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What We Need for Christmas (Matthew 1:18-25)
The Ugly Side of Christmas
What We Need for Christmas
Matthew 1:18-25
 
Last week I introduced a new series of messages that I'm calling the Ugly Side of Christmas.  Even though, as the old song says, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", amidst all the beauty and wonder and celebration, there is a lot of ugliness lurking around. 
 
And there are constant reminders of that.  I was in Carl's eating breakfast one morning this week, and typically, I take my iPad and check emails or read while I'm eating. This particular morning, in addition to the few of us old men scattered around through the restaurant, there were two women who were talking.  And when I say talking, I mean loud enough for everyone to hear all the details of the conversation.
 
And apparently this had been going on for quite some time.  I know that because as I was getting everything situated at the table, I heard one of the men sitting near them say, "You know, you two ladies really need to find something to do because as long as I've been sitting here, y'all haven't done anything but set there and argue."  Which kind of took all of us off guard, and it wasn't long before the ladies decided it was time for them to leave.
 
When they got up from their table, the gentlemen looked over at me with a big smile, and I jsut smiled back and gave him a thumbs up! And I thought, what a vivid illustration of our society.  God gives us friends and we argue.  God gives us money and we waste it.  God gives us health and we take it for granted.
 
And unfortunately, very often the beauty God provides is swallowed up in ugliness.  And that can happen with Christmas.  We see it in some silly ways with trees and sweaters and ornaments.  By the way, last week I forgot to show you one of the example of ugly Christmas ornaments I came across which is ornaments for beards.
 
But even more than the ugliness of the physical side of Christmas, we see the ugliness of Christmas in the presence of sin. In fact, Christmas exists because of sin.  We saw in Paul's letter to young Timothy that the very reason Jesus came into the world was to save sinners. 
 
During His earthly ministry, Jesus would make that statement.  He said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. And the ugliness of Christmas is that our sin required a savior and that savior is Christ the Lord.
 
And as we saw last week, sin is, at its most foundational level, rebellion against God and it expresses itself in the way it defiles and corrupts its victim, in the defiance it demonstrates, in its spirit of ingratitude, the misery it generates and the fact that it is humanly incurable. 
 
And whether we like to admit it or not, we are all affected by it.  Sin greets us at our birth and dogs us till we die and its nature is to destroy and corrupt everything it touches. 
 
In fact, if it has its way with us it will overpower us with evil under the control of Satan living a miserable life that results in God's wrath sending us to hell for eternity.
And the only solution to the problem of sin is Christ.  And that's why we have Christmas.  Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
 
And it is always that intent that is at the forefront of every account of the Christmas story.  For instance, notice what we read in
 
Matthew 1:18-25
 
Notice in particular, what the angel says to Joseph in
 
verse 21, and
 
verses 24-25
 
So Christmas time comes with this obvious elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  It's wonderful to celebrate family and give and receive gifts and have wonderful meals and decorations.  But the real reason for all the festivities is because of our sin. 
 
It's one of those odd conundrums that our faith presents. The bad news generates the good news. The ugliness is the backdrop for the beauty. So the big idea in the ugliness of Christmas is sin.  We see it right here in the text in the very first chapter of the very first gospel.
 
Call the baby Jesus because He will save people His people from their sins. But let's dig a little deeper.  Why, in particular, did God send His Son to be a Savior?
 
Let me suggest three reasons, and every one of them speaks to a specific need in the human experience.
Reason number one: God sent a Savior because
 
1.  You Need a Savior to Forgive You
 
If we are sinners, and we are, I dare anyone to challenge that statement, then we need forgiveness. The greatest need of anyone's life, regardless of social standing, financial statements, health records or anything else is to be forgiven of their sins.  Without Christ, we are sinner who need forgiveness. 
 
The Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Now one of the logical questions that needs to be dealt with when it comes to salvation is why we need to be forgiven. 
 
Salvation has to do with our standing before God. The Bible tells us we are birthed with a sin nature that rebels against God and wants independence from God and before very long, that nature begins to express itself. And by the time we are able to understand what's going on and that we are responsible for our actions, we are not only a sinner by birth, we are a sinner by choice.
 
And we've messed up big time in that we've violated the law and standards of God.  And since they are God's standards, only He can forgive their violations.  
 
