Do Not Fear, Immanuel Saves (Matthew 1:18-25)
Fear is repeatedly discussed in Scripture, and it is surprising just how often it comes up during the Christmas narratives. It is not surprising that Joseph and Mary were scared. They lived in a place that had been conquered by a foreign government. Roman soldiers walked the streets of the many towns in the area. And this wasn’t the first time their country had been conquered.
But that is not the only thing they had to fear. They were living in a time when something like a pregnancy out of wedlock could ruin a person. Shame is good for a society. We are living in a time that has lost shame and the results of that are often paraded around in front of us. But they did have reason to fear, though they had done nothing wrong.
These are not the only reasons to fear though. We know that the most repeated command in all of Scripture is some form of “Do not fear!” for there are many reasons to fear. There seems to have always been and it seems like there will be fear as long as life exists as it does today. Whether it be famine, poverty, illness, loss, there are many reasons to fear in any age. Add to that the specific struggles inherent to a particular time and you have much to be frozen in fear about.
But there is one thing we should fear above all other things. Or, rather, someone. We have God to consider. We know we have sinned and that we have not lived up to God’s standard. Deep within us, we know that we have failed and are not right with God. As Solomon observed,
“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ESV)
Our sin has “made a separation between” us and “God” and our “sins have hidden His face from” us “so that He does not hear” us (Isaiah 59:2 ESV) We have rebelled against our Maker and King having committed treason against Him and deserve to be punished for it. That is why the Scriptures tell us that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20 ESV). Death is the punishment for sin. And it’s not just death we are talking about. It is eternal destruction in Hell away from the presence of the Lord and all that is good in the world.
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 ESV)
We have much to fear.
And it is amid this fear that we are met with the story of Christmas. What happened at Christmas gives us hope. It gives us reason to not be afraid. And the reason for this is that Christ came. God came to bring salvation, and that that is why we have no reason to fear.
Do Not Fear, God Is At Work (Matthew 1:18-20)
Matthew’s description is much shorter than Luke’s, but even in this small passage there was much to fear. Joseph and Mary were betrothed which has some similarity to being engaged. But it is much more serious than that and so it required a “divorce” to get out of the arrangement. The problem here is that Mary was pregnant and they hadn’t done the thing that would make this possible. So, obviously there was a problem. The only logical explanation was that he was betrothed to a woman who was already cheating, how else could this have happened?
I am sure that Joseph had his future all mapped out. He knew who his wife was going to be and had probably imagined a nice future with her. And now she had been unfaithful to him, or so he thought. And everything was coming unraveled. He decided to do the kind and honorable thing and quietly divorce her.
It was at just this moment that an angel appeared and told him what was really happening. The angel informed Joseph that God was already at work behind the scenes. The command was to not fear to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20). He was to proceed with the plans he already had because God was at work. God the Holy Spirit had somehow caused Mary to be with child. The child would be God made flesh and His name would be Jesus because He would save the people from their sins.
This is a plot twist that Joseph never saw coming. And how could he? But in this dream the angel appeared and filled him in on all the details. God was at work, so he was to proceed without fear.
Our situation is not nearly as extreme as this. But this is an example of something that we don’t often take into consideration. God is always at work.
I am generally a negative person. And I can’t tell you the number of times that I have begun to pout about something that was happening in my life for it only to work out in the end. And the reason is simple. God was at work behind the scenes.
I remember going to an event as a college student and not having the money to fill up my vehicle. It was an event that was 2 hours away that I had committed to going to. I would get paid to work at this event, and it would more than cover my gas there, but I was paid with a check. The speaker at the event came to me, handed me cash, and said “I think the Lord’s leading me to give you this.” It was enough to fill up my car and make it home. I was worried and trying to figure out how I was going to make it home and God was at work to get me there.
I can remember, many years ago, having a sense that I should be in a serious relationship and needing to get married, but not having that. I was frustrated by how life was working out for me. But as time went by, I understood that God was at work bringing Amanda and I together.
I can remember being frustrated about 7 or 8 years ago because I wanted to be doing what I am doing now. But I wasn’t ready for that yet. God was at work preparing me for that. He made a way for me to finish my education and gain some experience in ministry before moving me here.
Occasion after occasion pops into my mind. God is always at work. And we must remember that. God has not abandoned us or this world to chance. And so, though we oftentimes find ourselves in situations we would not choose to be in, God is doing something much bigger and much more glorious than we could ever imagine.
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19 ESV)
Christian, trust the Lord. Trust that He is at work even now.
God was at work in Joseph and Mary’s life in ways that neither could have ever imagined. They could not have known or understood what was taking place without being told. And God was doing something glorious!
Do Not Fear, God Has Come To Save (Matthew 1:21-23)
In this instance, God was at work doing the unthinkable. God the Holy Spirit miraculously caused the Virgin Mary to be pregnant with a son. The names given to the child tell the story. And because of the logical progression of this, we will deal with these names in reverse order.
