The Birth of Jesus Who is Called ChristMatthew 1:18-25
“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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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 us from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
‘Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
And they shall call His name Immanuel’
(which means God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.”
Now as Matthew transitions from the genealogy to Jesus’ early life, it will be helpful to keep what we learned from the genealogy in mind. Remember who Matthew is writing to. Remember why he is writing. And remember the point of his Gospel.
Matthew’s genealogy set the stage for the rest of his Gospel. I find it helpful to view the genealogy as the prologue to a book or the introduction of an essay. It sets the stage and helps us understand the main point Matthew is trying to teach us in the rest of the Gospel. As we saw during our study of the genealogy, Matthew trying to make the point that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the son of David, the son of Abraham. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people.
And this is the point Matthew will build on throughout the rest of the Gospel. He not only shows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he also shows us what it means for Him to be the Messiah. We discussed in an earlier post how the Jews in Matthew’s day had a specific idea of what the Messiah would be like. They were expecting a political king. They were expecting a mighty man who would come in and conquer Rome.
Matthew subtly suggests that Jesus came for a very different reason. Jesus is the Messiah, but not the one the Jews were expecting.
Don’t Take Scripture for Granted
There is one thing I do want to cover quickly before we jump into the story of the birth of Jesus.
If you grew up in church or if you’ve been a Christian for a while, most of what we are going to study in Matthew’s Gospel will be very familiar. The story of Jesus’ birth is especially familiar, which is what makes studying the Gospel of Matthew easy and challenging at the same time.
It’s easy because most of us know the stories we’re about to read. We’re not looking at anything crazy like Revelation or one of the Old Testament prophets. We’re just looking at the story of Jesus. And it’s a story most of us know. So, I’m hopefully not overwhelming you with completely new passages and stories you’ve never read before.
But because we know these stories so well, Matthew’s Gospel can also be hard to study.
Because many of us will be familiar with what we’re about to read we may find ourselves assuming we already know what a story or passage means. We’ve heard these stories preached on hundreds if not thousands of times. And then we rush through the stories we think we know. When we do that we end up missing out on the depth of these stories.
And so the challenge in studying the Gospel of Matthew is to not take any part of it for granted. That’s something my professors in college talked about a lot. Don’t take anything in Scripture for granted. Just because you’ve read it a thousand times and heard a hundred sermons on it, doesn’t mean you know all there is to know about a passage.
I learned this lesson when I wrote my first paper for one of my classes. We were supposed to write a paper on the story of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37. When I first saw the assignment, I laughed a bit. I figured it would be an easy paper to write. But, then I sat down to actually read that story, and what I found out surprised me. I learned that I had never actually read or studied the Good Samaritan story for myself. I had heard it preached on. I had heard people talk about it. I’m pretty sure VeggieTales had an episode on it. But I had never read it for myself. My understanding of that story came only from preachers and other people. And, of course, that doesn’t mean all the other interpretations of that story I had heard were wrong. It simply means I had been relying on other people to understand the Bible for me instead of reading it for myself. And when I took the time to read and study the Good Samaritan story on my own, God added a lot of depth to my understanding of that passage.
Writing that paper taught me about how important it is to not take any part of Scripture for granted. It’s important especially when we’re studying a story we’ve heard over and over. We tend to just blow through familiar stories. We let other people understand the Bible for us.
So, when we are studying Matthew it’s going to be easy to just rush through all of these stories. It’ll be easy to just assume we know them because we’ve heard them over and over. It’s going to be hard to push away those other interpretations (not because they’re wrong of course) for a moment and just let the text speak for itself. I’ve had a hard time with it myself.
As we study I want to challenge you to just look at what the text says first. You can bring in other voices eventually, but to start just look at what it says on your own. Take notes on it. Write down any questions you have. Think about any words or phrases you think are interesting. I’ll talk a lot in this series on how helpful summarizing a passage can be. As you summarize, pay attention to the structure and flow of a passage. What’s the main topic? How do the rest of the verses or sentences support the point? Doing all of this can help you think more about what you’re actually reading.
Once you’ve taken some time, then you can go ahead and look into what other people have to say and bring in other voices. Know that some passages will take longer than others to study on your own and that’s ok. It is ok to research stuff that stumps you. But just make sure you try a little on your own first.
All of this takes some time and some work. But I can promise you from my own experience so far with Matthew and with other books that I’ve studied, it’s worth it. As I’ve studied Matthew and other parts of the Bible God has surprised me in really cool ways. God has challenged me with every passage to look past all the interpretations I’ve heard before and just look for what He has to say about it. That doesn’t mean that the other interpretations are wrong or bad. But I think He has been challenging me to dig a little deeper.
So I want to challenge you as God is challenging me. Take some time to read and study through even these familiar stories. And pray that God would show you more about Jesus. Pray that God would deepen your relationship with Him. That is what I am praying for myself and for you.
