Joseph’s View of Messiah’s Birth
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 1:18–25
This morning we are going to look at Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth (read). You may have noticed that Matthew offers a very different perspective of Jesus’ birth from the better known account in Luke. Among other things, Luke tells his story from Mary’s perspective; whereas, Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective.
The simple reason is that Matthew and Luke wrote to 2 very different audiences from 2 very different cultures and resulting in 2 very different pastoral concerns. Specifically, Luke wrote to the Gentile churches that Paul established; whereas Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience that was shaped by the OT and especially one that was looking for the Messiah that the prophets had described over and over.
As a result, notice how Matthew begins (1:1). It’s helpful to remember that the Greek word christos, translated as Christ, is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah. So, Matthew starts with a bang. He declares that Jesus is the Messiah his Jewish readers had eagerly anticipated for centuries. Then he follows with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ ancestry to Abraham through David. And v. 17 closes the genealogy. Again, Matthew announces that this is the genealogy of Christ, or Israel’s Messiah.
Finally, we come to our text. You could translate the opening line in v. 18 as saying, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah was as follows.” What follows is 8 jampacked verses that tell an incredible story filled with theological and apologetic significance. There’s no way we can fully develop everything in these verses, but I’ll do my best to bring you into Joseph’s story and explain why it is so important. The story begins with…
I. Joseph’s Struggle (vv. 18–19)
Specifically, the story begins when Joseph and Mary are betrothed to each other, “before they came together.” This means that when we first meet Mary and Joseph, they are pretty young. Mary could have been as young as 12. Joseph was probably a few years older, maybe 18-20. They’re still kids, at least from our perspective.
However, the fact that they were betrothed means they had signed a binding contract that could only be broken with a divorce certificate. Therefore, even though they were not yet living together and had not consummated the marriage, they were legally married.
As a result, imagine how Joseph felt when he learned that Mary was pregnant. Anyone would naturally assume that she had been immoral. Of course, the text says that this was not so, because, “she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” But Joseph didn’t know that. Apparently, she never told him about her conversation with Gabriel the angel (they had some work to do on their communication).
And Luke 1 says that immediately after Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a child, she left Nazareth to stay with Zacharias and Elizabeth in Judah for 3 months. So, imagine the shock and gossip around Nazareth when Mary, a young, betrothed virgin comes home after 3 months with an obvious baby bump. Joseph had to be devastated.
And he began contemplating his options. Specifically, assuming that Mary was unfaithful, the Law all but demanded that he not go ahead with the marriage. In fact, Deuteronomy 22:23–24 say that a betrothed woman who is adulterous should be stoned, although that was rarely practiced.
But since Joseph was a “just man,” he felt obligated to divorce He had to take a clear stand against adultery. And typically, a husband would take this stand through a public divorce, where the husband declared his innocence and publicly shamed his wife.
However, Joseph didn’t feel right “make(ing) her a public example.” In other words, Joseph felt compassion toward Mary. That’s pretty incredible considering the fact that it was probably an arranged Joseph probably didn’t know Mary all that well. They hadn’t enjoyed a romantic dating life, and he probably hadn’t built up a lot of affection for her.
So, especially in that day, the “manly” expectation would be to put her in her place by publicly shaming her as an adulterous. But not Joseph, he was full of mercy. Therefore, rather than publicly shaming her, he was leaning toward a private divorce, which the law also permitted (Deut 24:1).
We can see why God chose Joseph to raise the Messiah. Most young men are known for being impulsive and brash, but not Joseph. He had tremendous integrity, humility, and grace for a young man. He was restrained and deliberate. He was committed to doing what was right by the law and Mary.
He’s the kind of man that all men should aspire to be—a man of integrity and grace. And he’s the kind of man that you hope your daughter So, Joseph was planning to move ahead with a private divorce, but vv. 20–21 describe the 2nd stage of the story, which is…
II. The Angel’s Assurance (vv. 20–21).
These verses tell us that one night, while Joseph was sleeping, “an angel of the Lord” appeared to him in a dream.” And this angel made 3 stunning revelations to Joseph. First, he told Joseph that…
The baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That’s not something you hear every day, and it’s certainly not what Joseph expected. God told him that Mary had not been unfaithful. Instead, God did something that had never happened and will never happen again. The Holy Spirit worked miraculously in Mary’s womb to create a baby who was truly Mary’s child but also the 2nd person of the Trinity.
This is stunning news that Mary and Joseph didn’t fully grasp for years. A couple of months ago, I preached through Philippians 2:5–8, and we tried, as best as we could to wrap our minds around the miracle of God becoming man, and there’s just no way we fully can.
But the fact that we can’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not true. Afterall, no one can fully grasp the fact that space is infinite, but scientists and mathematicians all over the world accept it. Similarly, the Bible is clear that Jesus is truly God and truly man.
