There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. —Soren Kierkegaard. "…truth is true even if nobody believes it, and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it. That is why truth does not yield to opinion, fashion, numbers, office, or sincerity–it is simply true and that is the end of it" – Os Guinness, Time for Truth, pg.39. “He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” – Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard
Among the wisest and most noble of the ordinances of the book of Leviticus is that concerning the control of bondservants. An Israelite might, if driven by want, sell himself to some richer neighbor; but the purchaser was forbidden to compel him to serve “with rigour” as the Egyptians had done. The bondservant must be treated “as a hired servant and a sojourner,” not as a helpless slave; and his service must last only until the next year of jubilee. This came every seventh year and when it arrived the bondsman went free and his family with him. His property also was restored to him. “Unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.”
“For,” mark the reason given by God, “they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondsmen.”
2:7 Some argue that Bethlehem would not have had an inn since it was not on any major road, and that this story is therefore fictitious. But attempting to claim the nonexistence of an inn in Bethlehem is mere conjecture, and besides, the Greek term translated “guest room” (kataluma) simply means “lodging” and can refer to a guest room in a private home. Animal stalls, with their mangers, were normally located inside the one-room residence of peasant families. Animals were sometimes kept in caves, and an early Christian tradition places the birth of Jesus in a cave.
2:7 The words her firstborn Son naturally implies that Mary later had other children (Mt 13:55–56). That baby Jesus was laid … in a manger indicates that the family was forced to stay in a stable, or perhaps a cave that served as a stable, because there was no other room available in Bethlehem.
2:7 “Swaddling clothes” were narrow strips of cloth wrapped around an infant. That Christ was born and placed “in a manger” led to the tradition that He was born in a stable. Early tradition indicates that He was born in a cave, which may have been used as a stable.
2:7 The birth of the baby is described simply. “Swaddling cloths” were strips of cloth used to wrap a baby. That the Child was put in a manger may mean that the birth was in a stable. There is a tradition that Jesus was born in a cave, which could have been used as a stable. Mangers were often outdoors, so it is possible that Jesus was born in the open air. Another possibility is that the place was the home of a poor family, where the animals would be under the same roof.
there was no place for them in the inn. This may mean that the innkeeper did not want to have them there.
2:7her firstborn son Luke probably notes this detail here because Yahweh had consecrated Israel’s firstborn children (Num 3:13).
wrapped him in strips of cloth Wrapping or swaddling provides warmth, comfort, and security to newborn infants (and is still practiced today).
a manger A trough out of which animals were fed. This may imply that they were in a barn of some sort, but a house is a stronger possibility; animals were often kept indoors at night in the house’s lower level.
the inn The Greek text here (at the end of this verse) uses the term katalyma in reference to a guest room (compare Luke 22:11).
2:7And she gave birth to her firstborn son. The greatest miracle in the history of the world, the eternal Son of God being born as a man, happens quietly in a stable in an obscure village in Judea. Luke’s description is restrained, giving only a very few details. swaddling cloths. In ancient times strips of cloth were used to wrap babies to keep them warm and secure. manger. A feeding trough for animals. The inn, with the definite article (“the”), indicates that this was a specific, publicly known lodging place for individual travelers and caravans. no place for them. The inn was full, since many had come to Bethlehem to register for the census (see note on v. 2).
2:7 firstborn. Mary had other children subsequent to this. See note on Mt 12:46.cloths. Strips of cloth were used to bind a baby tightly. It kept the baby from injuring sensitive facial skin and eyes with its own (often sharp) fingernails, and was believed to strengthen the limbs. This is still the custom in some Eastern cultures. The absence of such cloths was a sign of poverty or lack of parental care (Eze 16:4). manger. A feeding trough for animals. This is the source of the notion that Christ was born in a stable, something nowhere stated in Scripture. Ancient tradition held that He was born in a cave (possibly one used as a shelter for animals). But no actual description of the location is given. no room for them in the inn. Possibly because many were returning to this ancient town to register in the census.
2:7Swaddling cloths were strips of cloth wrapped around a baby to keep its arms and legs straight. Firstborn Son implies that Mary had other children (Matt. 1:25; 13:55; Mark 3:31–35). The manger was probably a feeding trough for animals. Jesus was probably born in a stable or in a cave that served as one. The inn was most likely a reception room in a private home or a space at a public shelter, not a large building with several individual rooms.
2:7. With a surprising reserve and simplicity—given the expectations created in the first chapter—Luke described the birth of Jesus Christ—And she gave birth to her firstborn son (2:7a). The description—wrapped Him in cloths (2:7b)—depicted the normal procedure for newborns, who were bound in cloths to straighten their limbs, an act thought to help promote the health and strength of an infant’s limbs. However, the detail—and laid Him in a manger (2:7c)—described an act that was completely contrary to expectation and seemingly utterly absurd! Tradition and familiarity with the story has removed the absurdity for many readers. Yet the idea that a young mother—even an inexperienced one—would place her newborn in an animal feeding trough is to be understood as entirely incongruous. The explanation—there was no room for them in the inn (2:7d)—tells the reader why there was a manger present, but it does not take away the inappropriateness of using it as a crib for a newborn. The scene is one of abject humility—of utter condescension. It is contrary to expectation so far as the arrival of the Messiah is concerned. Luke is letting the reader know from this beginning, this Messiah will surprise you; this Messiah will do the unexpected.
Inn (katalyma) is better translated “guest room in a private home” (cf. Lk 22:11, where the same word is used; see Lk 10:34, where a different word, pandocheion, is used for an “inn”). The home, probably belonging to a relative, where Mary and Joseph would have stayed, was full, so they sought refuge and privacy either in an animal room adjacent to the home (analogous to an attached garage), or in a nearby cave used for housing animals. In either case, the idea of the holy family being turned away from an inn so Jesus would be born in a stable is probably not quite accurate.
2:7 “firstborn” This is used in the OT sense of “heir.” It also strongly suggests that Mary had other children (cf. Matt. 13:55–56; John 7:35).
“wrapped Him in cloths” The KJV has “swaddling cloth.” This was a square cloth which was held in place with strips of cloth so as to make it easy to change. This was the norm for all children of this period and culture.
“manger” This was a feeding trough (cf. LX, Isa. 1:3; Prov. 14:4) for domestic animals. These were very crude, non-hygenic conditions, but so was all of the ancient, peasant world.
“inn” The term kataluma is indefinite and could refer to a guest room (animals often lived in close proximity to their owners, cf. Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Justin Martyr (a.d. 110–162/168) says that Jesus was born in a cave used as an animal corral (common in this area). Others say it was in an open-air courtyard of the Inn. The more traditional interpretation is in a room shared with animals of the Inn’s guests.
Bethlehem was a very small village. I am not sure there would be enough travelers to warrant an inn. Jewish culture stressed the cultural obligation of hosting relatives. There were so many relatives in town for the enrollment that no guest room was available. Luke uses this same word in 22:11 for a “guest room” (cf. Mark 14:14).
The term is used in a wide variety of meanings in the Septuagint, but one of them is a room in one’s house, usually on the roof (cf. 1 Sam. 1:18; 2 Sam. 7:6; 1 Chr. 17:5).
Ver. 7. Her first-born Son.—
Birth of Christ the Lord:—
I. Christ’s relation to the poor. 1. When He came in so lowly circumstances, consenting to lay His head in a manger, none of the pomps of royalty about Him, how touchingly and tenderly He spoke to the vast majority of the world. There is a bond of sympathy between Him and the multitude whose condition is one of struggles, deprivations, and anxieties. Here is a warrant of His love; here is something to secure their confidence, draw out their hearts, lead them to admiration. 2. How plain, in the light of this event, is the folly of estimating men by their birth or surroundings. What a rebuke on the worldliness of earth, on our unseemly regard for temporal surroundings. If Christ, the King of kings, the Saviour of the world, the Son of the Highest, could take so lowly a station, we are weak indeed, if we judge men hereafter by the canopy on their cradles or the jewels on their swaddling-bands.
II. The importance of infancy. Why was Christ a babe? To link Himself at every stage with humanity; to indicate the sweetness and preciousness of infant life. In that quaint, fragile casket—a babe—is the jewel of an immortal soul. There lie the germs of immense possibilities. The soul is as yet in embryo, but it is there. He turns against his better nature, against the teachings of Christ’s life, who has no interest in the new-born babe.
III. The superior importance of the spiritual to the material. How little do we know of the material circumstances of Christ’s life! Even this great event, His birth, is shrouded in comparative darkness. God would show us the comparative insignificance of temporal things. Christ came to teach spiritual truth.
IV. Christ’s coming was the pivotal event of the world’s history. From Bethlehem shall go forth an influence that shall move the world. That Divine Babe is the salvation of a ruined earth! (A. P. Foster.)
The miraculous conception not unreasonable:—Let me dispute the case with a mere natural man, How doth the harvest of the field enrich the husbandman? It is answered, By the seed which is sown in the ground. Say again, How came seed into the world to sow the ground? Surely you must confess that the first seed had a Maker, who did not derive it from the ears of wheat, but made it of nothing by the power of His own hand; says St. Austin, “then God could make a man without the seed of man in the Virgin’s womb, who made seed for the corn before ever there was earing or harvest.” Nay, there is an instance for it in the little bees, as the poet doth philosophize, they do not bring forth their young ones, as other creatures do, by the help of male and female together; but they gather the seed which begets the young ones from the dew of leaves, and herbs, and flowers, and so they bring them forth. (Bishop Hacket.)
Christ born without the curse of the flesh:—The Virgin conceived our Lord without the lusts of the flesh, and therefore she had not the pangs and travail of women upon her, she brought Him forth without the curse of the flesh. These be the Fathers’ comparisons: as bees draw honey from the flower without offending it, as Eve was taken out of Adam’s side without any grief to him, as a sprig issues out of the bark of the tree, as the sparkling light from the brightness of the star, such ease was it to Mary to bring forth her first-born Son; and therefore having no weakness in her body, feeling no want of vigour, she did not deliver Him to any profane hand to be dressed, but by a special ability, above all that are newly delivered, she wrapt Him in swaddling clouts. (Ibid.)
Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes:—Now these clouts here mentioned which were not worth the taking up, but that we find them in this text, are more to be esteemed than the robes of Solomon in all his royalty; yea, more valuable than the beauty of the lily, or any flower of the field or garden, which did surpass all the royalty of Solomon. I may say they are the pride of poverty, for I know not in what thing poverty may better boast and glory than in the rags of Christ. (Ibid.) 1. The strange condition of the mother, that she brought forth a Son, who by nature was no bearer, for she was a virgin. 2. The strange condition of the Babe, the first-begotten Son of God was the first-born Son of flesh and blood. 3. The strange condition of the place, that she laid Him in a manger. 4. The strange condition of men, that there was no room in the inn for Jesus and Mary. (Ibid.)
The Christ-child:—Mother and child! What more beautiful sight, and what more wonderful sight is there in the world? What more beautiful? That man must be very far from the Kingdom of God—he is not worthy to be called a man at all—whose heart has not been touched by the sight of his first child in its mother’s bosom. The greatest painters who have ever lived have tried to paint the beauty of that simple thing—a mother with her babe: and have failed. One of them, Rafaelle by name, to whom God gave the spirit of beauty in a measure in which He never gave it, perhaps, to any other man, tried again and again, for years, painting over and over that simple subject—the mother and her babe—and could not satisfy himself. Each of his pictures is most beautiful—each in a different way; and yet none of them is perfect. There is more beauty in that simple everyday sight than he or any man could express by his pencil and his colours. And as for the wonder of that sight I tell you this: That physicians, and the wise men who look into the laws of nature, of flesh and blood, say that the mystery is past their finding out; that if they could find out the whole meaning, and the true meaning of those two words, “mother” and “child,” they could get the key to the deepest wonders of the world—but they cannot. And philosophers who look into the laws of soul and spirit say the same. The wiser men they are, the more they find in the soul of every new-born babe, and its kindred to its mother, wonders and puzzles past man’s understanding. This then we are to think of—God revealed, and shown to men, as a babe upon His mother’s bosom. It was only in the Babe of Bethlehem that the whole of God’s character shone forth, that men might not merely find Him and bow before Him, but trust in Him and love Him, as one who could be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. A God in need! a God weak! a God fed by mortal woman! a God wrapt in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger! If that sight will not touch our hearts, what will? God has been through the pains of infancy, that He might take on Him not merely the nature of a man, but all human nature, from the nature of the babe on its mother’s bosom, to the nature of the full-grown and full-souled man, fighting with all his powers against the evil of the world. All this is His, and He is all; that no human being, from the strongest to the weakest, from the oldest to the youngest, but may be able to say, “What I am, Christ has been!” (C. Kingsley.)
The Advent exalts human relations:—Why was it that the Eternal Son, when He abandoned that “glory which He had with the Father before the world was,” and determined to be “the Man Christ Jesus,” was pleased to make His apparition on the scene of the world even as others do; to be the infant and the child before He was the man; to be subject to the filial obligation in the fulness of its legitimate extent; and to be all this in a situation in which such ties were stripped of all that could recommend them, apart from their own intrinsic value—a situation in which wealth could not adorn, nor authority dignify them? Assuredly one prominent reason was that, separating, by means so much more intelligible than argumentative statements, what was essentially excellent in human nature from its depravations and corruptions, He might bestow a special dignity upon those primary connections of human life upon which the rest so mainly depend, and in which the tenderer and better affections of the heart find, and were meant by our Creator to find, their peculiar sphere of exercise. Nothing can more truly show that nature and revelation came from the same hand, than the assumption into revelation of all that is innocent in nature. When God, as Creator of the world, bound together all the variety of human connections by all the variety of corresponding affections, He wrought a work destined for everlasting. Dispensations may change, but these things are not meant to change. And thus it is that, when from the perusal of the New Testament a man descends into the charities of social life, things do not seem changed in their position, but wonderfully beautified in their complexion; a Diviner glow rests upon them and a holier sanctity. There is a change, but it is a change that adorns without disturbing. It is as if a man who had lived in a twilight world, where all was dimly revealed and coldly coloured, were suddenly to be surprised with the splendour of a summer noon. Objects would still remain, and relations be still unbroken; but new and lovely lights and shadowings would cover them: they would move in the same direction as before, but under an atmosphere impregnated with brighter hues, and rich with a light that streamed direct from heaven. I. Then, by what means could this high result have been attained with such force, directness, and certainty, as has been effected in the adoption by our God of those very connections? So far, you can perceive a strong reason for the manner of Christ’s incarnation—for His advent among us in the simplicity of our ordinary manhood. You can perceive that it conferred an inexpressible dignity upon the relation, above all others, of the mother and the child. II. I would add that of His design to exalt this as well as the other natural relations, to make them high and sacred elements in the religion He was about to establish, a most lovely proof is insinuated in the constant employment of all these connections and feelings to symbolize the eternal realities of the spiritual world. III. The passage before us speaks not merely of the “first-born,” but of her who bore Him, and whose mysterious agonies were unsupported by the aids of wealth and the appliances of luxury; who was rejected when she would have given to the Immortal Infant the common comforts of that trying hour; and who had to place among the beasts of the field, less insensate than man, the “life of the world” thus cast forth to die. How wondrous, how unfelt before or since, the communion of that mother and that Son! With the full remembrance of His supernatural descent, to sit at the same daily table for all those long and untold years that preceded the public ministry of the great prophet; to recognize in Him at once the babe of her bosom and the God of her immortality; to catch, ever and anon, those mystic echoes of eternity which the deeper tones of His converse would reveal, and to behold, plainer and plainer, as He grew, the lineaments of the God impressed upon the wondrous inmate of her humble home; surely these were experiences to dignify that mother in our thoughts; yea, to give a glory and a hallowing to maternity itself for ever. IV. One point, above all others, added a peculiar interest to that wondrous connection. The virgin and her Son stood alone in the world! alone in the long line of the human race! He, with whom she was so awfully, yet endearingly connected, could acknowledge no earthly father, no author of His humanity, but that overshadowing Spirit by whose mysterious operation He had been invested with our nature. In that awful hour of Bethlehem there must have mingled with the sorrows of the outcast Virgin the trembling joys of one who knew herself the supernatural channel of the Hope of the human race. And though she might own to the feebleness of the woman in that hour of trial, and deplore amid the unworthy accompaniments of such a scene that “low estate” of “the handmaid of the Lord” which had reduced her to them, yet as she gazed upon that Eternal Child in whom was bound up the regeneration of Israel, of the world, “her soul could magnify the Lord and her spirit rejoice in God her Saviour.” (W. Archer Butler.)
The Saviour and the manger:—For ourselves Christmas Day is one of universal joy; for Jesus Christ’s sake, who as on this day was born, there is a loving sadness. His birth overshadowed His life. His very coming into the world was a heavy prophecy of sorrow.
I. Born a helpless unknowing babe. Unable to do anything; He was mocked in the hour of His Passion; as being weak and foolish; as one unable to reply to Herod and to Pilate (Isa. 53:7). The burden of our nature was laid upon Him all through His earthly life, which was one long course of sacrifice for others. The weak and suffering are often the workers of the world.
II. Born without a dwelling. “No room for Him in the inn”; whilst living, no home for Him in Jerusalem or elsewhere (Matt. 8:20). In death He had no tomb or sepulchre of His own. Quite possible to do a mighty work for the world, and yet have no lot or portion in it.
III. Born in darkness. Just after midnight; died in darkness “over the whole land,” just after midday. The Light of the world came into it at dark, to make it bright with His presence, which presence being taken away, left it dark again. Type of a soul once enlightened, fallen away into the darkness of sin (Matt. 6:23).
IV. Born on a hard couch. Born in a stable, laid in a manger, He died extended and reposing upon the bitter couch of the cross. A birth, life, and death in hardship. This world a school of discipline to holy souls.
V. Born between two animals. The ox and the ass were with Him at His birth. He was compelled to breathe out His soul between two thieves, and during His life He received sinners. Conclusion: Every life repeats itself. Marvellous concord between Jesus Christ the Child and Jesus Christ the Man, the manger and the cross, the beginning and the end. (M. Faber.) There was no room for them in the inn.—
No room for Christ in the inn:—There were other reasons why Christ should be laid in the manger. 1. It was intended thus to show forth His humiliation. Would it not have been inappropriate that the Redeemer who was to be buried in a borrowed tomb should be born anywhere but in the humblest shed, and housed anywhere but in the most ignoble manner? The manger and the cross, standing at the two extremities of the Saviour’s earthly life, seem most fit and congruous the one to the other. 2. By being in a manger He was declared to be the king of the poor. In the eyes of the poor, imperial robes excite no affection, but a man in their own garb attracts their confidence. Great commanders have readily won the hearts of their soldiers by snaring their hardships and roughing it as if they belonged to the ranks. 3. Further, in being thus laid in a manger, He did, as it were, give an invitation to the most humble to come to Him. We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. 4. Methinks there was yet another mystery. This place was free to all. Christ was born in the stable of the inn to show how free He is to all comers. Class distinctions are unknown here, and the prerogatives of caste are not acknowledged. No forms of etiquette are required in entering a stable; it cannot be an offence to enter the stable of a public caravanserai. So, if you desire to come to Christ, you may come to Him just as you are; you may come now. 5. It was at the manger that the beasts were fed; and does the Saviour lie where weary beasts receive their provender, and shall there not be a mystery here? Alas, there are some men who have become so brutal through sin, so utterly depraved by their lusts, that to their own consciences everything manlike has departed; but even to such the remedies of Jesus, the Great Physician, will apply. Even beastlike men may come to Christ, and live. 6. But as Christ was laid where beasts were fed, you will recollect that after He was gone beasts fed there again. It was only His presence which could glorify the manger, and here we learn that if Christ were taken away the world would go back to its former heathen darkness. Christianity itself would die out, at least that part of it which really civilizes man, if the religion of Jesus could be extinguished.
II. There were other places besides the inn which had no room for Jesus. 1. The palaces of emperors and the halls of kings afforded the Royal Stranger no refuge. 2. But there were senators, there were forums of political discussion, there were the places where the representatives of the people make the laws, was there no room for Christ there? Alas! none. 3. How little room there is for Him in what is called good society. There is room there for all the silly little forms by which men choose to trammel themselves; room for frivolous conversation; room for the adoration of the body; there is room for the setting up of this and that as the idol of the hour, but there is too little room for Christ, and it is far from fashionable to follow the Lord fully. 4. How little room for Him on the exchange. 5. How little room for Him in the schools of the philosophers. 6. How little room has He found even in the Church. Go where ye will, there is no space for the Prince of Peace but with the humble and contrite spirits which by grace He prepares to yield Him shelter.
III. The inn itself had no room for Him. This was the main reason why He must be laid in a manger. 1. The inn represents public opinion. In this free land, men speak of what they like, and there is a public opinion upon every subject; and you know there is free toleration in this country to everything—permit me to say, toleration to everything but Christ. 2. The inn also represents general conversation. Speech is very free in this land, but ah! how little room is there for Christ in general talk. 3. As for the inns of modern times—who would think of finding Christ there?
IV. Have you room for Christ?
V. If you have room for Christ, then the world has no room for you. It had no room for Joseph or Mary, any more than for the Babe. Who are His father, and mother, and sister, and brother, but those who receive His word and keep it? So, as there was no room for the Blessed Virgin, nor for the reputed father, remember there is no room in this world for any true follower of Christ. 1. No room for you to take your ease. 2. No room for you to sit down contented with your own attainments. 3. No room for you to hide your treasure in. 4. No room for you to put your confidence. 5. Hardly room of sufferance. You must expect to be laughed at, and to wear the fool’s cap in men’s esteem. Will you enlist on such terms? Will you give room for Christ, when there is henceforth no room for you? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ outside of the inn:—1. This was partly the result of ignorance. Had they known He was the Messiah, doubtless they would have acted otherwise. 2. But partly also the result of selfishness. Had there been more of a generous humanity in their hearts, some fitter place would have been found for Mary and her child.
I. We may take this inn as an emblem of the ungodly world. What is the essential distinction between an inn and a home? In the one, as in the other, a number of individuals dwell together, but “home” involves the idea of vital unity—common life, feeling, experience. In an inn no mutual fellowship; each thinks only of his own interests. When Christ was born, the Roman Empire was just one huge inn, with no real cohesion, no vital unity, amongst the various provinces. Into this world of aggregated interests Christ came; and there was no room for Him. Even the Jewish nation, to whom more especially He came, was split up into sects and parties, each pursuing its own objects, although living under the same roof of a common history and a common religion; and so, when He came unto His own, they received Him not. Is it not the same in the world now?
II. An emblem of many an unchristian household. Many a household does not at all realize the idea of a “home.” Its members eat and sleep under the same roof; but this is more like an arrangement of temporary necessity than of loving choice. They need Christ as a bond of union; but they do not feel their need of Him, and so for Him they have no room.
III. An emblem of the worldly heart. It might be thought the very spirit of selfishness would impart unity to the worldling’s nature. But no, for while his desires are imperious, they are often mutually conflicting. He needs a governing principle—Christ dwelling in the heart. (T. C. Finlayson.)
Room in the soul for Christ:—As the palace, and the forum, and the inn, have no room for Christ, and as the places of public resort have none, have you room for Christ? “Well,” says one, “I have room for Him, but I am not worthy that He should come to me.” Ah! I did not ask about worthiness; have you room for Him? “Oh,” says one, “I have an empty void the world can never fill!” Ah! I see you have room for Him. “Oh! but the room I have in my heart is so base!” So was the manger. “But it is so despicable!” So was the manger a thing to be despised. “Ah! but my heart is so foul!” So, perhaps, the manger may have been. “Oh! but I feel it is a place not at all fit for Christ!” Nor was the manger a place fit for Him, and yet there was He laid. “Oh! but I have been such a sinner; I feel as if my heart had been a den of beasts and devils!” Well, the manger had been a place where beasts had fed. Have you room for Him? Never mind what the past has been; He can forget and forgive. It mattereth not what even the present state may be if thou mournest it. If thou hast but room for Christ He will come and be thy guest. Do not say, I pray you, “I hope I shall have room for Him;” the time is come that He shall be born; Mary cannot wait months and years. Oh! sinner, if thou hast room for Him let Him be born in thy soul to-day: “To-day if ye will hear His voice harden not your hearts as in the provocation.” “To-day is the accepted time; to-day is the day of salvation.” Room for Jesus! Room for Jesus now! “Oh!” saith one, “I have room for Him, but will He come?” Will He come indeed! Do you but set the door of your heart open, do but say, “Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to thee; come, lodge within my heart,” and He will come to thee, and He will cleanse the manger of thy heart, nay, will transform it into a golden throne, and there He will sit and reign for ever and for ever. My Master wants room! Room for Him! Room for Him! I, His herald, cry aloud, Room for the Saviour! Room! Here is my royal Master—have you room for Him? Here is the Son of God made flesh—have you room for Him? Here is He who can forgive all sin—have you room for Him? There is He who can take you up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay—have you room for Him? Here is He who, when He cometh in, will never go out again, but abide with you for ever to make your heart a heaven of joy and bliss for you—have you room for Him? ’Tis all I ask. Your emptiness, your nothingness, your want of feeling, your want of goodness, your want of grace—all these will be but room for Him Have you room for Him? Oh! Spirit of God, lead many to say, “Yes, my heart is ready.” Ah! then He will come and dwell with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ waiting for room:—Were a man to enter some great cathedral of the old continent, survey the vaulted arches and the golden tracery above, wander among the forests of pillars on which they rest, listen to the music of choirs, and catch the softened light that streams through sainted forms and histories on the windows, observe the company of priests, gorgeously arrayed, chanting, kneeling, crossing themselves, and wheeling in long processions before the great altar loaded with gold and gems; were he to look into the long tiers of side chapels, each a gorgeous temple, with an altar of its own for its princely family, adorned with costliest mosaics, and surrounded, in the niches of the walls, with statues and monumental groups of dead ancestors in the highest forms of art, noting also the living princes at their worship there among their patriarchs and brothers in stone—spectator of a scene so imposing, what but this will his thought be: “Surely the Infant of the manger has at last found room, and come to be entertained among men with a magnificence worthy of His dignity.” “But if he looks again, and looks a little farther in—far enough in to see the miserable pride of self and power that lurks under this gorgeous show, the mean ideas of Christ, the superstitions held instead of Him, the bigotry, the hatred of the poor, the dismal corruption of life—with how deep a sigh of disappointment will he confess: “Alas, the manger was better and a more royal honour!” (Horace Bushnell, DD.)
Room in the heart for Christ:—Christ was straitened for room in the inn, and thrust into the stable, that you might open your heart wide, and enlarge it, to give him a habitation to content Him. First, beloved, periculosum est inter delicias poni; ’tis full of peril to rest among pleasures and delights; it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting (Eccl. 7:2). Adam had his habitation among the sweet savours and most delightful recreations of the garden of Eden; his senses were so filled with objects of pleasures, that he forgot the Lord: therefore Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who came to restore all that was lost, pitched upon the worst corner of the house, where there were no delights at all to move temptation. King’s houses, and well furnished mansions have their occasions of lewdness, but she laid her Son in a manger. Learn from hence to condescend unto the humility of Christ if you mean to ascend unto His glory; for as the custom of those regions was, this manger was a vault cut out of a rock, as low a place as He could cast Himself into; but no man projects so wisely to raise up, mighty building as he that lays a low foundation. It is reported of Sextus Quintus, how he was so far from shame that he was born in a poor cottage, that he would sport with his own fortune, and say he was born in a bright resplendent family, because the sun looked in at every cranny of the house; it is not the meanness of the place that can justly turn to any man’s scorn, nor doth a magnificent palace build up any man’s reputation. Holofernes had a costly tent to cover him, and yet was never the honester; and it was a pretty objection of Plutarch’s against the vain consumption of cost upon the decking of our houses. What do we mean, says he, to be at such cost to deck our chambers? Why will we pay so dear for our sleep, when God, if you please, hath given you that for nothing? the slenderest place served our Saviour to cover His head, “she laid Him in a manger.” (Bishop Hacket.)
Christ seeks entrance into the heart:—Why, since Christianity undertakes to convert the world, does it seem to almost or quite fail in the slow progress it makes? Because, I answer, Christ gets no room, as yet, to work, and be the fire in men’s hearts He is able to be. We undertake for Him as by statecraft and churchcraft and priestcraft. We raise monasteries for Him in one age, military crusades in another. Raymond Lull, representing a large class of teachers, undertook to make the gospel so logical that he could bring down all men of all nations, without a peradventure, before it. Some in our day are going to carry everything by steam-ships and commerce; some by science and the schooling of heathen children; some by preaching agents adequately backed by missionary boards; some by tracts and books. But the work, however fitly ordered as respects the machinery, lingers, and will and must linger, till Christ gets room to be a more complete inspiration in His followers. They gave Him the stable when they ought to be giving Him the inn, put Him in the lot of weakness, keep Him back from His victories, shut Him down under the world, making His gospel, thus, such a secondary, doubtfully real affair, that it has to be always debating in the evidences; instead of being its own evidence, and marching forward in its own mighty power.… And yet Christ has a patience large enough to bear us still; for He came to bear even our sin, and He will not start from His burden, even if He should not be soon through with it. All the sooner ought we to come to the heart so long and patiently grieving for us. Be it ours to make room for Him, and to stretch ourselves to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Horace Bushnell, D.D.)
Shutting out Jesus:—Unless the Holy Spirit has been really given, these are the words which we may see written up here, and there, and everywhere—even in this professedly Christian land—“No room for Jesus here!” You can scarcely find an inn literally—a hotel, a public-house, or a beer-shop—where these words are not too plainly written up—“No room for Jesus here.” They are written, too, over the doors of how many so-called places of amusement—theatres, ball-rooms, and such like: “No room for Jesus here!” But not only so; over how many places of business are there these same words! In how many private houses—drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, parlours, and kitchens—may we look up and see the same sad words—“No room for Jesus here!” And written on all these why? “Who dares,” you say, “to write such words?” They write them—every one writes them, wherever he goes, who has an unchanged heart; for upon every heart that is not changed—whether it beats in the bosom of a prince or a peasant, of a professing Christian or a professing heathen—the same sad, solemn words are written deep—“No room for Jesus here!” (Henry Wright, M.A.)
Christ found in lowly places:—And very like this world was that inn. Room and smiling welcome for the rich and the reveller: no room for the heavy-laden and the poor. And very like—because that which we see without in others we can find within ourselves, if we look—is our own heart unto that inn. Room, ample room, for pride and display, luxury and indolence: no room for humility and meekness, self-denial and holy work. Yet, as surely as Christ was born, nigh upon 2,000 years ago, in a manger, so is He born now in lowly homes and hearts. Does not your own experience correspond with this? Have you not found Christ in poverty rather than in plenteousness, in suffering rather than in merriment, in solitude rather than in multitudes, in the stable rather than the inn? When have you prayed most vehemently? When have you seemed to know most clearly that you had a soul which could never die, though the body might be buried in a week? it has been, when you have been sent away from the din and excitement of the world, to the lonely, silent places of affliction; affliction in others, or in yourself, alike meant to lead us unto Christ. To be always in the inn, always and altogether in the uproar, and heat, and enjoyment of the world; that would be death to us as Christians, death to our spiritual life. (Canon S. Reynolds Hole.)
The disowned Saviour:—You are all familiar, perhaps, with the story of Ulysses, the great Greek warrior, king of the island of Ithaca, and one of the most illustrious heroes of the Trojan war. After an absence from his home for twenty years—years consumed in wars and wanderings—he returned to his island empire to find his palace beset by a circle of gay young lords, who were not only consuming his substance and wasting his resources in riotous living, but were adding insult to injury, on the one hand by usurping the reins of power in his dominions, and on the other by their infamous proposals, or, at least, by mutually vying for the hand of his beloved and longsuffering Penelope. Wisely, he did not at once make himself known. Had he done so, it might have cost him his life. Nay, doubtless, had he promptly revealed himself in his own proper character, these graceless suitors would not have hesitated instantly to put him out of his own house—incontinently and unceremoniously to order him off his own premises and out of his own kingdom. More likely still, they would have taken measures effectually to compass his death. Do you say that that was pretty rough treatment? I agree with you; and yet it was not more so than that which, eighteen hundred years ago, was accorded to the Son of Man. When the Saviour of men came into this world, His own world, the world He had made with His own hands and was about to redeem with His own blood, there was yet found in it no room for Himself. No room! Hustled out of the inn where others found accommodation, the Divine Son of Mary and of God was left to creep into the world, as it were, through a back door—to be ushered into His earthly existence surrounded only by the wondering beasts of the stall. (R. H. Howard.)
Christ waiting to find room:—On the birth and birthplace of Jesus there is something beautifully correspondent with His personal fortunes afterwards, and also with the fortunes of His gospel, even down to our own age and time. He comes into the world as it were to the taxing, and there is scant room for Him even at that. My subject is the very impressive fact that Jesus could not find room in the world, and has never yet been able to find it.
I. See how it was with Him in His life. Herod’s massacre of innocents; parents unable to understand Him, to take in conception of His Divine childhood; John the Baptist growing doubtful, and sending to inquire whether He is really the Christ; Rabbis with no room in their little theologies for His doctrine; His own disciples getting but slenderest conception of His person and mission from His very explicit teachings.
II. So if we speak of Christendom, it might seem as if Christ had certainly gotten room, so far, to enter and be glorified in human society. But (a) what multitudes of outlying populations are there that have never heard of Him. And (b) of the states and populations that acknowledge Him, how little of Christ, take them altogether, can there be said to be really in them?
III. To take a closer inspection. Great multitudes utterly reject Him, and stay fast in their sins. They have no time to be religious, or the sacrifices are too great; some too poor, others too rich. Some too much honoured, and some too much want to be. Some in their pleasures, some in their expectations. Some too young, some too old, &c. The great world thus under sin, even that part of it which is called Christian, is very much like the inn at Bethlehem, preoccupied, crowded full in every part, so that, as the mother of Jesus looked up wistfully to the guest-chambers that cold night, drawing her Holy Thing to her bosom, in like manner Jesus Himself stands at the door of these multitudes, knocking vainly, till His head is filled with dew, and His locks are wet with the drops of the night.
IV. Churchcraft meantime has been quite as narrow, quite as sore a limitation as statecraft.
V. And the attempted work of science, calling itself theology, is scarcely more equal to its theme. VI. But the most remarkable thing is that, when the old niggard dogma of a bigot age and habit give way, and emancipated souls begin to look for a new Christianity and a broader, worthier faith, just then everything great in the gospel vanishes more strangely than before. Faith becomes mere opinion, love a natural sentiment, piety itself a blossom on the wild stock of nature. Jesus, the Everlasting Word, dwindles to a mere man. The Holy Spirit is made to be very nearly identical with the laws of the soul. The new Christianity, the more liberal, more advanced belief, turns out to be a discovery that we are living in nature just as nature makes us live. Salvation there is none; nothing is left for a gospel but development, with a little human help from the excellent Person, Jesus. Is it not time that Christ our Master should begin to be more fitly represented by His people. Be it yours, then, to make room for Him, even according to the greatness of His power—length, breadth, depth, height. (H. Bushnell, D.D.)
A fit nursery for the Holy Child:—We try to realize the scene and situation of which the text tells us; and we feel that the stable and the manger were not a fit nursery and cradle for the Holy Child. The best house in Bethlehem, and the fairest chamber in it, would have been honoured by that wondrous birth And pious fancy, offended at the lowly birthplace of the Lord, has constructed legends in the hope to hide its shame. They say that the cave in which the Virgin rested glowed with a glorious light as soon as she entered it, and that this light, excelling the brightness of the sun, remained within the cave as long as she was there. We share the feeling out of which such legend grew. And yet, while lamenting that, through want of room, the Saviour should have been born in such a lowly place, it may be that we are not giving Him the best accommodation that we can. For want of room He may be pushed away into some cold corner of our hearts, and to some small apartment of our thoughts. Even in our worship He has often less room than He claims. There is not a precious thing we have that does not owe some of its preciousness to Him. Our lives would be sad indeed, and all our merriment would be but a surface thing, like a hollow laugh or ghastly smile, that seeks to hide our inward wretchedness, were it not for those bright hopes that Christ has enabled us to cherish. If we trace them back to their source we shall find them all in Him. Let us find room for Him then amid all the gladness of this season and all the pleasures of this day. (E. A. Lawrence.)
A fit prelude to a life of poverty, humiliation, and sacrifice:—By a vision of the night God could have prepared the keeper of the inn for the reception of the world’s Saviour; by a message conveyed by angelic lips He could have commanded the most sumptuous welcome which earth’s palaces could afford; He who created the beauties which smiled on the bosom of paradise could have called into existence a garden blooming with flowers which never graced primeval Eden, and amid its blushing charms the “Rose of Sharon” might have budded. But no! In God’s estimation, what difference is there between a palace and a manger? Whatever Christ touched He dignified. The king, untouched by Christ, is blind and miserable and naked. The pauper in whose heart Christ abides is gifted with loftiest dignity. Christ shed a glory round that Eastern stable. Had infant Cæsars pillowed their heads in the manger it would have been a manger still; but Christ having found a cradle there, the manger is henceforth distinguished by such a glory as never shone on the palaces of kings. (Dr. Parker.)
NO ROOM FOR JESUS.
He was cradled in a manger;
His own angels sung the hymn
Of rejoicing at His coming,
Yet there was no room for Him.
Oh, my brothers, are we wiser,
Are we better now than they?
Have we any room for Jesus
In the life we live to-day?
Not much room for our Lord Jesus
Has there been, or will there be;
Room for Pilate and for Herod—
Not for Him of Calvary.
Room for pleasures—doors wide open,
And for business,—but for Him
Only here and there a manger,
Like to that at Bethlehem.
NEW PRINCE, NEW POMP.
The inns are full; no man will yield
This little pilgrim bed;
But forced He is with silly beasts
In crib to shroud His head.
Despise Him not for lying there;
First what He is inquire:
An Orient pearl is often found
In depth of dirty mire.
Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish,
Nor beasts that by Him feed;
Weigh not His mother’s poor attire,
Nor Joseph’s simple weed.
This stable is a prince’s court,
The crib His chair of state;
The beasts are parcel of His pomp,
The wooden dish His plate.
The persons in that poor attire
His royal liveries wear;
The Prince Himself is come from heaven:
This pomp is praised there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight!
Do homage to thy King;
And highly praise this humble pomp
Which He from heaven doth bring.
No room for Christ:—That night in Bethlehem, if Joseph had gone to some house and made them thoroughly understand that the Lord of Glory was about to be born in that village, they would have said, “Here is the best room in our house. Come in; come in. Occupy everything.” But when Joseph asked at this house and that house and the other house, they said, “No room on the floor, no room on the lounge, no room for Christ.” Ah! that has been the trouble in all the ages. The world has never had room for Him. No room in the heart, for here are all the gains and the emoluments of the world that are coming up to be enrolled, and they must find entertainment and lodging. Every passion full. Every desire full. Every capacity of body, mind, and soul full. No room for Christ. Room for all unholy aspirations, room for self-seeking, room for pride, room for Satan, room for all the concerted passions of darkness, but no room for Jesus. I go into a beautiful store. I find its shelves crowded with goods, and the counter crowded, and the floor crowded. It is crowded even to the ceiling. They have left just room enough in that store for commercial men, for bargain-makers, for those who come to engage in great mercantile undertakings, but no room in that store for Christ. I go into a house. It is a beautiful home. I am glad to see all those beautiful surroundings. I am glad to see that the very best looms wove those carpets, and the best manufactory turned out those musical instruments. There is no gospel against all that. But I find no Christ in that household. Room for the gloved and the robed; room for satin sandals and diamond head-gear; room for graceful step, and obsequious bow, and the dancing up and down of quick feet; room for all light, and all mirth, and all music; but—hear it, O thou Khan of Bethlehem—hear it, you angels who carolled for the shepherds in Bethlehem—no room in that house for Christ! No room in the nursery, for the children are not taught to pray; no room in the dining-hall, for no blessing is asked on the food; no room in the sleeping apartment, for God’s protection is not asked for the night. Jesus comes, and He retorts. He says, “I come to this world, and I find it has no room for Me; but I have room for it. Room in My heart—it beats in sympathy with all their sorrows. Room in My Church—I bought it with My blood. Room in heaven. Room in the anthem that never dies. Room in the banner procession. Room in the joys eternal. Room in the doxologies before the throne. Room for ever.” (Dr. Talmage.)
A night in a Syrian inn:—I found the house consisted of only one very lofty room, about eighteen feet square. Just within the door a donkey and a yoke of oxen stood; and I soon perceived that rather more than one-third of the room was set apart for cattle, where the floor, which was on a level with the street, was of earth, and partially strewn with fodder. Suddenly the idea entered my mind that it must have been in such a house as this that Christ was born. I imagined Joseph anxiously seeking rest and shelter for Mary after her long journey. All the guest-chambers were already filled. The raised floor was crowded with strangers who had, like them, come to be taxed. But Joseph and Mary may have taken refuge from the cold in the lower part of the room. The manger was very likely close by Mary’s side, hollowed out at the edge of the dais, and filled with soft winter fodder. I raised my head and looked at one of the mangers, and I felt how natural it was to use it as a cradle for a newly-born infant. Its size, its shape, its soft bed of fodder, its nearness to the warm fire always burning on the daïs in mid-winter, would immediately suggest the idea to an Eastern mother. (Rogers.)
No room for Jesus:—Before you utterly damn this unnamed Jewish inn-keeper and his seemingly unfeeling guests, pray be reasonable, and consider three things in abatement. (1) That you bring to the judgment a culture in the humanities which you owe entirely to this Jesus, who had not yet been born; and (2) that the inn-keeper had reasons for his conduct quite as valid as those which are perpetually allowed among men; and (3) that towards this very same Jesus you and I have behaved much worse than did these people whom we are so forward to denounce.
I. As to the first. Men are generally guilty of holding their fellows to account for a measure of light and culture which those fellow-men do not possess, but which their judges do.
II. But as to the second—Let us see what reasons probably influenced the inn-keeper, and whether the mass of mankind would not think those reasons quite valid. 1. He turned them off because they were not known. It is a busy time. The imperial edict for the enrolment of the provinces is bringing multitudes from the country to town. At this juncture two unknown people present themselves. One is a young woman. Her condition betrays itself. Who are they? The inn-keeper does not know them. Now, under the circumstances, would not such a reception as they received in Bethlehem be awarded to persons in similar condition at a majority of houses in Christendom on any Christmas Day? 2. Their appearance and the condition of their luggage were against them. You know what is meant by a “carpet-bag,” on one hand, and on the other by a “Saratoga trunk,” and what a bid for attention a man makes by his luggage. Little did Joseph and Mary have. The inn-keeper had his regular customers. They were substantial citizens from the neighbouring country. To bring in two strangers for a night might be to drive off a dozen good, responsible customers for ever. For you must mark that the real glory of Mary and Jesus was unknown to this tavern-keeper, and was really unsuspected. 3. They were poor and could not pay. It would have greatly increased the bill of a rich couple who should have demanded the turning of a guest from his apartments to make way for themselves in an emergency. III. Now in the third case, after you have considered the difference made in our culture by the blessed Jesus, and all the reasons which the inn-keeper had for turning Mary into the stable because he had no room for her and Jesus in the inn, before you pronounce sentence, make some little examination into the question whether we have not treated Jesus worse than He was treated in Bethlehem. The decision of that question will obviously much depend upon the space in our hearts and lives which Jesus is allowed by us to occupy. Are there not some of us who never permit Him to come upon our premises? So present is He everywhere among men by the power of His principles and His Spirit, that it is not possible to exclude Him utterly, and yet, so far as our responsibility is concerned, we do keep Him out to the whole extent of our failure to give Him a welcome to our thoughts, to our affections, and to our activities. Does He have ample welcome to all these departments of our existence? Does He have the chief place in our thoughts—the best place in our love—the largest place in our work? Is He welcomed and honoured? 1. Jesus is kept out of your heart because you do not know Him. Your ignorance is wilful. Recollect that He does not come unborn to you, as He did to the inn-keeper in Bethlehem. He comes to you with all His history of growth and beauty, of truth and activity, of self-denial and suffering, of love and power. The innkeeper of Bethlehem will rise up in the Judgment with many men of this generation and condemn them—because he turned away an unaccredited woman, and you reject the acknowledged Lord of Glory. 2. And you have the inn-keeper’s second reason: it will drive other guests away. Perhaps it would turn other guests out of your heart, perhaps not. If any depart because Jesus came, you ought to be glad of their departure. Here is a whole room full of the members of the large family of the Pleasures. They are many, and they are exacting. They take large space, for they live widely. Many of them are most deceptive, having stolen the garb and imitated the manners of the most reputable and solid Enjoyments. These latter are the most pleasant and among the most respectable guests that the heart can entertain. They will stay with Jesus, while those wild and giddy and profitless things you call Pleasures would better have no place in your affections. You were not born to be amused, but to be disciplined. And there is Business, taking up almost all your heart and head, and crowding you, and calling you, and bothering you, until you are so nervous that you can hardly eat or sleep. Room for darkness, and no room for light; room for foulness, and no room for purity; room for death, but no room for life! Every story from attic to basement crowded, and Jesus turned out into the stable! 3. But the inn-keeper sent Mary to the stable because it would not be remunerative to entertain her in his house. He would have been compelled to turn out some well-known and liberally-paying guests. You know Him to be a Prince, for whose sake every reasonable man would think it quite the proper thing to dismiss any other guest. Does not “pay” to entertain Jesus! Did you ever know a man who took Jesus into his intellect, and worked up his studies under that Great Master, and not grow in profoundness of thought and width of range of intellectual vision? Did you ever know an artist give Jesus a lodging, and not thereby have all his æsthetic nature quickened and purified and brightened? Did you ever know any man to conduct any business for Jesus, permeating his life with the Spirit of Jesus, basing his plans on the principles taught by Jesus, and laying every profitable income of his trade as a tribute at the feet of Jesus, who did not thrive and increase and have happiness along the whole line of his business career? Is He going away? It may be that your years are drawing to a close. Has He grown weary of your insulting dismissals? Stop! Lord Jesus Christ! O Son of Mary, stop! Do not leave such of the readers of this page as have said to Thee, “No room!” It must not be. I seem to hear these busy men in future knocking passionately and desperately at the gate of mercy, but without love of Jesus, and out of the solemn profoundness of eternity there comes the crushing echo, “No room!” And conscience shrieks to them, “No room! No room among the crowns and songs and glories of heaven for the hearts that had no room for Jesus!” (C. F. Deems, D.D.)
7. Because there was no room for them in the inn. We see here not only the great poverty of Joseph, but the cruel tyranny which admitted of no excuse, but compelled Joseph to bring his wife along with him, at an inconvenient season, when she was near the time of her delivery. Indeed, it is probable that those who were the descendants of the royal family were treated more harshly and disdainfully than the rest. Joseph was not so devoid of feeling as to have no concern about his wife’s delivery. He would gladly have avoided this necessity: but, as that is impossible, he is forced to yield, and commends himself to God. We see, at the same time, what sort of beginning the life of the Son of God had, and in what cradle3 he was placed. Such was his condition at his birth, because he had taken upon him our flesh for this purpose, that he might “empty himself” (Phil. 2:7) on our account. When he was thrown into a stable, and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him among men, it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging, but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.
 Hultberg, A. (2017). Luke. In T. Cabal (Ed.), CSB Apologetics Study Bible (p. 1260). Holman Bible Publishers.
 Luter, A. B. (2017). Luke. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1605). Holman Bible Publishers.
 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J., eds. (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Lk 2:7). Thomas Nelson.
“Help me! Please. My baby.” No one paid any attention to her.
“May your roots go down deep in to the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is” Ephesians 3:18(NLT)
On a cold Christmas Eve in 1952, when Korea was in the throes of civil war, one young woman struggled along a village street, obviously soon to deliver a child. She pleaded with passersby,
“Help me! Please. My baby.”
No one paid any attention to her.
A middle-aged couple walked by. The wife pushed away the young mother and sneered,
“Where’s the father? Where’s your American man now?”
The couple laughed and went on.
The young woman almost doubled up from a contraction as she watched them go.
“Please . . .” she begged.
She had heard of a missionary living nearby who might help her. Hurriedly, she began walking to that village. If only he would help her baby. Shivering and in pain, she struggled over the frozen countryside. But the night was so cold. Snow began to fall. Realizing that the time was near to deliver her baby, she took shelter under a bridge. There, alone, her baby was born on Christmas Eve.
Worried about her newborn son, she took off her own clothes, wrapped them around the baby and held him close in the warm circle of her arms.
The next day, the missionary braved the new snow to deliver Christmas packages. As he walked along, he heard the cry of a baby. He followed the sound to a bridge. Under it, he found a young mother frozen to death, still clutching her crying new born son. The missionary tenderly lifted the baby out of her arms.
When the baby was 10 years old, his now adoptive father told him the story of his mother’s death on Christmas Eve.
The young boy cried, realizing the sacrifice his mother had made for him.
The next morning, the missionary rose early to find the boy’s bed empty. Seeing a fresh set of small footprints in the snow outside, he bundled up warmly in a winter coat and followed the trail. It led back to the bridge where the young mother had died.
As the missionary approached the bridge, he stopped, stunned. Kneeling in the snow was his son, naked and shivering uncontrollably. His clothes lay beside him in a small pile. Moving closer, he heard the boy say through chattering teeth:
“Mother, were you this cold for me?”
That story reminds me of another mother and Son who sacrificed so much. One winter night, Jesus left his home, His glory and the warmth of heaven to be born in a stable to an unwelcome world. Just before He was born, Mary, His mother, was not welcome in any of the cozy inns in Bethlehem. Instead, she delivered her baby in the darkness of a cold stable. Th e Creator of the Universe, the Perfect Judge who could destroy the world with a single word, was willing to endure this inauspicious beginning for you and me. That is unconditional love!
We who have experienced God’s unconditional love are commanded to share that love with others. John writes in 1 John 4:11,
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (New Living Translation).
God wants us to express His supernatural love to others. We become examples of God’s love to the world as we love our neighbors through the enabling of His Holy Spirit.
My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesians 3:17,18:
“May your roots go down deep in to the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is” (NLT ) .
You may confess, “I don’t have that kind of love to share with anyone.” To experience God’s supernatural love, claim it by faith. We have the potential to love anyone God puts in our path. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my Christian life is “how to love by faith.”
When we by faith invite God’s unconditional love to flow through us, we will discover a rekindled love that is alive and well. That is true for an “unlovable” spouse, boss, employee, or anyone.
Nothing breaks the hardened ground of unforgiveness and bitterness like sincere acts and words of love. Sometimes you and I, by faith, must take the first step of restoration. A positive response may not be immediate, but keep on loving and reaching out. There is no power on earth stronger than God’s supernatural love.
Would you like to know Jesus? You can have peace and find hope and know forgiveness through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to You and ask You to come in as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Bring peace to my world this Christmas. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
If this prayer expresses the desire of your heart, pray it right now and Christ will come into your life as He promised. If you invited Jesus Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life.
Another of the Levitical laws forbade blasphemy, and we are told with full detail, how this law was first broken by “the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian.” Special care is taken to explain that the offender was not a full Israelite. He blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed.” The man was brought before Moses, and Moses after direct consultation with God, commanded that the culprit should be brought outside the camp, and there be stoned to death.
An additional edict, too little heeded in our own day, was then announced against blasphemy. “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.”
If we understood the place of a shepherd in New Testament Israel, we might wonder why God would choose to send angels to them. Shepherds were the lowest class. Their occupation, including the need to range sheep over long distances in the dry season, meant they could not keep the Sabbath as the Pharisees expected. Some ancient sources say that their testimony was not allowed to be used in a court of law, as they were considered unreliable and incapable of giving an accurate account.
Once again, we see that the gospel account would not appeal to certain people. “…not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Imagine then the effect of their testimony on the surrounding communities. Would they be mocked? Perhaps they would be treated as those who claim to have seen supernatural sights in our day? It would take faith to believe them! These shepherds are the start of a longer storyline. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, his followers would include converted sinners, tax-collectors, and zealots. The first witness to his resurrection would be Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons (Mark 16:9).
When we bring the glorious message of the gospel, we should not be surprised if we are counted as fools. We are in lowly company when we believe in the virgin birth, the cross and the resurrection! And yet, this is the most glorious message to witness.
Suggestion for prayer
Pray for someone who is too proud or “wise” to hear the gospel message.
Pastor Robert VanDoodewaard currently serves the Free Reformed Church in Powassan, Ontario, Canada as a minister of the gospel.
