Many people look forward to the Christmas season with great expectations. But for some, Christmas comes and goes and leaves them feeling empty and disappointed. So how do we avoid this? How do we avoid missing Christmas?
One reason Christmas disappoints is that people keep Jesus as an “appetizer” rather than making him the “main course.” If Jesus is an appetizer, Christmas is certain to disappoint. So how do we make Jesus the main course?
Jesus needs to...
1) Overrule your interpretation of reality
Imagine being Joseph. At some point Mary tells you she’s pregnant. You know the truth. You haven’t slept with her. A little later in this section of text, it says they didn’t consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. So you know the truth. But now Mary, your fiancee, is standing in front of you pregnant with someone else’s baby. How would you handle that little development?
In v. 20 the text says Joseph “considered” all of this. I should say so! There’s a lot to be considered. He is giving this situation significant reflection. He’s not reacting on emotion. He’s pondering it. He’s thinking it through. It’s through this time of reflection that he comes to the conclusion he should quietly break off the engagement. This is a logical conclusion to come to. But in vv. 20-21, God sends Joseph a drastically different plan. He is to proceed with the wedding!
So now what do you do? Joseph has a choice to make. Joseph can stick to his interpretation of the events unfolding around him, quietly break it off with Mary, and move on with his life, or Joseph can let God’s Word overrule him, correct his interpretation of the events unfolding around him, and proceed with the wedding. Those are his choices. In only one of those scenarios does Jesus end up in his life.
If Joseph concludes he is seeing reality just fine and that his plan is the way to go, he will sweep Jesus out of his life. So in order for Jesus to be the main course in his life, he has to let God’s Word overrule him; he has to let God’s Word correct his interpretation of reality.
Some of us want Jesus in our lives, but only as long as he tells us what we want to hear. That’s an appetizer Jesus. That’s not a main course Jesus. There’s a big problem with that: if Jesus tells you only what you want to hear, you won’t have a relationship with him.
Do you remember the two movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never contradict them or disagree with them. A Stepford Wife was a wonderfully compliant and beautiful wife, but as you watch the movies no one in their right mind would say that marriage was personal or intimate. Those husbands had no relationship with their wives whatsoever.
So what happens if God is never able to overrule or contradict you? What happens if you have a god who tells you only what you want to hear? You have a god of your own making. A robot. A Stepford god. If the god in your life never corrects you, you have a Stepford god, not the real God of the Bible. You will know Jesus has come into your life as the main course, when he’s able to say things to you that make you squirm in your seat and outrage you. That’s one of the signs you’ve got a real relationship with him.
In order to have Jesus in your life, in order for him to be the main course you have to let him overrule your interpretation of reality.
2) Address the disease more than the symptoms
Take a look at this verse: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give the name Jesus, because he will save his people from…” (v. 21).
How would you like that verse to end?
He will save his people from...
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Which is the disease that causes all these problems.
When you go to a doctor with some sort of ailment or injury, what do they want to do? Doctors don’t just want to treat the symptoms, they want to figure out what is causing the symptoms.
In August, I was preaching hurt. I was unloading some books in my office here and nicked my leg on the dolly. I didn’t think anything of it until about two weeks letter when it was red, the skin was dying, and it was throbbing…I went to the doctor. Now elevating it, icing it, and taking Ibuprofen helped take the edge off, but that was just treating the symptoms. Docs are great. They want to get to the bottom of things. I went and saw the doc, she looked at it, and diagnosed it as cellulitis - a bacterial infection. Antibiotics and a few days later, I’m doing a lot better.
In the Christian world, I wonder if much of what we’re trying to treat today is tantamount to elevating and icing cellulitis. We can do some things to take the edge off, but we need to discover the root cause which is sin. Sin is lawlessness according the apostle John. Sin is disobeying God. That’s ultimately the disease which leads to loneliness, low self-esteem, war, economic inequality, racism, and terrorism.
