The Savior | Matthew 1:20-21
Brian Hedges | December 24, 2023
Let me invite you to turn in Scripture this morning to Matthew 1.
What’s in a name? We know that names are important. We know that names signify something, they reveal something about a person’s identity and a person’s character, and this is especially true in Scripture. Names are vitally important in the word of God; names are often telling us something about a person’s character. This is especially true when we consider the names of God and we consider the name of Jesus.
This morning I want us to just focus on the name of Jesus, the name that the angel commanded Joseph in Matthew 1 to name this son that was to be born to Mary. We know from Luke’s Gospel that this angel also commanded Mary to give the same name to the child, the name of Jesus, because of what that name means for us.
I want to begin by just reading Matthew 1:20-21. We’re going back; if you’ve been following along with us in this series through Matthew, we’ve been looking at the Advent of the King, and we’ve been in the first two chapters so far. I just want to go back to two verses in Matthew 1, Matthew 1:20-21.
It’s a simple message this morning, a message about the name of Jesus, our Savior, and the salvation that he brings. But I would suggest to you that nothing could be more important for us as we celebrate the incarnation of Christ at Christmas than to remember why Jesus was born, why he came. We confess it in our creed: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” That’s what these verses are teaching us, Matthew 1:20-21. Let me read the text.
“But as [Joseph] 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.’”
This is God’s word.
Of course, the name Jesus, Jesus or Yeshuah, means literally, “Yahweh will save.” This was true for Hebrew names in the Old Testament, that a name often conveyed a whole sentence. It conveyed a statement, a declaration, and the declaration in the name of Jesus is the declaration that Yahweh will save; or, as one commentator, Frederick Bruner, puts it, Jesus’ name means “God saves.” That’s what it means; it means that God saves. So when we confess the name of Jesus, that’s what we’re confessing. We’re confessing that God is the Savior; he is the one who brings salvation. Brothers and sisters and friends this morning, there’s nothing that you and I need more desperately than that. We need salvation.
What I want to do this morning is talk briefly about salvation and look at it from these three angles:
1. Salvation: Why We Need It
2. Salvation: What It Is that Jesus Does
3. Salvation: How We Experience Salvation
Those three points.
1. Salvation: Why We Need It
Notice Matthew 1:21 again, the end of the verse: “. . . for he shall save his people from their sins.” That last word in the verse shows us the need for salvation. It’s because of sin.
Now, sin is not a topic that is in vogue today. If you get out into the world, people don’t want to talk about sin; they talk about a lot of other things. But of course it’s a word that we’re familiar with in the church. But I think it’s something that sometimes when we hear the word “sin” we immediately think about infractions against the law; we think about breaking the rules, we think about being a bad person, or maybe we think about the really big, bad sins—murder and things like that. But sometimes we don’t let it really hit us where we live. We don’t necessarily think about our own sins and our own personal need for salvation.
But if we just think about the world as it is, we think about the state of things in the world and we think about the state of our own hearts and lives, it doesn’t take too long, if we’ll be honest, for us to see that we really do need some kind of rescue. That’s what salvation is; it’s a rescue. We need some kind of redemption.
It was the Catholic author G.K. Chesterton who said that “the doctrine of sin is the only doctrine for which we have empirical evidence.” In fact, if you just examine this morning’s headlines you’re going to see evidence of sin, and if you just reflect on your own life for the past week you’re going to see evidence of sin.
Let me suggest several ways in which sin affects us and therefore points out and shows us our need for salvation.
(1) First of all, we could say that sin haunts us. All of us, in the most quiet moments of solitude, will recognize this. There’s that whisper of shame or of guilt in our own conscience.
This shows us our need for forgiveness. All of us have done things for which we feel guilty. All of us have done things for which we feel ashamed. There are things that we would prefer no one else ever knows about—thoughts that we have thought or maybe words that we have said, or maybe even actions and behaviors that are buried deep in our past lives. There are things that perhaps we say within the confines of our own home to family members, and we know that those things wound those around us, but we would be ashamed for anyone to really listen in on those conversations.
