Exegetical Statement: In this section of Jesus’ birth narrative, Matthew tells the origin of Jesus. Jesus’ origin comes not from a human father, but from the Holy Spirit. Joseph was going to do what was his right—divorce Mary, though at the time he was uninformed. Yet he was a righteous man, and he was going to divorce Mary discreetly so as not to shame her. The angel reveals to Joseph that Mary was not ipso facto unfaithful but was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Through this miraculous conception and birth, the promised Immanuel will come to save His people from their sins, as prophesied in Isaiah. By faith, Joseph silently obeys the Lord and takes Mary as his wife, though he continued not to know her sexually during her pregnancy. Immanuel, “God with us,” was born “to save” (Jesus translated).
Focus Statement: Jesus saves you from your sins and, therefore, saves you from God’s destruction.
Function Statement: That my hearers will trust Jesus that He has saved them from destruction
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Intro: Destruction/Apocalyptic Movies
I’m one of those weird people who gets a thrill out of watching apocalyptic movies. Maybe it’s because I’m a man and we men like seeing things blow up and get destroyed. I got a kick out of movies like the 1998 movie Armageddon, the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow, and the movie 2012. I even find myself enjoying post-apocalyptic video games like The Division, Destiny, and Fallout.
I know I’m not the only one. We all have a morbid fascination with the apocalypse. That’s why these movies and TV shows keep getting filmed and video games keep getting developed. That’s why climate alarmists are terrified of the earth being destroyed due to manmade pollution. That’s why abortionists make the absurd claim that killing babies in the womb will help against climate change since a lesser human population means fewer humans will cause further damage to the earth.
We’re living in some pretty dark times. Animals area going endangered and extinct, forest fires are becoming more frequent, hurricanes are the norm, mass shootings are increasing, blizzards cause severe traffic accidents, the oceans are heavily polluted with human waste, and we’re killing our babies in the womb because we think we’ll have a better life without a dependent human being to care for. These are, indeed, dark times.
Destruction in the Text
Several times throughout Matthew, we see him refer to several prophecies from Isaiah, which are prophecies Jesus fulfills. A little later, when Jesus begins His ministry, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 9: The people of Galilee are living in darkness. This prophecy is set in the context of Isaiah 7, which we read from earlier. From this text, we read of the promise of Immanuel, but we also read of the coming destruction of Judah. At the beginning of Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is told of the coming Assyrian army to destroy his kingdom, Judah.
And their destruction did come, which we read in 2 Chronicles 28:16-21. The country Edom had invaded Judah and destroyed the Judean army. To make things worse, the Philistines also came and raided the cities of Judah and had taken its villages to settle there. Because of this, Ahaz asked Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, for help. But instead of helping him, Tiglath brought the might of the Assyrian army upon Judah.
The Assyrian army was infamous for being extremely ruthless. With their iron weapons and advanced engineering skills, they utterly destroyed homes, buildings of importance like temples, and set fire to entire cities. Assyrian kings were known for being experts in sheer, unadulterated terror. Assyrian soldiers killed men and children and raped their women, and the “lucky” children were sold as slaves. Tiglath was known for deporting entire peoples to horrific physical torture just to make an example out of them, such as being flayed alive and being impaled upon stakes several feet high. This is what the people of Judah underwent.
Since these times, the people of Judah had lived in a great time of darkness. And it was God who set all of this in motion because the people of Judah had fallen into sin.
Destruction in the World
This is perhaps difficult for us to relate to. Although we live in our own dark times, we don’t exactly live in destructive times, though America is certainly not safe from God’s judgement, especially considering it engages in the same sins as Sodom & Gomorrah, which God so utterly destroyed that there is yet no archaeological evidence of it—no ruins to commemorate its destruction. We may not have the oracle of a prophet to warn us today—aside from Isaiah himself—but the sins that are ever present before us ought to serve as warnings.
I mentioned mass shootings earlier. We want to put the blame on bad parenting or even video games, but the blame belongs to the individual, and it belongs to sin. I also mentioned abortion. The unborn baby is blamed for promiscuity and premarital sex. Even in atrocious, disgusting cases of rape, the unborn baby is blamed and suffered the consequences of such evil. Yet the blame goes to the promiscuous and the rapist, and it belongs to sin.
We will even remove blame altogether and instead celebrate our favourite sins like homosexuality, gender dysphoria, and pornography. We are such expert sinners that we pretend certain sins are not unnatural and profane, blinded by our cognitive dissonance.