Maybe the clearest way to think about this is to go back to the garden of Eden. In the garden, which came first: a severed relationship with God or a conflicted marriage? The severed relationship with God happened first. That is Adam and Eve rebelled against God, disobeyed God first and then their marriage became conflicted. When God pronounces the curses in Genesis 3, one of the curses pronounced to Eve is the new reality of a marriage that won’t work the way it did. In the case of Adam and Eve, marital conflict was a byproduct of their new fallen state that was ushered in by their sin against God. The vertical broke first and then the horizontal. The order is important. The order shows us the difference between the disease and the symptoms of the disease. Adam and Eve had marital problems because they had a broken relationship with God. Fixing marital problems doesn’t begin with trying to fix marital problems. That’s just elevating and icing cellulitis. Fixing marital problems begins with the husband's relationship with Jesus and the wife’s relationship with Jesus. Fixing marital problems begins with addressing the vertical first.
When Jesus comes into your life, he has his eye on addressing the disease more than treating the symptoms. This is why approaching the gospel as the A to Z of Christianity is so important. The gospel is the only medicine that treats the disease which causes the symptoms of loneliness, low self-esteem, economic inequality, racism, and terrorism. He’s too good, too loving to treat the symptoms, but ignore the disease. He comes to address the disease.
If Jesus is going to be the main course in your life, you need to see he wants to get after the disease that causes the symptoms. And then you need to join him in that effort.
3) Disrupt your comfort
Initially, why doesn’t Joseph want to continue with the wedding? The angel’s words to Joseph give us a clue. The angel says to Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Joseph is afraid. Why? If Joseph continues with the marriage, everyone is going to figure it out. They’re going to do the math. We do that today. Married on January 5 gave birth on July 7…hmmmm…So if Joseph continues, people will do the math and conclude he and Mary did something Deut. 22 says they shouldn’t have done. The disdain of the world is heading for them. Experiencing discomfort is bearing down on them. Being inconvenienced is in their future.
When Jesus breaks into our lives, it’s rarely neat, tidy, and convenient. If you want Jesus to be the main course in your life, he will disrupt your comfort. He won’t leave things as they have been.
When Jesus broke into Zacchaeus’ life, he went from being a sinister hoarder of money, to a lavishly generous man giving away half of what he owned. Think about giving away half of your money and possessions. Is that going to force you into some changes? Is that going to bring some disruption to your life? This is what happened when Jesus broke into Zacchaeus’ life.
When Jesus broke into Peter’s life, he went from denying to a little girl he even knew Jesus, to publicly preaching Jesus in the middle of Jerusalem even though it resulted in jail time for him.
When Jesus broke into Paul’s life, Paul went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted.
When Jesus broke into Rosaria Butterfield’s life, she went from being a tenured professor, leader of the campus LGBT group, and lesbian to being a pastor’s wife and mother of four. In recounting Jesus' disruption of her life she writes:
“Although grateful, I did not perceive conversion to be ‘a blessing.’ It was a train wreck. After we profess faith in Christ, the next morning, the alarm still rings and we have to swing our feet out of bed and do something…I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in. I was the faculty advisor to all of the gay and lesbian and feminist groups on campus. I was writing a book that I no longer believed in…I was flooded with doubt about my new life in Christ. Was I willing to suffer like Christ? Was I willing to be considered stupid by those who didn’t know Jesus?
Conversion put me in a complicated and comprehensive chaos. I sometimes wonder, when I hear other Christians pray for the salvation of the “lost,” if they realize that this comprehensive chaos is the desired end of such prayers. Often, people asked me to describe the “lessons” that I learned from this experience. I can’t. It was too traumatic."
These are examples of what happens when Jesus becomes the main course in our lives. It’s rarely neat, tidy, and convenient. This was about to happen to Joseph and initially, he didn’t want any part of it. But then something happened…
In a dream, Joseph is told Mary is pregnant with the Messiah. Now as an unwed, teenage, pregnant girl, living in the 1st century, Mary would face an almost impossible future. She would become a social outcast and struggle for survival the rest of her life. Joseph knew this. And at first, didn’t want any part of it. But once he came to realize the baby growing inside Mary is the Messiah, he realizes something. Mary is losing her life to save him. The bleak future that lies ahead for Mary will ultimately result in Joseph’s salvation. She is carrying Joseph’s Savior. In so doing, she is losing her life to save him. On some level, this dawns on Joseph through the words of the angel. So when he wakes up, he decides to join Mary and lose their lives together. That is, they will experience together the disruption of their lives when Jesus breaks into it.
