Matthew 1:18-25 - The Coming Birth
The birth narrative begins. The birth of “Jesus Christ” is the name used, combining both his physical and spiritual lineage. There are several things in the conception narrative that are interesting. Joseph is called a “righteous man.” The evidence of his righteousness is that he did want to fulfill the law and not marry a woman who had been with another man, and yet at the same time he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace and so resolved to divorce here quietly. So often righteousness is defined only in moral/legal terms. But the law alone can lack justice if exercised in its letter without human consideration. Here it is defined in terms of mercy. Joseph is acting mercifully, in spite of all he is suffering from her pregnancy. He is attempting to cover Mary’s shame.
There are also many overt miraculous dimensions to this unfolding history. Mary is with child by the Holy Spirit. No mention is made of how the conception happened, or how the child is held in her, or what, if any, physical attachment there is to her in her womb. We only know that she is a virgin and has now a child in her by Divine activity. The Holy Spirit is introduced as the agent of the conception. From the beginning of the New Testament, Holy Spirit is the prime agent of the unfolding kingdom. His work becomes much more active and overt in the Divine process.
In addition, an angel of the LORD appears to Joseph in a dream. Again, it is not clear exactly what the Divine process is here. Is the angel real? It seems so. But how is the angel real in its appearing if it is in a dream? I have never heard of this. Somehow Divine presence, and the presence of heavenly beings, must be able to invade our spiritual space while we are sleeping. The revelation must have been quite dramatic, because Joseph alters course, takes his wife to himself, and then abstains from sexual relations with her for the full term of the pregnancy. That is quite a feat in all planes of life (spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual). We are told nothing of what he went through for that number of months, only that he remained focused on serving the unfolding of God’s plan after the revelation of the angel.
When the angel of the LORD speaks to Joseph, he gives selective information.
1. Joseph is first named “son of David.” The angel appeals to Joseph’s prophetic and kingdom line. As Jesus is to be a son of David, so Joseph is framed in that line. Joseph needed to hear this name to give context to the revelation he was to receive, which would be a fulfillment of the prophetic destiny of the line of David in the son His wife was carrying. He is never called that again that I am aware of. Imagine receiving a name like that? I wonder if he fully understood? Did he get it that he was in the prophetic line of King David and that God was saving the world through his line - that the time of the Christ was now? Names are key to understanding what God is about in a life at any given time. Many times when there is a great work of God afoot, there is a prophetic name to go with it.
2. What is conceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit. This child has a Divine origin. He is not conceived of man. Mary is virgin; pure; undefiled by man. Can we really receive stuff like that? What kind of man was Joseph; what was the disposition of his heart that he could receive that? How can a man be prepared in heart to receive revelation from God and flow with the radical nature of what he is doing? Joseph could. So could Mary. They were postured in their hearts to receive from God. Oh that I should be so postured in my own heart.
3. She will bear a son. It is already known what the sex of the child will be. It is predetermined as a “first born son” - holy to the LORD.
4. His name is to be Jesus (after the Hebrew, Joshua, meaning, “Jehovah the Saviour” - the one who leads God’s people into the promised land). Jesus is thus a “saviour” after the type of Joshua. Moses, in law, failed to enter the promised land. It took another type to do that. So Jesus, after Joshua, will deliver not just the Jews, but all people, from their sins, thus becoming their saviour (a fulfillment of all that is embodied in the “prophet,” “priest,” and “king” imagery of the Old Testament).
Can I receive Jesus?
When we ponder the radical nature of everything that is going on here, it begs the question, “Can I receive Jesus?” Receiving Jesus, being in the flow of God’s prophetic, priestly, kingdom stream is not easy. It is not for the weak of heart. It could easily offend and put many off. It is so anti-social. Society works towards its sinful self-indulgence; to make things pleasurable and easy. God always reveals Himself moving against that stream of the enemy’s kingdom. He demands of those who would go with him a radical departure from their comfort zone - and I don’t mean just doing a thing or two that makes us a bit nervous.
Joseph and Mary’s worlds were drastically altered by the move of God in their lives. My daughter is getting ready to be married. The courtship has gone on for two years. The preparations are all being made, with tremendous effort to get them ready for the life they are planning together. They are in love and headed for the best of our cultural ideal about being married. Both virgins. Good stewards. Bought a home and are working hard to paint it. Many showers have left them well endowed with gifts to supply their needs in their new home. Love has been showered on them and their relationship has been affirmed.
Now - what if an angel of the Lord appeared and said to my daughter, “You are pregnant and are going to have God’s child”? What if God suddenly changed all the parameters of their relationship and her fiance was asked to believe that the child in her, not by him, was a miracle of the Holy Spirit? What if all the optics (visual and verbal witness to purity) they have worked to hard attain was shattered by my daughter suddenly being pregnant before they were married?
Would any of us receive that?
All of this is done to fulfill a prophecy. In other words, God had spoken in advance through a prophet (Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin (by implication) shall conceive and bear a son and call him Immanuel. When the prophet speaks this in context, it is odd that he doesn’t address the king who is being stubborn (Ahaz), but he addresses it to the “house of David.” This again both affirms the Davidic line of Jesus (“son of David” 1:1) and broadens the prophecy in time.
Prophecy is strange like that. Why did God speak this prophecy through Isaiah? It appears only for future generations. Certainly the hearers would naturally have thought it pertained to them. But clearly it didn’t. Wouldn’t prophecies like that give false hope? Wouldn’t we expect them given in our context to be for us? Wouldn’t these people have thought Jesus (their Immanuel) was coming in their generation. But his advent was several hundred years away.
It’s not that God is false. He did bring it about. He will always be proven just (Romans 3:4). He cannot lie. But it really is difficult for us to handle prophecy of this nature because, though God speaks it to us, it may have nothing to do with us directly. It may raise some hope, but it isn’t for immediate deliverance. It is for the future.
Or is it only future for them? Perhaps it is all for us now in Jesus. Perhaps once His advent takes place, all the promises of God are for us now in this and every generation since His advent. On the other hand, some apocalyptic things have yet to come (the 2nd advent of Jesus, etc.).