Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ANGEL’S APPEARANCE TO JOSEPH”

Matthew 1.18-25

 

Those of you who are somewhat familiar with Matthew’s gospel know that the opening seventeen verses of that book of the Bible are given over to tracing the genealogy that links the Lord Jesus Christ to the Abraham, the man to whom God made the promise and obligated Himself with a covenant. Abraham, of course, was the first Hebrew. Were you to review those seventeen verses you would see that the patriarch Isaac’s genealogy is three words (“Abraham begat Isaac”), the patriarch Jacob’s genealogy is three words, King David’s genealogy is five words, King Solomon’s genealogy is fourteen words, King Hezekiah’s genealogy is three words, King Josiah’s genealogy is three words, and on it goes. However, the Lord Jesus Christ’s genealogy takes up Matthew 1.18-25. That is eight verses. Were it even possible to measure the relative importance of those men in comparison to the central place the Lord Jesus Christ plays in the plan and purpose of Almighty God, you might begin to weigh their relative importance by a consideration of the space devoted to their respective genealogies.

You may remember Ibrahim ag Mohamed’s personal testimony given when he was with us in March of this year, during our church’s annual missions conference. He indicated that he had grown up a very determined Muslim, who had destroyed every tract and copy of the scriptures he had ever handled. However, the first time he ever took the occasion to read God’s Word, he opened a New Testament and his eyes fell upon the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel. His culture does not observe family names such as ours does, with everyone in a family of the same mother and father having the same last name. In his culture a man is known by his ancestry, with men reciting their ancestry as a way to informing new acquaintances who they are. Thus, Ibrahim ag Mohamed is Ibrahim the son of a man named Mohamed.

The situation was similar in Jesus’ day, with the text that we look to this morning explaining how a man named Jesus came on the scene who was not the son of the man His mother was married to. Our text for this morning is Matthew 1.18-25. Rather than standing to read the entire text, I would like to ask two favors of you this morning: First, open your Bible to that passage. Second, please to not pursue a Bible study during this sermon by turning from page to page in your Bible. Please study your Bible at home. Here at church, open your Bible and keep it turned to the same passage during the course of this message. Thank you for helping me to hold your attention and minimizing any distractions to others.

As we consider the passage before us, let us divide what we are told into three categories: Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s perplexity, and God’s remedy:

 

First, THERE IS MARY’S PREGNANCY

 

We learned in Luke’s gospel last week that Mary had been selected by God to be the woman used to fulfill the prediction made in the book of Isaiah, seven hundred years earlier, that the Messiah would be virgin born. It is very clear, then, that although Mary had entered into a binding contract to marry this man named Joseph, and that bride price money had already been exchanged to establish the marriage contract, the marriage had not been consummated, and Mary was still a virgin who had never been with any man. Where Luke’s gospel records the angel’s announcement that Mary would be overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and the power of the Most High would come upon her, we find that Matthew’s gospel takes up after that predicted event, when the incarnation had already occurred, and Mary is now carrying the Christ child in her womb.

Verse 18: “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.” Notice several things with me: First, notice what is not recorded in the Bible. Luke’s gospel informs us that the miracle of the incarnation is going to take place. Matthew’s gospel informs us that the miracle of the incarnation has taken place. However, the Bible does not report to us the occurrence itself. Much the same thing takes place when Jesus is born in Bethlehem. We are given a great deal of information related to His impending birth, with the journey to Bethlehem and there being no room for them in the inn. As well, we are given information about the shepherds watching over their flocks by night and coming to see the baby Jesus after the appearance to them of angels. We are even told about the arrival of the wise men from the east sometime after our Lord’s birth. However, about the actual birth of Jesus itself, the Bible is as silent as it is about the incarnation. It seems as though God challenges those who read the Bible to exercise sanctified imagination about certain important events. Second, notice that Mary was discovered to be pregnant during her espousal to Joseph. Piecing together the pertinent passages, it seems the incarnation took place when Mary’s cousin Elisabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary’s visit to her cousin probably lasted until just after John’s birth, meaning Mary was three or four months into her pregnancy when she returned to Nazareth. It was when she returned to Nazareth that Mary’s pregnancy was discovered, but not by Joseph. There was no way Joseph was close enough to notice Mary’s condition prior to the consummation of their marriage, not with the kind of clothing women wore in those days. No one would have noticed her baby bump. It would have been other women who would have noticed the changes in Mary’s routine, or perhaps her morning sickness, that would have provided the necessary clues about her pregnancy. Once the women of Nazareth knew Mary was pregnant, knowing Joseph had not taken Mary into his home with a great marriage feast, they would have assumed that she had become pregnant by sinful means and then told Joseph. Matthew is very careful, at this point, to make sure none of his readers have the slightest chance of mistaking what actually happened, by telling us that Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of any sin, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”

 

Nevertheless, THERE IS JOSEPH’S PERPLEXITY

 

19     Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

20     But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream

 

As mentioned last week, when we considered the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary before any of this took place, Jewish marriages of that time were instituted by means of a two-step process, so that though Mary was espoused to Joseph, and was legally her husband, the marriage was not consummated. The problem for Joseph, of course, was that everyone knew they are betrothed, it was common knowledge that he was Mary’s husband in every sense except the physical sense. Yet, she is now pregnant. What should he do?

Matthew declares Joseph to be Mary’s husband, declares Joseph to be a just man, and points out that Joseph has no desire to do Mary any harm by publicly divorcing her and making her the object of open ridicule. She is already the object of private ridicule. There is nothing he can do about that. So, he is thinking about putting her away privately. What should a man do in such a case? She had the rightly deserved reputation to this point of being a godly young woman, yet her pregnancy was proof that she was guilty of a terrible sin. Adultery is a profoundly destructive sin, and the punishment called for in the Law was death by stoning.

Verse 20 implies that Joseph was not rushing to judgment. He was likely not an impulsive man, especially not with a woman like Mary, who he had been so sure was genuinely spiritual. Needless to say, this whole matter rocked his world. All the more time for serious deliberation. Hasty judgment was to be avoided at all costs. Joseph, facing what was certainly the greatest dilemma of his life, seems to have decided to sleep on it before making a decision. How thankful we should be that man approached that important matter in a deliberate and cautious manner, rather than acting impulsively.

 

Finally, WE ARE INFORMED OF GOD’S REMEDY

 

20     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.

21     And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22     Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23     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.

24     Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

25     And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

 

God’s immediate remedy, of course, was the angel who was dispatched to speak to Joseph in a dream while he slept. God’s ultimate remedy is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider, with me, one verse at a time:

Verse 20: “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.” Five things to briefly touch on in this verse: First, Matthew makes sure we know Joseph was thinking on these things. This pregnancy was a very troubling scenario and would be the cause of much grief to both Mary and Joseph. Who would doubt that for all her appearance of godliness Mary was in fact a wicked hypocrite and Joseph was the fool who married her? As for “the angel of the Lord,” do not think this phrase has the same significance in the New Testament as it does in the Hebrew scriptures, where it invariably refers to the preincarnate Christ. This phrase, having no definite article in Greek, refers to an angel of the Lord, an unnamed messenger sent to Joseph to give him both piece of mind and an implied warning about the future. Third, by calling attention to the fact that Joseph is a descendant of David, the reader is given a piece of information concerning the legal inheritance of any son born to his wife. Thus, Jesus would have the legal right to inherit the throne of His ancestor, King David, and reign as King of the Jews, as opposed to the notorious Idumean madman Herod, who outrageously referred to himself as the king of the Jews. Fourth, the angel said, “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife.” I suggest that you examine the Bible verses in which the phrase “fear not” is used. There will be dire consequences for Joseph when he takes Mary into his home and their marriage takes on the appearance of being fully consummated. Judgmentalism, prejudice, revenge, hatred, doubt, suspicion. He would face it all, while for his wife it would be worse. Nevertheless, he is told to “fear not.” Finally, “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” His task for God is to be the husband whose wife carries a child that is not his own. However, despite the opinions and convictions of others, nothing wrong is happening. In fact, Joseph has been chosen to be the stepfather of the Son of God.

Verse 21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Mary’s child will be a son. I think it was when the angel told Joseph what to name the baby that his mind began to wrap around the enormity of what is happening. She is a virgin. The baby is a boy. His name will be Jesus, meaning Jehovah is salvation. He will save His people from their sins. Joseph now knows that he has been selected by God to play a part, along with his young wife, of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. And what was the primary mission of the Messiah, according to the angel dispatched by God? To “save his people from their sins.”

Verses 22-23:

 

22     Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23     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.”

 

Whenever you come across the phrase “that it might be fulfilled” or “as it is written” you know you are come to a place where the reader is reminded of something written in the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament. Here reference is made to something written by a prophet that has to do with the Lord. It is in verse 23 that we learn what prophecy is referred to, Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s virgin birth, in Isaiah 7.14. Let me read it to you: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Thus, in Joseph’s dream, the angel dispatched by God to speak to him connects Mary’s pregnancy to the Holy Ghost, verse 20, and Isaiah’s prediction of the coming of the Messiah. Mary is the woman God has chosen to give birth to the Messiah!

Verse 24: “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” Two observations in this verse: First, the phrase “being raised,” is a passive participle, meaning Joseph did not wake up but was awakened.[1] Think about it for a moment. This was no ordinary dream, but an angelic visitation. No wonder Joseph was aroused from his sleep. Next, Joseph did what he was told and “took unto him his wife.” Thus, he took whatever actions were necessary to bring Mary into his home and begin their life together as husband and wife. Did it raise eyebrows? No doubt. Did it result in gossip? To be sure. Was his reputation damaged, as Mary’s had been? He is taking in a woman thought to be guilty of adultery.

Verse 25: “And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after her firstborn son was born. Joseph complied with the angel’s directive and named the babe Jesus. However, after the birth of Jesus they were in every other respect a very normal couple, and Mary delivered to Joseph four more sons, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, and at least two more daughters. James and Judas became notable Christians leaders, James writing the epistle of James and serving as the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem until he was martyred, and Judas writing the small epistle of Jude.

 

With just a little bit of imagination and some reflection, it is easy to see that the lot in life of both Mary and Joseph was far from easy. For the next thirty plus years Mary was generally thought of by those who knew her as a hypocrite, pretending to be devoted to God but clearly guilty of sexual sin. Until his death, Joseph bore the burden of being thought of as either being guilty of sexual sin with Mary or being a man so foolish as to marry a woman who had cheated on him with another man.

When you think of these tragic consequences, you might ask yourself if there was a way for Mary and Joseph to avoid such suffering. However, realizing that the whole world lieth in wickedness, and that Satan and all who are his were arrayed against those useful to God, understand that there was no pain free way for this to be accomplished. To whom much is given much is required, and both Mary and Joseph were given inestimable privileges by God that brought on such unjust suffering at the hands of their fellow men.

Was it worth it? We see no indication of Joseph or Mary ever complaining. If they were a couple who read and believed the Bible, they must have been deeply humbled and genuinely excited to think of God actually choosing them, of God actually using them, and of the opportunity to play some part in God’s great plan of redemption. Were they confused at times? How would you relate to a sinless child, who was both under your tutelage and the Lord of glory? Of course, they were confused at times. However, this One born into their family, raised up in their home, was sent by His heavenly Father to bring about our redemption, to save us from our sins. I think it is safe to say that He forgave Mary and Joseph their missteps and transgressions. Keep this thought in mind: If Mary had not been utterly convinced, and if Joseph had not been utterly convinced, by the respective angels who visited them, and if what transpired was not in complete agreement with what they knew to be true in God’s Word, there is no doubt in my mind that they could not have, they would not have, collaborated to perpetrate a hoax.

Joseph would die before it was finally proven to him, but Mary was still alive to see not only her firstborn Son’s crucifixion, but also His resurrection from the dead three days later, and His ascension to heaven some days afterward. That all of this is true and can be established to the honest inquirer shows one thing if it shows anything at all. It shows that you have sins that must be forgiven lest you perish, for it was to save His people from their sins that He was born, that He lived, that He was crucified, that He rose from the dead, and that He ascended to heaven, where He is now enthroned until He comes again.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 2.



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