A Summary of the Birth of Jesus
As I’ve already noted, one thing that has helped me dig a bit more into what I’m studying is summarizing. Summarizing a passage, especially a well-known passage, can help us see things we didn’t know were there. It’s an easy way to strip away everything else we’ve heard about a passage and just see what the text says. We start to see how a story or teaching is structured. Summarizing lets us get down to the bare bones of what we’re seeing. In my personal experience, there have been many times where I find words and phrases I didn’t know were there. And summarizing can help us keep the whole story in mind. As we summarize we can look for how what we’re reading fits into the whole Gospel of Matthew.
I’ll give you guys my summary of Jesus’ birth, but of course, I encourage you to summarize it for yourself. Feel free to even leave your summary in the comments just for fun!
My Summary of the Birth of Jesus:
Matthew doesn’t give us a lot of extra details about Jesus’ birth. His story his short and simple. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Before they married, Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. He was going to divorce her. But an angel went to him, telling him Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. The angel encouraged Joseph to marry her anyway. Matthew tells us that the birth of Jesus would fulfill a prophecy of a virgin giving birth to a child named Immanuel. Matthew points out that Immanuel means God with us. Joseph takes Mary to be his wife and she gives birth to Jesus.
After summarizing a specific passage, I find it helpful to ask questions about what I’m reading. Sometimes these questions come up as I summarize. But there are also some that I keep in my back pocket if I can’t think of any for a specific passage.
I encourage you to take some time to ask and answer questions for yourself. Pray for God to show you what He wants you to learn about Jesus through the story of His birth. I will share some of what God has shown me here.
The most important question we can ask about any passage in the Bible is what do we learn about Jesus? This question is especially applicable to the Gospels because they are about Jesus. We’ve already seen that Matthew was trying to teach his audience about Jesus. So as we study the Gospel we need to keep this question in mind:
What is Matthew trying to teach us about Jesus?
What Did Matthew Believe About Jesus?
As I was studying the birth of Jesus, I noticed three things that I think Matthew wants us to know about Jesus. First of all, Matthew believed Jesus was the Christ. We see this right off the bat in verse 18. Second, Matthew believed Jesus was from the Holy Spirit. He describes Jesus as being from the Holy Spirit in verses 18 and 20. Finally, Jesus is God with us (verse 23).
What Does That Mean?
So what does all of that mean? It’s one thing to write those things down. But it’s another to understand what they mean. A lot of the things I listed are things most of us already know about Jesus. And that’s what makes books like Matthew so hard to study. We know the stories and words Matthew uses so well. And as a result, we may blow past some deep truths about who Jesus is.
So now I want to ask, “what does that mean?” What does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? What does it mean for Jesus to be from the Holy Spirit? What does it mean for Jesus to be God with us?
I want you to take some time to try to answer these questions (and other questions you might have) on your own. I will share what God has shown me, but I really want you to study these things for yourselves. Pray over it. Ask God to help you understand who Jesus is on a deeper level through these questions. Leave your questions and answers in the comments!
Jesus is the Christ
The main point that Matthew wanted to make about Jesus was that Jesus is the Christ. We saw this theme in the genealogy. And we see it here in the birth narrative.
The idea of Jesus being the Christ is a concept we may often take for granted. We are used to referring to Jesus as “Jesus Christ.” So for many of us, the name Jesus Christ may lose its impact. I know there are times where I do forget how significant it is.
If you remember back to one of the first blog posts, I mentioned that Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience. This concept of the Christ was important to first-century Jews. The word for Christ in Greek is “Christos.”** It means anointed one or king. The Jews were looking for a specific king, a specific Christ. God had promised His people that one day a king would come from the line of David (as we saw in the genealogy). This king would be a righteous king. He would come in and save God’s people. He would restore the kingdom of God. This was the Christ they were waiting for.
Over and over, Matthew wants his audience to see that Jesus is that king. He is the Christ. He is the fulfillment of the promise God had made to His people. So a lot of the purpose of these first four chapters is to establish the fact that Jesus is the Christ. And in the rest of the Gospel, Matthew shows us what it looks like for Jesus to be king.
From the Holy Spirit
When Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus, he points out the Mary was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Other than that brief statement, he doesn’t give us a lot of detail about what that means. This is another concept that may be easy for us to take for granted. The idea of a virgin birth is central to the Christian faith.
But have you ever stopped to think about how amazing and crazy it is?
Try to think about it from the point of view of Matthew’s audience. Or look at it through the eyes of Joseph. Sometimes I don’t think we give Joseph enough credit for his faith. Imagine if your fiance comes to you and tells you she’s pregnant. And then you have a dream in which an angel tells you it’s ok because the child is from the Holy Spirit. The angel tells you to take your fiance as your wife and to call the baby’s name Jesus.
What are you thinking when you wake up from that dream?
Pretend for a moment you don’t know the rest of the story.
How much faith does it take to go along with that? Joseph and Mary were living in an honor/shame culture. Mary becoming pregnant outside of marriage would have brought shame to her and Joseph. And so for him to still take her as his wife took a lot of courage and a ton of faith. He doesn’t even question the angel. He just goes with it.
