Matthew 1:18-25 – The Birth of Jesus Christ

John Carter – September 17, 2017

The joy of the birth of Jesus Christ is most clearly seen when we see the historical and theological truth that although we may have rejected God he has not rejected us.

A Change of Perspective

The birth of Jesus is not about Mary. “Her (Mary’s) significance in Matthew’s story is purely as Jesus’ mother.”[1] In Matthew’s introduction we are not even given insight to the character of Mary. She is most simply a footnote in the larger story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Although more prominent than Mary, the birth of Jesus is also not about Joseph. “In Luke he (Joseph) is a minor figure, but in Matthew’s account it will be Joseph, as the legal father, who is the lead player in the stories of 1:18-2:23.”[2] Three times an angel of the lord appears to Joseph in a dream (MT 1:20; 2:13, 19). And three times Joseph obeys the messenger of the lord. But even still, Joseph disappears from the Gospel of Matthew after the end of chapter 2.

So if the birth of Jesus is not about Mary nor Joseph, then perhaps it must be about Jesus being born. It is at this point that I will argue and plead that the birth of Jesus Christ only finds its greatest value when his birth is embraced within the historical and theological context of the Old Testament. Among all of the important passages that alert the reader of the Old Testament to the coming birth of the Christ (Messiah), it is Isaiah 7:1-10:11 that Matthew points his readers to. A passage that was not only important to the tribes of Israel, but a passage that is even important to all those who find themselves outside of the family of Abraham.

The Historical Background

In approximately 930 BCE Ancient Israel became divided into two nations. These nations were normally called Southern Israel (which included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) and Northern Israel (which included the remaining ten tribes). However, The Southern tribe was usually referred to as Judah (the tribe of David and the future Messiah). Northern Israel was often referred to as Ephraim. This context is important to understand before stepping into Isaiah because a lot of what happens in Isaiah is right on the edge of Northern Israel becoming exiled in approximately 722 BCE when the Assyrian empire conquers them. Southern Israel will avoid exile until 586 BCE when the Babylonian empire conquers them.

Isaiah 7:1-9 sets the scene for when King Ahaz (of Judah) is terrified when he learns that he is being plotted against. King Rezin (of Syria) and King Pekah (of N. Israel/Ephraim) have decided to wage a war against King Ahaz and the rest of Judah. Isaiah brings a word of YHWH to King Ahaz telling him not to fear because his enemies plans will fail and both enemies will be destroyed within 65 years.

In Isaiah 7:10-25 King Ahaz, in an act of faithlessness, Ahaz denies an opportunity to ask for a sign. However, a sign is still given. The sign is that a virgin will give birth to a child called Immanuel. Although Mary’s virgin birth was truly that, a birth without physical intimacy, the virgin birth being spoken of here was in regards to a young virgin girl becoming pregnant for the first time. And before this child reaches a certain age neither Syria nor Ephraim will be able to wage a war against anyone. And according to History about 10 years after this prophecy Northern Israel (Ephraim) is exiled and about 64 years later Syria is also conquered.

In Isaiah 8:1-10 Isaiah describes how his wife, the prophetess, becomes pregnant and another prophecy regarding this Immanuel (8:8,10) is made. In effect, God reiterates that although people may wage a war against his people, the war will fail because God is with his people.

In Isaiah 8:11-22 YHWH directs Isaiah to separate himself from not only Northern Israel  (Ephraim) but even Southern Israel (Judah) because YHWH will become a stumbling block to both houses of Israel. This theme of a stumbling block is later picked back up by Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8).

In Isaiah 9:1-10:11 Isaiah prophecies about a time when not only Northern and Southern Israel will return to YHWH, but even the nations will come to seek YHWH (9:1). Portions of this prophecy fill many of our Christmas songs and our Christmas cards (9:2; 6-7). And again these themes are picked up by Jesus and his Apostles in the New Testament over 700 years later when virgin gives birth and calls the child Jesus (a variation of Joshua) which means, God is our Savior.

The Reality of the Birth of Jesus Christ

In other words, when Matthew calls his reader attention to Jesus being born of a virgin he is calling his readers to remember when Israel was faithless, stumbled and rejected YHWH, but even still YHWH did not reject Israel forever. When they chose the dark he, God, brought light. When they deserved wrath he offered grace and mercy. When Israel deserved a divorce YHWH chose covenant faithfulness.

In Matthew 21:42, 1 Corinthians 1:23, Romans 9:33, and 1 Peter 2:8 Jesus is called the stumbling block.

Matthew 21:42-44

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

While in John 8:12 Jesus calls himself the light of the world.

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The birth of Jesus Christ is more than a virgin girl chosen to give birth to Jesus Christ, the God-man. The birth of Jesus Christ is more than a just man obeying the word of an angel of the Lord. The birth of Jesus is more than a small child in a manger. The birth of Jesus Christ finds its greatest value when we look back to the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to die by sinning against YHWH and eternally separating themselves from the living God. And from that vantage point looking forward to a time when the sin that is killing us and separating us is forever destroyed. A time when the righteousness and holiness of God is no longer a stumbling block but a welcomed reality. A future when darkness is overpowered by God’s holy light. We begin to see the full beauty of the birth of Jesus Christ when our separation from God is brought to end. Not because we finally pleased God with our pitiful attempts to satisfy his wrath. But a separation that ended when the Father sent the Son to endure the Father’s wrath in place of his chosen and elect. This is why Jesus is Immanuel. Because Jesus is God with us.

Colossians 1:15-23

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. {goes on to speak of the joy he has in suffering for the gospel}

So What?

This is why there is so much joy in the what we hear from Jesus before he ascends into heaven and promises to never leave or forsake his own (Matthew 28:20). In other words, when we are at our worst, when we have become darkened and calloused, when we have lost all hope for any plausible future, Jesus comes being born of a virgin kicks down the door to our dark room shines his radiant and glorious light all the while declaring, child, I have not only come to become one of you, I have come to save you from your sins that are killing you (MT 1:21).

Believer and unbeliever listen carefully to me when I say, we may have rejected God, but he has not rejected his elect. Turn your eyes to him and see that he is good.

[1] P. 40 – NICNT – R.T. France

[2] P. 39 – NICNT – R.T. France