There once was a minister who had made it his mission to preach to a certain group of slaves. He dedicated himself to them and preached quite passionately and persuasively to them. Yet despite his continual persistence he did not have much success among them. After inquiring into the reason, he came to find that his status was the hindrance.
He began to understand that if he wanted to see these people come to faith in Christ he had to strip himself of his privileged state. So he decided to give up his freedom and sell himself into slavery. It was then, after he had taken up their chains and accompanied them in their sufferings, that he was able to have an audience with them. The slaves began to listen to his message because they saw that he was willing to become like them.
There is a certain beauty about that story. It really tells the story of true love. This man loved these people of low estate so much that he was willing to become like them that they may be saved. But more than a story of love, it tells the gospel story. That minister only copied what his Savior had done for him.
The gospel is the story of Jesus. It is the story of One who was willing to strip himself of his exalted status, condescend to our level in order to save us from our sins.
The passage of Scripture that we have before us this morning recounts that story of Christ’s descent. In this passage we find the story of God coming down to us.
If you think about it, the whole thing is quite unbelievable. You and I may have heard this story thousands of times, and I would assume that we have become somewhat accustomed to it. As a result, the story probably loses its shock value.
What I want us to do is read it again for the first time. I want us to hear this story with fresh ears. And, as a result, I want us to hear what this story tells us. The author of this gospel account was writing to a pretty tough audience. He was writing to the Jews to tell them that their Messiah had come. And he had to make a pretty convincing argument.
You can suspect that those Jews were probably pretty skeptical. They most certainly were. And no doubt we have our skeptics today. But this passage was written to overcome that skepticism. As a matter of fact, this passage records how Joseph, the very first skeptic, came to be convinced.
I. A shocking discovery 
In the first line we read that Joseph makes a shocking discovery. Look at it. It says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
I like how that is phrased. Mary was “found to be with child.” This is detective language. You know how Columbo or Sherlock Holmes comes to find the culprit by the evidence he had before him. The word for found is actually the word from which we get our English word, “Eureka!” When a kid is digging through the dirt and comes across a treasure they can say, “Eureka!” That means they found something.
Well here, Joseph had a eureka moment.
Last week we read Luke 1, where the angel announced to Mary that she was going to have a child from the Holy Spirit. After that she ran off to her relative, Elisabeth’s house. And she stayed there 6 months. It seems that Mary was in a bit of a hurry and forgot to tell Joseph the news. When Mary got back, things had changed a bit. Joseph probably could see that her tummy was a little bigger. He might have joked a bit at first, “Hey Mary, looks like you better cut back on the matzoth a bit!” But it wouldn’t have taken much for him to find out that her stomach was growing just because her appetite had increased.
You wonder, don’t you? Why didn’t Mary tell Joseph? Maybe she thought he wouldn’t believe it. Whatever the case may be, she left it in God’s hands, didn’t she?
You know, that’s where things are best left: In God’s hands. There are times in our lives where we should just say, “God, if this is to be, you have to work it out.” And you know what, if it is God’s will, he will work it out. We don’t have to get ourselves all in a fluster. We don’t have to get all up tight about it. We can just leave it in his hands.
Yeah, there are times when we need to be active. If we want the table set for dinner, we can’t just say, “Well, God. If you want the table set, you have to work it out.” I’m not saying that we should never do anything. But there are times that we just need to sit back and wait for God to work, just like Mary did. We just have to leave it in his hands and allow him to unravel things in his own way and in his own time.
Mary could trust God. If the Son of God was really to be born of her, and if this child really was to be the Savior of men, then she didn’t have to go on the offensive. She didn’t have to break the news to Joseph. She could allow the Lord to put things in order for her.
I’m sure though it wasn’t all easy for her. You can probably see the scene unravel. “No, Joseph. You don’t understand. It’s from the Holy Spirit.” And Joseph would respond, “If you want me to believe that, I have a piece of land in Naphtali I want to sell you.”
This was a shocking discovery. And that shocking discovery leads to a reassuring encounter.
II. A reassuring encounter
Now Joseph was pretty broken up about this. He didn’t believe her. That’s a hard pill to swallow. And that’s why he makes the decision that he does. He decides to divorce her, and because he is a just man (a godly man) he decides to do it quietly. He could have done it in a very loud way. The OT laws said that if a woman was found to be an adulterer she was to be publicly condemned. And everyone in the city was to come out and stone her. You know the story of John 8 about the woman being caught in adultery, and how she was put in that situation.
Joseph didn’t want to do that to Mary. He wanted to divorce her quietly.
Now, I need to insert a comment here. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, I wouldn’t doubt that you’ve heard at least one sermon on this passage before in your life. Perhaps you’ve heard more. I bet that the sermons you’ve heard on this passage have focused on Joseph and how he was a godly man. And the whole sermon basically said, “We should be godly people, just like Joseph was a godly man.” So after the service you walk out saying to yourself, “Wasn’t Joseph a great guy.”
But this passage isn’t about Joseph. This passage is about Jesus, as all Scripture is. Any sermon that magnifies a man—or any other person in the Bible—is an unchristian sermon. For a sermon to be Christian it must focus on Christ. And that is what I want you to see here.
