The Gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament the Bible, but chronologically it actually probably came second to Mark. The reasons that it comes first in line in our Bibles is largely due to how much it ties back to the Old Testament. In fact our passage today will help us see this front and center, and it is going to be something that we see over and over again as we go through this book together. The words “This happened to fulfill what is written” show up again and again. And each time it does the gospel writer is pointing back to an Old Testament prophesy or writing that helps us better see the connections between what happened in history and what God was doing in his time. This gospel was probably written between 50 and 64 AD. One of the things we have to take into consideration when we are studying any kind of written work is to take the literary form into consideration. For instance, You wouldn’t read poetry as history. Otherwise, there would be hundreds of romantics under observation for spontaneous combustion as their writings express a sense of love as their hearts are on fire. The literary form for this book and all of the Gospels is loosely defined as ‘biography’. At the same time, the gospels are more than just biography, because they also contain the preaching of the good news, and preaching is its own type of genre. Some experts classify the gospels as their own genre and they are indeed unique, but they contain a mix of narrative, history, preaching, and biography. We accept them as a whole as factual and reliable. In fact there is more historical record for the reliability of the book of Matthew and all of the Bible than there is for the writings of Shakespeare, Data from the Christian Research Institute supports the notion that if a skeptic were to reject the text of the new testament of the Bible on grounds of transmission reliability, they would have to also then reject all the knowledge of the classical world.
The Gospel of Matthew is written largely to Jewish believers, but it doesn’t leave gentiles out. Most of its contents focus on confirming to a Jewish audience the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it is also holding up Christ as the hope for the nations as well. You might remember the last things in this book, which will be our final sermon for this series in a couple of years, the great commission. Jesus’s final command, to go into all the world and proclaim this good news. This message clearly aimed at showing the hope of Christ for the whole world.
But our passage this morning is focused around the beginnings of this whole story. How did this all come about. We’re going to be spending the next few weeks looking at that. At the end of our Ruth series, We finished up with a genealogy of Perez which ended with David the King. Then we connected the dots of that genealogy with the one that takes up the first 17 verses in Matthew. We said that this genealogy in Matthew was deeply focused on Jesus the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham, as it says in the first verse. We looked at how God always keeps his promises and how we can have hope today because of the testimony of the people and their sins that were highlighted in the line of the Messiah. If God can keep his promises in the midst of these messes, then our messes are not too big for him to work through. Our messes are not some difficulty to overcome in order for him to be able to enter into our lives and make us into new creations. But before we get into our passage today, there’s one thing I want to look back at in the genealogy from three weeks ago. Look at Matthew 1:16. The formula of So-and-so was the father of so-and-so gets broken here. This break is different than the rest of the breaks that we had looked at earlier. Before there were breaks and we saw how the women were involved, and this one does that too but in a different way. “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” Plant that one in your head, because it’s going to be part of the focus of today’s sermon in our passage. Let’s read our passage for today now.
(Matthew 1:18–25 ESV) “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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
We saw the connections from Abraham to David to Jesus in the genealogy. The point here is to highlight the blood line between Joseph and Jesus. But then we see that Joseph isn’t the father of Jesus. Matthew, the author, introduces a potential problem for us. Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham as we established a couple weeks ago, but what is the connection when Mary and Joseph aren’t married? How does that work itself out? How does the connection to Joseph happen? Imagine that the genealogy is a 30,000 foot view of that, and this week, our passage is a on the streets level look at how this happens. In this passage we’re going to see that the solution God has in mind is adoption. Adoption Saves, and not only for the man Jesus, but this is an example of how God works in all our lives.
The passage begins explaining that before there should have been a baby, something happened. Before Mary and Joseph came together, she was found with child This is a predicament.
Ladies, what would be the thought that goes through your mind if just before your wedding, you find out that your man has gotten someone pregnant? Men, what would be the thought that goes through your mind if you were to discover that your wife was with child? I guarantee none of us would be thinking, immaculate conception. By some miracle the woman has become pregnant. Why not? Because we understand science and how these things happen naturally. It takes two. This is the problem that Joseph is faced with. What is he to do? So this is our conundrum. But the text tells us something before Joseph gets to know. The child is from the Holy Spirit. Luke records it this way with the angel talking to Mary: (Luke 1:31–35 ESV) “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” So the promised Messiah is coming, and will be here in 9 short months! Or 9 long months, spending on how bad the summer and winter are. Regardless, he is coming and God chose to use Mary, and Mary obediently complied to this plan. But what about Joseph. Hoe does he handle this situation.
Joseph is described as a righteous person. Many of us might describe ourselves in this way. We do what’s right. We follow the law, we obey God. We work against injustice and suffering. The problem here is that Joseph’s betrothed, Mary, whom he may have been promised to as a child, was now pregnant. From all perceptions, she has grievously broken the law and now justice must be done. As a righteous, law following Jew, Joseph had two options. Option one, assume adultery, and have her stoned to death. Righteousness requires justice. The law commands that this happen. (Deuteronomy 22:20–21 ESV) “if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” The law goes on to describe what what should happen in cases of rape, where the man would be stoned to death but the woman would be protected. Which is where Option two comes into play. Option two is to divorce her quietly. Either way, Joseph understands according to the law, he shouldn’t be marrying her and it’s going to get called off one way or another. (Matthew 1:19 ESV) “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” Joseph takes the most merciful of the righteous paths. He decides that she should not be put to death, but rather he decides to have mercy on her and dismiss her quietly. Absolve the marriage plans. Joseph doesn’t want to put her to public shame, doesn’t want her to die, so his plan is to end the marriage and protect Mary in the process.
Application: Sometimes we don’t have the whole story, and we cast judgement too early. So much of the time we only know a fragment of what’s really going on, but we’re so ready to be judge jury and executioner of others in their sin. It’s like we forget that we’ve been saved from our own sin at all. The proper response to sin in another’s life is not condemnation of the person, but empathy, sorrow, and encouragement. Paul put it this way in his first letter to the church in Corinth. He lists off a number of things that are unrighteous, then he says, (1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV) “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”
Joseph was ready to call it all off, but God has a better plan though. So much better, that it’s worth interrupting Joseph’s train of thought. Look at the text. (Matt. 1:20 ESV) “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.”
God is a great interrupter. There is a great deal of research that tells us that while we are dreaming we are often trying to solve problems we haven’t encountered yet, or heavy burdens on our minds. Joseph was contemplating his plight, trying to figure out how to proceed with Mary when God steps into his dream and starts communicating. Look at what he does, he begins by identifying Joseph as a son of David. This is not insignificant. God is showing Joseph the blood line he has drawn and making a connection that he’s going to call back to in a moment. The fact that Joseph is part of the royal line. Two things that I see from this. God reminds Joseph who God is. Sovereign, all knowing God, righteously orchestrating his will for the good of his people. God is telling Joseph he hasn’t forgotten his people. Even though it’s been over 400 years since the prophets have spoken, God remembers and is telling Joseph that he remembers. The second thing that God does here is reminds Joseph of who Jospeh is: Joseph, son of David. Of course God knows, but perhaps Joseph has forgotten. Joseph, you’re a son of David, a child of the king. This is often the most important reminder that I need in my life.
Illustration: Andrew Peterson’s allegory series of the Wingfeather Saga has a recurring theme that permeates its pages. It’s a case of identity crisis that three children who are of royal blood don’t even know the nobility that they have running through their veins. They’ve been in hiding because of a rebellion against the kingdom. But when they learn who they really are, suddenly their mission becomes more clear. Of course that doesn’t stop distractions from coming. The tradition of this people is that the second born will become the king. In this case that’s the boy Kalmar. The problem is, Kalmar gets distracted easily and forgets his mission, but as soon as he remembers who he is, what his name is, suddenly his mission becomes clear. He’s supposed to lead the country and the people. God speaks to Joseph and says don’t forget who you are son of David! Remember. You’re a son of the king. Royal blood flows in your veins.
