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008 An Angel Appears to Joseph
We’ve been studying
circumstances surrounding some very important births and their announcements
recently. Zechariah was given the
good news about his son by a direct messenger from God.
There could be no doubt about who this messenger was, because of where he
was. This messenger’s word was as
good as God’s word. Yet, this
message that should have required very little faith was still doubted by
Zechariah. He struck deaf and dumb
for his lack of faith.
Then, Mary was told that she
would give birth to the Messiah. She
was given a sign, and that sign was fulfilled.
She had faith, even though she needed a sign. It still took some faith.
I can imagine what was going through her head, and how awed she must have
been by the prospect of what was going to happen soon.
But, there were certain things that she new.
For one thing, she knew that a virgin would give birth to a Messiah, and
she knew that she was a virgin. Joseph
didn’t even have that certain knowledge.
We are going to find out that he had to rely entirely on faith.
Let’s look here in verse 18:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise…”
In the Greek, “Jesus Christ” comes before “birth”; the Messiah is
the focus of the attention, not the birth.
The birth, or the genealogy itself, is dealt with back in verse 16.
It is not even certain, whether
the word “Jesus” is a part of the text here.
It’s absent in the old Syriac and even the Old Latin.
The Vatican Codex had “Christ Jesus”.
It’s clear that the story is talking about the birth of the Messiah.
But, it’s the Messiah that’s the center of attention here.
The story of the coming of the Messiah is to be told briefly, “on this
wise”, which is the usual Greek Idiom.
Clearly, the addition of the
word “Jesus” was intended to clarify exactly whom the passage was referring
to, but as with many things that are added, it doesn’t really clarify.
I think the Scriptures are intending to be drawing emphasis to the
Messiah, as savior, and not as man. I
think they are saying, “here’s the story of the Messiah, now think about
this”, and then they go on later to clarify that Jesus is the Messiah.
I think it’s simply someone filling in the blank, where no blank was
The word translated as
“birth” is interesting. The
oldest manuscripts have the same word in verse 18 that is used in verse 1:
“Genesis” or genealogy, not “gennao” or birth or begotten.
Matthew, is about to describe, not the genesis of the heavens and the
earth, and not merely physical birth, but the genesis of Him who made the
heavens and the earth, and who will one day make a new heavens and a new earth.
“The Messiah was generated
like this,” would be a good way to start this story of how the Messiah came to
be man. Now, Matthew is going to
give a very concise telling of this story.
Remember, Matthew was writing to the Jews, and that’s one of the
reasons the story is important that it be from Joseph’s viewpoint.
This is the legal lineage of the Messiah.
“When as His mother Mary was
espoused to Joseph…” Matthew
proceeds here to explain his statement in Matthew 1:16, which implied that
Joseph, though the legal father of Jesus in the royal line, was not the actual
father of Mary’s Son. [Matthew
The narrative here in verse 18 implies a distinction
between betrothal and marriage. Betrothal
to the Jews was a serious matter, not lightly entered into and not lightly
broken. The man who betrothed a
maiden was legally her husband, according to Genesis 29:21 and Deuteronomy
22:23, and an informal canceling of betrothal was impossible.
There was a time when a promise was a promise.
Even in recent history, you could file for breach of contract if the
marriage was called off. But, in
Jewish society, the union could only be dissolved by regular divorce or death.
Not only that, but although they
did not live together as husband and wife until the actual marriage ceremony
(usually, there was about a year between betrothal and marriage), breach of
faithfulness on the part of the betrothed was treated as adultery and punished
with stoning. The law was very
strict in an ordinary case of this kind, and demanded that the woman be taken to
the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her city required to stone
her until she died. If this
happened, the woman’s property became that of her betrothed, unless he
renounced it, but even then he was the legal heir.
So, what does it say here in the
end of verse 18? “When as his
mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found
with child of the Holy
It was, of course, only the fact that she was pregnant that was
discovered. The discovery that Mary
was pregnant was inevitable, and it appears from what we’re told in Scripture
that she had not told Joseph. She
had been visiting with Elizabeth for several months, and she was probably
starting to show a little by now. Perhaps,
like Elizabeth, Mary decided to “keep herself close”, and let God speak for
Himself. The explanation of how
this came to be is given here by Matthew to the readers.
