Father of the King | Matthew 1.18-25 (Marysville)
December 8, 2013 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 1:18–1:25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
We’re in our 3rd week of study of the book of Matthew. Chris preached an excellent introduction two weeks ago and Sam launched us into the first ½ of chapter 1 last week by preaching an awesome sermon on a genealogy with 42 names in it—and how the grace of God not only works on behalf of broken and sinful people, but even, in His providence, through sinful broken people like you and me.
This week, we’re going to focus on names again, but instead of tackling 42, we’ll narrow it down to just 4 names and the richness of their meaning. But we have a little bit of groundwork to lay before we get to the really good stuff.
Our text today opens with the line, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” As I was preparing to preach, it struck me that many of you, especially those of you here who’ve yet to put your trust in Christ (and I’m so glad you’re hear this morning to worship with us), when you hear a verse like that coupled with a story about a virgin becoming pregnant, you hear, “once upon a time, a long time ago in a land far away…” It’s easy to think this is myth, fairytale.
EX – At our family Christmas party every year I get to read the account of Christ’s birth out of Luke 2 and a lot of times I wonder in my head if many of my family members would don’t yet trust in Jesus would be just as content to just watch the beloved Rudolph Claymation movie, because after all, they’re just traditional make believe stories we enjoy this time of year.
If you listen to the world today, they want to explain away most or all of scripture as either the pre-scientific naiveté of a bunch of backwards, uneducated Palestinians or worse, as carefully crafted plot of the powerful, religious elite to secure power for themselves around the 3rd century.
Already facing this kind of skepticism just a few decades after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter writes in his second epistle, “
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Pet 1:16-18
So I wanted take a moment to bolster your faith and confidence in the reliability of the gospels before diving into the text. Bear with me as I share some informational thoughts before digging into the more inspirational content.
Any readers of Dan Brown’s fictional works might be inclined to think that the gospels weren’t written down until the 2nd or even 3rd century, generations and generations after the eyewitnesses to his life had passed away.
Know that in fact, the gospels were written less than 30 years after Jesus’ resurrection—in the late 50’s or early 60’s AD. How do we know this? We know that the physician Luke not only wrote the gospel named after him, but also the book of Acts, which chronicles the birth of the early church. Luke actually travelled with Paul for part of his missionary journeys, hence the “we” statements (instead of “he” or “they”) in Acts. Acts ends somewhat abruptly with Paul’s 1st imprisonment due to the fact that there’s no more to write because Luke is caught up to the present moment. Well, we know Paul died no later than AD 65 under the persecution of Emperor Nero—the charming ruler who played his fiddle while Rome burned.
If we know that Paul died in AD65, and his death isn’t recorded in Acts, then Luke finished writing Acts probably in the early 60’s. And the book of Acts is the later companion book to the gospel of Luke, so we know Luke must have been written even earlier, in the late 50’s or early 60’s at the latest. Going further, we know as well that Luke isn’t the 1st gospel to be written. Christian and non Christian scholars agree that Mark was written before both Matthew and Luke—sometime in the mid-late 50’s.
So again, we have gospel accounts written down and disseminated a mere 20 - 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection.
But some of you might be saying, “30 years Nate. Sheesh! I can barely remember what happened 30 days ago, let alone 30 minutes. Surely their facts got twisted over time!” Not so. The 1st century church was born into a highly oral culture, meaning that much of their traditions and stories and identity were passed down orally, not written. Given that they lived that way day in and day out, their capacity for accurately memorizing stories and their details was rich. What’s more, they did this in community, not in isolation like the telephone game.
When you exercise your memory muscles, they stay strong; when you don’t, they atrophy. 2 examples illustrate this.
If any of you have been around young kids, perhaps you can relate to this. When our boys were 3 or 4 years old, they weren’t writing too many essays or reading on their own. They were 100% oral. And they frequently wanted the same books read to them at nap time or bed time. As a parent, that’s thrilling, right? “oh yay, the 67th reading of Diggerman or Hungry Caterpillar.” So I’d try to spice things up a bit by changing subtle words here in there. Without fail they’d catch me and correct me. They were orally wired and there memory muscles were ripped.
