This, This is Christ the King
Series: Stand-Alone Sermons
Who was the child born to Mary? Many call him Christ, but is he really? In this passage we see that child is truly the Christ, he is called Jesus because he is our savior, and he is Immanuel, God with us.
Matthew (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), D.A. Carson
Well it is the evening before the day many call Christmas, a day many Christians set aside to rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity. Thus we call this day Christmas eve, and on this Christmas eve I want to invite you to consider a simple question: Who was this child born to Mary, this Jesus, who many called the Christ? Who is this Jesus, that over 2000 years after he was born, people around the world still talk about him, especially around this time of year? Who is this Jesus, that over 2000 years after he was born, groups of people assemble every week throughout the world to sings songs about him, pass on his teachings, eat a meal in remembrance of him, and pray to God in his name? Until you know the answer to that question, it’s not really clear what to do with Jesus. If Jesus is just an important historical figure, you study him like you might Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. If Jesus is just the founder of a religion, you might read his writings the way you would read Muhammad or Lao Tzu. If Jesus is just a good example or a good teacher, you might try to emulate his example and teachings the way you would try to emulate the example and teachings of a Ghandi or a Mother Theresa. But what if he is someone else altogether? Who is he?
We turn to the book of Matthew this evening for help answering that, and Matthew is a fitting vehicle for God to answer this question through, because Matthew lived in the days when Jesus Christ walked the earth. He wrote this book sometime in the 50s or 60s, so about 20-30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and by then it was commonly known that many people called Jesus the Christ, as he calls him in verse 16: This Jesus born of Mary, who is called Christ. I’ll explain that title more in a bit, but for now just notice the question raised in Matthew’s day. Is this Jesus, the child born of Mary, really the Christ? Matthew writes his entire Gospel to argue that the answer to that question is yes, and the beginning, the first chapter, on which we are focusing tonight is no different. Who is this child born to Mary? The child born to Mary is the Christ, Jesus, and Immanuel.
He is the Christ
Our passage this evening begins with a genealogy. Genealogies appear throughout the Bible, though they are less common in the New Testament than in the Old, and often when Bible readers encounter them, they struggle to see the relevance of them. Yet as all Scripture is breathed out by God, since the words of Scripture are the very words of God himself, we can trust that if he chose to speak genealogies, he intends to use them for our good. With each genealogy we encounter, then, we must ask, “Why is it here?” “What is the author doing with it?” In the case of this genealogy, our author, Matthew, highlights his purpose at the beginning of the genealogy. At the beginning, he calls it the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. So first we can see that the point of the genealogy is Jesus Christ, but then in addition we can see that it is especially to highlight the connection of Jesus Christ to David and to Abraham. Why?
He could have started before Abraham; in Luke’s Gospel, he takes the genealogy all the way back to God creating Adam, the first man. But Matthew starts with Abraham because God made a unique promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, the twelfth chapter of the whole Bible, that sets a course for the entire remainder of the Bible. God’s promise to Abraham was to be God to him and to his children after him, and that in his offspring all the families of the earth would be blessed. Getting into the genealogy a bit, in verse 2 we read that Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was the father of Jacob, and Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. God changed the name of Jacob to Israel, and “Judah and his brothers” formed the twelve tribes of Israel, who were in many ways the founders of the Jewish people, the Israelites. Judah is singled out among them in this genealogy because within the descendants of Abraham, God made a unique promise to Judah, that from his tribe would come one who would rule as king over Israel and even over other people groups (Genesis 49:8-12).
The first set of fourteen generations in Matthew’s genealogy ends with David in verse 6, and notice his title there: David the king. No one else gets a title like that in the genealogy until we get to Jesus, but in using that title here for David Matthew also shows us why it was such a big deal to link Jesus not only to Abraham, but to David. David was the first true king over Israel, the first descendant of Judah to really wield the scepter God promised the tribe of Judah would wield. Not only that, but God made another promise to David that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam 7:16). So in David the king, the promise to Abraham to be God to him and to extend that blessing to all nations, and the promise to Judah that he would bring one from his tribe to rule as king over Israel, took another step forward: David did actually rule as king, and God promised that the Davidic kingdom would last forever.
