Matthew 1:18-25 A Savior who Is God with Us (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
A Savior who Is God with Us
Our sermon text this morning is from Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-25. You can find that on page 959 in the pew Bible.
Last week we looked at the first 17 verses. In the very first verse, Matthew claimed that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. And if you’ll remember, Matthew’s main audience was Jewish. That claim would have been very significant to his audience. After all, they had been waiting for the promised savior.
And, think about this, they would have had a ton of questions. How can we know for sure Jesus was the Messiah? Did he fulfill the covenant promises? Did the prophecies come true? In other words, prove it!
After making the claim that Jesus was the Christ, Matthew had a lot to prove.
And I think you and I would have had just as many questions.
Verses 1-17 answered the human and natural lineage of Jesus.
As we now turn to verses 18-25, Matthew explain Jesus’ divine nature and supernatural lineage – his incarnation.
As I read, I want you to think about Joseph. What was he going through and thinking when he found out Mary was pregnant? What changed his mind? And how did he respond?
Let’s now turn our attention to God’s Word.
Reading of Matthew 1:18-25
Over the last 100 years, the virgin birth has drawn some of the most intense critiques directed at Christianity.
By the way, we say virgin birth… what we mean is that Jesus was conceived in Mary by God. Mary was still a virgin.
And if you think about it, from a mere human perspective, it is quite unbelievable. Absurd even. Biologically impossible.
Yet, the birth of Jesus by the virgin Mary is considered an indispensable part of the Christian faith. I would put it up there with the resurrection as the two supernatural events upon which Christianity stands or falls.
Can it really be true? Could Mary really become pregnant as a virgin?
I was reading an article this week about that very question. The author quoted CS Lewis, who was grappling with that same question. What would it take for a supernatural event to occur, like the virgin birth? Well, it would take a supernatural God.
You see, if all that existed was mere matter, if the laws of nature, as we call them, governed everything, then of course, we would have no expectation or hope that a virgin could conceive.
But if on the other hand, if God does exist. If he is the creator of all things, sovereign over all things, as the Scriptures claim, then what would prevent him from bringing about a miracle in his creation?
CS Lewis was saying, if God is God, then he most certainly could accomplish something outside of the ordinary and natural processes.
We read Matthew’s account of Jesus birth, which focuses on Joseph. In Luke’s account, he focuses on Mary. And when the angel tells Mary that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, she asks the natural question, “How can this be so, since I am a virgin?” And how does the angel answer her? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” And the angel says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Really, it’s the question of plausibility. Could it have happened? And I think you would have to agree, yes. If God is the creator of all things. If he set in motion the stars and planets. If he created time and space itself. If he sustains it all through his all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present character, then there’s nothing outside of his ability, that he could not cause to come to pass.
And that of course, includes conceiving a child in the womb of a virgin.
But it’s one thing to intellectually ascent to that possibility, it’s another to believe that it happened. If a pregnant woman today claimed to be a virgin, what would you think? I think I know what you would think.
So now, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Joseph. Because that is exactly the situation he’s in. He believed in God. If someone asked him, could God cause a virgin to conceive? He would answer, “yes.” God could certainly do that. He is God, after all. However, like us, Joseph was living in the normal order of things all around him. He had no sense, at the time, of the special role that he and Mary would play in redemptive history.
Now, before we work through the situation, let’s consider some cultural similarities and differences.
Today, when a couple gets engaged, they are both agreeing to get married. And there’s an engagement ring to symbolize that commitment. If they break up, it hurts and it’s painful, but they each move on.
In Jewish culture back then, a betrothal was much more formal. In order to break off a betrothal, the couple had to get a formal divorce. In fact, a betrothed couple was called husband and wife. You see that right there in verse 24. Mary is called Joseph’s wife even though they were not yet married. Now, to be sure, they were not to physically consummate their relationship until marriage. Scriptural was and is clear about that.
So Mary and Joseph were betrothed.
But then tragedy from Joseph’s perspective. Mary had become pregnant. Now, an angel had spoken to her. He told her she would conceive a child, but she had yet to tell Joseph.
From an outsider’s perspective looking in at Mary and Joseph, there were only two possibilities. The most likely was that Joseph was the father of the baby growing in Mary. Of course, that would be the natural assumption. The only other possibility was that Mary has been with another man. Unfaithful.
Either case would have been scandalous. Shame would have come on them and their families. It wasn’t practiced at the time, but the law allowed stoning of the unfaithful party. That’s how serious it was.
From Joseph’s perspective, there was only one possibility. Joseph knew that he was not the father.
