A Promise to Live By V (Matthew 1:21)

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Doug Van Meter - 3 February 2008

A Promise to Live By V (Matthew 1:21)

A Promise to Live By

We need to get a grip on this gospel promise and thus believe God for great things today as well as for the future. Jesus will save His people. And He will do so until His work of ruling and reigning is done. He will continue to do excessively great things because He is exceedingly great and glorious. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

From Series: "A Promise to Live By"

A short series of sermons focusing on the promise of Christmas.

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This study brings us to the end of what has turned into a series of sermons from Matthew 1:21, highlighting the glorious promise concerning Jesus that “he shall save his people from their sins.” Over the course of some four studies thus far we have been reminded that we are sinners in need of a Saviour. In fact, if you do not realise, seriously, that you are a sinner then there is little hope of you being saved from your sins. Only those who realise that they are sick will seek the help of the physician. But when we do realise our condition then we look with great confidence to Jesus Christ as the One who alone can save us, yea, the One who will save us from our sins. It is for this reason that this text is such a great promise to live by. In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that it is the promise to live by. After all, sin is our biggest problem and thus what could be a greater promise than this gospel which assures us of complete victory?

Thus far we have examined the greatness of this gospel promise by noting that it is extensive, exhaustive, expansive, explosive, expensive, expulsive and exclusive. Tonight we will examine the greatness of this promise due to the fact that it is excessive.

Now, when we hear that word (“excessive”) we may think in negative terms of “over the top” or even “wasteful.” But obviously I do not have this is mind. When I say that the gospel promise of Matthew 1:21 is excessive I mean that it is superabundant, overflowing in what it offers. And thus, in a very positive sense, this gospel promise is indeed “over the top.”

The last time that we studied this verse we dealt with the issue of “limited atonement,” a concept that I said should more correctly be identified as “particular redemption.” I made the point that actually there was nothing limited about Christ’s cross-work for it was sufficient to save all, though by God’s sovereign will it was purposed to be effective (“efficient”) to save only “his people.” But the fact is that this focused work of redemption was excessive in what it did. In this study we will consider several ways in which this is true. My goal is that we will see just how excessive this salvation is. In other words, I trust we will see that salvation is so exhaustive and extensive that it is in fact excessive!

The Language of Salvation is Excessive

In Romans 5:20 Paul wrote, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Literally, he said that this salvific grace superabounded. This word is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:4 where he says that he was “exceeding” joyful. Thus we concur that the salvific grace to which Paul refers in Romans 5 was exceedingly abundant. It was more than enough!

The idea of the excessiveness of salvation is not limited to this passage but rather several other texts make this point as well. Consider the following:

  • Ephesians 1:7–8—“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded [lit. ‘to be over and above,’ ‘to overflow’] toward us in all wisdom and prudence;”
  • John 10:10—“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly [lit. ‘above measure,’ ‘beyond necessity’].”

The fact of the matter is that we should not be surprised that the salvation that Jesus promises is over the top, above measure, over and above, for this is exactly how He lived His life.

When one considers His miracles it is amazing how He always did more than was expected. Consider for example the marriage feast at Cana in which Jesus produced far more wine than was needed. On both occasions when He fed the multitudes, He multiplied the bread and fish exceedingly (Matthew 14:20; 15:37).

When Jesus taught the disciples about the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and contrasted this with the spiritual illumination of those who follow Him He concluded, “For whosoever hath [light], to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance [lit. ‘over and above’].” In other words, He will give to them excessive spiritual illumination.

But at this juncture I need to point out that, in one sense, this excessiveness of salvation is necessary. For you see, in order for us to be made right with God, what we need is far more than we possess.

Listen to the words of Jesus as He instructs His would-be disciples in the famed Sermon on the Mount: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This is an important truth that must be heard.