Even with our “smaller” sins. Boy, do we Christians love to gossip. What’s up with that? We have a sweet tooth for breaking the 8th Commandment, talking poorly about our neighbour whether or not it’s true. But it’s “no big deal” because we’re not really hurting anybody, are we? Don’t be so naïve. As St. James said, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness… but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5b-6a, 8). As a small fire can set ablaze an entire forest, so a simple word can set ablaze a person’s entire life.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” but we don’t mean that last part. We want God to forgive us, but forgive my brother in Christ? That’s too much. Oh, my brother in Christ wants to reconcile? No, it’s far easier to hold on to a grudge and avoid them.
Sure, reconciliation is not easy, but the command to forgive one another is still there. “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” [Matthew 6:15]. One who is forgiven by the Father does not naturally live a life of blame and mercilessness.
God may have set the might of Assyria against Judah for the just punishment of their sins, but this is merely a small taste of God’s wrath. I don’t think I have to tell you that God’s wrath is damnation to Hell, which the Scriptures depict as an eternal sulfuric fire—worse than being flayed alive or impaled on a stake. Imagine being burnt alive with sulfur and fire for all eternity—a never ending unimaginable pain. That is God’s wrath. That is what awaits every single person who sins. This is what awaits every single human being.
Salvation in the Text
But God would not have it this way. He would not allow sin and darkness to have its way. Returning to Isaiah 9, those living in darkness in Galilee would would see a great light—a light would dawn upon them [vv. 1-2; Matthew 4:12-17]. Even though the wicked King Ahaz did not ask for a sign, God provides a sign of this promise.
This sign would come as an infant boy, born of a virgin, whose mother would call Him Immanuel, “God with us.” The government would be upon His shoulder—He will hold authority over all kingdoms, even those as wicked and mighty as Assyria. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. He would be our Suffering Servant, pierced for our transgressions, all of our iniquities to be laid upon Him [Isaiah 52:13-53:12].
In Matthew’s gospel, an angel from the Lord tells Joseph this Immanuel shall be named Jesus, whose name means “God saves.” In this wordplay of Jesus’ name, God’s angel says this Jesus will save His people from their sins. What this child would have to undergo when He was a man, however, nobody expected. The host of angels would sing a jovial song at the birth of Immanuel, yet for us it is a bittersweet morning, knowing our King was born so that He would have to die.
Isaiah’s prophecy foretold this Immanuel would be pierced for our transgressions and our iniquities would lay upon Him, but nobody expected this would come in the scandal of the cross.
Salvation in the World
Yet that is precisely how Jesus chose to save you from your sins. Paul reveals that your old sinful self was nailed to Jesus upon the cross in order that the sin in you might die [Romans 6:6]. This is for everyone who believes, he says, in Romans 10, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” [vv. 9-10].
You all just did this a moment ago using the words of the Nicene Creed; therefore, you are saved. We also do this in Confession and Absolution, and in the Eucharist, where your sins are forgiven. Yet Jesus’ saving is not merely the forgiveness of all your sins; Jesus’ saving is literally saving you from God’s destruction.
Sin cannot stand before God without being destroyed. Sin perishes before a holy God. As light snuffs out darkness, so God’s holiness snuffs out sin. The Israelites knew as much when God appeared to them on Mt. Sinai. The glory of the Lord shown upon the mountain and the people of Israel literally feared for their lives! They knew that if they stood before God’s glory, they would perish. So, they tell Moses to go. The Lord appears to Moses but He still hides a portion of Himself from Moses—He hides His face—because if He didn’t, Moses would perish.
Jesus’ act of saving you not only forgives your sins, but He has also literally saved you from sin—He has saved you from perishing before God’s holy presence. He has saved you from destruction. “But I still sin,” you might say. Yes, you do. But hear these words from Paul:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…Romans 7:15, 17-20
In other words, yes, you still sin, but the big difference is that you are no longer culpable before the Judge. You once held the blame, but now the blame falls on Jesus. Somebody has to pay the price, and that’s what Jesus came to do on your behalf. This is why Paul says directly after this, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” [8:1-2].
The law of sin and death says every person who sins must perish before God. But you have been given the law of the Spirit of life, which has freed you from the law of sin and death. This is what Jesus came to do. This is what Jesus did. In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus paid the wages of sin and death and has saved you from the punishment of your sins; He has saved you from destruction.
Yes, even murderers. Even abortionists. Even homosexuals and transgenders. Even addicts. Even gossipers. Even grudge holders. All of these and more are great sinners, and every sinner is saved by faith in Christ, whose Spirit gives such sinners the power to renounce their former ways. Jesus turns every sinner into a saint.
And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you do believe this and trust in this Immanuel who comes to you in His Word and Sacraments, who has forgiven you your sins and has saved you from destruction.
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Immanuel, Jesus who saves. Amen.