However, that kingdom was threatened by the next big event in the genealogy: The deportation to Babylon. The deportation to Babylon occurred because of Israel’s ongoing, unrepentant sin against the LORD. It involved Babylon invading Jerusalem, conquering the people, destroying the temple, and deposing the descendant of David who was reigning at that time, Jeconiah, named in verse 11. Nonetheless, God had made this promise to give David an everlasting kingdom. So around this time of the deportation to Babylon, God spoke to his people through the prophets, and the prophets announced a coming day in which a Davidic king would again come to rule over Israel, and to extend that rule to all the families of the earth, so that God’s blessing might reach all the families of the earth, just as he’d promised not only to David, but before him to Judah, and before him to Abraham. Here is one example from one of those prophets, Isaiah, in Isaiah 9:6-7 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
This promised ruler came to be known among the people of Israel as the Messiah, a word meaning anointed one, since kings were anointed with oil (cf. Ps 2:2, 45:6-7). That word translated into Greek is Christos, which when Anglicized produces the title “Christ”, and that’s where the genealogy ends in verse 16: Joseph was a descendant of Abraham, Judah, and David, and he was the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. Matthew’s purpose in giving us this genealogy is to say, “Yes, he is the Christ” by showing that he meets one of the basic qualifications of it: He truly is a son of David and a son of Abraham, but not only is he a son of David and a son of Abraham, he is the son of David and the son of Abraham, verse 1 tells us. Matthew is saying he is the son of Abraham in whom all the people of the earth will be blessed, and he is the son of David who will mediate that blessing by ruling forever over all the peoples of the earth. The child born to Mary is the Christ.
Before we move on to the account of his birth, though, notice that while genealogies normally only included the names of men, four women appear in this genealogy: Tamar in verse 3, Rahab in verse 5, Ruth in verse 5 also, and the wife of Uriah in verse 6. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all commended in the Old Testament for their righteousness: Tamar in working to produce an heir for her deceased husband, Rahab in hiding Israelite spies from the soldiers of her own people, though she was not an Israelite, and Ruth in caring for her widowed Israelite mother-in-law, though she was also was not an Israelite, as we recently saw in our series of sermons through the book of Ruth. The kingdom over which Jesus rules is not a kingdom exclusively for one ethnicity, but for any who will take refuge under his wings, as Ruth, Rahab, and Tamar did, and that makes sense in light of God’s original promise to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the earth in his offspring.
It is a kingdom of righteousness, not of ethnicity, and yet at the same time, this genealogy shows us that it is a kingdom into which sinners can enter. I mentioned that Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were righteous, but the mention of the wife of Uriah reminds us that David was not righteous in fathering Solomon. He took another man’s wife, and had Solomon with her. The deportation to Babylon reminds us of the sinfulness of Israel. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus himself said that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matt 9:13). So here is the paradox that appears throughout the Gospel of Matthew that the genealogy which begins it foreshadows: On the one hand, Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, not ethnicity, so much so that Jesus himself would say that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, you will never enter that kingdom (Matt 5:20). And yet, on the other, his own people lack that righteousness in themselves, such that they must always hunger and thirst for it (Matt 5:6). Jesus’ people must be righteous to enter his kingdom, and yet Jesus’ people are those who know they are not righteous. In other words, Jesus’ people need salvation from their sins, and that gets us into next marker of Jesus’ identity, revealed in the narrative of his birth: The child born to Mary is not only the Christ; he is Jesus.
He is Jesus
So after giving the genealogy, Matthew kind of clicks the link in verse 16 on this statement that Joseph was the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, to expand on it and tell us how his birth took place. Remember that in the genealogy Jesus is the son of David and son of Abraham through Joseph, but at the very beginning of the story of Jesus’ birth, right there in verse 18, there is a threat to Joseph’s fatherhood: Mary, the woman to whom he was betrothed, was found to be with child, probably because she began appearing pregnant. Betrothal there is kind of like engagement, but more legally binding. You needed another legal process to dissolve it, divorce, whereas now if you want to break off an engagement there is typically nothing legally required of you to do so, though I was recently reminded in The Crown that when Dodi Fayed broke off his engagement, his fiancée was able to sue him. Anyway, the point is betrothal was a bigger deal back then, but betrothal was also not marriage. Marriage became official when the groom took his bride into his home, and so here, when it says in verse 18 that Mary was found to be with child before they came together, it means before they got married. Matthew tells us that the child was from the Holy Spirit, but Joseph had no way of knowing that at the time. Therefore, it obviously appeared to him like she had engaged in sexual sin.
And verse 19 tells us that he was a just man, and the word translated just there is the same word often translated “righteous”. Notice again that the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of righteousness. In this case, Joseph’s righteousness or justice meant two things: First, it meant that he could not simply tolerate Mary’s apparent sexual immorality. So he did resolve to divorce her. The righteousness that characterizes Jesus’ kingdom is not the blanket affirmation of our world. God has a law, and Jesus said he came not to abolish it, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). At the same time, God’s law requires mercy from humans who have received mercy from their Father in heaven (Matt 5:7, 44-48, 9:13, 18:21-35). Jesus’ people are a broken-hearted people who mourn their own sins and remove the log from their own eye before judging the speck in another’s (Matt 7:1-5), so Joseph, though he feels he must divorce Mary, resolves to do so quietly, so that Mary would not be publicly shamed for her apparent sin. He wants to do what is just, not get his revenge.
