Matthew 1:18-23 The Angel’s Announcement proclaims that the Lord saves!
With the angel’s announcement to Joseph, we see the heart and soul of Christmas – the Lord saves! Jesus will save people from sin. God is faithful to his promises. Jesus comes in fulfillment of prophecy. And with the names given to that child born to Mary and Joseph, we see who he is and what he would do. We see what Christmas is all about. The child is called Immanuel – God with us. The child is named Jesus – “because he will save his people from their sins.”
Imagine the shock and the hurt and disappointment and even anger that Joseph must have felt when he learned that Mary was pregnant. He knew that it wasn’t his child. So what was he to do? Mary and Joseph were “pledged to be married.” But this was more than what we would call an engagement. It’s likely that they had spoken vows of marriage in the presence of witnesses, and they were regarded as husband and wife. According to the custom of the time, the marriage celebration would follow some months later and only then would the bride and groom begin their life together. When Joseph became aware of Mary’s pregnancy, he could only conclude that she had been unfaithful. How could he believe what Mary told him about this child she was carrying? It seemed impossible. So he was going to divorce her.
But Joseph wasn’t seeking revenge. He didn’t want to “expose her to public disgrace.” In fact, Old Testament law called for someone guilty of adultery, as it appeared Mary was, to be stoned to death. But Joseph, as a devout believer, was concerned about acting in love toward his neighbor, even someone who had betrayed him and so he determined to divorce her quietly – to spare her and her family some public shame and humiliation.
But before that happened, Joseph received a special revelation from God about the child that Mary would give birth to. The angel told Joseph about the special nature and work of this child. The angel told Joseph – “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Mary had not been unfaithful. This child who would be born of a virgin was not just another human being – this was God come in the flesh to be our Savior and substitute. This was an incredible miracle of God. This birth, the incarnation – God taking on human flesh – is beyond what our minds can truly comprehend. But in awe, in praise and thanksgiving, we marvel at God’s love that he chose such a birth.
What a welcome message from God. What comfort and encouragement for Joseph in a difficult and trying situation. God also speak words of comfort and encouragement to us in times of distress – we aren’t to expect an angel to appear, or some special vision or revelation. But God comes to us through his written word. He comes to us in the Bible and speaks to us. His word directs and guides us. It comforts and reassures us. It speaks to every situation we face. Perhaps not always in the way we want – it doesn’t come directly to tell us exactly what to do in every situation as the angel did to Joseph, but the principles and commands which the Lord gives do ultimately speak to every question and concern we have. The promises are sufficient to sustain us and motivate us to carry out God’s will in every circumstance. What a welcome message we have from the Lord in his written word.
Matthew points out in our text that Jesus miraculous birth by the virgin Mary was in keeping with prophecy and means that Jesus is “Immanuel – God with us.” What an amazing prophecy was given through the prophet Isaiah – and given under unexpected circumstances. King Ahaz, the king of Judah, was threatened by the kings of Israel and Syria, who wanted to destroy the dynasty of Ahaz. This was the line of King David, the line from which the Savior would be born. Ahaz was a wicked king who personally deserved nothing better, but Ahaz’s unworthiness couldn’t prevent God from keeping his gracious promises. So Isaiah assured Ahaz that the Lord would preserve him from his enemies. He even offered to give Ahaz a special sign – whatever he might ask. Ahaz, in his unbelief, mocked God by refusing to ask for a sign – so the Lord said he would give a sign anyway. The Savior would be born of a virgin. Something that would happen only once in all of human history – so the special son of the virgin mother could be positively identified and recognized. That special child, the Savior is then true God and as true God he is able to be a sufficient sacrifice to pay for all our sins – to pay the price for the sins of the world. Only the blood of the very Son of God is precious enough to accomplish our salvation.
And even though Jesus is no longer physically on earth as he was – he is still God with us. He has not left us alone. At his ascension, after reminding his disciples that he is the almighty God to whom all authority belongs – Jesus promised, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” King David expresses that confidence in Psalm 23 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” What a comfort to have our Savior ever with us.
