The Birth Of Jesus

Advent 4A

Matthew 1: 18 24

Introduction

Our text brings us finally to what we have been preparing for:

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about."

But it is not so much about the birth of Jesus as about

a) his origin, and
b) how his name is an example of how he fulfils prophecy.

Overview

A little background before we continue:

  • In Jewish marriages, you will be well aware, there were 2 ceremonies,
    • First: the contract is made, the man pays the father of the bride.
    • Second: the man brings his wife home to live together.
  • The time span between them was a year. During this time they rarely met.

Some Notes On Our Text

Verses 18 and 19

In our story just before the couple do finally came together Joseph (a young man in his early 20's) hears of his wife's condition.

He is a "righteous man":

i.e. a law-abiding man, meaning wants to keep faith with the Biblical laws God laid down.

But he is also an honest and fair man. He decides to divorce her privately with only 2 witnesses.

This would safeguard her name and avoid legal action for Mary could be charged with adultery. The penalty, although rarely invoked at that time, was death.

Verse 20

Joseph thought about all this rather carefully.

Only "after he had considered this" action did the Angel appear in a dream. The angel begins, "Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife". It seems Joseph had wanted to complete the marriage by doing this, but was afraid to.

Verses 20b and 21

The following message is quite clear. He is to give Mary both the shelter of his home and the protection of his name. Clearly Joseph believes the angel:

that Mary's conceiving a child was brought about by the Holy Spirit;

that he was to name the boy Joshua: a fairly common name but not without prophetic significance.

Why he should be called Joshua is also explained:

"because he will save his people from their sins."

Verses 22 - 24

"All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah (7: 14).

Is it not a bit strange that Isaiah should prophesy, "they will call him Emmanuel" and yet the Angel directs Joseph to call him Joshua?

Remember, Isaiah had prophesied:

"They shall call him Emmanuel that is God-is-with-us."

  • In prophecy the term contained an idea of prosperity because God would be favourable to his people: i.e. with them and not against them.
  • So the prophetic name did not just mean being with us in the sense of being present to us, or within us.
  • It contained the sense of accompanying us on our journey as we fight against evil. Through the Angel, God gave his Son the name Yeshua (in Aramaic) or Joshua (Biblical Hebrew) or Jesus (Greek New Testament). This is especially important:

"because he will save his people from their sins".

  • Not save them from other people's sins nor from the outcome of their own sins. But from the sins themselves.
  • Yeshua "Yahweh Saves" is the fulfilment of the promise of God to the patriarchs and prophets I shall be with you not just within and present but actively engaged with you in your fight against sin.
  • How appropriate it is then for Jesus' final words in this Gospel to be, "Lo, I am with you always".

Verse 25

The reading concludes with an emphatic reminder that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The reading, as explained in the introduction, is primarily about his origin. Verse 25 should not be used to argue about whether or not Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The Greek version of the verse simply will not support the argument either way.

Conclusion

We close with a short meditation from J.C.Ryle (1911)

If we would have a strong foundation for our faith and hope, we must keep constantly in view our Saviour's divinity. He in whose blood we are invited to trust is the Almighty God. All power is in heaven and earth. None can pluck us out of His hand. If we are true believers in Jesus, our heart need not be troubled or afraid.

If we would have sweet comfort in suffering and trial, we must keep constantly in view our Saviour's humanity.
He is the man Christ Jesus, who lay on the bosom of the Virgin Mary as a little infant, and knows the heart of a man. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He has Himself experienced Satan's temptations. He has endured hunger. He has shed tears. He has felt pain.

We may trust Him unreservedly with our sorrows. He will not despise us. We may pour out our hearts before Him in prayer boldly, and keep nothing back. He can sympathize with His people.

Let these thoughts sink down into our minds. Let us bless God for the encouraging truths which the first chapter of the New Testament contains. It tells us of One who "saves His people from their sins." But this is not all. It tells us that this Saviour is "Emmanuel", God himself, and yet God with us, God manifest in human flesh like our own. This is glad tidings. This is indeed good news. Let us feed on these truths in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

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