“The Birth of Jesus Christ”
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” Matthew 1:18-25
The subject of this passage is “the birth of Jesus Christ,” the Messiah, the King, our Savior. In these verses Matthew, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, declares the deepest, most profound truths of sacred theology in simple, unmistakable terms. He tells us that Jesus Christ; the man who was born at Bethlehem, reared in Nazareth, and crucified at Calvary two thousand years ago is God. He tells us that this One who is God assumed our nature and became a man in a most remarkable way, by a miraculous, supernatural birth. His mother was a virgin!
These are holy, mysterious things, noble objects of holy, reverent faith and adoration. They are things that can be defiled only by speculative curiosity. Those who deny either the deity of Jesus Christ or his miraculous virgin birth do not know God and cannot be persuaded by human reason to believe that which they will not receive as a matter of divine revelation. Consequently, nothing can be gained by the feeble, though well intended, efforts of men to prove these glorious and essential truths of Holy Scripture.
We believe that which is recorded here. We adore it. We rejoice in it. We proclaim it. And we sing about it. But, we will not try to prove it. No man knows the way of the Spirit in the formation of any ordinary human being in the womb (Eccles. 11:5). How then can we expect to understand and explain the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? It is enough for the believing heart to know that nothing is impossible with our God. It is enough for us to simply be informed that we may admire the wonderful works of our God. Like Moses of old, as he stood before the burning bush, when we read Matthew 1:18-25, we have entered upon holy ground. Let us put off the shoes of carnal curiosity and seek to hear what God the Lord will say.
Here the Holy Spirit tells us how Christ came into this world and why: He came by divine incarnation through the womb of the virgin Mary, to save his people from their sins. Every word in these verses needs to be carefully studied. Each line is worthy of diligent, prayerful study.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (v. 18). — God the Holy Spirit prepared in the womb of the virgin Mary a body for the Son of God (Heb. 10:5). His human nature was conceived in the womb of the chosen virgin by the Holy Spirit, without the aid of a man (Luke 1:35). There was no other way for the Christ to come into this world. He must be born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Had he been conceived by the seed of a fallen, sinful father, he could not have been a sinless substitute of sinners. “He was born of a woman that he might be human; but not by man, that he might not be sinful” (C.H. Spurgeon).
Our Lord Jesus was born of a virgin that he might be brought into this world as one “made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), but of an espoused, or lawfully betrothed virgin, so that he might both show the sanctity of marriage and protect the honor of his mother’s name. “Marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). Only those whose doctrine is the doctrine of devils prohibit men from marriage (1 Tim. 4:1-4). At the same time, he took care to protect Mary’s name. Though he was born of a virgin, she was a married virgin. Mary’s Son was also her Savior and he took care to protect her reputation, justifying her pregnancy in the eyes of the world. Matthew Henry suggests that three lessons are to be drawn from this verse.
You can imagine what a problem Mary’s pregnancy presented to Joseph. Here he was engaged to a woman who showed up pregnant; and he knew with certainty that he was not the father of her child. What will he do?
“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily” (v. 19). — Joseph’s behavior exemplifies godliness, wisdom, and compassion. He saw in Mary what appeared to be a horribly evil thing. But he did not behave rashly. He patiently weighed his options as a man who sought to glorify God and do his will in all things. According to the law he could do any of three things: (1.) He could privately give her a bill of divorcement before two or three witnesses (Deut. 24:1). (2.) He could make a public example of her and have her stoned to death (Deut. 22:23-24). Or (3.) He could go ahead with his plans and marry her. No doubt, Joseph weighed the matter carefully with much prayer before the Lord. “Being a just man,” a man who sought always to do what was right, Joseph chose not to expose what he thought to be sin in his espoused wife. Though he felt he could not marry her, he chose to put her away quietly.
C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “When we have to do a severe thing, let us choose the tenderest manner. Maybe we shall not have to do it at all.”
What an example Joseph is to us in his behavior. Having been forgiven, he was willing to forgive. Having reason to suspect the worst of Mary, his love for her compelled him to cover and refuse to expose what he thought to be sin in her. As Shem and Japheth covered their father’s sin, Joseph was determined to cover that which he thought was Mary’s sin. May God give us grace to behave like Joseph in our dealings with others, especially in our dealings with his people. In all things be as lenient as possible with others. Always be ready to forgive the faults of others (Matt. 6:14), and seek what is best for the fallen, erring brother or sister. No matter the fault, seek restoration, not retribution (Gal. 6:1-12). In all things show love and grace, not judgment and condemnation.
The Angel’s Message
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (vv. 20-21). — Joseph’s patience was abundantly rewarded. He sought God’s will and found it. He sought divine direction and he received it. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and gave him a message directly from God regarding the thing that troubled him. Blessed are they who wait on the Lord, who cast their cares upon him in the prayer of faith, and wait for him to direct their paths. (Pro. 3:5-6). God sent his angel to speak to his servant in a dream. The angel of the Lord assured Joseph that Mary had not sinned, but had been highly favored of God and reminded him of his royal descent as a “son of David.”