“Was found with child”, is
the usual Greek idiom, and it plainly shows that it was this discovery that
shocked Joseph. He did not as yet
know what Matthew plainly tells us: That
the Holy Spirit, not Joseph, and most certainly not another man, was responsible
for the pregnancy of Mary.
The Virgin birth of the Messiah
has been a disturbing fact to many through all the ages, and is disturbing today
to the vast majority of humanity. It’s
a problem to anyone who doesn’t believe in the pre-existence of Christ, the
Son of God, before His incarnation on earth.
This is the primary fact that needs to be understood about the birth of
Christ. The incarnation of Christ
is clearly stated by Paul and by John. If
you embrace the actual pre-existence of Christ, and the real, physical
incarnation, you have taken the most difficult step in understanding and
accepting the supernatural birth of Christ.
Anyone who accepts the Bible as true and inerrant should have no trouble
accepting this. So, accepting this one fact is both difficult and easy, like
so many things of faith.
Matthew tells us that she was found with child by
the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the fact
that the Holy Spirit is a living, conscious being is implied here.
In the unity of the God-head, the Holy Spirit is distinct, both from the
Father and from the Son. The Bible
is clear that there is a distinctness, but still an equality, between the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [2
Corinthians] Matthew 29:19 says,
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
[2 Corinthians 13:14; emphasis – the fellowship of
the Holy Spirit.] They’re
These things being true, no merely human birth without the supernatural element can possibly explain the facts. Incarnation is more than the indwelling of God by the Holy Spirit in the human heart; all believers have that. To accept both real incarnation and full human birth is difficult in and of itself, yet it’s easy, if you trust in God. It’s not necessarily easy to understand, but it’s easy to accept.
We see here, God sending His Son into the world as a
savior. He gave Him a human mother,
but not a human father. Jesus the
Christ is both Son of God and Son of Man; He’s the God-Man. As we studied a few weeks ago, Matthew tells the story of the
birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph, and Luke gives the standpoint of
Mary. As such, they don’t
contradict; they harmonize.
God is Spirit.
God is Person. God holds the power of all life.
He created everything. He
breathed the universe into existence. John
3:16 is called the Little Gospel, because it puts briefly the love of God for
men in sending His only Son to live and to die for us.
Matthew is telling us that this is how the Messiah
came to be born into this world.
Joseph didn’t have the luxury
of knowing these things beforehand. I’m
sure he loved Mary. He had been
married before and he had children. He
didn’t have to get married to provide heirs.
But, he chose to do so. And,
he suddenly finds Mary to be with child before they came together.
The Law called for her to be
taken to her father’s door and be stoned to death. But, Joseph was a just man.
It doesn’t say he was beneficial, or even merciful, but that he was
just or righteous. The same word is
used to describe Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6, and it’s also used to
describe Simeon in Luke 2:25. Joseph
was an upright man. As a good Jew,
he wanted to observe the law, and the law would have been death by stoning.
He could not bring himself to do this, and he couldn’t
simply call the marriage off. Although
he was upright, and a good Jew, he was not willing to do that.
He was just and yet he was not willing to hold her up to public infamy
and disgrace. [The difference
between the spirit and the letter of the law again.]
This word involves open and public shame.
Hebrews 6:6 uses a compound form of this same word, where it says, “If
they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify
to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him
to an open shame.” [Colossians
2:15] uses the word in a more positive way.
Matthew makes a distinction
between willing (thelOn) and wishing (eboulEthE). The distinction between the two is not always made, but it is
here. The two words are often used
interchangeably, but thelOn is the stronger of the two words.
For instance, in [Matthew 8:3], eboulEtheE would be entirely
inappropriate. He doesn’t simply
wish the leprosy to be cleansed; he wills it.
It’s a stronger word.
It was not his purpose to make her a public example.
Joseph was an upright man, but he was unwilling to
put her to an open shame (he wasn’t going to do it), and he was wishing
to put her away privately (this is how he wanted to go about it).
