedience to the Word of God.
We concluded 1 Samuel on a rather dark note last week. But in the darkness the people of God have hope knowing that Yahweh will never abandon them. And it is those periods of darkness that deepen our faith and make us long for His presence.
So while Israel spent hundreds of additional years suffering, relief from God was more desired than ever. Messianic expectations were at an all-time high. But as the prophecies rolled in, the people conceived in their own minds what this Messiah should do. While God had great plans, all they could see in the Savior was deliverance from Roman oppression - not deliverance from sin, their greatest enemy. In their minds all hopes were dashed when they were told He was a baby born to a teenage couple. And any doubt was removed when Jesus lived a humble life and spoke of entering into His sufferings (Mt. 20:19), even death on a tree - a sign that one was accursed by God (Dt. 21:23; Gal. 3:13)! The nation discarded their Messiah.
Like today, "I'm trying to celebrate Christmas, why do you keep talking about this little baby born in Bethlehem." Or, "How can a crucified Jew from 2,000 years ago do anything for me?"
But once again, in the darkest hour, everything went according to the plan of God. That cute little baby born in Bethlehem was destined to die on the cross for the removal of our sins. When the Son of God was murdered, God brought forth the greatest hope for humanity. Our God who came to be with us was delivered over for us so He may give to us who believe and repent the gift of forgiveness, everlasting life. And then dwell within us whereby our bodies might be the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).
The story of Joseph and Mary shows us that God's intentions are not always to save us from shame, ridicule, misunderstanding and heartache. This story does tell us that God's intentions are to save us from our greatest enemy, sin - it's guilt, it's domination, it's presence and it's condemnation. And then to realize how God uses our suffering to accomplish mighty works in our lives. It is so unusual that many people miss it. But we who do have eyes to see, must see how God uses unusual ways to bring forth His perfect plan and will for our lives.