Perhaps we could at this stage read the Scriptures together, turning to the gospel of Matthew and chapter 1. I want you, in the weeks that lead up to Christmas, to look at the Christmas theme found in Matthew's gospel - I've entitled this three-week series “Matthew's First Christmas”. We're going to look at verses 18 through to 25 from chapter 1 this morning. If you remember, I think last Christmas, I dealt with the genealogy that is found in verses 1 through to verse 17, so if you want to find out about that get the tape from last year - and give the folks in the tape room a bit of a challenge!
We're going to begin reading from verse 18 just through to 25 this week: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS" - and we end our reading at verse 25.
Under this title 'Matthew's First Christmas', we want to look in our first study today at the fulfilment of truth in the fullness of time, 'The Fulfilment of Truth in the Fullness of Time' - that is our title for this morning's message. Paul the apostle in Galatians 4 verses 4 and 5 said: 'But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons'. When the fullness of time was come, God fulfilled His word.
There is, I am told, a palace - I'll not even pronounce the name, an Italian name - in Rome which is famous for a painting by Rene that resides within it. The painting is entitled 'The Aurora', and the painting is in the high dome of the palace so that if you need to see it, visitors are often found standing gazing into the sky, looking up at the painting until their necks get stiff and their heads go dizzy. To relieve the strain they lower their heads and their eyes, and all of a sudden, startlingly, they see that same image in a mirror that is posted on the wall beside them. All the wondrous detail that they could never see by gazing up into the sky, they see all of it right beside them in that mirror. The Nativity story really brings us to a point in Jewish history where, for centuries, devout Jews - like the aged soul Simeon that we read of in the gospel of Luke chapter 2 - were looking skyward into heaven, waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, looking for the promise of Messiah to be fulfilled.
The wonder of the Christian gospel is that when the fullness of time was come, God honoured His word, and God sent forth His Son. Now there's so many things that I could share with you this morning from the Nativity story, and we would not have time, we'd need more than three weeks - thirty weeks, especially if you know me! - to tell you about them all. But what I want to do for these three weeks is to home in on what is primarily, I would have to say, Matthew's theme. Matthew's theme, as he tells the Nativity story, is that no matter how long it takes, and no matter how many generations have passed away, and no matter how adverse present contemporary circumstances may seem, God always, always fulfils His word. His promises never ever fail.
We often hear quoted, rightly so, in the prayer meeting that other promise from Isaiah 55: 'So shall my word be', God says, 'that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it'. Matthew's account traces, primarily, the fulfilment of God's plan revealed in scripture. Now that study that I shared with you last year, the genealogy in verses 1 to 17 - we're not going to take time to look at it today - but all it proved to us, primarily, was the ancestry of Jesus the Messiah King. Now a modern reader, when you're doing your daily readings and you come to a chapter like this, you often think: 'Well, what a dull list of names that mean nothing to me - what a way to begin a book!'. But for Matthew, and for his readers, it was far from dull because it was all about the fulfilment of Israel's story. It was about the climax of their existence, where their true King had come, and it could be proved by His ancestry that He was who He said He was.
In this list, which begins with Abraham, we see the hero of the book of Genesis, the patriarch from whom Israel traced its origin and ascendancy. Then it leads down to King David, the King of Israel, to show that He was in the lineage of that great King. Matthew's desire is to show us that this Christ, and this word 'Christ' is throughout it all, He is indeed the true King of Israel in the line of David, the One who the people eagerly awaited. Incidentally, verse 1: 'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham', in Greek it is literally 'The book of Genesis', the Greek title 'The Book of Genesis'. So what God is doing here for the Jew is showing him: this is a new beginning, this is where I am fulfilling my words - and what a wonderful story it is.
We'll look at verse 18: 'The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise', and we begin to see Matthew's account of the birth and childhood of the Lord Jesus - but we would have to say that he gives us not an account of Jesus' birth and childhood, because he doesn't really talk about them at all in any specific sense, but rather he gives us a series of scenes designed to show us how God's purposes, declared in the Old Testament Scriptures, were coming to fulfilment in Christ's coming upon the scene. As we will see in later weeks, each of the subsections in this first two chapters of Matthew discussed focus on a prominent quotation from the Old Testament, and what theologians call 'a formula of fulfilment' - a prophecy that was made in the old day, and how that prophecy presently was being fulfilled in Matthew's day.