But as he considered these things, verse 20, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, Son of David (notice the reminder that he is a son of David), do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Disaster averted: Joseph, the son of David, was about to divorce Mary, the mother of Jesus, and so sever the link between Abraham, David, and Jesus, but an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him not to do that, because the child conceived in his wife’s womb was not the product of sexual immorality, but of a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, and Joseph is to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Jesus is the Anglicized version of Iesus, which is the Greek version of Yeshua, the Hebrew name we would pronounce Joshua, and it is a name that in Hebrew simply meant savior. Who is this child born to Mary? He is the Christ, the one God promised would come to mediate his blessings to all peoples by ruling over all peoples. And, he is Savior, the one who the Holy Spirit created in his mother’s womb so that he would save his people from their sins. Now it would not have surprised the Jewish people of Jesus’ day to hear that they needed a savior. They knew they were under the mighty hand of the Roman Empire, and so they looked forward to a savior from the Romans. But notice here that the angel of the Lord doesn’t just call Jesus a Savior in some vague sense: He tells us specifically what Jesus came to save his people from: Their sins! Remember in the genealogy that the deportation to Babylon was specifically mentioned, but what led to that deportation in the first place? The sins of Jesus’ people. Of what did the mention of the wife of Uriah remind us? That even David the king needed someone to save him from his sins! And this child born to Mary is named Jesus specifically because that is what he came to do.
And so this Christmas Eve, as you consider this child born to Mary, let me ask you two questions: First, do you know you need a savior? And second, from what do you believe you need to be saved? First, do you know you need a savior? Our modern western world in various ways tells you that you do not. When you feel guilty or ashamed, our world tells you you need a therapist, not a savior. When you worry about the future, our world tells you you can buy insurance to protect yourself; if you get sick, we have modern medicine, and if your life in this world is dissatisfying, you can create an alternate one for yourself through social media, virtual reality, and whatever other forms of technology are on the horizon. Even if you should want to become a better person, our world tells you you have within you all you need to improve yourself. But, of course, what the world hides from you is that it is actually just smuggling in other saviors who will all require you or another taxpayer to compensate them for their services. I’m not saying therapy or insurance or technology are bad by the way; they’re just bad saviors. But our world tells you you need a therapist or the latest technology, and then charges you or another taxpayer to get one. Or consider the irony of buying a self-help book. The message of the book is you can help yourself, you don’t need a savior…but, of course, you do need to buy the book, and the author and publisher will take that money, thank you very much.
Don’t believe the lie. You and I need a real savior. Our actual condition is that we have been created by a good and righteous God who has a law, and he is too just, too good, to allow our perpetual violations of that law to go unpunished. You sense this, don’t you? Just consider the things you get angry at others for doing, or the things when you get together with friends or family over the holidays that you complain about others doing. Don’t you find the desire for those same things in yourself, and can’t you even see ways in your life you have acted on those desires? And do you really think that if you just resolve to do better from this day forward that will cover up for all the ways you have already sinned against God? Will that really work before the one who is perfect in justice, and who sees all? On top of that, what makes you think that you even have the power to simply change yourself? The story of Israel culminating in that deportation to Babylon is there in part to show us that doesn’t work! Go ahead, try to just make yourself into someone who loves God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loves your neighbor as yourself. Try to make yourself into someone who, like Joseph, does not tolerate immorality, and yet is gentle with the immoral. Jesus’ people must be righteous, but Jesus’ people know they are not righteous in themselves. Left in that condition, we will face God’s just wrath, and suffer eternal conscious torment under it. We need a savior.
So that’s question one for you to consider this evening: Do you know you need a savior? But question two is, from what do you believe you need to be saved? If you think your biggest problem in life is that your life is boring, or you don’t have enough money, or enough sex, or even that you have been sinned against, then yes, the saviors our world offers will be attractive, and no, you cannot simply remake Jesus into that kind of savior, though many today try to present him that way. We need not only a savior, but a savior from our sins. Our perpetual dissatisfaction in life comes from being separated from God, and it is our sins that have made a separation between us and God. Any dissatisfaction we feel in this life is nothing in comparison to the torment that awaits us eternally in God’s judgment upon our sins. But praise God that Jesus came to save his people from their sins. He became human so that he might die on the cross for the sins of his people. On the cross, all the sins of his people were credited to Christ’s account, and he paid the debt God’s justice required by giving himself in his peoples’ place, to die the death they deserved. His people had been deported to Babylon for their sins, but Jesus was deported to death for their sins, and he so successfully paid for them that three days later God raised him from the dead. It was a successful atonement. As rapper Shai Linne points out, Matthew 1:21 says he will save his people from their sins, not might save his people from their sins, not he will try to save his people from their sins: He will. He has paid their penalty in full, he is working now to free his people from their power, and one day, when he comes again, he will save his people even from their presence. The child born to Mary is called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins, and, finally, he is Immanuel.
