A Series of Gifts: Forgiveness

The following message is based on Matthew 1:18-25 which tells us of the angel’s message to Joseph.  It was delivered on December 2, 2012.

Christmas is the season of giving.  Some gifts are those we find in a department store, in a catalog or online.  Others are such that a pricetag cannot be placed upon them.  Consider the following story.

Louis Pasteur, the pioneer of immunology, lived at a time when thousands of people died each year of rabies.  Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine.  Just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog.  The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to experiment on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph for ten days- and the boy lived.

Decades later, of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his headstone, he asked for three words: JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED.  For Pasteur, it was just one physical life, who by the way, ended up dying of something else eventually.  But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, millions will be able to live eternally through faith in Him.

The highest honor of any believer is to bear the title: “Christian”, because it recalls the One who laid down his life for us.  But it is not just a name.  It is a name associated with a deed.  It speaks of what Jesus did for you and me.  Although much of America and the western world equates Christmas with materialism, I would like for us to consider the spiritual blessing we who are Christians have because of Jesus and His coming.  The one gift that I would like to elaborate on is forgiveness.  For that, we turn to Matthew chapter one.

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATES THE GIFT OF JESUS.

Matthew 1 gives us the scene of Joseph, a righteous man, engaged to Mary.  Both are from the village of Nazareth.  Notice that verse 18 states: “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.”

The fact that Mary was pregnant and was probably beginning to “show” should have bothered Joseph.  He was betrothed to Mary.  He was considered to be “her husband (verse 19).”  And yet, there was only one thing he could assume: Mary had been unfaithful.

Jewish betrothal was something serious.  The only way a betrothal could be disestablished was divorce.  To proceed with the marriage, would have meant Joseph was immoral.  To divorce Mary openly would have subjected her to shame, ridicule, and in the most extreme cases, possible death by stoning.  But Joseph was just and merciful.  He sought to do the most inconspicuous of things.  The Scripture says in verse 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. 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.’”

The birth of Jesus tells us that at the heart of Christianity is a belief in the miraculous, that God can do the impossible.  It is truly supernatural that one could be born not from two parents, but through the power of God wrought upon a young woman of just 15 years of age.  That is the definition of a miracle: the author of creation intercepting the natural order to perform something that is truly supernatural. How did this happen?  It is unexplainable, as other miracles are.

And yet, it was something that was foretold nearly 700 years before Jesus came.  The prophet Isaiah foretold of a virgin that would bear a child.  His name would be Immanuel.  It took the angel to relate this to the skittish Joseph, as he told of the special circumstances surrounding our Lord’s birth.  Then he gave the reason:  “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.”  What we have in verse 22 is a fulfillment formula that Matthew uses 12 times, to specifically state that the life of Christ fulfills what God promised hundreds of years before.

The virgin birth is more than just a theological tenet.  Rather it speaks of God who came to us as one of us.  I’ve heard it said that Jesus was the missionary “par excellence.”  All missionaries leave their home country, travel to a distant land, learn the language and the customs of its citizens before they start to minister to the people and spread their message.  Jesus set the standard of such activity, when He left throne in heaven and came to dwell among us.  Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus: “…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

What is your response to such a gesture?  Does it inspire you?  Does it humble you?  The fact that God became one of us, to minister to us- does that not do something for you?  Is that not a loving thing to do?

CHRISTMAS ALSO CELEBRATES THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS.

Notice how the angel instructed Joseph to name Mary’s son.  Matthew 1:21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  The meaning of Jesus’ name ties into His ultimate mission.  The meaning of that term is Savior.[1]  Jesus’ name is a Greek equivalent to the Hebrew name: “Joshua.”  Although many were called “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves,” only Jesus was given the name with an Old Testament reference to Psalm 130:8: “And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” There is deep significance in the name “Jesus.”  Listen to what D.A. Carson says about the name of Jesus.  “It was no doubt divine grace that solicited Mary’s cooperation before the conception and Joseph’s cooperation only after it.  Here Joseph is drawn into the mystery of the incarnation.  Mary was told Jesus’ name (Luke 1:31); but Joseph was told both name and reason for it.”[2]

The reason for His name is given by the angel: “…for He will save His people from their sins.”  The Greek term is swzw which is put in the future form and means: “to preserve from eternal death and judgment.[3]  This is reiterated by Jesus Himself in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost.”  And 1 Timothy 1:15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

When we read what the Bible says about being “saved” we are to understand as a comprehensive process based on Jesus’ miraculous mission.  It involves a person recognizing the moral mistakes they’ve made in their lives; that such things have offended God, recognizing that Jesus came in order that we might be forgiven of those offenses and that by turning from our sin and placing our trust in Him, we are reconciled to God.  This is what the Bible means by being saved.

This is God’s plan for your life.  The Barna Research group revealed the results of a survey several years ago that found that 46% of all men and 40% of all women are still hunting for life’s plan.  Could it be that we are hunting and searching, for a needle in a haystack, while God has made it plain to us through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ?

The following is a testimony from one of Dr. Drake’s students from China, Keran Wang.  She writes: “I grew up in China without hearing about the Christian faith.  China has been influenced by Confucianism for centuries, and it still exerts influence today. This way of thinking has nothing to say about sin, wrong, or evil.  For the Confucians, each person is created good.  Someone becomes bad or evil only when that one comes into contact with evil things, but education in virtue can prevent evil.   Good education in virtue will create genuinely good people, and then in turn this will make a good society.”

“Confucian teachings, however, are not the only beliefs within China.  Communism now also exerts influence throughout my home country.  Communism encourages people to devote their lives to the state.  Christianity gets in the way.  Because Communists are fearful of the Christian influence in China, they try to control it.  Christians are advised to go to state registered churches, while other churches have to hide themselves to avoid possible persecution.”

“I became a Christian when I moved to the Netherlands.  At Christmas time in 2003 I realized that I needed Jesus as my Savior.  While I had been taught many other ways to believe throughout my life, I came to realize that my wrongdoing could not be excused by education or overcome by devotion to the state.  Instead, I needed to have my sins wiped away by Jesus.  He was the only one who could forgive me and grant me life.”[4]

Each one of us must know that forgiveness and transformation is found in a person- that person is Jesus.  It is not a philosophy or an ideology.  Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we could receive but it takes a formal reception, which is asking Christ to rule and reign in your life, turning from sin and seeking His forgiveness.


[1] New Geneva Study Bible, 1506.

[2] D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “Matthew,” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 75.

[3] BAGD, 798c.

[4] Drake Williams, Joy of the World:31 International Christmas Devotionals, 8-11.

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