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18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
During the Christmas season, there is so much going on that it is easy for many people to lose sight of the real reason for the holiday. There is the so-called "war on Christmas", the pressure of trying to pick the right present to give to a hard-to-please family member, the preparation to receive family members coming over for the holiday, or last-minute traveling to get to a certain destination. It has gotten so bad, that last year, when Christmas fell on a Sunday, some churches raised the question of whether or not they should even have services.
The glamour and false glory of commercialism abounds during this time of the year, and so many people get caught up in the distractions rather than in the reason for the season. It is disappointing to see so many folks miss the meaning behind this holiday.
In its very essence, Christmas is a holiday that brings with it a message of salvation and deliverance for all people. We must remember that the first people who received this message were not middle class citizens who had extra spending money and time to shop for presents to give to each other. Rather, they were poor shepherds spending the night outdoors watching over their sheep. They were an old husband and wife -- John and Elizabeth -- who didn't have any children. They were a young woman named Mary and a young man named Joseph; Mary risked being ostracized, ridiculed, and publicly humiliated and Joseph's life was turned upside down when he found out that the girl he was about to marry was already pregnant.
The Jewish people of first century Palestine lived under the rule of an occupational Roman government. Mary likely grew up somewhere near the city of Nazareth. From the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, we learn that Nazareth was no more than a small peasant village of 200 to 300 people. Ninety-five percent of the people living in Palestine at that time were somewhere between the middle class and the bottom, and they were overtaxed, not only by the Romans, but by Jewish tax collectors who were infamous for their extortionary practices. Dr. George Shillington, a former biblical and theological professor who has written several books on the New Testament, states that it is unlikely that Mary could even read or write.
Joseph was not very well-off either. We know that his family was from Bethlehem and that he was a carpenter. According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, a carpenter "only held a very humble position, and secured a very moderate income." John Broadus writes in his commentary that Joseph was mostly engaged in the making of plows and yokes for farmers because the society in which he lived was heavily dependent on farming for sustenance and income.
So, Jesus Christ came at a time when the people of Palestine were looking for deliverance and salvation. They wanted deliverance from an oppressive government. They wanted deliverance from a religious system which treated them as outcasts and people to be looked down upon. They wanted deliverance from poverty and a life of difficulty. They were looking for a hero. They were looking for a Saviour. They were looking for a Deliverer.
Today, I want to share with you the true message of Christmas -- for it is a message of deliverance and salvation, not only for the people of the first century Roman world, but for each and every one of us today. This message is embodied in the words of the angel to Joseph which we just read. This is the true message of Christmas.
1. Jesus Christ came to deliver us from being scared. Notice the first words of the angel to Joseph -- "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." I want you to focus in on those words, "fear not."
"Fear not" is one of the most frequently repeated commands in the Bible. Some variation of "fear not" occurs over 110 time and is found in almost every book of the Bible.
Why was Joseph afraid? Joseph was afraid because of the societal pressure that was placed on him in light of Mary being pregnant before their marriage. Joseph was a just man -- meaning that he was obedient to Jewish law -- and he was planning to "put Mary away", and call off their marriage. The Jewish practice of betrothal was much more serious than our current practice of engagement. When a man and woman were betrothed to each other, their marriage was considered sealed. So, "putting away" Mary would be similar to the process of divorce -- Joseph could have taken her to the Jewish court, accused her publicly of infidelity, and gotten back whatever dowry he had paid for her. Or he could have provided her with a "writ" or certificate of divorce before two witnesses. For her part, Mary would have been shamed and humiliated and would have remained unmarried for the rest of her life.
During the betrothal period, it was the man's task to build a house for the new family, and it was the woman's task to demonstrate her faithfulness to her soon-to-be husband. The Jews had a tradition in which the young woman would keep a candle burning in her window at all times to show that she was remaining pure for her future husband. The young man, perhaps after a long day of working on the new house, would pass by the window to make sure the candle was still burning.
The Bible tells us that Joseph was planning on putting her away privately to limit the amount of humiliation she received. But according to Craig S. Keener's commentary on the New Testament, "Jewish and Roman law both demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery. If he did not do so, others would assume that Joseph himself must have gotten Mary pregnant." So, Joseph was under pressure by his family and community to call off the marriage and that is what he intended to do.
However, the angel of the Lord showed up and told him to "fear not." Don't be afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. Don't be afraid of the community members who will gossip and talk about you behind your back. Don't be afraid of family members who will shun you publicly. Don't be afraid of the fact that your reputation might be dragged through the mud. Don't be afraid, Joseph! Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife "because that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
My friend, the opposite of fear is faith. When Joseph decided to obey God and marry Mary, he had to have faith in God. He had to place his trust in God, not in other people and not in the Jewish law. "Because Joseph married Mary, outsiders would assume that he had gotten Mary pregnant before the wedding. Joseph would remain an object of shame in a society dominated by the value of honor." If Joseph had succumbed to his fear, he would have divorced Mary. But the angel told him not to be afraid. That is a big part of the message of Christmas for all of us.
