The Classic Christmas: the virgin birth, incarnation, and uniqueness of Christianity

As we watch the movies and celebrate the random traditions this Christmas, Let’s ask ourselves, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Year after year Christmas can play an important part in the process of growing in our knowledge of God. We teach our kids that we celebrate Christmas because we are celebrating Jesus being born. With all the cuteness of teaching kids about Christmas being Jesus’ birthday celebration, this the foundation for a healthy and vibrant faith in God. When we understand what Jesus being born actually means for us, it will increase our faith and lead us to worship him. Matthew 1:18-25 is one of the passages that teaches us about Jesus’ birth and how Jesus is both God and Man at the same time. Growing in our knowledge of what they Scripture says about how Jesus is God and Man, will lead us into this deep faith in him and worship of him.

Matthew 1:18-25 teaches us several things about the Birth of the Lord Jesus. First, Jesus was conceived supernaturally, not in the natural way. Verses 18 and 20 mention that Mary conceived because the Holy Spirit caused her to, not because of the natural way that we have children. Mary was a virgin. She was betrothed, which is similar to what we understand when we think of engagement, but its more serious than that. If a betrothal was ended, it was considered divorce. Well, since Joseph was betrothed to Mary and she got pregnant, he was going to divorce her. But, an Angel came to him telling him to marry her, so he took Mary as his wife even though her child was not his. Both Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was conceived supernaturally and they obeyed God and named the boy Jesus.

A second thing we learn about Jesus from this passage is since he was born supernaturally, he is both man and God. The virgin birth is an essential doctrine of Christianity affirming that Jesus’ mother was Mary, but he didn’t have a  human father, but was conceived supernaturally. Joseph was his father legally, but not biologically. Since he is Mary’s Son, he is a man and since he is God’s Son he is God. The prerequisite for Jesus to do all the things the Bible claims he did and will do is that he has united humanity and divinity, man and God.

This leads us to another thing we learn from this passage. Jesus’ supernatural birth was a fulfillment of Scripture. Verse 23 is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14. There are many places in the OT that refer to aspects of what Jesus did or who he is, and this is one of them. The context of Isaiah 7 that is quoted here is talking about the coming Exile of Israel and the promise that God will be with them. Matthew quotes this verse about Jesus being born to a virgin, but implicit in this, is the idea that Jesus is also God present with his people in Exile. This is why he is called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” in verse 23. The Angels tell Joseph and Mary to name the boy Jesus, which means “the Lord saves”. The overarching idea here in Matthew 1 about Jesus, is that in Jesus, God dwells with his people and delivers his people from their sin. The exile of Israel was intended to point people to our exile in sin. The Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BC, and when though many Jews had returned to their land, they were never self-governed again.  At the time of Jesus’ birth in the 1st century, the Romans rule over them. So, many still believed that they were in a type of Exile even though they were in the land. Matthew is applying Isaiah’s prophecy about God being with his people in exile to Jesus. e is Emmanuel, God with us, and he is Jesus, the God who saves. We were all far from God and we need him to come and rescue us from our exile in Sin. Matthew begins his book by saying God has come to rescue his people from that exile.

So, to summarize what we learn here in Matthew 1, Jesus was conceived supernaturally in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, this was a fulfillment of prophecy, and in doing this, God and Man are joined together in one person named Jesus.

The doctrine that says Jesus is God and Man is called the Incarnation. Jesus is God incarnate, or God in the flesh. (Now you know a fancy theology word to impress people with.) In every aspect of life we have common language and technical language. Sometimes using technical language is unhelpful, but sometimes it is helpful. When we are talking about part of our eye, we don’t talk about the black dot, we talk about the retina. Technical language can help us be clear in what we are talking about.So, at times, its helpful to refer to Jesus’ incarnation because it includes much more than simply his birth. At Christmastime we celebrate the event of the incarnation, but every day we walk with the Lord we celebrate the doctrine of the incarnation.

When we understand how Jesus comes, and why Jesus comes, it will change our lives, it will increase our faith, and it will lead us to worship. Growing in our knowledge of Jesus’ coming, shapes the way we look at God, ourselves, the world, it affects the way we understand everything in life. This doctrine that says Jesus is God and man, affects us in at least four ways.

