Jesus is the son of David and of God

[Sermon audio here.]

One of the ways that a good book or a good movie keeps us engaged is by creating tension or anticipation.  Oftentimes the close of chapter or an episode leaves us wondering what will come next, especially if it ends with some twist or turn in the story.

Matthew’s genealogy in Matt. 1:1-17 is the first episode as it were on the life of Jesus, which ends on a note of tantalizing incompletion.  If you recall, in Matt. 1:1 Matthew introduces the family history of Jesus with the words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  In the next 16 verses he proceeds to fill in the history that identifies Jesus as the Messianic son of David.  But the problem is that Jesus does not have a biological or earthly father.  In verse 16 we find a disturbing break in the line of fatherly succession.  We read that Matthan is the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph.  But then Matthew tells us that Mary, the wife of Joseph, is the mother of Jesus.  Joseph is not identified as the biological father of Jesus.

Herein lies profound discontinuity in the royal line of David.  How, then, can Jesus be the son of David and therefore the promised Messiah?

What we shall see this morning is that Jesus did indeed become a descendent of king David by the legal of adoption of Joseph.  The fact that Jesus is the son of David while not being the biological son of Joseph is to fulfill the prophetic promise in verses 21-23 of our passage, which is the focus of my sermon.  While Jesus did take to himself human flesh in the line of David, he nevertheless remains the one born of virgin so that he might be our Savior from sin – as the God-man.

Joseph adopts Jesus as his son

In Matt. 1:18 Matthew signals for us that he is still concerned with revealing the origin of Jesus as the Messiah.  The best translation of the first part of this verse, which connects to verse 1, is as follows: “The Messiah’s origin or Genesis took place in this way.”  In this narrative section following his genealogy, Matthew is still busy with the task of proving that Jesus is indeed the Messianic son of David.

So, Matthew continues telling us the story about the origin of Messiah by introducing a little known woman called Mary, who was betrothed or engaged to a humble carpenter named Joseph.  Now, we must appreciate that engagement back in the first century world was much more serious commitment than what we understand it to be today.  Engagement was a binding contract entered into before witnesses that could only be terminated by divorce or death.  One of the valid grounds of divorce was sexual infidelity.  Only once a couple had moved in together and entered into sexual relations would the engagement officially become marriage.

The engagement of Joseph and Mary was by no means ordinary.  For we are told that: “before they came together” to consummate the marriage, Mary “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Without hesitation and in with a few words, Matthew reports the incredible, something unheard of in the history of humankind.  A woman will conceive a child that is not the result of human procreation or the will of man, but rather the work of the Spirit of God, which is from heaven.

In the incarnation, Jesus did truly become part of the human race.  He assumed a human nature of body and soul from the substance of his mother Mary.  And yet, Jesus was not a human creation, and therefore not the result of a sexual union.  While born to his mother Mary, Jesus, however, never ceased to be what he had always been, which is the eternal Word of God.  In the stupendous mystery of the union of God and man, Jesus took to himself human flesh, while never becoming organically connected to it.  Jesus took to himself a body and soul, while not inheriting our sinful nature in the process – so that he might become the perfect mediator between God and sinful man.

The virgin conception set into motion Christ’s life of humiliation.  By assuming our flesh, Jesus entered into an existence of weakness, suffering and death.  He then lived a life of incomparable suffering as one of us, which culminated with death, so that we might have life.

Joseph, however, was unaware of the supernatural conception of Mary’s child, and the implications of it, at least at this point.  So, verse 19, he “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  Joseph was a just man in that he was a law-abiding citizen.  He knew that the consequence for adultery was divorce and he intended to severe ties with Mary for her apparent unfaithfulness.  However, Joseph planned to do so in a compassionate way by sending her away quietly.  He did not want to expose her to public shame unnecessarily, while still being in the bounds of the law.

So, here you have it, Joseph is about to end his engagement to Mary.  And he has no idea that by doing so Jesus will be cut off from the royal line of David.