What an amazing message the angel had for Joseph. Not only were his doubts about Mary’s faithfulness completely removed, but in their place Joseph received the amazing good news that he would have the privilege of caring for God’s son the promised Savior of the world. That would not mean an easy, comfortable life for Joseph. There would be sacrifice. For example, Joseph, directed by the Lord, would have to take his family and flee to Egypt when Herod threatened Jesus’ life. A reminder for us that Jesus had not come to be an earthly king. Even though as Immanuel he promises to be with us and care for us in this life, he does not promise that following him will mean an easy comfortable life here on earth. Jesus had come to rescue us from sin and secure for us eternal life in heaven.
The angel makes that clear. The angel also told Joseph “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was a common name among the Jews. It’s the same as the Old Testament name Joshua. The name means “God saves.” When this name was given to an ordinary child, it could be a reminder of God’s promise of a Savior. In this case, it identified the one and only Savior of the world. The name Jesus tells us who he is and what he does. It speaks directly to the work that this child would accomplish saving all people from their sins.
But Jesus would not be the kind of Savior that many in Israel were looking for. Many were looking for an earthly Messiah. They wanted someone who would save them from the rule of the Romans, who would reestablish Israel as a great nation like it had been under King David. But the angel promised the same kind of Savior the Old Testament prophets had foretold, one who would save his people from their sins – who would save all people from sin.
Many of the Jews wanted only an earthly Savior who would provide them with security and physical gifts for this life. Some of the Jews, after Jesus miraculous feeding of the 5000, even attempted to force Jesus to be that kind of king. That is still the case for many today. They look to Christ and the church to deal with poverty and oppression and all sorts of social issues, not for a Savior to free them from the terrible and eternal consequences of sin. So the mission of those churches is to make this world a better place and unfortunately pay little attention to the perfect, eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus.
That temptation is also there for us. Isn’t it easy for us to fall into the thinking that if follow Jesus, if I do what is right, if I live a good Christian life, if I pray right – then things will go well in my life. Aren’t we easily focused on physical, outward success in our own lives and in the life of our church? We want to see results. We want glory, not suffering and sacrifice. And so we too can easily shift our focus from the Savior that we need – a Savior from sin, to a Savior that we want – one who promises earthly success. As Christians, we want to make Christ’s kingdom and his righteousness our highest priority – being confident that he will provide us with the physical things that we need. After all he has promised, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus is the one and only Savior. And he has rescued us from sin. He is exactly the Savior that we all so desperately need because we were unable to anything to save ourselves. Without such a Savior, we would be doomed to suffer for all eternity in hell.
Jesus rescued us by giving up his life for us. He died on the cross on Good Friday, so that we might have life. Jesus died for our sins. He suffered our punishment. Our sins have been removed – washed away in Jesus’ blood. What a tragic thing it is when the rescuer becomes the victim. How heroic for a person to give their life for another, and yet how sad. But that wasn’t the case with Jesus. He rose victorious on Easter Sunday. And because Jesus rose, we know that one day we will be raised to live forever with him in heaven. Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
But to rescue us, Jesus also had to provide us with the righteousness needed for heaven. We are told that Joseph was “a righteous man.” What made Joseph righteous? It’s the same thing that makes us righteous – Christ’s perfect righteousness which is given to us as a gift of God’s grace. The apostle Paul writes, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Jesus our Savior has not only removed our sin, but he provides us with the righteousness that we need.
The Lord saves. Jesus, God’s own Son, was born of a virgin to be our Savior. Jesus has rescued us from sin and death. I am saved. That fact affects everything in my life. It directs my words and actions and my relationship with others. I am saved. That fact shapes my Christmas celebration. Because God’s own Son came into this world to be my substitute and save me from sin, I can now with great anticipation look forward to his coming again when I will receive the glory of heaven. I am saved. I am a redeemed child of God. That is the message of Christmas. What great comfort and confidence is mine as I wait for my Savior and celebrate his birth.