First, Because Jesus is God and Man, we can have relationship, not only religion. Most believers will say that Christianity is not just a religion, but also a relationship, but there is a theological reason to say this, not just because it sounds authentic. This relationship is made possible because in Jesus, we are united with God and him with us. In Colossians 3:3-4 it says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” The Incarnation means we can be united with God and God with us. Jesus makes this relationship possible by uniting our humanity with God. So when we say, its relationship not religion, we are referring to this doctrine of the incarnation and how Jesus makes the relationship possible. If God doesn’t become man, then we cannot dwell with God. We cannot call him Father and we are not his children. Jesus is not our brother if he isn’t a man. But God becomes a man in Jesus and makes this possible for us.

Secondly, because Jesus is God and Man, we have someone who is capable of receiving the punishment of our sin as our substitute. To be our substitute, he had to be human like us, but he also had to be holy like God. Since Jesus is God and Man, it means that he can stand in our place when we dies on a cross for our sin, and it also means that he is holy so he doesn’t have sin of his own to pay for.

One of the ways I’ve heard this explained is that in order for our team to win, Jesus needed to be on our team. The Ravens got beat by the Steelers the other night. As much as I could have help them, I can’t do anything to affect their victory because I’m not on the team. But if I were to go to the field, and put on the pads, and get in the game then I could win the victory. It’s a silly example, but in order for Jesus to be our substitute and conquer our sin and the grave, he had to be on our team, God had to become a man. To show you just one place where this is mentioned in the Bible, look at 1 Timothy 2:5-6.Here Jesus is called the mediator between God and man and the one who gave himself as a ransom. Because of the incarnation, the perfect man, Jesus, has given himself as our substitute, taking on a punishment that we earned and deserved. In 1 Timothy it says he is our mediator, paying our ransom. Once there was sin standing between us and God and Jesus steps in representing God as God and representing man as man and gives his life for ours as our mediator and ransom. The Incarnation means our sins are paid for, atoned for, so we can receive forgiveness rather than judgment.

He makes a relationship with God possible, he is our substitute, and thirdly he calls us to believe something different from every other religion. Christianity is not just like all the other religions. Because Jesus is God and Man, Christianity is unlike all other religions.  The incarnation is one of the core doctrines of Christianity, and as such it separates Christianity as unique among world religions. Some religions like Mormonism may say we are all gods or can arise to the status of god, but this is different from the incarnation. Islam and Judaism are most closely identified with Christianity in the popular assessment of world religions because they worship only one God, but the incarnation of Jesus is blaspheme in Islam and Judaism. There is no personal claim to divinity in Buddhism or Hinduism. The incarnation separates Christianity from all other religions, so if a person says that all religions are essentially the same, the have to reduce Christianity to exclude the incarnation, and then it is no longer Christianity. A Christianity without the incarnation is not Christianity. Jesus is God and man, and this is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. This is also why Jesus can make the claims he made and teach the things he did. Other religious beliefs will deny Jesus outright, reduce Jesus to a teacher or prophet, or some will say that he is God, but he only appeared to have human flesh. This goes against the creeds of church history, but more importantly, it goes against the Word of God. Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. In Jesus God and man are joined together. God takes on human flesh. 2 John 7 says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Throughout history people have either denied Jesus’ divinity or his humanity and this is what all other world religions have to do with Jesus. Jesus is who he says he is, he’s not just a good teacher or prophet, he is God’s Son, he is our savior.

He gives us a relationship with God, he is our substitute, he causes separation between Christianity and all other religions, and Finally, because Jesus is God and Man, he fully and undoubtedly demonstrates God’s love for us. God is loving, and since he is loving, even suffering and sorrow somehow work into his plan. God’s love and compassion for us is demonstrated in the incarnation. It proves that God is not indifferent sitting back and watching, but he does something to rescue us from our plight of sin and death.

Hebrews 4:14-16 points to God’s identification with us in Jesus. God becomes man in Jesus and because of this, he knows what we deal with on a day-to-day basis not only from the outside as an observer, but he has been through it too. Jesus was betrayed, suffered, and died. He has experienced the worst of the human condition. And because he is God, he rose out the grave and sealing his work of forgiveness, and eternal life for us. So, we can come him confidently because he has demonstrated his love and care for us. He will show us mercy and give us grace.

Christmas is not something we only celebrate, it is something that happens to us. When the 26th comes, we can continue to celebrate because Jesus has come. Jesus comes for me, he comes for you. This is immensely personal. Because of Jesus, you are united with God and he with us. Jesus humbled himself as God taking on human flesh. He came and stayed amongst the animals and the filth. He slept in a dirty feeding trough and was wrapped in rags. There may be some resemblance between our hearts and the dark and dirty stable where Jesus was born, but even with that resemblance, he still desires to be born in us. Jesus still desires to come and dwell with us.

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