SSL 4 - Matt. 1:18-25 - "WHAT CHRISTMAS SAYS ABOUT OBEDIENCE"
INTRODUCTION: Today we're going to take a brief detour from our study of the Israelites' wandering in the wildness to cover Matthew's account of the announcement of the birth of Jesus. We typically think of the word "Annunciation" in connection with the announcement that Mary will bear a child (Lk. 1:26-38); however, in Matthew's Gospel, it is Joseph to whom the angel appears. While Luke's gospel reports the details of Mary's obedience (Lk. 1:38), Matthew focuses entirely on the obedience of Joseph's (1:24). While Luke Mary features very prominently in Luke's account of Jesus' birth (Lk. 1 and 2), Matthew brings Joseph to the forefront. We will learn from this that Joseph is important to Matthew's Gospel because Jesus derives his lineage to David through Joseph (1:1-17 skipped). Like the Joseph of Gen. 37-50, this Joseph is a righteous man set on doing God's will. Matthew's purposes in this Gospel lesson are to show: (1) That Jesus, the promised Messiah, is of the house and lineage of David through Joseph; and (2) Joseph, a righteous man, is righteous by obeying God's command instead of rigidly observing an OT law requiring him to divorce Mary, or worse.
Read Mt. 1:18-19 - THE CONCEPTION AND BIRTH OF JESUS
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
v. 18a: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows;" - Matthew began the Gospel in v. 1 by asserting: "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham" and went on to trace His lineage through 42 generations all the way to Joseph. These 17 verses establish that Jesus' lineage is that of the Messiah foretold by OT prophecy. The phrase "the birth of Jesus Christ," reasserts the proclamation that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah. In his description of Jesus' birth, Matthew focuses entirely on who Jesus is rather than the details of the manger in Bethlehem or the shepherds, etc., that we find in Luke's account.
v. 18b: "when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph" - A little background on Jewish marital law: Jewish marriage starts with an engagement arranged by parents, and when they are of age, the couple begin a year-long betrothal similar to marriage but without sexual privileges. Betrothal is legally binding and can be terminated only by death or legal divorce. A person whose betrothed dies is considered a widow or widower.
v. 18c: "before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit." - Scholars calculate that Mary was about four months pregnant at this time because she is known to have spent three months with her relative Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) reported in Lk. 1:36,56. The fact that Mary, a human girl, is pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit proves that Jesus is fully human and fully God.
v. 19: "And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly" - Summarizing the penalty prescribed in Deut. 22:23-27, if a betrothed woman becomes pregnant by another man, both of them are subject to death by stoning (if in a city; in the country, a woman can be spared). Since Mary lived in Nazareth, a city, she was subject to the death sentence, which would be imposed after a public trial. Joseph is described as a "righteous man" because he's a religious Jew who keeps the Law. But he is not a "self-righteous" man who would demand harsh justice to be imposed on woman he obviously loved and cared for. By doing this, he models Christ-like compassion and mercy in the face of Mary's supposed sin. And he also shows a godly balance between the Law of Torah and the Law of Love.
Read Mt. 1:20-21 - AN ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARS TO JOSEPH
20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of 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.
v. 20: "But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." - This is the first of three occasions where an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, and in each instance, the angel commands Joseph to take action and he obeys. We need to fully grasp that Josephs' obedience is an essential element of God's redemptive plan. It is interesting that Joseph never speaks, Matthew doesn't record one word, but actions speak louder than words, Amen? The "this" Joseph was considering was his plan to send Mary away privately, to spare her public humiliation. While Joseph is pondering this, an angel enters his thoughts to give him a better solution. The angel begins by identifying him with his ancestral bloodline, the "son of David." When the angel tells him, "do not be afraid," it's the exact words the angel said to Mary in Lk. 1:30. Joseph is told not to be afraid of the angel, but also to not be afraid of his neighbor's opinions or of disregarding the Torah's requirements for Mary's punishment. Instead, he is to take Mary as his wife-without hesitation. When the angel told him "the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit," Joseph, a good Jew, would have fully believed in God's divine power to create.
v. 21: "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" - Mary's divine role is to bear a son, and Joseph's role to name, because by naming Him, Joseph will make Jesus his son and bring Him into the house of David. The name Jesus is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua, which literally means Yahweh is salvation, and is a form of the name Joshua. The first Joshua save the people from their Canaanite enemies; the second Joshua will save people from their sins.