On one hand, he was as helpless and simple-minded as any other human baby. But he was also truly God. He was the 2nd person of the Trinity. It’s an incredible miracle that is beyond our comprehension.
As a result, it’s so important that we step back from the commercialism and busyness of Christmas and stand in awe of the miracle, which the angel announced to Joseph. The greatest gift and the greatest treasure of Christmas is the gift of Christ. Everything else pales in comparison.
So, the angel told Joseph the wonderful news that Mary was carrying a child conceived by the Holy Ghost, which meant that she was innocent! She had not been unfaithful. As a result, the angel’s 2nd stunning revelation was…
Joseph must receive Mary into his home. The angel says, “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” It’s important that we recognize that even though she was innocent, this would be no small step for Joseph to take.
Imagine Joseph going over to his parents’ house and saying, “I’m planning to bring Mary home next week.” Dad says, “She committed adultery, you can’t marry her!” Joseph replies, “Actually an angel told me that the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive.” How would your parents respond?
And what’s even worse is imagining having that same conversation with your buddies on the job site. They would rip you to shreds. But that’s what God told Joseph to do. The angel’s 3rd stunning revelation was…
Joseph must name the baby Jesus. Verse 21 is very significant for obvious reasons, but one reason we may miss is that by naming the baby, Joseph would be claiming him as his son, and many people would view this as an admission that Joseph and Mary had been immoral. Joseph would be opening himself to tremendous public ridicule.
Therefore, naming the baby would be a huge statement of faith in the angel’s words and a costly act of obedience. It also makes his genealogy in vv. 1–17 theologically and historically significant by putting Jesus in the line of David.
But of course, the primary significance is the name God chose, Jesus, and in the prophetic significance of this name, “He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is actually the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. It means “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.”
It was a common Many little Jewish boys had been named Joshua or Jesus throughout the centuries as a declaration that Yahweh was Israel’s Savior or Deliverer, referring to a broad range of gracious works.
But the angel goes on to say that Jesus’s name looks forward to a specific salvation. Jesus, “will save His people from their sins.” The angel declares that Jesus’ primary mission was not to save Israel from the Romans or from sickness, disease, and suffering. Someday, Jesus will confront all those things, but his primary and far more important mission was to rescue his people (speaking of the elect in Israel and in the Gentile nations) from sin.
This little phrase is vital to the Christmas story, and we must not miss it. Specifically, we need to remember today that Jesus wasn’t born, because he was getting bored in heaven and wanted to try something new. He wasn’t curious about what it’s like to be a human being. He wasn’t interested in merely creating a beautiful love story.
Instead, Jesus came because we need to be rescued from our sin. Our greatest enemy is not disease, foreign powers, or global disaster. No, our greatest enemy is inside us. We all have sinful hearts, and we all break God’s law over and over. And because God is just, he cannot merely overlook our sin. He must judge. We all deserve to be condemned to hell.
So, Jesus came to rescue us from the destructive effects of our own sin. Specifically, he came to fulfill the law. Jesus lived a perfect life. Not only that, he came to endure the punishment that we deserve in his body on the cross. And then he came to defeat sin and death by rising from the dead.
Jesus didn’t come to live a life of luxury, prestige, and power. Instead, he came to save. He made that clear from the very beginning by being born to a humble poor couple from the humble town of Nazareth. He took some of his first breaths in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and livestock. And then he suffered our death on the cross, so that he could provide salvation.
If you have never received Christ as your Savior, I pray that you will truly understand the very center of the Christmas story. Christmas is not about gifts and parties or even a cute fairy tale. No Christmas is about the fact that you need to be saved from your sin, and Jesus provided for your salvation when he died on the cross.
And you can receive the greatest Christmas gift ever provided, if you will acknowledge your sin and put your faith in Jesus. If you need salvation, I hope that you will talk with us today about how you can receive Christ. We’d love to open a Bible with you and share exactly what Jesus provided through his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection.
So, returning to our text, the angel made three stunning announcements to Joseph in that dream. Then in vv. 22–23 Matthew pauses the story for a moment to expand on the prophetic significance of this announcement.
III. The Prophetic Significance (vv. 22–23)
Verse 23 quotes a very significant prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14. Again, Matthew is writing to Jews, and he wants to emphasize that this baby is the Messiah God promised and that the prophets foretold his glory and greatness. Matthew especially wants to highlight two important truths from this prophecy.
God said a virgin would bear the Messiah. It’s pretty incredible that roughly 700 years earlier Isaiah wrote, “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son.” Since some of you are probably familiar with it, I should mention that there is an old controversy regarding the meaning of the Hebrew word translated virgin in Isaiah 7:14.
