December 5th 2021: Gareth Edwards

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Isaiah 9:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Are you getting excited about Christmas? Perhaps, as you get older, you don’t have the same level of excitement and engagement as youngsters do? Perhaps you can’t wait for January, to get back to normal? As Christians, we should be those most excited – not for presents, tees, carol services etc., but because we are conscious of the significance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, conceived in Mary’s womb by a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit, according to the holy will of the Father.

The second person of the Trinity came into this world and dwelt amongst us. This is a great mystery, one we will never be able to get our mind around. It is not something mystical that we cannot get an understanding of. It is so unique it can never be fully comprehended. Here is an event which continually fills us with awe and wonder.

We should never be tired of considering these things. We should never think of just going through the motions of another Christmas. Here we encounter a glorious miracle; Jesus was not just a mere baby, He was supernaturally begotten of the Holy Spirit – the miracle of the virgin conception, the birth of a sinless person, one promised by God 4,000 years prior to the event. In Genesis 3:15 God promises the woman’s seed – a singular word – one who would come from the woman, in due time, who would be there conqueror of Satan, and who would be the one who would release them from their captivity to sin.

In the person of Jesus Christ, the woman’s seed, the Saviour comes – miraculously conceived in in the womb of a virgin – a great and glorious miracle of God. Marvel afresh at the mystery and the miracle of our Saviour’s birth. Matthew, like Luke, wants to emphasise the wonder of this event by pointing to the reality of the virgin conception.

“Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ,” (Matthew 1:16). ‘Of whom’ is feminine, not masculine. The original language is unambiguous; Jesus is the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. That great lineage that we read at the start of Matthew 1 is emphasised in the original language, that He is born of Mary.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothedto Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) There is an emphasis on the absence of sexual relationship between Mary and Joseph. A betrothal has taken place, something more than an engagement. We are told specifically, as the Holy Spirit guides Matthew, there was no sexual relationship between Joseph and Mary that could have led to her conceiving. Indeed, we are told in verse 18 and re-emphasised in verse 20, as the angel speaks to Joseph, Mary was not involved with any man, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph need not worry that Mary had been unfaithful to Him.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 Matthew quotes Isaiah. He uses a word in Greek that only means virgin. The Holy Spirit guides Matthew, confirming it is a virgin who gives birth. Mary remains a virgin up to His birth. Subsequently, we know Mary has a further four boys and at least two girls that Joseph fathered. But in this instance, Joseph has no involvement in this conception. A virgin conception leads to a virgin birth.

If Jesus was the natural child of sinful parents, then there would be no reason for us to celebrate Christmas, to be excited, to be full of awe and wonder at His birth. If Jesus were not the Son of God who entered into this world via the virgin’s womb, He could not be the Saviour of His people. The name Jesus that was given to Him, by direction of God through the angel, means Saviour. It’s a name that was a fairly commonly used in Bible times. It has an Old Testament version, Joshua. Of all the boys that were born down the centuries that bore His name, there was only one who was truly the Saviour, bringing salvation to those born in sin. This Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Here is the one mysteriously, miraculously conceived, the one who brings hope to a hopeless, lost world.

This Jesus is Immanuel. We are told this is God, God with us. Here is the one who is mysteriously, miraculously conceived, the one who brings hope to the hopeless. Here is one who is fully God, never anything less than that. It is important for fallen human beings to ascend to God, to approach the holy one, to draw near to this holy God. It there was ever to be a renewed fellowship between sinful men and the holy God, God must come down, for man cannot go up.

Sharing in this remarkable event, in this mysterious, miraculous occurrence, God comes – one who is fully God, but one who is also the fullness of God. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19), “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9). In this one person the fullness of God was found in bodily form. An incredible mystery! It is phenomenal – not just a bit of God but the whole of God. It’s only God the Son who is conceived of the Holy Spirit, who is born. But such is the unity of the Trinity that when one person of the Trinity comes, then the whole of God comes, in Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is Immanuel.

How amazing it is that the God we have sinned against and rejected, condescends to come. He doesn’t sit in glory and say, ‘Do your best to get to me,’ for that is impossible. He comes! Who is it that can pay the infinite price for sin other than the infinite God. It is God the Son who will offer Himself up, as a sacrifice, taking the punishment from our sin, in our place, upon the cross. The Father will pour out upon Him the wrath the should rightly consume each one of us.

It is the one who is fully God, the one who is the fullness of God, who pays the penalty that God requires, so that we can be forgiven and receive salvation, eternal life, that renewed fellowship with God which is the essence of what life is – an eternal union with Christ through faith, that draws us into the very communion of the godhead itself. We don’t become divine, but through Christ we are drawn into the divine, and we know salvation. Immanuel. It’s God. It is God with us.

