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Jesus' Virgin Birth: According to Scripture

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jan 12, 1997

Matthew 1:18-25

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 1. Last week, we saw some of the truths about our Savior set forth in the genealogy and this week, we attend God’s Word to us about His virgin birth. Matthew chapter 1, beginning in verse 18.

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him again in prayer.

Our Father, we thank You for this, your Word. It is a profound word, a deep Word. Even as it is a simple word. Make it understandable to us, we pray. And apply by the work of the Spirit. And cause us not only to see it, not only to understand it, not only to apprehend or comprehend it, but cause our hearts to be obedient unto it. Cause our wills to be molded by it, challenged by it, encouraged by it, strengthened by it that we might glorify you in our minds and in our lives. We give you all the praise and all the glory. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In this short passage, the Lord sets forth great truths about the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus. But He not only tells us truths which are objectively glorious about our Lord, He also tells us truths about Him which come to bear on our daily living. In fact, today, I would like to draw your attention to two particular things that we see in this passage. The first thing that we see in this passage is the circumstances of our Lord’s birth. And even in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, there are many truths that God intends for us to benefit from. Secondly, I would like to look at the nature of the Lord Jesus Himself. The nature of the Lord Jesus as He is revealed in this passage. This passage tells us something about His character. Something about His nature. Something about who He is, what He is like. And even in those words about Him, we find truths that strengthen us in our daily walk. Those two great categories of truths, I would like to look with you today.

I. The circumstances of Jesus birth.
   
First of all, let’s turn our attention to verses 18-21, and look at the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. We are told in verse 18, that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Now that’s a little bit different than we do it today. We tend to use the word, betroth, to speak of the wedding ceremony itself and we tend to equate Mary’s betrothal with engagement. Well, that is not entirely wrong. But we must remember that betrothal in Israel was very different from our modern-day engagement. It is not, unfortunately, uncommon to hear of broken engagements today. A betrothal in Israel was much more final, much more committal, much more permanent, much more significant than our modern engagement. To say that Mary was betrothed to Joseph meant that though she was not living under his roof, yet, yet she had pledged and he had pledged to be married to one another in front of witnesses. So, they were considered to be man and wife, though they were not yet living under the same roof, and they were not enjoying all of the privileges of being married. They were nevertheless considered legally betrothed and legally man and wife.

Now, this very fact is filled with significance for us. Because when our Lord chose to send His Son into the world, when our God chose to send His Son into the world despite the fact that He already knew that He was going to do it in an extraordinary way, He chose to send His Son into a family of husband and wife. In that one fact, we see the importance that our Lord attaches to marriage. It is sacred. And when He prepared to send His Son into the world, He sent His Son, not to a single mother, but to a husband and to a wife, a family. The Lord takes seriously the marriage estate. And so He sends the Son into the world in that way.

Notice the benefits there would have been for our Lord and Savior in His childhood to have a father, and to have a mother caring for Him. Not only did it lend legitimacy to His own birth, but it established care and nurture for Him from a father and from a mother. There were, of course, immense benefits to this particular relationship for Mary. For even though people were going to raise questions, Mary, what do you mean that you are with child, and you are not yet joined after the marriage ceremony with your husband. Even though there were going to be questions asked of that, yet she was still in an official relationship with Joseph. And so she was given certain protections. Had she been unmarried, perhaps the people of Galilee wouldn’t have been asking later on in the Gospels, "Isn’t He the son of the carpenter." If she had been unbetrothed, perhaps they would have been asking, "Isn’t He the son of the prostitute? Isn’t He the son of that woman who was not engaged or married to anyone?" And so the Lord provided protection for Mary and for Jesus in their reputations by establishing this union. And, of course, He provided companionship for Mary.

In the fact that she was already betrothed, He could have brought Jesus into the world through Mary before her betrothal. But think of the weight of what this young woman was being asked to do. Mary, you will be the instrument by which God will come into the world, and He gave her a companion to whom she could bear her heart in the weightiness of that duty. Think of this young woman, this pure maiden, this fine, upstanding righteous Jewish girl, who is being told by the angel, that you will bear the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God. And God did not desire for Mary to do that alone. But in the context of a family with a husband who loved her and supported her and who could listen to her as she opened to him her heart, things that she hid from the rest of the world. How good it was that God brought His Son into the world, in, yes, a surprising way, but through a family. And when those today assail the family, and suggest that we are past the day of its usefulness, let us remember that when God sent His Son into the world, He thought it appropriate that His Son be reared in a family with a married husband and wife, father and mother. That is how God thought it. And so when they questioned the permanence or the usefulness of marriage, let us remember that God thought it appropriate when His Son came into the world to come into a family. Need we say more?

Notice also in verse 18, that we are told that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how. The Lord tells us. He doesn’t give us the details. How could this be? We don’t know. That is the whole point in fact. The Lord did a miraculous thing. Something that He had never done before. Something that He has never done since. And though the genealogy of our Lord in Matthew begins with the supernatural, a miraculous birth, yet it was a virgin birth. Think of the awesome privilege and responsibility that Mary has. She is told, behold, you the handmaiden of the Lord, you will bear the Son of God in His humanity. How overwhelming that would be. How many spiritual obstacles there would be with that. Would Mary be tempted to pride or to sin by such a weighty honor?

