The Savior Is Born

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together 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.

This account of history is what makes our future complete. For all true believers, what we have here, what begins here with the birth of Jesus is what will bring to pass our salvation, a salvation that is eternal. That is hard, if not impossible for us to grasp. But there will be a day for every true Christian when we will see things as never before and experience things as never before and relate to others as never before. What is tainted with sin will be freed from its effects. And we will be in the middle of this new creation. And what will we be doing? We will be absorbing the love and grace of God in ways unimaginable. That is the way the Bible describes our existence in the ages to come.

Ephesians 2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

In order that our future be secure in Christ, Christ needed to come. That was the plan and the plan came to pass. And so when Jesus was born, the plan began to visibly play out in time, on the earth and before many witnesses, both spiritual and physical. We see the beginning of that visible plan today.

It is challenging to preach from passages that are familiar to everyone. My guess is that everyone who is here today has read the account of the birth of Christ or has been told of the birth of Christ. The danger for us is, then, that we zone out in a passage like this. But I want to challenge you to not let that happen. Instead let’s worship together as we hear of this familiar setting, this familiar story of the work of the Father and the Spirit, of bringing Jesus into this world as a baby boy. The life of Jesus was shrouded in controversy. We will see many of those controversies, and for our good we will see how He handled them. But even from the beginning, even before His birth, while He was miraculously placed in the womb of Mary, the controversy began.

Mary was with child, she was pregnant, and yet she did not yet have a husband. Now, we may say, "But wait, she had not conceived naturally but miraculously by the Holy Spirit, so no big deal." But while we know that, and Joseph learned that, no one else knew it. That would have sounded crazy, it would have sounded like a wild excuse for sinful behavior. And yet this was God’s plan. God’s plans don’t always follow a pre-planned humanly conceived idea of what may be most desirable and easy.

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together 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.

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. This is what we know from the Scriptures. Betrothal is not like anything we experience today in our culture. Some try to say it’s like being engaged, but really it’s not. The custom among the Jews of betrothal was unlike what we know. Marriage was like a two-stage process. There was the betrothal period and then the actual marriage ceremony. Marriage was generally arranged. Families would decide whom their children would marry. Once this was decided or arranged, a price would be paid to the bride’s father and a contract was formed. At this point the couple was like legally married, although there had not been a formal marriage ceremony. This period was like a testing, testing of faithfulness and commitment, though the couple usually had little or no social contact with each other.

Mary and Joseph had not been physically intimate, that is what it means when the Bible says “before they had come together.” So they were sort of married in that they had a contractual duty, but they were not married in that they had not formally been joined together in ceremony. It was during this “in-between” time that Mary conceived and was with child by the Holy Spirit of God. To be with child but not yet formally married by ceremony was a shameful position to be in. It would be seen as scandalous. And those who knew Mary and her character and Joseph and his character would have been shocked, probably disappointed and perhaps unforgiving. And yet, they had lived uprightly as a young couple.

We need to see that this was God’s plan for them. An outward scandalous situation, and yet they were innocent in it, and it was all God’s will. God put them in this situation, one of rejection and shame from others, but it was His plan for them.

Look, I don’t want this to sound trite, but the reality is that they must, in this, live by faith. They must live trusting God. This is true for us as well. We don’t know what all God is up to and why He does all that He does, and why He puts us in the middle of things we can’t understand, and yet in these times it is our opportunity to do what? To live by faith, to trust Him without full understanding, to believe what we know: He loves us, He cares for us, He provides for us, He is powerful to change our circumstances, and He is wise to know when He should.

They, Mary and Joseph, were in a real mess here. Or so it seemed. Joseph had to make a decision. What was he to do? He apparently loved Mary, he cared for her, but he had to do something, and in his mind he decided what to do, thinking it was the upright thing to do in this difficulty.

Matthew 1:19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

He made up his mind. Joseph being just decided he could not go through with formal marriage. His wife-to-be had apparently not been faithful in this betrothal period. And yet he loved her and didn’t want to shame her by announcing her sin publicly, and he certainly didn’t want her put to death, as was allowed for from the law in Deuteronomy 22:23-24. And so Joseph would quietly, discretely put her away, which was to divorce her. This to him would be to protect her, at least for a while, until everyone realized she was pregnant. He was in a tough place, had to make a tough decision, and he had made it. But God intervened...again.

