“When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”  This story is revealed to us beginning in verse 18 of Matthew 1.  The birth of Jesus Christ was the most miraculous event that had ever occurred on the face of the earth.  It was more remarkable than the great flood, more remarkable than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, than the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, more astounding than any great miracle done by Elijah or Elisha.  For this was nothing else than God descending from the realms of glory to inhabit the flesh of a man.  As the apostle Paul puts it so plainly in I Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh.”  He by Whom and for Whom all things were created was a cell, then a fetus, contained in the womb of a young woman.  It is a great manifestation of the hardness of our hearts that we are not overwhelmed when we hear this wonderful truth repeated.  Familiarity has bred far too much contempt where this glorious, stunning truth of the incarnation is concerned.

Matthew sets forth in great clarity the fundamental Christian doctrine of the virgin birth.  This is so plainly taught in Scripture, and so necessary to the dignity of Christ’s person, that one cannot reject it without apostatizing from the faith.  “She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”  There was no sexual relationship with any man. The Gospel authors utterly forbid such a notion.  She was a virgin, pure and unsullied by any contact with men, betrothed to Joseph, but yet still awaiting the time for the consummation of the marriage.  It was necessary that Christ be born of a virgin, for sin is passed down by imputation from the man.  Adam sinned, and it is through him that the corruption of human nature is passed down to succeeding generations.  If Christ were born of the natural relations between a man and a woman, then He would have partaken of the sinful nature, and could in no wise be our Saviour.  But being born of a virgin, conceived by nothing less than the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost, He was free from the taint of all sin, and well suited to be the perfect sacrifice to take away sin.  Being man, and being God, He could be the Mediator between both, and so be the perfect Saviour for sinful, ungodly men.

This designation of Joseph as “a just man,” who was unwilling to subject Mary to the scandal of a public divorce, is most interesting.  According to the Mosaic law, if a betrothed virgin was caught playing the whore, death was her lot.  Since Joseph and Mary were still in the state of betrothal, the marriage not having yet been consummated, it is sensible enough to imagine that many among Mary’s family, friends, and acquaintances, wondered whether this would be her fate.  We know not how they must have reacted upon hearing of her visit from an angel, the glorious announcement that she, among all women, had been chosen to be the mother of God’s own Son.  It is not far-fetched to imagine that many were at least dubious, if not downright unbelieving.  Sure enough it is that Joseph must have suspected she had been unfaithful, for he had it in mind to divorce her.  We may well imagine what must have been the heartbreak and disappointment which engulfed that godly man upon finding that his betrothed was pregnant.

Although the law commanded the death penalty for the adulterous woman, God also provided another method for the man who found uncleanness in his wife.  Although some have taken the uncleanness which made divorce permissible, which is mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1, to refer to something other than sexual impurity, I cannot but conceive that Joseph had that provision in mind when he determined to put Mary away.  Else, how could the inspired author characterize him as a “just man?”  A just man is one who walks in the fear of God, and yields obedience to His law.  If Joseph was one who spited the law of God out of tender sentimentality, or some other notion, then he could hardly be so commended.  But it is spoken to his praise that he was willing to put Mary away privately rather than make her a public example.  We can only speculate, but it may be that he thought of the child Mary was carrying, and his sympathy was mostly for it.  Or, it could also be that there was some lingering doubt in his mind as to the facts of the case, having heard from Mary that her child was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, not by impurity on her part.  Whatever the cause, the Holy Spirit commends him as just in his desire to put Mary away privately rather than making her a public example by execution (this can be the only true meaning of public example, since her pregnancy would become evident to the public soon enough, if it had not already).

But God would not allow the woman chosen to be the mother of our Lord to be put away in so disgraceful a fashion.  It was His sovereign design that Christ fulfill the jot and tittle of the 5th commandment by rendering honor to both father and mother.  He chose a man for the father of Christ who was both of the lineage of David, so that Christ could claim royal ancestry both by blood and adoption, and a man who was just and righteous before God.  Because this event was of such signal moment in the whole history of redemption, the Lord sent an angel to communicate instructions to Joseph, as he sadly meditated on his unhappy condition.

Again, we see here reiterated the astounding miracle of the virgin birth, in that Joseph is informed his wife’s conception was of the Holy Ghost.  She had not played the whore against him, but her pregnancy was indeed a supernatural act of God.  And well was it that it should be so, when we consider the tremendous work upon which this infant in the womb would be set.  When she brought forth this boy, Joseph was instructed to name Him JESUS, meaning, Saviour, or as some render it, Jehovah is salvation.  Who ever more aptly named than this!  Jehovah the Son, sent by Jehovah the Father, came to work out a full and complete salvation!  And nowhere in the whole of sacred Scripture is His work more completely encapsulated than in these words, “He shall save His people from their sins.”  He came not on the desperate mission of making an ineffective atonement whose usefulness could only be activated by the omnipotent will of man.  Nay, our Lord Christ came for a definite purpose, and to say God could will something and it not come to pass is to utter blasphemy.  The angel’s message is not one of indefinite hopefulness.  He is an emissary from the Almighty God, Who does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  When God says that Christ SHALL save His people from their sins, there are no ifs, ands, or buts to be added.  Whoever “His people” are shall certainly be saved.  Christ came to make a literal, definite atonement, which saves every person for whom it was designed.  The doctrine of universal atonement cannot fit in with this verse, as we learn in Scripture that there are many who suffer the second death.  But, praise the Lord, all whom Christ came to save, He does save.  By believing upon Him, we may ensure that we are among those He intended to save.  There is much comfort for the believer in this declaration by the angel to Joseph.  Our Lord came not to the earth to make salvation a possibility, He came to make it a definite reality for all who trust in Him.  “He SHALL save His people from their sins.”  The only question remaining for us is, Are we His people?

Lest there be any doubt that this glorious, all-sufficient Saviour, was truly virgin born, Matthew attests that this was all done in fulfillment of holy prophecy.  Scholars and critics may offer their critiques, and deny that the word “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 actually refers to a young woman who has never had a sexual encounter, but Matthew will have nothing of such unbelieving nonsense.  The conception of Christ was done miraculously, and it was done in order to fulfill the word of God.  Furthermore, this glorious person Who would be born of Mary would be the true “God with us.”  Whatever other applications may be justly made of Isaiah’s prophecy, this title is one that truly and properly belongs to none other than Jesus Christ.  What mere man can arrogate for himself this title without uttering blasphemy against the sacred person of God?  But Jesus Christ, who truly was born of a virgin, who truly was God clothed in human flesh, is in the most exact sense of the term, “God with us.”  If any person wonder what God would look like, how He would behave, if He lived visibly among us as a man, he need do nothing else than search the gospels.  Matthew would leave us in no doubt: Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, He is God with His people, then, and forevermore.

Joseph, being a godly man, was prompt to obey the command of God.  Whatever ridicule he might suffer for attaching himself to a woman upon whom the suspicion of uncleanness lay, he was willing to bear it; not so much out of love for Mary as out of a sense of obedience to God.  The Lord had ordained him to the special privilege of exercising the office of human father to the Christ child.  He was willing and ready to obey that call.  He took Mary to him as his wife, but knew her not until after the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  This phrase “knew her not until” demolishes the Romish nonsense of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  There is no reason for us to think that after Christ’s birth that Joseph and Mary did not carry on a perfectly normal marriage.  Our text would have us to believe so.  But more important than either Joseph or Mary, or how they lived afterwards, was the birth, and subsequent life of their Son, Whom they named according to the command of the angel, JESUS.

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