The following is a condensed version of a Christmas sermon I delivered in 2013 at Grace Chapel in Orange, CA. I hope you find it encouraging.
What do you think of when you think of Christmas? Well, spiritually-minded Christians think of the Lord Jesus Christ becoming a Man, what we call the incarnation.
We don’t think primarily of trees and fruit cakes and reindeer and Santa Claus and such. We think of Jesus. He is the reason for the season.
However, this Christmas I’d like to call our attention to a Christmas truth we can easily forget. When we think about Christmas, we ought to think about Israel! For Christmas is in great measure about the nation of Israel and her dominion over the whole earth.
Most Think Matthew 1:21 Is Parallel to John 3:16
Most people think Matt 1:21 is saying essentially the same thing as Jesus Himself said in John 3:16. They think that Joseph was being told that the child to born to his virgin wife (fiancée in our modern terms) Mary will give eternal salvation/forgiveness of sins to all who believe in Him.
For example, see the discussions of Matt 1:21 by Leon Morris and R. T. France in their commentaries on Matthew. Both men take this as a general reference to eternal salvation from hell.
While it is certainly true that Jesus gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him, that is not the point of this Christmas text.
Besides, many use the idea of being saved from sins to prove Lordship Salvation. They say that Jesus saves people from their sins, not in them.
Guess how many times in the entire Bible the expression saved from sins occurs? Would you believe, only once? Only here do we find this exact expression.
God through an angel is telling Joseph something which is actually quite different than the message Jesus Himself would later tell in John 3:16.
If we grasp what the angel told Joseph that day, it will open our understanding to the fullness of the salvation which Jesus came to accomplish.
Let’s begin by considering what His people means.
His People Are Israel, Not All of Mankind
Most wrongly assume that the expression, His people, refers to all of mankind. For example, Morris says this refers to Israel and Christians (p. 30). France says it refers immediately to Israel, but “ultimately” Matthew “expected a wider application.”
They essentially think that His people in Matthew 1:21 is a synonym for the world in John 3:16.
But the world is not His people. We all know, if we give it a moment’s thought, who His people are.
His people is Israel.
This text says that He came to “save” His people, which is clearly Israel, from their sins, not to save the world from its sins.
The Salvation from Sins Is Deliverance From the Deadly Consequences Including Gentile Domination, Not Eternal Life
The name Jesus is derived from a Hebrew verb, yeshav, which means “to save.” Hence “You shall calls His name Jesus for He shall save His people…” is a play on words.
But what does it mean that He will “save His people from their sins”?
Those who see this verse as speaking of Jesus giving eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to Israel, or Israel and the church, miss the point entirely.
R.T. France goes so far as to strongly deny what the text actually affirms. France writes, “Salvation from sins…here warns the reader not to expect this Messiah to conform to the more popular hope of a national liberator… (p. 78)!
But that is precisely what the believing reader of Matthew should understand, that Jesus is the national liberator of Israel.
Jesus offered the kingdom to that generation. If it had responded in faith and repentance, then at that time Jesus would have saved Israel from Gentile domination.
Israel’s Savior Will Defeat Her Enemies and Give Her Peace (Zechariah 9:9-10)
Zechariah 9:9 was fulfilled in 33 AD in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We call this Palm Sunday.
Verse 10 has not yet occurred yet. The salvation of verse 9 is defined in verse 10.
The Savior of Israel, the one having salvation, has not yet defeated Israel’s enemies and given her peace with all the nations of the world. He has not yet set up His dominion to the ends of the earth.
There is a big time gap between verses 9 and 10.
But there didn’t have to be. If Israel had received her Messiah, then He would have died on the cross, evidently by Roman instigation this time, then Daniel’s 70th week would have occurred. Israel’s salvation would have occurred very soon after Jesus’ death with no long wait.
Because Israel did not receive her Messiah (John 1:11), the fulfillment of the prophecy of Matt 1:21 is yet future.
The Time of This Deliverance Is Still Future
Matthew 1:21 is a prophecy. It is not some guess.
The angel is telling us what this baby will one day do.
Jesus hasn’t done this yet!
Israel is still in her sins.
Although Israel is now in the Promised Land, it is still not the world power God intends. Still Israel is threatened by her Arab neighbors.
A day is coming when Israel will be the world power, greater than the U.S. or Russia or China or any other country.
That day will come when Israel believes in her Messiah and is in fellowship with Him. That will be the end of the Tribulation.
Until then, Israel is not delivered.
As Paul says in Romans 11:26, “Then all Israel will be saved.” Salvation in Romans is not justification. It is deliverance from God’s wrath.
Romans 11:27-28 goes on to say that Jesus will deliver Israel by turning her away from ungodliness and taking away their sins.
At the end of the Tribulation all surviving Jews will be believers in fellowship with God. At that point the whole nation will be delivered from God’s wrath.
This promise to Mary is not merely of everlasting life for Jews. It is the promise of worldwide dominion and deliverance from the terrible consequences of Israel’s sins.
How Does This Apply to Us?
First, Matthew 1:21 does not teach that all who are born again will be delivered from their sinful ways. It in no way supports Lordship Salvation.
Second, because God became a Man and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life that can never be lost (John 3:16).
Third, because Israel rejected her Messiah in 33 AD, Matthew 1:21 was not fulfilled at that time. The result: the church was born. We are members of the church, the body of Christ, because Matt 1:21 has not yet been fulfilled.
Fourth, while the church is not a nation, believers from the church-age will be permitted to share in the Messiah’s rule, in His salvation. But not all church-age believers will rule with Christ.
Only those believers who are faithful will rule.
See 1 Cor 4:1-5; 2 Tim 2:12.
We can share in His kingdom administration.
Fifth, how do you view Jesus as a baby?
Do you think of a weak and helpless baby in the manger?
Well, in a sense He was, but in another sense He was not.
This baby is the one who will rule over planet earth forever.
The wise men knew this and brought Him gifts.
Have you ever considered that Rev 21:24 shows that the kings of the earth will bring this same Jesus gifts every year forever?
The babe in the manger is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Sixth, this passage shows that Christmas is about victory.
Christmas concerns the dominion over the earth of Jesus and His co-heirs.
It is about restoring to man what he lost in the fall.
But never forget, Christmas is heavily about Israel. This text shows us that there is an eternal future for Israel.
I’m glad He fulfills His promise to a stiff-necked Israel. He is faithful. That means He will be faithful to you and me as well. We are often stiff-necked too.
When He comes again, He will save His people Israel from their sins. And that is when He will give out everlasting rewards too (2 Cor 5:9-10; 1 John 2:28). May we be found faithful so that we might hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17)!