Matthew 1:20 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).

God stopped Joseph in his tracks. God can do that, you know. God’s plan would not be thwarted by Joseph’s plan. God’s plan will happen.

Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

It was God’s plan that Joseph be married to Mary and that he would be Jesus’ earthly father. And so in dramatic fashion, God lets Joseph in on what has happened.

The Lord visited Joseph 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

With these words the revelation was made that the Messiah had come. The message was not just that he should marry Mary, but that the Messiah had come to save His people from their sins. All of the sudden, what was happening in Joseph’s life, what seemed to be an issue between two people, Joseph and Mary only, all of the sudden what is learned is that God was doing something in this apparent scandal that would have an effect on all people of all times. I’m sure they thought this was all about them, but it was all about God and all about the whole point of God’s plan of redemption for His people.

There is a sense in which we think our struggles, circumstances, problems, that things are all about us. We may say things like, “Why is this happening to me, why am I having to deal with this or that?” But rarely if ever are all the things that enter our sphere of living just about us. God is a big God who is at work in all things to accomplish His perfect plan, and we are just a very small part of a much bigger picture. Again, this is why we must live by faith, live trusting Him when all doesn't make sense to us. We are arrogant to think we can write a better story. Especially since we don’t see the whole picture.

All of the sudden Joseph moves from a personal problem to the reality of “This (what you are dealing with) is what the prophets spoke about!” “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). That is awesome! I would love to hear the next conversation that Joseph had with Mary, hear more of what Joseph felt after this dream, this revelation from God. We don’t have all that. But what we do have are the facts of what Joseph did, of how he responded to the Lord.

Matthew 1:24 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.

Despite what others would think, in spite of his previous plan to put her away and walk away from the contractual betrothal, believing God, he obeyed God: “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” This is a life lived by faith, a demonstration of a life lived by faith, trusting God, believing God. A great example for us.

We don’t know much about Joseph, but what we do know shows us a man who loved God. Besides this account we know that he took Jesus to the Temple for dedication, he took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to protect them from Herod and he took his family to the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. Some time after that he died, some time before Jesus’ crucifixion.

There are three things I would like to leave you with from this passage.

First, though this is not the main point of the passage, it is encouraging to see this man Joseph humble himself before God and man, believe God, change his plans in submission to God, and take Mary as his wife. He acted in obedience even when it was hard, he trusted God.

Each of us come face to face with a daily decision of: will we trust God? Will we live by faith? Will we obey even if we don’t understand all the circumstances? Will we walk by faith in obedience even if it seems hard and even if it seems it will cause us more pain? Will we acknowledge that God is wise and so take our next step in obedience? Will we admit that we do not see the whole picture and trust that God does? Joseph’s obedience, quick obedience reminds me of Jesus calling His disciples and reading how they just dropped what they were doing and immediately followed Him. It was just like, as we saw with Matthew the tax collector last week, he just dropped what he was doing and said, “Yes...I will!”

The second thing I want to leave with you is this: God will not allow His plan to be thwarted. Though Joseph had already made the decision to leave Mary, to divorce her, God had other plans that Joseph did not have the power to thwart. God’s plan of redemption would not be stopped, not by Joseph, not by anyone else. Sometimes we ascribe too much power to our little decisions, as if we can change the course of history or effect God’s grand plans. We don’t have that much power; God is sovereign, God is powerful, and God is wise. And we are none of those things.

We saw in the genealogy last week how God from generation to generation preserved the line from Abraham to Jesus. There were many shady characters in that line, but it was God’s plan and He accomplished His will through that line in all of their lives. Not one of them could have cut off God’s plan, and not one of them did.

The last thing I want to leave with you, and the most important, is this: Immanuel (God with us), Jesus the Savior has come. The circumstances were strange and miraculous. But the Father sent His Son to us to be with us, to walk this earth and live a perfect life and to be the Savior of His people.

The central point of the Bible is the story of redemption, of a gracious God who meets with His people, provides a way to Himself through His Son. It is a story of God’s benevolent love, loving those who cannot repay, who cannot earn it, who will never deserve such love.

We are so outside, on our own, of what it takes to be right with God, that it took the very Son of God to pay the price for our sins. No one else could have done it, only Jesus, and the good news is He came to do just that, in His love for us and in obedience to His Father.

Our response should be one of awe and worship. Christ Jesus has come!

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together 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.