Let's show you the one under consideration for ourselves today, it's Matthew 1:22: ' Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us'. Now if you look at the margin of your Bible you will see that that is a quotation of a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, the prophecy that a virgin would conceive. What Matthew is doing for us is, he is taking that prophecy and he's showing us how in the birth of the Lord Jesus that prophecy is fulfilled to every iota. The second one in our reading today is how, in the end of verse 23, He will be called 'Emmanuel'. He tells us the scriptural prophecy, and the name that Jesus actually was called by that angel.
Now there are many other scriptural themes that run through the narrative of the birth of the Lord Jesus, but please see this today: the overwhelming theme of Matthew's gospel is 'God fulfils His word'. Now I want to share that with you under two headings: one, God always honours His word no matter how circumstances appear to oppose - have you got that? God always honours His word no matter how circumstances appear to oppose. Now if you're a careful reader you will see that Matthew's account of the birth of the Lord Jesus is written from the point of view and perspective of Joseph, the Lord's earthly adopted father; whereas Luke chapters 1 and 2 is written primarily from Mary's perspective. So we look at Joseph in this passage, and we see in verse 18 that 'the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child', and there is an emphasis on 'found with child', not literally in the Greek but in our reading of it. I deliberately stopped at the word 'child' there and didn't read 'of the Holy Ghost', because I believe that is where Joseph's version of that verse would have ended - she was found with child.
Now I say that because Joseph was ignorant, Joseph did not have the knowledge that you and I have - why this woman was found with child in the years of her espousal, which was a bit more concrete than our engagement but wasn't fully consummated marriage - but they were still talked of, as we see here, as husband-and-wife. Why was she found with child? Joseph was completely in the dark. Mary knew about it, the angel came in Luke chapter 1, as we read, and told her that she was highly favoured, she had been chosen as elect to bear the Messiah into the world. We might say: 'Why did Mary not tell Joseph about the revelation that Gabriel had given to her?', perhaps it was simply because she felt that if God could reveal it to her, then God could reveal it to Joseph as well - and maybe she had more of a confidence in God fulfilling His word than you and I do today.
But I believe the great lesson that we will learn this morning from this passage is the lesson that is found in Joseph, for as far as Joseph is concerned - being in the dark - there could be only one explanation for Mary being with child, and that was that she had been unfaithful to him. What would you think? Come on now, we're not on some kind of high level or spiritual sphere here: this is dirty, earthly, Palestine. We can make, at times, the Bible into some kind of fairytale as we seek to relay it to our boys and girls: but what would you think in such circumstances? What would you do if you were in Joseph's shoes? I'll tell you, if Joseph had been as zealous as those Jewish men in John chapter 8, who dragged that woman caught in adultery to the feet of the Lord Jesus and were ready to stone her, Mary could have been stoned at that moment! But stoning wasn't as popular in that day, what they did was simply to divorce the person.
We read here that Joseph 'being a just man', Joseph 'was not willing to make her a public example, but was minded to put her away privily'. Now please don't - we miss so many gems because we're so familiar with this story we just want to get to the birth of Jesus, but there's so much more in it than that. Joseph, being a just man, he was a godly man! How could he be anything else to be given the responsibility of bringing up the Lord Jesus Christ? He was just on two fronts: he was just because he didn't put the apparent sin of Mary under the carpet and sweep it away, he was determined that she had to be dealt with, and she had to be dealt with in a lawful manner; but he was just in a righteous sense in that he wasn't wanting to make her a spectacle. Maybe his pride was hurt, he would have felt let down that she could have apparently done this thing, but yet it all didn't lead him to be unkind to her. He still loved her, he did not wish to disgrace her - which is what it would have been.
We see in him, let me say, the two sides of righteousness that there ought to be in every child of God - and let me say even further: the two sides of righteousness that were found in his own adopted Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and I believe it was none other than the Spirit of God in Joseph. What else could make a man behave in such circumstances? I'll tell you what more it is: it is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 13 that we have been studying in recent weeks on a Monday night - what does it say there about true love? 'It keeps no record of wrongs; it is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. Love is kind'.