Jesus is the Son of God

Verse 20 tells us that Joseph had made up his mind and was ready to act.  Butsuddenly” or “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” A messenger from God literally stopped Joseph dead in his tracks and reversed the seeming inevitable.  The angel proceeds to assure Joseph that Mary is guilty of no wrongdoing.  And therefore he should take her as his wife.  Despite the apparent contradiction that Mary is pregnant – but not by Joseph – she is nevertheless free of the charge of unfaithfulness!  For, the Holy Spirit conceived the child in Mary’s womb.

The angel of the Lord continues in verse 21 to declare to Joseph that Mary will bear a son and that he shall call his name Jesus.  Now, Jesus was a common name among the Jews at the time.  It meant, “Yahweh is salvation” or “God will save.”  It would have reminded Matthew’s first century readers of Joshua, the Hebrew version of Jesus.  Joshua symbolised salvation in that he led Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan.  The thing about naming Mary’s son Jesus, however, is that this child is God and he will accomplish salvation in his very own flesh. He will save because he is not, like Joshua, just a man.  But he is the God-man.  This is why the angel carries on by saying: “… for he will save his people from their sins.”

The angel of the Lord prophesies that this child, hailing from the most humble background in the first-century world, will save Israel from her sins.

And yet, as we shall see, as we get deeper into the gospel of Matthew, the Jews did not for the most part recognise Jesus as their Messiah.  Why? Because Jesus did not conform to the popular Jewish expectations of the day.  They were looking for a grand political conqueror who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel in Jerusalem.  In the end, they killed Jesus for not giving them what they wanted.

The thing is that had the Jews understood Scripture, they would have known their greatest need was not for political liberation but salvation from sin.  And in turn they would have recognised Jesus as their promised Messiah.  For notice Matthew’s commentary right after recording the prophetic words of the angel in verse 21.  Matthew states in no uncertain terms that what the angel has just declared is not the wisdom of man, but rather the fulfillment of Holy Scripture.  More specifically, the birth of Jesus is to fulfill the prophesy of Is. 7:14:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us.)

In verse 22, we have the first of at least ten instances in the gospel of Matthew where he uses something like the formula: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken…” The reason for this is that one of the defining features of Matthew’s gospel is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of not only explicit and implicit OT prophesy, but also OT stories, historical characters and its cultic patterns, as well as the very law itself.

In his first use of the fulfillment formula in Matt. 1, Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is uniquely qualified as our Savior by drawing lines of connection and development from the prophecy of Isaiah.  Here the Spirit takes the multi-layered prophetic words of Isaiah originally intended for King Ahaz and his wife, and for the House of David, in about 735 BC, and applies them to Jesus. Jesus too will be born of virgin, but conception will come through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus too is Immanuel, God with us.  But he is so much more than what OT ever had.  He is the one prophesied of in Is. 53 as the Savior from sin.

Jesus will come to take away the sins of his people.  This does not mean every man, woman and child.  But, rather, every person that God the Father gave Jesus before the foundation of the world.  Jesus came initially to God’s OT people, the Jews.  But as we shall see from the rest of the gospel, God’s people are not limited to ethnic Jews, but include Gentiles as well.  This fact is already hinted at in the genealogy of Jesus in Matt. 1, where even in the OT times God was pleased to save foreigners, like the Tamar, Rahab and Ruth.  In the NT, however, the floodgates of God’s grace have burst forth to envelope sinners from every tongue, tribe and nation.

We are sons of God through Jesus

In verse 24 of our passage, Matthew recommences his narrative on the origin of Jesus by returning to Joseph, his adoptive father.  He tells us that Joseph woke from his sleep and then proceeded to do what the angel of the Lord commanded him.  Instead of divorcing Mary he took her as his wife.  And instead of consummating the marriage immediately, Joseph chose to wait until Jesus was born.  Why?  So that no one could claim that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus.

