Joseph's Obedience

| Matthew 1:18-25 | December 2, 2018

Week of December 9, 2018

The Point:  Following God’s plan will require change in your life, but it’s worth it.

The Origin of Jesus:  Matthew 1:18-25.

[18] 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. [19] And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. [20] 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. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [22] All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: [23] “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). [24] When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, [25] but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.   [ESV]

“Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ life so that it foreshadows much of the rest of His life. Our passage is the story of the virgin conception of Jesus, as the eternal Son of God becomes a man. God’s Spirit forms the human baby in the womb of a virgin. His angel tells Joseph and Mary all they need to know to care for this child who was, months later, born into their family. Matthew’s account describes more than a birth. In fact, the Greek word translated birth in 1:18 is not the ordinary word for birth at all. To translate literally, Matthew says, “The origin of Jesus Christ was like this.” Matthew wrote his account so all may know the origin and conception of this virgin-born child named Jesus. The story is told from the perspective of Joseph. Through Joseph, Jesus is counted the Son of David. This fulfills the promise made long ago that Israel would have a David-like king, to rule the people with justice [2 Sam. 7:11-16]. By the time of Mary and Joseph, the line of David had shown its sinfulness, its fecklessness. Indeed, in its calling to rule Israel, it was exhausted and all but invisible. For this reason, Matthew reveals that Jesus is from the line of David, but not from the flesh of David. The promises to David’s line showed that Israel needed a mighty deliverer, a great and fearless king, a warrior to battle foes, and a man who loved God and His people more than life itself. Yet the history of Israel had been a sad tale of failed king following failed king. Human flesh could not deliver God’s people. They needed something different. This lesson is universal: no king or prophet can deliver us, for flesh and blood, by itself, cannot save. Matthew says God has been orchestrating the needed deliverance. Since the Lord often uses names to reveal His purposes, He gives baby Jesus more than one name; no single name could describe all that He is. The baby is called both Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus means “God saves”; the name is given for he will save his people from their sins [1:21]. Immanuel means “God with us.” The birth of Jesus, God’s Immanuel, fulfills several prophecies, some clear, others veiled.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Mary and Joseph are betrothed, not married, when the account of Jesus’ birth begins [1:18]. Mary and Joseph did not live in the same home. They were sexually chaste, they had not yet came together. They were betrothed and pure, yet pregnant. In Israel, betrothal was much weightier than engagement in Western societies today. It was so binding that Matthew already calls Joseph her husband. The couple did not sleep together during their betrothal, yet Mary’s body was swelling. Her body declared that she was pregnant. What a crushing blow to Joseph! He had never been with Mary but, so it seemed, someone else had. His bride-to-be was pregnant but was not carrying his child. He was a righteous man and wanted a righteous wife. If Mary had been unfaithful to him before they even married, what kind of woman was she? What kind of marriage could they have? In every moral, emotional, and legal way, he was right to plan to end the betrothal. Since betrothal was so binding, its termination amounted to a divorce. However miserable the thought, Joseph had to consider divorce [1:19]. This determination indicates that Joseph was just and upright and wanted no part of a corrupt marriage. As a just man, he had every right to cancel the marriage. But Joseph was merciful too. He could have exposed Mary, as an unwed mother, to public disgrace and to severe penalties. A quiet divorce, however, would preserve some of her dignity. She would bear the consequences of her action, but would not suffer the most public humiliation. So Joseph settled upon a quiet divorce. The Lord let Joseph struggle to solve his problem for a season before He revealed a better plan. He often works this way. He lets us make plans, then reveals a better way. When this happens, we must change our plans, as Joseph did. We must test our plans and purposes against God’s will, as revealed in Scripture and in the counsel of the wise. Sometimes, circumstances unfold in ways that suggest what God’s will may be. Even plans that look sound must be open to revision. God wanted Joseph to proceed with the marriage and sent an angelic messenger to tell him why. Here we must purge our popular images of angels. In the Bible, angels are not cute and do not specialize in romance. They are as likely to say something frightening as to say something comforting. Their appearance in our realm is a rare, weighty, and awesome event. Angels are God’s mighty messengers. There is a cluster of angel appearances near the birth of Jesus because it is such a weighty event. Here God’s angel intervenes for the sake of Joseph so he will know what this virgin conception means [1:20]. The address Joseph, son of David links the virgin conception to the Davidic genealogy. The Holy Spirit is the author of this life, yet Joseph has a role to play. The angel assures Joseph that things are not as they seem. Because the child was conceived not by a man but by the Holy Spirit, Joseph can marry his beloved. She is as pure and godly as he had hoped. Into his new marriage, Joseph must adopt this child as his son. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God, but Joseph must adopt him into the line of David. From that line, the deliverer of Israel had to come. Therefore, Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of David. The church traditionally speaks of the virgin birth, but the Gospels stress the miraculous conception, the virgin conception, of Christ. The miracle lay in the manner of Jesus’ conception. So far as we know, the process of birth itself was normal.

