December 2021- February 2022
We Need Each Other
INTERSECT: The Unique Story
Creative gender reveal celebrations are trending in the United States: confetti canons, exploding soccer balls, pink and blue smoke bombs, exploding golf balls, and on and on. If this custom continues, I’m sure the creativity will grow as well. Yet, during the Christmas season, we celebrate a baby announcement that included not only a gender reveal but also the purpose of His life. There will never be a more interesting and important “reveal” than the dream Joseph experienced.
In the first chapter of his gospel, Matthew did not record every detail of Jesus’ birth, but his quick account reveals the most unique story in human history. Unique means one of a kind, unlike anything else. In these verses, several unique elements converge to form a unique story with a unique problem, person, and purpose.
A Unique Problem
Joseph and Mary’s situation was certainly problematic from a human vantage point. First, there was a social problem. Mary was pledged to Joseph. This meant more than simple engagement. In ancient Jewish culture, marriages were typically arranged. The husband’s father paid the bride’s father an agreed-upon amount, since her father would lose a worker in his home.
The pledged marriage was seen as binding. Generally, the couple would not live together until the full marriage ceremony took place, but any unfaithfulness was considered adultery. Herein lies the problem. Matthew’s text emphasizes Joseph and Mary had not yet come together when her pregnancy became evident. The logical conclusion, both for Joseph and others, was unfaithfulness on Mary’s part. To Joseph’s credit, he wanted to “put her away” or divorce Mary privately, to avoid putting her through public shame.
Then, there is a biological problem. Mary, a virgin, was pregnant. This is mentioned twice in the opening verses and again later by Mary herself. Her question is poignant: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The question you would be asking as well. This doesn’t seem to be a question of unbelief, simply a question of “How?” When she said she “hadn’t yet known a man,” Mary made it clear she had not entered a sexual relationship with a man. Evidently, she and Joseph took their engagement seriously and had standards for purity. Even at her young age—many scholars believe 15—Mary understood basic biology.
How can this be since I am a virgin? God created this world with normal processes—natural absolutes. The law of gravity, for example. If you jump off a building, you are not going to float. Or the way God designed our bodies for eating and digestion (something we often test this time of year). We could go on and on. But God also can override these natural laws and processes. When He does, we call it a miracle. And a miracle is what we find in the virgin birth.
A Unique Person
Matthew’s account also reveals a unique person: Jesus, the eternal Son of God who has assumed humanity. The theological term is incarnation, and we find it emphasized several times:
Found with child of the Holy Ghost (verse 18)
That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (verse 20)
They shall call his name Emmanuel (literally, God with us; verse 23).
Of course, this doctrine is found throughout Scripture. Perhaps the most familiar passage is found in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This eternal Word, Jesus, was “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Or, recall the words of Philippians 2:6-8: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
In these verses, the full deity of Christ is revealed: eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing, self-sustaining, Creator, holy, loving, righteous, saving. Yet scriptural accounts also clearly demonstrate the full humanity of Christ. He attended synagogue worship. He worked with His hands. He ate and drank. He cried. He displayed righteous anger. He rested and slept when tired. He cared deeply for the spiritual and physical needs of others. He sang, prayed, preached, and thought. He was fully human, fully God, two natures in one person. One unique person.
A Unique Purpose: Salvation
“Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b). Mary and Joseph didn’t need to consult a book of baby names. They didn’t have to debate about which name would sound best. They didn’t need to look back through their family records for a name with rich meaning. No, the name was given by God Himself. Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.
Jesus was a direct descendent of David. This tie is important because centuries earlier, God had promised King David a descendant would sit on Israel’s throne forever. Mary’s boy was not just any son. He was the One predicted for centuries. The son first predicted all the way back in Genesis 3:15, when God promised Adam and Eve the “seed of woman” would crush the serpent’s head and bring redemption. This promise of redemption is reflected in the name—Jesus.
In the Gospels, we learn He saved His people by living and dying and resurrecting for them. He lived the perfect life we should have lived but did not due to sinfulness. He died the death we deserved, though He did not deserve that death because He was sinless. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He saved His people from their greatest problem—sin. He saved them from sin’s destructive power and penalty. And, one day, He will eternally deliver them from even the presence of sin.
As a young boy, I enjoyed duck hunting with my dad. One day, while hunting with a good-sized group of people, our Labrador Retriever fell through a hole in the ice while retrieving a duck. We tried many things to get her out, but nothing worked. Her struggles slowly weakened, and it seemed death was imminent. But my dad began breaking the ice and wading into the water himself, rope in hand. Despite the risk, he was able to reach her with the rope and pull her to safety.
Looking back, every person there wanted the dog saved, but only one person cared enough to enter the dangerous water for the rescue. In a much deeper and more profound way, humanity was sinking in sin with no hope of rescue. Jesus left Heaven and stepped into the waters of death on our behalf.
As you celebrate Christmas this year, ask yourself if you have allowed Him to save you. The message of the Bible, the message of Christmas, isn’t one of reformation but salvation. It doesn’t matter what your sins are, Jesus is willing and able to save when you respond with genuine repentance and faith. That is the greatest Christmas gift of all.
“Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’”
About the Columnist: Dr. Barry Raper pastors Bethel FWB Church near Ashland City, TN. He is associate dean of Welch Divinity School.
About the Columnist: Dr. Barry Raper pastors Bethel FWB Church near Ashland City, Tennessee. He also serves as program coordinator for ministry studies at Welch College. Barry and his wife Amanda have five children.