He was in the dark, he didn't know what was going on, he didn't have all the facts, but in the midst of such confusion he behaved lovingly and righteously. A good question to all of us is: do we? Sure all of us are in the dark in one way or another, aren't we? We don't know why certain things happen to us in life, we say to God: 'Why did this happen? Why did it happen when it happened? Why did it happen the way it had to happen?'. Sometimes aren't we people who have to nearly know the whole story before we can have faith in God? We need to know it inside out before we'll trust Him - and even putting it into the future, we need to know how it's all going to turn out before we'll say: 'Right Lord, I'll take Your hand and trust You'. Please see the greatness of this man Joseph here: he was in the dark, yet he must have trusted God for only that could have given him such a justice to deal with apparent sin, yet deal with it in a gracious way.
Harold Wilmington, the biblical writer, says this - and I think it's tremendous - about Joseph: 'Joseph must be considered by all standards of measurement as a truly just man with the spiritual maturity of a David, a Moses, a Peter, or a Paul. In fact, had it not been for Judah's sin Joseph would have been ruling from Jerusalem as the rightful King - now it was Herod, but Herod would not have been there, for Herod did not have the proper credentials for the throne - but Joseph did, not only in his lineage but in his character. He had a regal, royal spirit; he had the character of a King'. Sometimes I think we miss that.
Well, perhaps the faith of Mary was realised when the angel did appear to Joseph. We read on in verse 20: 'But while he thought on these things' - just pause for a moment: there's another sign of a godly man. He thinks before he acts! 'While he thought on these things', while he waited on God - and the scripture says it is never a vain thing to wait on the Lord and to call upon the Lord, we cannot be disappointed - but while he waited on the Lord, God showed him a sign, He sent an angel. Now you and I, in these circumstances, trying to apply it to ourselves, might say: 'Well, there you go, Joseph saw an angel - how could he not believe God? It's easy now for Joseph to believe everything that is being said by Mary, because an angel has told him! If an angel told me this I would believe it too!'. Please for a moment, don't get out of your human shoes too quickly! Remember what the angel is telling him! The angel is telling him that this child in Mary's womb is of the Holy Spirit - it had never been heard in all the history of humanity for a virgin birth to take place!
Can I ask you a question? Was the angel going to tell Mary and Joseph's family too? Was the angel going to tell the town? Was the angel going to tell the family Rabbi? It's alright us sitting here in the 21st century saying: 'Oh, it's easy for him to believe now, it's easy to obey God now'. They would conclude that the only reason why this woman was pregnant was because of unfaithfulness to Joseph, or on the other hand they would accuse Joseph of defiling her before the full end of that period was fulfilled whereby they were espoused to one another. It wasn't easy at all for Joseph. I was thinking, as I was meditating upon this, you would have thought that the parents of Christ would have had an easy ride - wouldn't you? I don't want to make a wrong illustration or comparison, but it is hard being a parent, especially in the age in which we live. But when you're associated with Christ there are sufferings, oppressions that come upon you because of the stand that you take. Because Joseph was going to be the adopted father of our Lord Jesus on earth, there was a stigma attached to him right from the very beginning.
You're not the only one who goes through trials as a parent - even the parents of the Lord did, for different reasons of course, but yet they went through it. Alexander Whyte says: 'Why is it that whosoever comes at all near Jesus Christ has always to drink such a cup of sorrow. Truly they who are brother, or sister, or mother to Him must take up their cross daily. These are they who go up through great tribulation'. It just testifies this great biblical truth that the greatness of privileges brings the greatest of sorrows, and who could have thought that the ones who would nurture and foster the very Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God of heaven, would have such an ungodly accusation thrown against them!
Let's be real about this - a sword was piercing Joseph's heart, just as it was going to pierce Mary's: the reproach of Christ! Maybe you're still saying: 'But an angel told him, an angel told Zacharias!'. John the Baptist in Luke chapter 1, you know it: 'And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years' - and he doubted the angel. Why? Because it wasn't an easy thing to believe, even if it was an angel telling you - maybe he was even suspecting: 'Am I seeing things? Am I hearing things?'. Angel or no angel, it was hard to believe! Here's the challenge: we have the incarnate word of God in our hands today, and the big question is...how much of this do we believe? I'm talking about experientially, how much of it do we really put into practice? Then we can turn round to Joseph and say: 'Oh, he saw an angel, it ought to be easy for him to believe'.
