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Matthew 1:18-25: Christmas Meditation: The Origin Story Print E-mail
Christmas Season
Sunday, 20 December 2015

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We like origin stories. We like to know where people come from and how they got to where they are. We want to know how Darth Vader went to the dark side and how Michael Jordan did not make his high-school basketball team. We want to know where Bilbo got the ring of power and how the minions ended up with Gru (well, maybe only some of us are interested in that). We like to hear the back-story of athletes and musicians and even politicians on occasion. We like to know where people came from because it usually helps us better understand and appreciate who they became. The story of their origin informs and teaches us about the person before us.

The story of Jesus’ origin prepares us for who He will be and what He will accomplish. Many who heard Him teach or witnessed His miracles later in life might not have heard of the virgin birth. But we have the back-story. We have the story of His birth. And when we read it, we are better prepared for what happens in His life. So then, what does Matthew tell us about Jesus’ origin, His birth?

His birth was full of scandal (v. 18-19)

Matthew wrote his Gospel to demonstrate that Jesus was indeed the Promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins. Most believe that it was intended primarily for a Jewish audience, who would have been familiar with the Old Testament promises about the Christ, which is why he begins with a genealogy that proves that Jesus is the son of David and Abraham. Such a beginning would have greatly interested the Jews who were waiting for the Promised One. Yet, as soon as the genealogy is over, the scandal begins. Look at verse 18. In those days, a man and woman were betrothed for around a year. They were considered married in one sense, which is why Joseph was going to have to divorce Mary, but they were not yet living together. Thus, for Mary to pregnant could mean only one of two things: either she and Joseph had been unfaithful or she had been unfaithful with someone else. Either of these options was scandalous.

So Joseph has to make a tough decision. To go ahead with the marriage would be to admit that he had been unfaithful with her. But if that was not the case, then he was expected to divorce her, which is what he decided to do. Look at verse 19. Joseph could have gone public with the scandal, but he decided to do it quietly, and Matthew points out that he was a just man for taking this option. What a scandalous beginning for Jesus: conceived out of wedlock with the threat of just divorce hanging over His mother’s head.

Such scandal at Jesus’ birth prepares us for the scandal of His life and death. He was the Promised Messiah, the Promised King. He was supposed to defeat the Romans and rule over the Israelites. He was supposed to reflect His royal lineage. But He was not these things. He was humble and kind. He called tax collectors to be His followers and shared meals with prostitutes. He hung out with fisherman and spoke in parables. And then He died a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. The scandal of His birth prepares us for the scandal of His death.

His birth was full of wonder (v. 20)

Joseph had a tough decision to make, but before he could carry out his plans something amazing happened. God sent a messenger to him in a dream. Look at verse 20. Even though the story is familiar to us, we should not miss how rare it is for God to send an angel to speak with a man. It happens only a few times in the Bible. This is a big deal. God must be up to something great to take such an action. And what does the angel tell Joseph? Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife. Angels normally begin by telling folks not to be afraid. Here the angel tells Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary. We have to realize how crazy this is. If Joseph goes ahead and marries Mary, then he is essentially admitting to everyone that he has been unfaithful with her during their betrothal. Her shame would now become his shame. Yet, that is what the angel tells him to do and what he is willing to do. Why would Joseph do it? Because of what the angel tells him next: for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Something great is happening here. Mary has not been unfaithful. In fact, just the opposite is true. She is carrying a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is no ordinary child. He is from God. Oh, the wonder of such a statement! The baby growing in Mary is from the Holy Spirit!

Such wonder prepares us for the life of Christ. Such a birth helps explain how Jesus could take a few fish and a few loaves and feed five thousand people. It helps us understand how he could heal a demon possessed man that everyone thought was crazy. And it reveals the source of His power to raise Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps if we would have been among the 500 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, we would have proclaimed: ‘Of course the grave could not hold Him, He is the Son of God, born of a virgin!’ Jesus is not just any other man or even another good man, He is from the Holy Spirit. We should expect wonderful things from Him!

His birth was full of grace (v. 21-25)

Mankind has a serious problem. And it has nothing really to do with politics or government or wars or violence (although all of these are symptoms of the problem). No, the greatest problem that each of us has is our own sinful hearts. We find pleasure in doing the wrong things. We may not be as worse as the next guy and we may even try to do some really good things now and again, but the truth is, we have gone our own way and rebelled against God (although we might never call it that). The Bible is not quiet about this problem, in fact it is evident on almost every page. And the big question that the Bible is answering is this: ‘How can a holy God have anything to do with sinful men?’ We can say things like: ‘God is love,’ or ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ or ‘God knows I am not that bad,’ but none of those necessarily deal with the problem of sin and God’s holiness. How can God be my friend when I have made myself His enemy through my own sin? I can try to blame everyone else, even God, but the truth is, my greatest problem is my own doing, my own rebellion.

But the birth of Jesus provides the answer for our terrible sin problem. Look at verse 21. I love Jesus for a number of reasons, but none of them are greater than the simple fact that He saved me from my sins. He didn’t change the definition of sin for me. He didn’t act like my sin was no big deal. He didn’t give me excuses or explain away my rebellion. No, this is how the world deals with sin. But Jesus paid for my sins. He was mocked and beaten. He was stripped naked and forced to wear a crown of thorns. And He was nailed to a tree for my sins. The just punishment for my sins, namely the righteous wrath of God, was paid by Jesus at Calvary. He was born to save us from our sins through His death upon the cross.

This had always been God’s plan. Jesus’ birth was the greater fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the birth of Immanuel. Look at verses 22-25. Isaiah made that prophecy 700 years before Jesus was born, but it was pointing to the Promised One, who would be ‘God with us.’ It was God’s plan to take on flesh, live a perfect life, die on a cross, and be raised from the dead so that anyone who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus can be saved from their sins. This is the gracious plan of God that included people like Mary and Joseph, and the twelve disciples, and all who turn from their sins and trust in Jesus. His birth was full of grace and it prepares us for the grace that He purchased for us through His life and death and resurrection.

The story of Jesus’ birth prepares us for the rest of His story. It contains the scandal and the wonder and the grace that characterized His life on the earth. The only question remaining is how will you respond? Imagine yourself at His birth with Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Wise Men. Imagine yourself listening to His teaching and watching His miracles. Imagine seeing Him hanging on a cross for your sins. And imagine Him rising victorious over the grave, seated at the right hand of God, interceding for His own. Now imagine Him asking you: ‘Will you follow Me?’ What is your answer to the Savior today?

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 December 2015 )

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