The Pharisees and scribes were the outwardly squeaky clean religious leaders of the day. The Jewish community by and large was under their influential sway when it came to religion. But as impressive as they may have been in their punctilious commitment to the finer points of the law, even this was not enough to secure salvation. They needed a righteousness that was outside of themselves if they would be accepted by God. In other words, what they could do was not enough. What they had was not enough. What they could grasp was not enough. They needed a salvation that would exceed their natural grasp. As Browning concluded, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” And this was the salvation that Jesus came to give to His people. In other words, those who are “his people” are those who have a righteousness that exceeds what they can produce themselves. It is a righteousness which is manifestly excessive. In fact, it is so excessive that it is incredible to most.

In summary, the point that I am trying to make is that Jesus fills us to the full. His people receive far more than they have; far more than they deserve; and even far more than they need! His people are blessed excessively by the One who is able to do “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Let’s look further at this excessive, superabundant salvation.

The Gospel Promise Exceeds Our Problem

When Adam sinned we sinned in him. His fall was the root of our fall. We fell in him—all of us. The result of this was of course spiritual death. Our sins have separated us from God. Sin has created enmity between sinners and God. We are born alienated from God. We might aim to be religious but fellowship with God is nonexistent. We thus are born into the world with an almighty problem. We are sinners and we need an almighty Saviour. And “his people” have One—One who through His cross-work has reconciled God to man. Indeed, “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14—that is, goodwill towards His people).

Without argument, the gospel is the good news that God has taken the initiative to be reconciled to sinners. The One who has been wronged is in fact the One who has taken the initiative to make us right with Him. But in the act of the atonement it is very clear that what transpires is far more than us merely being reconciled to God. Rather, by the work of Jesus we received a lot more from the Last Adam than we lost in the first Adam. Consider that we received a righteousness which can never be lost. We received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And we received glorification. Though Adam was perfect, we will one day be like Christ! Thus not only was our immediate problem removed but we were exceedingly blessed in the Last Adam.

The Gospel Promise Exceeds What God Had to Do

Of course, this is a given. Those who understand the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, who understand the Creator-creature equation, understand that God was in no way compelled to save sinful man. He quite literally could have let us suffer in hell forever. But thanks be unto God that He chose not to! This my friend is why we call it grace.

We never want to lose sight of the fact that God owes us nothing. And it is when we become confused about this that we become self-centred and the gospel loses its lustre. Personally, this is one reason I become very disturbed when I hear people trying to explain away the biblical doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, of His unconditional election and His particular redemption. To do so is actually a not-so-subtle attempt at making God our debtor. Remember, we have taken up arms against God. Thus whomever and whenever He chooses to save is by His sovereign grace alone. To save even one fallen human being is an act of excessive grace. But He has graciously chosen to save multitudes of sinners. Excessive indeed!

The Gospel Promise Exceeds the Salvation of the Church

What I mean by this is that the aim of the gospel is the salvation of the world. Let me begin to explain this point by putting it in the form of several questions.

If indeed the focus of this gospel promise is that He will save His people then how can the Scriptures speak in terms that clearly make reference to the world? If it is true that Jesus came for the sole purpose of saving His people from their sins then what does that mean for the rest of the cosmos? Is this salvation merely about a “personal relationship with God” or are their cosmic implications? In other words, what is the overall impact of this promise that Jesus will save His people from their sins?

We sometimes sing, “This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through.” But we also sing, “This is my Father’s world.” So which is it? I want to suggest that it is both.

The word “world” connotes various meanings in Scripture. It can refer to the physical cosmos, or to the sinful anti-God system (Ephesians 2:2), or even to the world of believers. Thus when it comes to the sinful rebellious world system then surely this world is not my home, and I am only passing through. Thank God for this deliverance! But when it comes to the cosmos this indeed is my home and I need to thus do all I can to take dominion of it for the glory of Christ. The world system, conquered and transformed by Jesus, is my world and thus I need to live as if it is mine. You see, Jesus died to reconcile this whole world to Himself—not every human being in the world but rather the entire cosmos. He will rule until such time that it is under His sway and “then cometh the end” (1 Corinthians 15:22–25). In the so-called “eternal state” this entire universe will be glorified and God will be adored as the One reigning over all (see John 3:16–17; 2 Corinthians 5:18–19; Romans 8:18–25; 1 Corinthians 15:20–28). This cosmic purpose was rooted in the cross work of Jesus Christ. And the church needs to see this.