Our naivety about sin convinces us that if we do most things right and try hard, then we'll be okay before God and He'll be satisfied. After all, and you can fill in the blanks, I've never done heroin, killed somebody, committed adultery, we kind of go down the list of things we haven't done. 
 
But there some other things that never get mentioned.  Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Do you fear Him and keep His commandments? 
 
Now the Bible reminds us that if you mess up in the keeping of just one commandment, then you are guilty of the entire law. That means you can't honestly say you've never killed anyone or committed adultery because in God's eyes, if your only sin was just a little lie or a misuse of the tongue, you are guilty of everything the law condemns.  And remember, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
 
And that's why the Bible tells us we can't be saved by keeping the law. The law doesn't save. It was never intended to.  It just shows us how guilty we are,  which reminds us that we need someone to forgive us of our sins.
 
Now there are two extremes when it comes to this matter of forgiveness. On the one hand, there are those, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day who, when you tell them they need to be forgiven, will say, "Forgiven of what? I'm a good person. I'm upstanding. I'm moral. They live right and take care of their family and love their wife and pay their bills and maybe even go to church or read the Bible. 
 
And you mean to tell me, even with all that, we aren't good enough to go to heaven? Don't you know who goes down there to that church?  I live a whole lot better life than some of those folks! 
 
But our need for forgiveness has nothing to do with how we compare with folks down at the church. 
 
 
Remember, salvation is all about our standing before God.  Remember when Jesus told the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector that went up to the temple to pray? He said the Pharisee prayed by saying, "God, I thank You that I'm not like other people. I'm not like this adulterer. I'm not like this, this swindler. I'm not like this tax collector."
 
He said, "God, look what I do. I pay tithes on all that I have. I fast twice a week. What a good boy am I. Boy, God, You're lucky to have me come and worship You."
 
On the other side of the story was this hated tax collector.  And the Bible says he was under such conviction that he wouldn't even raise his eyes toward heaven. He was just beating his breast, and he said, "Have mercy on me, the sinner."
 
And Jesus said, "You know what? Between these two guys, the, that Pharisee prayed and he went home. And that Publican prayed and he was justified."
 
His standing was changed before God. He was declared righteous and right with God. On the other hand, the Pharisee went home just like he came, never realizing just how lost he was before God. He never saw his need. He didn't know he needed forgiveness.  Some people think they don't need to be forgiven.   
 
Others think they're too bad to be forgiven. They say, God could never forgive someone like me!  If you only knew what I've done, the terrible horrible sins I've committed, then you'd know I'm too far gone."
 
 
 
Listen to me, and if you don't get anything else, get this: There is none so good that he need not be forgiven, and there is none so bad that he cannot be forgiven. Jesus has come to save you from your sins. He's come to forgive you and to wash you white as snow. And that's why He came.
 
Joseph, the angel said, "Call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
 
Do you need forgiveness today? Jesus was born so  you could be forgiven.  Christmas is all because you needed a Savior to forgive you.
 
Reason number two: Why did God send a Savior? Not only to forgive you, but because
 
2.  You Need a Savior to Free You
 
Now this business of sin is an intriguing problem. And forgiveness is a great thing, but it doesn't completely deal with the problem.  Not only do we need a Savior to forgive us, we need someone to help us escape the bondage sin brings. Remember, last week we said sin seeks to overcome us with evil and bring us under the domination of Satan. 
 
That's what Jesus was talking about in John 8:34 when He said,
 
"Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin."
 
Sin has a power to enslave you. Sin chains you. It captures you. And I'm afraid we take that aspect of sin way to casually and lightly. We've convinced ourselves that we can handle a little sin. 
We can control it.  We can play around with it and participate in it and it's no big deal. Talk to the alcoholic about how they got hooked on the booze and many will tell you about some innocent beginning with a casual drink.  But now they are addicted and can't quit.
 
That's the way sin is. Sin just will chain you and incarcerate you. And then you can't get out. And no matter how much you want to escape, you can't, at least not without help.  You can't quit and therefore, you continue to do those things that are destructive and that wreck and ruin lives.
 
I heard about a little turtle that decided he wanted to try and fly. So he found a tree that he could crawl up. he eventually got out on a branch and jumped, and WHAM! He went straight to the ground. But, undeterred, he got back to the tree, climbed up and tried again with theh same results.  Three or four more times, he just kept trying with the same fall to the ground.  
 