When I look at my own life, I want Jesus to break into it again and again, but I don’t know if I want the disruption he’ll bring with him. I want him to be an appetizer! “Yes, Jesus, I want more of you, but I don’t know if I want the cost of having more of you.”
Zacchaeus gives up half of his money and possessions for Jesus. Peter is jailed for Jesus. Paul is beaten for Jesus. Rosaria Butterfield looses her career and social standing for Jesus. Joseph and Mary become outcasts for Jesus. Do I want that? That’s why it’s so easy for Jesus to remain an appetizer and never become the main course. So how do I overcome that line of thinking? How do I overcome that fear?
I need to think about what Jesus gave up to get me. What was that like for him? Have you thought about that? Have you thought about what Jesus gave up to get you? Have you ever thought about what Christmas must have been like for Jesus?
John Flavel, a Puritan pastor-theologian, provides a hypothetical dialogue between the Father and the Son sometime in eternity past. The discussion is about Christmas. Their conversation went like this...
Father. My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?
Son. O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all their bills, that I may see what they owe you; Lord, bring them all in...I will rather choose to suffer your wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father. But, my Son, if you undertake for them, you must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare you.
Son. Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it.
For Jesus, Christmas was the beginning of his undoing. It was the beginning of his journey towards impoverishment and emptiness. Christmas disrupted his comfort so that he could pay the debt I owed. So when I consider that, does it lead me to stand in awe of him? To be amazed at his compassion and love for me? Does it lead me to say, “Jesus, anyone who would willingly give up what you gave up to pay my debt, is worth having more of in my life no matter the cost to me. Anyone who would do what you did is worth having more of."
By having Jesus overrule your interpretation of reality, address the disease more than the symptoms, and disrupt your comfort, he will be your main course this Christmas season.
"Born of the virgin Mary," so goes many an ancient creed. Modern people can sometimes snicker at the idea, but God thought it important enough to make it a point of emphasis in the Christmas story (See Matthew 1:18-25). Why is Jesus' birth from the womb of a virgin so important?
If Jesus is just the son of some Galilean lothario who had an affair with Mary and got her pregnant and then disappeared off the scene; if Jesus is just the son of a purely human being then I cannot trust him to forgive my sin and get me through death. I need someone to get me through death, take me to heaven, and cause me to be accepted before God. So far, no individual born of a non-virgin has been able to do any of that. If Jesus is the son of a Galilean lothario, then I can’t trust him to get me through death. That’s why I need the virgin birth. I need someone who is fully man and fully God if I'm going to enter heaven one day standing blamelessly before God. No virgin birth, no eternal life.
Often times, we look forward to Christmas with great expectations. But frequently, Christmas comes and goes and leaves us feeling empty; like we missed out on it. Part of the reason for that stems from what we're looking for and how we're trying to obtain what we want at Christmas.
Imagine being the first readers of Matthew's gospel. You have never seen Jesus. You've never heard him preach. Through the writing of one of Jesus' disicples, you're going to experience Christmas for the first time. What would you expect to be the first words Matthew would use to help prepare you for Christmas? You probably wouldn't expect it to be the genealogy of Jesus.
If we're going to avoid missing Christmas; if we're going to find Christmas, we need to do two things according to this genealogy in Matthew 1.
1. Grasp the historical reality of Jesus
One purpose the genealogy serves is to demonstrate Jesus is a human being. He’s a man. He’s a Jewish man. He’s a 1st century, Jewish man. He’s a 1st century Jewish man with certain genetic and legal descent. That means he speaks certain languages and not other languages. He dresses certain ways and not other ways. Not every religion makes these kinds of historical claims.
I don't know how, but if one could prove Gautama the Buddha or Krishna never existed, neither Buddhism or Hinduism would be impacted. The sustainability of both isn't dependent on any historical claim made about Gautama or Krishna. Not so with Christianity. If one could prove Jesus never existed, Christianity would cease to exist. This makes Christianity very historical.
Islam makes more historical claims than either Buddhism or Hinduism. Go down the street to your friendly Imam and ask: "Could Allah have given his final revelation through someone other than Mohammed?" He would reply, “Of course! Allah is sovereign. He can give the revelation through anybody. We’re not claiming Mohammed is the revelation. We’re claiming Allah gave the revelation through Mohammed.” In that sense Mohammed is incidental to Islam. So if you could somehow prove the revelation came through someone other than Mohammed, nothing in Islam is jeopardized because it is the revelation Mohammed gave that is ultimate, not Mohammed himself.