He is God but He is also fully man. He identifies full with us in our humanity. He is therefore able to represent us and take upon Himself the responsibility for our sin. It is not an angel who comes in order to die, it is a man, for it is a man who fell into sin and brought into captivity all his descendants. We are all sinners by our nature and by our deed. We share in the responsibility for Adam’s sin. We cannot say, ‘It’s unfair because it was Adam who fell not me.’ The reality is Adam fell, and I fell in him, but I have continued to fall in sin and I must bear the responsibility.

But a Saviour comes! One who is fully God but who is also fully man, one who identifies completely with me in order that He can take the responsibility of my sin upon myself.

He is sinless, protected by the Holy Spirit from the contamination of sin, by this virgin conception. This perfect man was perfectly God. He knew no sin. But God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin, by taking the responsibility of our sin. He is not condemned, as He dies upon the cross, because of His own sin, but because He has identified so fully with me that He becomes me, in the eyes of the Father. As He hangs upon that tree, He bears the full weight of the punishment of my sin. He is God with us.

He is our great High Priest. He identifies with us so fully. He has experienced all the trials of our lives. He is moved with compassion towards us. He has loved us so much that He has given Himself as the sacrifice for our sin. His great desire is for our eternal good and well-being. He intercedes on our behalf before the Father. His purpose is to keep all those who, repenting of their sin, trust in Him for forgiveness. He is going to keep every single one of these people safe in the salvation that He has accomplished for all eternity. There is not one that will not be kept or preserved, to stand before the God of glory in eternity. There is not one who will be separated from Him. There is not one who will not be kept and preserved by His grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to stand before the throne of God in glory and to worship for eternity.

The great triune God. Here is Jesus, the Saviour, who is Immanuel, God with us. Two natures in one person. Here is the mystery and miracle of Christmas that brings true joy, that provides sure and certain hope of salvation. Here is the reason why we should be full of praise and thanksgiving. Here is the Saviour. Here is my Saviour, my God, come down for me, that I might ascend to His glorious presence and enjoy eternity, in fellowship with Him. Are you excited, full of awe, full of wonder?

December 15th 2019: Norman Rees

Norman Rees-Sept 17We have all had days when we have been downcast and troubled. But one man in the Bible who had probably a few days of concern, anxiety and sleepless nights was Joseph. Joseph was a godly man who was engaged to Mary. They both lived in Nazareth. He was a carpenter. He loved Mary deeply. In those days engagement was something akin to marriage. It was a promise that could not be broken. But then Joseph had news; his fiancée was pregnant.

Mary was spoken to by an angel of God. Mary, a virgin, one who feared and loved God, was terrified when she first heard the news. The angel told her not to be afraid, he brought a blessing from God. He told her she would have a child. She was confused. Here was purity; two godly people who loved each other would now be the talk of the town. It knocked her sideways. She asked how it could be, “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

She was overwhelmed. It is not recorded in Scripture if she went and told Joseph but she did go to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant. Elizabeth hid herself for five months. She was old and barren but now pregnant. It was a wonderful miracle of grace. Mary spent three months with her. Then Mary went back home to Nazareth, to Joseph. He could see she was pregnant. The first thing that came into his mind must have been ‘What has happened?’ Had she been unfaithful? He couldn’t marry her. He thought of ‘divorcing’ her but did not want to embarrass her, so planned to do it privately, before a couple of witnesses.

One night Joseph went to sleep and there God spoke to him through an angel in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Well, what a revelation! What a shock! His expectant wife was expecting the Son of God. Being a man of God, he would have known the prophecy from Isaiah. She must be the one spoken of by Isaiah. He woke and immediately, without doubting God’s word, he went to Mary, took her in his arms and they rejoiced together. They married but did not have a relationship until after Jesus was born. Joseph cared for her, looked after her and her most precious gift growing in her womb. People around would have tutted and mocked. They did not know what God had revealed to Mary and Joseph. But Mary and Joseph did not care what the world had to say.

The glory of heaven, the Father sent Jesus to earth for 33 years. God the Son was in the eternal plan to save mankind, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,”  (John 3:16). Here is the gift of God before us, looked after and cared for by Mary and Joseph. He, who could control all the elements, was subject to His mother Mary and step-father Joseph. Such humility! This is the Christ we worship. He was in Mary, then with Mary and Joseph, with His disciples and all those who were called. He helped them, encouraged them and loved them deeply. Immanuel, God with us! They had God walking by their side, God in the flesh – Jesus Christ. Some people hated Him for this. They thought He was blaspheming.

All that happened 2,000 years ago. When Jesus went back to heaven He sent His Holy Spirit. So within us, as believers, is Jesus Christ, the Spirit. They are not to be divided. Here is one who is with them, with us. Immanuel! 2,000 years ago people could see Him, hear Him. When He went back to heaven His disciples were fearful. But when the Holy Spirit came they were bold and could rejoice. And that same Holy Spirit is with us now in Penuel.

We go through situations, problems, difficulties, sadness and deaths. Sometimes we feel God is not with us but He is always with us. He will never change. It is no good relying on feelings. God is with us in every situation. He is with us all the time. Whatever the future hold, Immanuel is with us. Never forget this, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10). This verse is a great comfort in times of trial. When there is nowhere else to go, God’s presence will comfort us. If we have confessed our sins and repented, then this promise is for us. God says He will never leave us or forsake us. Immanuel, God with us. This is easy to say in good time! Believe it! As health changes, our situation changes, government changes, here is one who never changes.

December 17th 2017: Alan Davison

alan davison-dec17Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the forgotten man

When reflecting on the Christmas story, Joseph is usually in the background, in a supporting role. However, if we look at the scriptures, Mary and Joseph have equal billing in the Nativity story. Here in Matthew the focus is on Joseph. Luke’s focus is on Mary. The Roman Catholic tradition of focusing on Mary has contributed to the general forgetfulness of Joseph. Here in Matthew’s account of the Nativity, God’s story is from Joseph’s perspective. Joseph was a carpenter living a fairly normal life. Other than the Nativity and visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, there is no other mention of him. He had a humble station in life and yet the Holy God dealt with him directly.

As a carpenter Joseph would have had a busy life of hard, manual labour. He was engaged to be married to Mary, everything seemed set for the rest of his life. He was betrothed – effectively married, underlying the seriousness of the relationship. May became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, in his human nature, must have thought this incredible. He probably thought the worst, that Mary had been unfaithful. Deuteronomy 22 warns of falsely accusing a woman of adultery. If, however, this was true, an adulteress would have been stoned to death. This was the potential threat hanging over Mary. However, more likely, it would have ended in divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Joseph could have formally divorced Mary. But instead he wanted to put her away secretly, to save her from public embarrassment. Joseph is to be commended here. He did not have a knee-jerk reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. He wanted to protect both Mary and himself. Yet it’s a wrong decision, even if made for the right reasons. ‘But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”’ (Matthew 1:20). Joseph still considers what to do when God intervenes to reveal exactly what is going on. As human beings we can be easily confused and distracted by what we see. God in His grace intervened in Joseph’s life.

God then reassures Joseph. An angel says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ This phrase occurs throughout scripture (e.g. shepherds, Mary). Jesus repeatedly had to tell people not to be afraid (e.g. disciples on the boat in Lake Galilee). God always reassures His people. Joseph here is going to be told the reason for Mary’s pregnancy, which is the will of God. The Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s creativity, particularly in the creation of new life. Isaiah 11:1-2, Isaiah 42:1.

As well as being told by the angel of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph was probably told by Mary herself. Presumably he did love Mary. Any doubts about her truthfulness would be removed. The angel now goes on to offer an explanation about what is happening. God is under no obligation to do this but issues commands in a loving manner (Matthew 1:20). Joseph is to take Mary as his wife, to continue the marriage. Joseph is part of the lineage of David, born into the people of God. Any sons of his would be legally considered to be sons of David, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would come from David’s line.

 ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21). For God to reveal a child’s name would reveal something special and the role for them. Here, even before Jesus was born, God is saying He will save people from sins. Isaiah prophesies the role of Jesus’ life. When Jesus came to earth He was Immanuel, God with us. We are separated from God by our sin, but Immanuel, God is with us.

God remains in control throughout. Having been reassured and given an explanation, Joseph obeys. He didn’t pause to consider any more. He acts and obeys. It is not just blind servitude. God has explained to Joseph what is going on. His own knowledge of the scriptures would have directed his way as well. Joseph kept Mary a virgin after marriage. There was no doubt Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. Joseph follows God’s guidance to the letter.

What does all of this mean for us? God intervened in Joseph’s life. Even as believers we can find it difficult to follow God’s will. After intervening God then reassures Joseph. Because God is with us we too know things will work out. God didn’t reveal everything to Joseph, but he knew it would all be OK. God gave Joseph everything he needed, enough so he could make the right decisions.

Sometimes, life can overwhelm us. The temptation is to despair but God guides us step by step. Sometimes we just need to get on with the work. God will never overburden us. Joseph obeyed. Quite simply, that’s all we need to do. God is sovereign. He knows what is best for us. God wants us to enjoy our lives. We only really do that when we trust the future to God. This Christmas, may we, like Joseph, find the time to pause and consider things. Simply trust Him for tomorrow, as Joseph did.