What comfort the angel’s words must have brought to Joseph. The Lord’s “fear not” was a matter of great relief to him. He was a man appointed by God to be the foster-father of the Son of God who, as the Son of Man, would come into this world through the womb of Mary. Thus, it became his privilege and honor, as well as his duty, to take Mary into his home and lovingly care for her.
No doubt, Mary had great apprehensions. Would her story of the angelic visitation be believed? It certainly seemed improbable. No doubt, her faith sustained her. But she had a great trial for her faith. How relieved she must have been when Joseph told her of the angel’s message to him.
More importantly, the angel’s message to Joseph was a message of grace, redemption, and salvation to sinners. The Lord of glory came into this world as the Son of Man. As the Son of God he was not born but given. As the Son of Man he was born through the womb of a chosen virgin (Isa. 9:6). By God’s command he was named, “JESUS”, the Savior, because he was sent of God to save his people from their sins. What he is called, that he is — Jesus, our Savior.
The Lord Jesus came into the world to save “his people” from their sins. Those he came to save were his people before he came to save them, his by eternal election. There are some people in this world, an elect multitude, chosen in him before the world began, who are peculiarly and distinctively his people, chosen in him unto salvation (Eph. 1:2-6; 2 Thess. 2:13) and given to him as sheep to the shepherd (John 6:39).
It is the office, work, and responsibility of Christ, the Son of God, as the God-man our Mediator, as the Surety of his people, and as Jehovah’s righteous Servant to save all who were given to him in the covenant of grace (John 10:16-18). And save them he shall. The Lord Jesus Christ is an almighty, effectual Savior. The angel said to Joseph, “He shall save his people from their sins!” He saves his people from the penalty of their sins by his blood atonement (Rom. 3:24-26), from the dominion of their sins by his regenerating Spirit (John 3:5-8; Rom. 6:18), from the being of their sins when he takes them out of this world (John 14:1-3; Rom. 7:25), and from all the evil consequences of their sins in resurrection glory (1 Cor. 15:51-56). It is written of him, “He shall not fail!” “He shall save his people from their sins!”
“Jesus” is our Savior’s Mediatorial name. It is the same as Joshua in the Old Testament. Jesus is our Savior, our Redeemer, our Deliverer, our Salvation. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“The name of Jesus is so sweet,
I love its music to repeat;
It makes my joys full and complete,
The precious name of Jesus!
‘Jesus,’ O how sweet the name,
‘Jesus,’ everyday the same;
‘Jesus,’ let all saints proclaim
Its worthy praise forever!’
“Jesus” is the name of encouragement and hope for guilty, heavy-laden sinners. Sinners may draw near and come to God, with confident hope of finding mercy, grace, and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17).
“Jesus” is the name of him who is peculiarly sweet and precious to believers (1 Pet. 2:7). “Thy name is as ointment poured forth” (Song 1:3). We breathe our Savior’s name in prayer, trusting his blood, his righteousness, his grace, his power, and his intercession (Trusting him!), and have peace with God. Calling on his name we are saved, justified, forgiven of all sin, and forever accepted with God.
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear!”
“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (vv. 22-23). — Who would ever have imagined that the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14 had reference to the Lord Jesus Christ? We are so spiritually dull in this body of flesh that, before we are capable of understanding prophecy, we must see it fulfilled. When we know even as we are known, we will see how that all the Scriptures speak of him whose name is Emmanuel (Luke 24:27, 44).
This name, “Emmanuel”, is only found three times in the Word of God (Isa. 7:14; 8:8; and Matt. 1:23). But it is a name full of instruction and comfort to believing hearts. Emmanuel is God with us. Emmanuel declares the union of two natures in the Person of our Savior. He is both God and man in one glorious Person, as perfectly God as though he were not man, and as completely man as though he were not God. We must never lose sight of this great, foundation truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ is a man, just like us, only without sin. Yet, he “is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). He must be both God and man, or he could not be our Savior.
Someone said, “God could not suffer, and man could not satisfy; but the God-man both suffered and satisfied.” Our Savior is a man. Therefore he is sympathetic with us. But he is not at all limited by his humanity. “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Therefore he is able to save all who trust him.
“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (vv. 24-25). — Having received instruction from the Lord, Joseph was immediately obedient. He took Mary into his home as his wife, but refrained himself from all the privileges of their conjugal relationship until after “she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” Thus the Son of God came into this world and became one of us, that he might be our Savior. “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, that he might redeem us. Now, he has ascended up to heaven again and is seated upon the throne of grace that he might “save his people from their sins.” — “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!”