He is Immanuel
In verse 22 the angel’s speech may actually continue; the original Greek manuscripts don’t contain quotation marks, so translators make their best guess as to whose speech ends and begins where. In any case, the comment is added that this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Remember earlier that I mentioned the prophets, and specifically Isaiah; well this is another one of Isaiah’s prophecies about that coming Christ: He will be born of a virgin, and they shall call his name Immanuel. The whole narrative has obviously told us that Mary was a virgin when she conceived, and this now tells us that was to fulfill this prophecy. The virgin birth is obviously miraculous; it is literally the only one in human history. As a result, some have questioned it, but consider: If there is really a God who made everything, isn’t it least possible that he could make a child without the involvement of a human father?
In the original context of the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 7, the virgin conceiving and bearing a son was meant to serve as a sign of God’s presence with his people, as if to say, “Do you want proof that I am with you? Ok; I will give you a sign: A child will be born of a virgin,” and then here it happened! It makes sense, then, that the child would be named Immanuel. “Im” is the Hebrew word for “with”, “manu” the Hebrew for “us”, and “el” the Hebrew for “God” so that the name Immanuel means “God with us”, as Matthew translates it for us in verse 23. But neither this text nor the one in Isaiah merely present the child as a sign that God is with us. The child himself is named Immanuel, God with us. In Isaiah 9, which I quoted earlier, the child himself is called “mighty God”. The child is a sign that God is with us because the child is God, with us!
The person who took on humanity and was born of the virgin Mary is a divine person, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, through whom all things were made, one in being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We confess the mystery of the Trinity: That he is a different person from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, yet still is himself fully God, and there is only one God, but we do not pretend to understand it. We confess it because of texts like this, where Jesus is clearly presented as God. Yet in becoming human, he became God with us in a new way, God assuming our humanity without any change to or mixture with his divinity. The one who was without beginning was born in time without ceasing to be eternal when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. The one who is always present everywhere was confined to the space of a human body without ceasing to be everywhere. The one who could not suffer pain took on frail human flesh. The one who could not die died on the cross. In every way except sin, Jesus is God with us in our humanity. He was with us in his birth, he was with us in his life, he was with us in his sufferings, he was with us in his temptations, he was with us even unto death, and after he rose from the dead, he promised in these words that end Matthew’s Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
Do you see what that means? It means even now he is Immanuel, God with us, to his people. Having now sent his Spirit, he is in his people, leading us, growing us, and keeping us until the day when just as he rose from the dead, we too will rise, that he might be God with us forever. Do you know God like that? Can you say not only that you believe God exists, but that God is for you because Jesus has saved you from your sins? Can you say not only that God is for you but that God is with you, that you know the reality and joy of his presence? A narrative I’m hearing more about recently is how people in the West do not seem to be becoming more atheistic as it seemed might happen 15-20 years ago. More and more people seem to believe in something bigger than the material realities we can observe under a microscope, and would describe themselves as “very spiritual”. But do you personally know the spiritual forces in whose existence you say you believe? Is it just a vague, unknown spiritual force, or it is a personal God who is with you? There is only one way to know God like that, and it is through Immanuel, God with us, the son born to the virgin Mary about 2000 years ago. You must be righteous as one of his people, and that begins with recognizing that you are not righteous. Confess your sins, turn from them, trust in Jesus alone to save you from your sins, and you will come to know him as God with you. Trust in Jesus like that, and you will also come to realize that you are part of a people, Jesus’ people, the people he came to save from their sins, and that people know him not only as God with me, but as God with us.
I started this sermon tonight by saying that until you know who Jesus is, you won’t know what to do with him. Now we have seen who Jesus is: He is the Christ, Jesus, and Immanuel. What, then, should you do with him? Submit to him as Christ. He is king over all, and God’s blessings will only flow to you if you give up your rebellion against him and resolve to believe all that he says and obey all that he commands. Trust him as Jesus. You cannot save yourself; the only salvation from your sins will come as you renounce all trust in your own efforts and trust in Jesus’ saving effort on your behalf. And, finally, commune with him as Immanuel. He is God with us, so listen to his Word, pray to him, and walk with him. And don’t try to just do one or two of those things with him. You cannot receive part of him and leave the rest to the side. You cannot submit to him as Christ and get busy trying to live like him if you are unwilling to trust him as your Savior. Nor, on the flipside, can you receive his salvation as Jesus if you are unwilling to submit to his authority as Christ. Nor, finally, is there any salvation in him as Jesus apart from communion with him as Immanuel. Submit to him as Christ, trust him as Jesus, and commune with him as Immanuel. Let’s pray to our heavenly Father through him now, and then let’s rejoice that the child born to Mary is the Christ, Jesus, and Immanuel.