All I Want for Christmas is Forgiveness
Rev. Brian Bill
Two-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion George Foreman not only sells grills; he has five girls and five boys. All of his sons bear his name: George Junior, George III, George IV, George V, and George VI. He likes to joke that he can never remember their names.
Joseph never had the privilege of choosing a name for Mary’s son because he technically was not the father. But he did have the honor of declaring that the baby would have the name Jesus. Please turn to Matthew 1. Joseph’s fiancée Mary was pregnant and because he was a righteous man, he had decided to distance himself from her and divorce her privately so as not to shame her publicly. He was no doubt hurt and all his hopes of a happy home were shattered.
That night as he tumbled into a troubled sleep, something remarkable happened. Listen to verses 20-21: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” As much as Joseph loved Mary, he struggled to believe her story. He was having a difficult time understanding the incongruity of the incarnation in the womb of his wife-to-be. Remember he hadn’t yet heard what Gabriel had said to Mary in Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible with God.” To his credit, he didn’t rush to judgment, but certainly leaned toward cutting himself off from her. But God had other plans.
The angel then verifies the veracity of what Mary had told him. The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary was not unfaithful to him after all! Joseph is to take Mary as his wife, become the legal father and name the baby “Jesus.” The baby’s name was not to be Joseph Junior but just Jesus.
1. An Ordinary Name. When a baby is born he or she needs a name but Joseph and Mary did not have to go through baby name books to find one. The angel took care of that for them. On the one hand, Jesus was a very common name, much like George or John today. The Jewish historian Josephus refers to about twenty men during this time called Jesus. Colossians 4:11 mentions Jesus Justus, a friend of Paul.
This helps us see that on the one hand Jesus was ordinary, approachable and touchable. He was a friend you could talk to. And Hebrews 4:15 tells us that because he has gone through what we go through “he sympathizes with our weaknesses.” Those who knew Him best in the Gospels simply referred to Him as Jesus some 600 times, though at times titles like “Jesus Christ” and “Lord Jesus” were also used.
2. An Extraordinary Mission. While his name was Jesus, the angel added that His moniker was His mission: “…because He will save His people from their sins.” Many of you know that I’m on the board of Keep Believing Ministries. Just recently Ray Pritchard made a statement that resonated with all of us. When asked to explain what we do, he said this: “Our name is our mission.” That means that our purpose is to help people keep believing.
Jesus is the Greek form of a Hebrew name, translated as Joshua or Jeshua. The full name is “Jehoshua” which means “Jehovah is our salvation.” The mission of Jesus is to save people from their sins. His name is His mission. That’s what His name means and that’s why He came on Christmas. He is both ordinary and extraordinary. He is Son and Savior, majesty and man. As Savior, Jesus came to set us free from sin, and to deliver us from the dominion of the devil. Someone has said:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
When Joseph and Mary later brought Jesus to the Temple, a man named Simeon came up to them and said in reference to Jesus: “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). Right after that, Anna spoke about the “child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.”
Because we’re sinners, we need a Savior. The Savior’s work of “saving” would have caused the people of that day to be startled because they believed that God alone was their Deliverer. Isaiah 43:3: “For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” To call Jesus “Savior” is to acknowledge Him as God and to admit guilt before Him, and thus the need for forgiveness. If you think about it Jesus was named after His Father, wasn’t He?
A Joyful Jubilee
We’ve been going back to Isaiah 61:1-3 in this series to show that what Isaiah prophesied some 700 years earlier was fulfilled with pinpoint precision by Jesus: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. [JOY] He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, [PEACE] to proclaim freedom for the captives [FORGIVENESS] and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor [HOPE] and the day of vengeance of our God.”
The background behind “proclaiming freedom” and “release from darkness” and to “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” is found in Leviticus 25:10: “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to the inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee to you…” Every 50 years, the nation of Israel was to experience freedom and forgiveness of all debts. During this year people, property and possessions were to go back to the original owners. Fields were to be left fallow, slaves were freed, debts forgiven and property returned (that would be nice timing if the next Jubilee took place in January when all our Christmas credit card statements start showing up in the mail). For most people, a Jubilee could only happen once in a lifetime. Isaiah is looking ahead to a time of freedom for those who have been kept captive and release for those in bondage.
The Messiah’s Mission
Let’s fast forward about thirty years from the announcement to Joseph about what to name the baby to a scene in a synagogue. Jesus gets up to read and opens the scroll to Isaiah 61 written seven hundred years earlier. Turn to Luke 4:18-21: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’”
The word “anointed” means “Messiah,” or God is my anointed salvation. Here’s a cool thought. In the Old Testament there were three primary offices – prophets, priests and kings. Jesus is the only person in history anointed to fulfill all three:
* As a Prophet, He preaches good news of great joy to the entire world.
* As a Priest, He binds up the brokenhearted by bringing peace.
* As King, He proclaims freedom to the captives through forgiveness.
I see five particular parts in this passage from Luke 4. We could call this the Messiah’s Mission Statement.
1. To preach good news to the poor. We discussed this idea two weeks ago as we referenced Luke 2:10: “I bring you good new of great joy that will be for all the people.”
2. To proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Jesus came to give freedom and forgiveness to those who are imprisoned by iniquity. Luke 19:10 declares that He came to seek and to save the lost. I love what Jesus says in Luke 5:20 because it summarizes that the Savior came to save us from our sins: “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
In “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, Scrooge is shaken when he hears Jacob Marley’s chains: “‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’ ‘I wear the chain I forged in life…I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wear it…Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!’”