There are those secrets that are in each of our hearts that show us that there’s something not right with us, and those feelings of guilt and shame, those haunting thoughts of sin, show us that there has been some kind of a break in our relationship with God. It shows us our need for forgiveness. That is, perhaps, the most familiar understanding of sin, as we think about sin in terms of our guilt.
(2) But sin not only haunts us, sin enslaves us. You see some evidence of this from almost the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 4, when the Lord says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” In that verse, sin is pictured like a beast, a predator that is ready to pounce on its prey. “Sin is crouching at your door, and it desires to have you,” the Lord says. This is what sin does. Sin masters us; sin enslaves us. Sin binds us. It shows us our need for freedom.
It’s the whole problem of addiction, isn’t it? All of us have these things in our lives, at least at different points in our lives, where we begin to lose control of some aspect of our thinking or of our behavior or of our appetites, and we become bound to practices and to habits that we know are not good for us, we know they’re not right, and yet we are bound to it. It’s like Gollum’s ring in The Lord of the Rings. It’s his “precious,” and yet at the same time it’s eating away at his life.
This is a big problem in our nation today. Earlier this year I read a book by a psychologist named Anna Lembke, called Dopamine Nation. She talks about the problems of addiction that are so pervasive in our nation today. Here’s a quote. She says,
“Because we’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance—drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting—the increased numbers, variety, and potency of highly rewarding stimuli today is staggering. [Now get this.] The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation.”
That probably hits all of us to some degree. We’re addicted to the rush that we get, the dopamine hit we get from picking up our phones. Or look at any of those behaviors that are listed, and maybe one of those hits you. Maybe it’s an addiction to food or even to drugs or to alcohol. Maybe it’s an insane amount of time spent on social media or gaming or binging on Netflix, or whatever. But we abuse these things, so that they begin to have a hold on us and begin to eat away at our attention, at our relationships, at our ability to concentrate, and at our capacity for love and worship and service for others. Sin enslaves us, and it enslaves us sometimes in really dark and twisted ways that really eat away at our joy and even at our sense of identity. We need freedom.
(3) Sin haunts us, sin enslaves us, and then thirdly, sin spoils all that is good. I think one of the most important books that I’ve ever read on sin is a book by Neil Plantinga called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. Even the title is wonderful. This world is not the way it’s supposed to be.
I think we know that. There’s this sense that the world somehow is not right. We think about all of the global problems; we think about wars, we think about injustice, we think about slavery and human trafficking. There is more of that going on today than at any other point in history. We think about crime, we think about all of the negative things that are happening in our culture and in our world, we think about the conflict and the tension between races and between nations.
Then, if we just think about the ordinary, everyday suffering and disappointment that we experience in our lives, all of these are indicators that something is wrong. The world is not as it’s supposed to be.
Plantinga compares sin to a parasite. He says,
“Sin is a parasite, an uninvited guest that keeps tapping its host for sustenance. Nothing about sin is its own; all its power, persistence, and plausibility are stolen goods. Sin is not really an entity but a spoiler of entities, not an organism but a leach on organisms. Sin does not build shalom [that is, the sense of peace and wellbeing and wholeness], it vandalizes it. Goodness, says C.S. Lewis, is, so to speak, itself, but badness is only spoiled goodness, and there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
Think for a moment about disappointment, ruin, heartache in your life. Every time you experience that, it is a sign that something is wrong. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be.
We experience this in the holidays, don’t we? A family holiday that we’re all looking forward to, and how often does it happen that it gets spoiled by selfishness, by someone’s angry outburst, by unfulfilled expectations, and then by growing, seething resentment? It affects many families this time of the year.
