From Black & White to Color (Sermon)
The film The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939. I remember watching it when I was a kid and being swept away by this tale of a girl lost in a magical land. The movie featured groundbreaking special effects—ones that look somewhat silly and amateurish 70 years later. However, I still remember one effect that was fantastic.
When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she steps out of the door, and the film, which up to that point was in black and white, explodes into vivid color. It was incredible. You felt as if you had entered a fantastic new world. The dull monotone gave way to a vibrant symphony of colors. The boring black and white had detonated into a fireball of reds, yellows, greens and blues.
Maybe that resonated with me because the first TV I remember having as a kid was a black and white television. We huddled around a small, black and white screen to watch a TV show or movie. The day we graduated to a color TV was a big day. The content of the shows didn’t change, but everything seemed bigger, better and more amazing.
The first 39 books of the Bible, called the Old Testament, are full of the promises of God. Wonderful, glorious promises of God fill the pages. The final 26 books—the New Testament—show how these promises are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
The movement from the promises in the Old to the fulfillment in the New is like stepping out from Kansas into the land of Oz. It’s like moving from black and white to color. The fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ is so much better than the original. God’s promises explode into color in Jesus Christ.
They are better than expected. They are more glorious than we knew. The coming of Jesus Christ more than explains the Old Testament promises; it enlivens, exceeds and energizes the promises.
We see this right from the beginning of the New Testament in the opening verses of the Gospel of Matthew. It may not be the most exciting introduction. It’s not memorable like Dickens’, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” But don’t think that this list of hard-to-pronounce names is insignificant.
This list of names is called a genealogy. A genealogy serves as proof or verification of a person’s lineage. Not only is it the proof of Jesus’ lineage, but it’s also the proof that God is faithful to keep His promises.
Two men and one promise are the focus of this genealogy. They’re mentioned both at the beginning (v.1) and the end (v.17)—Abraham and David. This morning, we’re going to focus on the promise God made to them, and then see how this promise is exceeded in Jesus Christ.
Before we examine these promises, I want to make a couple brief observations about the genealogy.
The genealogy isn’t a spiritual hall of fame
These aren’t all-stars. It’s full of people with seriously checkered pasts. The two prominent figures—Abraham and David—were far from pristine. Twice Abraham told his wife to lie and say she was his sister. The reason? He didn’t trust God and was scared for his life. He also didn’t wait for God to fulfill His promise and instead took a slave woman as a concubine and had a child with her. David committed adultery and then tried to cover it up by ordering the death of the husband he had victimized. And these are two of the most righteous in the genealogy!
The list also includes Tamar, who masqueraded as a prostitute in a pagan temple in order to trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her. And Rahab, whose nickname was “the harlot.” We could keep going—we’ve haven’t even started on the list of kings. Many of whom led the nation into idolatry and immorality.
This list of sinners is a monument to God’s grace. God made promises to these sinners, knowing full well every wicked deed they had and would commit. And God, in His grace, was determined to keep His promises. This list is not a hall of fame—it’s a hall of grace. Because it’s all grace and not works, God can use anyone. He can use a king whose life looked like a reality TV show, and He can use a woman who made her living by selling herself to the highest bidder. God’s grace is deeper than anyone’s sin.
The genealogy has 3 main divisions
The first division starts with Abraham, the second division starts with David, and the third division starts with the Exile to Babylon. The Exile was when the nation of Israel was so thoroughly defeated that most of them were hauled off to a foreign country to serve as slaves.
The inclusion of the Exile is a reminder that God isn’t bound to our expectations. He isn’t constrained by our timetable. It would’ve been easy, even natural, to doubt God during the time of the Exile. It would’ve been easy to doubt His promises…to wonder if He would do what He said. It would’ve been easy to look around and think, “Really, God? You made these promises of a great King and a great kingdom? Look at us? We’re slaves in Babylon. What’s the point in trusting you?”
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in a situation like that? Have you ever wondered, “What’s the use? What difference does it make?” Have you ever doubted either God’s ability or God’s willingness to keep His promises? Maybe that’s how you came to church this morning?
Maybe it’s your singleness. You know that God says He’s in control…that He guides your steps…that He always does what’s good, but you feel like you’re in Exile, and you’re wondering whether he can really be trusted.
Maybe it’s the demands of caring for young, hyperactive kids or moody teenage ones. You know God says that kids are a blessing...that there is eternal significance in parenting…that each day He’s using you to mold and shape these kids, but it’s hard to believe Him right now. The fifth temper tantrum the fourth door slammed in your face, and you feel like you’re living in Babylon.
Maybe it’s praying for that child to be conceived. You’ve read the story of Hannah’s prayer in her barrenness and God’s answer of a child. You know that He’s sovereign…that His purposes are always best…but you’re struggling with a lack of faith. Another month without a pregnancy and you feel like God’s forgotten you.
Let the inclusion of the Exile be an encouragement to you. God hasn’t forgotten you. He won’t leave you in Babylon. He will keep His promises. He will be faithful to His Word.
Now let’s examine the promise made to two different men—Abraham and David—and see how it is so much bigger and better, how it explodes into color in Jesus Christ.
The story of Abraham goes like this. God called a man out of an ancient city to follow Him into the wilderness. This man, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, had no children. The man followed God. He believed God, and God made him a promise.
(Genesis 12:1-3 ESV) Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Through Abraham—and his descendants—God would bless the whole world. But here’s the problem. Abraham had no children, and he was getting old. How would his descendants bless the whole world if he had no descendants? The story of Abraham is a story of patient trust in the promises of God. God had promised a son, and Abraham had to wait for God to keep His promise.
The promise to David is very similar with one twist. David was the king of the nation that came from Abraham. Abraham was the Father of the nation of Israel, and David was the greatest King of Israel. God’s promises of a Son passed from Abraham to David, and the promise became a Son who would rule over all creation.
(2 Samuel 7:12-14, 16 ESV) When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.... And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
Now look at how God keeps this promise:
(Matthew 1:18-25 ESV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he 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.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
God promised a Son to Abraham and David, and He sent a Son—His own Son! The black and white promise of a Son has just exploded into color. It’s greater than we could imagine—it’s mind blowing…stunning. It exceeds our wildest expectations. God sent His own Son to be born as a man.
Though the Bible doesn’t go into detail about how this happened, it makes it clear what happened. Mary was a virgin. She (v.18) had never been with a man. In the greatest of all miracles, God caused her to be pregnant with His eternal, divine Son.
Critics have used the lack of details about the mechanics of the virgin birth to discredit it. They’re right that the text doesn’t go into much detail, but here’s what I would ask the one who doubts. How could God have explained it so you could understand it? God’s going to explain the mechanics of His eternal Son being formed in a virgin’s womb to you in a way that you can fully comprehend? Really?
Our understanding of the how is captured brilliantly by the songwriter Charles Wesley: "Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man."
But the virgin birth and the incarnation—that’s God being made flesh—did happen. It was promised in Isaiah chapter 7, and it’s fulfilled here in Matthew 1. Notice how the apostle Paul reported it:
(Galatians 4:4 ESV) But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman,
The birth of Jesus Christ was not the result of a sexual encounter between Elohim and Mary as the Mormon Church would have you believe. It’s not one of many mythologies promoted by various world religions. “At the conception of Buddha, his mother supposedly saw a great white elephant enter her belly. Hinduism has claimed that the divine Vishnu, after reincarnations as a fish, tortoise, boar, and lion, descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son Krishna.”[i]
These are counterfeits of Satan used to distort and discredit the true account. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was supernaturally conceived when the Holy Spirit overshadowed a poor peasant woman named Mary. Somehow God became flesh. And the proof is seen in the life of Jesus.
“A skeptic who denied the virgin birth once asked a Christian, ‘If I told you that child over there was born without a human father, would you believe me?’ The believer replied, ‘Yes, if he lived as Jesus lived.’”[ii]
J. I. Packer makes the same point in his classic work called Knowing God. He wrote:
“This [the incarnation] is the real stumbling block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief. It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve. …Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece and hangs together completely. The Incarnation is in itself and unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”[iii]
If Jesus is God incarnate (incarnate means “in flesh) then everything else He did makes sense. If He really is God than His words and His works make sense. This chapter—the account of this miraculous conception—is here to testify that Jesus is indeed God. He is the Son of Abraham and He is the Son of David, and He is also the Son of God.
The Gospel of Luke records an encounter Mary had with an angel explaining what was happening. Listen to what the angel told her:
(Luke 1:30-35 ESV) And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob [Abraham’s grandson] forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
We don’t understand how this happened, but we can understand why this happened. Let’s look at the why. Why did God send His Son? The explanation of why is found in two different names given to Jesus in this chapter.
The first name is Immanuel
(Matthew 1:23 ESV) “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
In the past, God was with His people in the tabernacle or the temple. These are the locations where God would meet with His people. However, in each of these places, God was cordoned off behind a veil. In the middle of the temple and the tabernacle was a heavy curtain called the veil. Its purpose was to show the separation sin had brought between man and God. The segregated sections of the temple had replaced the full freedom of the Garden of Eden. God was behind the veil.
The veil was a reminder of guilt. Its presence testified to our sin. It hung as a visible reminder that we had rebelled against a holy God. We had chosen our own way, and now the way to God was blocked. We had been expelled from the presence of God.
Sin is so bad and the alienation is so severe that the holiest man from the holiest nation could only enter the presence of God on the holiest day of the year if he came with blood. The high priest of Israel on the Day of Atonement could enter God’s presence with a sacrifice of blood. One holy man from one holy nation on one holy day could enter, but only if he came with blood. That’s how bad sin is.
But Jesus came to dwell with us. In John’s Gospel, he writes:
(John 1:14 ESV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Do you see how much better it is than the original promise…how it explodes into color? God promised to dwell with His people. The people were thinking about a new tabernacle or a new temple, but God instead sent His Son. Jesus didn’t hang out behind a curtain. He walked and talked with sinners. He ate dinner with rebels and prostitutes. He listened to their problems and met their needs. He was and is “God with us.”
Jesus tells His disciples that this reality—that He is God dwelling with them—had widespread implications on their lives. It has widespread implications on our lives as His disciples. I want to point out two of them found here in the gospel of Matthew. Turn ahead to chapter 18. In verses 15-17 Jesus outlines the process for church discipline, then says:
(Matthew 18:18-20 ESV) Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Jesus reminds us that He is Immanuel in a passage where He demands difficult obedience from His church. Isn’t He gracious? Church discipline is tough. Confronting and rebuking someone is difficult. Excommunicating a member from the body because of sin isn’t easy. It can be very lonely, and as a result, tempting to not obey these difficult commands of Jesus. In those moments, Jesus reminds us that He is Immanuel. He is with us.
Turn to chapter 28—the last chapter in Matthew’s gospel. Before He ascends to heaven, Jesus gives His disciples their instructions. How are they to follow Him now that He’s heading to heaven? Here’s his response:
(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV) And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As their commanding officer, he gives them their orders. He lays out the details of their mission. They are to take the good news of Jesus Christ into every corner of the globe. Though He doesn’t mention it here, He’s already told them that this would be difficult. In many places it wouldn’t be warmly received. In fact, many would react violently to the message. But notice how He ends His description of the mission. He reminds them that He is Immanuel. He is with them always, and that would never change.
Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. This is one of the sweetest truths in all of Scripture. Brothers and sisters, it’s a truth that should radically impact your behavior. It should motivate obedience in tough situations—Jesus is with you, helping you. It should motivate mission—He is with you wherever you go. It should bring comfort and hope. It should promote holiness and self-discipline. It should inspire compassion and kindness.