On some level, each of us has experienced fear in our lives. However, we were not made to experience fear. The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Fear stems from our sinful nature. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and discovered that they were naked, Adam told God, "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." Adam was afraid because he had sinned and was under the wrath of God.
However, since Jesus Christ came into the world, we no longer have to be afraid because Jesus has taken away the sin of the world. Not only has he taken away the sin of the world, but 1 Thessalonians 1:10 tells us that He "delivered us from the wrath to come." Jesus came so that we would not have to approach God in fear, but rather in faith.
2. Jesus Christ came to deliver us from sin. The next thing the angel tells Joseph is that Mary "shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins."
The Jewish nation had been looking for a Saviour to arrive on the scene ever since they returned to their homeland after the Exile. They were looking for a Deliverer who would restore the former glory of the Jewish nation, who would throw off the yoke of the Roman Empire, and who would affirm and uphold the religious practices of Judaism. However, when Jesus Christ came it was for a very different reason. He came not to deliver people from political oppression, but from the oppression of sin.
The Hebrew name Jesus means "Salvation." Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews of Palestine who were looking for salvation. In Jewish law, there was no concept of complete deliverance from sin. Instead, there was an elaborate system of rules that everyone had to live by. In fact, there are many commandments in Jewish law. When a commandment was broken, a Jew had to bring an offering or sacrifice to the Temple or to the local priestly leader to pay for his sin. However, Matthew makes plain that Jesus came not only to pay for our sins, but to provide 'salvation not only from sin's penalty but also from sin's power.'
To be "saved from sin" means to be completely delivered. If you are drowning in an ocean, and a rescue boat sails by, throws you a floating tube and sails away, are you delivered? Are you saved? No, of course not. You are not delivered until you are out of the water and onto the boat. That is what Jesus Christ came to do. He did not come to throw us a floating tube, but a lifeline by which He can draw us onto the ship of Zion where we are completely saved and delivered.
Because Jesus Christ came into the world on that Christmas long ago, we no longer have to be slaves to sin. We don't have to live under the power and influence of sin. Not only did Jesus Christ come to deliver us from fear, but He came to deliver us from sin.
3. Jesus Christ came to deliver us from separation. Read with me the final words of the angel to Joseph, "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."
Why is it so important that Jesus Christ would be Emmanuel -- God with us? Because when Adam and Eve sinned, they not only separated themselves but the entire human race from God. In so doing, they separated us from light and put us into darkness. They separated us from God's truth and made us subjects to Satan's lies. They separated us from goodness and made us enemies of God. They separated us from beauty and burdened us with sin. They separated us from paradise and condemned us to perdition.
The Jewish novelist Franz Kafka said that, "We are separated from God on two sides; the Fall separates us from Him, the Tree of Life separates Him from us." Nothing man has ever done has been able to rejoin Him to God.
But on Christmas Day, over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ came to earth as a demonstration of God's love. Yes, man sinned and was separated from God. But God made the extraordinary leap across infinity and eternity to enter a finite world, bound by time, to say, "Now, God is with you." Jesus Christ came to deliver us from separation from God. I like what Charles Spurgeon said: "Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor."
My friend, that is the message of Christmas -- that Jesus came to deliver us from fear. Jesus came to deliver us from sin. And Jesus came to deliver us from separation from God. He came to close the gap that separates us from all that is good and glorious in this world and the world to come.
The only question is: have you allowed Him to deliver you from your fear, from your sin, and from your separation from God. Craig Keener writes that "Matthew invites us to consider and worship the God who accepted the ultimate vulnerability, born as an infant to poor and humiliated parents into a world hostile to his presence...The broken and oppressed find in him a Savior they can trust in a world where trust is generally dangerous. Of all the world's faiths, only Christianity announces a God who embraced our pain with us."
Jesus Christ came into the world because He wanted to reunite you and me with God. Chuck Swindoll said, "He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended into our world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knew our sorrows, and died for our sins."
If you accept salvation through Jesus Christ, you can be delivered from fear this Christmas season. You can be delivered from sin this Christmas season. You can be delivered from separation from God this Christmas season.
Thirty-three years after He was a babe in a manger, Jesus Christ went to Calvary's cross and sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins. John tells us that he took away the sins of the world. He took away my sins, and he took away your sins. All you have to do is accept the salvation that he now provides. Not accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ is like not opening a present that somebody has given you. You can only be delivered from being scared, from sin, and from separation if you accept salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Bible says in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." To accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, you must do as Romans 10:9 and 13 says: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved...For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God and congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. For more information to help you grow in your new found faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read "What To Do After You Enter Through the Door". Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
God loves you! We love you! And may God bless you!
Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in twenty-three foreign countries. He is the author of sixteen books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts, The Prayer Motivator Devotional and the Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel's Report and the Second Coming Watch Update. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor's degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, and a Master's degree in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for twenty-five years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3.