Anticipation, Part 4: Trust & Obey (Matthew 1:18-25)

Luke tells the story of Christ’s birth largely from Mary’s perspective, while Matthew tells it largely from Joseph’s. No attempt is made to bring them into alignment in an artificial way. Instead, each provides historical facts from a different point of view. And yet, both accounts are needed to get a fuller depth and perspective on the whole story. What’s common to both accounts—among other things—is the virgin birth of Jesus. That’s the non-negotiable for each writer. As the Apostles’ Creed says:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

It’s a reminder that God still does the supernatural. The surprise, however, is that he uses ordinary people to carry out his extraordinary plan. According to rabbinic tradition, Mary would have been about 14-16 years old at her engagement, and Joseph would have been about 18-20. They were two ordinary young people. Godly people, to be sure, but ordinary just the same, made of the same “stuff” as everybody else.

All through the Bible, we see God using the most unlikely people to do his best work. Sometimes we miss it because what God does through them is so extraordinary, we just assume he does it through extraordinary people: Moses parting the Red Sea with just a rod. David dropping Goliath with just a rock. Elijah calling down fire from heaven with just his voice. Next to these folks, we might feel like underachievers. And we might be tempted to say, “How could I ever be like any of any of those people? What’s the use? I’ll never amount to anything in the kingdom of God.” 

What we often miss is that it was God who did the extraordinary deeds, not his people. It was Godwho parted the Red Sea, not Moses. It was God who guided the trajectory of that sling stone, not David. It was God who sent the fire to Mount Carmel, not Elijah. Not only that, in between the mountaintop experiences of those people’s lives, we miss the struggles they had in the valley—the wavering, the uncertainty, the self-doubts, the frustrations, sometimes even the deep depressions and wrestlings they had with God when pushed to their limits. 

Mark it down: God can use ordinary people to carry out his plan. So, don’t ever look at your life and think, “I could never be used by God. I don’t have the gifts, or skills, or talents that others have.” Absolutely not. God is not attracted to your abilities, nor is he distracted by your inabilities. What’s important to him is your availability.

Joseph made himself available to God’s plan. He trusted God’s Word and obeyed God’s word, even when it was hard. In many ways, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Advent. What would have happened in history had he not obeyed the Word of the Lord? Would Christmas have happened at all? His life reminds us that God’s people prepare for Christ’s coming by trusting and obeying him. So, let us prepare well for the Lord’s return.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Anticipation, Part 3: Look & Listen (Matthew 11:2-19)

“If Jesus is who he says he is, then why is he not doing what I expected? If Jesus is who he says he is, then why do I still hurt so much?” These aren’t the questions of a skeptic; they’re essentially the questions of John the Baptist, who languished in prison after he was arrested by King Herod: “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:2-3).

Really, John? You announced the coming of Jesus with such passion, such confidence, such boldness. What happened? Expectations—that’s what happened. John’s were a bit off. He declared that Messiah’s ministry would be one of judgment, but all the reports he heard were about a ministry of mercy. But if Jesus really is the Messiah, where’s the fire and brimstone? Before he was locked up, John thundered, “His winnowing fork is in his hand….The ax is already at the root of the tree!” But the only ax to fall was the one that landed right on John. He’s in jail now getting ready for execution. How could he not wonder, “Is that what I get for serving Jesus? Did I miss something?”

Maybe you can relate. Has Jesus ever acted in a way that you didn’t expect? The healing you prayed for didn’t come through. The financial deliverance you needed didn’t turn out. The promotion you hoped for went to somebody else. The ministry you served in didn’t go as planned. The child you gave birth to is different from all the other children. Jesus didn’t do what you thought he would do, and that stings. John the Baptist knows how that feels. 

At some time or another, every thinking believer will wrestle with the problem of doubt. How can I be sure that Christianity is true? What if I’ve put all my hope in Christ, but I’m wrong? What if the resurrection never really happened? What if the critics are right and the Bible is not the Word of God? Questions like these can harass the heart of the sincerest believer. 

The good news is that God gives his people reassurance when they need it. “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me’” (Matthew 11:4-6). In other words, the reasons for doubting Jesus are in the end unreasonable. Just look and listen. Your eyes and ears will verify in time that Jesus is who he says he is.

That said, Jesus then gives a remarkable public endorsement of John and his ministry. He stands with his people today, too, even when they’re confused by what he’s up to. That’s because Jesus let the ax fall on himself at the cross. His love for his people is truly “wonderful, deep, and strong.’

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Anticipation, Part 2: Confess & Repent (Matthew 3:1-12)

It’s often been said that to succeed in this world, we need to have the heart of a child and the skin of a rhinoceros. In other words, we need to be tough and tender at the same time—tough enough on the outside to take the hits of this life when they come, and tender enough on the inside to be kind and compassionate toward other people who are likewise taking hits. 

Unfortunately, in this broken world of ours, we sometimes get these two things backwards. We wind up developing the skin of a child and the heart of a rhinoceros. That is, we get touchy and sensitive on the outside, and we get jaded and cynical on the inside. But when our hearts grow cold, we block the work that God wants to do in our lives.

Jesus spoke on more than one occasion of a condition he called sclero cardia—“hardness of the heart”—a condition for which spiritual surgery is required. This passage is about that surgery. John the Baptist prepares the way for Messiah by getting people’s hearts ready to welcome and receive Jesus. His call is for believers to open their hearts, humble their hearts, and surrender their hearts to God. These heart movements involve the spiritual practices of confession and repentance, along with the humility that comes with public baptism.

While these disciplines can be challenging at times, they ultimately lead to liberation. Before we sin, Satan lies to us, trying to convince us that there will be no consequences if we give into the temptation. After we sin, Satan lies to us again, trying us to convince us that our sin is unforgiveable. The practice of confession and repentance enables us to neutralize his lies, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

In the end, God wants your heart to be like a hay-filled manger—soft and ready for Jesus. Otherwise, you will miss all that God wants to do in your life.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.