The Birth of Jesus
18This 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. 19Because 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.
20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."
22All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"-- which means, "God with us."
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
Having in the previous section looked at the genealogy of the Messiah, here we learn about the miraculous events surrounding the conception and birth of the Messiah. Matthew begins: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit" (vs. 18). So, we first learn of the miraculous conception of Jesus. He was conceived in Mary, while she was still a virgin, "through the Holy Spirit". The phrase, "through the Holy Spirit", implies some miraculous act of creation of the seed in Mary by the Holy Spirit. For some reason, many people have problems believing the virgin conception of Jesus. However, a far greater mystery lies in how the Son of God, through whom "all things were made" (John 1:3), limited Himself so as to be able to dwell in a fleshly body and become a man. This is the real miracle. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and is fully man and fully God, we should have no problem believing that Mary conceived while still a virgin.
Matthew's narrative focusses on the episode as seen through Joseph's eyes (as opposed to Luke, who focusses on the episode as seen through Mary's eyes, see Luke 2). Matthew continues: "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" (vs. 19). This situation must have been the greatest trial ever faced by Joseph. Think of it. The woman to whom he was pledged to be married is found to be with child. What could he do? Even though Joseph and Mary were not yet married, but only pledged to be married (or betrothed), in that culture, a divorce was required to terminate the betrothal (notice that in verse 19, Joseph is called Mary's "husband"). In other words, the betrothal was just as binding as a marriage. Since Joseph "was a righteous man", he could not go through with the marriage, because that would bring guilt upon himself. Yet, Joseph "did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace", so he decided "to divorce her quietly."
Joseph no doubt thought that he had come up with the best solution to the problem; and, given the facts that he knew about the case, who could argue with his solution? He could continue to be considered "righteous", and at the same time show mercy to Mary. According to the law, Joseph could have had Mary stoned (see Deut. 22:23). However the Law specifies that both adulterers, the man and the woman, be stoned. In Mary's case, the man was nowhere to be found (because, of course, Mary was a virgin), so Joseph chose to show mercy upon Mary by "divorcing her quietly" (interestingly, this same mercy is shown by Jesus to the adulteress in John 8:1-11).
So yes, Joseph's solution to the problem was commendable; however, God had a better solution: "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'" (vs. 20). God's solution was for Joseph to take Mary home as his wife. At times, we think we have everything figured out, and we come up with our plans to handle certain situations, and then God comes along and changes everything! "Lord!", we say, "What are you doing?" We must realize that God knows much more about the situation than we do. At times, God asks us to act on faith, not giving us all the details for doing things His way. Joseph was blessed by God in that he was given the reason that it was OK to go ahead and marry his betrothed: "Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." All is OK. Mary is blameless in the situation.
God not only gave Joseph information about Mary's blamelessness in the situation, but gave him a command. The angel of the Lord continues: "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" (vs. 21). By commanding Joseph to "give Him the name Jesus", God was in effect commanding Joseph to adopt the son as his own. By doing so, since Joseph was in the royal line of the Davidic throne, Jesus would also be in the royal line. This was necessary to fulfill the prophecies that denoted that the Messiah would rule on David's throne.
The angel gives Joseph a reason for naming his son "Jesus": "Because He will save His people from their sins." The name "Jesus" is the Greek form of the name "Joshua", which means, "the Lord saves". The name "Jesus" at that time was a fairly common name. Perhaps parents named their sons "Jesus" with the secret hope that their "Jesus" would be the Messiah. Joseph was commanded by God to give the true Messiah the name "Jesus".
Now, the angel is very explicit in specifying what sort of salvation Jesus the Messiah would bring: "He will save His people from their sins." The Jews at that time were primarily looking for a messiah who would save them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. God is better than that: He gives us the more important salvation. Yes, salvation from the tyranny of Rome would have made the lives of the Jews on this earth better, but such a salvation would have had no effect on their eternity, their existence after they leave this earth. Salvation from sin is the greatest gift that we have from God. Without it, we cannot be reconciled to God, and so, must spend our eternity out of His presence. With it, however, we can enter God's presence, even be adopted as His child, and thus, enjoy all the benefits and blessings of being His child throughout eternity. Many in this world, like the Jews, look to God for salvation from trials in this world, while ignoring the most valuable salvation that God offers them: salvation from their sins through His Son Jesus Christ.
That the Messiah was sent to save His people from their sins fulfills a number of prophecies from the Old Testament, among them: "[The Lord] Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins" (Ps. 130:8); "But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation" (Isa. 45:17). Notice that the angel speaking to Joseph said that Jesus would save "His people". This refers specifically to the Jews. As we read the Gospels, we notice that Jesus' ministry on earth dealt primarily with the Jews. God offered His salvation through the person Jesus Christ to His chosen nation first. Then, just as it was prophesied that through the seed of Abraham all nations would be blessed (see Gen. 12:3), so Christ commanded that the salvation from sin be offered to all nations, when He said: "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). As Paul says, the gospel message is "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16).
By the way, when the angel says to Joseph: "He will save His people from their sins", he means "He and only He". There is no one else in heaven and on earth who can save people from their sins. Jesus is the answer to the great "mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God" (Eph. 3:9). The mystery: How could sinful man be reconciled to Holy God? Ever since Adam, because of man's sin, he has not been able to enter into full communion with God. Our Holy God cannot allow Himself to be tainted by the sin of man, lest our sin compromise His perfect holiness. Because of this, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). However, God had promised (as cited above) that "Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation" (Isa. 45:17); He promised to "redeem Israel from all their sins" (Ps. 130:8). But how was God to do this, and yet at the same time, maintain His holiness? The answer to this mystery is Jesus Christ. As Paul says (providing the answer to the mystery alluded to in Eph. 3:9): "In [Jesus] and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Eph. 3:12). God sent His Son Jesus to earth, to live as a man, a sinless life. Since He was conceived miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit, He did not inherit man's sinful nature. Since He was in constant obedience to His Heavenly Father throughout His life on earth, He could fulfill the role of the spotless lamb, and could be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of all people. Long before Jesus came to earth, in the Law that God gave to Moses, He established a way that the sins of His people may be covered through the blood sacrifice of unblemished animals. God established this law as a "shadow of the good things that [were] coming" (Heb. 10:1). However, since what was offered was only the blood of unblemished bulls and goats, these were only imperfect sacrifices, shadows of the perfect sacrifice that was to come. Being imperfect, their sacrifices had to be offered over and over in order cover the sins of the offerer. You see, the blood of unblemished goats and bulls was necessarily an imperfect sacrifice because the goats and bulls themselves knew nothing about God's law, and so were only unblemished in their outward appearance. A perfect sacrifice would have to be unblemished inwardly, obeying perfectly all of God's law. Jesus is the only man in history, who has obeyed God perfectly throughout His whole life on earth. Thus, He is the only one worthy to be a sacrifice for the sins of others, since He is the only one who did not deserve to be punished for His own sin. This is why the angel says emphatically to Joseph: "He" (and only He) "will save His people from their sins."
Matthew puts all this into perpective: "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'" (vss. 22-23). Matthew here cites Isaiah 7:14, saying that it is the birth of Jesus which fulfills the prophecy contained in that verse. Many people have difficulty in seeing the verse in Isaiah as referring to the birth of the Messiah. They see this verse as being a sign given specifically to Ahaz, a sign that was to be fulfilled in the lifetime of Ahaz. This is not so. Isaiah 7:14 is a sign given to all of God's people, not just Ahaz. In Isaiah 7:11, the Lord graciously allows Ahaz to ask for a sign that will confirm that Judah would not be destroyed by the Arameans. Ahaz (disobediently) rejects the Lord's offer for a sign (Isa. 7:12). The Lord is upset by this (Isa. 7:13), and so, rather than giving Ahaz a sign, He gives all of God's people a sign, saying: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you" (note: this "you" in the original Hebrew is plural, denoting that the Lord was not just speaking to Ahaz, but to all of God's people) "a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14). If one continues reading the full context of this prophecy, one will see that "Immanuel" is twice more referred to (see Isa. 8:8 and Isa. 8:10). These references more clearly link "Immanuel" to the Lord Himself, not to a child in Ahaz' time given that name. Then later, in Isa. 9:6, the child spoken of in Isaiah 7:14 is more clearly identified as the Messiah in the famous passage: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). In summary, many people have problems in identifying the "Immanuel" spoken of in Isaiah 7:14 as the Messiah, because they do not read the entire context of the prophecy, which goes from Isaiah 7:1 all the way through to Isaiah 9:7.
Matthew tells us that all these events surrounding Jesus' birth fulfill the prophecy: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel" (vs. 23). This prophecy not only predicts the virgin conception of Jesus, but also gives Him an additional name: "Immanuel". Now, as far as we know, no one during His life on earth called Jesus by this name. However, "Immanuel" expresses the nature of Christ, for it means "God with us". And so, when we state that Christ is Son of God and Son of Man, we are in effect calling Him "Immanuel", "God with us".
With the two names in this passage that are given for the Messiah-- "Jesus" and "Immanuel" -- we are greatly blessed. The first expresses His office, the second His nature. With the first, we are reminded that He came to save us from our sins, to bring eternal life to us, to reconcile us to God through His sacrifice. With the second, we are reminded of God's great love to send His own Son, the second person of the Trinity, to earth, so that through Him, God is indeed "with us". What a blessing! Praise be to God!
This chapter is concluded by showing Joseph's obedience to the Lord: "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" (vss. 24-25). Notice that Joseph obeyed God immediately: "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him." Notice that Joseph obeyed God completely: he did everything the angel had commanded of him. This obedience of Joseph was non-trivial. Undoubtedly, gossip had spread around the village concerning Mary's being with child. By taking Mary home as his wife, Joseph was opening up himself for suspicion. But, apparently Joseph was unconcerned about this. The Lord commanded him, and he obeyed. We must always make sure that we are more concerned about what the Lord thinks of us, than what men think of us. At times, we must obey the Lord, even though the world misunderstands our actions.
So, Father, help us to be obedient to Your will in all that we do, even when the world misunderstands Your will in our lives. We praise You and thank You for sending Your Son to save us from our sins. We thank You for the love that You have expressed to us by sending Your Son. May He be glorified in our lives, as we live in obedience to You. In the name of Your Son, who has saved us from our sins, we pray these things, Amen.