The Genesis of Jesus
The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Matthew 1:18-25, which has already been read.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior 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 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 more gentle course was to make use of the lax divorce laws of the day, and quietly give Mary a letter of divorce.
Joseph 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 a crime, 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. 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 right and 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 when He spoke 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 utterly 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, the one designated and 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 were fulfilled. Her son is God Himself. In His person the Almighty Lord is with us, not according to His condemning justice, but according to His loving kindness and tender mercies.
“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.”
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. 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 His own creatures 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.
As any of you know who’ve experienced a pregnancy—either personally or vicariously—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 parental vocation, God also promised Joseph and Mary that He would fill 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.
In a way you could say we’re witnessing another “genesis” this day—the “genesis” of Risen Savior Lutheran Church. And I’d like you to consider some of the similarities to the genesis of Jesus our Savior. For one thing, this new church —like the baby Jesus—is also strange mix of the human and divine. The body is made of people, human flesh and blood, but the force that gives it life is the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies through Word and Sacrament.
From a human standpoint, it started out as a thought, a prayer, and a hope. Perhaps a church could be planted in Tea, a place and a people at which, in which, to which, and from which, the Gospel would be preached and taught. Then, a tiny cell group of people started meeting for Bible study. After some time, that group, supported by the South Dakota District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod decided to start holding Sunday worship services. Trinity Lutheran Church agreed to share the time and attention of their pastor.
As we met here at the Tea Elementary School gymnasium in God’s presence at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 7, 2004, all of the basic body systems of a church were present. We had an assembly of saints gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments. All that was left to do before being born was to grow and develop.
As we’ve been meeting, you’ve been steadily growing and developing. I’m not talking strictly about numerical growth, though, by the grace of God, that has happened, too. I’m speaking about growth in faith and hope and love. I’m speaking of individuals developing into functioning members of the body of Christ. God has equipped you with leaders, teachers, and lots of loving, caring people who aren’t afraid to grab a paint brush or bake potatoes, or do most anything else to show love to God or your neighbor. He has given you a thirst for spiritual growth and a burning desire to share your faith.
In a manner of speaking, this last nine months has been the prenatal period. But today, you’re privileged to witness the official birth of this church, which you’ve given the name Risen Savior Lutheran Church, as it is received into membership in the SD District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
But you are not just witnesses of this blessed event, you are also participants. God has placed the daily responsibility for this infant church into your hands. Like Mary and Joseph, who were given charge of God’s Son, you are to care for God’s church here at Risen Savior. You are nurture it with the good stewardship of your time, talent, and treasures. You are to watch over it and protect it and give comfort to any of its bodily members who may get hurt. You are to see that God’s Word is taught and preached to His children of all ages. You are each, in a way, the adoptive parents of this infant church.
Do you feel scared? Do you wonder if you are up to the task ahead? Do you worry you might not be capable of the great responsibility that God is placing in your hands? (Pause) Good! Because you’re not! I’m not! We’re sinful men and women, called to watch over God’s holy church. Just as Joseph and Mary were not of themselves fully capable or worthy of the great responsibility of parenting the Savior of the world, none of us is capable of the work to which God has called us here, either.
Thanks be to God that He has promised to prepare us and equip us for the task ahead with His Word and Sacraments. In Baptism, we are given the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith, cleanses us of our sin, teaches us God’s will and Word, and enables us for godly living. In the Lord’s Supper, we are fed Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. God’s Word of Law shows us our sins and leads us to repentance. His holy Gospel brings us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
No doubt there are many challenges that lie ahead for this little baby, Risen Savior Lutheran Church. But by God’s grace, you will be ready to meet them because the Holy Spirit has called you to faith and equips you for service. Your Savior Jesus Christ has saved you. And for His sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.