Conversely, can you think of one simple 10 digit phone number of someone in your road group, or your aunt or your neighbor? Speed Dial has made us complete idiots! I even know someone in our church who struggles to remember her husband’s cell phone number!! Our memory muscles have atrophied in this area because we don’t need to remember this kind of information anymore!
So much more could be said on this point, but I’ll stop. I took time to share all this for 1 main reason. Some of you do trust the Scriptures but you don’t really know why they’re reliable. You know that 2+2=4 but your not really able to show your work. Peter calls us to be prepared to give the reasons for the hope that we have when others ask, and I want you, as ambassadors of King Jesus, to grow in your ability to not only share your personal testimony, but to also winsomely explain how Christianity isn’t a leap of faith where you check your brain at the door. It’s grounded in history and its claims are extremely reasonable to those whose hearts are genuinely seeking truth
Focusing back now on the characters in our story, I’m excited that we’re going through this part of Matthew here at Christmas time because usually it’s Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception and birth, as told through the eyes of Mary, that gets all the airtime – quite literally if you’re a fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. And seen through Luke and Mary’s eyes, her getting pregnant is this glorious thing. Mary even busts out into song for 10 verses in Luke like it’s the Sound of Music. Everything is joyful and marvelous.
In contrast to Luke, with Matthew 1:18-25, we see many of these same events through Joseph’s eyes and it’s a much bleaker, weightier narrative fraught with tension. So let’s dive in to the story and set the scene.
We read in verse 18:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together…”
Now we have to pause here because the word betrothed just isn’t a word we use too often, or ever. It’d be easy to think a 1st century betrothal is similar to a 21st century engagement, just with more of a King James flare but it’s so much more involved than that. The text itself shows as much in verse 19 when it refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband, even though they aren’t officially married.
In the 1st century, customarily the parents of a young man chose a young woman to be engaged to their son. A second stage of betrothal involved official arrangements and a prenuptial agreement before witnesses, which was a legally binding contract and could be broken only by a formal process of divorce. What’s more, sexual unfaithfulness during betrothal was considered adultery, and under the Mosaic law carried the possibility of death by stoning.
So a betrothed couple was essentially married, yet is wasn’t until after a significant amount of time had passed, up to a year, that the marriage feast would be celebrated, the man would take the woman into his home and they would finally get to experience sexual intimacy together.
CONCEPTION OF CHAOS
“v18 …before they came together [translation: had sexual relations] she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
The devastation and confusion that Joseph felt at this point cannot be overstated. He’s been planning for months to marry this beautiful, godly woman and start a life together. He’s likely been preparing a home for her to come live with him once the period for their betrothal is over. While working on his home, he’s maybe thought about the excitement of being intimate with his new wife for the first time. He’s dreamt about the children they’d have. And the sound of his children playing around their small home and all of them laughing together.
Out of the blue, all those hopes and dreams come crashing down. Mary is roughly 4 months pregnant. From all appearances, she’s been unfaithful to him. But how? With who?? She’s so upright. He never saw this coming. Where just yesterday he was looking and planning 10-20 years down the road, he can’t even see 20 minutes ahead.
Matthew in verse 19 tells us Joseph is a just and a righteous man. He has a high regard for the holiness of God and the expression of that holiness in the Mosaic law. In good conscience, he cannot go through with his marriage to Mary because that would belittle God’s holiness by condoning her adulterous sin. Or it might even bring Joseph’s character into question. His marriage to Mary might look like an admission of guilt, as though he’d been the one to have sex with her outside of marriage.
We see the character of God shining through Joseph not just through his zeal for walking in righteousness, but also in his efforts to be quick to mercy and slow to wrath. Under the terms of the Mosaic law laid out in Deut 22, Joseph was within his rights to publicly divorce Mary and shame her, which could have possibly resulted in her being stoned to death. And in some respects that’s a tempting option – a way to clear his name and wash his hands; to remove any question of if he was the one to get Mary pregnant. But verse 20 tells us that he was unwilling to shame her. Instead, he makes up his mind and resolves to quietly divorce her. It’s the best possible path forward, given the heart wrenching circumstances.