Beloved, the point of Matthew’s narrative following the genealogical list of Jesus is to further reveal to us the origin of Messiah.  Matthews chief burden in our passage is to prove that Jesus is indeed the promised deliverer of the OT because he is the son of king David.  In order for Jesus to be recognised as Messiah in fulfillment of Scripture, he had to be a son of Abraham and a son of David.  He had to be of Israelite descent and he had to have royal pedigree.  He had to be one born under the demands of the Old Covenant law.

This is why it is so crucial that Joseph did not send Mary away.  In marrying Mary, Joseph legally adopted Jesus has his son.  In doing so, Jesus became the son of David, while remaining the eternal Son of God.

Brothers and sisters, even though we have all fallen like the first Adam into sin.  Even though we like OT Israel have rebelled against God and broken his law, the good news of the gospel is that God has adopted us into his family because of Jesus: because Jesus is the sinless second Adam and the true Israel of God.  By turning from our sins and putting our faith in him, we too become sons of Abraham and sons of David; we too become descendents of Jesus and sons of the living God.

And yes, like the story of Joseph and Jesus, things in our lives may unfold in ways that often times seem contradictory and even self-defeating.  But, nevertheless, we may take comfort in Christ’s Word to us this morning that while God does indeed works in mysterious ways, his purposes are always for our good and his glory.  If he can fulfill his ancient promise to redeem humanity through the royal lineage, life, death and resurrection of his eternally begotten Son, he can most certainly save us from our sins and sustain us in joy and gladness through this life, and into the life to come.  Amen.

 

Simon Jooste, RCSS, May 12, 2013

Washed and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3.5)

Where does the Holy Spirit fit into the Christian life?  Sadly, there is much confusion when it comes to the answers to this question in the broader church today.  Some people are so focused on the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is pushed into the background, or even forgotten.  The same people also often place primary emphasis on one’s personal private encounter with the Holy Spirit or the so-called emotional experience that the Spirit gives in singing worship songs.  Then there are those that affirm the importance of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments in corporate worship, but with little reference to how God makes these means effective for our salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit.  For others, there is some combination of these two perspectives or extremes.

But what does Scripture have to say about the role of God’s Spirit toward us in relation to Jesus and his church?  In Titus 3:5, we find important help with the answer.  Here we learn about how God has chosen to give us new life by applying the cleansing blood of Jesus to us through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit never acts independently, but always works to reveal and give us Jesus and his saving benefits.  We also learn from Paul that God has chosen to attach the working of his Spirit to the sacrament of baptism.  In other words, the Spirit of God works through means.  Baptism is the means by which the Word is made visible and through which the Holy Spirit confirms sinners as new creatures in Christ.  Baptism is God’s ordinary means of giving us saving grace by the Holy Spirit, which assures us that God’s Word and deed of salvation is true for us.

[“Where does faith come from?” Answer: “The Spirit creates faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments” (Heidelberg Catechism 65).]

Now, the Holy Spirit has a long history of doing something new in this world, which is worth considering for a moment…

Holy Spirit as agent of re-creation

The first time we read about the work of the Spirit is at creation.  In Genesis 1:1-2 we read:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  Right at the beginning, God’s Spirit or God’s presence features prominently in his first act of re-creation.  Here, God transforms a realm of darkness and death into a realm of light and abundant life.  Here, the Spirit joins the Father and the eternal Son of God in making his holy sanctuary upon earth.  The Spirit is not only God’s agent of new creation, but also serves as heavenly witness to God’s covenant of creation.

After the Genesis account and after mankind has fallen into sin, there are a number of occasions in which God’s Spirit is made manifest at remarkable moments of re-creation leading up to the great outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost in the NT.  (Remember that because of Adam’s failure to obey God’s covenant of creation, he and Eve lost the ability to enter into the consummate eternal paradise promised by God for obedience and symbolized in the Tree of Life in Eden.  Nevertheless, God did not leave mankind to perish in his sins, but in his covenant of grace made with Abraham, he promised to make a new human race out of sinners.)