The Child’s Name and Mission.  God tells Joseph the child is a boy and that His name must be Jesus [1:21]. The angel also declares God’s agenda for Jesus. He will not save His people from physical enemies; he will save his people from their sins. Sin is the root of all other calamities. The root cause of disorder is sin, and the greatest disorder is to be at odds with God. Jesus will save His people from that. This birth of Jesus begins the unfolding of God’s salvation; it also fulfills Scripture [1:22]. The birth of Jesus shows that God is with us. In important ways, God is always with us. We can never flee from His presence. He is in the heavens and the depths, on land and at sea [Ps. 139:7-9]. We can ignore God, we can deny God, we can curse God. But He never disappears. His reign extends over all creation. God is omnipresent. Nevertheless, Matthew says that with Jesus’ birth, God entered human history in a new way. He is with us, in power, for blessing. Three times in the Gospel of Matthew we hear that Jesus is God with us in the beginning, at its midpoint, and at the end. It is a crucial moment each time. In the beginning, we hear that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to save his people from their sins [1:21]. In the middle, we hear that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to purify His church [18:20]. At the end of Matthew, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to expand the church [28:19-20]. The story of Jesus’ conception invites us to imagine a young woman, holy and yielded to God, astonished to hear that God incarnate has entered her womb. The eternal God will grow in her womb, will be her baby. We may also imagine a young man, holy and yielded, startled to find that his betrothed wife is pregnant, not by him. He will adopt this child, the Son of God. It is the story of a young man and a young woman, but much more it is the account of God’s action. God entered human history, declaring that He is the God with whom we have to do. Immanuel is more than a title: it is a declaration that God has entered our realm and that we must reckon with Him. The original Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 meant that God offers to be present to bless. But if we refuse His blessing, He is still present, to judge. The original Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah bears a radical message: God is always present, always with us, either to bless or to curse.

Joseph, Mary, and Immanuel.  According to Matthew, the blessed side of the Immanuel prophecy has now come. God has fulfilled it in the birth of Jesus. The promise of military deliverance for Ahaz prefigured something far greater. While the first Immanuel deliverance was powerful, it chiefly served to prepare for the second. In the first Immanuel, God offered to be with Ahaz in a sign. Now Jesus will be God with us in person. As before, it is God’s design to bless through Immanuel. Still, God has acted and, as we learned from Ahaz, Immanuel is here whether anyone likes it or not. Some people respond to the birth of Jesus with indifference, much as Ahaz was indifferent to Isaiah’s promise of Immanuel. They think it is a nice tradition and an amusing tale that some people happen to believe. They may even be happy for friends or neighbors who are comforted to think that there is a supernatural power watching over them. Such thinking completely misses the point of Isaiah and Matthew. Immanuel is not a religious option for those who choose to embrace it. Immanuel is the truth, whether we choose to embrace it or not! Matthew declares that God is with us. If we believe, He is with us to bless and to save. If not, God is still with us, to call us to repentance. If you reject that, God is still with you, as judge. God’s deliverance is the only one that works in the end. Most people can work their plan for a while. But there comes a time when dark waters swirl up to every neck, when disaster or death looms. At that time we will want to be able to call upon Immanuel. He is our abiding hope.

