18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel - which means, “God with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In Matthew 19, Mark 8 and Luke 9 Jesus asks His disciples the most important questions ever posed to humanity: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
Who is Jesus Christ?
No other figure in the history of the world has had the impact that this one man from Nazareth has had, even though it is now almost two thousand years later. The central figure in all of human history, yet the majority of people in the world today do not know who He is any more than people did then.
The New Testament begins with the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, which are designed to tell us who He is. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John though are not mere historical documents. They don’t simply tell about Jesus - they proclaim Jesus. The goal of these inspired authors is to convince us to believe in Jesus, to follow Him and to love Him.
And of the four Gospels, Matthew has always been the most popular. It was the most quoted Gospel by writers in the early days of the Christian Church and it continues to be the best known of the four today. It contains most of the well-known events of Jesus’ life: His birth, the Sermon on the Mount, the memorable ‘Kingdom Parables,’ His death and resurrection, and it ends with what we have come to know as the Great Commission – the rally cry and marching orders to all generations of Christians to take the message of Jesus into the world.
Matthew’s unique purpose in his Gospel is to portray Jesus as the King and to tell what it means to be in His kingdom. Chapters 1 and 2 tell us about His birth and the events surrounding it. From the very beginning of his Gospel, Matthew reveals through the story of Jesus’ birth who He is.
Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. This may seem an odd beginning, but Jesus’ human ancestry was extremely important to the predominantly Jewish audience for whom Matthew originally wrote. His genealogy should be important to us as well because it reminds us that He was fully human. He had parents, grandparents, and a host of other ancestors. He lived and died at a certain point in history. Jesus Christ is not a myth or merely a symbol of goodness and hope. He lived and died as a man.
But the purpose of the four Gospels is not just to show that Jesus was ‘a’ man, but that He is ‘the Man’ - the one through whom all of God’s promises to Abraham and to David were fulfilled. The very first verse of Matthew’s Gospel is important, as it sets the scene and is the foundation of everything that follows: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew identifies Him as Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus the Messiah; the one sent from God to bring about His kingdom. He is also the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, the two most important characters in this list. God had promised Abraham “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” and Matthew proclaims that this promise is now fulfilled in Jesus. God had also promised David that he would have a descendant on the throne of Israel forever. This descendant is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the King of kings. Everything God has ever done or promised to do is brought to fulfillment in this one man - Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.
But Jesus was not just a man, and this is what Matthew writes about in our first reading today. John’s Gospel is remarkably different from the other 3 Gospels, but he opens his Gospel proclaiming the same message as Matthew: Jesus is Divine. Many people could claim to be physically descended from Abraham and David, but only Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus was not physically descended from David. He was a legal descendant by virtue of His adoption by Joseph, who was not His biological father. The story of Jesus’ conception and birth is an amazing story, but it was also necessary in order for Jesus to not be tainted by human sin. I know that most grandparents struggle with this, but that little bundle of joy you held for the very first time was already a sinner before he or she was born…
Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth though, protected Him from all of this. It shows the perfect blending of His humanity and His divinity. He is Emmanuel – God with us.
Jesus was God walking on earth, God in human form, fully human yet fully God at the same time. As John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
But this was just the beginning of the story of the God/man Jesus. He was born, loved, hated and ignored.
Matthew 2 tells the familiar story of the wise men who came from the east to worship Jesus. It also tells of Herod, the megalomaniac king who so feared the prophecy of the birth of a new king that he ordered the slaughter of baby boys in an attempt to destroy any possible successor to the throne of Israel. It tells of Joseph’s desperate flight into Egypt to save the life of his son. Now each of these stories is well known to us, but they have a symbolic quality too. They are foreshadows of how it would always be. Jesus would always be loved, hated, and ignored. The wise men were most likely astrologers. God used their preoccupation with the stars to reveal the birth of His Son. As a result, they looked for Jesus in order to worship and adore Him and to bring Him gifts. There always has been and always will be a significant minority who love and worship Jesus for who He is.
Herod was evil, cruel, and jealous. When he saw in Jesus nothing but a threat to his own power, he tried to destroy Him at birth. Even when Herod was dead, Joseph was afraid to return to Judea, because as 2:22 says, Herod was succeeded on the throne by his equally evil son Archelaus. Jesus has always had His enemies, and He always will. He is the most influential person in human history and He is the most divisive person too.
In addition to the hatred of Herod at the birth of Jesus was the shocking indifference of the chief priests and scribes. Herod assembled these holier than thou religious leaders to find out from them where the Messiah was to be born. Verses 5 and 6 show that they knew the prophecies well, because they were able to pinpoint from the prophecy of Micah the place of His birth in Bethlehem, less than 10 kilometres from Jerusalem. Yet not one of these knowledgeable theologians went to worship Him! One commentator wrote about these men that they had the knowledge of Scripture in the head, but no grace in the heart. Their indifference to Jesus is amazing, given their knowledge that the Messiah was coming and they knew exactly where, but they merely foreshadow the millions today who know about Jesus but refuse to serve Him.
In the first 2 chapters Matthew quotes Old Testament prophecies from Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and Jeremiah – prophecies that his readers would have known off by heart to show that Jesus is their fulfillment.
The point of all this is clear: God was fully in control of the events surrounding the birth of His Son, to bring about His will. The fulfillment of prophecies and the constant divine intervention that protected the newborn Saviour from Herod prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah promised to Israel. Yet many chose to ignore Him. And many still do today.
Jesus was born as the Saviour of the world. Matthew is often described as a distinctly Jewish Gospel. It is obvious that he knew the ancient prophecies well – what we now know as the Old Testament. As I said earlier, he originally wrote to a Jewish audience, but Matthew makes it clear that this newborn Messiah is the Saviour of both Jew and Gentile. There are four women listed in his genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary. Both Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles. The wise men, among the first to worship Jesus, were Gentiles. There are also some rather shady characters listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was an adulteress, Rahab was a prostitute, Jacob lied and stole his way through most of his life and the sins of David are well documented. The ancestral line of Jesus was hardly one to be proud of, but Jesus came to save them too. He is not just the Messiah of Israel. He is everybody’s Messiah!
Listen again the words of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
You are included in that list, you are one of His people, because like every other person who ever has or ever will live on this earth, you were created in the image of God. You bear His mark. Unfortunately though, just like every other person who ever has or ever will live on this earth, you are also tainted by sin. This is why you need a Saviour. This is why Jesus came – not to give us an excuse to exchange presents and have a family celebration once a year. No, He came for one purpose – to die for you. I have said many times that it’s a pity Easter follows Christmas 3 or 4 months later each year. The story of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb is one story, and they cannot be separated.
By all means, enjoy the time you have with your friends and families this Christmas. Our loved ones are a precious gift from God and we are grateful for the fun and laughter we share at Christmas. But don’t forget why Jesus came. He came to offer His life for you. He is the Saviour of the world, but is He your Saviour?
Are you like the shepherds and the wise men who recognised Him and worshipped Jesus for who He is, or are you among those who know about Him, but not much else?
“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
How will you answer the questions Jesus asked His disciples: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”