He Will Save His People


I. Verse 18 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ” – This introductory statement to the narrative is filled with theological significance

A. The birth – For the achievement of God’s redemptive purpose, a birth was necessary. The Savior did not, and could not, simply appear in raw power, or as a member of the angelic order, or as a mere theophany to set in place all that was involved in redeeming fallen humanity. He must enter into the human race through the process of taking on our flesh and living under the authority of the divine law as written in every human heart as well as the law written on tables of stone. The moral and legal obligations of humanity can not be ignored or arbitrarily set aside but, in light of their manifestation of the divine character, have to be fulfilled by the race. The Redeemer, therefore, must be born.

B. Jesus – He is given a human name and operated as a true person who shared our nature. The name befitted his purpose (a name by which he still is known and still functions (1 John 1:3; 2:1) as the only one through whom salvation from sin and all its consequences could arise. The giving of the name is discussed in this text.

C. Christ – This word embodies the concept of one that has received the chrism, the anointing. It is the Greek synonym for the Hebrew rooted word “Messiah.” This one person is to fulfill all the offices that served to give order and meaning to the nation of Israel. He would be prophet, priest, and king. So peculiarly appropriate is this title to Jesus only that it now adheres to him as his name.

D. “His mother Mary” – This phrase also overflows with theological meaning and embraces the most ancient of the redemptive prophecies.

1. Mary was the mother of this person that was God and man. When she visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:43) Elizabeth exclaimed, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

2. The ecumenical, orthodox creeds of the fourth –fifth centuries employed the startling word, Theotokos (God-bearer or mother of God) to emphasize the reality of the singularity of this person of two natures and that the incarnation involved a true birth from the flesh of a human mother. Though there are dangers in this title, if the emphasis focuses on Mary and the honor given her at this time, it captures, nevertheless, a truth which must be affirmed unequivocally. This text clearly says it: “When his mother Mary . . .”

3. This brings beautiful fulfillment to the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. Mary’s child came not from the seed of a man but from her ovum, fertilized by the operation of the Holy Spirit, so that transfer of original sin and federal condemnation that comes through Adam (and subsequent male progenitors—Romans 5:12, 17) would not be true of Mary’s son since as she personally testified, “I know not a man.” (Luke 1:34)

II. Multiplied testimony to the virginity of Mary

A. The straightforward testimony of Matthew – The point is introduced by the testimony of Matthew that Mary was with child, thought she and her betrothed, Joseph had not come together. The child she bore was not the child of Joseph.

B. He stated that, instead of the child having any human father at all, the child was “from the Holy Spirit.” We have polarities established in the witness. The child is not of Joseph; the child is of the Holy Spirit. Now the narrative begins to fill in the space between these.

C. Evidence of the simple truth of this narrative from the dilemma of Joseph.

1. Joseph knew that he was not the father and resolved to help Mary give birth to the child with a minimum of public notoriety (19).

2. As he was considering how to handle this, an angel revealed to him what had actually taken place with Mary. Joseph was told, (verse 20) “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

3. Joseph believed what the angel had said, took Mary as his wife, and had no relations with her before she gave birth to Jesus (verse 25)

4. The angel that appeared to Mary told her to name the child Jesus (Luke 1:31) and told Joseph the same thing, but with the reason for the name annexed—“for he shall save his people from their sins” (verse 21). Verse 25 tells us that this is what was done.

D. (Verses 22, 23) The prophecy to which Matthew referred, as a matter of truthful discourse, must have an adequate fulfillment. It is a matter of divine veracity, power, wisdom, and redemptive mercy. At some point in redemptive history, deliverance would climax through a child conceived in the womb of a virgin. This conception, and then birth, would result in the presence of God in true human life. To see events as designed in the providence of God is a trait of Matthew’s gospel. This phrase is consistent with that tendency throughout Matthew. John A. Broadus points to several examples (Matthew 1:22; 2:15,17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9). This implies that the event brought to final fullness the predictive element in the text invoked. As startling as it would seem to those upon whom the promise came, it was going to happen some place, at some time, to some woman. This was indeed that event.

F. Matthew sealed his discussion of this issue by pointing to the statement in Isaiah 7:14 concerning a birth from a virgin. Matthew emphasizes that this was spoken “by the Lord” through the prophet. What the prophet had said to Ahaz in Isaiah 7, a virgin giving birth and the child being given a name that meant “God with us” certainly was not fulfilled in Maher-shalal, hashbaz, the son to which the prophet’s wife gave birth (Isaiah 8:3 although part of the prophecy did relate to him). Ever since Genesis 3:15, births of children, especially those that were in unusual circumstances or achieved with difficulty, had meanings that transcended the immediate occasion (Genesis 4:1, 25; 21:1, 2, 7; 30:22-24; 1 Samuel 1:17-20). The prophecy of the “seed” of the woman that would crush the serpent’s head must be fulfilled in a way that did not depend upon the seed of the man. Isaiah 7:14, therefore, extends the meaning of Genesis 3:15, but could not be fulfilled by the son of the prophet.

G. The option of disbelief calls for overcoming a number of hurdles. One must overcome the straightforward narrative of Matthew and call into question the testimony and the actions of Joseph concerning these matters. They must doubt the testimony of Mary as well as the consent to the truth of the report on the part of Elizabeth (both in Luke 1). The life, the claims, and the resurrection of Jesus all verify the truthfulness of this narrative. It would take someone particularly determined to ignore the textual and historical evidence to dismiss the virgin birth as a mere capitulation to superstition.

III. The importance of the name given the child. “Call his name Jesus.”

A. Jesus – This is a Greek word that is the same as the Hebrew word for Joshua. It means, “Jehovah is helper.” This child was to be Jehovah come as our helper. The name “Emmanuel” is a declaration that God Himself has become as one of us to help us, for we are desperately helpless of ourselves.

B. The ultimate help needed by sinners is an effectual mediator before the just bar of God’s pure judgment. Jesus helps as none other can help (“He” is in a construction of emphasis (He himself, and no other) for he is our advocate who can insert his own righteousness into the case made against us (1 John 2:2).

C. Joshua was the great deliverer in the Old Testament, not only bearing witness to the promise of God to protect, but actually leading the people in their conquering of the land. (Numbers 14:6-9; Joshua entire). Jesus destroys him that has the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14, 15).

D. Joshua also was the name of the high priest at the time of the return from exile and an example of God’s determination to remove the sin of his people “in a single day” (Zechariah 3:8, 9).

E. All of this should flow clearly into Paul’s summation of redemptive history in Galatians 4:4 – 6. God sent forth his Son. The one sent forth pre-existed as the Son eternally related to the Father and already possessing personhood before the incarnation. As born of woman, the specific fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, the debilities of corruption and condemnation involved in descent from the man were bypassed. The human nature conceived in Mary united immediately with the eternal personhood of the Son of God, born under law to redeem those under the law. He was born as responsible to keep the law since he shared our nature as truly human, but at the same time was a true second Adam whose righteousness when achieved could overcome the condemnation intrinsic to our unrighteousness. He was under the responsibility of keeping the Law, but was not under its curse; we are under both the responsibility and the curse; and his sacrificial death brings to effectuality the redemption prophesied of old and in this passage. He himself shall indeed save His people.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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