Think about your work and vocation and how it can be spoiled by cliquishness and petty gossip and by feelings of futility. Every disappointment, every grief, every sorrow, and all of the physical suffering that we experience in the world are pointing to this undeniable fact that the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s been spoiled by sin.
We live in a fallen world. And that’s why when we sing these wonderful songs about salvation and redemption, part of our hope is that eventually all of it is going to be taken care of.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground!
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”
We need salvation. All I’m trying to do is just help you feel that need a little bit more this morning, to recognize that in your heart, in your family, in your life, and in our world, that we live in a world that is fallen and we need the Savior. And so in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God gave this wonderful gift. He gave us the gift of salvation. He gave us the gift of a Savior.
“For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, Christ the Lord. His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
2. Salvation: What It Is that Jesus Does
So what is it that Jesus, as the Savior, has done and does for us? Let me point out a few things.
(1) First of all we look at his righteous life. It's interesting that the Gospel narratives don’t give us very much about the infancy and the childhood of Jesus. You have just a little bit in Matthew, you have a little bit in Luke, you have nothing in Mark, nothing in John.
And really, the beginning of the narrative, beyond those few chapters in Matthew and Luke, the beginning of the narrative of the life of Jesus is with his baptism. And it’s curious the way Matthew records the baptism of Jesus. You remember this. John the Baptist had been baptizing people in the Jordan River. It was a baptism for repentance, a repentance of sins. It was a way for even the Jewish people to recognize that they needed a fresh cleansing, they needed a new beginning, and so they needed to be baptized for their sins to be cleansed and washed away.
And Jesus then comes to John the Baptist and requests baptism. John the Baptist recognizes that in his cousin, Jesus, there is something unique, there is something different. He says, “You don’t need to be baptized by me, I need to be baptized by you.” And you remember what Jesus says? In Matthew 3 he says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
That statement, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” is telling us something about the life of Jesus, that Jesus in his life came to fulfill everything that was required by human beings and by faithful Israelites. All that was required by the law, all of it was required in order to live a righteous life. He was living the life that we should have lived and have not. He was fulfilling all righteousness through his obedient and righteous life. And as we work our way through the gospel of Matthew, we are going to see that this is the theme, the theme of fulfillment, that Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets. He fulfills all that had been spoken about him before. And he fulfills all righteousness. So, his righteous life, that’s key, that’s necessary for our salvation.
But when you read the Gospels, what’s especially clear is that the majority of the space is taken with the death of Jesus, the final week of Jesus’s life. You read the Gospel narratives, you’ve got just a little bit about his birth. You’ve got three years of ministry that are compressed into maybe half of each gospel. And then roughly 30 percent, sometimes up to 50 percent of each Gospel narrative is taken up with the final week of Jesus’s life. And it shows us that it was essential that he died for us.
(2) So his redemptive death, that’s the second thing he does. His redemptive death. And Jesus, himself, understood his death to serve in this way. He said in Matthew 20:28 that, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And that word “ransom” means the payment of a debt, the payment of a ransom price by which someone or something is redeemed. It is ransomed to be set free from slavery.
And then do you remember the night before Jesus died when he ate that last Passover meal with his disciples? And he told them the significance of this meal. He gives them the cup. He tells them to drink all of it, and he says, “For this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” What is he doing? He’s telling us why he’s about to die. He’s about to die, pouring out his blood in order to secure our forgiveness.
And then in Matthew 27, three times you have in that chapter the word “save.” And it really has to do with Jesus as he’s on the cross and he’s being taunted by others who say, “You cannot save yourself. He saved others but he could not save himself.” That’s what they are saying.