And isn’t it interesting that simultaneously with Mary’s honor, of being with child by the Holy Spirit, bearing the very Son of God, isn’t it interesting that along with that simultaneously come humiliation and danger and shame. Mary by bearing this child, and by the people asking questions was going to face a grave danger. She could have been expelled from the community. She could have been shunned. She could have been cut off from all those whom she knew and loved and who could have supported her. She could have cut off from legitimate ability to support that child. She could have been puffed up with pride. She could have been overwhelmed by the heddiness of the position that God had appointed her to, alone among women given this task. And so, in the midst of the great honor, there came this great danger.

Isn’t it interesting how God often, when He is preparing us for a great work, or perhaps when He has given us a great work, a great responsibility, a great privilege, a great honor, in His kingdom, so often He brings obstacles and stumbling blocks and humiliations. Perhaps He does that to save us from the natural inclination and temptation to sin. We are given a great work, a great honor, we are tempted to pride, and so the Lord brings the obstacle, the humiliation. That is brought simply because we are doing what God’s will is to keep us from being puffed up, to keep us from being destroyed by our own sinful inclinations. He does so in Mary’s experience. Even as she does the will of the Lord, she enters into an experience of fear and humiliation. Mary is not assured instantaneously that Joseph will stay with her. She must trust that God will provide for her in the task that He has called her to. And so, she faces shame and humiliation even as she is given this great honor.

It is a great irony, isn’t it, the most honored thing ever given to a woman to do in the history of the world and that for it, that woman bears shame, estrangement, questioning of her reputation, and humiliation. The cross and glory go together don’t they? Because the way of glory is the way of the cross. We must never forget that when God calls us to significant situations and ministries. We may be assured that along with the glory, along with the honor and the privilege will come the privilege to bear the cross. Mary is an example to us in bearing the cross believingly for God’s sake.

Notice also in verse 19, Joseph’s character shining through. We are told two things about Joseph in verse 19; that he was a righteous man, and we were told that he was a kind man. Joseph, when he is met with this word, that his wife is expecting, though they have never had relations, responds resolutely. Because he is a righteous man, he determines to put her away. Joseph cares about the estate of matrimony. He loves the law of God and he knows that the marriage bed is to be kept undefiled. He knows that marriage is holy. And so he will not trifle with it. And though he loves Mary, he determines because of his love of God, and His law, that he will not unite in an estate of adultery with this woman. And so he determines to divorce her. And he decides to gather the lawyers together to draw up the papers.

But at the same time, Joseph is a kind man. Joseph clearly, from this passage, has great feeling for Mary. But Joseph does not take the recourses of the law that he could have. In the Old Testament, a woman who was found in adultery, who was betrothed to a man, could have been stoned to death. By Joseph and Mary’s time, that was not occurring in Israel. But you could have been publicly disgraced and expelled from the community. Joseph determines not to do that to Mary. He cares for her. He cares for God’s law but he determines to do this quietly. He is a righteous man. He will not participate in sin or so what he thinks is sin. But he is also a kind man. And he determines not to shame her publicly. And so he calls the lawyers together quietly to draw up the papers, to give her the bill of divorcement and to send her away without any public discussion. Joseph is a just man, he is a righteous man. He cares about God’s law, but he is also a kind man. He does not bring the weight of God’s law down on Mary’s head.

Isn’t it interesting the kind of man that God chose for His Son to have for an earthly father? A righteous man, and a kind man. There are many who are righteous, but who are not kind. And there are many who are kind but they are not righteous. But Joseph was a man who was righteous. He loved God and he loved His law. But he is also a kind man, because the love of God had touched his heart and when God chose a human father for His Son, He chose a man who would be righteous and kind. How like the father Himself. Righteous, and kind. And is that not an instruction for every one of us, O men, to be like our heavenly Father, and to be like Jesus’ earthly father. Righteous and kind. Concerned for God’s law. Concerned for God’s people. That was Joseph.

Then in verses 20 and 21, we continue to see these circumstances of Jesus’ birth. There we see God coming to the rescue of Mary. Joseph thought she was guilty of some horrible infidelity. He could not fathom it. We may imagine that his heart is broken and we are not reading too much into the story. And so he determines to put her away, and even as he is meditating, we are told in verse 20, as to what he should do, what to do next, the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream, and he says, "Joseph, what you have thought is wrong. Your wife is innocent. She is pure. The thing that is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear the Savior."

Notice that God comes to Joseph as he is thinking, as he is meditating. We may assume that he is meditating on what God would have him do next. Guidance, he is seeking from God. As Matthew Henry says, "the Lord gives guidance to the thoughtful, not to the unthinking." God’s guidance is not an excuse for us to check our brains at the door, to cease to think. David is meditating on the Word. Joseph is meditating on the Word and attempting to determine what the honorable thing for him to do is.