Yet, the remarkable thing about Joseph was he wasn't like I would be, or maybe some of you would be if you're honest: he didn't question, he didn't argue - in fact, if you look at verse 24 and verse 25, the angel only gave him one command and Joseph obeyed instantly! Look at it: 'Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not', there's self-control, 'till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS'. He did everything, he took a wife, he didn't know her, he called Him by the name that he was told - in an instant! Now here's my application to your heart today: do you find yourself in circumstances that appear to be the opposite of what you think God promised you, of what God should be bringing into your life? It's the whole antithesis of everything that you ever imagined or dreamed. Do you feel that everything is going wrong? 'It's not meant to be like this!', you say, 'How can God sort out a mess like mine?'. Listen to what the angel said to Joseph in the midst of circumstances that appeared to oppose everything that God's word was saying: 'Fear not'! By the way, there are 366 of them in the Bible, one for every day and one for a leap year! Fear not.
What else did he say? 'This thing is of the Holy Ghost'. Around the Table the sovereignty of God was the theme - do you believe in the sovereignty and providence of God? That He is leading and directing your circumstances? Whatever you're going through, I know you can't make sense of it, but it's of the Holy Ghost - and here's the promise that was to Joseph: that in the fullness of time you will have a new beginning too! Why? Because God always fulfils His word! Amen.
Here's the second thing: God never fails His people, no matter how much time passes - have you got it? The first thing was: God always honours His word no matter how circumstances appear to oppose; but the second is: God never fails His people no matter how much time passes. In verse 21 to 23 the Lord spoke these words through the prophet in Isaiah 7, it's a quotation of Isaiah. Now please let this sink in, let's get past all this bibli-speak where we talk about dates and figures as if they were something that weren't real: this was spoken 700 years before this event. Now let me illustrate that to you in ways that you can understand. Sir William Wallace lived in an age 700 years from today - William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotland; the parliament that we have in London, the first ever representative parliament that was summoned by Edward I was 700 years ago - that is when God gave this promise to the Jews, in the time of King Ahab. Now, who would not have been saying: 'God has forgotten us - 700 years? Come on!'. If we don't get an answer to prayer in a week we're starting to have doubts about our faith - 'God has given up on us, He's left His people. Either that, or He doesn't exist and we believed a lie and a fairytale'. Perhaps the people were starting to get to a situation, through the passing of time, where they were beginning to have no hope.
Is that you? You feel you're in a hopeless circumstance and situation? One man has rightly said that if you could convince a man there was no hope he would curse the day he was born. Hope is an indispensable quality of life - but can I let you into a secret? There was more time passed than 700 years. You see the first promise of a deliverer that was given, if you look at Galatians 4: 'Born of a woman'; Isaiah, quoting here from chapter 7 of Isaiah: 'A virgin shall conceive' - it's all about a woman. You have to go right back to Genesis 3 and verse 15, where God said right at the fall: 'I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel' - the prophetic word about the Redeemer, way back then, and yet it hadn't been fulfilled!
We often read in prophetic word, God saying: 'I Am He'. The Jews often took that word 'He' to be a divine name, and Mary was this 'she', this elect woman, a virgin, from whom this One, this 'He' would come. It was the long-awaited promised Messiah, the Deliverer and the Saviour - and as Joseph prayed on his knees, as a righteous man would do, it says that an angel appeared unto him. Now please be careful when you're reading the word of God: over and over again we read in the Old Testament that 'the angel of the Lord' appeared unto them, 'the angel of the Lord' did this and did that - and He was the one, in the Old Testament, who appeared as a mediator between God and man, He came as God's representative. In fact, we learn in the Old Testament that He had the divine name, and He was even attributed God's attributes. He appeared in the form of a man to Hagar, to Abraham, to Jacob, to the children of Israel at once, to Joshua, Gideon, Menoah and his wife. Jacob calls him, in the Old Testament, 'the angel, the Redeemer'. In Isaiah 63:9 He is called the angel of God's face, indeed all through the Old Testament Jehovah and His glory is revealed in this one who is called the Angel of the Lord. Exodus 23:20 says that the name of God was in Him! The One who had appeared in the Old Testament as the Angel, is now being born of this woman Mary the virgin. Notice that the angel that comes and announces it is called what? 'An angel' - isn't it wonderful that even a little word like 'An' brings out how God's word is fulfilled perfectly, completely and without an error?
