Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
We do not know Mary’s age at this time, but it was not uncommon for young women to marry at thirteen, and for young men to marry at eighteen. The families would make an arrangement, and the children would become engaged. The engagement was legally binding, and breaking it required a divorce (Matthew 1:19). Sex was forbidden until after the wedding, and adultery was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:22-24).
It was during their engagement, before they came together, that the angel Gabriel was sent to inform Mary that she would bear the Messiah. When she inquired further, the Angel said, The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus came into the world as truly God and truly human, to bring humans back to God.
But Joseph had a problem. Since Mary was pregnant, and he was not the father, it seemed she had been unfaithful. The Old Testament called for her execution (Leviticus 20:10), but Roman law would not allow it (John 18:31). So Mary’s life was spared, and Joseph planned to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19).
Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered this, 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.
The good news was that Mary had been faithful, and God had done a miracle. The bad news was that few would understand it, and Joseph’s life was about to become complicated. All he wanted was to settle down, marry a nice girl, and have a normal family. Instead, he was given the honor of being the Messiah’s step-father, and the embarrassment of being thought a fornicator who was married to a tramp.
This would plague Mary, Joseph and Jesus for years. It may also be one of the reasons Jesus preached against judging (Matthew 7:1). Even though his mother became pregnant out of wedlock, everyone who judged her was wrong. And if it’s possible to be wrong about that, what else could we be wrong about? The next time you are tempted to judge someone, remember that Mary was also judged. And everyone who judged her was wrong.
Matthew 1:21 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.
Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua, meaning the Lord saves. Salvation is the main theme of the Bible, and it’s both personal and cosmic. Early in the Bible’s story, humans are expelled from paradise, and earth comes under a curse (Genesis 3:1-24). At the end of the Bible’s story, heaven comes down to earth, and paradise is restored (Revelation 20-22). Somewhere in the middle we learn what made this possible.
God came into the world to save sinners by dying on a cross for our sins. The most perfect being in the universe was slaughtered for the very people who would slaughter such a being (John Piper). The Bible’s story moves from paradise lost to paradise regained, with the God/man crucified somewhere in-between. Give him the name Jesus, said the angel, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).
Jesus’ divinity was not obvious, but there are hints of it throughout the gospels. Once they wanted to stone him because you, a mere man, claim to be God (John 10:33), they said. And when he forgave a man’s sins they thought, Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2:7). And when he walked on water those who were in the boat worshiped him (Matthew 14:33). And after the resurrection Thomas said to him, My Lord and my God! (John 20:28). Jesus is the greatest human who has ever lived, but he is more than that. He is Immanuel (which means God with us).
Reflection and Review
Why was it important for Jesus to be conceived by the Holy Spirit?
How did Jesus save us from our sins?
How do we know that Jesus is divine?