Immanuel is one of Christ’s most precious names. It is a combination of two Hebrew words that together mean “God with us.” The gospel of Matthew explains that Christ received this name in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
For many people, the name Immanuel has a nice ring to it that suggests comfort and hope in times of trouble. Yet there is a lot more substance and significance to this name. The encouragement Christians can take from this name is no mere vague impression or passing emotion. The truth conveyed by this name has both a glorious beauty and a wide range of blessings attached to it.
The Beauty of Immanuel
The Bible uses the name Immanuel mostly in connection with the incarnation of Christ. The first time we hear this name is when Isaiah prophesied the virgin birth of Christ: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
Isaiah spoke these words to Ahaz, king of Judah, who was being threatened by surrounding nations. When you read the context you find that, sadly, Ahaz had no interest in God being with him. Despite that, Isaiah told him a person named “God with us” would come. In the fullness of time, Christ would become incarnate in order to bring God’s presence to us. He would be born of a virgin, thus escaping the corruption of David’s line while remaining David’s son.
Christ is an incarnate Savior. That’s the beauty of Immanuel. He didn’t come as an angel or some spirit manifesting itself from time to time. He took to Himself bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. No other religion can give such comfort and hope.
The Blessings of Immanuel
Because the Son of God took to Himself our nature, there are a myriad of blessings represented in His name Immanuel:
1. He is God-with-us to reconcile sinners to God. Man is born alienated from God, and God can have no fellowship with Him because of sin. But Immanuel came to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He gave His life as an offering for sin so that sinners can be brought back into fellowship with God (1 John 1:3). On the cross He could promise the repentant thief that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43), that is to say, in fellowship with God.
2. He is God-with-us to guide, empower, and expand His church. Having ascended into heaven, Christ is now no longer with believers physically here on earth. Yet as the Heidelberg Catechism expresses so beautifully, “with respect to His Godhead, majesty, grace and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us” (Q&A 47). At the close of the gospel of Matthew, Immanuel promised His church, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).
3. He is God-with-us to comfort His people. Think of Psalm 46, which so beautifully describes the encouraging presence of God in the midst of very chaotic circumstances. He is “a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). Christians need not fear, even when the earth shakes and kingdoms rage. God’s presence with His people is constant: “The Lord of hosts is with us” (vv. 7, 11). Believer, God is near you, to help and protect you.
4. He is God-with-us to bring His people to glory. We read in Revelation 21:3 of the new heavens and the new earth, where “God himself shall be with them.” In glory, the presence of God with His people will be perfect and uninterrupted. Revelation 22:4 tells us that they shall even see His face.
Do you believe this record God has given of Immanuel? Do you see how low Christ stooped to be God-with-sinners? Do you experience the blessings of God-with-us? These can only be ours through a new birth from above. His birth calls us to ask: Have I been born again? If so, He is your Immanuel.
This article was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
Is the only way to get ahead by pushing others back? Do society’s winners win only by making others lose? To illustrate by way of analogy, if Sally buys a shirt from Tony’s store, is only one of them better off? Is one of them worse off? Or did both of them “win”?
The first and foremost problem with a law banning conversion therapy is that it runs right up against God’s Law – it bans what God commands, that we tell and help sinners to repent and believe. Another problem with this ban is that it doesn’t even live up to secular standards, which is the focus of Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen’s article here.
Why do we waste so much of our time? One reason might be that we always overestimate how much we have. “Our mind tells us to estimate a full eighty years or so; our heart tells us 900, give or take.” As Greg Morse writes in this article:
Some have fifteen years left; others more; others less. Will you live them? Will you receive normal days as spectacular gifts from a good God and spend them in his service?
In Samuel’s warning about kings (1 Samuel 8:10-22), God teaches us that those in charge tend to be overbearing, as we can see with our own governments taking over entire sectors like healthcare, insurance, and education. So should we be asking it to get into the entertainment industry too, using its taxing power to take from Paul so that Peter can be amused?
A government that is involved in everything is also a government that can use that reach and influence for its godless agenda. Yes, even when it comes to sports stadiums. The Western Australian gov’t has since backed down, but they were going to use their investment in sports facilities to discriminate against Christians. One reason Christians should want smaller government is to diminish the power it can then use against us.
Among the strangest and most memorable of the ceremonies commanded for the Hebrews was that of “the scapegoat.” Once every year, “as an everlasting statute,” were they commanded to assemble so as to offer a sacrifice of atonement for all their sins. Two he-goats were brought before the high priest and, selecting one by lot, he slew it upon the altar; then the other was brought forth, and the high priest’s direction was that he “shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.”
The mystic tragedy of the fate of this poor goat thus driven forth alone into the wilderness, weighed down with all the sins of a nation, has always attracted both poets and painters. Holman Hunt’s picture stands out as perhaps the most celebrated conception of the lonely burden-bearer.
Who is this God? This God is the one who became human as we became human. He is completely human. Therefore, nothing human is foreign to him. The human being that I am, Jesus Christ was also. About this human being Jesus Christ we say: this one is God. This does not mean that we already knew beforehand who God is. Nor does it mean that the statement “this human being is God” adds anything to being human. God and human being are not thought of as belonging together through a concept of nature. The statement “this human being is God” is meant entirely differently. The divinity of this human being is not something additional to the human nature of Jesus Christ. The statement “this human being is God” is the vertical from above, the statement that applies to Jesus Christ the human being, which neither adds anything nor takes anything away, but qualifies the whole human being as God.… Faith is ignited from Jesus Christ the human being.… If Jesus Christ is to be described as God, then we do not speak of his omnipotence and omniscience, but of his cradle and his cross. There is no “divine being” as omnipotence, as omnipresence.
And now Christmas is coming and you won’t be there. We shall be apart, yes, but very close together. My thoughts will come to you and accompany you. We shall sing “Friede auf Erden” [Peace on Earth] and pray together, but we shall sing “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe!” [Glory be to God on high] even louder. That is what I pray for you and for all of us, that the Savior may throw open the gates of heaven for us at darkest night on Christmas Eve, so that we can be joyful in spite of everything.
Maria von Wedemeyer to Bonhoeffer,
December 10, 1943
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
O God, our Father, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, we bless you and praise you and glorify you, that you have fulfilled your ancient promises:
that He is come, the Seed of the woman, who has bruised the head of the serpent;
that He is come, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed;
that He is come whose name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Give us your joy this day; may we hold thankful conversation with each other, and eat our meat in gladness and singleness of heart. May we rejoice with our neighbors in your house, and send our praises up to your throne.
We Never Tire of Seeing God’s Glory and Majesty in the Incarnation
Psalm 8:1–4; John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:18–25
They who see human wonders a few times at last cease to be astonished. The noblest pile that architect ever raised at last fails to impress the onlooker. But not so this marvelous temple of incarnate Deity; the more we look at it, the more we are astonished. The more we become accustomed to it, the more we have a sense of its surpassing splendor of love and grace. There is more of God’s glory and majesty to be seen in the manger and the cross than in the sparkling stars above, the rolling deep below, the towering mountain, the teeming valleys, the abodes of life, or the abyss of death.
Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
We Possess God if We are United with Christ
Matthew 1:23; 10:40; Romans 6:3–5; Galatians 2:20;
Whenever we contemplate the one person of Christ as God-man, we ought to hold it for certain that, if we are united to Christ by faith, we possess God.
John Calvin (1509–1564)
We Would Have a Much Worse Time Were It Not for Christmas
Luke 2:10–11, 30–32
I do not know whether an animal killed at Christmas has had a better or a worse time than it would have had if there had been no Christmas or no Christmas dinners. But I do know that the fighting and suffering brotherhood to which I belong and owe everything, mankind, would have a much worse time if there were no such thing as Christmas or Christmas dinners.
G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)
We Would Not Have Known That Christ Was Present
Isaiah 53:2; John 1:5; 20:29
We are very apt to wish we had been born in the days of Christ, and in this way we excuse our misconduct, when conscience reproaches us. We say that had we had the advantage of being with Christ, we should have had stronger motives, stronger restraints against sin. I answer that, so far from our sinful habits being reformed by the presence of Christ, the chance is that those same habits would have hindered us from recognizing Him. We should not have known He was present; and if He had even told us who He was, we should not have believed Him.
John Henry Newman (1801–1890)
What Happened to Those Who Lived Before Christ’s Birth
Matthew 13:17; John 1:14; 3:16; 8:56; Hebrews 11:13–16
From the beginning of the human race, whosoever believed in Him, and in any way knew Him, and lived in a pious and just manner according to His precepts, was undoubtedly saved by Him, in whatever time and place he may have lived. For as we believe in Him both as dwelling with the Father and as having come in the flesh, so the men of the former ages believed in Him both as dwelling with the Father and as destined to come in the flesh.
Augustine of Hippo (354–430)
What the Stable, the Manger, and the Swaddling Clothes Declare
Psalm 49:12; Daniel 5:21; Luke 10:30
The stable declares that He is preparing to cure the man that fell among robbers; His manger tells us that He will minister food to him that was compared to beasts, and made like them. His tears and His swaddling clothes cry out that He will wash and cleanse man’s wounds. Christ did not need any of these things for Himself. All were for His elect.
Whatever Christ did, if you belong to those who are in Him, He did for you. So that Christ circumcised or Christ crucified, Christ dead or Christ living, Christ buried or Christ risen, you are a partaker of all that He did and all that He is, for you are reckoned as one with Him. See then, the joy and comfort of the incarnation of Christ. Does Jesus, as man, take manhood up to heaven? He has taken me up there. Father Adam fell, and I fell for I was in him. The Lord Jesus Christ rises, and I rise if I am in Him.
Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
Where Can It Be Well without Christ?
Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34
He comes from the heart of God the Father to the womb of a virgin mother; He comes from the highest heaven to this low earth, that we whose conversation is now on earth may have Him for our most desirable companion. For where can it be well with us without Him, and where ill if He be present?
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
Who Better to Take Away Sin Than He Who Knew No Sin?
Matthew 7:3–5; John 1:29; 9:6
Behold here an Infant without stain! Behold the Lamb without spot, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! Who could better take them away than He who knew no sin? He, indeed, can cleanse me, who has never Himself been defiled. His touch can remove the clay from my eyes, for His hand is free from the lightest dust. He can take the mote from out my eye who has no beam in His own; or, rather, He who has no smallest grain of dust in His own eye can take the beam from mine.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
Why Should Jesus Not Live in Our Rocky Hearts?
Isaiah 7:14–15; Luke 2:7; John 1:14; Ephesians 3:17
If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a habitation for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will he count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures, and tabernacle in the souls of his children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from his humble parentage, and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of glory.
Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
Why the Mediator Is Man as Well as God
1 Corinthians 15:21; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:14
Because the divine nature is altogether impassible, and not at all subject to grief, sorrow, or sufferings, it was therefore necessary that the Mediator between God and man should be man as well as God; for, by this ineffable union, the one nature suffers and the other supports, the one conflicts and the other conquers; and, for the payment of our debt, the one brings the ore, the other stamps it and makes it valuable. And by this means, likewise, satisfaction is made unto justice in the same nature that sinned; for, as man offended, so man also is punished. The same which made the forfeiture makes the redemption.
Ezekiel Hopkins (1634–1690)
Will Christ’s Birth Do You Any Good?
Isaiah 9:6; 1 Timothy 1:15
What does Christmas mean? Is it not the time of year when men are reminded of Christ the Savior’s birth? Are you not told to remember how Jesus came into the world to save sinners? All this is true. There is no denying it. The birth of Christ the Savior—the manhood of Christ the Savior—the salvation provided by Christ the Savior—all these are mighty facts. But after all will they profit you anything? Will they do you any good? In one word—shall you be saved?
R. C. Ryle (1816–1900)
With the Birth of Christ, the Time of Fear Is Over
Luke 2:8–14; John 1:14
Angels came to proclaim the good news of the advent of the incarnate God, and the very first note of their song was a foretaste of the sweet result of His coming to all those who shall receive Him. The angel said, “Fear not,” as though the times of fear were over, and the days of hope and joy had arrived. “Fear not.” These words were not meant for those trembling shepherds only, but were intended for you and for me, indeed all nations to whom the glad tidings shall come. “Fear not.” Let God no longer be the object of your slavish dread! Stand not at a distance from Him anymore. The Word is made flesh. God has descended to tabernacle among men, that there may be no hedge of fire, no yawning gulf between God and man.
Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
Working Out Salvation by Means of Our Savior
Isaiah 9:6; Philippians 2:12
To us, then, He is born, to us He is given, because by us He is so greatly needed. And since He is born of our race and given to us, let us accomplish that for which He was born and given. Let us make use of Our Own for our profit; let us work out our salvation by means of our Savior.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. 
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. 
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (1:18–25)
Biblical history records some amazing and spectacular births. The birth of Isaac to a previously barren woman nearly one hundred years old, who was laughing at the thought of having a child, was a miraculous event. The womb of Manoah’s barren wife was opened and she gave birth to Samson, who was to turn a lion inside out, kill a thousand men, and pull down a pagan temple. The birth of Samuel, the prophet and anointer of kings, to the barren Hannah, whose womb the Lord had shut, revealed divine providential power. Elizabeth was barren, but through the power of God she gave birth to John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said there had yet been no one greater “among those born of women” (Matt. 11:11). But the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus surpasses all of those.
Fantasy and mythology have counterfeited the virgin birth of Jesus Christ with a proliferation of false accounts intended to minimize His utterly unique birth.
For example, the Romans believed that Zeus impregnated Semele without contact and that she conceived Dionysus, lord of the earth. The Babylonians believed that Tammuz (see Ezek. 8:14) was conceived in the priestess Semiramis by a sunbeam. In an ancient Sumerian/Accadian story inscribed on a wall, Tukulti II (890–884 b.c.) told how the gods created him in the womb of his mother. It was even claimed that the goddess of procreation superintended the conception of King Sennacherib (705–681 b.c). At the conception of Buddha, his mother supposedly saw a great white elephant enter her belly. Hinduism has claimed that the divine Vishnu, after reincarnations as a fish, tortoise, boar, and lion, descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son Krishna. There is even a legend that Alexander the Great was virgin born by the power of Zeus through a snake that impregnated his mother, Olympias. Satan has set up many more such myths to counterfeit the birth of Christ in order to make it seem either common or legendary.
Modern science even speaks of parthenogenesis, which comes from a Greek term meaning “virgin born.” In the world of honey bees, unfertilized eggs develop into drones, or males. Artificial parthenogenesis has been successful with unfertilized eggs of silkworms. The eggs of sea urchins and marine worms have begun to develop when placed in various salt solutions. In 1939 and 1940, rabbits were produced (all female) through chemical and temperature influences on ova. Nothing like that has ever come close to accounting for human beings; all such parthenogenesis is impossible within the human race. Science, like mythology, has no explanation for the virgin birth of Christ. He was neither merely the son of a previously barren woman nor a freak of nature. By the clear testimony of Scripture, He was conceived by God and born of a virgin.
Nevertheless, religious polls taken over the past several generations reveal the impact of liberal theology in a marked and continuing decline in the percentage of professed Christians who believe in the virgin birth, and therefore in the deity, of Jesus Christ. One wonders why they want to be identified with a person who, if their judgment of Him were correct, had to have been either deceived or deceptive—since all four gospels explicitly teach that Jesus considered Himself to be more than a man. It is clear from the rest of the New Testament as well as from historical records that Jesus, His disciples, and all of the early church held Him to be none other than the divine Son of God. Even His enemies knew He claimed such identity (John 5:18–47).
A popular religious personality said in an interview a few years ago that he could not in print or in public deny the virgin birth of Christ, but that neither could he preach it or teach it. “When I have something I can’t comprehend,” he explained, “I just don’t deal with it.” But to ignore the virgin birth is to ignore Christ’s deity. And to ignore His deity is tantamount to denying it. Real incarnation demands a real virgin birth.
But such unbelief should not surprise us. Unbelief has been man’s greatest problem since the Fall and has always been man’s majority view. But “What then?” Paul asks. “If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:3–4). Every faithful prophet, preacher, or teacher at some time has asked with Isaiah and Paul, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Rom. 10:16; cf. Isa. 53:1). But popular opinion, even within the church, has not always been a reliable source of truth. When men pick and choose which parts of God’s Word to believe and follow, they set themselves above His Word and therefore above Him (cf. Ps. 138:2).
Matthew’s purpose in writing his gospel account was partly apologetic—not in the sense of making an apology for the gospel but in the more traditional sense of explaining and defending it against its many attacks and misrepresentations. Jesus’ humanity was often maligned and His deity often denied. Possibly during His earthly ministry, and certainly after His death and resurrection, it is likely Jesus was slandered by the accusation that He was the illegitimate son of Mary by some unknown man, perhaps a Roman soldier garrisoned in Galilee. It was Jesus’ claim of deity, however, that most incensed the Jewish leaders and brought them to demand His death. “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
It is surely no accident, therefore, that the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, at the outset of the New Testament, is devoted to establishing both the regal humanity and the deity of Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus’ being both human and divine, there is no gospel. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity. The whole superstructure of Christian theology is built on it. The essence and the power of the gospel is that God became man and that, by being both wholly God and wholly man, He was able to reconcile men to God. Jesus’ virgin birth, His substitutionary atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and return are all integral aspects of His deity. They stand or fall together. If any of those teachings—all clearly taught in the New Testament—is rejected, the entire gospel is rejected. None makes sense, or could have any significance or power, apart from the others. If those things were not true, even Jesus’ moral teachings would be suspect, because if He misrepresented who He was by preposterously claiming equality with God, how could anything else He said be trusted? Or if the gospel writers misrepresented who He was, why should we trust their word about anything else He said or did?
Jesus once asked the Pharisees a question about Himself that men have been asking in every generation since then: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” (Matt. 22:42). That is the question Matthew answers in the first chapter of this gospel. Jesus is the human Son of man and the divine Son of God.
As we have seen, the first seventeen verses give Jesus’ human lineage—his royal descent from Abraham through David and through Joseph, His legal human father. The Jewish leaders of New Testament times acknowledged that the Messiah would be of the royal line of David; but, for the most part, they agreed on little more than that concerning Him.
History informs us that even the conservative Pharisees did not generally believe that the Messiah would be divine. Had Jesus not claimed to be more than the son of David, He may have begun to convince some of the Jewish leaders of His messiahship. Once He claimed to be God, however, they rejected Him immediately. Many people still today are willing to recognize Him as a great teacher, a model of high moral character, and even a prophet from God. Were He no more than those things, however, He could not have conquered sin or death or Satan. In short, He could not have saved the world. He would also have been guilty of grossly misrepresenting Himself.
It is interesting that certain condescending interpreters of the New Testament acknowledge that Matthew and other writers sincerely believed and taught that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that He had no human father. But, they claim, those men were uneducated and captive to the usual superstitions and myths of their times. They simply picked up on the many virgin birth legends that were common in the ancient world and adapted them to the gospel story.
It is true that pagan religions of that day, such as those of Semiramis and Tammuz, had myths of various kinds involving miraculous conceptions. But the immoral and repulsive character of those stories cannot be compared to the gospel accounts. Such stories are Satan’s vile counterfeits of God’s pure truth. Because the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is crucial to the gospel, it is a truth that false, satanic systems of religion will deny, counterfeit, or misrepresent.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ divine conception is straightforward and simple. It is given as history, but as history that could only be known by God’s revelation and accomplished by divine miracle. It is essential to the incarnation.
After establishing Jesus’ human lineage from David, Matthew proceeds to show His divine “lineage.” That is the purpose of verses 18–25, which reveal five distinct truths about the virgin birth of Christ. We see the virgin birth conceived, confronted, clarified, connected, and consummated.
The Virgin Birth
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary hadbeen betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. (1:18)
Though it does not by itself prove divine authorship, the very fact that the account of Jesus’ divine conception is given in but one verse strongly suggests that the story was not man-made. It is simply not characteristic of human nature to try to describe something so absolutely momentous and marvelous in such a brief space. Our inclination would be to expand, elaborate, and try to give every detail possible. Matthew continues to give additional information related to the virgin birth, but the fact of it is given in one sentence—the first sentence of verse 18 being merely introduction. Seventeen verses are given to listing Jesus’ human genealogy, but only part of one verse to His divine genealogy. In His divinity He “descended” from God by a miraculous and never-repeated act of the Holy Spirit; yet the Holy Spirit does nothing more than authoritatively state the fact. A human fabrication would call for much more convincing material.
Birth is from the same Greek root as “genealogy” in verse 1, indicating that Matthew is here giving a parallel account of Jesus’ ancestry—this time from His Father’s side.
We have little information about Mary. It is likely that she was a native of Nazareth and that she came from a relatively poor family. From Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25 we learn she had a sister named Salome, the mother of James and John (who therefore were Jesus’ cousins). From Luke 3 we receive her Davidic lineage. If, as many believe, the Eli (or Heli) of Luke 3:23 was Joseph’s father-in-law (Matthew gives Joseph’s father as Jacob, 1:16), then Eli was Mary’s father. We know that Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, was Mary’s “relative” (Luke 1:36), probably her cousin. Those are the only relatives, besides her husband and children, of whom the New Testament speaks.
Mary was a godly woman who was sensitive and submissive to the Lord’s will. After the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would be the mother of “the Son of God,” Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26–38). Mary was also believing. She wondered how she could conceive: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). But she never questioned the angel was sent from God or that what he said was true. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” testified of Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord” (v. 45). Mary’s humble reverence, thankfulness, and love for God is seen in her magnificent Magnificat, as Luke 1:46–55 is often called. It begins, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.… For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name” (vv. 47, 49).
We know even less of Joseph than of Mary. His father’s name was Jacob (Matt. 1:16) and he was a craftsman, a construction worker (tektōn), probably a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). Most importantly, he was a “righteous man” (1:19), an Old Testament saint.
It is possible that both Joseph and Mary were quite young when they were betrothed. Girls were often betrothed as young as twelve or thirteen, and boys when they were several years older than that.
By Jewish custom, a betrothal signified more than an engagement in the modern sense. A Hebrew marriage involved two stages, the kiddushin (betrothal) and the huppah (marriage ceremony). The marriage was almost always arranged by the families of the bride and groom, often without consulting them. A contract was made and was sealed by payment of the mohar, the dowry or bride price, which was paid by the groom or his family to the bride’s father. The mohar served to compensate the father for wedding expenses and to provide a type of insurance for the bride in the event the groom became dissatisfied and divorced her. The contract was considered binding as soon as it was made, and the man and woman were considered legally married, even though the marriage ceremony (huppah) and consummation often did not occur until as much as a year later. The betrothal period served as a time of probation and testing of fidelity. During that period the bride and groom usually had little, if any, social contact with each other.
Joseph and Mary had experienced no sexual contact with each other, as the phrase before they came together indicates. Sexual purity is highly regarded in Scripture, in both testaments. God places great value on sexual abstinence outside of marriage and sexual fidelity within marriage. Mary’s virginity was an important evidence of her godliness. Her reason for questioning Gabriel’s announcement of her conception was the fact that she knew she was a virgin (Luke 1:34). This testimony protects from accusation that Jesus was born of some other man.
But Mary’s virginity protected a great deal more than her own moral character, reputation, and the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth. It protected the nature of the divine Son of God. The child is never called the son of Joseph; Joseph is never called Jesus’ father, and Joseph is not mentioned in Mary’s song of praise (Luke 1:46–55). Had Jesus been conceived by the act of a man, whether Joseph or anyone else, He could not have been divine and could not have been the Savior. His own claims about Himself would have been lies, and His resurrection and ascension would have been hoaxes. And mankind would forever remain lost and damned.
Obviously Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit is a great mystery. Even had He wanted to do so, how could God have explained to us, in terms we could comprehend, how such a blending of the divine and human could have been accomplished? We could no more fathom such a thing than we can fathom God’s creating the universe from nothing, His being one God in three Persons, or His giving an entirely new spiritual nature to those who trust in His Son. Understanding of such things will have to await heaven, when we see our Lord “face to face” and “know fully just as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). We accept it by faith.
The virgin birth should not have surprised those Jews who knew and believed the Old Testament. Because of a misinterpretation of the phrase “A woman shall encompass a man” in Jeremiah 31:22, many rabbis believed the Messiah would have an unusual birth. They said, “Messiah is to have no earthly father,” and “the birth of Messiah shall be like the dew of the Lord, as drops upon the grass without the action of man.” But even that poor interpretation of an obscure text (an interpretation also held by some of the church Fathers) assumed a unique birth for the Messiah.
Not only had Isaiah indicated such a birth (7:14), but even in Genesis we get a glimpse of it. God spoke to the serpent of the enmity that would henceforth exist between “your seed and her [Eve’s] seed” (Gen. 3:15). In a technical sense the seed belongs to the man, and Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Spirit is the only instance in human history that a woman had a seed within her that did not come from a man. The promise to Abraham concerned “his seed,” a common way of referring to offspring. This unique reference to “her seed” looks beyond Adam and Eve to Mary and to Jesus Christ. The two seeds of Genesis 3:15 can be seen in a simple sense as collective; that is, they may refer to all those who are part of Satan’s progeny and to all those who a part of Eve’s. That view sees the war between the two as raging for all time, with the people of righteousness eventually gaining victory over the people of evil. But “seed” also can be singular, in that it refers to one great, final, glorious product of a woman, who will be the Lord Himself—born without male seed. In that sense the prediction is messianic. It may be that the prophecy looks to both the collective and the individual meanings.
Paul is very clear when he tells us that “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). There is no human father in that verse. Jesus had to have one human parent or He could not have been human, and thereby a partaker of our flesh. But He also had to have divine parentage or He could not have made a sinless and perfect sacrifice on our behalf.
The Virgin Birth Confronted
And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (1:19–20)
As already mentioned, although Joseph and Mary were only betrothed at this time (v. 18), he was considered her husband and she was considered his wife. For the very reason that he was a righteous man, Joseph had a double problem, at least in his own mind. First, because of his righteous moral standards, he knew that he should not go through with the marriage because of Mary’s pregnancy. He knew that he was not the father and assumed, quite naturally, that Mary had had relations with another man. But second, because of his righteous love and kindness, he could not bear the thought of shaming her publicly (a common practice of his day in regard to such an offense), much less of demanding her death, as provided by the law (Deut. 22:23–24). There is no evidence that Joseph felt anger, resentment, or bitterness. He had been shamed (if what he assumed had been true), but his concern was not for his own shame but for Mary’s. He was not wanting to disgrace her by public exposure of her supposed sin. Because he loved her so deeply he determined simply to put her away secretly.
Apoluō means literally to put … away, as translated here, but was the common term used for divorce. Joseph’s plan was to divorce her secretly, though before long everyone would have guessed it when the marriage never materialized. But for a while, at least, she would be protected, and she would live.
While he considered this, however, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and allayed his fears. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid [stop being afraid] to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” This verse emphasizes the supernatural character of the whole event. To reinforce the encouraging words, as well as to verify Jesus’ royal lineage, the angel addressed Joseph as son of David. Even though He was not the real son of Joseph, Jesus was his legal son. His Father, in actuality, was God, who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit. But His royal right in the Davidic line came by Joseph.
The phrase that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit is profound. In those words is the ultimate testimony to the virgin birth. It is the testimony of the holy angel from the Lord God Himself.
One critic has waved his fist at God and called Him an unholy liar with these words: “There was nothing peculiar about the birth of Jesus. He was not God incarnate and no virgin mother bore him. The church in its ancient zeal fathered a myth and became bound to it as a dogma.” But the testimony of Scripture stands.
The Virgin Birth Clarified
“And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (1:21)
As if to reinforce the truth of Jesus’ divine conception, the angel tells Joseph that she will bear a Son. Joseph would act as Jesus’ earthly father, but he would only be a foster father. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus through Mary’s line accurately says He was “supposedly the son of Joseph” (3:23, emphasis added).
Joseph was told to name the Son … Jesus, just as Zacharias was told to name his son John (Luke 1:13). We are not told the purpose or significance of John’s name, but that of Jesus was made clear even before His birth. Jesus is a form of the Hebrew Joshua, Jeshua, or Jehoshua, the basic meaning of which is “Jehovah (Yahweh) will save.” All other men who had those names testified by their names to the Lord’s salvation. But this One who would be born to Mary not only would testify of God’s salvation, but would Himself be that salvation. By His own work He would save His people from their sins.
The Virgin Birth Connected
Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (1:22–23)
At this point Matthew explains that Jesus’ virgin birth was predicted by God in the Old Testament. The Lord clearly identifies the birth of Christ as a fulfillment of prophecy. All this refers to the facts about the divine birth of Jesus Christ. And the great miracle of His birth was the fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. That phrase gives a simple, straightforward definition of biblical inspiration as the Word of the Lord coming through human instruments. God does the saying; the human instrument is only a means to bring the divine Word to men. Based on these words of the Lord given through Matthew, the Old Testament text of Isaiah must be interpreted as predicting the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
Matthew repeatedly uses the phrase might be fulfilled (2:15, 17, 23; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54; etc.) to indicate ways in which Jesus, and events related to His earthly ministry, were fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. The basic truths and happenings of the New Testament were culminations, completions, or fulfillments of revelation God had already made—though often the revelation had been in veiled and partial form.
The scene in Isaiah 7 is the reign of King Ahaz in Judah. Though son of the great Uzziah, he was a wicked king. He filled Jerusalem with idols, reinstated the worship of Molech, and burned his own son as a sacrifice to that god. Rezin, king of Syria (Aram), and Pekah, king of Israel (also called Samaria at that time), decided to remove Ahaz and replace him with a king who would do their bidding. In the face of such a threat to the people of Israel and to the royal line of David, Ahaz, instead of turning to God for help, sought the help of Tiglath-pileser, the evil king of the Assyrians. He even plundered and sent to Tiglath-pileser the gold and silver from the Temple.
Isaiah came to Ahaz and reported that God would deliver the people from the two enemy kings. When Ahaz refused to listen, Isaiah responded with the remarkable messianic prophecy of 7:14.
How did a prediction of the virgin birth of Messiah fit that ancient scene? Isaiah was telling the wicked king that no one would destroy the people of God or the royal line of David. When the prophet said, “The Lord shall give you a sign,” he used a plural you, indicating that Isaiah was also speaking to the entire nation, telling them that God would not allow Rezin and Pekah, or anyone else, to destroy them and the line of David (cf. Gen. 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:13). Even though the people came into the hands of Tiglath-pileser, who destroyed the northern kingdom and overran Judah on four occasions, God preserved them just as He promised.
Isaiah also refers to another child who would be born; and before that child (Maher-shalal-hash-baz) would be old enough to “eat curds and honey” or “know enough to refuse evil and choose good,” the lands of Rezin and Pekah would be forsaken (7:15–16). Sure enough, before the child born to Isaiah’s wife was three years old those two kings were dead. Just as that ancient prophecy of a child came to pass, so did the prophecy of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both were signs that God would not ultimately forsake His people. The greatest sign was that Immanuel, which translated means, “God with us,” would come.
In Isaiah 7:14, the verse here quoted by Matthew, the prophet used the Hebrew word ’almâ. Old Testament usage of ’almâ favors the translation “virgin.” The word first appears in Genesis 24:43, in connection with Rebekah, the future bride of Isaac. The King James Version reads, “Behold I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water.” In verse 16 of the same chapter Rebekah is described as a “damsel” (na’ărâ) and a “virgin” (betûlâ). It should be concluded that ’almâ is never used to refer to a married woman. The word occurs five other times in Scripture (Ex. 2:8; Ps. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8), and in each case contains the idea of a virgin. Until recent times, it was always translated as such by both Jewish and Christian scholars.
The most famous medieval Jewish interpreter, Rashi (1040–1105), who was an opponent of Christianity, made the following comment: “ ‘Behold the ’almâ shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel’ means that our Creator shall be with us. And this is the sign: The one who will conceive is a girl (na’ărâ) who never in her life has had intercourse with any man. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power.” It should be noted that in modern Hebrew the word virgin is either ’almâ or betûlâ. Why did not Isaiah use betûlâ? Because it is sometimes used in the Old Testament of a married woman who is not a virgin (Deut. 22:19; Joel 1:8).
’Almâ can mean “virgin,” and that is how the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) translated the word in Isaiah 7:14 (by the Greek parthenos, “virgin”)—several hundred years before the birth of Christ. The “sign” of which Isaiah spoke was given specifically to King Ahaz, who feared that the royal line of Judah might be destroyed by Syria and Israel. The prophet assured the king that God would protect that line. The birth of a son and the death of the kings would be the signs guaranteeing His protection and preservation. And in the future there would be a greater birth, the virgin birth of God incarnate, to assure the covenant with God’s people.
Matthew did not give the term ’almâ a Christian “twist,” but used it with the same meaning with which all Jews of that time used it. In any case, his teaching of the virgin birth does not hinge on that word. It is made incontestably clear by the preceding statements that Jesus’ conception was “by the Holy Spirit” (vv. 18, 20).
The name of the Son born to a virgin would be Immanuel, which translated means, “God with us.” That name was used more as a title or description than as a proper name. In His incarnation Jesus was, in the most literal sense, God with us.
The fact that a virgin shall be with child is marvelous—a pregnant virgin! Equally marvelous is that she shall call His name Immanuel.
The Old Testament repeatedly promises that God is present with His people, to secure their destiny in His covenant. The Tabernacle and Temple were intended to be symbols of that divine presence. The term for tabernacle is mishkān, which comes from shākan, meaning to dwell, rest, or abide. From that root the term shekinah. has also come, referring to the presence of God’s glory. The child born was to be the Shekinah, the true Tabernacle of God (cf. John 1:14). Isaiah was the instrument through which the Word of the Lord announced that God would dwell among men in visible flesh and blood incarnation—more intimate and personal than the Tabernacle or Temple in which Israel had worshiped.
The Virgin Birth Consummated
And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (1:24–25)
That Joseph arose from his sleep indicates that the revelatory dream had come to him while he slept (cf. v. 20). Such unique, direct communication from God was used on other occasions to reveal Scripture (see Gen. 20:3; 31:10–11; Num. 12:6; 1 Kings 3:5; Job 33:14–16). It should be noted that all six New Testament occurrences of onar (“to dream”) are in Matthew and concern the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1:20; 2:12–13, 19, 22; 27:19).
We know nothing of Joseph’s reaction, except that he immediately obeyed, doing as the angel of the Lord commanded him. We can imagine how great his feelings of amazement, relief, and gratitude must have been. Not only would he be able to take his beloved Mary as his wife with honor and righteousness, but he would be given care of God’s own Son while He was growing up.
That fact alone would indicate the depth of Joseph’s godliness. It is inconceivable that God would entrust His Son into a family where the father was not totally committed and faithful to Him.
We know nothing else of Joseph’s life except his taking the infant Jesus to the Temple for dedication (Luke 2:22–33), his taking Mary and Jesus into Egypt to protect Him from Herod’s bloody edict and the return (Matt. 2:13–23), and his taking his family to the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:42–52). We have no idea when Joseph died, but it could have been well before Jesus began His public ministry. Obviously it was before Jesus’ crucifixion, because from the cross Jesus gave his mother into the care of John (John 19:26).
Apparently the marriage ceremony, when Joseph took her as his wife, was held soon after the angel’s announcement. But he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. Matthew makes it clear that she remained a virgin until she gave birth, implying that normal marital relations began after that time. The fact that Jesus’ brothers and sisters are spoken of numerous times in the gospels (Matt. 12:46; 13:55–56; Mark 6:3; etc.) prove that Mary did not remain a virgin perpetually, as some claim.
