The Genesis of Jesus (2.0)
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The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Matthew 1:18-25.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” So begins our text. Actually, the Greek word translated as birth is “genesis,” the same word used for the first book of the Bible. Depending on its context, the word can mean “birth,” “genealogy,” “beginning,” or “origin.”
We know from Scripture that as the Son of God, Christ had no beginning. He’s at the Father’s side from eternity. But we also know that as a human being He had a beginning, and it’s this origin the evangelist relates. Matthew tells us of the way the Messiah assumed human nature and took upon Himself our flesh.
No other person had an origin in this way. Oh, yes, the origin of Adam was wonderful: “God formed the first man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). But the origin of the second Adam is even more spectacular; “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.”
Matthew places us at the moment when the miracle involved in the human origin of the Messiah becomes apparent to human eyes. “[Jesus’] mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”
No doubt, Joseph was happily looking forward to the festive day when, with his friends, he would go and bring his wife to his home. But before that happened, Mary was found to be with child. Her situation was not only delicate, but distressing and humiliating. Even though Mary knew herself to be innocent in this regard, and was fully convinced that her condition was due only to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit, she couldn’t expect anyone else to believe her defense.
It seems likely that Mary had revealed nothing to Joseph of the angel’s message and of her submission to the will of God. The angel had directed her to go to her relative Elizabeth in the hill country, and she had quickly gone. So as far as telling Joseph was concerned, Mary left it all in God’s hands. This act of absolute reliance upon God is all the more admirable as we realize her situation. An engaged woman, if found unfaithful, could be punished with death. Mary had absolutely no means of proving her purity.
The virgin birth through the Holy Spirit is an important doctrine, upon which our whole text hangs, indeed, everything else that the New Testament reports concerning the Word made flesh. You see, either the eternal Son of God entered humanity through the Holy Spirit as Matthew tells us, or He didn’t. If He didn’t, if Jesus was an ordinary human being born from an illicit affair, or even Joseph’s natural son by an act of forbidden union, then we, who call Him Savior are putting our hopes in one who cannot save himself, much less us and the world.
Joseph faced a difficult dilemma. He was a righteous man, a respecter of the Law, which was especially strict and uncompromising on infidelity. Therefore, Joseph could not think of completing his marriage to Mary under the perceived circumstances. But at the same time, he did not wish to expose Mary publicly and thus heap disgrace and shame upon her. He truly loved her, and was torn with grief because of what his eyes saw in one whom he had always found a model of purity. And so, his love and mercy, and his sense of righteousness were put to a severe test.
Two courses of action were open to Joseph. The one harsher—to charge Mary with adultery and to make her a public example, letting Jewish law take its course. The gentler course was to make use of the lax divorce laws of the day, and quietly give Mary a letter of divorce. Joseph had resolved to take the milder course.
And at this point God intervened in behalf of the mother of His Son. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
In taking Mary as his wife, Joseph would not compromise himself, condone sin, or do anything hurtful. On the contrary, by bringing his wife to his own home, Joseph would do God’s will. He would serve God’s Son, protect the mother of his Lord, and show himself a true son of David.
Joseph’s role then becomes one of mirroring Christ: He takes the death penalty away from Mary by marrying her. Isn’t that how the New Testament describes us, we in the Church, as the Bride of Christ? It’s as if Joseph was going to present Mary to himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish—holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). And that’s how Joseph will come to see Mary (at least after the angel explains the whole situation to him).
But the real point which changed Joseph’s mind about divorcing Mary is found in the angel’s statement: “because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This child was not the result of an adulterous affair, but of the Holy Spirit, begotten by deliberate intervention of God.
Joseph’s fears are dispelled even more when the angel adds: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” By giving Him His name, Joseph would publicly recognize and formally adopt Jesus as his own legal son. Such naming was customarily the responsibility of the father. Only in this case, the choice of names was not just left to Joseph, for he is under a far higher Father who Himself attended to this important task. God the Father first named His Son, “Jesus,” a name that means “Yahweh saves” and describes the very essence of His person and work. As the angel explains: “He will save His people from their sins.”
“He will save His people from their sins.” That is the end and object of His coming. That alone is His mission. He, and no other, only He, completely saves. He brings full pardon, free salvation, complete deliverance, not only from the pollution and power of sin, but also from the guilt of sin. This is the Gospel message, not that Jesus makes allowance for sin, but that He has made atonement for it. Not that He tolerates sin, but that He destroys it.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’–which means, ‘God with us.’”
Jesus’ genesis was no coincidence, but was fully planned by the Lord in eternity and announced centuries before through the prophet Isaiah. The Lord promised a sign to King Ahaz in order to assure him that the enemies of Israel would finally be overthrown. In this sign, the Lord had in mind the spiritual Israel and its enemies—sin, death, and the devil—from whom the Messiah would deliver. Now seven hundred years later, the sign was to be given and the prophecy fulfilled. The virgin chosen by God was now about to bear a son. And everyone who would know Him and accept His salvation would call His name Immanuel, “God with us.” In the son of Mary these words are fulfilled. He is God Himself.
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.”
This is the genesis of Jesus. If you think about it, it seems like a rather inefficient, if not dangerous plan, doesn’t it. Why would God use human beings—fallen sinners at that—as His instruments to bring the Savior into the world? Couldn’t He have used His holy angels? Couldn’t He have just sent a full grown Jesus to earth? And if He had to be born, why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin who was engaged, or betrothed, to be married?
Well, we know that Joseph gave legitimacy to Mary. After all, he was a descendant of King David, from whom the Scriptures prophesied the Messiah would come. But it was more than that, much more! God was also making a theological point that He wants us to get. The Law would consider a woman in Mary’s position—being pregnant and unmarried—as an adulterer. According to the Old Covenant Law, adultery carried the sentence of death. So, based upon how it looked, Mary had earned herself the death sentence.
It was in the Lord’s mercy and wisdom, then, that He chose a young, betrothed, virgin to be the mother of Jesus, and Joseph to be His foster father. What a great privilege and joy! But it also meant a great degree of misery and hardship, because it meant the Mary and Joseph would both lose their good reputations. They would look to all the world like just another couple who got too caught up in their emotions and hormones before the wedding night. A stigma much harsher in heir day than in ours. But nevertheless, they accepted their roles willingly, for they looked in faith to the One who would take away all our reproaches and give us purity and life eternal.
That encourages us when we bear hardship or difficulty. Instead of thinking that God has abandoned us, we can remember that God is working through the events of our lives—the embarrassing ones, the inconvenient ones, even the bad ones. St. Paul writes: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28).
So much for the genesis of Jesus. Now I have a question particularly for you parents. Do you remember what it was like when you found out you were expecting a child? Do you remember the first time you held your son or daughter? (Pause) If you were like me, you suddenly realized how unfit for the task ahead you really were. You felt so incapable of the great responsibility ahead.
Imagine how Joseph and Mary felt. They were sinful human beings, and this was God’s holy Son, the Savior of the world for whom they were now responsible. Though He is the infinite, almighty Creator of heaven and earth, He had allowed Himself to be confined in a human body. Not only that, his human body was small and helpless and reliant upon them for sustenance and life.
Jesus went through all the same stages of physical human development as you and I. He started as a zygote, implanted in Mary’s womb, when she received the angel’s surprising news. Then as a clump of cells, a blastocyst, while Mary traveled to her relatives, and His cousin John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Within three weeks of His incarnation, Jesus’ heart was beating, pumping His holy precious blood through His own enclosed circulatory system. If EEG’s had been available, brain waves could have been detected at less than eight weeks. By the time Mary ended her three month stay with Elizabeth, all His basic body systems were in place and He needed only to grow and develop until He was born.
During this whole time, Jesus was certainly very vulnerable. Ultimately of course, God the Father was responsible for His Son’s care and welfare. But He chose to use a human mother and father for carrying out this task on a daily basis. If you think about it, God could’ve used His holy angels for this important task just to make sure there were no mistakes. But the heavenly Father chose Mary and Joseph—a simple carpenter and his young virgin bride-in-waiting. They were to feed His Son and burp Him and change His dirty diapers and show Him love.
It goes to show you just how highly God regards His human creatures. Instead of the archangel Michael and his mighty host, God chose Mary and Joseph to protect the infant Christ from Herod’s insane rage, and to kiss His owwies when He got hurt. Instead of angelic messengers, God had Mary and Joseph teach the Incarnate Word the stories and lessons from Scripture and to impart the wisdom that comes from His holy Word.
As He does for you and me in our various vocations, God also promised Joseph and Mary that He worked in their weakness. Though His angels, for the most part, would be hidden in the background, they would still intervene to help keep Jesus safe. Mary and Joseph could always come to the Father in prayer and search His Word for guidance. When Jesus’ giftedness went beyond their own understanding, God would supply them with patience and faith. After all, this is the Savior through whom God planned our salvation in eternity. What is more, when they failed, God gave Joseph and Mary something even more important—forgiveness! Forgiveness for the sake of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth!
Forgiveness: That is the reason God so loved the world by sending His only begotten Son. Jesus becomes human in every way, except sin, through every stage of life, from virgin’s womb to borrowed tomb, so that when He dies His death, He can give you His life. That’s what the angel Gabriel meant when he said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
That’s the salvation you need. That’s the salvation that becomes reality on Christmas, when the infant God in human flesh comes for all the world to see. Jesus becomes one of us, only much better, the perfect human being, sinless and perfect, to save you from your sins and defects. He comes to live within your heart through His Gospel message, the preached Word you hear with your ears. He comes to you in the bread and wine of His Supper, giving you the holiness and life in the very body and blood that He brought into the world by His Incarnation. He brings you absolution from the mouth of His called and ordained servant.
Through each of these means of grace, your Savior Jesus comes bringing you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen