Summary: God interrupts. Plans change. We glorify God when we submit to His plans rather than ours.
Poet Laureate John Masefield wrote these lines in his famous poem The Everlasting Mercy (New York: Macmillan: 1912). . .
“He who gives a child a treat makes joy-bells ring in Heaven's street,
And he who gives a child a home builds palaces in Kingdom come,
And she who gives a baby birth brings Savior Christ again to earth.”
1. Luke tells the story of Christ’s birth from Mary’s standpoint. He includes the annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, her subsequent visit to Elizabeth, her Magnificat and other accounts recorded from her unique perspective.
2. Matthew tells the story differently. While scholars agree that Matthew draws material from multiple sources to write his gospel (including Mark and Luke), his account of Jesus’ birth grows from Joseph’s perspective. OYBT Mt. 1:18-25.
3. The gospel lesson reveals much of this man Joseph, but before we engage the text, we must understand a bit about the biblical writer—in this case, Matthew. To appreciate his account we must put it into context.
II. MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST: Things we should know as we engage his writing
1. He is a Jew, writing to other Jews: he does not explain things common to Jewish culture (i.e., betrothal; divorce laws; the coming together of Joseph and Mary, etc.). We may assume it is because there is no need for explanation, e.g.,
A. He does not tell the reader who Mary and Joseph were; evidently they are known
B. He does not speak explicitly of the virgin conception; he presumes they know that too
2. He hopes to evangelize his people: he is, in fact, a witness—one who gives his testimony! The Jews have waited centuries for the Anointed One to come, and Matthew’s purpose is to alert them that Jesus is He! (Christ (Gk.) and Messiah (Heb) both mean Anointed One)
III. CONTEXT OF OUR PASSAGE
1. A complete genealogy of Jesus precedes it: one’s heritage is of utmost importance in Judaism; the Jews are God’s chosen, and Matthew must establish Jesus’ lineage if he hopes to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah who will deliver Israel.
2. The prophets assured Israel that the Messiah would be one of their own; a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Kind David’s father), a.k.a. the son (descendant) of David.
3. The emphasis of fourteen (1:17): three groups of fourteen have significance to Matthew and his readers. The number fourteen corresponds to the number of high Priests from Aaron to the establishment of Solomon’s Temple; the number of High priests form the establishment of the Temple until Jaddua, the last High Priest mentioned in Scripture.
A. The number fourteen holds mystic significance in Sadducean and Pharisaic traditions. Matthew is aware of this, and may be producing an argument that will impress the Jews.
B. Don’t assume this is manipulation; his goal is honest and his technique (if we are right) is impressive. With this in mind, we turn to Joseph, and consider how God changes his plans.
[God interrupts. Plans change. We glorify God when we submit to His plans rather than ours.]
IV. A CHANGE IN JOSEPH’S PLANS
1. He plans to wed Mary: Betrothal is more serious than engagement. One’s father arranges his marriage, selecting (with some input) his son’s wife. This brings great pride to both fathers.
2. A betrothal price is agreed upon, eliciting a treaty (covenant) between the two families. For one full year, the two prepare for life together; they are never alone during this time, for fear of intimacy or private conversation.
3. Thus, no marital relations occur between a man and his betrothed until he takes her home as his wife (v.24) (note: Matthew calls them husband and wife before they are married; this gives insight into the seriousness of the betrothal commitment).
4. Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant: God interrupts Joseph’s life; Joseph, a just man, considers divorcing Mary. This is the letter of Jewish Law—there is no second chance for Mary—Joseph is just for divorcing her, should he so choose.
A. The two have not been alone (see above); he knows the child is not his. He considers a quiet divorce so as not to expose her to public disgrace. As he considers this, God interrupts his life again, and Joseph does not go through it.
5. God speaks to Joseph in a dream: the angel of the Lord addresses Joseph as son of David (cf. v.1, used of Jesus)…that’s interesting…
A. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
B. She will give birth to a son…you are to call his name Jesus. Call his name is significant. It is a Hebraic construction: by giving (calling) the name, Joseph officially accepts the child (cf. Is. 43:1), granting the child the status of a descendant of David.