Rejoicing in the Birth of the Savior


Sunday School Lesson for December 21, 2003


Background Passage:  Matthew 1:1-25


Focal Teaching Passage:  Matthew 1:18-25


The Dilemma Faced by Joseph (1:18-21)


Verse 18

In this passage, Matthew spoke of the physical “birth” (literally the genesis or beginning) of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The verse depicts the beginning of our Lord’s earthly existence, or what theologians refer to as His incarnation—when the “word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  It must be remembered that as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus shares all the attributes of divinity including eternity. This, therefore, is not His beginning, but only the record of the advent of His physical existence as the Savior of the world.  


Matthew also informs us that “Mary” was “betrothed” to a man from Nazareth named  Joseph.” He was a carpenter by trade.  The betrothal agreement, which the couple had entered, was binding to such a degree that only divorce or death could terminate the relationship. The period of betrothal generally lasted for one year prior to the actual marriage ceremony.


It was during the period of betrothal that Joseph discovered that his wife-to-be was pregnant, presumably by another man.  That she was  found to be with child” indicates the shock of this discovery on the part of Joseph (according to Luke 1:26-38, the angel had previously informed Mary that she was carrying the baby Jesus). However, this was no ordinary pregnancy. Her conception and pregnancy were “by the Holy Spirit.”  This incredible phrase reveals the source and nature of her pregnancy.  It was due to an act of God’s Holy Spirit alone, and not to the work of man.  According to Luke 1:26ff, Mary knew the source of her pregnancy while Joseph did not know until the Lord’s appearance to him in a dream (v.20). Consequently, this was to be a miraculous, supernatural, virgin birth that would directly fulfill the messianic promises (see Isaiah 7:14).



Verses 19-21

Being a worshipper of God, or a “righteous man,” Joseph found himself in a dilemma.  Apparently, Mary had been unfaithful to him during their period of betrothal. Yet, out of love for her he in no way desired to “disgrace her” by making a public spectacle of her apparent infidelity. Rather, he sought to “put her away secretly.”  This seems to indicate that he planned to divorce her secretly with no public scandal whatsoever.  Remember, that adultery was punishable by death under the Law of Moses (see Deut. 22:23,24), so the situation was fraught with grave danger. Wishing to avoid this, Joseph opted to pay a fine and privately cancel the betrothal by presenting her with a bill of divorce without a public trial.


At the exact moment that Joseph had “considered this” the Lord sent His angelic messenger to him with a word of comfort and assurance (v.20). The divine message came in the form of a “dream” in which Joseph was told not to “be afraid to take Mary” as his beloved wife.  The word “take” is more fully translated as “take to your side,” or “take to your home.” It presents a beautiful picture of the marriage union.  Joseph was commanded to do this without fear knowing that her pregnancy was due to the powerful working of God—“that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” 


The message of the angel continued in verse 21 with the announcement to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be a “Son” whose name would be “Jesus.”   The Greek name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which literally means “Jehovah saves,” or “God is salvation.” Furthermore, the angel revealed to Joseph the unique nature of Jesus’ ministry. He will “save His people from their sins” by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the grave (see Psalm 130:8 for the Old Testament prophecy of Christ’s ministry). The term “His people” should be understood to include both believing Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3:13,14; Romans 3:21-25; Titus 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:4-10) whom Christ would save “from their sins” by means of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice.



The Scripture Fulfilled (1:22-23)


Next, Matthew informs us that these events happened in direct fulfillment of the word of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah.  His point was to show that the plan of salvation is clearly and emphatically revealed in the Old Testament and is no new invention. 


In verse 23, Matthew quoted from Isaiah 7:14 and applied the words of the ancient prophet to the birth of Jesus.  Clearly, Matthew “finds in the OT not only isolated predictions regarding the Messiah but also OT history and people as paradigms that, to those with eyes to see, point forward to the Messiah” [D. A. Carson.  Matthew, EBC, 76]. In the Old Testament prophecy, Jesus is revealed as “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”  No greater blessing could ever be given to His people than that of the promise of His continual presence among and in them.  Thus, in the person of Jesus Christ, God would actually, for a time, be with His people in bodily form (see Phil. 2:5-8).




The Savior’s Birth (1:24-25)


In response to the divine message, Joseph got up from his bed and “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”  Note that he “took her as his wife” as he was earlier commanded to do.


He also “kept her a virgin” until the time that Jesus had been born and, upon Christ’s birth, “he called His name Jesus.”  Thus, Joseph obeyed all that God had required of him, giving evidence of the reality of his faith and of his complete confidence in the Word of God.  



Major Themes for Application and Reflection


One:  First, we see the glory and uniqueness of Christ’s incarnation.  His birth was the first step in God’s incredible plan to redeem a fallen people through the sacrifice of His Son.  In this, we see the grand purpose of the incarnation; it was the only way that God Himself might pay the penalty for the sins of His people (see Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:19).  For a fuller statement of the doctrine of the virgin birth see The Baptist Faith and Message (II, B), and The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Chapter 8).  Also, think about other passages in the New Testament that display Christ’s full humanity.




Two: Secondly, we see the centrality of Christ as the way of salvation.  The purpose for His coming was to save His people from the penalty of their sins.  He is the only way of salvation and access to God (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Acts 4:12).




Three: We also discover the absolute certainty of God’s Word.  The prophets of old had testified of the coming Messiah hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Then, at precisely the right moment, Jesus appeared as Savior and Lord in direct fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies and promises.




Four:  Also in this passage we see that God has graciously chosen to bring about His plan of redemption through the use of human instrumentality.  Both Mary and Joseph were sinners beset with fear, doubt, and anxiety.  Yet, God mercifully used them to bring the Savior into the world.  Therefore, we can serve the Lord with gratitude knowing that He will likewise use each of us in His service as we trust and obey Him.