WHY JESUS

 

Week of December 25, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-2, 11.

 

Biblical Truth: Jesus is the Savior sent from God for all people everywhere.

 

Jesus: God-Man 1:18-20.

 

[18] Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. [19] And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. [20] But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. [NASU]

 

[18-19] In Jewish culture at that time, a betrothal carried such a weight of personal commitment that something almost like a formal divorce was needed to dissolve the engagement. Before they came together occurs at the formal marriage when the wife moved in with her husband. Only then was sexual intercourse proper. The phrase affirms that Mary’s pregnancy was discovered while she was still betrothed, and the context presupposes that both Mary and Joseph has been chaste. Because he was a righteous man, Joseph therefore could not in conscience marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph therefore chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself which allowed a private divorce before two witnesses. This left Joseph’s conformity to the law and his compassion intact. 

 

[20] Dreams as means of divine communication in the New Testament are concentrated in Matthew’s prologue [1:20; 2:2,13,19,22]. The focus is on God’s gracious intervention and the messenger’s private communication. The angel’s opening words, Joseph, son of David, ties this passage to the preceding genealogy, maintains interest in the theme of the Davidic Messiah, and, from Joseph’s perspective, alerts him to the significance of the role he is to play. The prohibition, do not be afraid, confirms that Joseph had already decided on his course of action when God intervened.

 

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

 

Scripture clearly asserts that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and without a human father. The doctrinal importance of the virgin birth is seen in at least three areas.

1.    It shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord. Just as God had promised that the “seed” of the woman [Gen. 3:15] would ultimately destroy the serpent, so God brought it about by his own power, not through mere human effort. The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God himself. Our salvation only comes about through the supernatural work of God, and that was evident at the very beginning of Jesus’ life when God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons [Gal. 4:4-5]. 2.       The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send his Son into the world as a man. If we think for a moment of other possible ways in which Christ might have come to the earth, none of them would so clearly unite humanity and deity in one person. It probably would have been possible for God to create Jesus as a complete human being in heaven and send him to descend from heaven to earth without the benefit of any human parent. But then it would have been very hard for us to see how Jesus could be fully human as we are, nor would he be a part of the human race that physically descended from Adam. On the other hand, it probably would have been possible for God to have Jesus come into the world with two human parents, both a father and a mother, and with his full divine nature miraculously united to his human nature at some point early in his life. But then it would have been hard for us to understand how Jesus was fully God, since his origin was like ours in every way. When we think of these  two other possibilities, it helps us to understand how God, in his wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that his full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of his ordinary human birth from a human mother, and his full deity would be evident from the fact of his conception in Mary’s womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that it would have been impossible for God to bring Christ into the world in any other way, but only to say that God, in his wisdom, decided that this would be the best way to bring it about, and part of that is evident in the fact that the virgin birth does help us understand how Jesus can be fully God and fully man.

3.    The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin. All human beings have inherited legal guilt and a corrupt moral nature from their first father, Adam. But the fact that Jesus did not have a human father means that the line of descent from Adam is partially interrupted. Jesus did not descend from Adam in exactly the same way in which every other human being has descended from Adam. And this helps us to understand why the legal guilt and moral corruption that belongs to all other human beings did not belong to Christ. This idea seems to be indicated in the statement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, where he says to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God [Luke 1: 35]. Because the Spirit brought about the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, the child was to be called “holy, the Son of God”. Such a conclusion should not be taken to mean that the transmission of sin comes only through the father, for Scripture nowhere makes such an assertion. It is enough for us merely to say that in this case the unbroken line of descent from Adam was interrupted, and Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. But why did Jesus not inherit a sinful nature from Mary? The work of the Holy Spirit in Mary must have prevented the transmission of sin from Mary. As John Calvin writes: “We make Christ free of all stain not just because he was begotten of his mother without copulation with man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit that the generation might be pure and undefiled as would have been true before Adam’s fall.” [Institutes, II.13.4].

 

Jesus: Savior 1:21.

 

[21] “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” [NASU]

 

The explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ name is from the Old Testament, though Matthew does not draw attention to the fact. It is from Psalm 130, a psalm in which Israel is encouraged to hope in the Lord [7]. Why? Because, says the psalmist, He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities [8]. Even in the psalmist’s day it was clear that these words pointed forward to a redeemer and an act of redemption yet to come. But in Matthew we learn that the time of that redemption has come and that the one who is to perform the work is none other than God himself in the person of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. What a name this is! Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jeshua or Joshua, and it means quite literally “Jehovah is salvation.” This is the message that was conveyed to Joseph primarily, for he was told that the one who had been conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit was a divine Messiah, the one who had been promised from the very beginning of Israel’s history, and even before that, and that the work of this divine person would be a work of salvation, since He will save His people from their sins. In the New Testament the verb save commonly refers to the comprehensive salvation inaugurated by Jesus that will be consummated at his return. Here it focuses on what is central: the salvation from sins. This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus’ coming and the essential nature of the reign he inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David’s throne. The words his people are therefore full of meaning that is progressively unpacked as the Gospel unfolds.

 

Jesus: God with Us 1:22-25.