Could God have given his final revelation through someone other than Jesus? The question is incoherent because Jesus doesn’t give God’s final revelation he himself is the final revelation.
Christianity is a profoundly historical revelation. Its historical truthfulness is more important than any other religion out there. We have access to the truths of Christianity only through the channels of history. Our access to the truths of Christianity come through historical methods: witnesses, texts, multiplicity of sources, exegesis, word studies. The revelation God has given is an historical revelation.
Christianity is the most concretely historical religion in human existence. Establishing this is one of the purposes of this genealogy.
2. Discover the amazing grace of Jesus
In the ancient world, genealogies were like a resume. When you think about a resume, what is it? It’s really an attempt to truthfully put forward the reasons why you should be considered for the position you’re applying for.
Ancient genealogies acted like resumes. So if Jesus’ genealogy is a kind of resume, what do we learn about him through what’s mentioned in it? What kind of genealogical line would we expect the King of the Universe to come from?
This list of names is quite a collection. There are some really good people mentioned here and there are some really troubled people mentioned.
Jacob was a conniving man who deceptively tricked his brother Esau into giving him their father’s blessing. David we know well. While he was called a man after God’s own heart, he was also an adulterer and murderer. Solomon was extraordinarily wise, but somehow his wisdom didn’t translate into curbing his polygamous lifestyle. Reheboam rejected the wisdom of his elders and instead took the foolish counsel given to him by his college frat buddies.
In the genealogical run up to Joseph and Mary, there are four women mentioned.
The four women are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Of all the women within the genealogical line of Jesus, why are these four mentioned? Three of them have sordid pasts.
Tamar enticed her father-in-law into an incestuous relationship. Rahab was a prostitute. Bathsheba was complicit with David and engage in an adulterous affair. Ruth was a godly woman, but as a Moabitess, she had her origins in incest.
If the ancient genealogy is a kind of resume, this isn’t the most flattering list to be a part of. It’s unexpected, even shocking, the King of the Universe would come from a line that looks like this. The Jewish King, Herod, deleted some names from his genealogy. Some of his ancestors were Edomites and for someone who aspired to be a Jewish King, that would not have played well with the Jewish public. So he got rid of them from his family line. The biblical writers leave in Jesus’ genealogy names that Herod would’ve gotten rid of.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but learning about one’s ancestry has become a huge deal today. Commercials advertising DNA research to learn more about your ancestry run on primetime television. Which tells me, this is big business. Americans have a vested interested in learning about where they came from. People have pride when they discover something about their ancestry that conveys greatness or prestige. I remember being at a gathering and we played one of those games where you share some fun fact about yourself. One of the people in my group had a rather detailed family history that traced back to Abraham Lincoln. You could tell that individual was pretty proud of that.
How many would take pride in being the descendants of deceivers, prostitutes, adulterers, and murderers? These are the types of people in Jesus’ biological ancestry. This is really good news.
“On the street” people often have a view of Jesus that says: "Jesus is for the moral people and the people who have it together. Jesus wouldn’t be interested in me because I have a past.” The very first words of the NT convey a vastly different message; an unexpected message. Jesus isn’t ashamed to be associated with messy people. He identifies with them.
If you have a past, or you know someone who has a past, or you think about the people in our community who have a past, Jesus came precisely for people like this. Just 4 verses after Matthew completes Jesus’ genealogy, he introduces Jesus as the one who “will save his people from their sins.” Jesus came into our world with the expressed purpose of saving people like the ones in his own genealogical line. He’s not ashamed to be associated with sinners. He came to associate with them. Love them. And ultimately die for them.
There are aspects to our lives current and past that show our lostness and sickness. Jesus isn’t ashamed of you. He’s not going to avoid you. He’s not going to run from you. He so identifies with our lostness and sickness that he came into the world through the line of sick and lost people in order to find and heal them. If you want to experience Christmas, don’t try to clean up your act and then approach Jesus. Come to Jesus as you are. Come with your mess. Come with your sickness. Let him be your Savior and physician.