When God delivered Israel out of captivity in Egypt, the Spirit of God was there to guide his people and confirm his promises.  In the great exodus event, God transformed a people from slaves into freedmen.  God brought his people through the waters of judgment in the Red Sea, which the NT calls a kind of baptism (cf. 1 Cor 10).  Then he led his people through the wilderness by the presence of his Spirit, in the form of a cloud by day and fire by night.  In Deut 32, using similar imagery toto Gen 1, we read that God hovered over his people like an eagle making a sanctuary-like nest for its young.  Eventually at Mt Sinai in the Sinai desert, God officially made Israel a nation for himself and he promised them the Promised Land as an inheritance.  The Promised Land was a foretaste of the new heaven on earth.  Throughout the ceremony in which God made his covenant with Moses at Sinai, the Spirit was there in a form of a cloud to confirm God’s Word of promise.

During Israel’s time in the Promised Land and even once they had been banished into exile, God spoke through his prophets of a greater Day to come, when he would send forth his Spirit in an unprecedented way upon all mankind.  That Day would come with the manifestation of the “goodness and loving kindness of God in Jesus Christ, which Paul writes about in Titus 3:4.  It is because of risen Lord Jesus that God has poured out his Spirit in abundance upon the earth and into our hearts.  After the ascension of Jesus at the beginning of Acts, God sends forth his Spirit to testify to the coming of his heavenly kingdom and to bring salvation of Christ to every tongue, tribe and nation.

New creatures in Christ

Hence, according to Paul in Titus 3:5, we share in God’s salvation and we have become new creatures in Christ through the work of God’s Spirit in us.  It is the same Holy Spirit that which was there in creation, in the Exodus, at Mt Sinai, spoke through the prophets and was poured out at Pentecost, that has united us to Jesus and all his saving benefits.  It is by God’s Spirit that we have been saved out of this world and saved from ourselves.  The old things have passed away and behold new things have come.

Remember, Paul speaks about our old way of life according to our old sinful nature in Titus 3:3.  Once we were spiritually dead and lost in an abyss of wickedness just like the rest of the world.  But then, in love, God called us to himself by his Holy Spirit because of Jesus. This is why Paul can write in Titus 3:5-6 that we have been saved by “the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he has poured out richly in Jesus Christ.”  Notice, it is not that the Holy Spirit alone has saved us, as if the Spirit has acted independent of the Father and the Son.

Rather, the Holy Spirit is the one that gives us a new heart so that we can receive Jesus as our Saviour from sin by faith.  In other words, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us into personal saving union with the gift of God’s Son, so that all the spiritual benefits that Jesus earned are now ours by faith: that is, his justification, his adoption, his sanctification and his glorification.  And not only does the Spirit unite us to the saving merits of Jesus, but the Spirit also gives us a new heavenly disposition and the power of Christ’s resurrection to now live a life of obedience to God.  For the Holy Spirit has not only been washed us of all our past, present and future sins, is also the one who renews us in holiness more and more after the image of Christ.  In other words, the Spirit of God unites us to Christ’s body and the risen Christ now lives out his life in us on earth through the same Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, when the Holy Spirit came upon you, God chose to make his holy dwelling in you.  We are temples of the Holy Spirit.  God has taken up personal residence – he has made his sanctuary – in your heart.  The Holy Spirit witnesses to the reality that all of God’s covenant promises are yes and amen for us in Jesus Christ.

Thus far we have seen that the role of the Holy Spirit toward us is always to reveal and unite us to our Saviour.  But how does this truth then relate our participation in the visible church?

Baptism as a sign and seal of engrafting into Christ

The answer to this question is not immediately obvious in Titus 3:5, but emerges when we read Paul’s words here in light of his other letters and other parts of Scripture as well.  For Scripture teaches that God’s Holy Spirit does not work in an invisible or unmediated way, but rather through churchly means.  Earlier in Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that God makes use the external and public means of preaching (ordained preachers) to bring salvation to his people.  It is the Holy Spirit working through (or in union with) the Word preached, which makes God’s Word effectual unto salvation in us.  In Titus 3.5, we find reference to another means by which God communicates salvation to his people, which is through the sacrament of water baptism: which – again – is God’s visible Word to us.

Like circumcision in the OT, baptism in the NT is the sign and seal (or confirmation) of our participation in the covenant of grace.  Both circumcision and baptism not only represent purification from sin, but they also confirm or ratify God’s promised Word of forgiveness.  With this said, it is important to understand that baptism is the fulfillment of the OT sign of circumcision.  There is no longer the need for the shedding of the blood of goats and bulls because Jesus shed his blood once and for all at cross to wash away the sins of mankind: which Paul call’s Christ circumcision at the cross.  Hence, the NT sign of entry into the church is not a bloody or physically painful one.

Our baptism is God’s ordained sign that we have become new creatures in Christ thanks to his atoning sacrifice of Jesus.  But it is also more than a symbol and more than a reminder of past events to strengthen our faith.  Rather, while the water of baptism cannot in and of itself save (it does not create faith or salvation), it is nevertheless the external means by through which God delivers saving grace to his people.  In Titus 3, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit saves us.  In a place like 1 Peter 3, Peter tells us that baptism saves us.  Taken together, we arrive at the sacramental understanding of baptism: it is both a sign and seal of salvation.

In baptism – whether at the time it is administered or some time in the future – it is the Holy Spirit that unites to Christ in his death to sin.  Through the Spirit and by faith, we – like Noah’s ark – have passed through the floodwaters of God’s judgment in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit has also united us to Christ in his resurrection unto new life.

In God’s inscrutable wisdom, he has chosen speak and act upon his promise of salvation through the Word made visible in baptism, by his Spirit.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the ordinary sign of baptism does the thing that it signifies: it washes away our sins and brings us into spiritual union with Christ and all his benefits.  Baptism confirms in us that God’s Word of promised salvation is indeed true for us.  The washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.  Baptism is not only the mark of solemn admission into the visible church, but also the sign and seal: of the covenant of grace, of our engrafting into Christ; of our regeneration; of our forgiveness of sins; and of our commitment unto God through Christ.  Baptism is the beginning of our new life in Christ.

With all this said and as important and mysterious as the sacrament of baptism is, we must keep in mind that our salvation does not depend on our baptism.  The ground of our salvation is in Jesus Christ alone, which we receive by faith.  Paul also tells us in Romans 10 that faith comes through the hearing of the Word preached.  Baptism, then, is God’s means of confirming and strengthening his Word of promised salvation in Christ.  To reject God’s command to be baptized is in effect to reject the salvation it symbolizes and the grace it offers, at our spiritual peril.

Conclusion

For consider, beloved, it is in baptism that the believers in Crete back in the 1st century and us today find immeasurable comfort and motivation for the Christian life.  For whether we are dealing with the influence of false teachers and their self-cleansing programs or pagans and their self-help programs, our baptism testifies to the objective truth that God has single-handedly redeemed us from our sins.  Baptism confirms to us that God in Christ has purified us and worked for us.  Baptism teaches us that the gospel and our justification cannot be dependent on anything we do: whether it be abstaining from “dirty” things in this world, fleeing society, turning over a new moral leaf or transforming society.

When we understand baptism in the way that Paul has taught it in Titus and elsewhere, we learn vital truths about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  For the Spirit is never detached from Jesus and should therefore never become the sole focus of our lives as Christians.  What is more, the Spirit keeps baptism from becoming a mere external and lifeless sign.

Let us, therefore, work out the realities of our baptism in gratitude.  Let us live out the Christian life as those motivated by our redemption in Christ.  Let us pursue good works as those indwelt by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let us seek to bring glory and honour to God in this world as those who have been marked out by God for eternal life.  Amen.

“How is it signified and sealed unto you in holy baptism that you have a part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?  Answer: “Thus, that Christ has appointed the outward washing with water and added the promise that I am washed with the His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.” (Heidelberg Catechism 69)

Simon Jooste, RCSS Morning Service, Febraury 17, 2013