Specifically, the Hebrew term doesn’t necessarily refer exclusively to a virgin, though it does the vast majority of the time. Therefore, liberals have long argued that Isaiah did not foresee the virgin birth. However, the LXX (i.e., the Greek translation of the OT), uses parthenos, which refers exclusively to a virgin, so that’s clearly how the Jews understood it. And Matthew uses the same term under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I’m sure there were rumors circulating in Matthew’s day that Mary had been immoral, so Matthew emphasizes over and over that Mary was virgin, and Jesus was conceived the by the Holy Spirit.
And here he specifically emphasizes that this is just what Isaiah foretold. BTW, that’s pretty incredible. If Isaiah were an imposter, and he was just making things up, who would ever make up something as outlandish as a virgin birth. No, God inspired Isaiah to say 700 years prior that one day a virgin would conceive, and this is exactly what happened. The second important truth in this prophecy is…
Messiah is “God with us.” The end of the quotation states, “‘And they shall call his name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” This is another incredible prophecy to consider. This is because most Jews throughout history assumed that Messiah would simply be a great man. That’s why the Jews were so stunned when Jesus claimed to be God.
But the early church did not invent the deity of Messiah. No, God told Isaiah that Messiah would not just be a man; he would also be God. Isaiah 9:6 prophecies that Messiah will be called “Mighty God.” That’s pretty clear. And Isaiah 7:14 states, “The virgin…shall call His name Immanuel.” And Matthew emphasizes that Immanuel means, “God with us.”
You would never give this title to a mere man. No, God clearly revealed that Messiah would be God in human flesh. God would dwell among men like he has not done since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden.
This is an incredible gift. I said multiple times the last 2 Sundays that the greatest blessing man can enjoy is to know God and to be near to God. Therefore, the fact that God has made himself known through the incarnation is a marvelous gift of grace. John 1:18 states, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
It is another good reminder that the greatest joy of heaven will be, “God with us.” And the greatest joy of being a Christian today is that Jesus came near to us. Through the gospel, we are in Christ. We can know him and sit at his feet. We can draw near to God, and know that he will draw near to us.
So, as we celebrate Christmas, we should give thanks that Jesus “being in the form of God…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” God came near, and he brought salvation and abundant grace with him. So, Matthew emphasizes this by quoting Isaiah 7:14, and then he wraps up the story in vv. 24–25 with…
IV. Joseph’s Obedience (vv. 24–25)
Imagine waking up from Joseph’s dream. I imagine him sitting up in bed stunned at what he just heard. But he obeyed God’s command. First…
Joseph married Mary. This summer when I preached on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we talked about the pageantry that typically surrounded a groom receiving his bride. However, I wonder if Joseph and Mary’s wedding was toned down, since everyone probably assumed, she had been immoral.
Regardless, I’m sure Joseph opened himself up to a lot of rumors and ostracism by going ahead with the wedding. But he believed the Lord, so he obeyed the Lord’s command.
Again, we should all be challenged by Joseph’s faith and integrity. He was far more concerned about what the Lord thought than what anyone else thought. Maybe you are going to be with family this week that cannot comprehend why you take your faith so seriously. It’s going to make being around them a little awkward.
That’s hard, but remember that the Lord’s approval matters the most. Stand on his Word. Be a bold but compassionate witness, and keep doing what is right, while remaining content in the Lord’s approval.
Notice also that while Joseph received Mary into his home, he abstained from the climactic and final aspect of the wedding. Joseph and Mary did not consummate the wedding, “till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”
Of course, this required considerable restraint, but more than that, it again emphasizes that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph. This was a miraculous birth.
Matthew also implies that the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is false. This is because the clear implication of v. 25 is Joseph did not “know her” only “till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”
Regardless, Joseph’s character stands out. He may not have been wealthy or prestigious, but God chose him to raise Messiah, because he had something far more important. He had character. May we all value character far more than we value the things of this world. Finally notice that Joseph obeyed by…
Joseph named the baby Jesus. Luke 2 tells us that in keeping with the law, 8 days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph made the short trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to have Jesus circumcised. At this time, Joseph took the initiative to name the baby Jesus.
This was another significant, costly act on Joseph’s part. By naming the baby, Joseph claimed him as his own son. Joseph believed what the angel said. He believed that God had called him to raise Messiah. And he was committed to caring for this child, regardless of the rumors that surely circulated. Again, what an example of faith and integrity.
But of course, what’s even more significant is the meaning of Jesus’s name. When Joseph named the baby, he was declaring in faith, as the angel had told him, that this tiny, helpless infant had been born to “save His people from their sins.” And the NT declares that Jesus did exactly what he came to do.
He fulfilled the law, he died in our death, and he rose again. And he offers salvation from sin to all who believe in him. You can be placed in Christ if you come to him in faith. God can be with you. So, if you have never been saved, please receive him today by faith.
And if you are saved, give thanks that Jesus is your Messiah, Savior, and Emmanuel. Take time this week to meditate on what he has done and to worship him for his sacrifice. Give thanks for all that you enjoy, and keep Christ at the center of your holiday.