TRUTH 1: Our obedience may require risking ridicule. At Christmas, we have to decide if we're going to stand with Joseph. If we believe God is able-and in fact did-create a child through virgin birth, we must be ready to appear to a non-believing world that we have "checked our rational minds at the door." Joseph was willing to take the risk of appearing to sacrifice his intellect by believing the impossible, and he was willing to risk losing his reputation over it. Do we stand with Joseph today?
Read Mt. 1:22-23 - THAT PROPHECY MIGHT BE FULFILLED
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."
v. 22: "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:" - This is the first example of Matthew's prophecy-fulfillment formula by which he points to an event or teaching of Jesus that fulfills an OT passage. In all, twelve times (here; 2:15, 23; 3;15; 4:14; 5:17;
8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 25; 21:4; 27:9).
v. 23: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." - This quotation from Isa. 7:14 were words spoken by the Isaiah to King Ahaz when Judah was under a threat of attack. The prophecy points to God's enduring promise for a Messiah from the line of David, and Matthew presents the virgin birth of Jesus as God's miraculous fulfillment of this promise in the person of Jesus Christ. Note also the use of the definite article "the virgin" instead of "a virgin," telling us that God had a particular virgin in mind. This declaration also would have reminded Joseph that Mary was in fact the pure and virtuous women he had originally supposed her to be. Although the angel specifically commands Joseph to name the child Jesus (and Mary, too, in Lk. 1:31), the angel says "they" will call Him Emmanuel. "They" will be the people Jesus whom this baby Jesus will save from their sins. In Hebrew El is the short form of Elohim, the name meaning "God." Thus, Immanu-El means "God with us," which Mathew spells out for non-Hebrew readers. So, Immanuel isn't a second name by which friends and neighbors will know Jesus, but a name that describes His role. It's interesting that Matthew begins his Gospel with the promise that Jesus is God-with-us and will end the Gospel with the promise that Jesus will be with us "always, until the end of the age" (28:20).
Read Mt. 1:24-25 - JOSEPH DID AS THE ANGEL COMMANDED
24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
v. 24: "And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife" - Here, Joseph presents to us the perfect model of obedience-no hesitation, no ambivalence, no procrastination, just do it. That he "took her" suggests it was done immediately, for had he delayed, it might have raised the suspicion that he wasn't convinced of her innocence. Did it ever occur to you that Joseph rescued both of them: Mary and the baby she was carrying? Can you imagine what might have happened if he had refused and cast her aside? Do you see why Joseph's obedience was absolutely vital?
v. 25: "but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. Notice first that Joseph wasn't commanded by the angel to keep Mary chaste but did so voluntarily. Nevertheless, his abstinence rules out any possibility that he could have been the father, together with the fact that Mary was approximately four months pregnant when they got married.
TRUTH 2: Our Obedience isn't negotiable. In every case, Joseph did exactly what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do, without hesitation. When God asks us to sacrifice and takes risks, we're sometimes tempted to bargain and negotiate with Him. Joseph was just an ordinary, imperfect man having the same free will that you and me and all other humans possess, yet, when called by God, he presents us with the perfect model of obedience-no hesitation, no ambivalence, no procrastination, just do it!
TRUTH 3: Like Joseph, our obedience can make a difference in holy history. Just think of the consequences if Joseph had faltered in obedience. Likewise, when God calls us to serve Him, what we do, or fail to so, affects history.
PRAYER: Lord God, our Father and Creator, we come before Your throne this morning with humble and grateful hearts, thanking and praising You for Your love, mercy, and unmerited grace toward us. We thank You this morning for sending Your only begotten Son to this earth as an unborn child so that He could ultimately give His life on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. We thank you right now for the imputed righteousness of Christ that allows us access to your throne at this moment. We thank you for using Your Word this morning to remind us of the example of Joseph's faith and obedience. Please help me and every person here in this room to have the courage to follow his wonderful example. I declare for myself and everyone here that we stand with Joseph even in the face ridicule we might receive from an unbelieving world. In the name of Jesus, our king of kings and Lord of Lords, AMEN.