From The Holy Spirit
So why is it important that Mary is pregnant from the Holy Spirit?
Again, this is a question I want you to think about for yourself. Maybe it’s something you’ve taken for granted. Maybe it’s something you’ve never thought about before. I know I don’t think about it much. I just kind of assume that it’s what Christians believe.
At the very least, Mary’s pregnancy is a miracle. But I think God was going for something deeper than just a miraculous birth. There are plenty of miraculous pregnancies in Scripture. If you read through the Old Testament you can see a lot of stories where God gave women children when it seemed impossible. But what makes Jesus so special is that He is from the Holy Spirit. He is directly from God. And why is that important?
Well, look at the connection Matthew makes to the Old Testament. He says that Jesus’ birth is a fulfillment of what God spoke through a prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
Then Matthew notes that Immanuel means “God with us.” The virgin birth is more than just a miracle for the sake of a miracle. Jesus had to be conceived by the Hold Spirit because He was God Himself coming to us in the flesh. He had to come by the Holy Spirit so that He could be God with us.
God With Us
So, that brings us to the final thing I think Matthew is trying to tell us about Jesus. Jesus is the Christ. He is the king the Jews were waiting for. But He is much more than that. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit so that He could be God with us.
When Matthew tells Joseph what to name Jesus he follows it up with a quote from Isaiah:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
And they shall call His name Immanuel.”
He points out the meaning of Immanuel, God with us.
Once again we have another very familiar phrase. Immanuel is one of my favorite words in the Bible. It’s one of my favorite things about Jesus. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around and I often find myself sitting in awe about it. But even still, there are times where I forget how amazing it is for God to be with us.
So, again I want to ask, what does it mean? What does it mean for God to be with us?
To understand the concept of Immanuel a bit better, I want to look closer at Matthew’s reference to Isaiah. Whenever you see a quote or reference to something in the Old Testament, I want you to stop and look up that reference. If you have a study Bible of some sort you should be able to find the right reference there. If you don’t have a study Bible you can try Googling it (that’s what I usually do). When you find the reference in the Old Testament, take some time to read not just the quoted verses, but the whole chapter it’s in. Read the chapter before and the chapter after. Try to understand the context of that specific quotation. Think and pray about why Matthew referenced it. How does it connect to Jesus? How does Jesus fulfill that prophecy? Why do you think Matthew connected that prophecy to Jesus?
And You Shall Call His Name Immanuel
The quote Matthew uses comes from Isaiah 7. In Isaiah 7, Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim were planning to attack Judah. King Ahaz and the people of Judah were afraid. God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him that God would be with them in this battle if they chose to trust Him. God told Isaiah to ask Ahaz to ask God for a sign. Ahaz refused because he didn’t want to test God. God gave Ahaz a sign anyway. The sign was a son born to Isaiah and his wife.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Immanuel was a promise from God to His people. God promised them He would be with them in the fight against their enemies. If they would trust in Him, He would be with them.
So now, let’s look at how Immanuel and this concept of God being with us connect to Jesus.
Jesus came to save His people from their sins. He is God with us in our fight against sin. By being God with us, Jesus saves us from sin. God does not leave us to fight our sin on our own. He comes and fights with us and for us. Just like how Syria would not defeat Judah if they chose to trust God, so sin will not defeat us when we believe in Jesus.
God with Us. A Radical Idea.
The concept of God being with us is radical to Christianity. Other religions, both in Jesus’ day and in our own, have very different views on who God is.
In other monotheistic religions (i.e Islam), God is so distant from His creation. Yes, He loves His people. Yes, He is in control. But He is too great to interact with His creation. One common objection from Muslims to Christianity is the idea that God became a man. He is too great. Because of His greatness, He cannot come into our world. Coming into our world would mean He is not a great, powerful, and holy God.
However, the picture the Bible paints is very different. One of my professors in college used to put it this way:
“God is so much God that He can be God with what is not God.”
When I first heard that, I’ll be honest I was very confused. But over time I began to understand it. The truth is God is so much greater than anything else we can imagine. He is beyond what we think and know. He is holy. He is powerful. I like to use the language of God being something other than what we are. And many religions have a hard time seeing how God can be intimately involved with His creation without losing His “otherness.” How can God enter into the world He created, as a man no less, and still be this holy, other-than God?
Well, Christianity has the answer. God is so much God, He is so powerful and great, that He can enter into His creation without losing His power and greatness. If nothing is impossible for God, then it is perfectly within His ability to become a man, enter the world He created, and be with us. And He can do that without losing His holiness and “otherness.”
He is so much God that He can be God with us. And He does that through Jesus. And by being that God with us, He saves us from our enemies.
I hope you all enjoyed studying the birth of Jesus this week. I want to encourage you guys to leave any thoughts in the comments, either here on the website or on the Facebook post. As I’ve said before, I don’t want to just study Matthew for you. If you have time, let me know what thoughts you have about what you’re studying and what God is showing you.
Next week, we are going to be reading Matthew 2:1-23. If you want to read ahead, feel free!