Matthew 1:18-25
Being Part Of God's Work

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. I read to you beginning from verse eighteen today. But, that section is a continuation from the [part] written before it. In verse eighteen, the text says that "the circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ went as follows," and Jesus Christ is given as "Jesus Christ, son of Abraham, son of David," (verse one). Following down into verse two a long genealogy is recorded and it is Jesus Christ who is born at the end [of the tree line]. In other words, it is given as fact that Jesus Christ was born on this earth after a long period of preparation had passed since Old Testament times. In verse seventeen, the text says with deliberation that "Then, in all totaled, there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the move to Babylon, and fourteen generations from after moving to Babylon to Christ." This description points to the fact that God himself is the one who had done the leading in this period of preparation. Thus, after going through this divine period of preparation, and as the time had fully come, we are told from the text that the timely circumstances in which the messiah had been born on this earth were "as follows."

2. "The circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ" as depicted here are clearly a depiction centered on Joseph. In one sense, in The Gospel According To Luke, the spotlight was put on Mary instead, which is a very familiar story of "The Annunciation Of The Conception" to Mary, (Luke 1:26-38). While we read them both together today, I would like for us to keep three things particularly in mind regarding these scriptures.

The Suffering Joseph Was Given

3. Please look beginning from verse eighteen. "The circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ went as follows. [His] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, it became evident that she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit. As her husband Joseph was a righteous man, in not wishing to bring Mary before the public court, he decided to break off the relationship privately," (1:19-8-19).

4. Here the deep pain suddenly given to the man Joseph is depicted. The birth of Jesus Christ did not make its appearance into the world as a happy event for Joseph. Joseph found out that Mary, his fiancee, was with child. Since both parents bore responsibility for the engagement period, we imagine that Mary probably had heard from her father on it. This news meant he was pierced by Mary's betrayal. The text says, "That she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit became evident." Was there an explanation by Mary? Even if there had been, we see from his response later that Joseph wouldn't have believed [her]. [Yet] he didn't want to bring the matter before the public and drag Mary to a court of judgment, which was on account of Joseph's tenderness. However, Joseph still would not allow himself to accept Mary that way. He decided to break off the relationship in private.

5. On the one hand, in The Gospel According To Luke, Mary's troubles barely appear anywhere at all. Yet this [all] must have been a dreadful occasion for Mary. This wasn't just a betrothal crisis. In Jewish society, since engagements carried the same weight as marriage, if the matter had gone public, she would have been tried as an adulteress. The announcement of conception meant to Mary that she was placed in that such a position.

6. We need to remember that without these sufferings of Joseph and Mary, there would not have been the birth of Jesus Christ. In a certain sense, they represent people who became an active part in God's plan of salvation. We need to know that to be used in God's plan also means to bear suffering upon [ourselves]. As Christians, as the church, being put in God's salvific plans is not simply a happy happy thing. There is always a cross to bear.

The Obedience Required Of Joseph

7. Please read verse twenty next. "While he was thinking this way, an angel of the Lord appeared in his dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid, accept Mary. The son in Mary's womb is conceived by the Holy Spirit'," (1:20).

8. Here we have God's requirement for Joseph written. Joseph intended to break his engagement contract with Mary. But, the Lord required Joseph to change his plans. He required him to accept Mary. In other words, he was demanding that [Joseph] take Mary as [his] wife and that he acknowledge the child in her womb as his own son. Why was this necessary? Joseph's consent was not needed if only the son in the womb was to be born. In time he would be born. But, in order for the son in her womb to be born as the messiah of Davidic lineage, Joseph's acknowledgement was necessary. -- Because the genealogy that goes from verses two to fifteen is a genealogy that goes up to Joseph. In order for the son whom the Holy Spirit had conceived in Mary's womb to be born as a descendant of David, you might say, Joseph's cooperation was considered necessary.