Joseph and the Birth of Jesus, Our Immanuel.  When the angel had finished speaking, Joseph awoke, believed, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him [1:24]. His submission to God was as powerful and complete as that of Mary, who also offered herself as the servant of the Lord. Joseph refused to be led by shame or anger. He laid aside the plausible plan of divorce and took Mary as his wife. To make the supernatural conception of Jesus perfectly clear, Matthew says Joseph knew her not until she had given birth to a son [1:25]. Then Joseph took her newborn baby and gave Him the name Jesus just as the angel had said. What a tender picture of living faith! Mary and Joseph listened to God. They silenced their emotions of fear and shame and obeyed the Lord. Why? Because they understood that God is with His people to save. Because they were willing to listen to their Lord, whatever people might think or say. They show us how to listen and how to obey the voice of God rather than our impulses. This portion of Matthew offers a picture of faith, but more than that it is an account of the acts of the triune God. The Father’s plan of redemption has come to the beginning of its climactic phase. The Spirit’s prophecy to Ahaz and through Ahaz set up the Immanuel principle that now comes to fulfillment. The Spirit also fashioned life in the womb of Mary and moved the hearts of Mary and Joseph to accept their role in the divine drama. Finally, the eternal Son has entered the world of humanity. May the Spirit work in us to receive what God began to accomplish in the birth of Jesus. May we also submit our plans and our emotions to Him, as Joseph did. May we give our hearts and minds to Him as Mary and Joseph did. May we know that God is with us, to bless us, in every season of life. In every distress, let us turn to God for comfort. In joy and in blessing, let us not ascribe it to good fortune or hard work, but to Immanuel, who is present to bless. God is with us in the person of Jesus. May we have the faith, trust, love, and obedience to receive the blessings of Immanuel.”  [Doriani, pp. 14-25].

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

“Scripture clearly asserts that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father. The doctrinal importance of the virgin birth is seen in at least three areas. (1) It shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord. Just as God had promised that the “seed” of the woman [Gen. 3:15] would ultimately destroy the serpent, so God brought it about by His own power, not through mere human effort. The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God Himself. Our salvation only comes about through the supernatural work of God, and that was evident at the very beginning of Jesus’ life when God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [Gal. 4:4-5]. (2) The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send His Son into the world as a man. If we think for a moment of other possible ways in which Christ might have come to the earth, none of them would so clearly unite humanity and deity in one person. It probably would have been possible for God to create Jesus as a complete human being in heaven and send him to descend from heaven to earth without the benefit of any human parent. But then it would have been very hard for us to see how Jesus could be fully human as we are, nor would He be a part of the human race that physically descended from Adam. On the other hand, it probably would have been possible for God to have Jesus come into the world with two human parents, both a father and a mother, and with His full divine nature miraculously united to His human nature at some point early in His life. But then it would have been hard for us to understand how Jesus was fully God, since His origin was like ours in every way. When we think of these two other possibilities, it helps us to understand how God, in His wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that His full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of His ordinary human birth from a human mother, and His full deity would be evident from the fact of His conception in Mary’s womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that it would have been impossible for God to bring Christ into the world in any other way, but only to say that God, in His wisdom, decided that this would be the best way to bring it about, and part of that is evident in the fact that the virgin birth does help us understand how Jesus can be fully God and fully man. (3) The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin. All human beings have inherited legal guilt and a corrupt moral nature from their first father, Adam. But the fact that Jesus did not have a human father means that the line of descent from Adam is partially interrupted. Jesus did not descend from Adam in exactly the same way in which every other human being has descended from Adam. And this helps us to understand why the legal guilt and moral corruption that belongs to all other human beings did not belong to Christ. This idea seems to be indicated in the statement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, where he says to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God [Luke 1: 35]. Because the Spirit brought about the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, the child was to be called “holy, the Son of God”. Such a conclusion should not be taken to mean that the transmission of sin comes only through the father, for Scripture nowhere makes such an assertion. It is enough for us merely to say that in this case the unbroken line of descent from Adam was interrupted, and Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:35 connects this conception by the Holy Spirit with the holiness or moral purity of Christ, and reflection on that fact allows us to understand that through the absence of a human father, Jesus was not fully descended from Adam, and that this break in the line of descent was the method God used to bring it about that Jesus was fully human yet did not share inherited sin from Adam. But why did Jesus not inherit a sinful nature from Mary? The work of the Holy Spirit in Mary must have prevented the transmission of sin from Mary.”  [Grudem, pp. 529-532].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Matthew tells the story of Mary’s pregnancy from the viewpoint of Joseph. Imagine what Joseph was thinking and feeling when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant. What do we learn about Joseph’s character in these verses? What role did Joseph play in the birth and early years of Jesus [see 1:24-25; 2:13-15, 19-23]? Compare Joseph with Ahaz [Isa. 7:10-14] concerning the way each of them responded to the promised sign of the coming Immanuel.
  2. In this passage there are two names given to the child that answer two questions. The names are Jesus and Immanuel. The questions are: Who is this child? Why did he come? The name Immanuel answers the first question, while Jesus answers the second question. Explain what these two names mean and how they answer the questions. This Christmas season focus your individual thoughts and the thoughts of your family on these two names and these two questions.
  3. According to Grudem, what is the doctrinal importance of the virgin birth?

References:

Matthew, volume 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel of Matthew, R. T. France, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan.