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The Fourth Commandment: Breathe!

February 23, 2014

A Sabbath Day

A Day of Different

Sabbath isn’t two hours at church. It isn’t listening to a sermon online. It is a day to breathe. A day that is different than the other six. Different doesn’t mean that instead of slaving around US Steel, I slave around the house working on the honey-do list. That’s just different work, not a different day.

A Sabbath is an intentional day of breaking the grinding and exhausting routine of the other six days. What is that day for you? Do you have one or are they all the same?

Having a day set apart minimizes the idols of materialism and pride. By not working a day I am saying, God, your provision meets my needs. By not working a day, I’m acknowledging the world can get along just fine without me. Could I make more money working on a Sabbath? Sure. But it’s the same issue with tithing and giving. Who do I trust? When I honor God with my tithe, I believe that God can do more with 90% than I can do with 100%. Do I think God can do more with my six days than I can do with seven? This was always Israel’s struggle. They wanted to cheat a little. Let’s just do a little business on the Sabbath. Just get ahead a little. It’s only a little here and there.

Sabbaths are about trust in God and his ability to meet my needs. Think of it as a different day; a break. For many of us, how about a day away from connection to the web, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, games, and maybe TV? It’s a day to breathe. Just the thought has some of you twitchy with withdrawal. One of our pastors this week told me he and his wife looked at each other one night and there they were on the couch, alone, both consumed with their smartphones. They decided, enough is enough and together they closed both their Facebook and Twitter accounts. What would it take for you to have a different day?

A Day of Worship

I believe that every day is a day of worship as we do everything to the glory of God. But we don’t do that corporately every day. The early church began by meeting every day but then moved to a corporate gathering for worship and preaching once a week on the Lord’s Day. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else on that day; it just means that nothing else is more important on that day. Worshiping him. Serving him. Getting vertical with him in worship and prayer. A day for God.

“Freedom from secular chores secures freedom to serve the Lord on his own day. Matthew Henry says that the Sabbath was made a day of holy rest so that it might be a day of holy work….Physical recreation and family fun will not be excluded, but worship and Christian fellowship will come first.” (J.I. Packer, Keeping the Ten Commandments, p. 67)

Worship is the priority on a Sabbath day. The New Testament urges us to make this a priority. We are not to forsake getting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Churches are called in the Pastoral Epistles to be beehives of teaching and singing and serving and loving. This takes time and we always give time to our priorities. The Sabbath allows for it.

One of the easiest signs of spiritual illness is when people are not prioritizing the worship of God. Over and over again I hear, “Where’s so and so? I haven’t seen them.” We begin looking, and sure enough, something has gone terribly wrong spiritually or morally.

I want to urge you to simply resolve to have a weekly Sabbath day, a Lord’s Day, and make God and his worship the priority in it. Once a week. Not once a month or every other week. Once a week.

Parents, the priority you make church and worship will leave a lasting impression on your children of where your priorities are really at. Model it for them. This doesn’t guarantee they will embrace it, but if you model not prioritizing God one day out of seven, you’ll bat a high percentage of your kids doing the same. Have a day of worship. Breathe.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The 4th Command: Glorifying God with My Time, Work, & Worship

February 16, 2014

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 ESV)

The Sabbath is called a day of solemn rest. In fact, “Sabbath” means to cease or to rest. God establishes this command for Israel which he defines in verse 9: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20:9-10)

Before you envision that Sabbath means a day you don’t do anything, it means to cease from the work of the other six days. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. We don’t Sabbath from everything, we Sabbath from the normal labors of the other six days. It was a day for God, and worship, and service. It is a day of different labor. For a pious Jew, the work week was and is Sunday through Friday. They reckoned their days from sunset to sunset. So Sabbath begins on what we would call Friday night and goes until Saturday night at sundown.

Paul writes of “Sabbath” as shadow and encourages loving acceptance of differing views and Sabbath practices

  • “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
  • “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

These are important because with one simple sentence he could have established Saturday or Sunday as a Sabbath for Christians. He does neither. Rather he says the Sabbath was a shadow of a reality found and fulfilled in Christ. And he commands tolerance within the Jewish/Gentile church for differences of conscience and practice.

The Spectrum of Positions on the Sabbath

  • Saturday Sabbatarians – Saturday is Sabbath for Christians (Seventh Day Adventists)
  • Sunday Sabbatarians – Sunday is the New Covenant Sabbath
  • Sunday sabbatarians – Sunday is not Sabbath but a special day of rest and worship based on God’s creation rhythm
  • Some-day sabbatarians – One day of rest and worship a week is important based on God’s creation rhythm
  • No sabbatarians – Sabbath? Sunday is game day/Weekends were made for Michelob

There may be sub-positions among these, but these are the options. Remember what Paul said, some people practice a Sabbath and some people view every day the same. His appeal is for respecting peoples’ consciences on this. Some of us think nothing of doing some activities on Sunday and others purposefully don’t. So we begin there. Our view on Sabbath is not a primary issue; it is secondary and not one to break fellowship over.

I’m going to tell you where I am on this and why. Paul’s words about Sabbath as shadow and Sabbath as conscience are clear to me that the ceremonial aspect of the fourth commandment does not apply to the New Covenant Christian. It was a sign indicator like circumcision. This negates a required Saturday Sabbath and argues against a strict Sunday Sabbath position, while if you choose to do it for personal reasons, I think it’s fine and may be beneficial as a good idea. I would fall somewhere between Sunday sabbatarians and Some-day sabbatarians because the concept of Sabbath and God’s creation rhythm are meant as gifts and blessings to us. We are not machines and we are not made primarily as workers and producers. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Further, while the New Testament doesn’t mandate a Sabbath, it does mandate regular and ongoing times together with God’s people.

  • “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47)
  • “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

If our motive for denying the Sabbath mandate is to exempt ourselves from corporate worship and service in order to find the bare minimum of participation in the local church, there are plenty of New Testament commands to condemn our attitude as sin and to call us to repent.

We don’t need the fourth command to feel the need to give sacred time to God or to orient our lives and homes and families around a rhythm of weekly worship and service. We don’t need that because our love for Christ compels it in us naturally—at least if we are healthy Christians.

Imagine if the fourth command was, Remember Valentine’s Day, keep it holy. If the husband or boyfriend’s attitude is, Do I have to? or if the wife’s attitude is, Can we miss a year? Or if they both say, How many years can we ignore this and be okay with each other? is the issue Valentine’s Day or is the attitude toward Valentine’s Day a telling indicator of the health of the relationship?

Similarly, whatever your position on the Sabbath, your attitude toward time, work, play, and the priority of God in those categories—even weekly worship attendance—is a telling indicator of your real heart for God.

The Pharisees made the Sabbath about outward measures. Jesus obeyed the Sabbath himself but he loved and healed, provided and taught, served and worshiped on a day dedicated to God as the enduring example of a man living his life for the glory of God.

God cares about our time and how we use it. God cares about our work and our ethic in it. God cares about our schedules and life rhythms, even about our rest and refreshment. I hope you are getting the idea that the Ten Commandments are not about God limiting us but rather freeing us to the life we were created to live; a life fully absorbed and lived under the ultimate purpose of glorifying God in everything.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Third Commandment: Using His Name Rightly

February 2, 2014

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 ESV)

There is a part of this verse we are very familiar with. Names. Everyone has a name. That name was given to you by your parents. They picked that name for any number of reasons. It may have been a family name, a favorite Bible name, a hero to them, or they liked how it sounds.

Some people pick a name because of what it means. This was very true in the Old Testament. Jesus was the best example when the angel told Mary and Joseph to name him Jesus, which means “Savior.” The reason given was that “he shall save his people from their sins.” The meaning of the name was important. Some of us maybe don’t know what our names mean but that’s just a different culture.

There is one person for whom the meaning of their name is of utmost importance—God. Our parents name us, but who names God? God names himself. Every name he gives himself is intended to tell us what he is like. “God is that which he calls himself, and he calls himself that which he is.” (Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, p. 85.)

God’s name represents his nature and infinite worth. To misuse his name is to profane his character which is infinitely glorious and holy.

God’s self-chosen names are intrinsically connected to his personhood. He is what he names himself. So his covenantal name, Yahweh, is holy because it is a self-chosen revelation of who he is. Jesus’ name is a God-chosen name and revelation of God, therefore it is holy. By the way, it is not the letters arranged in the name or the name in isolation. It all has to do with who it is tied to. I remember years ago the Cubs had an infielder named Jesus. Was it breaking the 3rd commandment to say something bad about him, or worse, to give him an error for some play? “Fielding error by Jesus.” That sounds blasphemous. No. That name was not connected to God; it was connected to the Cubs.

The names of God are holy to God and therefore must be holy to us. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The “in vain” then is the issue. We can certainly use the name of God; that’s why he gave it to us. We must not misuse it. In vain literally means “for unreality; for what is not true.” This is to use his name inconsistent with the glory that is God’s; to not give it reverence; to not give it weight. One translator says, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness.” (Larsson, as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis, p. 87.)

When we lift up God’s name for nothingness, with lightness, or irreverence, we are not treating his name as holy. Since he is what he calls himself, to treat his name irreverently is to treat God irreverently. Do we see the why? God is holy. Therefore, his name is holy. What we do with his name, in God’s eyes, we do to him.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Second Commandment: Worshiping the Right God the Right Way

January 26, 2014

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6 ESV)

Is there a Difference Between Art and Icon?

By icon I mean art that is religiously venerated and treated as God or a means to God. Over the years, I have traveled to see missionaries in various parts of the world. In each part of the world I have seen a local religious culture’s violation of the second commandment. It seems normal because much of this type of worship is generational. Much of it is ancient so it feels reverent and holy. India’s religion of 300 million gods is worshiping the wrong gods wrongly. But many violations are at least Christian in name. There are huge cathedrals and worship expressions that are centuries old.

The ancient churches of Christianity battled over the proper use of icons in worship: Western Church versus Eastern Church. This was a big deal. This was a big deal in the Reformation which reacted against the worship of icons by stripping their churches of all art; no images at all. So is it wrong to have a picture in your house of Jesus praying or of Jesus at the Last Supper?

What is the difference between art and icon? A good example is the story of Moses and the bronze serpent. If you remember, some Israelites were grumbling to Moses about bringing them into the desert and giving them the “worthless food” of the manna. So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, they were bitten, and many died. And the people came to Moses in repentance and asked the Lord to take the serpents away. So God told Moses to make a brass serpent that would provide healing for all those who looked upon it. Eventually, that serpent became a stumbling block for Israel because they actually started worshiping it. The art and gift from God became an icon and a stumbling block.

And often that’s what happens. The artist may not have meant it to be an object of worship (it was simply an expression of his faith), but over time people have a picture of Jesus or Mary and they get religiously superstitious; and artistic expression can become icon as people venerate, and in a sense, deify it. Or they look to it as a means to God. Only Jesus himself is a means to God. He is the way, the truth and the life; not his picture.

This is what is so prevalent all around the world. Churches and houses of worship have art that has become icon. People light candles and pray to the icon. In their homes they have little images that are prayed to or put in a place of near worshipful prominence. Art is not the way to God. Pictures of Jesus are not the way to God. The disciples’ remains or graves are not the way to God. Mary is not the way to God. Pictures, paintings, sculptures big and small are not the way to God. Jesus is the way to God and these other things are distraction in the least and idolatry at worst.

I remember being on a church tour where we were in a famous ancient church filled with people bowing down and praying to statues and pictures. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people. In our group was a young woman who was raised praying to icons. She had recently become a Christian. She looked around at all the art and statuary. I asked her what she was feeling. She said with tears in her eyes, “These are all the things that got in the way.” Got in the way of what? Seeing Jesus as the way to God.

Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus in your house or even church? Is it wrong to use pictures of Jesus to teach our children? Does a film like the Passion of the Christ or Michelangelo’s Piate violate it? No, not technically. However, we must be careful that art doesn’t become icon to us. Religion in the world shows how slippery this can be. If your art can stay art and you don’t limit God to the object, I think it is as appropriate as God’s command for Israel to fill the temple with art. It’s not the art; it’s the heart. Don’t worship it. Don’t pray to it. Don’t talk to it. Don’t bow down to it. Don’t light candles to it. Don’t worship it. Art can draw our hearts in worship to the one true God, but be careful that it doesn’t become God to you or superstitiously a means to God.

Finally, see the promise here. “But showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6) The ESV has the footnote and alternate reading you may be familiar with: a thousand generations. I’m not sure which it is but the point is the same. For those who love him, God shows a steadfast love to them, and through them, to many others. A life lived to the glory of the one true God not only is blessed by God, but also blesses by example and inspires many others including their family. Here’s the point: why worship a thing when we can worship the one true God who promises steadfast love to all who worship him and worship him rightly?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The First Commandment: No Other Gods Before Me

January 19, 2014

You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Remember, every negative command has a corresponding positive one. If we are not to love or enjoy or treasure anything ahead of God, what is the positive of that? You shall love, treasure, and enjoy God! The Westminster Catechism question 1 asks, “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That is the first commandment.

God created us. He knows how we are made for maximum joy derived from God being our ultimate love and priority. Idols on the other hand are slave masters. Idols empty us. Idols destroy us. Idols promise happiness but they never deliver. An example from this past week is the baseball player, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been arguably the best baseball player of his generation. He has earned $325 million in career salary alone. He has lived a very public hedonistic lifestyle and enjoyed being a filthy rich, handsome bachelor in New York.

Yet scandal and steroids have plagued him. This week he was given a year-long suspension from baseball. When he returns he will be 40 years old and may never play again. His reputation is completely sullied. He will likely never see the Hall of Fame and is grouped in with other steroid era liars and cheaters.

Would you trade places with Alex Rodriguez? How about Lance Armstrong? How about examples like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson? These are people who have all the things that we don’t and we think, “If only I had that….” Yet, what do we see? Idols destroy us. And for us common folk, we may not have a public scandal but idols wreak havoc on our families and relationships and decisions. Why? Humans are incapable of deriving ultimate meaning from anything but God.

C.S. Lewis makes this point on the difference between first things and secondary things. First things are things that God designed to be first in our hearts, primarily himself. Secondary things are good things for us as long as they remain secondary. The crisis arises when we make a secondary thing a primary thing. Now we are asking too much of the secondary thing which eliminates our ability to enjoy the first thing and the second thing.

He gives the example of pets and wives. A pet can be enjoyed as a secondary thing. But when you make the pet the center of your world, now you lose the joy of God-worship and the proper joy of having a pet. A wife is a great blessing and a gift. But if you make a wife the center of your world, arrange all your hopes, dreams, and worship around her, the marriage will be devastating because God never made a wife or a husband who can provide what only God can provide. (C.S. Lewis, First and Second Things)

Do you see the grace of God in the first command? Enjoy me! Love me! Worship me! Trust me! Obey me! And with me as your treasure, all else can be pleasure because you love and enjoy everything for my sake.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ten Commandments: An Introduction

January 12, 2014

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Timothy 1:8 NIV)

The law is good if used properly. How do we use it properly? A great example of using it properly is Jesus’ exposition of the law—we call it the Sermon on the Mount—where he goes through several of the Ten Commandments and says not only is the breaking of the command sin but also the attitudes that lead to the breaking of it. So murder is wrong but so is anger toward another. Adultery is sin but so is desiring adultery (lust).

