God's call to Joseph. 1:18-25


In our passage for study Matthew recounts the story of the birth of Jesus, and this as the result of a supernatural act of God. Jesus is not only the son of David, but he is also the Son of God.

The passage

v18. Mary is engaged to Joseph. In Jewish custom this includes all the responsibilities of marriage, except that the girl stays in her parents' home for about a year before the marriage and its consummation. During this time Mary conceives through the action of the Holy Spirit. So, a divine creative act inaugurates the messianic age through the agency of the Spirit. With these words Matthew defines Jesus' origin.

v19. Originally, stoning was the punishment for unfaithfulness, but by this time, public humiliation and divorce was the usual method. Joseph kindly set about to divorce Mary privately.

v20. In typical Old Testament style, God conveys his word to his people through a "messenger (angel) of the Lord." In Joseph's case, God's word comes to him in a dream, certainly not an unusual means for an Old Testament saint. Joseph must marry Mary, for the child must be included in the Davidic line. In Jewish custom, for Joseph to acknowledge the child as his, makes the child his, a "son of David". Such acknowledgment fully includes the child in the family.

v21. In the Old Testament, the giving of a name, and particularly a name given by God, is full of meaning. The name "Jesus" is Greek for Joshua, and means "God is salvation." The people Jesus will save is Israel, but this does not exclude the Gentiles who will inevitably join with remnant Israel to stand before the presence of God. Although the people of Israel expect the salvation of the nation, this messiah brings a salvation from sin, cf. Is.53, Je.31:31-34. He does not restore Israel, but rather restores Israel's relationship with God.

v22-23. Although the original Hebrew text has "young woman", the Greek LXX uses "virgin" because Isaiah is pointing to an amazing sign, the birth of a child deliverer. He will gather his people to God such that God will be with them (thus the point of the symbolic name "God with us"). We don't know whether Isaiah did actually mean "virgin", but it certainly took on that meaning in time. The birth of Jesus ("all this" refers to the conception and birth, not just the dream of Joseph) fulfills the "Immanuel" prophecy in that Jesus "saves his people from their sins" and so "God is with us" again. Jesus the messiah restores the relationship of broken humanity with God.



v24-25. So, Joseph marries Mary, but restrains from intercourse with her until after the birth of Jesus. As directed, Joseph names him "Jesus".


There are many ways of looking at the birth of Jesus, but two, in particular, have vied for our allegiance. There is the incarnational view and there is the redemptive view.

In incarnational theology the stress is on God's affirmation of the human condition in his coming to us and his taking upon himself human flesh. The word became flesh and elevated the worth of all people because God loved the world so much. So, the incarnation serves as God's endorsement of being human. Christmas is a time to be reminded of our worth in the sight of our Creator.

Yet, does Immanuel, which means, God with us, actually mean that God wants to be with us because he thinks being human is wonderful? Does God, in Christ, take on human flesh to affirm humanity, or does he take on human flesh to save humanity?

The Christ-child's name is Jesus, which means he will save; "He will save his people from their sins." In Christ's birth, prophecy is fulfilled, for the day dawns when God's people are saved, in the sense of saved from their sin and thus reunited to God. It is in this sense that Jesus is Immanuel. He restores his people to their living God and thus God is with us. He restores the relationship of the lost, of the sinner, to their creator God, and thus God is with us.

The birth of Jesus is indeed incarnational, but it is primarily redemptive. Jesus comes to save, and if to save, he must take upon himself human flesh. In our place he becomes the faithful servant of God, even unto death. For this we give thanks.


1. Why is it right to say of Joseph, "he was a kind man"?

2. The angel tells Joseph of Jesus' origin and life's-purpose. What is his origin and why is he to be called "Jesus"?

3. What is the point of the "Immanuel" prophecy?

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