All too often believers are tempted to dejectedly throw in the towel and to just circle their wagons waiting for the end of the world. This is unbiblical and it is sometimes symptomatic of unbelief. A reflective understanding of Matthew 28:18–20 will give the lie to this pessimistic outlook.

No, the salvation of His people is not merely about a personal relationship with Jesus but rather it is about this personal redemption being made felt in this world. Thus we see that this gospel promise is excessive in its scope. Jesus Christ is Lord of all!

The Gospel Promise Exceeds Geopolitical Boundaries

When this promise was made to Joseph he probably initially understood it as being bound to the nation of Israel. For centuries this had been the understanding of “his people.” But as the Lord Jesus progressively made very clear, “his people” transcend ethnicity. He is the Saviour of all His people and His people are in every tribe, nation, language and people. In fact the Gospel of Matthew clearly makes this point. For instance, when Jesus sent His disciples on their first mission He initially put a restriction upon the scope of their ministry to that of the Jews (chapter 10). But from that point on He began to expand their outlook to include the nations as well. Of course this was made pointedly clear in the final words chapter 28 in which they were commanded to disciple all the nations. His people come from all nations and they are to disciple all nations.

Psalm 67 makes this same appeal, and it is one which we need to often contemplate and recommit to. This salvation is neither focused on personal salvation nor on nationalistic salvation but, again, the salvation of the world.

Matthew 1:21 is indeed a Great Commission verse. It is indeed intimately connected to the truth that God will be glorified in all the nations. The nations must be glad and this will only take place to the degree that they experience the gospel.

Thus let us be committed to seeing that by our prayerful and sacrificial efforts that the gospel blessings that we enjoy exceed and overflow to the nations beyond. Indeed, may the world be reconciled unto God.

The Gospel Promise Exceeds Our Generation

Thank God that the gospel promise made to Joseph exceeded his own generation; that it exceeded the generation of Tertullian and of Augustine, of Luther and of Edwards, of David Livingstone and of Andrew Murray, of Martyn Lloyd Jones and of saints more recent. Thank God that our generation has experienced this promise.

But as we enjoy this promise let us not lose sight of the fact that this gospel promise also exceeds our generation. It exceeds my generation and yours, and exceeds the generations to come too. In fact, it may indeed exceed to thousands of generations yet to come (see Exodus 34:5–7)! This gospel is so powerful that it never loses its power to save. It matters not how evil our generation is: Jesus will save His people, and we have no reason to assume that the end of the world is near.

Recently I have been reading Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, and what I have learned has been encouraging. He clearly proves that the church has victoriously exceeded from generation to generation. At one time in the Roman Empire, abortion was rampant. Homosexuality was rife, and crime was seemingly out of control. Modern-day politicians don’t hold a candle compared to the depravity of the ancient Roman Emperors. Heresy was commonplace throughout the known world and constantly seemed to threaten the true church. In fact, compared to ancient Rome, things look pretty good in our day! And yet things changed. Not through political force, or morality campaigns, but through the influence of the gospel. In fact, the gospel so impacted the ancient world that many historians credit Christianity with the fall of the Roman Empire. The truth is, as the gospel changed lives, so society itself was slowly changed.

We need to get a grip on this gospel promise and thus believe God for great things today as well as for the future. Jesus will save His people. And He will do so until His work of ruling and reigning is done. He will continue to do excessively great things because He is exceedingly great and glorious. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!