After reminding Joseph of who he is, he says not to be afraid to take Mary to be his wife. This angel of the Lord appears, which would be frightening enough, but the purpose of the visit is for God to offer a corrective to Joseph’s plan. Joseph is trying to act in righteousness and mercy, but the best plans of man to act in righteousness and mercy are inherently flawed. We can’t do it properly because of our sinfulness. Joseph doesn’t know all the facts but he does know how to listen and that’s exactly what he does. Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She hasn’t been unfaithful to you, this is not a case of adultery deserving stoning. She wasn’t raped and failed to call out for help. She is carrying a child inside her that was conceived from the Holy Spirit. Joseph, Don’t be afraid to take her as your wife. She’s pure, she’s not in sin, in fact she’s carrying the sin solution for the world inside her.
(Matt. 1:21 ESV) “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Like David was told that he would have a son that would be the one who built a glorious temple for the Lord, Joseph is told that Mary will have a son, and Joseph will call his name Jesus. Then the angel of the Lord tells him why he will be named Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
That’s the purpose of this whole situation. God bringing about what he promised all along. This is the seed of the woman that is promised to crush the head of the serpent. The sin problem has a permanent solution path now, not a temporary one that has to be repeated. The blood of bulls and goats was a poor substitute for the sin of man, but the God-man Jesus Christ has the power to change things. God incarnate in human flesh. The good news of the gospel, the message of this entire book we’re going to be studying is that there is hope for sinful people. People sometimes think that the gospel is complex or complicated. Hard to explain. It really isn’t. Here its is in a sentence. “The news that Jesus Christ the righteous one died for our sins, rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe but only everlasting life.” -JS Piper. Joseph hears that this baby will save his people from their sins and recognizes that this is what the messiah was to be. The savior of the Jews is coming. But even Joseph understood from history that not all the Jews would be saved, and that in history even gentiles were brought into the family. Matthew is going to point this out for us later in the book. We today understand the fullness of this even better as those who are maybe not Jewish and yet, none the less, saved from our sins as well.
(Matthew 1:22–23 ESV) “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
The passage that Matthew cites here is from Isaiah 7:14. The original context of this passage was about a sign t hat the Lord would offer to the king of Judah. God told King Ahaz to ask for a sign, and Ahaz instead of obeying God, told God with false modesty that he would not test the Lord, he disobeyed. Ahaz was doubting and putting more faith in what he could manipulate and finagle on his own rather than trusting what God was saying through Isaiah. God’s reply was that the Lord would give a sign for Ahaz of his own choosing then, indication that a woman would bear a child, a son, and that he would be called Immanuel, God With us. This child that will be born in Ahaz’s time would be proof and condemnation to Ahaz and his lack of faith. But Isaiah also saw a greater fulfillment of that prophecy yet to come that we see in our passage, that it was also talking about messiah. Jesus is 100% God, and he came to earth to be with his people, to call Israel to himself. To be God with us.
God with us (Immanuel) (eden, tabernacle, temple, Christ, HS, heaven) Brings justice and salvation (John 3:17)
God has not forgotten his people. He has been working since the fall to be with them, even when they (and we) turn away in sin, God continues to seek us out. His desire to be with his people will only lie fully satisfied when we are with him forever face to face in heaven. It started in the garden in Genesis. God walked with his people. We see him in the Shekinah glory in the tabernacle in the wilderness and in the temple in Jerusalem, each step of the way God makes his presence closer and closer to being with his people. He did it through sending Jesus as a man in human flesh, then after he ascended he did it through sending his holy spirit to be God with us, but we still look forward to knowing Immanuel even better when we are with him again face to face in heaven, when he will bring justice and salvation. (John 3:16–17 ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Joseph obeyed. (Matthew 1:24–25 ESV) “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Joseph wakes up and believes and acts. That’s what faith in action looks like. When you believe something, you act on it. The whole book of James is about that one thing. Faith works. If you believe something it affects what you do. Joseph believed the angel of the Lord in his dream. He ditched his plan to divorce her quietly. He abandoned what the law told him he was supposed to do. Mary was not to be stoned. Mary was not to be abandoned. He took Mary to be his wife. Now, there has to be level of protection that comes into play here, because now that they’re married, someone might say, the virgin birth was faked: that Joseph married Mary and impregnated her and that’s where Jesus came from. Matthew takes the time and effort to point out to us that that’s exactly what didn’t happen. Joseph chose not to take what was rightfully his. Look at the last verse. (Matthew 1:25 ESV) “but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Joseph restrained himself. Joseph exercised the celibacy that he and Mary had observed all their lives, and continued it until after Jesus was born. What beautiful reverence and humility. Joseph put aside his preconceptions and personal preferences to follow in God’s will. Joseph humbled himself to a pre-born child and respected the virgin’s womb.