I love this statement from the theologian Christopher Wright, who wrote this wonderful book on salvation called Salvation Belongs To Our God. He reflects on this—Jesus hanging on the cross, he’s being taunted by others who tell him that he cannot save himself. And this is what Wright says,
“The profound irony is especially apparent in the demand of one of the rebels crucified beside him. ‘Save yourself and us.’ That was exactly the point. Jesus could not do both. He could not save himself and us. He could have saved himself by the instant summoning of the legions of angels to deliver him from his unjust execution. But in that case he could not save us or anyone else from the just deserts of our rebellion. Or he could go ahead and accomplish salvation for us, but in that case he could not save himself. For as he had repeatedly said, the very purpose of his coming was to give his life for the salvation of others. So against all the taunting, Jesus steadfastly persisted in not saving himself, but rather surrendered his own life so that he could save us.”
Have you ever wondered why you are moved by stories of self-sacrifice? You think about Aslan laying down his life for Edmund. You think about Sidney Carton in The Tale of Two Cities laying down his life for Charles Darnay. You think about Iron Man, giving his life in the Avengers, to save the world and defeat Thanos, who represents death. I mean, all of our stories that we love the most are stories of self-sacrifice, of substitution, of someone standing in the place of another to redeem them. I think those stories move us because they point us to something that is true about the very fabric of reality, the very heart of the universe, that we need a redeemer. We need a savior. And the only kind of savior who can save us is one who gives himself for our sins. And that’s what Jesus has done in his redemptive death.
(3) And then, finally, we can think also of his resurrection, his ascension, and his return. He not only dies, but he is raised from the dead. Paul says he was delivered over to death for our sins and he was raised to life for our justification, and he ascended into heaven where now he represents us before the throne of the Father, interceding for us, as Hebrews says. And he’s coming again. Hebrews 9:28, “Christ was once sacrificed to take away the sins of many and he will appear a second time not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
What has he done? He’s lived a perfect life, he’s died a substitutionary, atoning death, he’s been raised from the dead. What is he doing? He’s ascended at the right hand of God, he’s praying for you, interceding for you, applying all the merits of his redemption to you as you believe in him and trust in him by faith. And what will he yet do? He will come again. And when he comes he will judge sin once and for all. He will redeem once and for all all those who belong to him. And he will renew this world, ushering a new heavens and a new earth, an eternal day of righteousness and joy and peace. He will bring shalom once and for all. He will make the world as it is supposed to be.
Sin unmade the world. Jesus will remake the world. And he begins that work in the here and now as he remakes us by his grace. And that leads us to the third point.
3. Salvation: How We Experience It
As we’ve thought about our need for salvation because of our sins, we’ve thought about the objective work of Christ—what it is that Jesus has done for our sakes. But here’s the great question—have you been saved? And if you’re a Christian, how do you live day by day in the strength and in the joy of that salvation? How do we apply this to our hearts and lives? I want to give you three ways.
The text says, “For he shall save his people from their sins.” He saves his people. And I want us to just focus for a few moments on what it means to become a part of the people of God and then how we live as the people of God in the strength and the joy of his salvation. How do we experience this salvation?
(1) Receive the gift of salvation. That’s first. You receive the gift. Salvation is not something we receive as a wage. It’s not something you can earn, or merit, or achieve. It’s a gift. And you can only receive it. You can’t buy it. You can’t purchase it. You can’t earn it. You can’t deserve it. But it’s freely offered and it can be received by faith.
Paul says in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And this is good news for us. If you are haunted by sin, if you feel enslaved by sin, if you feel this weight on your shoulders—the burden of sin, and maybe there’s been something holding you back from God—maybe it’s the thought, “I don’t deserve grace. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I’m not fit at this point to come to God as I am. I need to get things straightened up first.” Listen, put that thought away once and for all. You’ll never deserve it. You’ll never be good enough. The old hymn writer said,
“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.”
The gift can only be received, and we receive it by faith in Jesus Christ.
The way into the kingdom of heaven is by humbly acknowledging our need for salvation and then depending on Christ and on Christ alone. Do you remember what Jesus said at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? In Matthew 5:3 he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit—those are the people who are spiritually bankrupt. They have nothing and there’s nothing they can do. They recognize that and helpless they fall at the feet of Jesus to receive the free gift.
Or in Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is it about children? Why do you have to become like a child? Because children are just humble and ready to receive whatever the parent will give them. Right? And it’s that humility, it’s that child-likeness that is required.
And so, friend, this morning if you’re not a Christian or if you don’t know for sure that you’re a Christian, here’s a first step. Just acknowledge your need. Acknowledge that you’re a sinner and that you can’t save yourself. Confess your sins to the Lord and humbly ask him to forgive you, and then receive the free gift of salvation that he offers. Receive the gift of salvation. That’s first.
(2) Then number two, remember the story of salvation. Receiving the gift is how we begin the Christian life, but remembering the story of salvation is how we continue the Christian life. And I won’t quote him here, but I’m drawing again from Christopher Wright and his wonderful book on salvation. And he talks about how in ancient Israel the Israelites continually reminded themselves of the story of salvation. And they did that through both word and sacraments.
And the primary sacrament for the children of Israel was the Passover meal. And every year they would celebrate the Passover meal, and in doing so they would identify themselves with the original Exodus generation. They would confess, “We were slaves in Egypt and God redeemed us through the sacrifice of a lamb.” It was a part of their story. By celebrating the meal together, they were stepping into the history of their people—into the story of Israel—the story of salvation. And they were reminding themselves year by year that they belonged to this people of God, the people of God that had been redeemed from Egypt.
And you and I celebrate a similar story, don’t we? We do it also through word and sacrament. We need the word of God because the word of God tells us the story of salvation. That’s why we need to read it. It’s why we need to meditate on it and think about it. It’s why we need to hear it. It’s why we make Scripture the centerpiece of our worship every week.
But we need not only the word, we need the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s table, because they also show us the story of salvation. In fact, we could say that every week it’s kind of a show and tell. Do you remember “show and tell” in school? Well, we have a “show and tell” at church. The “tell” part is the preaching, the ministry of the word. The “show” parts are the sacraments. When someone is baptized they are showing us something about the gospel—that they had been buried with Christ in baptism, that they are united with him in his death and in his burial and that they’ve been raised to walk in newness of life.
Every time we witness baptism it should remind us of the story of salvation and should remind you, believer, that you’ve also been baptized. That you are a baptized Christian. A baptized believer in Jesus, and that baptism means something in your life. It means that you are united to Christ, and it means that the story of Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, is your story. You died with him, you were buried with him, and you were raised with him, and therefore you should live as a new creation in Christ.
And when we come to the table every week it is also a way of remembering the story. It’s showing us the gospel as we take the bread. As we drink the juice we are remembering what Jesus has done in giving his body and his blood for our salvation.
How do we apply this? How do we remember the story of our salvation? Well, one thing you can do is read the story. Some of you will do that, perhaps tonight or in the morning as you celebrate Christmas with your family. You’ll pull out your Bible and you’ll open, maybe, Luke 2 and you’ll read the Christmas story. That’s good. That’s wonderful. Keep doing that. But don’t stop with that. Read the story of salvation. Read it regularly. Read the Gospel narratives and all that goes before, the Old Testament preparing the way for Jesus, and all that follows the Gospels as the apostolic epistles declare for us the implications of the story of Jesus in our lives.
But it’s all about Jesus. So you read the story, you read the Scriptures, you let it shape your identity as you remind yourself that you are a baptized believer in Christ—a communing member of the church of God. You are a part of the people of God. And every week we are showing and telling that story together.
(3) Receive the gift of salvation, remember the story of salvation, and finally, number three, rest in the certainty of salvation. Notice this text, “You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.” He shall save his people. It’s one of the great “shalls” or “wills” of Scripture—one of the great promises of the word of God. And it’s showing us the absolute certainty of the saving work of Christ that he accomplishes his mission. He saves his people from their sins.
