Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 December 29, 2019
“It Had to Be This Way”
At home, we gave and receives gifts this week—on Christmas Day. As noted here at church, we have been waiting for many weeks for a gift, and now we celebrate once again the glorious Gift of the ages—for the Gift that makes any gift, and any gift-giving, meaningful, has come. He has come a Baby in Bethlehem’s manger. Today’s text, among others, shows us that His birth had to be the way that Scripture narrates. Had Jesus’ birth been any other way, we would not have the salvation offered to us in Him. Let us hear this portion of Holy Scripture, from the Spirit-led pen of the Apostle Matthew, and let us thus hear what the Lord says to us in His written Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way,” and he tells us of marvelous events in straightforward language. We learn next from the Lord, through Matthew, that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. We do not have, in our culture, an exact equivalent for this, but our custom of engagement is a near equivalent. When a man and a woman engage themselves to each other, they plan to marry each other one day—and, ideally, in accordance with God’s Word, they abstain from sexual contact until after their wedding. So far, ancient betrothal and modern engagement are similar, but a key dissimilarity rises to our view. Betrothal, as described in today’s text, carried the force of marriage. To break such betrothals required divorce—with all moral, ecclesiastical, and legal difficulties accompanying. In our first clause, we see none of this—though we needed to know the background. Mary and Joseph are betrothed to each other, and we have no reason to expect anything else save a happy marriage and family—until the Lord, through Matthew, inserts a serious complication.
Mary, before she came together (or had sexual intercourse) with Joseph, was found to be with child. Two scenarios immediately present themselves for consideration. First, Mary could be pregnant due to forcible violation—that is, some man raped her. Second, Mary committed fornication—either with Joseph or with another. At any rate, a great, apparent scandal has erupted within the common life of tiny Nazareth. We cannot concern ourselves primarily with Nazarene public opinion on this apparent scandal. Scripture concerns itself with Joseph’s opinion; let’s limit ourselves to his opinion as well.
Two things appear implicit as Joseph mulls these things. First, he believes Mary to have committed fornication—else why would he contemplate divorce is she were an innocent, violated party? Second, he did not sin in this way with Mary, for it would be the height of hypocrisy for him to initiate divorce if he is the second guilty party in this sin. Joseph resolves to divorce Mary quietly—though he is well within his rights to make much noise about it. Joseph is a just man—and, apparently, very compassionate. He is unwilling to put her to shame—or, shall we say, further shame than already adheres to his interpretation of these events. As Joseph pondered along these lines, the Lord explains all to Joseph, via His angel appearing to Joseph in a dream.
The unnamed angel explains to Joseph in similar fashion to the angel Gabriel’s appearance and explanation unto Mary (Luke 1:26-38). What is conceived in Mary is not the product of a sinful union—as Joseph and, doubtless, many others infer. Rather, what is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit. In a miraculous, non-sexual way, the Holy Spirit—very God Himself, the third Person of the Holy Trinity—has so operated upon Mary that the Child conceived carries natures both of humanity and of divinity. This is all of the Father’s plan, which we shall note in further detail later.
The angel then tells Joseph what to name the Child, and why. Joseph will name this unique Child Jesus. Jesus (Greek Iesous [IhsouV]) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Joshua. This name, Joshua, comes from a Hebrew verb (yasha‘) meaning to save. Hence, Jesus will save His people from their sins.
Moreover, all of these events fulfill prophecy—in this case, the prophecy uttered by Isaiah, and recorded in Isaiah 7:14, some seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah predicts through the Spirit that the virgin will conceive (and Matthew and Luke both declare that she did). The virgin is predicted to bear a son—and she did. They will call his name Immanuel (or God with us, another Name given in Scripture to Jesus). Josh McDowell, famed Christian apologist of an earlier generation, noted that the odds against one man fulfilling all of the Old Testament prophecies was staggeringly long—virtually zero. Yet all of those prophecies are verifiably fulfilled in Jesus.
Joseph, after received the angelic information, acted in perfect concert with it. He took (or received) his wife. He knew her not until she bore a Son—though, to judge from Mark 6:3, they knew each other after the birth of this Son, for a list of the Son’s half-brothers and half-sisters occurs there. Moreover, Joseph called that Son’s Name Jesus. This is how Matthew ended the first chapter of his Spirit-led Gospel—and that is how we end our exposition today.
In sum, then, Jesus’ birth had to be the way described in this text. It had to be this way in order to fulfill prophecy—both here, from Isaiah 7:14, and elsewhere in many other prophecies (such as Micah 5:2, for example, where the Lord led Micah to predict that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem). It also had to be this way in order to make Christ’s unique nature: fully God, fully man. Augustine (354-430), the greatest theologian of the ancient Church, referred rightly to Jesus as the God-man. In A. D. 451, the Council of Chalcedon rightly formulated the doctrine of Christ’s Person for the Church to uphold in the centuries to follow: Jesus’ Person is of two natures, in one Person, indissolubly united forever.
Because Jesus is fully man, He identified with us to the uttermost. He was tempted to sin in every way as we are (yet without sin Himself), and He knew experientially the infirmities of being human—such as being hungry, tired, pained, and the like. Because Jesus is fully God, He is perfect in every way—especially as to His active and passive obedience to the Law and to His Father. Therefore, His sacrifice for the sins of the elect is infinitely meritorious and efficacious. Moreover, Jesus’ power is sufficient, and to spare, to redeem the elect of God by His atoning work and unique Person. It had to be this way. Come, let us adore Him—Christ, the Lord.