Some of you are choked by the ponderous chains of sin right now. You’re in bondage to a habit that is only hurting you. If you would but turn to Jesus and confess, He will look at you and say, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
3. To proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. Jesus did this literally, healing many who were physically blind but He also fulfilled this in another sense as He opened the eyes of those who couldn’t see spiritually.
4. To release the oppressed. The word “oppressed” is the same word as “bruised.” I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 12:20, quoting again from the Book of Isaiah, this time in 42:3: “A bruised reed he will not break…”
A reed was a hollow-stemmed plant that grew along riverbanks in Egypt and Palestine and was used as a symbol of weakness and worthlessness in the Bible. In Matthew 11:7 Jesus describes a reed as “swayed by the wind.” When the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus in Matthew 27:29 they placed a reed in his right hand to let everyone know that they thought He was powerless.
A reed came to represent the poor and the oppressed. Do you feel weak and worthless this morning? Have you been battered and thrown around by the storms of life? Has sin scarred you? If so, listen to these gentle words: “A bruised reed He will not break.” This word “break” means, “to rend in pieces or crack apart.” It was used of the breaking of the legs of those who were crucified in John 19:31. Friend, Jesus is not out to break you into little pieces. He longs to take your bruises and heal them. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Jesus handles bruised reeds with a care and precision that no one else can match. In any other hands these reeds would snap in an instant - all life, all hope, all power gone. But in his hands that have been “bruised” for us, the stalk is made to grow again.
Interestingly, the word “release” means “to send out on a mission.” That means once we grow then we must go with this message to others. After we’re healed, we must help others. What a joy it is to drive around the community and see bright red doorhangers on houses! Megan and I went through our neighborhood Thursday night and put them on doors and had a blast doing so. On Friday I gave one to a guy I work out with and as he took it he said, “Looking for hope at Christmas? I need hope year-round.”
5. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. As we learned already, “the year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the jubilee year, a time of joy and peace and forgiveness, and hope. The beginning of this year was announced with a trumpet blast and that’s exactly what Jesus was doing when he trumpeted the good news as He read from the Book of Isaiah. The message was previously proclaimed on the hills around Bethlehem when the angels gave glory to God in the highest and from then until now, the Messianic Age is a time of “good will toward men.” We could say it this way: Jesus is the jubilee.
As I looked into the history of the year of Jubilee I couldn’t find any evidence that it was actually observed. I wasn’t able to find a time when the “reset” button was pushed and everyone had a “do-over.” The one thing I did discover is that people believed that the Messiah would usher in this favorable time; that He Himself would offer the joyful jubilee.
Stay with me on this because it’s so beautiful. When Jesus got up in the synagogue to announce the year of the Lord’s favor, He was referring to Himself as the jubilee. It’s only through Him that rest, release and redemption are possible. And, it doesn’t just last for one year, but for eternity for those who follow Him. Jesus is the Savior who delivers from sin and Satan. Interestingly, Leviticus tells us that the year of Jubilee is to start with the Day of Atonement and end with the Day of Atonement one year later. Jesus’ Jubilee doesn’t end because Immanuel is our atonement.
6. To proclaim the day of vengeance of our God. If you’re following carefully, you’ll notice quickly that Jesus does not quote “the day of vengeance of our God” from Isaiah 61. Didn’t I say that there were five elements to the Messiah’s Manifesto? Yes, I did. But here’s a sixth one. Jesus didn’t mention the Day of Judgment because its still to come but right now it’s the time of jubilee. But, those who reject Him will face judgment. Only to those who receive Him will there be a jubilee. John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The Savior came to save us from our sins. This has some significant implications. Allow me to mention just three.
Implications of the Incarnation
1. Admit you’re a sinner and ask the Savior to save you. We are all sinners in need of being saved by the Savior. Have you done that? Will you receive Jesus and experience His Jubilee or will you reject Him and face judgment? By the way, if your “love tank” is low it may be because it’s been awhile since you’ve contemplated the real meaning of Christmas – that the Savior came to save you from your sins. And you have a bunch of them, don’t you? In Matthew 7:47-50, Jesus said that if we love little it’s because we’ve been forgiven little. If you want to grow in your love, then understand the magnitude of your forgiveness.
2. Give and forgive this Christmas. The shootings in Colorado this past Sunday were horrific. One family member of the shooter said, “On behalf of our family and our son, we ask for forgiveness.” Barry Boyd, the pastor of New Life Church, told reporters Tuesday that he and his church “had already forgiven Murray even though he is still angry about what happened.” And I love this quote on CNN.com because it captures what we as Christians are to do: “Some members of the congregation reacted with compassion and forgiveness, in keeping with their faith.”
Friend, is there someone you have not forgiven? Forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy and least employ. David Jeremiah says, “If there is someone you have not forgiven, you are not yet free!” Someone has said that “forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free.” The Mayo Clinic released a study that showed that its better to forgive than to hold grudges: “Beyond the personal anger and resentment that grudges cause, it’s also bad for your health: it causes high levels of stress, high blood pressure, more anxiety, and poor anger-management skills.”
3. Hold on to hope when you don’t know how to cope. There are so many people today who don’t even know what they’re missing. People are hurting and distracted and lonely and sad and even mad. We want to help them find freedom and forgiveness but we don’t always know how to do that. How can we point them to Hope this Christmas?
We want to show you a scene from the drama next Sunday so you see how Hope is so needed in our day and age. Watch and see how Harvey is really struggling because he’s angry at God. As a result, there is no hope in their house.
Drama (Act II)
Closing Song: “Heaven’s Child” (Angela)