One of the core values of our church is the gospel, which we express in this way: “Trusting Jesus and his finished work with all our hearts.” His finished work—here’s the wonderful thing about Christianity. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world.
Every other religion in the world, even though many religions will teach many things that are good—you look at some of their ethics, some of their values—there are good things taught in other religions, maybe teaching you to sacrifice for others or teaching you to serve others—but every other religion is essentially a religion of “doing.” It’s what you do. Right? It’s the seven-fold path. Right? Or it’s the Ten Commandments. Or it’s even loving your neighbor as yourself if you reduce Christianity to that—you take all of the gospel out of it. It’s what you do. But that’s not Christianity.
Christianity is not about what you do, it's about what he has done. Christianity is about the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is what distinguishes Christianity from all of the therapy and the psychology and all of those things. And there’s a place for those things. They can help us understand certain things about ourselves, but at the end of the day, the best that psychotherapy can do for you if there’s no gospel there is give you good advice about how to manage your life. But that’s not Christianity.
Christianity gives us good news about what someone else has done for us on our behalf. Every other philosophy in the world is essentially telling you to work harder. Do better. Be a better person. Christianity is telling you, “Rest.”
“Lay your deadly ‘doing’ down,
Down at Jesus’ feet.
Rest in him and him alone,
It’s resting in the finished, sufficient, and complete work of another.
Do you remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11, when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?” You’ve got to rest in the certainty of the finished work of Christ. That means that you are trusting not in yourself, you are trusting in him. You are trusting not in your good resolutions of how you are going to do better, you are trusting in his promises of grace and of mercy, forgiveness, and renewal. Here, at the end of the day, you’re not even trusting in your act of faith. You trust, rather, in what Christ has done.
Do you remember, perhaps, this word of Spurgeon? I’ve shared this with some of you before. Spurgeon said,
“Remember, sinner, it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, it is Christ. It is not your joy in Christ that saves you, it is Christ. It is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument; it is Christ’s blood and merits. Therefore, look not so much to your hand with which you are grasping Christ as to Christ. Look not to your hope, but to Christ, the source of your hope. Look not to your faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of your faith.”
Rest in the certainty of salvation, the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Why was Jesus born among us? For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven. He was born to be the Savior. And what does a savior do? He redeems. He rescues. He delivers. He saves. And all of the problems that sin has caused in our lives and in the world, there’s only one answer to those problems. And that answer is found in Jesus Christ.
If you are a believer this morning, rejoice in God’s gracious gift of salvation, remember that story, and rest in the finished work of Christ. If you are not a believer this morning, I hope that the message of Jesus is compelling to you, that something has moved in your heart this morning that will bring you to that place of saying, “Lord, I know I can’t save myself. I know something’s wrong with this world. I know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but I’m trusting in you and what you’ve done through your gift, the gift of salvation through your son, Jesus.”
Let’s pray together.
Gracious God we look to you this morning, depending not on ourselves and what we can do, but depending on you and your grace, your gracious gift, the gift of your Son for the salvation that he has purchased for us. Lord, in our heart of hearts, we receive that gift as we acknowledge our sins, as we confess our spiritual bankruptcy, and as we say to you that we have nothing to contribute to our salvation except the sin from which we need to be redeemed. But we look away from ourselves now and gladly receive what Christ has done for us.
And as a gathered body of believers this morning, we now continue in worship by remembering the story of salvation as we come to the Lord’s table. As we receive this bread, as we drink the cup, may we do so with our faith firmly fixed on Jesus and on what Jesus has done in his saving work on our behalf. We don’t look to ourselves in any way this morning. We look only to Christ and to his finished work. May we rest in that work today so that there is a joy and a peace and assurance that pervades our hearts, that stabilizes our lives, that fills us up so that we are full of joy and able to share that love with others. We ask you now to meet us in our continued worship as we come to the table. We pray this in Jesus’s name and for his sake, Amen.