So the consistent call of Scripture to anyone who is trying to use the law to earn their salvation is to realize that you cannot do it. The law doesn’t save us because our sinful hearts cannot fulfill its righteous requirements.

Further challenging this is that there are aspects of the Old Testament law, the ceremonial laws and the civic laws, which Christ has fulfilled and annulled. We don’t sacrifice bulls and goats. We don’t organize governmentally like we are the civic nation Israel of old. Hebrews makes this point.

But the moral commands of the Old Testament are different because they flow from the very unchanging character of God. He always speaks truth, so lying is never his will. He is always most glorious, so profaning his name will forever be sin. Here is where the Ten Commandments are dear and wonderful to us. They guide us into the kind of moral and ethical life that glorifies God. On this side of grace, we don’t do it to be saved. We strive to obey because we are saved.

We use the law rightly when we see the law fulfilling three roles: a mirror, a muzzle, and a map. (This comes from Pastor Randall Grossman, as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken in Written in Stone, p. 27).

Map – Guides our Life and Conduct

A map shows us where we should go. Before GPS was on our phones, you may have had an occasion when you were lost and you had no idea which direction to head. That is a picture of where we would be without God’s moral map. What’s right? What’s wrong? Or are those even categories? This is the relativistic world we live in today. We are, as Chesterton said, a people with our feet firmly planted in mid air. Our art and entertainment reveals the only absolute commandment of our generation, “whatever.”

God’s law does not begin with us, it begins with God. How gracious of God to provide us with a moral map. How are Christians who want to please God supposed to live? God’s law provides the answer, like a map.

Muzzle – Keeps us From Doing Wrong

A muzzle keeps a dog from barking and biting and otherwise doing things he’d be inclined to do if there was no muzzle. A lawless society is one where everyone bites and barks and does whatever they want. This is anarchy. Think of a mob scene or the downtown area of a city where the officers of the law are absent. What do people do? They loot and pillage until the cops show up. Or here’s an easy illustration, what do you instinctively do on the highway when you see a cop? Do you think, I’ll go as fast as I want to go? No. The law acts as a restraint—a muzzle. Sinners in society and community with one another need muzzles to keep us from the depths of our own depravity.

Mirror – Shows us our Sin and Need for a Savior

Did that which is good [the law], then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Romans 7:13 ESV)

In other words, the moral law of God shows us how massively short we fall to the righteous standard of God. It shows how corrupt our hearts truly are. Like a mirror, in the law we see ourselves as we truly are in the eyes of God. It isn’t pretty. Donald Barnhouse makes the point that mirrors call us to action; they call us to do something about it. Mirrors help us see dirt on our faces but they are totally useless to actually clean our faces. The mirror drives us to the sink and the soap and the water.

When a sinner peers into the perfect law of God, and sees himself for who he is before God’s righteous judgment, the conscience cries out and he searches for spiritual relief; he searches for forgiveness; he searches for a Savior.

How beautiful it is when a sinner, crushed under the weight of their sin, hears and believes the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) When the crushed conscience is relieved of its burden, not by doing or trying but by receiving grace from God, this is how the law does its finest work—it leads us to Christ.

There we find the only One who ever fulfilled the law’s demands. He never loved anyone more than God the Father. He never worshiped a man-made idol. He always honored God’s name. He fulfilled the Sabbath as Lord of the Sabbath. He always honored his father and mother. He was never unrighteously angry or violent toward another. He was sexually holy in every respect. He was always truthful. He was always content and trusting in his heavenly father. Jesus fulfilled the law and then he died for all those who haven’t fulfilled it.

God’s law will be your friend if you allow it to be a map, a muzzle, and a mirror. As we work through each command, I hope each one drives us to greater admiration and love for the God who has loved us so that we might respond by loving and worshiping him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© 2014 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Incarnation: God Saves us, God with Us

December 23, 2013

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

These two names show us why Jesus is the perfect answer to our most basic need. Two names. Two meanings. Two wonderful promises. He is Jesus. He is a Savior. He will save his people from their sins. This assumes a basic biblical truth. We have sins we need to be saved from.

