“King and Kingdom” is a series in which we walk through Matthew’s Gospel. Tune in every Thursday morning for thoughts on the next passage.
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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Christ is “from the Holy Spirit” (vv.18, 20), which establishes the Spirit’s role in his incarnation. This theme will come full circle when his humiliation is complete and he is exalted (Philippians 2:5-11), for at that time the Holy Spirit will be from him (Acts 2:33). Thus, we see the Trinitarian harmony of God. The divine persons do not contend with one another, nor do they reign over one another by a rule of greater and lesser divinity. God is one, and among the persons there persists unity, in joy, glory, and all other things.
Aside from Jesus, Joseph is the first character Matthew introduces us to in detail. Concerning Joseph, notice first how he demonstrated a true understanding of the law when he refused to shame Mary (Matthew 1:19). The Pharisaical practice would have been to put her away in public shame, and perhaps death, for adultery, to bring the full weight of the law down upon her automatically without restraint. This would be to deal with her as if she were created for the letter. Joseph behaves differently. By divorcing her quietly, he acts consistently with a law of love, which is the law of the Old Testament. Many, like the Pharisees, take the hardest sentences and consequences of the law as the only recourse, and, most significantly, as the purpose of the law itself. This is a mistaken, superficial interpretation of the Scriptures, as Jesus will demonstrate later in Matthew (e.g. 5:21-48). The law teaches love. It rewards, facilitates, and demonstrates love. From the beginning, God’s will was for a circumcision of the heart worked out in a keeping of the law. Thus, to use the law as a device of torture and personal vengeance would be to abuse the law. Whereas Israel’s shepherds had forgotten this, Joseph seems to have understood it. In this passage, he operates under the conviction that the letter was written for Mary, not that Mary was made for the letter (Mark 2:27).
Second, notice that he is “Joseph, son of David” (Matthew 1:20). This makes Christ the son of David by federal headship – a point Matthew is already adamant to emphasize. Born of a virgin, Christ may share in Joseph’s line without being tainted by his sin. This federal relationship between Joseph and Jesus is further demonstrated when Joseph is designated as the one who will name Jesus (vv.21, 25), as Zechariah with John (Luke 1:63).
Regarding this passage (Matthew 1:18-25), a final note should be made concerning prophecy: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (v.22). According to this pattern, events in history unfold to fulfill to the Word of God. This is directly antithetical to certain liberal assumptions about Biblical prophecy, that such words must have been written or amended after the events they describe. Truly, God’s prophecy is never a prediction. It is always a revelation of what he will work in time. He gives promises, not probabilities. He gives us signs and seals, not lottery tickets and wagers.