As a final act of obedience to God’s instruction through the angel, Joseph called His name Jesus, indicating that He was to be the Savior (cf. v. 21).
The supernatural birth of Jesus is the only way to account for the life that He lived. A skeptic who denied the virgin birth once asked a Christian, “If I told you that child over there was born without a human father, would you believe me?” The believer replied, “Yes, if he lived as Jesus lived.” The greatest outward evidence of Jesus’ supernatural birth and deity is His life.
Matthew’s Witness to the Virgin Birth
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His 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. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
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. 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.”
Each year on Christmas Eve our church holds a candlelight and carol service, and at the end of this service, after we have read all the Christmas lessons and sung most of the great Christmas carols, we stand in the candle-lit sanctuary and sing “Silent Night” together.
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child …
In this way we profess belief in the virgin birth of Jesus as an important part of the Christmas story. And so do millions of others. Unfortunately, many do not believe it, and others who do, do not know why it is important.
In the early decades of this century, the virgin birth was a focal point for liberalism’s many denials of Christian truth. Those who believed the Bible recognized that the virgin birth is indeed biblical and rose to the doctrine’s defense, answering the liberal objections. They did such a good a job that eventually most liberals refused even to grapple with the arguments made on behalf of this truth. They just continued in their unbelief, as some people do, in spite of the fact that the Word of God clearly teaches the virgin birth and that the objections to it have been answered.
The Virgin Birth in Matthew
Much of this debate centered around the Old Testament text that Matthew cites as a prophecy of the virgin birth: Isaiah 7:14. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23). It has been argued that Isaiah’s word for the young woman, bethulah, does not necessarily mean “virgin,” though it usually does. It can mean merely a young woman of marriageable age. But whatever Isaiah meant in his own context is a secondary matter here, since it is beyond doubt that Matthew at least meant to teach that Jesus was conceived by God apart from any human father. He makes this clear in Matthew 1:18, which reads, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His 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.”
The account then goes on to explain that Joseph was disturbed by Mary’s pregnancy, as any man in his position would be. Being a righteous (that is, an upright) man, he did not think it proper to go through with the marriage and decided to break his engagement to Mary in a private manner. But while he was pondering this, an angel appeared to him to explain that Mary had not been unfaithful to him but that the child she was carrying had been conceived by God. The angel 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. 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” (vv. 20–21).
Joseph did as the angel had commanded, and the account concludes, “But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (vv. 24–25).
Two Parallel Accounts
One thing we notice, as soon as we begin to compare Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth, is that they are both quite Jewish in character. Luke was a Greek who wrote in a polished Greek style. A good example is the long opening sentences (one sentence in the kjv) with which he began his Gospel (vv. 1–4). But as soon as we get past the prologue we find ourselves in one of the most Semitic sections of the New Testament (Luke 1:5–2:52). J. Gresham Machen said of Luke’s prologue, “It would be difficult to imagine a more skillfully formed, and more typically Greek sentence than this.” But he added, “This typically Greek sentence is followed by what is probably the most markedly Semitic section in the whole New Testament.”
This is so unlike Luke’s other writing that we can only explain it by assuming that Luke got this material from an Aramaic or non-Greek source. He says in verse 3 that he had “carefully investigated everything [about the life of Jesus] from the beginning.” So Luke must have talked with those who had been eyewitnesses of these events. In respect to Jesus’ birth, Luke must have gotten his details from Mary, who would have been the original, best, and, at this late date, probably the only eyewitness of the nativity events left. Moreover, Luke must have received his material in some sort of written form, which may itself also go back to Mary.
When we turn from Luke to Matthew, we find that Matthew’s account no less than Luke’s is Jewish in character, evidenced, for example, in the matter of Joseph and Mary’s betrothal and the problem it presented for Joseph. In Jewish culture at that time, a betrothal carried such a weight of personal commitment that something almost like a formal divorce was needed to dissolve the engagement. This circumstance did not prevail in the Greek or Roman cultures of the time.
As we read on, we discover that five times in the opening two chapters Matthew explains what was happening by a reference to the Old Testament. He employs a standard formula for Old Testament citations, saying, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet …” (Matt. 1:22; see 2:5, 15, 17, 23). Then he quotes the text that prophesied the event he recorded. I have already referred to Matthew 1:23, where he cites Isaiah 7:14 as proof of the virgin birth. He does the same thing in chapter 2, where he cites Micah 5:2 regarding Christ’s birth in Bethlehem; Hosea 11:1, which speaks of God calling his “son” out of Egypt; Jeremiah 31:15, which deals with the people’s weeping for the slain infants of Bethlehem; and an uncertain text prophesying that Jesus would “be called a Nazarene.”
But there are differences between these chapters and the corresponding chapters in Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, the Jewish chapters are clearly out of place. They are a Semitic island in a Greek literary sea. In Matthew’s Gospel, they are not at all out of place, for the Gospel from beginning to end is Jewish, as I began to point out in the last chapter.
And there is this important difference too. When we study the specific content of Luke’s chapters dealing with Jesus’ birth, we find that the entire content and atmosphere are pre-Christian, which fits an early origin, such as a document going back to Mary. Everything that is spoken is in terms of God’s fulfillment of his promises to Israel. There is not even a suggestion that the reason Jesus came to earth was that he might die for sin. On the other hand, when we turn to Matthew’s Gospel, though it is clearly Jewish, it is also obviously post-Christian. That is, it was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus when the gospel of his atoning death was being proclaimed throughout the world. For example, it is said that the child’s name would be “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). This reflects a later, gospel understanding. Similarly, in chapter 2, the significance of the Magi is that they were Gentiles and that Jesus was their king too.
True or False Accounts?
What is the relationship between these two accounts? When I consider parallel accounts (such as these or others in the Bible), I think of the way Reuben A. Torrey handled parallel accounts when he spoke of the resurrection. He pointed out that parallel accounts must have been produced by one of three methods: (1) They were invented in collusion, the people getting together to write their accounts, or (2) they were invented separately, that is, independently of each other, or (3) they were not invented at all but are factual records of observed events.
Into which of these categories do Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the virgin birth fit?
1. The accounts were invented in collusion. On the surface this is a possibility. The writers could have gotten together in Jerusalem when Luke was there with Paul on Paul’s last journey to the city. Luke could have said, “You know, Matthew, I’m writing a Gospel about Jesus, and I want to tell something about his birth. I wonder if you could help me with a few of the details.” Matthew might have answered, “That’s very interesting, Luke, because I’m doing the same thing. But I have to tell you that there’s not much firsthand information about it anymore. We are going to have to make most of it up.” So they would have put their heads together and begun to work out the details of their story.
Or there is another way it could have happened. We could suppose that Matthew had already written his Gospel and had passed from the scene. Perhaps he had died. But then Luke came to Jerusalem and, while researching the life of Jesus, came upon Matthew’s papers and made use of them for his narrative. Or again, both authors might have made use of an entirely separate account of the birth of Jesus that had somehow been floating around the city.
Do these possibilities explain what we actually have in these two Gospels? If Matthew and Luke made up these accounts, would there be the kind of noticeable, apparent discrepancies we find? Luke talks about an angel appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. Matthew has an angelic announcement too, but Matthew’s angel does not appear to Mary; he appears to Joseph. This is not a discrepancy. It might be expected that God explained what was happening to both Mary and Joseph. But this is not the kind of thing that would have been allowed to stand if these men had been creating their stories together. Luke would have said, “Matthew, that’s a good story you’ve got about an angel appearing to Joseph, but in my account I have him appearing to Mary. We can’t have both. We’ve got to decide who it’s going to be.” They would have picked one version only. Or if they had kept both, they would have included both versions in both narratives.
Here is another apparent contradiction. Luke tells about shepherds coming to worship the infant Christ. Matthew tells about wise men. I can imagine Matthew saying to Luke, “That is a very poignant and touching story you have there, but you have missed the point I am making. I want to present Jesus as Israel’s king, and for that reason I need to show that even Gentile kings bowed before him.” Luke might answer, “That’s a good point, but we haven’t seen many kings converted yet. Most Christians are simple people. Wouldn’t it be better if we talked about humble shepherds and forgot about the kings?”
There are other examples. Luke says that Joseph and Mary came from Nazareth and went to Bethlehem because of the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. But Matthew begins with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1). Matthew does not mention Nazareth until the end of chapter 2. Again, Luke indicates that after Jesus’ birth the family returned to Nazareth from Bethlehem. But Matthew has an account of Herod’s murder of the innocents and of the family’s flight to Egypt, so that it was from Egypt rather than from Bethlehem that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus actually returned to Nazareth.
It is clear from these differences that the accounts of Matthew and Luke were not made up in collusion, for if they were, these seeming discrepancies would have been eliminated.
2. The accounts were made up separately. What about the second possibility, that Matthew and Luke invented their stories separately? Suppose Matthew was sitting in his little office in Jerusalem, and Luke was sitting in his little office somewhere else. They did not even know the other writer was working on a Gospel. They just decided on their own to make up stories about Jesus’ birth. If that were the case, we could understand the existence of differences, but we could not explain the strong, underlying agreements, for there is no mistaking the fact that we are dealing with the same basic story in each Gospel. The central characters are the same, and the central event, the miraculous conception of Jesus by means of God’s Holy Spirit, is identical.
When we put the accounts together, we have a long but consistent history. First, Zechariah was informed concerning the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–25). The annunciation to Zechariah was followed by the annunciation to Mary, an account parallel to the first (Luke 1:26–38). Understandably, Mary then went to visit Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, Mary’s relative (Luke 1:36), stayed with her for three months, and then returned to Nazareth (Luke 1:39–56). Luke’s first chapter ends with the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57–80).
Matthew picks up the story at this point. He says nothing of what has gone before, but what Luke has told is necessary to understand what happens. Matthew tells of the discovery of Mary’s condition, of Joseph’s puzzled indecision, and then the explanation of what was happening to Joseph by the angel (Matt. 1:18–25).
Luke continues by telling of the journey to Bethlehem, which explains how the couple got there (Luke 2:1–5). Matthew and Luke both record the birth, though Luke, who is writing from Mary’s perspective, reports it at greater length (Matt. 1:25; Luke 2:6–7). Then Luke continues, telling of the visit of the shepherds to the manger (Luke 2:8–20), the circumcision of Jesus eight days after his birth (Luke 2:21), and the presentation of the child at the temple on the fortieth day, including several incidents linked to that presentation (Luke 2:22–40).
At last, Matthew records the visit of the Magi (Matt. 2:1–12), the flight to Egypt (Matt. 2:13–18), and finally the return to Nazareth, which is also told by Luke, though he does not relate the other instances (Matt. 2:19–23; Luke 2:39). It is impossible that there could have been this much harmony between the two accounts if they had been made up by Matthew and Luke working separately.
3. The accounts were not made up at all; they are factual. Where does that leave us? If we eliminate the possibility that the stories of the birth of Jesus were made up in collusion and the possibility that they were made up separately, the only other possibility is that they were not made up at all but rather are two, separate, accurate records of the events connected with Jesus’ birth as their authors knew them. All we must add is that, although these events are fully historical, they are also supernatural, for this is the supreme moment in human history when the supernatural broke into the normal flow of historical events by the grace of our good God.
Call Him “Jesus”
Yet, how simply the story is told! “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” (Matt. 1:21). The explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ name is from the Old Testament, though Matthew does not draw attention to the fact. It is from Psalm 130, a psalm in which Israel is encouraged to “put your hope in the Lord” (v. 7). Why? Because, says the psalmist, “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (v. 8). Even in the psalmist’s day it was clear that these words pointed forward to a redeemer and an act of redemption yet to come. But in Matthew, as we begin the New Testament, we learn that the time of that redemption has come and that the one who is to perform the work is none other than God himself in the person of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
What a name this is! Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jeshua or Joshua, and it means quite literally “Jehovah is salvation.” This is the message that was conveyed to Joseph primarily, for he was told that the one who had been conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit was a divine Messiah, the one who had been promised from the very beginning of Israel’s history, and even before that, and that the work of this divine person would be a work of salvation, since “he will save his people from their sins.” The prophesy from Isaiah reinforces this, for in addition to predicting that the Lord’s conception would be supernatural (“the virgin will be with child”), the text also declares that he will be God incarnate, since his name will be Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Isa. 7:14).
This is what captured the sanctified imagination of Charles Wesley when he composed the second stanza of his great Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Wesley must have had this passage in mind when he moved from the thought of Jesus’ heavenly preexistence to his incarnation, ending with the powerful name Immanuel.
Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell.
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”
Here is a point where, although we are still at the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, we need to look forward to the end. For at the very end, in the very last sentence, the promise of this text returns again. Jesus has been crucified and raised from the dead. He has appeared to his disciples to commission them for the work he still has for them to do. They are to go into all the world and there make disciples of all nations. He tells them how this is to be done. They are to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and they are to teach obedience to everything he has commanded. Then he concludes, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Immanuel! God with us! And to the very end of this age!
At the beginning of the Gospel we find that Jesus is “God with us” by a supernatural conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. But here at the end he is still with us, and will be with us always.
What a wonderful list of names we have for Jesus! The Bible is full of them. He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, the Ancient of Days. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is the Anointed One, the Messiah. He is our Prophet, Priest, and King. He is our Savior, the Only Wise God. He is our Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is the Lord, the Almighty. He is the Door of the sheep, the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. He is the Lamb Slain from before the foundation of the world. He is the Logos, the Light, the Light of the World, the Light of Life, the Tree of Life, the Word of Life, the Bread that came down from heaven, the Spring which, if a person drink of it, he will never thirst again. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is our Rock, our Bridegroom, our Beloved, and our Redeemer. He is the Head over all things, which is his body, the church.
But above all, he is “God with us,” Immanuel, and he came from heaven to earth to save us from our sins.
Joseph, Son of David, Accepts Jesus as His Son (1:18–25)
18 The Messiah’s origin14 was like this. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together she was found to be pregnant through16 the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband, because he was a righteous man and yet did not want to expose her to scandal, came to the conclusion that he should break the engagement18 privately. 20 But when he had decided on this, suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to accept Mary as your wife; for the child she has conceived is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because it is he who will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this happened to fulfill what had been declared by the Lord through the prophet, who said,
23 “Look, the virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will give him the name Immanuel”—which is translated23 “God with us.”
24 When Joseph got up from sleep, he did just as the angel of the Lord had directed him: he accepted his wife, 25 and he did not have intercourse with her until she had given birth to a son; and he gave him the name Jesus.
The “book of origin” has left us with an unresolved problem. Joseph has been shown to be the “son of David,” the heir to the royal dynasty of Judah, but in v. 16 Matthew has abandoned his regular formula to indicate that Jesus, the son of Joseph’s wife Mary, was not in fact Joseph’s son (and Matthew carefully avoids ever referring to Joseph as Jesus’ “father”). What then is the relevance of this dynastic list to the story of Jesus, son of Mary? These verses will explain, therefore, how Jesus came to be formally adopted and named by Joseph, despite his own natural inclinations, and thus to become officially “son of David;” the angel’s address to Joseph as “son of David” in v. 20 will highlight the issue.
Joseph’s decision is directed by God, through an angelic revelation in a dream. Specific emphasis is placed both in the angel’s message and in the subsequent narrative on Joseph’s role in naming Jesus, which was the responsibility of the legal father and which ensured the official status of the son and heir (cf. Isa 43:1: “I have called you by name; you are mine”). So not only is the name Jesus in itself theologically significant, but also the fact that it is given to him under divine direction, and by whom it is given. It is through this act of Joseph that Jesus also becomes “son of David.”
Joseph is persuaded to take this bold step by the assurance that Mary’s pregnancy is not the result of infidelity but is of divine origin. The tradition of Jesus’ virgin conception, already hinted at in the formulation of v. 16, is thus central to these verses, and is underlined by Matthew’s statement that Joseph had no intercourse with Mary until after Jesus’ birth. Here is the most impressive agreement between the opening chapters of Matthew and those of Luke, despite their almost complete independence in terms of narrative content (on which see above). What Luke achieves by his story of the angelic annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26–38) Matthew conveys by the angelic announcement to Joseph. Mary’s incredulity in Luke 1:34 is matched here by Joseph’s initial natural assumption as to the source of the pregnancy, and each needs explicit angelic explanation to overcome it. Both evangelists specifically attribute the pregnancy to the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18, 21), and both explicitly refer to Mary as “virgin” (Luke 1:34; Matt 1:23 with 1:25).
It is this aspect of the story which prompts Matthew’s first formula-quotation. The passage of Scripture which undergirds this first of the five narrative cameos in 1:18–2:23 is Isa 7:14, with its explicit mention (in Greek) of a virgin becoming pregnant and giving birth. While Matthew presents the quotation as his own editorial comment rather than as part of the angel’s message to Joseph, he expects his readers to incorporate this scriptural authentication for Mary’s unique experience into their understanding of why Joseph changed his mind. The Isaiah quotation underlines the assurance that this is from God.
But Matthew has noticed that Isaiah’s words also include the naming of the child, which is just what Joseph is now being called on to do. Unlike most of Matthew’s formula-quotations, this one sticks closely to the LXX text, but it diverges at one significant point. Whereas the Hebrew probably says “she” (the mother) will give the child his name, and the LXX probably28 says “you” (singular, referring to Ahaz to whom the prophecy is addressed) will do so, Matthew has a generalizing “they,” which leaves the way open for Jesus to be given his name not by Mary but by Joseph. The name given in Isaiah is not of course the name Jesus, but far from being embarrassed by the problem of two different names, Matthew draws the name Immanuel also into his presentation of the theological significance of the coming of the Messiah by adding a literal translation of it as “God with us.” Probably Matthew expected his readers to reflect that the “salvation” which is the explicit meaning of the name Jesus in v. 21 was to be accomplished by the coming of God among his people, but he has not made any such linking of the meanings of the two names explicit.
The phrase “God with us” which thus marks the beginning of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus will have its arresting counterpart at the end of the gospel when Jesus himself declares “I am with you always” with reference not to a continuing life on earth but a spiritual presence (28:20). Cf. also the remarkable words of 18:20, “Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.” At this point it would be possible to read Immanuel only in its probable OT sense as a statement of God’s concern for his people, “God is with us,” but the name as applied to one who has just been declared to owe his origin to the direct work of the Holy Spirit was probably in Matthew’s mind a more direct statement of the presence of God in Jesus himself, so that Jesus’ declaration in 28:20 is only drawing out what has already been true from the time of his birth, that God is present in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s overt interpretation of “Immanuel” thus takes him close to an explicit doctrine of incarnation such as is expressed in John 1:14.
Thus, while these verses do not use the title “Son of God”, Matthew could hardly have recorded both the supernatural conception of Jesus and the scriptural title “God with us” without reflecting on the fact that the Messiah is much more than only a “son of David,” as will later be made explicit in 22:41–45. When we are invited to reflect on God’s calling his “son” out of Egypt in 2:15, and still more when Jesus is explicitly declared to be God’s Son in 3:17, the ground will have been well prepared.
18 The order of the opening words, which is less natural in Greek than in my translation, draws attention again to the title “Messiah” by putting it first. Verse 1 has promised to reveal the “origin” of the Messiah, and the repetition of that word here (see p. 46, n. 14) shows that that promise is still being fulfilled.33 The list of names now requires to be supplemented by a narrative account in order to explain how the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah can be recognized despite the unusual and potentially self-defeating way the “book of origin” ended in v. 16.
The difference between our modern concept of “engagement” and that of first-century Jews is indicated by the description of Joseph already in v. 19 as Mary’s husband and by the use of the normal word for divorce to describe the ending of the engagement. Though the couple were not yet living together, it was a binding contract entered into before witnesses which could be terminated only by death (which would leave the woman a “widow”) or by divorce as if for a full marriage (m. Ketub. 4:2); sexual infidelity during the engagement would be a basis for such divorce. About a year after the engagement (m. Ketub. 5:2; Ned. 10:5) the woman (then aged normally about thirteen or fourteen) would leave her father’s home and go to live with the husband in a public ceremony (such as is described in 25:1–12), which is here referred to as “coming together” and will be recorded in v. 24.
The role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ conception (which will be explained in v. 20; as yet Joseph knows nothing of it) reflects the OT concept of the Spirit of God active in the original creation (Gen 1:2; Ps 33:6) and in the giving of life (Ps 104:30; Isa 32:15; Ezek 37:1–14); cf. the possibility considered above that v. 1 is intended to suggest a new creation. The Spirit is also thought of in the OT as having an eschatological role in connection with the coming of the Messiah (Isa 11:2; 42:1; 61:1 etc.), and this theme will be taken up in 3:16–17, but the mention here links the Spirit not just with Jesus’ adult ministry but with his whole earthly life. The delicate way in which both Matthew and Luke express the process of Jesus’ conception contrasts sharply with Greek and Roman stories of gods (often having assumed the form of a male human or even animal) having intercourse with human women, resulting in the birth of demigod heroes like Heracles.
19 That Joseph was “righteous” is sometimes thought to explain his avoidance of a public scandal because he was “merciful” or “considerate,” but the more basic sense of the word is of one who is careful to keep the law. The law as then understood required the termination of the engagement in the case of “adultery;”38 in OT times the penalty for adultery was stoning. Deut 22:13–21 deals specifically with the case of a woman found not to be a virgin at the time of marriage, and 22:23–24 with that of consenting “adultery” on the part of an engaged woman. But by the first century (when Roman rule had abolished Jewish death penalties)40 divorce was the normal course. John 8:5–7, if historical, would then be describing a deliberately extreme response. As a law-abiding man Joseph would be expected to repudiate his errant fiancée publicly in a trial for adultery; for the force of deigmatizō cf. Col 2:15 where Jesus “makes a public example” of the principalities and powers, and for the public humiliation of an adulteress see m. Soṭah 1:4–6. If “righteous” is understood in that sense, therefore, it stands in contrast with rather than as an explanation of his desire to spare her; hence my inclusion of “yet” in the translation above. The resultant dilemma suggests to him the course, still legally correct but also more compassionate, of a “private” annulment of the contract, avoiding a public accusation of adultery and the resultant trial; the Mishnah allows for the divorce of a suspected adulteress before just two witnesses (m. Soṭah 1:1; for the necessity of witnesses to a divorce cf. e.g. m. Giṭ. 9:4, 8), though it is hard to see how this could long be kept secret from a society aware of the original engagement.42
20–21 My translations “came to the conclusion” (v. 19) and “when he had decided on this” reflect Matthew’s aorist tenses, which suggest that before the divine intervention Joseph’s mind was made up. Four times in these chapters we are told of divine communications to Joseph in dreams (cf. 2:13, 19, 22), in all but the last case with an angel as the messenger. It is fanciful to explain this by Matthew’s memory of the famous dreams of another Joseph in Gen 37:5–11, 19–20: the OT Joseph did not receive divine directions (or see angels) in his dreams and Matthew makes no attempt to connect the two Josephs; moreover he attributes comparable dreams also to the magi (2:12) and to Pilate’s wife (27:19). Divine guidance both by dreams and by the appearance of angels are of course a regular feature of OT spirituality, and would need no explanation. The point of their concentration in these chapters is to emphasize the initiative of God in guiding Joseph’s actions through this crucial period.45
The angel’s address to Joseph as “son of David” reminds us what is at stake in the decision Joseph has just reached: the loss of Jesus’ royal pedigree if he is not officially recognized as Joseph’s son. So, despite his previous decision, he is called to take two decisive actions, first to accept Mary as his wife rather than repudiating her and secondly to give her son a name, which will confirm his legal recognition of Jesus as his own son and hence as also a “son of David.”
The second part of the angel’s message (v. 21) corresponds quite closely to the wording of the quotation from Isa 7:14 which will follow in v. 23, though of course with Jesus’ actual name rather than the symbolic name Immanuel. The interpretations given to the two names (“he will save his people from their sins” and “God with us”) invite the reader to reflect on the nature of the Messiah’s mission. On the name Jesus see above on v. 1. The Hebrew Yehôšuaʿ is normally taken to mean “Yahweh is salvation,” so that the interpretation in terms of saving from sin derives from the popular Hebrew understanding of the name; the similarity to the Hebrew verb yôšîaʿ (“he will save”) may have helped with Matthew’s formulation of the meaning of the name in a future verb, “he will save.” But whereas the OT name spoke of God as the savior, Mary’s son is himself to be the agent of salvation; here is scope for profound christological reflection on the part of any of Matthew’s readers who can see behind the common Greek name to its Hebrew origin. “His people” in relation to the mission of a “son of David” must in the first place denote Israel,47 but even if at this stage Matthew’s readers have not yet recognized the universalistic implications of the title “son of Abraham” and of the non-Israelite women in the genealogy they will not have to read far into the book before they become aware that the scope of salvation is being spread more widely. Indeed, one of the key issues which will dominate the final confrontation in Jerusalem, and will be brought to its climax in 28:18–20, will be who are to constitute the continuing people of God and the role of Jesus in bringing into being what he will significantly describe in 16:18 as “my ecclesia.”
This universal scope of the Messiah’s mission is not as yet on the surface, but there is a clear break from popular Jewish expectation in the statement that the salvation Jesus will achieve will be “from their sins.” Several OT eschatological passages speak of the need for sins to be atoned for and forgiven, e.g. Isa 53:4–12; Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:25–31. But while the spiritual condition of God’s people was still the concern of at least some contemporary messianic expectation (notably the Pharisaic hope expressed in Pss. Sol. 17:21–46, though there it is intertwined with political restoration), there seems little doubt that the dominant concern in first-century Jewish hope was with their political subjection, with the restoration of the kingdom of David as the messianic goal. The angel’s words thus signal at the start that any political euphoria which may have been evoked by the Davidic and royal theme of the “book of origin” is wide of the mark of what Jesus’ actual mission is to be. His ministry will begin in the context of a call to repentance from sin (3:2, 6; 4:17), and while the focus of that ministry will be on teaching, healing and exorcism, he will also assert his “authority on earth to forgive sins” (9:6). His mission will culminate in his death “as a ransom for many,” (20:28) “for the forgiveness of sins.” (26:28) This son of David will not conform to the priorities of popular messianic expectation.
22 Matthew now introduces the first of his “formula-quotations” (see above, pp. 11–14), which typically take the form of editorial comment on the incident being narrated. Formally, this quotation interrupts the narrative, but its role is in fact central to the pericope, which has been framed so as to demonstrate the fulfillment of the prophecy (note that phrases from Isa 7:14 are echoed in the narrative of vv. 18, 21, 25). The introductory formula in these quotations varies, the common factor (except in 2:5 and 23, see comments there) being the phrase “to fulfill (or “then was fulfilled”) what had been declared through the prophet [sometimes named], who said.” There are two expansions of the basic formula here. “What had been declared” is here (and in 2:15) explained by adding “by the Lord.” The verb-form translated “declared”54 has a solemn, formulaic ring, and is used in the NT only by Matthew: in addition to its repetition ten times in this formula his other three uses of it are all to introduce a biblical quotation or allusion (3:3; 22:31; 24:15); “by the Lord” therefore makes explicit what the verb-form already implies, the authoritative declaration of God in Scripture. The other expansion is the opening phrase “All this happened” (cf. 21:4, “This happened;” in 26:56 the same wording as here introduces a general statement of scriptural fulfillment rather than a specific quotation), and again the language is slightly artificial in that Matthew uses the perfect of ginomai rather than the aorist which he normally uses in narrative. The effect of this addition is to ensure that the reader looks for the fulfillment of Isa 7:14 not only in the virgin conception of Jesus but in the whole complex of events which “have come to pass,” including conception, birth, and especially the naming of the child.
23 A reader familiar with modern study of Isaiah will notice two problems about Matthew’s first formula-quotation. In the first place, while the LXX, which Matthew follows (except for one word) unambiguously refers to “the virgin,” English versions of Isaiah generally translate the Hebrew as “the young woman.” The definite article suggests that a particular woman is in view, but the context does not identify her; interpreters have suggested Ahaz’s wife (note that the prophecy is addressed to the “house of David,” v. 13) or Isaiah’s (in view of the similar symbolic use made of the birth of Isaiah’s son in 8:1–4). But if this is what he meant it is remarkable that Isaiah did not use the normal Hebrew word for a “woman” or “wife,” ʾiššâ, which would be expected of a childbirth within marriage. The word that is actually used is ʿalmâ, which occurs very rarely in the OT. While it is clear from some of those OT contexts that the ʿalmâ is sexually mature, the word is not used elsewhere of a married woman; the person referred to as ʿalmâ in Gen 24:43 has been specifically described as a virgin in v. 16. Isaiah’s choice of this unusual word in connection with childbirth therefore draws attention; it does not explicitly mean “virgin” (the Hebrew for which is betûlâ), but it suggests something other than a normal childbirth within marriage. It was presumably on this basis that LXX translated it by parthenos (“virgin”). Matthew is following the LXX, but the Hebrew underlying it is sufficiently unusual to suggest that it was not an arbitrary translation.
The second problem is that Isaiah’s prophecy, uttered to Ahaz in about the year 735 b.c., is not about an event in the distant future. Its point is to specify the time of the imminent devastation of both Judah’s enemies and Judah herself through the Assyrian invasion: it will be before the son called Immanuel, soon to be born, has grown up (Isa 7:15–17). This raises an issue which we will note several times in Matthew’s use of OT prophecy, that whereas we prefer to think of a single specific fulfillment of a prophet’s prediction, Matthew’s typological interest leads him rather to find patterns which will recur repeatedly throughout God’s dealings with his people. In this case, he has good warrant for taking the prophecy concerning Immanuel as having a relevance beyond its undoubted immediate aim, for the name Immanuel will occur again in Isa 8:8 as that of the one to whom the land of Judah belongs, and its meaning will be developed in 8:10, “for God is with us.” Moreover, the prophecy in 7:14 of the birth to the “house of David” (Isa 7:13) of a child with so extraordinary an honorific title prepares us for the even more remarkable description in 9:6–7 of a child who is to be born “for us,” and whose multiple and still more extravagant title marks him out not only as the Messiah of the line of David but also as “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” The theme will be taken up again in 11:1–5 with the prophecy of the spiritually-endowed “shoot from the stump of Jesse.” These last two passages would have been recognized then, as they still are today, as messianic prophecies, and it seems likely that Isaiah’s thought has moved progressively from the virgin’s child, “God with us,” to whom the land of Judah belongs, to these fuller expressions of the Davidic hope. If then Isa 7:14 is taken as the opening of what will be the developing theme of a wonder-child throughout Isaiah 7–11, it can with good reason be suggested that it points beyond the immediate political crisis of the eighth century b.c., not only in Matthew’s typological scheme but also in Isaiah’s intention.
To focus on these issues raised by modern scholarship is, however, to be distracted from the purpose of Matthew in including this quotation. There are three elements in this Isaiah text which would have attracted Matthew’s attention, two with regard to his immediate narrative context (a child born to a virgin mother, and the naming of the child) and one in relation to his underlying christology, the title “God with us.” His one deviation from the LXX is in the plural subject of the verb, “they will call.” In his immediate narrative context it will be Joseph who will give the child his name (which neither the Hebrew “she will call” nor the LXX “you will call” would have allowed), but that name will be Jesus, not Immanuel. Matthew’s plural may therefore be looking ahead to what “people” (especially those whom he will “save from their sins,” v. 21) will eventually learn to say about Jesus, that in him God is with us. We have no indication that Matthew’s plural verb came from any source other than his own creative interpretation of the text.67 For the theological significance of the title Immanuel see introductory comments above.
24–25 Matthew’s editorial comment in vv. 22–23 has interrupted the flow of the narrative which now resumes from the end of v. 21. Joseph’s obedient response to the angel’s words is indicated by the repetition of the same words to describe the first and third of his actions, accepting his wife and giving his son the name Jesus. But between these two actions, which together completed the legal “adoption” of Jesus as Joseph’s son, Matthew mentions a third which was not explicit in the angel’s instructions: “he did not have intercourse with her until she had given birth.” For Joseph to “accept” his wife required the public completion of the marriage by taking Mary to his own house (the “coming together” of v. 18), which would normally have been the point at which sexual relations began. Matthew does not explain Joseph’s abstinence, but it is not hard to understand it in the light of the assurance that Mary was pregnant “through the Holy Spirit.” If Matthew has an apologetic reason for inserting this statement, it is presumably to take away any doubt as to the supernatural origin of Mary’s child. There is nothing in his text to suggest that he subscribed to the later idea of Mary’s “perpetual virginity,” and indeed the “until” most naturally indicates that after Jesus was born normal marital relations began (as indeed the straight-forward sense of Jesus having “brothers and sisters” requires, 13:55–56; cf. Luke 2:7, “her first-born son”).
The pericope concludes triumphantly with the naming of Jesus. Verse 21 has explained the theological significance of the name, and the whole chapter so far has set up the problem of legal parentage to which this is the essential answer. Jesus of Nazareth is now securely adopted as “son of David.”
The Origin of Jesus
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His 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. (Matt. 1:18)
In our home we tell the story of each child’s birth once a year, on her birthday. One telling begins, “It was a stormy night, late in the fall, when the last leaves were clinging to the trees.” We then proceed to tales of sleepless nights, intimidating nurses, tender moments, and ardent prayers. After the birth story, we share anecdotes from the first months of life, stories that hint at the character of the life we celebrate: “At six months, you were already crawling all over the house and you have moved nonstop ever since.” Just so, Matthew features the story of Jesus’ birth, but more, for his birth is merely the beginning. Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ life so that it foreshadows much of the rest of his life.
The text begins, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” but close reading shows that we are not yet considering the birth itself. It is more the story of the virgin conception of Jesus, as the eternal Son of God becomes a man. God’s Spirit forms the human baby in the womb of a virgin. His angel tells Joseph and Mary all they need to know to care for this child who was, months later, born into their family.
Matthew’s account describes more than a birth. In fact, the Greek word translated “birth” in 1:18 is not the ordinary word for birth at all. To translate literally, Matthew says, “The origin of Jesus Christ was like this.” Matthew wrote his account so all may know the origin and conception of this virgin-born child named Jesus.
The story is told from the perspective of Joseph and that makes sense. Through Joseph, his adopting father, Jesus receives credentials for his mission. Through Joseph, he is counted the Son of David. This fulfills the promise made long ago that Israel would have a David-like king, to rule the people with justice (2 Sam. 7:11–16). The Lord promised this to Jeremiah: “I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety” (Jer. 23:5–6).
The Israelites endured many an evil king while awaiting this Davidic deliverer. Sadly, they could have endured a thousand generations of disappointment unless something changed. But there were hints that God was orchestrating events, leading them to a climax. By the time of Mary and Joseph, the line of David had shown its sinfulness, its fecklessness. Indeed, in its calling to rule Israel, it was exhausted and all but invisible.
For this reason, Matthew reveals that Jesus is from the line of David, but not from the flesh of David. The promises to David’s line showed that Israel needed a mighty deliverer, a great and fearless king, a warrior to battle foes, and a man who loved God and his people more than life itself. Yet the history of Israel had been a sad tale of failed king following failed king. Human flesh could not deliver God’s people. They needed something different. This lesson is universal: No king or prophet can deliver us, for flesh and blood, by itself, cannot save. No politician or physician, no teacher or preacher, no father or mother, can deliver mankind.
Matthew says God has been orchestrating the needed deliverance. Since the Lord often uses names to reveal his purposes, he gives baby Jesus more than one name; no single name could describe all that he is. The baby is called both Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus means “God saves”; the name is given “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Immanuel means “God with us.” The name Immanuel, says Matthew, fulfills a prophecy.
The birth of Jesus “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’ ” (1:22–23, citing Isa. 7). This is a surprise. The people had been looking for a son of David, but not for Immanuel. Perhaps no one genuinely heard the prophecy; nonetheless, one was given (the fact that we are deaf does not mean God fails to speak). The birth of Jesus, God’s Immanuel, fulfills several prophecies, some clear, others veiled.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit
Mary and Joseph are betrothed, not married, when the account of Jesus’ birth begins: “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (1:18). Mary and Joseph did not live in the same home. They were, Matthew says, sexually chaste; they had not yet “come together.” They were betrothed and pure, yet pregnant.
In Israel, betrothal was much weightier than engagement in Western societies today. It was so binding that Matthew already calls Joseph “her husband” (1:19). The couple did not sleep together during their betrothal, yet Mary’s body was swelling. Her body declared that she was pregnant. What a crushing blow to Joseph! He had never been with Mary but, so it seemed, someone else had. His bride-to-be was pregnant but was not carrying his child. He was a righteous man and wanted a righteous wife. If Mary had been unfaithful to him before they even married, what kind of woman was she? What kind of marriage could they have? In every moral, emotional, and legal way, he was right to plan to end the betrothal. Since betrothal was so binding, its termination amounted to a divorce. However miserable the thought, Joseph had to consider divorce: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (1:19).
This determination indicates that Joseph was just and upright and wanted no part of a corrupt marriage. As a just man, he had every right to cancel the marriage. Joseph had never been with Mary, but she was pregnant. Given these (apparent) facts, it was sensible to put her aside. But Joseph was merciful too. He could have exposed Mary, as an unwed mother, to public disgrace and to severe penalties. A quiet divorce, however, would preserve some of her dignity. She would bear the consequences of her action, but would not suffer the most public humiliation. So Joseph settled upon a quiet divorce.
The Lord let Joseph struggle to solve his problem for a season before he revealed a better plan. He often works this way. He lets us make plans, then reveals a better way. When this happens, we must change our plans, as Joseph did. We must test our plans and purposes against God’s will, as revealed in Scripture and in the counsel of the wise. Sometimes, circumstances unfold in ways that suggest what God’s will may be. Even plans that look sound must be open to revision.
God wanted Joseph to proceed with the marriage and sent an angelic messenger to tell him why. Here we must purge our popular images of angels. In the Bible, angels are not cute and do not specialize in romance. They are as likely to say something frightening as to say something comforting. Their appearance in our realm is a rare, weighty, and awesome event.
Angels are God’s mighty messengers. There is a cluster of angel appearances near the birth of Jesus because it is such a weighty event. Here God’s angel intervenes for the sake of Joseph (and for our sake) so he will know what this virgin conception means: “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’ ” (1:20). Every phrase counts.
The address “Joseph, son of David” links the virgin conception to the Davidic genealogy. The Holy Spirit is the author of this life, yet Joseph has a role to play.
“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” addresses his sad resolution to divorce the woman he loves. The angel assures Joseph that things are not as they seem. Because the child was conceived not by a man but by the Holy Spirit, Joseph can marry his beloved. She is as pure and godly as he had hoped. Into his new marriage, Joseph must adopt this child as his son. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God, but Joseph must adopt him into the line of David. From that line, the deliverer of Israel had to come. Therefore Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of David. Because of the adoption, Jesus will grow up in a normal home, with both father and mother to love and nurture him.
“What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The church traditionally speaks of the virgin birth, but the Gospels stress the miraculous conception, the virgin conception, of Christ. The miracle lay in the manner of Jesus’ conception. So far as we know, the process of birth itself was normal.
The Child’s Name and Mission
God tells Joseph the child is a boy and that his name must be Jesus: “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” (1:21). As we have seen, Jesus means “the Lord saves.” The Lord saves and delivers his people in many ways: he gives food to the hungry, he heals the sick, he comforts the brokenhearted. Many hoped the Messiah would save Israel from their Roman oppressors.
But the angel declares God’s agenda. Jesus will not save his people from physical enemies; he “will save his people from their sins.” Sin is the root of all other calamities. Yes, calamity comes from many sources: accidents, forgetfulness, disease. But the root cause of disorder is sin, and the greatest disorder is to be at odds with God. Jesus will save his people from that.
This birth of Jesus begins the unfolding of God’s salvation; it also fulfills Scripture. The precise words are instructive: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (1:22). That is, the prophet, Isaiah in this case, spoke as God moved him (2 Peter 1:21). These are God’s very words, spoken by a prophet, to prepare the way for God’s salvation.
The birth of Jesus shows that God is with us. In important ways, God is always with us. We can never flee from his presence. He is in the heavens and the depths, on land and at sea (Ps. 139:7–9). We can ignore God, we can deny God, we can curse God. But he never disappears. His reign extends over all creation, even, in a way, over hell itself. God is omnipresent. Nevertheless, Matthew says that with Jesus’ birth, God entered human history in a new way. He is with us, in power, for blessing.
Three times in the Gospel of Matthew we hear that Jesus is God with us: in the beginning, at its midpoint, and at the end. It is a crucial moment each time. In the beginning, we hear that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to save his people from their sins (1:21).
In the middle, we hear that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to purify his church. Jesus promises, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (18:20). We often use this verse to find assurance that God hears when we gather for prayer, and rightly so. But in its original context, Jesus had a specific prayer in mind. In the agony of church discipline, when a Christian persists in sin and will not repent, when the leaders deal with such rebellion, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to preserve the purity of the church.
At the end of Matthew, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to expand the church. Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus directed his disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations. It is a vast task, therefore Jesus declares, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:19–20). Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, to empower the church to make disciples.
What a comfort to know that Jesus is God with us. I once traveled to Austria and Hungary on a mission trip. In Hungary, the main languages are Hungarian, Russian, and German. I understand no Hungarian, virtually no Russian, and a smattering of German, so it was a great comfort to hear my hosts promise that they would be “with me” at all times. Indeed, they were with me all the time—except when they were not with me. They were with me all the time, except when their car got caught in traffic so that there was no one to meet me when I arrived in the Budapest airport—where not one person spoke English. When I spoke at the planned conference, my host was with me all the time, except when I was in the care of my translator. Then I was with the translator all the time—except when he was late or had other business and handed me off to someone else. That “someone else” typically assumed that as an educated person, I could speak German, and so addressed me in that tongue. Otherwise, there was always an English speaker with me—except in the morning and at night and at some meals (!).
But in Christ, God is always with us. What a comfort when a child gets on a plane or travels to a camp or starts first grade or goes to college or moves to England. When we can no longer be with them, God is with them. What a comfort when we are lonely, sick, guilt-ridden, or afraid. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us.
Ahaz and Immanuel
The story of Jesus’ conception invites us to imagine a young woman, holy and yielded to God, astonished to hear that God incarnate has entered her womb. The eternal God will grow in her womb, will be her baby. We may also imagine a young man, holy and yielded, startled to find that his betrothed wife is pregnant, not by him. He will adopt this child, the Son of God.
It is the story of a young man and a young woman, but much more it is the account of God’s action. God entered human history, declaring that he is the God with whom we have to do. Immanuel is more than a title: it is a declaration that God has entered our realm and that we must reckon with him.
There are right and wrong ways to do this. This is so important that the Lord took pains to prepare his people to recognize the weight of it. To prepare us for Immanuel, he predicted it and sent a prototype of it. The prototype of the Immanuel principle came long ago, during the reign of an evil king of Judah named Ahaz.
Early in the reign of Ahaz, two neighboring kings, Pekah king of the northern tribes of Israel and Rezin king of Aram (or Syria), invaded his land, marching toward Jerusalem, the capital city. If they succeeded, they would install a puppet king and divide his country (the southern half of Israel) among themselves. Ahaz and the people shook with fear (Isa. 7:1–2).
Ahaz was not a believer, yet God sent Isaiah the prophet to offer him a gracious blessing. Isaiah said, “Do not be afraid.” The evil plan, the invasion, would fail (7:4, 7). Since Isaiah knew Ahaz might be skeptical, he added two thoughts. First, he warned: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (7:9b). Second, he offered a promise: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign” and he will grant it so you can be sure he will grant you this deliverance (7:11).
Unfortunately, Ahaz wanted no part of Isaiah or his sign. He did not believe the Lord would deliver him. Instead, he had his own plan of escape. To defeat two small powers—the northern tribes of Israel and Aram—Ahaz planned to appeal to the greatest power of his day, the king of Assyria. Ahaz, however, was unwilling to admit his plan to Isaiah, so he used a pious ploy, couched in religious jargon, to cover his rebellion. He said, “I will not ask [for a sign]; I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isa. 7:12).
Now it is true that we should not test the Lord. We should not demand that he perform signs or wonders for us. We should not tell God, “Do this and do that for me and then I will believe in you” (cf. Gen. 28:20–22; Ex. 17:1–7). But God had already resolved to give Ahaz a sign, as a gift. He knew Ahaz did not believe in him, so he offered a sign as a token of his strong love. Ahaz was saying, in essence, “I want no dealings with God—no gifts, no signs. I will care for my own destiny.”
Isaiah replied that whether Ahaz wanted a sign or not, he would receive one: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Before this child knew right from wrong, the two kings attacking Ahaz would be destroyed (7:16). But after that, Isaiah said, God “will bring the king of Assyria” (7:17).
Ahaz intended to hire Assyria to fight for him, to make an alliance. He invited Assyria’s army to come and fight the invaders and then, most likely, to receive the booty from the defeated armies and a gift from Ahaz. We can imagine, therefore, that when Isaiah said Assyria would come, it pleased Ahaz, initially at least. Yet, Isaiah continued, Assyria would come and would deliver Ahaz, but in its own way. Assyria would come like a plague of flies, like bees swarming over the land, like a raging river sweeping over the land (7:18–19; 8:4, 7–8).
God had offered Ahaz a gentle deliverance, but Ahaz wanted a mighty warrior. Now, God says, Ahaz would find one. The mighty army of Assyria would come and sweep away the invaders. But the army of Assyria would be hard to control, like a flood, bursting the banks of a river. That army
will overflow all its channels,
run over all its banks
and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
O Immanuel! (Isa. 8:7–8)
When we hear “Immanuel” again, it seems like a poor fit for the context. At first we cannot grasp its meaning. Clearly, this use of “Immanuel” has no direct connection with the birth of a child then or with the birth of Jesus later on. Yet in context the sense is clear: God is with Ahaz, whether he likes it or not. Ahaz has rejected God’s deliverance. He said, “I want no dealings with God. I want to work with the king of Assyria.” In essence, the Lord replied, “Go ahead and work with the king of Assyria. Afterward he will work you over. Once his army comes your way, it will sweep over your land and do as they please. After that happens, you will know that I am Immanuel and you still must deal with me.” That is, if Ahaz refuses the gift of God because he does not want Immanuel, because he does not want God’s presence, then he must know that God is still Immanuel. God offered to be with Ahaz to bless, but if Ahaz repudiates that, then God is still present—to curse. He will let Ahaz taste the folly of inviting the Assyrian army into his land.
In the Old Testament, the principle of Immanuel teaches that if we reject God’s gracious deliverance and work something out for ourselves, we may succeed in the short run. Ahaz had deliverance for a day, when Assyria drove out the small invaders. But then Assyria stayed on, making Ahaz his vassal. Like floodwaters rising neck high, Assyria came within an inch of killing Ahaz.
So it goes to this day. When we work out our own deliverance, it often seems effective for a while. But then trouble comes swirling, up to the neck. Some find deliverance by drowning their sorrows with alcohol or drugs. It works for a while, then comes swirling up to the neck. People seek deliverance in money and career, in bodily health and strength, in education and skills, in families, in networks of well-connected people. They all work to a degree, for a season, but none can match the eternal, gracious deliverance God offers.
The original Immanuel prophecy meant that God offers to be present to bless. But if we refuse his blessing, he is still present, to judge. The original Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah bears a radical message: God is always present, always with us, either to bless or to curse.
Later on, Isaiah makes this point another way. If Israel trusts in God, “he will be a sanctuary.” If not, “he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Isa. 8:14). Yet Israel’s lack of faith will not permanently thwart God’s plan. Deliverance will come through Immanuel, God with us. We must trust this Immanuel:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
… upholding it
with justice and righteousness … forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (9:6–7)
Joseph, Mary, and Immanuel
According to Matthew, the blessed side of the Immanuel prophecy has now come. God has fulfilled it in the birth of Jesus. The promise of military deliverance for Ahaz prefigured something far greater. While the first Immanuel deliverance was powerful, it chiefly served to prepare for the second. In the first Immanuel, God offered to be with Ahaz in a sign. Now Jesus will be God with us in person. As before, it is God’s design to bless through Immanuel. Still, God has acted and, as we learned from Ahaz, Immanuel is here whether anyone likes it or not.
Some people respond to the birth of Jesus with indifference, much as Ahaz was indifferent to Isaiah’s promise of Immanuel. They think it is a nice tradition and an amusing tale that some people happen to believe. They may even be happy for friends or neighbors who are comforted to think that there is a supernatural power watching over them.
Such thinking completely misses the point of Isaiah and Matthew. Immanuel is not a religious option for those who choose to embrace it. Immanuel is the truth, whether we choose to embrace it or not!
Some people like to pretend uncomfortable events never really happened: Stalin’s murder of Ukrainian peasants, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the slave trade all somehow prompt groups that deny that such events actually happened. Others choose to block such tragedies from their minds. Nonetheless the tragedies did happen.
Immanuel happened too. Matthew declares that God is with us. If we believe, he is with us to bless and to save. If not, God is still with us, to call us to repentance. If you reject that, God is still with you, as judge. God’s deliverance is the only one that works in the end. Most people can work their plan for a while. But there comes a time when dark waters swirl up to every neck, when disaster or death looms. At that time we will want to be able to call upon Immanuel. He is our abiding hope.
Joseph and the Birth of Jesus, Our Immanuel
When the angel had finished speaking, Joseph awoke, believed, and “did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” That is, he “took Mary home as his wife” (Matt. 1:24). His submission to God was as powerful and complete as that of Mary, who also offered herself as the servant of the Lord. Joseph refused to be led by shame or anger. He laid aside the plausible plan of divorce and took Mary as his wife.
To make the supernatural conception of Jesus perfectly clear, Matthew says Joseph “had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son.” Literally, Joseph “did not know her until she had given birth to a son.” Then Joseph took her newborn baby and “gave him the name Jesus” just as the angel had said (1:25).
What a tender picture of living faith! Mary and Joseph listened to God. They silenced their emotions of fear and shame and obeyed the Lord. Why? Because they understood that God is with his people to save. Because they were willing to listen to their Lord, whatever people might think or say. They show us how to listen and how to obey the voice of God rather than our impulses.
This portion of Matthew offers a picture of faith, but more than that it is an account of the acts of the triune God. The Father’s plan of redemption has come to the beginning of its climactic phase. The Spirit’s prophecy to Ahaz and through Ahaz set up the Immanuel principle that now comes to fulfillment. The Spirit also fashioned life in the womb of Mary and moved the hearts of Mary and Joseph to accept their role in the divine drama. Finally, the eternal Son has entered the world of humanity.
May the Spirit work in us to receive what God began to accomplish in the birth of Jesus. May we also submit our plans and our emotions to him, as Joseph did. May we give our hearts and minds to him as Mary and Joseph did. May we know that God is with us, to bless us, in every season of life. In every distress, let us turn to God for comfort. In joy and in blessing, let us not ascribe it to good fortune or hard work, but to Immanuel, who is present to bless. God is with us in the person of Jesus. May we have the faith, trust, love, and obedience to receive the blessings of Immanuel.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 11–22). Chicago: Moody Press.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” — Genesis 3:15 —
(David Schrock) When we lived in Indiana, our parsonage was located next to the church. The church sat at 1200 North Ewing, our home was next door at 1202 North Ewing. At the same time, our house sat next to a snake pit. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the church. Rather, I am referring to the swamp-ish depression that ran alongside the parking lot, what we might call 1198 North Ewing.
Indeed, right next to the church building, the place where the bride of Christ would gather every Sunday, there was a nesting-ground for snakes. It was very much like Genesis 3. And how did we know that we had a snake infestation?
Well, every year, we had snakes in our garden, on our driveway, and in our house. And during the five years we lived there, I became quite skilled at picking up the shovel and beheading the snakes that drew near.
Now, why do I bring up snakes, especially as at Christmas time? The answer is that Christmas is often filled with trees and lights, but not enough trees and snakes. It’s like we get our messaging about Christmas from the Victorian Era of Charles Dickens, instead of letting the victory of Christ over the serpent be the reason for the season. View article →
We are coming toward the end of our look at the life of Jesus through scripture. The first section of His life was seen through verses focused on prophecy, arrival, and early life.
The next section of verses looked at Him as the Son, second person of the Trinity.
We proceeded into looking at Jesus as the Son’s preeminence, His works, and His ministry. Under ministry & works, I chose verses showing His attributes and aspects of being servant, teacher, shepherd, intercessor, and compassionate healer; and His attributes of omniscience, having all authority and power, and sinlessness.
1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
The People Obey the Lord
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” 14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
The Coming Glory of the Temple
2 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? 4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”
Blessings for a Defiled People
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward.1 Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the LORD, 16 how did you fare? When2 one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
Zerubbabel Chosen as a Signet
20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a3 signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.”
16 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters1 say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying,
“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed2 the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
The Seventh Bowl
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings,3 peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds4 each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.