Over on a nearby limb, two eagles were watching him. The male eagle said to the female eagle, "Honey, don't you think it's about time we told junior he was adopted?" 
 
What's the point of that little story? You and I are like the turtle when it comes to breaking free from sin.  When it comes to rising above the sins that so easily entangle us, we are hopeless failures. 
 
In our own strength, we can try all we want to, but we will never be free.  We can say, "I'm not going to drink this time. I'm not going to lose my temper this time.
I'm not going to raise my hand to my wife again."
But no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you grit your teeth and bear down, you will continue to fall from the limb.
 
Why? Because, just as Jesus said, you are enslaved by sin.
 
Listen to Paul's testimony in
 
Romans 7:15-25
 
Paul understood that sin was too powerful for him to get free on his own. He realized he couldn't do it. But Jesus came to set the captives free. Jesus came to break the chains. That's why he said, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He can do it. I can't do it, but He can do it. And see, you need a Savior who will break the chains, who can set you free, not to do whatever you want to do, but to do what you know you ought to do.
 
Only He can do that. He's able to make a turtle fly!  You can't do that. I can't do that. But He can do that.
 
What a wonderful Savior!  He forgives us to deal with the penalty of sin and frees us to take care of the power of sin so that we can live the life God designed us to live!
 
Just to complete the thought, remember, Jesus said in
John 8:34 that sin enslaves us.  But listen to what else he said in that passage:
 
John 8:35-36
 
 
The Jews thought they, as the sons of Abraham, wer guaranteed a place in the Father's house.  But Jesus points out they really weren't sons.  Instead they were slaves of sin and as such, they had no place in heaven.  But Jesus, the true Son, can not only guarantee you a place in heaven, He can set you free from the penalty and power of sin.
 
What a Savior! He is just what we needed!  A Savior to forgive us and free us from our sin!
 
Let me show you one more thing. You need a Savior to forgive you. You need a Savior to free you. And
 
3.  You Need a Savior to be with You
 
Back in our original text in Matthew 1, notice what we read in
 
verses 22-23
 
Now this angel who is speaking provides Joseph with a scripture reference to document what is happening. He quotes a prophecy given 700 years earlier that Isaiah, the Prophet delivered to King Ahaz.   
 
You remember that after Solomon’s life the kingdom was split, Israel and the northern ten tribes and Judah in the south with just Judah and the tribe of Benjamin.  The northern kingdom was apostate.  The southern kingdom at times was true to Jehovah God. It is in the southern kingdom, where Ahaz is king that Isaiah is prophesying.  Ahaz, by the way, is the son of one of the great kings, Uzziah.
 
 
But Ahaz was not like his godly father in that he led his kingdom to worship idols and filled Jerusalem with idols. He reinstated the worship of the pagan god Molech, which required the sacrificial burning of babies, and he burned his own baby on the altar to Molech.  He was so wicked and so evil that even wicked kings around him were upset at what he was doing.
 
Two of them, a man named Rezin, who was king of Syria, and a man named Pekah, who was ruling over the area of Israel decided to get rid of Ahaz.
 
When word of this uprising reached Ahaz, he decided to strengthen his position, not by turning to God to preserve the Davidic line and preserve the people, but he decided to turn to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser.  His thought was if he made an alliance with this great Assyrian monarch, then Rezin and Pekah would think a long time before they would attack him because of the formidable nature of this man and his powerful army.
 
In fact, he was so adamant about it that he went and plundered the temple, stole all the gold and silver and gave it to Tiglath-Pileser to buy him and buy his allegiance. And it was precisely at that time that God said, “Isaiah, you need to go have a talk with Ahaz.”  So Isaiah went to Ahaz to confront him, telling him not to trust the Assyrians, but trust in God. 
 
And his message was, in spite of all of his evil, God will preserve His people and in particular, the Davidic line.  He will deliver you from those two kings. You don’t need help from the Assyrians. But Ahaz refused to listen, and it is at that juncture that the prophet said, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel.”
And his message was simple his way of saying to Ahaz, “God is not going to allow anything to happen to His people and no one will be allowed to destroy David’s royal line. And one day, a virgin will have a baby and His name will be called Immanuel.” In other words, everything God promised is going to happen. This thing is going to go off the way it was planned. Even if the armies of Rezin and Pekah come against you, the virgin-born son of God who is Immanuel will come.
 