The news this week provides a perfect example of our culture’s fundamental disagreement with God’s definition of things. If you have been under a rock somewhere this week, then you may have missed that the father of the Duck Dynasty cast was asked a question for GQ magazine, “In your opinion, what is sinful?” He replied by stating a few sins, and then quoted generally from 1 Corinthians 6 a list of sins according to the Apostle Paul. One of those he listed was homosexuality. This created such a firestorm that it led to Phil Robertson’s dismissal from the show. I’m not wading into the debate about it other than to point out that at the core of the firestorm was not whether this or that is a sin but whether there is such a thing as sin. Can anyone call anything absolutely morally wrong? If so, who? To see part of our culture go nuclear at the suggestion of a moral standard and moral accountability is an indication of where we are as a country, divided as it may be.

This is where the meaning of Jesus’ name itself is an affront. “For he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) And the New Testament further explains that this “saving” he is doing is actually saving us from the wrath of God toward us. We are guilty. Jesus’ very name says a lot about us and a lot about him. He is a Savior and we are in need of saving. He is Jesus. God saves us.

But he is also Immanuel. God with us. Here the majesty of the Incarnation blossoms as we realize that Jesus took on human nature to save us and by that human nature, he remains with us forever. “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” (Gregory of Naziansen) He became one of us yet he never divests himself of this nature. He is always one of us and as such, God is always with us. This was Jesus’ own emphasis in our mission purpose, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

We see these two names perfectly speak to our needs. He is Jesus, God saves us and Immanuel, God with us. His saving work on the cross perfectly meets our spiritual needs. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot reconcile ourselves with God. Praise God that Jesus has come as Savior, dying the death we could not die, paying the price we could not pay, gaining a victory we could not win. Jesus did this to “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

But he is also Immanuel, the God who became one of us. Came to us. Lived among us. Experienced all our weaknesses and pains. Suffered in every way that we do. And is right now among us by his Holy Spirit. He intercedes for us with perfect knowledge of the agonies of humanity.

These perfectly balance don’t they? Essentially, Matthew is saying, Jesus is everything we need and everything we want.

Today you may be reading this and your need is for a Savior. I have good news for you. His name is Jesus. Can the name that God the Father gave to his son be for you a faith-giving reality? He came to save his people from their sins if you will see in his coming a statement about your need. Saviors show up for saving people who need saving. The fact that Jesus came says that we need saving and the message of the Bible is that all who repent and turn from their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior, will be saved. Why not believe today?

But I know today that there’s another group reading this. You’ve put your hope in Jesus and you love the fact that he’s the Savior but you’re living in this broken world and there is sorrow and there is pain and you go to church and you go to Bible study or small group and your heart is longing for somewhere you can find comfort, solace, and peace.

And at Christmas time in particular we are often thinking about who is not here. I know this well. I was single into my mid-forties. Somewhere in my twenties it began to bother me. I was always going to my parents’ house for Christmas. Sometimes I thought about how great it would be to have a kid at Christmas. Then I went into my thirties and into my forties and I found myself thinking at Christmas time of who was not there. Maybe for you that is a spouse. A friend. A child. A parent.

And the message of the Bible is that in a broken world—where there are disappointments and unfulfilled expectations—is the message of who is here. His name is Jesus. He is Immanuel. He is God with us always. He promised in Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) His abiding presence with us is what gives us courage in our trials and hope in our pain. And I don’t know of a more encouraging word for somebody of faith in spite of the pain to realize that in the midst of this God is with me. And someday that will be a physical reality as I will be with him and he will be with me. We await that day.

If Jesus was either Jesus or Immanuel, we should celebrate him with all our Christmas joy. The fact that he is both Jesus and Immanuel ought to move our hearts to wonder and to worship and I hope that it does for you and your family this Christmas season.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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