On Friday night, thousands and perhaps millions of parents and grandparents were working with instructions manuals to try to put certain items together for their children/grandchildren. Yesterday, many more were doing the same thing after other presents were opened. But the reality is that for every set of parents that were trying to follow the instructions, another set (or two) were trying to wing it.
We all do that though. And sometimes it works much better when we wing it. It is a part of the difference between science and art. For instance, I can read a recipe and prepare something to eat, but a chef doesn’t need a recipe. The chef knows how certain herbs or spices interact with other foods to affect the palate. And, it doesn’t even have to be a professional. I am sure you can think of a good cook (perhaps yourself) that mixes in a little here or there to improve a particular dish.
But the reality is that sometimes it is important to follow the guidelines perfectly. You don’t want someone who is building a rocket to simply add a little here or there. You want to know the heart surgeon knows the difference between arteries, veins, and ventricles.
So, in some areas, it is ok not to follow the instructions. In other cases, it is not.
In our text today, Joseph was given instruction on the baby who was to be born to the woman he would marry. Now, of course, for those who know the story of Jesus’ birth well, we just gloss over that statement. But Joseph was given instruction on what to do. The instruction came as part of a dream. And if you are like me, you may wonder what part of the dream is real and what part is not. So, today, I want to look at what Joseph was told, and show why it was important for Him to follow that instruction, and what it should mean for us as well.
The Person (Matthew 1.21a)
Names have meaning. In our world, we tend to think of corporate brands as opposed to people’s names. Some of the most common brands today are Apple, Ikea, and McDonald’s. These names conjure up some type of memory and perhaps even an emotion.
In the first century, Jesus was a common name. The name itself did not set apart the one who was the Son of God. But having a common name had meaning because this Person with the name of Jesus was to identify with the common issues of mankind – joys, sorrows, etc. This Jesus, was (is) the Son of God, but He had life in common with the people then and can identify with us today as well.
But the name of Jesus was more than simply a common name; it was a significant name. The name Jesus means, “God saves.” In the Hebrew, it is the same name as Joshua. In fact, His Jewish parents would have called their son, Yeshua, which is the same name of Moses’ protégé. So, the name of Jesus (from the Greek) was common (in that it related to all people), but it was also significant, because of its meaning – God saves.
The Purpose (Matthew 1.21b)
As I just mentioned, the name Jesus means, “God saves.” That was the purpose of Jesus coming. Frankly, the baby could have been given any name and Jesus still could have fulfilled the same purpose. But similar to how we understand the brands I mentioned above, a certain name carries meaning. We know that Apple is a brand, but it is also a fruit. But if I am going to an Apple store, I am not intending to eat fruit. And I don’t go to McDonald’s to buy furniture. Ikea is the place for that.
So, while the meaning of the name Jesus may be lost on people today, imagine what the people thought when they heard that word – that name – 2000 years ago. Perhaps they scoffed. “Sure, God saves! Well, God hasn’t saved me.” Or “Ok. Maybe God saved people in the past, but we are in need right now.” Or how about when Jesus did a miracle. “God saves. Yes, He does. I was blind, but now I see.” But then what about what Jesus died.” Remember, the people at the cross. “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself.” That is, the name Jesus, meaning God saves,…cannot save Himself.
But Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to teach and do miracles. It wasn’t to promote the religious system of the day. Jesus came to save His people because they couldn’t save themselves. In fact, that is why Jesus didn’t save Himself…so that He could save others. So, that He could save us!
The people He saved are His people (v. 21). Who are His people? Well, the people of Israel come to mind. But it is both more and less than that. It isn’t all of Israel. It is those who follow Him. And it is not just the people of Israel who follow, it is all people. Jesus – God saves – all those who are His.
But from what are we saved?
The Problem (Matthew 1.21c)
Ultimately the answer is sin (v. 21). But that sin is really a testament to be saved from ourselves. Our sin corrupts us. It prevents us from seeking God, from abiding with God, from desiring God abiding in us. We all need saving. For some that saving is from financial issues, or from health issues, or from relationship challenges. But ultimately, all of those issues, and any others, are the result of sin being present in this world, and within our lives.
So, God gave instructions. He gave a list of commandments to help us overcome those challenges. And it isn’t just 10 Commandments that He gave; it is over 600. But we can’t keep them correctly. And God knew that. So, Jesus – God saves – came to plug the gap between what is needed (following God’s instructions) and our lack of ability to do so correctly.
Our sins divide us from God. Jesus is God’s response to that problem. We must acknowledge that an issue exists. We must acknowledge our sin, our need of a Savior, our need of Jesus – a need for a God who saves.
It is like the three brand names I mentioned earlier. Apple has tried to make their products so easy that anyone could use them. Now, not anyone can make a phone, or more realistically, a small handheld computer that fits in a pocket, but Apple is one company that has done so and their goal was to make it easy for others to use.
McDonald’s on the other hand doesn’t make much of anything that others can’t make. They may do it bigger, and faster, but anyone can make a burger for instance. But what you can’t do is make a burger while you are driving from place to place. So, McDonald’s has made it possible, for an exchange of a little bit of money, for you to eat while driving.
IKEA though is different. Many items that IKEA sells require instructions. The assumption is that with the instructions you will be able to build what is in the box. It isn’t like Apple where you need a great amount of expertise with small electronic parts. Nor is it like McDonalds, where you can make it without instructions if you had the time. No, IKEA doesn’t require expertise, but it does demand time. And to aid you, the box includes instructions. If you follow the instructions, then presumably, you can properly assemble the product.
When Joseph had the vision with the angel, he was given instructions about the baby to be born. He was told what to name the baby, what the purpose of this child’s life would be, and why it mattered. And in verse 24, we see that Joseph followed the instructions He was given.
What if Joseph didn’t follow the instructions? What if Joseph named the baby something else? What if Joseph had sexual intercourse with Mary before she gave birth? What if he chose a different path for himself, his family, his “son?”
What if Jesus didn’t follow the instructions He was given. John 5 says that Jesus didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father in heaven doing. What if Jesus chose not to follow His heavenly Father? What if Jesus chose not to listen to His earthly father? What if Jesus didn’t yield to the cross?
What about you? What instructions have you been given? Do you take time to learn the instructions? Are you following them or do you do like we often do with many instruction sheets and just cast them aside and figure it out as you go? I know I can be guilty of that more than I care to admit.
But that is why God not only saves, it is why He must save. Remember, that is the meaning of the name of Jesus – God saves. That salvation is a gift, but that doesn’t mean that the gift doesn’t come with instructions. Indeed, as we have seen today, even the birth of the gift of Jesus came with a set of instructions for Joseph.
On this day, the day after Christmas 2021, we must remember the gift of Jesus. We must remember His invitation to “Follow Me.” And we must heed His instructions as we do so. God does save. God is saving. God will save. And we must be thankful for that. But as a part of our appreciation, let us follow the instructions He gives us so that others may not that Jesus – God saves – is available to them as well.
Note: Title, Main Points, and some parts of the explanation are taken from Lifeway’s Explore the Bible, “Ezekiel-Daniel”, Winter 2022 Pastor Resources (relating the sermons to the SS lessons).