And in plain language, what Isaiah is saying to him is God has promised not to forsake His people, therefore, you don't have to fear these two petty kings. God won’t forsake you. In fact, when the Messiah comes His very name will be a reminder of that fact. God will be with you. That’s the point. Just trust Him. His promise is to come and dwell among you.
 
That was the message. The child of Christmas is Immanuel, God with us. That child that was born that day, though fully human, was also fully God.  In the Old Testament, the presence of God was in the tabernacle. The presence of God was in the temple.  And now, in the New Testament, the presence of God is in a body in the person of Christ. God with us.
 
So watch how this works in practical terms for the everyday New Testament Christian. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, right?  Everyone is a sinner and sin makes us guilty before God, therefore we need forgiveness and Jesus was the One who makes it possible.
 
Also, sin enslaves us and holds us in its grip, but Jesus, our Savior, came to set us free. And ultimately, sin separates us from God. God is holy; we are sinful.  God cannot stand to have sin in His presence.
And to make matters worse, our sin causes us to be unable to ever approach God or do anything about the separation. 
 
So what happened? When we could not come to God, God came to us. And the angel gives Joseph instruction about the name, not only of Jesus, but of Emmanuel, complete with an Old Testament illustration, because He wants mankind, who is separated from God to know, that in Jesus, God came to be near us and with us.
 
It has always been the heart of God to be near those  He loves. In the Garden, He spent time with Adam and Eve, walking in the cool of the day. After they sinned, they were separated from Him. That's what sin does.  It separates. But God came searching for them and provided a way for the separation they had created to be fixed. 
 
And here we discover that Jesus came, not just to forgive and free us from our sin, but to provide a way for us to be together forever with no more separation.
Call His name Immanuel, God with us!
 
Let me give you a life passage upon which you can hang your hat. Listen to what we read in
 
Hebrews 13: 5-6
 
The promise of God is that He is never going to leave us.  He will never forsake us.  Therefore, you and I have the privilege of walking through life in confidence, saying "The Lord is my helper. The Lord is here for me. The Lord is with me."
 
 
And when I go through trials, and when I go through troubles, and when I go through hard times, and when I lose my job, and when I lose my spouse, and when I lose my health, and when all the difficulty comes upon me, the Lord is with me. He'll never leave me. He'll never forsake me.
 
When I fall, and even if I fall into terrible, horrible sin, the Lord doesn't kick me out. He doesn't say, "I'm done with you." He'll never leave me. He'll never forsake me. He is Emmanuel, God with me. And God with you makes all the difference in the world.
 
Paul told Timothy, "At my last defense no one supported me. All deserted me. But the Lord stood with me, and He strengthened me."
 
How could He say that?  Because it was true!  He knew that Lord will never leave you. He'll never forsake you. He is God with us.
 
The ugly side of Christmas is that sin has serious consequences. But the good news of Christmas is a Savior has come. Why did God send a Savior? Because you needed to be forgiven. Why did God send a Savior? Because you needed to be set free. Why did God send a Savior? Because you need God to be with you every step of the way.
 
I heard a story that took place in a western town in the late 1800's. It told of a horse that was spooked and then bolted, running away uncontrollably with a small boy in the bed of the wagon. Seeing the child was in grave danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon, thus saving the boy's life.
 
 
The child who was saved grew up to become a lawless man, and was finally arrested for killing an unarmed man over a disagreement. He was arrested and eventually stood before the judge. As he looked up at the judge, he recognized him as the young man who had saved him so many years before. Seizing an opportunity that might save him, the killer told the judge that he was the boy who the judge had saved and then he asked the judge for mercy.
 
The response from the judge left the guilty man stammering for words. The judge said, "Young man, I came to you before as your savior, and I gave you the chance to live and become something good.  Instead, you ignored that chance and lived according to your own rules. Today, I come before you as your judge, and I must hold you accountable for what you have done. I sentence you to death."
 
That story paints the clearest possible picture of the predicament we are in. One day Jesus Christ will say to rebellious sinners, "During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I gave you the opportunity to be forgiven, live in freedom and be my friend. But you denied me and rejected me because you wanted to live by your own rules. So today, I stand before you as your Judge, and I must hold you accountable for what you have done. I sentence you to death."
 
Today the Savior waits to forgive, free and accompany you all the way to eternity. Accept His free offer of grace and live or reject it and die forever in the consequences of your sin.
 
Let's pray.
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