Even though Joseph has set his mind upon a course of action that seems best, given what he knows, of course his mind keeps spinning. He lays down his bed at night, and his mind and heart just won’t shut off. He keeps running the whole situation through his head, over and over until sleep finally overtakes. It’s at this point that God sends Joseph some revelation through an angel about his situation. And that revelation comes primarily through 3 names.
These days when children are born, as parents, we tend to choose their names more for how they sound and feel and look. But in other cultures and in older times, parents chose names for their children based on their meaning. They chose names based on either circumstances surrounding the conception of the child or on their hopes and aspirations for how God might work in that child’s life.
EX – My full name is Nathan. In Hebrew it means “God has given” or ‘Gift of/from God’. That name really stuck out to my mom because she’d had a miscarriage between the birth of my older brother and myself. So names matter hugely for the definition and direction they bring.
SON OF DAVID
Back to verse 20, the angel of God comes to Joseph in his dream and addresses him not just as Joseph, but also Son of David, echoing the genealogy we just read through last week. Joseph had been cruising down the highway of life on sunny day on a straight stretch of road and out nowhere fierce storms have set in and the road has turned windy. His world’s been turned upside down. He’s lost all sense of direction. And it’s into this situation that the angel enlarges his vision by reminding him of who he is in the economy of God. He’s part of his great grandfather David’s lineage and that lineage has a trajectory to it. That lineage is not just a reminder of the golden glory days in Israel, but of the future glory God promised to David in 2 Sam 7:16:
”And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
The angel reminds Joseph of his name, his God-given identity. And he goes on to tell Joseph in verse 20:
do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph has experienced a complete 180. He’s gone from thinking he’s a bachelor again to being married and an expectant father. When reading over this text, I found it interesting that the angel doesn’t say, “His name is…” or “I have named him.” Instead, he says, “You, Joseph, shall call his name…”
On the one hand it’s a command, but on the other hand, it’s an invitation to engagement and involvement. God is saying, “ Yeah, You might not have had a direct hand in the conception of this child, you might not have brought about these circumstances, but you don’t get to be a spectator Joseph. You don’t get to sit on the sidelines. He’s your son to parent. You’re his earthly father.”
What’s even more, in ancient Jewish culture, for Joseph to publicly give Jesus his name when they were at the temple on the 8th day of his life was for Joseph to make the adoption official. So this wasn’t just God passing some info on to Joseph through an angel. This was God inviting Joseph to take Jesus as his own. Through this adoption, Jesus gains a second father. As Joseph’s son through adoption, he is a legal heir to the throne of David. And through His conception not by man, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, He’s the divine heir to the throne – one who can indeed rule as King on the throne of David forever as God promised.
Now, the name that Joseph is to give his adopted son is Jesus, which means “God Saves” or “God is Salvation”. God doesn’t leave it open to speculation what kind of salvation He has in mind. He’s not looking, first and foremost, to save His people from Roman oppression or from any other external enslavement or problem. He’s come to save us from sin. And not just sin in the general sense. It’s my sin he’s saving me from. It’s your sin he’s saving you from.
Before its good news, the birth of Jesus, is a scathing indictment of our treason and rebellion against the High King. It’s essentially D-Day and God is landing on the beaches of Normandy, at great expense to Himself, to take back the lands and lives captured by the Axis powers of self, sin, satan and death. Paul puts it this way in Colossians 1:13-14
He has delivered/rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Praise God that He doesn’t offer band-aid solutions to our sin-soaked hearts like every world religion and ideology!
The angel continues in 22-23:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Matthew here is quoting Isaiah 7:14. At first, his decision to quote this verse seems like a bit of a proof text, where you lift a verse out of its broader context to make it mean what you want it to mean. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture have that right and prerogative. But the more I thought about it, it makes a lot of sense.
In chapter 7 of Isaiah, Israel has been split into a northern and southern kingdom for some time. The Northern kingdom has aligned itself with Syria to ward off the threat of war from Assyria. Syria and the northern kingdom aimed to militarily force Ahaz, King of Judah to join their alliance against Assyria. Instead of trusting in the God who is an ever-present help in times of trouble, King Ahaz allies himself with Assyria, which spares Judah from the other 2 nations, but decades later, Judah is eventually conquered and oppressed by the very king of Assyria whom they’d put their hope for salvation in.
The Jews around the time of Jesus’ birth are in a similar situation. Rome has conquered the Jewish people and is oppressing them. Few no that better than Matthew himself, whom as Chris pointed out 2 weeks ago in his intro to Matthew, was one of Rome’s well-compensated stooges who made his livelihood off of that oppression, as a tax collector. He helped reinforce that oppression through the exorbitant taxes they collected to fund their military state.
It’s in this context that Matthew reaches back several hundred years and says the long-awaited Messiah has come to liberate us from our oppression. Except our biggest source of bondage isn’t external. Our most vexing problems aren’t an ever burgeoning government, or combative neighbors or dysfunctional family members. It’s sin. And it’s not just sin in the abstract. It’s MY sin. It’s YOUR sin. It’s our belittling of God and asserting ourselves as the grand sovereign and the kings over our kingdoms. It’s our putting hope for salvation and deliverance in the things of this world rather than in the God who bows low and draws near, to save us from our sins.
Again, Jesus, whose name means “God is salvation”, isn’t phoning it in from afar. He didn’t send a legion of angels to clean up our mess. He didn’t just give us an inspired IKEA manual to try and figure out for ourselves how all the parts are supposed to go back together. He’s given us Himself. And it had to be Himself and no other. It had to be the God-man. Everything in human history has been leading up to this point – to the arrival of Messiah-King. Since the garden of Eden they’d been incompletely covering and carrying away their sin guilt through the sacrifices and offerings of animals, offered by human priests through ceremonies commanded by God. But these were always insufficient. They were only a type and shadow of the One who was to come to offer His life as a ransom for many, once and for all.
For Jesus’ sacrifice to satisfy the just wrath of holy God and be a substitutionary atonement for our sin, he had to be a man to fully represent us. Contrary to what PETA says, while goats and dolphins are real cute, they’re aren’t on the same level as humans. They’re not a substitute.
And yet he couldn’t just be a human. He had to be the eternally preexistent God in the flesh to drink the full cup of God’s wrath down to the last drop. Human life alone, as the creature, could not suffice to pay the debt we incur when we sin against our Creator who is infinite.
Thus we read in John 1:1,14,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases v 14 by saying, “And the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” That paraphrase has special meaning to me. I spent a year after I graduated college living with 5 other young adults in the inner-city in Chicago, in West Garfield, an African American community ravaged and torn apart by poverty, drugs, fatherlessness and a whole lot of other brokenness. We literally moved into the neighborhood, 4350 W Washington Blvd, 6 people in a 2-bet 1 bath apartment, on a mission to do our best by the grace of God to live out the gospel, day in and day out amongst our neighbors.
Christ has moved into our neighborhoods to do that for us on a much grander scale. With the diseased he came to heal. With the shackled in sin he came to forgive and set free. To the oppressed he’s come to liberate. To proud he’s come to warn and to bring us low before it’s too late. To the fearful he’s come to comfort. To the lost He’s come to find and save us.
Interestingly, Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with God’s promise to be Immanuel, God with us and God near us and God over us and God through us. At the front end of the gospel we see with that nearness a promise of salvation from our sin, satan and eternal death. But at the end of the gospel, that same presence is promised in connection to an invitation and a command to be on mission. We read in the very last 2 verses of Matthew, 28:19-20:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus didn’t come just so we could get some fire insurance and join a country club. Some of that sin he came to save us from is our apathy and indifference. Do you realize the opposite of love isn’t hate? It’s apathy. As a church we have plenty of needs which means we have plenty of opportunities for you to be blessed as you step up to serve and discover that in trying to save your comfortable life, you’ll actually lose it, but in losing it and giving it to the God who is near, you’ll actually find a deeper fullness than you’ve ever imagined.
We invite you to visit with people here at the cold weather shelter this winter, through cleaning the church 1 Saturday a month for 90 minutes with Roadies, through declaring the greatness of God 1 Sunday a month for 90 minutes to young hearts through KidsRoad, to being a greeter or help prep for service or clean up after service. If you are looking to grow in Christ, you’re not going to get that just sitting in those black chairs listening to me or the other elders. You’ll start growing as you take what you hear from up hear, get 1 on 1 with God on your own at home and then start living it out on mission, through service.
Joseph = he will add/ let him add
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.