9. On this point, Mary's situation was quite different from the one Joseph was put into. In Mary's case, the angel appeared to announce, "You are pregnant and will give birth to a boy." [The angel did not appear asking] to obtain her permission saying, "Dear Miss Mary, won't you allow yourself to conceive a child in your womb?" It was already decided [for her]. There was no room for any choice for Mary. Here [we see] God's direct intervention and selection in which Mary had no say so. In order for the salvation from God to come to pass, there is with that a side for divine unilateral set decisions of this nature. In [times] like that, obedience to God [means] that we are to accept things as they are, to accept a situation with no room for personal choice as it has been set by God's own choosing. So Mary came to say, "I am the Lord's maiden. Let it happen to me as according to your word," (Luke 1:38).

10. But, on the other hand, what was required of Joseph was a decision of his own that would be based on faith. There was room for his own personal decision. He had two ways before him. He had already tried to go on the first path. But, as Joseph heard God's word to him, he had changed his direction onto the other path. This was a free will decision on Joseph's part. In this case, obedience to God was but to chose the path in which he would undergo personal difficulties and shame because of God's word. Through that Joseph came to take part in God's work of salvation.

11. When it comes to the fulfillment of God's salvation, of course, human decisions do not determine things. Mary's submission did not cause the conception of God's son in her womb. This was done by God alone and this came to be because of his divine choosing involving no other. There was no room for human will to enter into that. We must humble ourselves before God's lordship. However, to think that the fulfillment of God's salvation goes on entirely unrelated to humans is more unbiblical than thinking that human will is everything. God does not begin advancing things without any connection to the obedience of Christians or the obedience of the church. The Lord requires our obedience. When Jesus Christ was born as the son of David, there was a spot for Mary's submission and there was a place for Joseph's obedience.

The Meaning Of The Messiah's Arrival Became Clear To Joseph

12. Finally, please look at verse twenty-one. "'Mary will give birth to a son. Name him Jesus. For, this child will save my people from their sins.' The reason all this has happened is to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophets. 'Behold, a virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son. His name will be called Emmanuel.' This name has the meaning of 'God is with us.' When Joseph awoke from his sleep, as the angel of the Lord commanded, he took her as his wife, but he had no relations with Mary until the child was born. Then, he named the child Jesus," (1:21-25).

13. Here is recorded the meaning of the coming of the messiah as it had been made clear to Joseph. There was something in common in both the messages, though one was for Joseph and the announcement of the conception was for Mary, which we have read today. It was that they were commanded to name the born child "Jesus." That was a very common name in the Jewish world. That name corresponds to the name of "Joshua" which appears in the Old Testament Bible. But, the important thing here is its meaning. The name of "Joshua" means "the Lord saves." According to this name, the one thus born was the savior. What would he be saving them from? At this point here the Bible states something special, "For, this son will save my people from their sins," (verse twenty-one). It doesn't state that he will save them from just disease, disaster, and suffering. If that were the case, this would be a strange story [seeing how] Mary and Joseph found so much very personal suffering through the birth of this child. It would also be a strange story in that the later church would come to experience many a hardship and privation. But, that's not what [it was talking about], it stated that the child would "save from sin."

14. Sin renders a rift between God and human beings. We see that even by looking at Israelite history to which the previous genealogy was pointing. Sin brings the break between God and man (woman). Therefore, to be saved from one's sin will result in reconciliation with God and being able to live with God. Therefore, it says the child also will be called, "Emmanuel." "Emmanuel" means that "God is with us." The one who came in order to truly bring this into fulfillment is the Christ named as Jesus. As a result then, the child named Jesus would walk the path of pain and go to a cross. On the cross he would come to shed his blood for the redemption of sin. Thus then, he would take away the break between God and human beings. In Christ's living with [us], [we as his] people can live with God.

15. So, the risen Christ commanded his disciples with "I am bestowed with all the powers of heaven and earth. Therefore, you will go and make my disciples from all peoples. Bestow upon them a baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teach them to keep all that I have commanded you. I will always be with you even to the end of the world," (28:18-20). The Gospel According To Matthew began with Emmanuel and ends with Emmanuel. What was said to Joseph were the words that "This child will save my people from their sins." But now, all peoples are invited by the people of Christ. All people are invited to walk with God. Thus, God's salvation is brought to the entire world. In order to be a part of the work of God's salvation, we too are invited to take a part in that salvation. There comes with that a cross we have to bear. There comes with that a required obedience and there also most certainly comes with that a walk where "God is with us."

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