It says here, that Joseph “was minded to put her away
privily”. According to the Law,
he could give her a bill of divorcement as laid down in the Mishna (a collection
of Jewish traditions and explanations of Scripture), without a public trial.
He had to give her the bill and pay the fine, according to Deuteronomy
24:1, which says that if a man finds any uncleanness in her, he can write her a
bill of divorcement and send her out of his house.
I said a few moments ago that Joseph obviously loved
Mary. He has found out that she has
apparently been unfaithful, and yet he is proposing in his own mind to divorce
her in secret, so as not to bring shame upon her, and he will pay a fine in
order to do so. He’s trying to
avoid all the scandal that he possibly can.
I have to sympathize with this man and his motives because of his love.
I can imagine how appalled he would be to find that this woman he loved
had been untrue to him, yet he still loved her so much!
Many, including the Talmud have tried to say that the
narrative of Matthew has tried to cover up the illegitimate birth of a baby by
creating this “legend”. It’s
becoming more and more popular to teach that, especially in these new-age
religions that are popping up everywhere. The
Talmud openly charges this. Yet, no
matter what motive you apply, it is a beautiful story about the short but tragic
struggle between Joseph’s desire to be a good Jew, and his love for his bride.
Joseph was a just man, he loved his wife, and he wanted to do the right
Verse 20: “As
he was thinking on these things;” it was a long process, not merely something
that you ponder for a moment and make a decision; “An angel of the Lord (not
Gabriel, who had gone to Zechariah and Mary, and not the
angel of the Lord, which in the OT is an expression that is sometimes used to
represent the manifestation of the Lord himself) appeared unto him in a
dream.” If anyone ever needed an
angel of the Lord to appear to him, Joseph was that person. Since this baby was God’s Son, Joseph had the right
to know, so that he could be just and righteous to both Mary and the baby.
The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, but the message
was clear. It says, “Joseph, thou
son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is
conceived in her is
of (by) the Holy Ghost (Spirit).”
Joseph is called, “son of David”, as we saw in Matthew 1:16.
Mary is called his “wife”. Joseph
is told, “not to become afraid”, to “take to his side” her whom he had
planned to send away with a bill of divorce.
Joseph had pondered and planned the best he knew how, as
men often do. But, as with so many
things that man does, God has different plans.
God had told him not to be afraid to carry out his original plans; the
plans of marrying Mary. He had to
decide if he were willing to shelter Mary by marrying her and taking upon
himself any stigma that might be attached to her. In that society, there would be much finger-pointing going on
surrounding this situation. The
angel told Joseph that the child was begotten of the Holy Spirit, and thus Mary
was innocent of any sin. But, who
would believe it if he told them? Mary
knew the truth and had not told Joseph, because she could not expect him to
believe it. Joseph loved Mary, and
he wanted to do what was right, so he had a decision to make.
I find it interesting that
Zechariah was given a message that could not be mistaken.
He was told that he would become a father in his old age and his son
would be the forerunner of the Messiah. He
was given this message in the Holy of Holies, so there could be little doubt
that the angel was legitimate. Mary
had been told that she would bear the Messiah.
She was given a sign, by an angel in person, but that sign was not as
unmistakable as the one given Zechariah. Joseph
was given a message, but it was merely in a dream.
I think it’s comparable to the different ways that man has been treated
in different dispensations. At one
time, man was given many direct signs from God, such as pillars of fire by
night, and the plagues cast upon Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea and the
destruction of Israel’s enemies by the closing of the Red Sea.
Yet, people still doubted. In
the time that Jesus was upon the earth and for a little while thereafter, Israel
had been given signs. These were
strong signs, such as healings and speaking in tongues, and casting out demons,
but there was room for doubt, and many people doubted.
After His death and ascension into the heavens, the things of the Kingdom
were opened up to all, but it was a day in which people were to live by faith
and not by sight; no more signs. I
think that these are types of little faith required, more faith required, and
complete faith required.
Joseph had complete faith, with
little to go on other than a deep and abiding faith in God and a sense of
“And she shall bring forth a son…”
Note that it distinctly does not say that “she shall bear thee a
son”, as was said to Zechariah in Luke 1:13.
“And thou shalt call…” This
is committing Joseph to the office of father of the baby.
The rabbis named six whose names were given before birth:
“Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and the name of the Messiah,
whom may the Holy One, blessed be His name, bring in our day.”
They knew that He would be named before birth, but they didn’t know
what that name was. The angel puts it up to Joseph as the accepted father to name
the child. We know what that name
was, don’t we?
“And thou shalt call his name
Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua”; they’re both
contractions of the name “Jehoshuah”, which in Hebrew means “Help of
Jehovah”. “Jesus” is the
Greek form of “Joshua”. He is
another Joshua to lead the true people of God into the Promised Land; into the
Kingdom. “Jehovah is Savior” is seen in Joshua for the Hebrews and
in Jesus for all believers. The
meaning of the name can simply find expression in the title “Savior”.
It says here in verse 21 that
“he will save his people from their sins”, and thereby he will be their
Savior. He will be prophet, priest,
and king, but “Savior” sums it up in one word.
The explanation is in the phrase, “for He is the one who will save (a
play on the name Jesus) his people from their sins”. Paul will explain later that this applies to all the children
of promise who believe, whether Jew or Gentile.
This wonderful word is the very heart of the mission and the message of
the Messiah. Jesus himself will
show that the Kingdom of the Heavens includes all those (but only those) who
have the reign of Jesus in their hearts and lives.
He will be saving his people
from their sins. The verb
translated as “sins”, is not the same as lawlessness or anything else.
It’s from a word that means missing the mark, as with an arrow.
Even the best of people, everyone, falls short and miss the mark and fail
to score. Jesus will save us from
our sins (as well as out of our sins); they will be completely blotted out and
He will clean us completely, if only we take advantage of the glorious,
cleansing blood. What does 1 John
1:9 say? “If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Verse 22: “Now all
this was done…” This stands on
record as historical fact. Remember,
prophecy is nothing but unfulfilled history and history is nothing but fulfilled
prophecy. “Now all this was done,
[in order] that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the
prophet, saying…” Actually, it
says through the prophet. When
quoting from the OT, the writers habitually use the preposition dia (through) to
denote the instrument through which God works or speaks, while they use upo (by)
to express the direct work of God himself.
[If an angel is an official representative of God, then it’s the same
as the words being spoken by God, not through the angel.]
So, here the prophecy that was spoken by the Lord was communicated to men
through the prophet.
the virgin, not just a virgin]
There is no indication that the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14 saw
anything more than a woman (then a virgin) would give birth to a son.
The word he used was only “virgin” in the extreme sense of the word,
but it generally meant a young woman. But
God, for proper fulfillment of the prophecy as in everything else, made this
occur to a virgin in every sense of the word.
This is confirmed in the Greek in this passage.
God doesn’t mess around with obeying only the spirit of the law.
Jesus, when he was here on the earth obeyed the spirit of the law and the
letter of the law, of both God and man. He
only held his disciples to the standard of obeying the spirit of the law.
Here in Matthew 1:23, it would have been easy to fulfill prophecy without
resorting to such obvious and extreme supernatural events, but God is perfect!
And, we find out in [verse 25] that in this complete and total
perfection, she was still a virgin when Jesus was born!
Jesus was born to a virgin in every sense that it can be meant!
[Verse 24] The angel had told Joseph not to be afraid to “take to his side” Mary his wife. So, when he awoke from his sleep, he promptly obeyed the angel (the Lord) and took his wife home. Some think that Mary must have felt relieve and joy when Joseph nobly took on his responsibility to her. I think that she had enough faith in God that she knew she would be taken care of. Either way, Joseph did the just thing and the righteous thing and obeyed God. Now, that’s what I call faith! He didn’t need any signs. So many people today are seeking after signs, when we live in a day in which we are to live by faith and not by sight! I pray that God will give me faith such as this, and I pray that He will give you faith such as this that we may each walk worthy and bring glory and honor to His name in everything we do, so that one day, we will hear, “Well done”.