Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child!
The prophet Isaiah wrote these words “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). These words were written about 750 years before Jesus was born. And 750 years later, Matthew believed that the old prophecy of Isaiah was finally being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.
Inspired by God, Matthew writes: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 22-23)
One of Jesus’ names was to be “Immanuel”. The name Immanuel here declares the presence of God with His people. Also the angel told Joseph to name this baby “Jesus” and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.” Jesus would be the long awaited Messiah. Obviously the baby Jesus would be different from any other baby ever born. And His conception would be different from any other conception – in that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be God and He would be human.
The gospel of Matthew starts out with the genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy demonstrates continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus and it also shows Jesus’ royal line in that Jesus was a Son of David. And it also demonstrated Jesus’ link with Abraham the patriarch or father of the Jewish race in that Jesus was called a Son of Abraham.
We usually read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke since Luke’s story is so beautifully written - the shepherds and the wise men – the bright star and the angels singing in the heavens – the stable and the baby Jesus sleeping on the hay in the manger – and Mary and Joseph standing watch over the Christ child. And our Christmas carols reflect Luke’s miraculous story.
But when Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus’ birth, his words aren’t so magical, and they do not easily lend themselves to Christmas carols. Matthew jumps right in talking about the problems Jesus’ birth brings. First he gives us a glimpse of the problems Mary’s pregnancy causes her with her fiancé Joseph. Matthew writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19).
“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Biblical scholars tell us that there were no sexual relations during an ancient Jewish betrothal period, but an engaged couple like Mary and Joseph were considered to be “husband” and “wife” and their engagement could only be broken by divorce. Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” for Joseph and Mary before they were married.
Joseph obviously did not believe Mary when she told him that she was pregnant and that she had not had sex with another man. A pregnant virgin – impossible! It had never happened before – or since – so how could Joseph believe that Mary could be the only woman in the world who became pregnant without having sex? He wasn’t stupid, was he?
Mary told Joseph about Gabriel, the bright angel that had appeared to her bringing news that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. And she told him about this same angel who had promised that she would give birth to the Son of God, the One who would save His people from their sins! That yes, she was the only virgin to ever be pregnant with a child, but her Child would be the only Child to save His people from their sins! A miraculous pregnancy and a miraculous Baby!
But this was all too much for poor Joseph to take in. All he knew was that the woman he loved - the woman he had trusted – the woman he called his “wife” -this woman had betrayed him and was pregnant with someone else’s baby! And soon the whole village would be whispering about it. It must have been humiliating and painful – not only for Joseph but also for Mary.
We are not told how Mary felt in all of this. She had wanted God’s Will in her life. But submitting to God’s will was already causing her to lose her man. She had counted on her Joseph to be there for her and to believe her when she told him about how the angel had given her this wonderful news. But instead Joseph had become angry with Mary’s news of the Baby. He didn’t believe one word of her story. He thought she was lying. And he didn’t leave room for God in her story either! So Mary was pregnant and watching the man she loved reject her and walk out of her life. And while he was walking away he promised that a shameful divorce would soon follow. At least he was good enough not to have her stoned!
But then God stepped in and took care of the misunderstanding. God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that what Mary had told him really was true! That Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she truly would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins! And they should call His name “Jesus”.
Matthew continues the Christmas story by telling us that Joseph woke up from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary to be his wife. Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. And wise men or Magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the king of the Jews. They had seen His star and they had come to worship Him.
Matthew now describes a second problem that the birth of Jesus brings! It seems when Jesus came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago, His birth caused problems for some. And when He comes into our lives and world today, it is the same. His Presence with us can also cause problems from a rejecting world.
Matthew begins by telling of how Herod, the evil king at that time, was troubled by these traveling Magi asking where the new baby king of the Jews could be found. Who was this “new king” they were asking about anyway? Herod was the only “king” the Jews could have! How dare they talk of a “new king” being born! Jealously and rage filled Herod’s heart. He asked the wise men to return to his palace after they had found this “new king”. Return and tell him where this baby king was so that he could go and “worship” him also. (King Herod had no intention of worshipping Jesus!)
The wise men or Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and Scripture says that these men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10b) It seems that Jesus’ presence brought exceeding great joy back then and His presence in our lives brings us exceeding joy today! And when the wise men came before the baby Jesus and His mother Mary, they fell down and worshipped Him. And they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi were probably Gentiles. Matthew shows that people of all nations acknowledge that Jesus is “king of the Jews” and we Gentiles come to worship Him as Lord like the wise men did. But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the wicked Herod and tell him where Jesus was but to travel back to their country another way.
King Herod waited for the wise men to return and tell him where he could find this “new king” – the baby Jesus. But when the wise men never returned to Herod with that information, he flew into a rage.
When the wise men had first asked King Herod where to find this new king, the scribes and religious scholars of the day had come before King Herod and referred to an Old Testament prophecy in Micah as to where the new king would be born. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus’ birth, but this one in Micah says that the Messiah or king will come out of the town of Bethlehem. This scripture reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me, the One to be ruler in Israel. Whose goings forth are from of old and from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
The scribes and the religious scholars believed from studying Scripture that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They referred to Micah’s prophecy when the wise men asked where He might be found. Yet none of those ancient theologians bothered to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem (a 7 mile journey) to see if, indeed, the Messiah had been born!
The little town of Bethlehem is now a point of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians yearly. But let us learn from those scribes and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who knew all the right answers but did not make that first pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They knew where their Savior was to be born from studying prophecy but they did not love Him enough to go find Him for themselves.
Today neither our orthodoxy, biblical knowledge, nor church attendance guarantees that we will see what God is doing in our midst. We can know all of the correct answers like the religious leaders of old did and yet miss the Savior! Let’s be willing to love Him enough to follow the leading of God and His Word wherever it may lead.