Matthew 1:18-25

The Nicene Creed, written in the fourth century of the Christian Church, says that Jesus “came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”

The Church has always had to fight vicious battles with the unbelief of the world order over the virgin birth of Jesus.  The two creeds, one of which we read almost every Sunday, are the result of God’s gracious preserving of the integrity of Scripture and Christian doctrine.

The wicked and virulent attacks on this cardinal doctrine of the Bible are due to the absolute necessity for it to be discredited in order to destroy Christianity.  As foundational as fiat creation is, as foundational as the inspiration of Holy Scripture is, as foundational as the doctrine of election is – there is no doctrine any more Axiomatic to the Christian faith than the virgin birth of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.

But the virgin birth of Christ is prophesied in the Old Testament, Isaiah chapter seven; and Matthew, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that Mary was found holding in her belly by the Holy Ghost, before she and Joseph came together.  “holding in her belly” is usually translated “withchild” in Greek.  That’s one word – “withchild”.

We’ll deal with the Isaiah passage more fully when we come to verse twenty three, but there’s no question that God prophesied it seven hundred fifty years before it came to pass; and He confirmed it, not only with the Word, here in Matthew, but Jesus Himself fulfilled the prophecy.

And without the virgin birth, the Word of God is made false, the deity of the God-Man is struck down, and the trinity falls apart.  It is an issue of the most basic nature; but the world order portrays it as too supernatural – the stuff legends are made of.  To admit the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is to admit the entirety of the Christian faith, because if one could believe that God became a little baby in the womb of a little girl who had never had intercourse with a man, he could believe anything.

And if God the Son was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the Word of God is confirmed, the God-Man is real, and he is the second person of our one Trinitarian God.  And, therefore, the Christian faith is the one true faith – for all men, and for all times.

As Matthew begins his account, his assumption is that the Jews knew that all of this was supposed to take place.  And they did.  So he doesn’t spend a lot of time on it.  In fact, in contrast to Luke, who directs a great deal of his attention on Mary and the birth of Jesus, Matthew sets Joseph in the foreground.  The two accounts beautifully supplement each other and give two very vivid pictures of young people at the center of history, two young people in a very bewildering set of circumstances – chosen by God from eternity to be the parents of His only begotten Son.

But Matthew, here in verse eighteen, delicately presents a very perplexing dilemma.  In the first place, Joseph and Mary were already betrothed.  In the customs of the times, Jewish families would have a religious ceremony at betrothal.  It was actually a wedding.  But there was an interval between the betrothal ceremony and the event where the young man would go to the home of his betrothed and take her to himself, an event which was accompanied by days of feasting and partying.

But the Jewish custom of betrothal was unrelated to our present custom of engagement to be married.  It was a marriage.  And the Scripture says here that before they were to come together Mary was found withchild.  Now, Matthew doesn’t go into the deep emotional shock and trauma that Joseph must have experienced upon hearing this news, although, from the text, it’s apparent that he has talked to Joseph concerning this experience.

But this information must have crashed in on him like no other news could – that the wife of his youth, whom he undoubtedly loved dearly, had betrayed him and had committed adultery – and all during this interval which was supposed to be filled with a sweet longing and love and desire for completion of the union.

Mary was found – withchild.  Sudden disclosure.  Blinding perplexity.  Agonizing emotional conflict.  Joseph didn’t know, yet, as Matthew writes at the end of verse 18, that his young wife was to give birth to the promised Messiah.  She was withchild of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew continues in verse nineteen, “And Joseph her husband…” there’s the indication that the Jewish betrothal was a wedding,

“And Joseph her husband, being just and not wishing her to be a public spectacle, secretly resolved to release her.  But during his consideration of these things, lo, Angel of the Lord appeared to him…”

Well, after the discovery of her pregnancy, the Luke account says that Mary was visited by Gabriel, the angel of God, and she was told, in simple and beautiful terms, what was happening.  Then she left to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country.  Elizabeth was then six months pregnant with John the Baptizer.  We don’t know for sure, but it seems as if she didn’t know what Joseph was going to do, but she, herself, was filled with awe and wonder at God’s grace toward her, and she submitted completely to whatever God had in store for her.