Imagine the burden and weight on him. The hurt. Mary, whom he loved, had rejected him in unfaithfulness. She had betrayed him.
Joseph could have made this very public. He could have sought to save his reputation. He could have directed the shame on Mary. But in verse 19, we’re told, no. That was not the kind of man he was. As much as the situation pained him, he was a righteous man. He wanted to divorce her quietly. Joseph still loved Mary despite what he thought she did.
But then, it all changed.
An angel appeared to him. And here’s what the angel said to Joseph. “Joseph, son of David….” Even that spoke volumes. Joseph’s earthly father was named Jacob. Joseph would have been called son of Jacob. But the angel goes back into Joseph’s heritage to remind him of his ancestral line. You are a descendant of king David. And the angel continued, “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Up to this point in Joseph’s mind, there had been no third option for how Mary could have become pregnant. But all of that changed when the angel spoke to Joseph.
One of the things that the angel said, was that Joseph should name the child “Jesus.”
Now, we’ll come back to what that name means. We’ll also come back to Matthew’s commentary on Jesus birth.
But first, how did Joseph respond? After all, the angel was telling him that God had done something supernatural. Something way beyond what Joseph could ever imagine. The angel was saying that indeed Mary was still a virgin. That the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. In other words, God himself, through the work of his Spirit, supernaturally caused Mary to become pregnant. God brought about this miracle.
How did Joseph respond to that message? Jump down to verse 24. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Joseph’s response was immediate. He didn’t hesitate. In other words, he demonstrated his belief by following through with the angel’s command.
Joseph demonstrated that in two ways.
•First, Joseph remained with Mary. He took her as his wife. He did not quietly divorce her as he had considered. And there’s an important note there in verse 25, “he knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” That phrase “know her not” implies they did not consummate the relationship until after Jesus was born. He remained faithful to God and faithful to Mary.
•The second way that Joseph demonstrated his belief was naming the child. That would have been his responsibility as the man. Joseph named the baby “Jesus,” just as the angel had commanded.
In a way, Joseph is an example for Matthew’s audience. Joseph had gone from seeing the situation as heartbreaking, to hearing the word of God through the angel, to then believing and embracing Mary’s child as from God.
This is how Matthew wanted his readers to respond. If they had heard of Jesus before, likely they would have thought he was a problem. Jesus had, after all, caused a split in Judaism – a new sect had started. But Matthew wanted his readers see and know the truth. Jesus coming was not an unfortunate situation, like the unfortunate situation that Joseph thought he was in. Rather, Jesus was the fulfillment of what they had been waiting for. Matthew wanted them to understand and believe - understand that this baby was conceived by God himself, but more importantly to believe… believe that this child was and is the savior.
The first part of Matthew’s argument concerned the virgin birth. The second part involved the names of this child. And he gives us 2 names here: Jesus and Immanuel.
Verse 21, the angels tells Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” We hear that and the question we ask is, how does the name Jesus connect with saving people from their sins? To us, Jesus is just a name. However, to a Jew at the time, the name Jesus had significant meaning. Jesus is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Jeshua. Or Joshua. So, Joseph would have connected in his mind the Greek name Jesus (or Iesous) with the Hebrew Jeshua. Translated it means Jehovah is salvation. Or the Lord is salvation. That’s why the angel said, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel was explaining the meaning of Jesus name and how he would fulfill that name. It’s like the angel was saying this: “you shall call his name the Lord is salvation, for he will save his people from their sins”
I was reading a commentary this week… just to get a better understanding of Jesus name. I really liked how this one commentator, William Hendrickson, described Jesus’ salvation.
He put it this way, “to be saved means a. [first] to be emancipated from the greatest evil: the guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin; and b [second] to be placed in possession of the greatest good.” Hendrickson goes on “…One cannot be saved from something without also being saved for something: true happiness, the peace of God that transcends all understanding, freedom, joy unspeakable and full of glory, answered prayers, effective witness bearing, assurance of salvation, etc”
That is the “salvation from” and “salvation for” which this Child, Jeshua (Jesus) will bring.
You may be thinking. “Ok, but the angel didn’t actually include the part about what we’re being saved for.” That’s a fair point, but that’s where the prophecy comes in – verses 22 and 23. The second name mentioned, Immanuel, means, as Matthew highlights, “God with us.” Jesus will save and through him, God will be with us.