This is bad! If Joseph breaks off the marriage, then the seed of the woman will be –in all seriousness—an illegitimate child. The Messiah had to be of the house of David. And one’s linage was determined by his father. So if Joseph is out of the picture, our redemption disintegrates.
But in order that God’s plan might not be thwarted, the Lord sends this angel to intervene. He is sent to reassure Joseph (and us) that the child to be born of Mary is of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph wasn’t easily convinced, was he? Matthew is telling us that Joseph didn’t swallow this whole thing hook line and sinker. Joseph wasn’t convinced by any human argumentation. He had to be confronted by an angel to believe it. He had to be told that this child was of the Holy Spirit and he was to have the name Jesus because he was going to save his people from their sins.
So we today, if we’re faced with the same skepticism, can be convinced too. This was written for our benefit that we too might be assured that Christ is no ordinary child.
A lot of ink has been spilled over Jesus Christ: who he was and what he did. And thanks to the influence of liberalism, today it is common to think that Jesus was just another man. A lot of people think that there was nothing real special about Jesus, but he was just like you and me.
Well, yes, he was just like you and me in that he was a man—he was flesh and blood. But he wasn’t like you and me in every way: he was conceived in a miraculous way. God was now taking human flesh.
And that is emphasized in what follows next. Being the readers of the event we are get the special privilege of having more information.
You know when you go to a professional sports game it is a great thing to be there. And even though it is great to be there, you get something more if you stay home and watch it on TV. The sports casters give you a bunch of information that really adds something to the game.
And the same happens here in our passage. Getting this story second hand we have the privilege of hearing the narrator break in and interpret the story for us.
In verses 22 Matthew tells us that “all this too place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken though the prophet Isaiah: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Immanuel” which means God with us.
So after the shocking discovery and the reassuring encounter, we are presented with the unfolding truth.
III. The unfolding truth
Basically this prophecy is evidence that Mary’s miraculous conception was not something that should be all that shocking to us. God had spoken of it long ago. The passage reminds us that this is part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. We are reminded that this story fits into a larger story, one that has been in progress since the beginning of the world. Since the very beginning of history God had promised that one born of a woman would overcome sin and the devil. Isaiah simply spoke of it when he ministered on earth. He furthered our understanding of that child that was to be born. And here in this passage we are told that that child that Isaiah spoke of, that deliverer that had been promised to Adam and Eve, had now come into the world.
And you might ask the question, “Why all this virgin birth stuff?” And that’s a good question to ask. I would bet that it is a foreign thing to you too. To our modern ears that is pretty inconceivable. (I assure you it was pretty inconceivable in the first century too!)
But Christ had to be born in this unnatural way. You see the Lord had to circumvent the natural order of things because we are all born with a sinful nature. It is something that we inherited from our very first parents: Adam and Eve. When they first ate of the fruit of the tree and disobeyed God they acted as our representatives. Everyone who descended from them in the ordinary way has received this corruption.
I was just reading Psalm 51 last night and there the Psalmist even confesses that he was “brought forth in iniquity” and “conceived in sin.” He was confessing something that is true of all of us. All of us have at the core of our being a sinful nature that we have received from our parents.
That is why Christ had to be born in this extraordinary way. Being that he was conceived in a supernatural way and born of a virgin He was not a natural descendent of Adam. As a result he was born as one who could bring us salvation from the sin that pollutes us.
The question becomes then, what do you do with this virgin conception? Do you accept it or reject it?
Joseph was convinced after his encounter with the Angel. He might have been shocked initially, but now he saw what his duty was. The last few verses tell us of his obedience. It says, “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.”
IV. The Obedient Faith
That Joseph claimed the child is seen in the fact that he named the child. In those days it was the duty of the father to name the child that was born to them. That was the way they signified that the child was theirs.
And that is what Joseph did. He name the child. In other words, he took ownership of the child, even though the child was not his in the biological sense. In other words, he acted to receive the child in faith.
He understood that this child that was to be born was God’s gift to his people. He recognized that this child was in fact the Lord. I don’t think that is a stretch to say that because he gave the child the name Jesus. The angel told him to give him that name, yes. But don’t think that Joseph was just complying with his instructions. In the Bible, when a person gives a name they are getting at the essence of the thing.
I remember in college my friends and I had different names for people on campus. There was one girl we always called “Salad Girl” because she had a mountain of salad piled on her plate every night at dinner. We just could not believe how much salad that girl ate.
Well, we gave her that name because we had identified something about who she was and what she did.
That gets at what the Bible does when people give names. And Joseph, in naming the child Jesus, was expressing his faith. As the angel tells us the name Jesus means, “the Lord Saves.” He was showing that this child was not just his child, but his savior and Lord too.
We too are to receive the child in the same way. We are to confess Jesus. And in so doing, we say like Joseph that we are sinners in need of salvation. And like Joseph we must receive the one who came down from heaven to be our savior: The Lord Jesus Christ.
Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, “I am your king!” The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!”
That earthly king did for his people what our heavenly King has done for us: He gave himself to us by coming down among us. Let us then not be afraid to take his name upon our lips, and let us not be skeptical of him any longer. But let us receive this savior with gladness.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.