 

[22] Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: [23] “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” [24] And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, [25] but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. [NASU]

 

[22] Joseph needs to know at this stage that all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. The last clause is phrased with exquisite care, literally, “the word spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” The prepositions [by, through] make a distinction between the mediate and the intermediate agent, presupposing a view of Scripture like that in 2 Peter 1:21: For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Matthew is not simply ripping texts out of Old Testament contexts because he needs to find a prophecy in order to generate a fulfillment. Discernible principles govern his choices, the most important being that he finds in the Old Testament not only isolated predictions regarding the Messiah but also a history and people as examples that point forward to the Messiah.

 

[23] Throughout his Gospel, Matthew delighted in quoting or alluding to Old Testament Scripture to show how Jesus fulfilled it. Jesus was to be called Immanuel … God with us as predicted by Isaiah the prophet [Isaiah 7:14]. The Immanuel figure of Isaiah 7:14 is a messianic figure. This interpretation turns on an understanding of the place of the Exile in Isaiah 6-12, and Matthew has divided up his genealogy [1:11-12,17] precisely in order to draw attention to the Exile. In 2:17-18 the theme of the Exile returns. Isaiah’s reference to Immanuel’s affliction for the sake of learning obedience anticipates Jesus’ humiliation, suffering, and obedient sonship, a recurring theme in this Gospel. Immanuel is a name in the sense that it describes Jesus’ role in bringing God’s presence to his people. No greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with his people [Is. 60:18-20; Ez. 48:35; Rev. 21:23]. The people whose sins Jesus forgives are the ones who will gladly call him “God with us”.

 

[24-25] Throughout Matthew 1-2 the pattern of God’s sovereign intervention followed by Joseph’s or the Magi’s response is repeated. While the story is told simply, Joseph’s obedience and submission under these circumstances is scarcely less remarkable than Mary’s. Joseph broke with tradition and took Mary as his wife, even though the customary one-year waiting period had not passed. However, Joseph did as God commanded, no matter what the social stigma, no matter what the local gossips thought about this move. Joseph knew he was following God’s command in marrying and caring for Mary during her pregnancy. Matthew wants to make Jesus’ virginal conception quite unambiguous, for he adds that Joseph had no sexual union with Mary until she gave birth to Jesus. The until clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus’ birth.

 

Jesus: Worthy of Worship 2:1-2, 11.

 

[1] Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, [2] “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” [11] After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [NASU]

 

The real point of these verses is theological, to show that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem as predicted, that his appearance provoked Jewish hostility but won Gentile acceptance (the Magi). Matthew records history so as to bring out its theological significance and its relation to Scripture. Matthew wrote to develop his theme of fulfillment of Scripture; to establish God’s providential and supernatural care of this virgin-born Son; to anticipate the hostilities, resentment and suffering he would face; and to hint at the fact that Gentiles would be drawn into his reign. The Magi will be like the men of Nineveh who will rise up in judgment and condemn those who, despite their privilege of much greater light, did not receive the promised Messiah and bow to his reign [Mt. 12:41-42].

 

[1] Bethlehem, the place near which Jacob buried his Rachel [Gen. 35:19] and Ruth met Boaz [Ruth 1:22-2:6], was preeminently the town where David was born and reared. Unlike Luke, Matthew offers no description of Jesus’ birth or the shepherd’s visit. He does specify the time of Jesus’ birth as having occurred during King Herod’s reign. The Magi are not easily identified with precision. The term loosely covered a wide variety of men interested in dreams, astrology, magic, books thought to contain mysterious references to the future. The theory that there were three wise men is probably a deduction from the three gifts.

 

[2] Matthew contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod’s court. The Magi may have linked the star to the king of the Jews through studying the Old Testament and other Jewish writings – a possibility made plausible by the presence of the large Jewish community in Babylon.

 

[11] This verse plainly alludes to Psalm 72:10-11 and Isaiah 60:6, passages that reinforce the emphasis on the Gentiles. Some time had elapsed since Jesus’ birth and the family was settled in a house. While the Magi saw both the child and his mother, their worship was for him alone. Note that whenever mother and infant are mentioned together [verses 11,13,14,20,21] the infant is always mentioned first. Bringing gifts was particularly important in the ancient East when approaching a superior. Frankincense is a glittering, odorous gum obtained by making incisions in the bark of several trees; myrrh exudes from a tree found in Arabia and a few other places and was a much-valued spice and perfume used in embalming. Commentators have found symbolic value in the three gifts: gold suggesting royalty, incense divinity, and myrrh the Passion and burial. This interpretation probably reads too much into the passage. The three gifts were simply expensive and not uncommon presents. These gifts certainly would have provided the financial resources for Joseph and Mary’s trip to Egypt and back [2:13-23].

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     Why is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth so important for our understanding of who Jesus is?

 

2.     In these verses, Matthew concentrates on the response of Joseph and the Magi to the birth of Jesus. What similarities do you see in their response? What differences? What can we learn from the way they responded to these events?

 

3.     What was so significant about the Magi coming to worship Jesus?

 

References:

The Gospel of Matthew, James Boice, Baker Books.

Matthew, D.A. Carson, EBC, Zondervan.

Gospel According to Matthew, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan.