Hi everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 16 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode we talked briefly about Mary's return to Nazareth in Luke 1 and how much of a scandal it would have been for her to have been showing her pregnancy. Joseph, a righteous and noble man to whom Mary had been betrothed, had set his heart to divorce her quietly, trying to protect her from as much shame as possible. Just imagine the first conversation between Mary and Joseph after she had returned home. She tells the whole story - the encounter with Gabriel, her time with Elizabeth and her pregnancy as the sign that Gabriel's words were true, all of the things associated with the early stages of her own pregnancy, all of the sleepless nights wondering what Joseph and the rest of her friends in Nazareth would think... The story just seemed so unbelievable, so unlikely, so outlandish. Well, this is where we're going to pick up today. Let's read Matthew 1 starting in verse 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)
On a real night over 2000 years ago, Joseph lay his head down to sleep, undoubtedly troubled in his soul as everything in his life had been turned upside down. The one he loved was pregnant, and not by him! Could he really believe what Mary told him? Uncertainty crashed over him like a tempest at sea. What was he to do? Well that night, the Lord had compassion on him. Joseph received the first of a series of very important dreams, each one giving him very specific direction on what to do with Mary's child.
In this first dream, an angel appears. I wonder if Joseph had ever seen an angel in a dream before. The angel begins speaking to Joseph by calling him a "son of David". Joseph was of the lineage of David, the family through which Israel's final and eternal king, the Messiah, would come from according to 2 Samuel 7. This isn't a minor detail - it's important because if Joseph married Mary, her child would legally be Joseph's son and thus legally the son of David. For the Jewish reader of Matthew's Gospel, this would have been very significant in establishing the validity of Jesus' Davidic descent and showing that He was qualified to be the Messiah of 2 Samuel 7.
The angel goes on to tell Joseph that he shouldn't hesitate to take Mary to be his wife and bring her into his home. Now don't the words "do not fear" or "do not hesitate" as some other translations say, really imply that deep down in Joseph's heart he really wanted to take Mary but just couldn't dare to? I'm sure the turmoil in his heart was overwhelming. But imagine how comforting these opening words from the angel must have been to him. Though the gossip and misunderstanding would persist in Nazareth, Joseph knew the story Mary told him was true, and could now safely take his betrothed wife into his home.
The angel continues and confirms that Mary's pregnancy was not caused by a man, but by the Holy Spirit. Think of how much more peace this may have brought to Joseph. Mary had not been unfaithful to him as he had assumed. But I wonder also how perplexing it may have been for him. Had any other woman ever been with child by the Holy Spirit? Like we looked at in Episode 13, we're left with no details on how Mary's "overshadowing" was accomplished and here we have no idea what Joseph would have thought about it either. I'm guessing if an angel had not made this known to Joseph, he wouldn't have ever believed it, because there was really no precedent in their history for anything like this ever happening.
The angel goes on to confirm the very things that Gabriel spoke to Mary several months earlier in Luke 1:31 - the child's name would be Jesus (or Yeshua), which just means "Yahweh saves".
Undoubtedly there would have been many other children named Yeshua or Joshua alive in that day. As we looked at back in Episode 13, we saw that there were a couple of prominent Old Testament figures also named Joshua and how they are significant figures who would be just a small picture of who Mary's child would be. The angel here tells Joseph that Mary's child would be very unique. Unlike the two Joshua's in the Old Testament, Mary's Joshua would save His people from their sins. We'll talk more about this, but it's important to see that forgiveness is not something that the king of Israel, the Messiah, was expected to do or even had the authority to do. God alone could forgive sin, as Mark 2:7 says. Now of course Jesus is both the living God and the Messiah. One of the church creeds, the Chalcedonian creed, expresses this distinction about Jesus in a simpler way that you may be familiar with - it says that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Though Jesus is one person, he is both the Lord of glory and the Messiah, the king of Israel. That distinction is important to understand as we move forward in looking at the Gospels, especially when we see Jesus doing things we may be familiar with - like raising the dead or calming the storm. Don't worry if some of these terms don't make much sense to you right now - we'll spend more time talking about this.
Well, these words from the angel about saving from sin must have brought to Joseph’s mind the promises of God to provide salvation for Israel through the New Covenant, as was prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31(:31–37). Now while forgiveness and inclusion into Israel's promises through faith in Jesus would be extended to the rest of the nations, the angel is specifically telling Joseph that Mary's child would save his people, the Israelites, from their sin.
This begins to introduce another concept that I'll return to throughout this series - that Jesus was sent first to the people of Israel. We see this explicitly in passages like Matthew 15:24, where Jesus said to a Gentile that he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. We'll talk about that specific verse much later on. But we often times open Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and immediately seek to find application to us as 21st century Christians, somehow believing that Jesus was talking about us or even maybe all believers throughout history every time. While there are undoubtedly volumes of meaning and application for us in the four Gospels, we have to remember the context in which Jesus spoke, lived, healed, died, and was raised again. He was coming to the Jewish people in the land of Israel in the first century. Though this may seem obvious, this is the primary context we must have in mind as we look at the Gospels. And this is really going to matter as we move forward.
Now this is why Matthew goes on to speak about Jesus' coming:
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).”
(Matthew 1:22–23 ESV)
It is characteristic of Matthew to look at Old Testament prophecies and link them to the story in the Gospels. Through this he points to the fact that Jesus is the one in whom and through whom those prophecies have come to pass or will come to pass. We will look at many of these in future episodes. But here we see Matthew's first one, quoting Isaiah 7:14. 700 years before, Isaiah had spoken to King Ahaz of Judah and challenged him to ask for a sign to confirm God's promise that He would destroy the two kings from the north that were currently threatening their land. A child would be born and that would be God's sign, according to this passage in Isaiah.
Now Matthew here is saying that Isaiah's prophecy was not only speaking of that time in the past, but also speaking of this time when a virgin would bear a child. Joseph's betrothed wife, Mary, was indeed a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception. Jesus is Immanuel ... God with us - the divine presence among His people, and He is God's sign that the enemies of Israel will be conquered. Let's read the last couple of verses in our passage:
“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.”
(Matthew 1:24–25 ESV)
What an awesome response that tells us so much about Joseph's heart - he woke up and he obeyed. He immediately took Mary into his home rather than waiting till the one-year time period of betrothal had passed. He was probably thinking of what would be best for Mary in her situation. So he brought her home and began to care and provide for her. But there was no sexual relationship between them until after the birth of this Child called Jesus. We know Mary and Joseph would go on to have many children - the Gospels tell us Jesus had four brothers and sisters too.
There is so much to ponder here. Fight to make this real - it really happened in a real moment in history. This isn't a fairy tale, and these are the circumstances in which our Lord Jesus was born. Here's a couple of suggestions for your meditation this week:
- Put yourself in Joseph's shoes. Imagine what he felt and experienced when he saw Mary for the first time upon her return.
- Imagine what he felt like as the days passed and before he had received the dream. What emotional turmoil was he going through?
I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this scene. Log on to the Gospels section of my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels and leave a comment on the video there. Also, don't forget to share these videos on social media and tag your posts with the hash tag #gospels. There is only so much that I can say in 10 minutes, so if you have a question be sure to post it on my website under this specific video. As I've said in the past, I'll try to answer your questions there and also on some dedicated Q&A episodes. Bless you, I hope you come back next week when we will look more at the birth of Jesus.