The angel informed Joseph that the child would be called “Immanuel”. Immanuel means “God with us.” He would be called this because of who He was. This child that was in the womb of Mary was God. To be very specific, this is God the Son. As Christians we believe that the one God exists in three persons. God the Son is the second person of the Trinity. God the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16). God the Holy Spirit applied this by causing Mary to give birth to the Son (Matthew 1:18, 20). And God the Son was the baby in the womb having taken on human flesh. As John would write,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14 ESV)
The Word was God the Son. He always existed with God. And then He “became flesh and dwelt among us”. This baby is called “Immanuel” because God had come to be with us. God the Son, who always existed, was with the Father before the world began and “became flesh and dwelt among us”. He is Immanuel, God with us who is somehow fully God and fully man. He left the glories of Heaven to become the God-man and walk among us.
There is another name that the angel delivers to Joseph. And this name is the name that the child is to be called. He was to be named “Jesus”. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Yeshua”. Jesus would have been known as “Yeshua” in His time on Earth. He is not the only person in the Bible to have this name either. Joshua’s name would also have been “Yeshua”. Joshua is the English rendering the Hebrew word “Yeshua”. The name means, “to deliver” or “to redeem”. And this name was given to Jesus because He would “save His people from their sins”.
This child was the long awaited suffering servant that would come and save His people from their sins. He was the one foretold in passages like Isaiah 53.
“Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned–every one–to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
(Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV)
We were sinners in rebellion against God. All of us were that. We were all like sheep that had one astray. We had all earned for ourselves God’s wrath and justice. As we have already stated in the message today, God’s vengeance and justice is hanging over our heads of all who are not Christ’s people. God the Son took on human flesh and dwelt among us so that He could accomplish salvation for us. He lived a perfect life and offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for sin. We earned for ourselves God’s justice; Jesus Christ offered up Himself as an offering for guilt. He was crushed in our place.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas time. God became man for our salvation. We celebrate the gift of salvation that was given to us through God the Son taking on human flesh and accomplishing our salvation. We give gifts to each other in commemoration of the glorious gift of salvation that was given to us. We light the Advent candles to consider the longing and awaiting of the coming of the Messiah, and on Christmas Day we will light the last one to commemorate the fact that the Savior came. And on Christmas Day we will have the Lord’s Supper and remember that when Christ came, He accomplished salvation for us.
Are you His? Has His work been applied to you? Are you numbered among the redeemed? Have you trusted Him?
This is the question that we must ultimately consider at this time. Are you lost in your sins and living with God’s wrath hanging over your head? Or, have you been brought to God through the finished work of Christ?
If you are without Christ, then you have much to fear. His wrath and justice hang over your head.
But if you are in Christ, then that is gone. Your sins have been paid for. You have been washed clean. You have been credited with the righteousness of Christ. You have been brought into God’s family, the fellowship of the redeemed.
Is that you? Do you have reason to fear God and His judgment? Or are you among God’s people?
The Christian now has no reason to fear the Lord and His Judgment, or the world.
Do Not Fear, Obey The Lord (Matthew 1:24-25)
When Joseph awoke from his dream, he did everything that the angel told him to do. And it seems that he did so without hesitation. His faith in the Lord led him to not fear and keep Mary as his betrothed and keep moving toward marriage with her. And this trust in the Lord also led him to obey the command of God even though it might bring hardships into his life and accusations of poor character. What would people say about he and his wife since she was pregnant before marriage?
This was an extraordinary circumstance. And Joseph obeyed completely here. He did exactly what the Lord commanded him to do.
I began this sermon by stating that we had many things to fear in our age. And some of those things are the results of obedience in the Christian life. Faithfulness to the Christian life is growing more unpopular than it once was and it looks as if faithfulness could one day get Christians into legal trouble as well.
But Joseph helps us by his example. Despite the negative things that could result, Joseph trusted the Lord and followed His command. The command given to Joseph was “do not fear to take Mary as your wife”, and Joseph followed the Lord’s command.
Christian, you have been redeemed. You are saved from sin and death. There is nothing that can be done to you in this life that you should fear.
“”So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:26-33 ESV)
Because Christ came and redeemed us, we can be obedient to the Lord in the face of tremendous danger. We do not fear what the wicked of this world may do to us, for God has saved us. We are the redeemed. And we know that, in the end, God will take care of us. We do not fear the world or what they might do to us. We fear God and obey God.
Immanuel saved us. And so, we are released from the fear of what the wicked of this world might do and free to obey God as Joseph did.
God the Son took on human flesh and dwelt among us. And that changes everything. The Christian is freed from the fear of death and the fear of God’s judgment. They are freed from the wickedness of this world and the things the wicked might do to them. And it is all because of what Christ has done for them.
Christian, live that way. Live your life to please the Lord. Obey Him in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable. God the Son took on human flesh and brought redemption, now go and act like it. Do not fear, go forth and live trusting the Savior.
If you are here today and are not a believer, then you have much to fear. The wrath and justice of God are hanging over your head even now. Flee to Jesus. Flee to the One who took on human flesh and made a way for you to be brought to God. Flee to the One who can save you from the wrath and curse of God. Turn from ruling your own life and trust in Jesus, who is Immanuel.
R. Dwain Minor