Your fiancée is pregnant and you’re not the father.
You believe her when she tells you the Holy Spirit did it, right?
What a way to begin the story of Jesus’ birth.
Gods and their children
Babies born of an immortal father and a mortal mother actually weren’t that unusual in the ancient world. At least, stories about them were nothing surprising. The story of Hercules is one of today’s most well known stories about these demigods.
Those stories were mythological, and Matthew’s Jewish audience, certainly did not believe they were true. To them Matthew’s story would have fallen into the same category as Hercules. The birth of Jesus must have been a bit more disreputable than what Matthew is insisting upon.
However, being the smart guy he was, if the story of Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit were not true, why would Matthew make up something so unbelievable?
Do you believe that the living God could and would act in this way?
God at work in a broken world
Matthew sets up his readers to answer this question through the people and events he remembers in Jesus’ genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17). He asks his readers to view the story of Jesus’ birth in the context of the history of Israel, in which God has continually acted in surprising ways through surprising situations. Is the God who worked through that genealogy up to this point able to continue working in the midst of His people in a miraculous way?
As Jesus’ genealogy prepared us for his unnatural birth, so too his birth prepares us for the continuous miraculous story of his life.
Immanuel, “God with us”
He was named Jesus, which in Hebrew was the same as ‘Joshua’.
Joshua had led the Israelites into the Promised Land following Moses’ death. Matthew portrays Jesus as a second Joshua, completing what the law of Moses pointed to, but could never produce on its own. Jesus came not to rescue his people not from slavery in Egypt, but to “save his people from their sins” (1:21b). He is Immanuel, “God with us.”
The idea of ‘Immanuel’ frames the entire Book of Matthew appearing here in 1:25 and then being alluded to in 28:20:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Matthew’s message is that God is always near and active, working to rescue His beloved children from their fallenness, often doing so in surprising ways that we might think impossible. He is always with us, fulfilling His covenant promises because of His awesome love for us.
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Grace and peace.