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“From Shamed to Saved”

Christmas Eve Dec.24/16 - Matt.1:18-25


Matthew the gospel-writer tells the Christmas story from the point of view of Joseph, rather than Mary, as Luke does. There’s no mention of many of the traditional Christmas particulars we find in Luke’s account: no manger or stable or shepherds – though some mysterious Magi from the east do show up a little later on after the birth in chapter two. And there are angels involved in both accounts. No, Matthew has bigger fish to fry: he’s trying to tell the Christmas story in the framework of the Big Picture of how God is delivering His people from guilt, shame, and judgment. It’s a big plan stretching back centuries and reaching fulfilment through the Jewish people (stubborn as they are) and the line of David (full of imperfect people as it was).

      We can sum up Matthew’s account in four words: OOPS; OH!; OBSTINATE; and OBEY. (Divide congregation in roughly four groups and assign a word to each)

      We begin with OOPS (people repeat). Who of us is perfect? Which of you have gone through 2016 and never made one mistake? ...I didn’t think so. Earlier this month the Blyth-area pastors were getting together for our usual monthly meeting and fellowship time. The date had been changed a week earlier than originally planned. Towards noon on the designated day I realized I had completely forgotten about the meeting! OOPS!

      That’s an example of a mistake that wasn’t too serious. But other “oopses” cause much more damage and are harder to repair. A harsh word spoken that you can’t take back. A forgotten anniversary, or missing someone’s birthday. Impatience, jealousy, or envy that damages a relationship so badly it seems there’s no hope of recovering the previous intimacy. Oops – that hurts! Our largest mistakes can land us in hot water that leads to years of shame and guilt that’s hard to get past.

      Matthew records Joseph and Mary’s story seemed to begin with a rather big “oops!” V18 “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.” Now, to understand the seriousness of this, you must realize betrothal in Jewish custom back then was a lot more like actual marriage is to us today: there was all the commitment but with none of the physical benefits. To end an engagement would require a divorce process just as if you’d been married. Sexual immorality / infidelity during betrothal could be punishable by stoning! So, when Mary’s been betrothed but is discovered to be pregnant, it’s a major “oops” in the relationship. With potential fatal consequences for Mary. It was shameful, sinful, unthinkable.

      Still, Joseph was zealous for the Jewish law, very devout, but he was also merciful. V19 “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.” Rather than public shaming and punishment through a formal procedure involving a magistrate and possible death by stoning, Joseph decided to opt for the quieter process of giving Mary a certificate of divorce made official by a couple of witnesses. It would spare her life and public disgrace.

      Romans 3:23 declares, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” What have been your “oopses” this year? In what areas are you in need of mercy?

      In Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is recalling the merriment of the Christmas parties he enjoyed as a young clerk in the office of old Mr.Fezziwig. He has a pang of conscience and, when asked by the Ghost of Christmas Past what it was, Scrooge admits, “I just would have liked to have a word with my own clerk just now.” Scrooge realizes his tight-fistedness prevented any merriment in his own office, and a more merciful approach would have been kind to his own staff. He was realizing an “oops”.


It’s at this point God steps in and produces an “OH!” moment. (Group 2 repeats) God knows Mary has not been unfaithful: the child she carries is not the result of adultery or a ‘one-night stand’ with some other man. So the Lord uses supernatural means to clue Joseph in to what’s really happening. Vv20-21 “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.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."”

      There are really three different OH’s here – miraculous interventions that are instrumental in God’s big plan to help His people being brought to pass. First OH: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” God still speaks to people today through their dreams, getting their attention, drawing them to Himself. I recently read Nabeel Qareshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus in which he tells about the dreams God used to bring truth to Qareshi who had been til that point an ardent Muslim.

      Second OH: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Jesus had a biological human mother, but no man was His biological father, so He could properly be called “Son of God”. God wonderfully intervened in Mary’s womb to produce a man-child with a full set of chromosomes yet without the normal male agency. OH!

      And the third OH - “He will save His people from their sins.” This was the key point of the whole divine project. We know from the Bible that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Thus our guilt shuts us off from Him forever. Romans 6:23A “For the wages of sin is death...” Left on our own, our wicked acts would condemn us to hell in eternity, cut off from God, like the rich man in Jesus’ parable who never took notice of the poor beggar lying at his very gates (Luke 16:26).

      This is what makes the name of Jesus so special: Yeshua, Yahweh saves. It would mean this perfectly innocent God-man going to the cross to suffer and die for our sins, paying our penalty, settling the score on an eternal scale. OH! Hebrews 9:12a,14 “...he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption...How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”


And all this in spite of our human fallenness and hard-hearted wilfulness. God’s long-range plan stretches over the centuries to save those who are His. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 to indicate this is all about God fulfilling His promise made over 700 years earlier. Vv 22-23 “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" —which means, "God with us."”

      Back when the prophecy was originally given, the southern kingdom of Judah was under attack from an alliance between the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Aram, which had the capital Damascus. God sent the prophet Isaiah to deliver a reassuring message to Judah’s King Ahaz. After telling the king to not be afraid but to stand firm in his faith because the two attacking nations would soon be destroyed, Isaiah spoke for the Lord to Ahaz urging him to ask for a sign to confirm what had been promised. But Ahaz simply refused to do what God said and suggest a sign. He was being OBSTINATE (group 3 repeats) – stubborn, self-willed. Isaiah responded, Is 7:13 “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Yet, in spite of Ahaz’ obstinacy and insolence, God still provided this miraculous sign which we see come to pass at Jesus’ birth: a virgin being with child and giving birth to a son.

      It is sheer mercy when God overrules our efforts to be OBSTINATE! We are a consumer society: our orders at the counter custom-tailored to our appetites, self-serve, have-it-the-way-you-want-it. We are so spoiled! Yet despite our selfishness, Jesus comes not to BE served but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

      I’m so glad God does not let our sinful bull-headedness get in the way of Him offering mercy, repentance, and forgiveness! When Joseph held that baby in his arms, he was welcoming to the world the fulfilment of God’s promise from centuries past, in line with the thrust of ancient Scripture. The Lord God was bringing to pass exactly what He had foretold. God’s sovereignty trumps even human resistance.

      But – are you holding out on God, pretending like King Ahaz you can manage without the aid God offers? You may be strong and resourceful, but you can’t match the power of a God who can create the miracle of a virgin birth! You NEED the help of the Lord Almighty. Let go of your stubborn self-will and receive Him into your life.


Once Joseph understands the ‘big picture’ of what God’s about through Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, he quickly gets into line and supports the Lord’s project already underway. He doesn’t resist God’s will but OBEYS (group 4 repeat). Vv24-25 “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” Note Joseph’s speedy compliance with the angel’s instruction. “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him” – regardless of the repercussions, the scandal, the gossip, how people would talk about a betrothal that (to the unknowing casual observer) apparently had some sinful shameful shenanigans involved. Joseph would stand by Mary regardless of what people said. He would do his best to shield her from scorn, abuse, and slander.

      And Joseph’s obedience in giving the baby the name “Jesus” as the angel directed shows Joseph’s faith that God was about something super special here. Something that would lead to mighty miracles, walking on water, stilling the storm, feeding the multitudes, healing lepers, raising the dead even. And beyond that, would lead to a painful cross on account of our sins, AND resurrection from the grave itself! We need such a Saviour. We need God’s cleansing and forgiveness in our lives, to free us from our guilt and shame, our mega-OOPSes. We need the Holy Spirit Jesus pours into our lives that brings joy and peace and love for all our relationships, especially the ones that just seem to take from us and never give back.

      So, tonight, as we bow at the manger, we exclaim with the angels and shepherds, OH! at God’s marvelous fulfilment of His plan in this miracle baby, our Saviour Jesus. Let’s pray.