The angel bade Joseph not to fear, and told him that the boy would be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. The word 'Jesus' taken in Hebrew is 'Jehosua', which is the word 'Joshua' in the Old Testament, and it simply means this: 'Jehovah is the Saviour'. A precious name in which the whole history of salvation is contained, but not only was it a precious name - don't miss the import of it! It was as common in this day as the name 'John' or 'David' is to us today - it was a name by which this Christ was identifying with His people. He was coming to His people as one of them, and even as the angel gives this child a name he is fulfilling how He would save His people, because He would be one of His people. They are His people.
'Why was He baptised?', is always the question that comes - do you know why? Because He was coming to save His people. Why did He have to take flesh? Because He's identifying with His people! He took the name of His people; He was coming to suffer as they suffered - no wonder we sing at Christmas: 'O little town of Bethlehem...in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight'. Now listen: where do you find yourself today? Is it hard for you at the moment to believe His promises? Are you finding it difficult to trust His providences, how He is leading your life? Do you feel that your whole life at this moment is a dark bleak winter horizon, and there is no hope, there is no life, there is no light?
An artist once drew a picture of a winter twilight, and he portrayed the trees heavily laden with snow, and a dreary dark house was in the background, lonely and desolate in the midst of what was beginning to be a storm. It was a sad, depressing, dejecting picture - and then, all of a sudden, the artist, with just a stroke of one yellow crayon, put light into a window. The effect was magical, if changed the whole scene! The entire portrait was transformed into a vision of comfort and cheer! This is what God is doing here: He is fulfilling His word and He's saying 'The One that I'm giving to you is Emmanuel - God with you!'. Her life wasn't going to be easy - whose life is easy? But God would be with them!
One of the most interesting cemeteries - if you count them interesting at all - is London's Bunhill Fields Cemetery, where Charles Wesley is buried, Isaac Watts, Daniel Defoe who was the author of Robinson Crusoe, and many other great names were laid to rest. But opposite that graveyard is the chapel of John Wesley, the great founder of Methodism and an evangelist; also is found beside it the house in which he lived and died, and a monument that is erected to his memory. Just before his death on March 2nd 1791, Wesley, for a moment, opened his eyes and looked around him to his friends and loved ones, and in a strong clear voice spoke these immortal words: 'The best of all is: God is with us'. Do you believe that? Without God in the world is the most wretched state imaginable, to be against God is terrifying! But to have God with us is to have everything - and if God is with you, my friend, what or who can stand against you; for to have God with you is to be in the midst of defeat and all of a sudden the cry goes up: 'The General has come and the fortune of the day has changed!'.
He is the Captain of our salvation, He is the Everlasting Father, He is the Omnipotent Companion, He is the One who draws beside the sick, who comforts the elderly, who companions the lonely, who retrieves the deserted, and who travels with those who are going down the very valley of the shadow of death - He is Emmanuel, God with us! Emphasis on 'us' - He became man, God incarnate, so that He could be with us! Our nature He took, God with us. His condescension: in form of God - and He stayed as God - but He came into the world in the form of a man and as a servant of God. God with us: He came as God in the form of man to be at our side - Hallelujah!
And if that doesn't tell you anything, it tells you what you find in 1 Kings 8:56, and with this I finish: 'Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised'. God's word never fails, whatever circumstances seem to oppose; and God's word never fails whatever time transpires - though heaven and earth pass away, Jesus says: 'My words will never fall to the ground'.
Our Loving Father, we thank Thee that the best of all is that He is with us, and one day very soon we will go to be with Him, and we shall be forever with the Lord. Lord, may His presence guard us, guide us, and keep us now and always, in the name of Emmanuel we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his "Matthew's First Christmas" study series, titled "The Fulfilment Of Truth In The Fullness Of Time" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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