We can’t fathom how the Son of God became a man, but we can understand why He did. He was born as a man so that He could be Immanuel. But that’s not all. The second reason why is seen in the second name in this passage.
The second name is Jesus
(Matthew 1:21 ESV) She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus means, “Yahweh is salvation.” The Lord saves. Jesus, the Son of God, became man so that He could die for sinful men.
We should never look at Bethlehem without seeing Calvary. We should never contemplate the incarnation, without our thoughts drifting to the crucifixion. Again, listen to J. I. Packer: "The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context. The key text in the New Testament for interpreting the Incarnation is…2 Corinthians 8:9, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace."[iv]
This is why the incarnation is amazing—not how God became man, but why God became man. He became flesh, so that He could die for our sin. He renounced the glory due Him, becoming poor, so that through His poverty, we might become rich.
We read of this voluntary choice to become poor for our sakes in Philippians 2:5-8:
(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV) Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
As believers, when we consider Bethlehem apart from Calvary, we begin to trivialize that which is utterly significant. In a couple of months, we’ll sing songs about the miracle of the incarnation, but if we focus all of our attention on crass materialism and fleeting, empty amusements, we, with our lives, declare that God becoming flesh is meaningless. When the coming of Christ is nothing more than an excuse to spend time with family or take a vacation—when we lose sight of the cross—we rob the incarnation of its meaning. Let us never lose sight of why Christ came!
Friend, this is why Jesus came. Jesus came to die for your sins. Your sin had cut you off from God. Your sin was why that veil in the temple was necessary. But how great is the grace of Jesus Christ? When He died, the veil in the middle of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Its destruction showed that the separation between man and God had been repaired. The segregated sections of the temple had been replaced by the full freedom of the Gospel. Jesus tore the veil in two.
The veil is now a reminder of grace. Its presence testifies to our pardon. It hangs as a visible reminder that we have been reconciled to a holy God. We had chosen our own way, but now the way back to God is open. We are again welcome into the presence of God.
Grace is so great because the holiest man from the holiest nation on the holiest day of the year shed His own blood. The true high priest made atonement with the sacrifice of his own blood so that we could enter God’s presence. One holy godman from one holy nation on one holy day entered by His own blood. That’s how great the grace of Jesus Christ is.
Friend, Jesus came to save you from your sin and to reconcile you with His Father. Will you be saved? Will you receive His grace? Will you reconcile with God?
There was a commercial a few years ago for a copy machine, and it showed multi-colored ink leaking out of a printer and onto the floor. The ink ran across the floor, and into the corner. The camera then showed the ink sinking through the floor and down the wall of the office below. Eventually, the ink found it’s way to a copy machine, and started dripping right on top of it. The copy machine was humming right along, printing page after page of boring black and white text. But once the ink hit it, everything changed. The boring black and white text turned into beautiful color photos. Pretty soon, the entire office changed. Instead of dull, gray walls, the walls were brightly colored with gorgeous artwork. The office workers transformed from dreary, worn out drones to smiling, happy productive employees, laughing and whistling at their desks. A little color transformed the depressing landscape.
In this opening chapter of the New Testament, we discover that all of God’s promises explode into color in Jesus Christ. When the vivid grace of Christ soaks into our lives, everything is transformed. When we see how all of God’s promises are not only explained but exceeded by Jesus Christ, our perspective changes. If God promised a son and then sent His Son, is there any reason for me not to trust Him? If He is this gracious to a sinner named Abraham, an adulterer named David, and a prostitute named Rahab, will He not be gracious to me?
The simple list of names which opens the New Testament is a reminder of the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises and a monument to the glorious grace of God demonstrated in the gift of His Son.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, TMANTC (Chicago: Moody, 1985) 12.
[ii] Ibid., 22.
[iii] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 53-54.