RPM, Volume 20, Number 1, December 31, 2017 to January 6, 2018

The God Who Intervenes

Matthew 1:18-25

By Reverend Bryn MacPhail

If we were asked whether or not we appreciate when others interfere in our affairs, I suspect that our instinctive answer would be 'No'. We want to be left to our own; people should mind their own business. However, if we think about this question about interference long enough, we will soon realize that interference by others can sometimes be a good thing.

For example, I recall, vividly, an incident that took place at school when I was ten years old. I was confronted by a bully and was challenged to engage him in a fight after classes. Now, you need to know two things about the ten year-old Bryn MacPhail; I was neither, very big, nor very discerning. Although the boy who challenged me to a fight was much bigger than I was, I nonetheless agreed to the terms of engagement.

It wasn't long before the news of our planned melee reached our classmates. As the school day drew to a close, I was flat out scared. I did not want to fight and I knew that, if I did, the outcome would not be favourable for me. But it was too late; there was no turning back now and so I proceeded to the designated spot where the bully and his motley crew were waiting for me.

My heart was racing as I approached the bully slowly, and awkwardly. As I approached, he began to scoff at me, taunting me to make the first move . . . but then we were interrupted by the sound of a man's voice. The crowd, which had assembled quickly, scattered as a man approached, summoning me forward, and ordering the rest of the kids to go home.

It was my father. How he knew what was going to take place, I'll never know. My father intervened in a volatile situation and quickly restored the peace.

Interference can be a good thing; especially if the one who is interfering knows better than we do. Interference can be a good thing if the one interfering has abilities that we lack to remedy a problem.

Christmas is the story of God's intervention in human history. Granted, God had intervened many times before and has intervened many times since, but at Christmas there is a uniqueness to His intervention: God becomes one of us in the birth of baby Jesus.

Conceivably, God could have left us to our own devices, but He knew that the problem was beyond our ability to remedy. The core problem, as is identified throughout Scripture, is the problem of sin. Sure, there were, and are, other problems—problems of war, injustice, and poverty—but, clearly, these are the symptoms of the core problem.

What we soon learn is that Jesus did not come to this earth to give us a Band-Aid solution to our problems. Jesus did not come merely to provide humanity with a helpful body of teachings, as if sufficient education could save us. Jesus came to intervene and to interrupt. He came to overcome the fundamental barrier between God and humanity; He came to save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).

It is a good thing that Matthew included the angel's instruction in his narrative. Otherwise, we might have missed the primary purpose of Jesus' birth. Without the angel's words we might have imagined that our sin was not that big of a problem. Without the angel's words we might have imagined, as many did, that the role of the Messiah was to be a national liberator.

The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means 'the Lord saves'. The name Jesus points us in the right direction, but the name itself is ambiguous in stating the Messiah's purpose. We need the angel's words, "give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21).

The angel of the Lord goes on to explain that the birth of Jesus comes as fulfillment to what God said through the prophet Isaiah, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel—which means, 'God with us'" (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23).

We need not confuse the naming of Jesus with the designation of 'Immanuel'. The Bible is replete with names and designations for Jesus—He is 'the Ancient of Days', He is 'the Christ', 'the Prince of Peace', 'the Good Shepherd', 'the Light of the world', and our 'Redeemer'.

Charles Wesley captures the beauty of 'God with us' in the second stanza of his hymn, 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing':

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell.
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

The birth of Jesus marks the advent of 'God with us'. In the person of Jesus, born two thousand years ago, God powerfully entered into the affairs of humanity. It was a profound interruption in human history; it was interference of the best kind. The world has never been the same.

How do we account for the present day strength of Christianity? Jesus, our Emmanuel, came to this earth two thousand years ago, and His impact upon us has not diminished, but rather, it has intensified. How do we account for this?

To account for this, we need to jump to the end of the story. Matthew begins his gospel with the angel's announcement of the birth of Jesus, who is Immanuel, 'God with us'. Matthew ends his gospel with the resurrected Jesus giving final instructions, and words of assurance, to His disciples. Listen to the last sentence of Matthew's gospel:

Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).

Two thousand years ago, the angels sang, marking the arrival of Jesus, God with us. And, this evening, we continue to sing because God remains with us.

This is no lofty sentiment. This is the promise Jesus made to all who would believe in Him. By His Spirit, Jesus, who was born two thousand years ago, remains with us still.

Let it be a great comfort that, in Jesus, we worship a God who is willing, and able, to intervene in the lives of His creation. Whatever lies ahead for us, whatever 2005 holds for you and I, remember that we will meet every challenge with Jesus at our side. Amen.

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