Birth Announcement for the Ages

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Matthew 1:18-25 (Jesus’ birth)

INTRODUCTION: It is Advent season, and we are following the story of Christ’s birth through the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew especially presents Jesus as Messiah and King and so we have appropriately called this series, “The Birth of the King.” Last week we looked at Jesus’ genealogy, and today we come to Jesus’ birth. (Read Matthew 1:18-25 and pray)

Our first-born son Ramon was born on Friday, September 27, 1991 at 3:08 in the morning. This was in the days before the internet and email and Facebook, so we had to send out our birth announcements the old-fashioned way – by mail! We had already designed an announcement on the computer with blank spaces for the baby’s name, date of birth, weight, length, and “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” We had also stocked up on plenty of pink and blue paper so we were ready either way. So around 6 a.m. that morning, I swung by our home, printed out a bunch of birth announcements on blue paper, stuffed them into our pre-stamped and pre-addressed envelopes, and dropped them off at the post office on the way back to the hospital. The post office delivered them that morning, and by 11:00 a.m. on September 27, 1991 people were already reading that Ramon had been born earlier that day.

You see, we were so excited about Ramon coming into the world that we wanted to announce his birth to everyone as soon as possible. For us it was the birth announcement of the year. Well in our passage in Matthew this morning, we also have a birth announcement. But it’s not just a birth announcement for the year. It is a birth announcement for the ages. In verse 18 Matthew says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” (Matthew 1:18) That word “Christ” means Messiah. Remember Matthew’s gospel especially presents Jesus as Messiah and King, and so Matthew is telling us how the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah, came about.

And one of the things you will note about Jesus’ birth is that it was miraculous from start to finish. Jesus’ birth was no ordinary birth. It was a miracle of incarnation. It was a miracle of God’s love for us. God miraculously came to earth through Jesus to save us from our sins. This was a birth announcement for the ages.

I. Joseph’s dilemma (18-19)

So how did Jesus’ birth come about?

   A. Mary pledged to be married to Joseph

It begins, appropriately enough, with a love story. Look at verse 18: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph.

There were three steps to a Jewish wedding in those days. First there was the engagement period, which often began with the parents arranging the marriage while the spouses were still children. Next came the betrothal. During the betrothal period you were considered husband and wife legally, although you did not yet live together as husband and wife and you had no sexual relations until after you were actually married. Betrothal was a legally binding relationship lasting an entire year which could only be broken by divorce. And then finally, after the year of betrothal the couple would get married and begin to live together as husband and wife.

So here we have a young couple in their betrothal period. They have probably been engaged most of their lives, but now they have made the upcoming wedding official. Even though they are not officially married yet, they are already considered husband and wife.

   B. Mary found with child through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)

This should be a happy time of planning and anticipation, but suddenly Joseph is thrown off track. Matthew tells us that “Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” You might remember from our study of the genealogy last week that each of the women represented in the genealogy had a questionable background. Well suddenly Joseph’s whole relationship with Mary is thrown into question. Who is the father of this baby?

We know it isn’t Joseph, although that’s probably what everyone else thought. Matthew tells us that this happened “before they came together,” which means before they had sexual relations as husband and wife. But if not Joseph, then who? What was hinted at last week in the genealogy becomes clear here. Jesus has no human father. Mary is a virgin and Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. (see Luke 1:35)

And so we have the first miracle surrounding Jesus’ birth. Jesus was born of a miraculous conception. God miraculously came to earth through Jesus to save us from our sins.

   C. Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

Of course Joseph didn’t know all this, so what was he to do? As far as he knew Mary had been unfaithful to him. The Old Testament counted such unfaithfulness as adultery, an offense which was punishable by death if Joseph chose to press charges. (See Deuteronomy: “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.” – Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

So Joseph was faced with a dilemma, and with the limited information he had at hand, he made his initial decision. Look at verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph was a righteous man, which means he followed God’s law. If Mary had been unfaithful to him before marriage, then he had every right to press charges. But he was not just a righteous man; he was also a good man. He upheld the law, but he also showed mercy to Mary. He could have thrown the law at her, but he did not want to “expose her to public disgrace,” a phrase which can mean “he did not want to make an example of her.”

In other words Joseph did not want to press charges against Mary in a public court hearing. He didn’t want her to suffer any harm. So, instead he had in mind to divorce her quietly. This means Joseph would divorce her before the minimum number of witnesses, which would be two, and he would not press any charges. He would simply give her a written certificate of divorce and send her on her way.

II. Joseph’s dream (20-23)

But that’s when God intervened for the second time in this story. Look at verses 20 and 21: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Notice the angel addresses Joseph as “Joseph, son of David.” This is key. Joseph is a son of David – that is, he is directly descended from David and is in the royal line of kings as we saw in the genealogy last week. Remember, Matthew began the genealogy by calling Jesus “the son of David.” And as we shall see, Jesus received the legal right to this title because of his relationship to Joseph, son of David.

This is the second miracle surrounding Christ’s birth – the miracle of the angelic announcement. God miraculously came to earth through Jesus to save us from our sins.

   A. Conceived by the Holy Spirit

The angel has two commands for Joseph. First of all in verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) The angel tells Joseph what we already know from earlier in the passage. Mary is still a virgin. But God has worked a miracle in her life. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Now Mary already knew this. The angel had told her in advance. Now the angel tells Joseph what has already taken place.