Now look at that last sentence. And Joseph called his name Jesus. Last month we looked at the end of Ruth that naming ceremony that happened there. Do you remember who did the naming? It was the women. Why? Why didn’t the baby’s father name him? Because Boaz was not gaining a son for himself, but he was doing it for the sake of the dead. He fulfilled his purpose to provide for and care for Ruth and Naomi, and it was the women who named the child. But here, Mary is pregnant with a child that isn’t Joseph’s, and Joseph is going to do what has to be done to make him his own. This is what thee last part of the genealogy is highlighting in verse 16. Jacob the father of Joseph, Joseph the husband of many of whom Jesus was born. Jesus was born of a virgin. Joseph obeys the angel of the Lord and names the child. He makes Jesus his own, adopts him, makes him part of his family. In adopting Jesus, Joseph is giving to Jesus all the rights and privileges of being the first born son. Jesus is from then on the son of a carpenter. Carpenters teach their boys carpentry. Joseph raised Jesus as his own son, even though he wasn’t his son. Joseph lived out the example of adoption for Jesus that God designed for every believer.
(Romans 8:15 ESV) “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””
(Galatians 4:4–5 ESV) “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
(Ephesians 1:5 ESV) “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”
Joseph was preparing an inheritance for Jesus, but I wonder if Joseph knew that Jesus would be the means that God would use to prepare an inheritance for his people.
Joseph’s obedience in the adoption of Jesus is a picture of God’s work in us. In the same way that Joseph took this child that wasn’t his into his home to live and be raised as his own, God calls us to himself. He doesn’t want us to be orphans any longer. No longer fatherless and neglected, but known and loved. That’s the example that he sets for us to love one another as brothers and sisters, like we talked way back in 1 Peter. Fellow heirs in Christ, adopted into the family of God.
God with us and adoption has meaning for our everyday. What about this coming Monday? It means that like Kalmar, if we forget who we are, we just have to be reminded to get ourselves back on course. My own sinful desires rear their ugly head with something as benign as my own stomach growling. Suddenly I’m distracted, and living for my selfish desires. I stop considering others as better than myself and I’m on a mission to satisfy my own desires. I need to be reminded of my identity every day. Like Kalmar needed to be reminded of his own name and what that revealed about his purpose, I need reminders, we all do. That’s one of the reasons it is important for us to be in each others’ lives, because we are living testimonies of that reminder for one another as image bearers, as those who bear the name of Christian. That’s one of the reasons that we need to be in God’s word consistently. I need it every day. The more I read this book, the more it reads me and shows me who I am. It helps me have confidence in Christ because of the work he has done on my behalf on the cross. It helps me see my sinfulness more clearly, and if you don’t believe me, I’ve been reading ahead and I can’t tell you how convicting it is to read God’s words to the Pharisees and the scribes and be forced to see myself in their sinful hearts and words. We have been adopted as children of God, and that’s why we need the constant reminders of who we are, because we have been made, and then bought with a price. It is for that purpose the Christ came in the first place. To buy us back for himself, so that we can be with him. His life and death is our rite of passage to the throne room of God, where those who believe will stand without condemnation because of the perfect sufficiency of the one and only Immanuel, God With Us, who came to save us from our sins.
That’s why we celebrate this table. The bread and the cup of Christ, which represent the body and the blood that he gave for us, so that we can live forever in Him. We celebrate the victory over sin and death, the adoption we have through him, and the anticipation of seeing him again soon.