And God comes to him, in that meditation, with His guidance from the angel. Notice what the angel calls him. He addresses him as the Son of David. Joseph was a humble man. He was a carpenter. He was not a great land magnate. He was not even a great merchant. He did not own great expanses of land. He was not a famed man in his community. He did not hold public office. He was not some sort of nobility. And yet the angel says, Joseph, remember who you are. You are the son of David. Isn’t it interesting that before God calls us to obey, before He calls us to a great task, He reminds us of who we are in Him. Though Joseph may not have been impressive in the eyes of the world, yet to God he was a son of David. The son of the man after God’s own heart. A descendant of the great precursor of the Messianic king. He was the son of David.

And so God instructs Joseph: "Joseph, you take Mary as your wife. And you name that boy, Jesus." And one of the most beautiful things we see in verse 24 is Joseph’s obedience. We are told in verse 24 that Joseph awoke and he did as the Lord commanded. Joseph believed the Lord. He trusted the Lord. And he obeyed the Lord. What an enormous example of the ability to trust despite all the evidence to the contrary. Joseph, she hasn’t been unfaithful. I know your heart is broken and I know your head is muttled. But, listen to Me. Take her for your wife. And you name that boy Jesus. And Joseph does it in faith.

What an example of trust and obedience. What an example of faith and following the command of God we see in the circumstances of our Lord’s birth. What do we learn in these circumstances? We learn of the sacredness of marriage. We learn that when God calls us to a great work sometimes He also simultaneously calls us to great suffering and humiliation. We learn that the Lord comes and He ministers to those, He ministers guidance to those as they reflect upon Hi Word. We learn that He has called us to justice and kindness that we might mirror His image. And we learn that trust and obedience in the manner of Joseph is the way that He intends us to walk.

II. The Nature of our Savior.
   
But the greatest thing that we learn in this passage, my friends, is about our Savior Himself, the nature of the Lord Jesus. I would direct you to verses 22 and 23, to reflect for just a moment on just who it is that the Lord tells us is our Savior. He is born of a virgin. Now let me say very quickly that this is intended to be surprising. There are many people who are skeptical of the virgin birth today. There are many, even within the walls of the church, who question its truthfulness. "How could we believe in a virgin birth," they say? Well, I want you to remember, my friends, that that is the very point of biblical miracles. They are to cause us to be startled. There is a story that one day C.S. Lewis was sitting in his office in the English department when a friend, who was an unbeliever, wandered in. There were carolers below in the courtyard singing Christmas carols and as the two were speaking, they could hear them singing a Christmas carol that contained words about Jesus’ virgin birth. His unbelieving friend said to C. S. Lewis, "Isn’t it good that we now know better than they did." C. S. Lewis said, "What do you mean?" "Well, isn’t it good that we now know more than they did." "I am afraid that you will have to explain," Lewis said. "Well, isn’t it good that we now know that virgins don’t have babies." C.S. Lewis looked at him incredulously and said, "Don’t you think that they knew that? That is the whole point."

You see, my friends, the fact that Jesus is born of a virgin is intended to surprise. There is no example of this happening before in Scripture. There is no precedent for this in Scripture. There is no precursor to this in Scripture. It is intended to be completely unique to set forth who Jesus is. The virgin birth sets forth the divinity of Christ and His sinless humanity. And without that doctrine of the virgin birth, those two all-important truths are compromised. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the doctrine of the virgin birth is unimportant. It is taught in the Bible and it has always been believed by God’s people and therefore it is important. It is important because it sets forth His divinity and His sinless humanity.

In verse 23, we are told that the name of our Lord will be Immanuel, God with us. And there is so much in those words. We are reminded again that in the gospel our God has come to be with us and for us. In nature we see God above us. When our consciousness is enlightened by the accusing law of God, we see God against us, but in the gospel, by God’s grace, we see God with us and for us: Immanuel, God with us. The very mystery of the incarnation in which Jesus divinity and humanity are united in one person.

This truth is displayed in the Lord’s Supper. For we hold up elements that represent, which set forth, which symbolize our Lord’s body and blood. And that reminds us not only that He gave Himself for us in body, but that our Lord took a body like ourselves. He took our humanity, save its fallen propensities, and He became like us. And He is even now like us on His throne

In verse 21, we see that He is not only the Messiah, He is not only virgin born, divine in human, He is not only God with us, He is our Savior. "You shall name Him Jesus for He shall save His people." Save us from what? He saves us from sin. From our sin. And He saves us for holiness. He saves us from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, from the dominion of sin and ultimately He will save us from the presence of sin. He will eradicate it in our lives and HE saves us for holiness. For fellowship. He prepares us to enter into an eternal feast with God . This meal foreshadows the marriage feast of the lamb that we will enjoy in His presence in glory. And the feasting will never end.

Who is it that we come to celebrate at this table? The one born of a virgin, sinless, unfallen, divine. The one who is Immanuel, God with us, in our flesh and for us on our behalf. The one who is the only one who can save from sin. If you have embraced Him, Who saves, if you have embraced His people, then this table is prepared to remind you for the feast which is ahead and the basis on which we will enter into that glory. Let us look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we ask Your blessing upon Your word. Nourish our hearts by it even as we feast on Christ by faith. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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