This is a miracle birth even beyond the miracle birth of Isaac or any of the other miracle births in the Old Testament. Mary conceived Jesus without the assistance of a human father. Joseph is a son of David, and God had told David that God himself would build a house for him, a descendant who would reign on his throne forever. God brought Jesus into the world without the help of a human father. It was all of God to show that salvation is all of God. God brought it about through the Holy Spirit, and so it was a holy conception in every way.

   B. A son named Jesus who will save from sin (Psalm 130:8)

The second command for Joseph is found in verse 21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) Jesus was a popular boy’s name at the time, similar to the name John today. It’s the same as the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God saves.” Every little Jesus or Joshua running around in Joseph and Mary’s time was a reminder that God had saved his people in the past. But Jesus would infuse this name with new meaning. Joseph is to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. And so Jesus’ name has great significance. It is a prophecy of what he will do. It looks forward to the cross when Jesus would die for our sins.

The Old Testament spoke of the time when God would himself would come and save his people from sin. We read in Psalm 130:8: “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” (Psalm 130:8) But now God’s people include all who put their trust in Jesus, Jew and Gentile together. Remember, the genealogy from last week included both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus is a Savior for all who believe in him.

   C. Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; John 1:1,14)

And then Matthew draws us all the way back to Old Testament prophecy to show us that this was God’s plan all along. Look at verses 22-23: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Here we have another name that is prophesied for Christ, but unlike the name Jesus, this is not a common name. He will be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Only God can save from sins, and Matthew shows us that this child to be born is indeed both God and man.

Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:14, a prophecy that was made more than seven hundred years earlier. The original prophecy was made to King Ahaz of Israel about deliverance in his time, and the prophecy instructed him not to look to earthly help, but to God alone for deliverance. But now Jesus will bring an even greater deliverance. The prophecy of Immanuel is not simply “God with us” as our helper, but “God with us” embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

The gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was with God in the beginning and indeed was God. (John 1:1) But then we read in John 1:14 that “[Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) So at Christmas Jesus went from being “God with God” to “God with us.”

So Jesus was given two names at his birth: Immanuel and Jesus. And these two names perfectly describe the person and work of Christ. Who is the person of Christ? He is Immanuel, God with us, fully God and fully man. And what is the work of Christ? He is Jesus who will die on the cross to save his people from their sins.

This was the third miracle in relation to Jesus’ birth – the miracle of fulfilled prophecy. Once again, God miraculously came to earth through Jesus to save us from our sins.

III. Joseph’s decision (24-25)

So Joseph had a dilemma – what should he do about Mary? He had a dream where God gave him two commands – to take Mary home as his wife and to name the boy Jesus. Now he had a decision to make. And it was not an easy decision. If Joseph took Mary home as his wife, he was opening himself up to a lifetime of suspicions and ridicule.

   A. Took Mary home as his wife

So what did he do? Look at verses 24-25: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25)
When someone messes up at something, we often jokingly say, “You had one job!” Well, Joseph had two jobs! And he did them both admirably. It was the moment of decision, and Joseph chose to obey God. Joseph never speaks in the New Testament, but again and again we see him respond in obedience to God’s commands. This simple, direct, immediate obedience is a hallmark of Joseph’s character.

When God gives you a command, you also come to the moment of decision. As with Joseph God may ask you to do things that will not be easy for you. But God’s way is always best, and Joseph is a wonderful example of obedience for us to follow.

   B. Had no union with her until she gave birth (Matthew 13:55-56)

Joseph took Mary home as his wife. They were officially married now, which means they could now have sexual relations, but Matthew tells us that Joseph had no union with her until she gave birth to Jesus. Some people teach that Joseph and Mary never had sexual relations, but we read in Matthew 13 that Jesus had brothers and sisters. (“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” – Matthew 13:55-56) Matthew only says that they abstained until Jesus was born.

   C. Gave him the name Jesus

And after Jesus was born, Joseph obeyed the second command. He gave him the name Jesus. By naming him, Joseph became the legal father of Jesus, thus passing on to him the legal right of kings through his Davidic bloodline. Joseph was a son of David, and from now on Jesus would be known as the Son of David – all because Joseph obeyed the angel and took Mary home as his wife.

CONCLUSION: How did the birth of Jesus come about? It was a miracle! It was miraculous in its conception, it was miraculous in the angel’s announcement, and it was miraculous in the prophecy that it fulfilled. Let me share with you three applications from this passage in closing.

First of all, stand in awe of our miracle-working God! If God can bring forth a child from a virgin, he can do anything. Nothing is impossible for God. You can trust him with all things.

Second, if you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, will you come to him today? Jesus came to save his people from their sins, which means if you want to be saved from your sins, you need to become a part of his people. You do that by trusting in Jesus’ saving work for you on the cross. He died for you so that you sins might be forgiven.

Third, good news is for sharing! God came to earth as a man to die on the cross for sins. There is no greater news than that. People are more open at Christmas time than any other time of the year to hear about Jesus or to come to church. Who will you share Jesus with this Christmas season? Who will you invite to come to church with you to hear about Jesus?

You know, when Ramon was born we sent out an announcement because we wanted all our friends and family to know about his birth. We wanted them to know that “Ramon was with us.” But Jesus’ birth was for all people at all times. Jesus is Immanuel. He is “God with us!” God miraculously came to earth through Jesus to save us from our sins. His was a birth announcement for the ages.

© Ray Fowler

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