Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 19, 2010

Sermon on Matthew 1:18-25

Downloadable version

Loopholes and Deductions

Lessons:  Isaiah 7:10-14, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

Hymns (from Christian Worship and CW: Supplement): 2, 377:4-8, 707, 363

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

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.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Since 1530, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has confessed this about humanity in the Augsburg Confession:  Since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

Those thoughts didn’t originate in 1530 with the Lutheran church.  They’re God’s thoughts, revealed in Holy Scripture, the source of everything we preach.  As, for example, Romans 5: Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. Or Psalm 51:  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Or Romans 3:  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Or Mark 7: [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” This is not the hopeful, optimistic, pie-in-the-sky, we’re all basically good message that we hear from psychologists, therapists, and much of American religion.  This is the pessimistic, there is a hell and it’s filled with people like you message that we hear in only one place:  God’s Word.  And it’s not talking about only the faceless, nameless pagan masses in Communist China or the Muslim Middle East.  It’s you.  You sinned and are dying.  You were a sinner in your mother’s womb.  You’ve fallen short of God.  You are unclean, fit only for hell.

As Americans, though, who have been paying income taxes and filling out IRS forms for years, we’re trained to look for loopholes and deductions.  There’s always a way to minimize the damage, right?  If you have kids, you can write them off – deduction!  If the cash you received for that side job totaled less than X number of dollars, you don’t have to report it – loophole!  We do the same with sin and hell.

Perhaps we can deduct some sins by being good, we say, a mighty fine loophole.  If I keep doing more good things than it’s bound to counterbalance, or eventually overcome, all the bad things.  Except that doesn’t work, because no matter how many good things I do, I keep doing bad things.  So I have to do more good things, but I keep doing bad things too.   Result:  damned.

Or maybe we can find a loophole in improvement.  Vince Lombardi liked to say, “We didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time.”  Give me enough time, God, and I’ll make it to where you want me to be.  I know I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better all the time.  Except you’re not really, are you?  Aren’t Paul’s words your words?  I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. The truth is, you might be improving in one area of your life – perhaps you’re lusting over women who aren’t your wife less, or you’re doing a whole lot less talking back to people around you, or you’re gossiping far less than you used to – but at the same time, you’re still wrestling, struggling, and sinking somewhere else.  Your life is like one of those wave pools where the water allows you to swim, but you’re not actually going anywhere.  Result:  damned.

Finally, you resort to the loophole of comparison.  “At least I’m not that guy.”  This seems like the surefire one.  Since nobody’s perfect, God must be grading on a curve.  And if I can just stay ahead of the curve – and that shouldn’t be hard, after all, the world is filled with Stalins, Hitlers, drug dealers, pedophiles, serial killers, abortion doctors, homosexuals, and the like – if I can just stay ahead of the curve, I’m good.  Except, the LORD God doesn’t bend the rules for heaven.  He doesn’t say, “Be kind of holy.”  He doesn’t say, “Be more perfect than the guy next to you.”  He says, “Holy.”  He says, “Perfect.”  Period.  Neither does He rank and categorize sin into mortal – really bad – and venial – kind of bad, but not too bad. The Holy Spirit says through James: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Eternally speaking, in God’s courtroom, you and Hitler – the same.  It wouldn’t please Him to do so, but it would satisfy His justice if the only occupants of heaven were the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Result:  damned.

But if you listened to the Augsburg Confession, there was a loophole: all who are naturally born are born with sin. That adverb, “naturally,” is our deduction and our loophole.  For here we find our Savior.  And that brings us to Matthew’s oft-forgotten account of the birth of Christ.  Three times we learn about an unnatural birth, a birth that didn’t include a sinful father and a sinful mother conceiving a child in their sinful image and likeness, like Adam and Eve.  Three times we hear about an unnatural birth, a virgin birth, a Holy Spirit’s conception.  Matthew writes: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit….  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…..  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Here is why we must, in a theological climate that views the virgin birth as a mythological story describing the scientifically impossible, here is why we cling to the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, because it shows us Jesus, who, as we confess in the Nicene Creed:  for us and for our salvation…came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became fully human.

God your Father used this loophole – the unnatural birth of Christ – to create the deduction necessary.  Again, Matthew:  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. The sinless Substitute, God with us, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, because He was without sin.  And then became sin.  Bled sin.  Died sin.  Yours.  Mine.  The world’s.  Deducted.  Removed.  Incarnation makes way for crucifixion makes way for resurrection makes way for salvation.  By faith alone.  Faith in the one unnaturally born.  Faith in God with us who is God for us.  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Because He will save His people from their sins.  Amen.

 

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