Verse 23 there is first of about 40 Old Testament quotes that Matthew includes in the book. And there’s a pattern. Look at verse 22. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet”
That phrase, “to fulfill what the Lord has spoken,” is used multiple times in Matthew’s Gospel. Other places say, “you have heard that it was said” or “for it is written by the prophet.” Matthew is very intentional to point his reader back to the Old Testament. And I want to point out this. Notice it says, “to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophet.” Even though the words are penned by the prophet, God is the one speaking. Matthew is reminding us that it is God’s Word.
Ok, verse 23 is a quote from the prophet Isaiah chapter 7. If you have been to advent or Christmas eve services, you’ve no doubt heard this prophecy many times. We read a large part of the chapter earlier in the service.
There’s not enough time to give a full explanation of Isaiah 7. But let me give you the short summary. Ahaz was the king of Judah in Jerusalem. By the way, Ahaz is listed up there in Matthew 1 verse 7. He’s in the lineage of Jesus. At the time, Judah was being threatened in the north by Israel (the northern kingdom) and by Syria. The prophet Isaiah called on king Ahaz to trust in the Lord and ask him for a sign. However, Ahaz refused both. In fact, Ahaz mocked the prophet Isaiah, and then made an unholy alignment with the nation of Assyria. In other words, Ahaz didn’t trust in God’s protection, instead, he put his trust in man’s strength – a pagan nation at that.
Isaiah 7 is a judgment on Judah because of Ahaz. Even Assyria, whom Ahaz trusted, would turn on Judah. But yet, in the midst of God’s prophecy of judgment, God nonetheless gives his people hope. And he does it with this sign. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
Matthew is saying that this child conceived in the virgin Mary, is the fulfillment of Isaiah. This Child will be God with us.
And there’s a critical connection between the virgin birth and the name Immanuel – God with us.
This child, Jesus, is not descended through ordinary generation. He does not have an earthly father, yet he has an earthly mother. That means that he has two natures, God and man. He is truly Immanuel, God with us. Truly God, but also truly man. The God of the universe came down to us. He knows our weakness, understands our sorrow, and temptation. Jesus is Immanuel.
Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century pastor put it this way: “Emmanuel, God [means] with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and [and Spurgeon includes] Second Advent splendor [ when he will come again]”
This child, born of the virgin Mary, the one whom we celebrate each advent. He is Jeshua – Jesus, savior, and he is Immanuel, the sign of Isaiah 7 fulfilled. God with us in the flesh.
And this is just the beginning of Matthew’s case. Through the rest of his book, he reveals many other ways in which Jesus fulfilled God’s promises and prophecies. But it all begins with virgin birth. Without it, there is no Immanuel – God with us. Without the virgin birth, there is no salvation, because there would be no God in human flesh.
But as the angel revealed to Joseph, Mary’s child was indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit, and Joseph believed.
Let me summarize everything so far:
1.First, the virgin birth of Jesus is one of the most contested beliefs of the Christian faith. Yet nothing is impossible with God, the all-powerful creator of all things.
2.Second, Joseph himself was confronted by the reality of Mary’s pregnancy. Yet before he could divorce her, the angel revealed that this Child was no ordinary child. No, he was conceived through the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary.
3.Third, this child was to be called Jesus - savior. And he was and is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Through the virgin birth, this child would be God with us.
4.And fourth, in all of this, Joseph believed. And just as he believed, so Matthew wanted his Jewish readers to believe as well.
For those of you that believe as Joseph believed, you have the great hope that God is with you. Right before Jesus ascended to heaven, he said “behold, I will be with you to the end of the age.” Immanuel, God with us, was not a one-time thing during Jesus’ life on earth. Rather, he is with you now. In times of joy and in times of sadness, pain, struggle, and sin, you can come to him and know that he is with you.
For those of you unsure about the virgin birth of Jesus, uncertain about Christianity. Would you believe as Joseph believed?
Ask yourself, what is holding me back from believing?
•Is it the seeming irrationality of the virgin birth? Could not God, creator of the universe, accomplish it.
•Is it that you don’t know God, or that you don’t know how to know God? Come to Immanuel – he knows you and desires for you to know him.
•Or Is it thinking of Christianity as a rules-based religion and you fear you would fail at every turn? Well, Jeshua is the answer. Jesus is salvation. The answer is not that we work our way up to God, but that he has come down to us.
As the angel said, “he will save his people from their sin.” He desires you to be one of his people. The very reason that he was born was to be savior. At the end of his earthly life, he gave his life so that you may be saved in him. And when you believe, God will be your Immanuel, God with you. All the blessings of Immanuel will be yours in him. The presence, the comfort, and the sustaining grace of God in Jesus for you.