And Joseph, apparently not knowing of the revelation that Mary had received, was left in brooding consideration of what to do.  You see an espoused woman, if found unfaithful, could be put to death.  Deuteronomy twenty-two, verses twenty-three and twenty-four.  To what extent this law of God was observed at this time, we have no way of knowing.  But Mary had no means of proving her virginity to Joseph or to anybody else.

And, as Matthew says here in verse nineteen, Joseph was a just man – a righteous man.  He didn’t wish to make a public spectacle of Mary.  Apparently he loved her and he was torn with grief.  But as a truly religious Jew, he just couldn’t think of consummating his marriage under the present circumstances.

So, he had only two choices.  Openly charge Mary with adultery, making a public example of her to the people, and letting whatever Jewish law in force at that time take its course; or, the second choice, the far more gentle one, make use of the divorce laws, and, without charging Mary with any abominable sin, give Mary a letter of divorcement.  Matthew says he “resolved to release her.”  He came to the decision to use the gentler course of action.

But, as we see in verse twenty, Joseph had not carried out his resolve when God intervened.  “But during his consideration of these things, lo, Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying….”

The time for fulfillment of prophecy had come.  Joel chapter two, verse twenty-eight says that in the fullness of time, “old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see vision.”  Angels drew nigh and the veil that hid their presence was pierced again and again.  This was the one to whom it was given to usher the Son of God into the world.

This angel appears to Joseph in a dream, but this angel’s appearance isn’t like the unreal images normally associated with sleep.  God never had any difficulties demonstrating that the appearance in the dream is an actual, real appearance – not an image.  The angel was there just as he was there when Zacharias and Elizabeth saw him with their eyes wide open, as the prophecy of Joel is fulfilled time after time.  God chooses His Own form of Revelation, adapting it to the person concerned.

The angel addresses him saying, “Joseph, son of David.…”  The genealogy showed Joseph to be a legal descendant of the royal line, and here it is verified by the angel, as the promise to David nears its fulfillment.

“Joseph, son of David, you should not fear to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the holy Spirit.”  Simple words, aren’t they?  Beautiful.  Simple.  Without complication.  Right to the point.  The messenger of God relays the information from God directly to Joseph – the simple information he needed and the course of action he was to take.  That which is born in Mary isn’t a result of adultery, Joseph.  It is “of the Holy Spirit”.  This same Holy Spirit Who hovered and brooded over the earth when it was without form and void had come to Mary and had caused life in her womb.  He had begotten.

Each time I stop to watch new pictures this week of the outer reaches of our solar system I am just filled with wonder about those planets.  The utter barrenness – or the minus four hundred degrees of frightening cold.  The basic elements of matter swirling in a storm larger than our planet.  The formless void of it all.  And our world must have looked much like one of those.  And I then know the difference between the formless and that over which God the Holy Spirit has brooded.  The difference between the dead and barren and that which has been given life.  I’m glad that God has given us the special privilege of being able to see the desolation of the remainder of the universe, for we can now fully compare it to the glory of life as He has created it in the world.

And that’s what happened in Israel.  That’s what the angel is speaking of.  The wilderness of humanity in total, open rebellion against God.  The earth was desolate.  And God the Holy Spirit brooded and hovered over Mary the virgin, and the Light and the Life was begotten.  Joseph’s situation examples the same thing.  From the disconsolate emptiness of sin, adultery and betrayal, which he thought was the case with his beloved virgin wife, comes the Revelation of God concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.

And Mary would bear a Son (verse twenty-one).  “And, Joseph, you shall call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”  Jesus.  The Hebrew word is Jeshua.  Now Joshua, in the Old Testament was the warrior-conqueror of Canaan.  Occupied by pagans so evil they had filled up their sins, and God had ordered them to be completely destroyed.

The land of Canaan had to be conquered, for this was the land of God’s people.  And (Joshua) Yeshua was the conqueror/commander/king who led his people into that promised land and occupied it at the command of God.  He was a type of Jesus, his Namesake.  Jesus – the Warrior/Conqueror.

Not “sweet little Jesus boy – born long time ago.”  But the very Name given to Him by God His Father is descriptive of His personage and His duties.  The Warrior/King – the Royal King anointed of God to sit upon the throne of David will save His people from their sins.

The word “soter” – to save – means to rescue.  To rescue from mortal danger.  From the void and desolation and wilderness of sin, His people are rescued.  And within the formless sea of the masses of people in the nations – many of them are His people.  He has come to definitively cleanse the nations so that His people can live there.  No more formless clouds of labyrinthine abyss such as we see on the surface of Neptune where all is void and chaotic, and uninhabitable.

But the Warrior/King conquers the nations and rescues His people, and from the wilderness is brought light and life and order and peace and dominion.  Yeshua – Conqueror, Savior, King.

Verse twenty-two.  “For all this has come to pass in order that that spoken from Yahveh through the prophet might be effected…”  Since the coming of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is the fullness of all Older Testament prophecy, the angel refers back to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter seven in order to verify it, and in order to leave no doubt that this is the virgin referred to in Isaiah and the child.  And, in order to bring forth the context in which the prophecy was originally written.

And, as we read this verse from the Hebrew, Isaiah chapter seven, verse fourteen, you’ll notice that an important word is different.  It’s the Name.  The angel said they should call his name Jesus.  The Old Testament prophecy says Emmanuel.  Listen:  “Therefore Yahveh Himself gives you a sign – Behold the virgin pregnant and bringing forth a son, and she calls His Name Immanuel.”

Now, the difference is evident, isn’t it?  But don’t get the impression that anything is changed.  It isn’t.  That’s why I said the angel is bringing the context forward, for the situations are identical.  The prophet Isaiah refers to the coming conqueror, and the angel refers back to Emmanuel – God with us.  And the meaning of the name Emmanuel, in the context of Isaiah chapter seven is almost identical to the name “Jesus” in the context of chapter one of Matthew, although the names are completely dissimilar.

You see, every king after David was supposed to be a type of Christ, leading the nation in the Name of God, looking forward to the coming Messiah.  The king wasn’t to be the ultimate ruler – God was.  And when the king didn’t place the nation under God in submission and dependance, he defied the truth and sinfully foreshadowed the coming Christ.

The context of Isaiah chapter seven has king Ahaz, an idolatrous king of Israel, fearing the surrounding nations and making treaties and pacts with them for friendship and protection.

But – God had said that He gave the land to His people, and they should have no fear; they need no protection from pagan nations, and if they would submit to Him and keep His Covenant, looking forward to the coming Messiah/Savior, then they need not fear the Assyrians or anybody else.  God said, “I will be with you.”

And as king Ahaz demonstrates his idolatrous heart, seeking protection from pagan nations rather than faithing in the words of God, God shames him by giving him a sign – a sign of the coming Messiah, Whom God names Emmanuel – God with us.  The Warrior/King Who always leads His nation righteously and never departs from the covenant.

And His given name is Yeshua – Jesus – Who will bring all the surrounding nations into submission.  Don’t fear, Joseph, God is with you.  Emmanuel.  And you shall call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.

Joseph, you should not fear to take to you Mary your wife.  You should not fear what will be said about her.  Emmanuel!  God with you!  You should not fear Herod the Edomite.  Emmanuel!  God with you!  You should not fear the Romans.  Emmanuel!  God with you!

And you shall call His Name Joshua – Jesus – for he shall do battle with the pagan nations as the Warrior/King, and He shall bring them into submission – cleansing the land and rescuing His people from their yoke!

As the last two verses say, Joseph obeyed the Word of God through the angel and took Mary to his side.  Matthew then lets us know that they refrained from sexual contact until after Jesus was born.  The notion that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, commonly held by Roman Catholicism, is a myth, because through the Gospels several brothers and sisters of Jesus are mentioned.

One last thought, here, concerning the angel’s words to Joseph.  We’ve already said that the Name Jesus is a direct reference to Joshua, the warrior/king of Israel.  And Joshua was to cleanse the land of its sinful idolatry.  But he didn’t fully accomplish that.

The angel said that Jesus was to rescue His people from their sin.  And our Warrior/King did just that, didn’t He?  He lived a life of sinless perfection and then became the pure Lamb upon Whom our sin was placed.  He became sin for us, did battle with it – and won!  He defeated it completely!  He was definitively victorious over the eternal judgment for which all of us are liable.  And through the channel of faith, God imputes that victory to us.  He pronounces us not guilty.  Not liable for our own sin.

The human battle is not first with oppressive governments, such as Rome, but with the depravity, which clings to humanity now and into eternity.  Dominion begins with justification – being rescued from the eternal judgment of depravity.  And it continues with sanctification as rescued people grapple with the old nature.  But I want you to remember, this morning, that our Warrior/King was born into the world to rescue you from that sin.