Where is God?
The divine origin of Jesus and the challenges his parents faced.
Alright, we are now in our fourth week of studying the book of Matthew, and we have gotten through the first part of chapter 1 so far.
We’ve read through the whole first chapter at least twice together, but we’ve spent some time really unpacking each piece of it.
The first week, we didn’t even make it past the title of the book. I gave an introduction to the book…we did some world history review to fill in the gap between the Old and New Testaments, and we took a look at the cultural context and political climate in which the book of Matthew was written, and in which the events described therein took place.
And the second week, Mike covered the significance of just verse 1. And there is a LOT of significance packed into that one verse, isn’t there?
Matthew 1:1 CSB
1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
Last week, Mike covered the genealogy. Or, as he put it, the human lineage of Christ. And the genealogy has all kinds of awesome treasures, doesn’t it?
But one thing Mike brought out was how, at the very end of the genealogy, we see some very strange wording.
Matthew 1:16 CSB
16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,
who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.
And this brings our attention to the fact that while Mary is the biological mother of Jesus, Joseph is NOT the biological father!
Of course, Joseph was considered the father of Jesus legally and culturally speaking…Jesus was essentially “adopted” by Joseph, the way we would describe it today.
But Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus.
And that brings us to a different kind of genealogy. Another type of origin for Jesus other than his human one.
Jesus was not conceived by human means, but by divine means, by the Holy Spirit, in a virgin womb. You could call it the spiritual genealogy of Jesus.
You could also call it the NON-genealogy of Jesus, because although his human body had a beginning, the person of Jesus has no beginning and no end. Mike touched on that last week, and it’s something we’ll see more of, but it’s a profound theological truth already being brought to our attention in the very first few paragraphs of this book.
We’re going to explore the spiritually of Christ a little bit today, but we’re going to do so in the context of the story, in chapter 1 and chapter 2. We’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks on everything from history to the Greek language to numbers and gematria, and that’s all great stuff to look at! But there’s also a story being told here.
Matthew has crafted many layers into this book, but ultimately, he’s telling a story. So I want to try to submerse us into that story this morning, and catch some of the details that are embedded into the story. The details that make it the profound, life-changing story that it is.
This is a crazy story.
Ok, so, Matthew is telling a story. But it’s not just any story, and it’s not a story for story’s sake. It’s not fiction. It’s not for entertainment. Matthew’s telling this story because it’s a true story. At least, that’s what Matthew is claiming. He’s telling the true story, by his own witness and research, of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
But, let’s be honest, even just after reading chapter one, this does not sound like a true story!
Be honest! Pretend you weren’t already familiar with the Christmas story. Pretend it never happened. Pretend there is no such thing as the New Testament.
Imagine your friend Joe coming up to and telling you about how his girlfriend Mary is pregnant, and that he’s NOT the father, but it’s OK, because a divine revelation came to him in a dream, and a messenger from God told him that it’s OK! Mary’s still a virgin, because it’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that she got pregnant, and she’s going to have a son!
I mean come on! What are you going to say to that? That’s not…true. Nice try, Joe.
There’s no way you would believe this story if someone came up and told it to you today.
And yet, this is the origin story of Christianity! This is the premise for why we’re all here today!
But it’s OK to acknowledge how crazy it sounds, and I think we SHOULD! If for no other reason than to appreciate how crazy it must have seemed to the people who were actually living it!
In fact, it seems like Joseph didn’t quite believe it, or at the very least he didn’t know what to do with it, at first.
**Let’s read again verses 18-19:
Matthew 1:18–19 CSB
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
So, it was discovered that she was pregnant AFTER she was engaged to Joseph, BEFORE they had come together. It says here that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit, and that’s information we are privy to as the reader, but it’s not like it was that obvious to them in the moment.
We learn from Luke that Mary had her own moment of revelation, and she trusted what God told her and believed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
But here in Matthew we’re only given Joseph’s perspective.
And you have to realize that this “engagement” was more binding than the engagements we have today. They were considered 100% committed to each other, already in a marriage agreement that was binding and just needed to be made official and consummated.
So, for Joseph to break it off was a BIG deal, and that’s why he’s called her “husband” and his decision to break it off is described using the word “divorce.”
And you get the sense of Joseph being caught between a rock and a hard place.
He’s a righteous man, which means he can’t in good conscience stay with Mary now that she’s pregnant with someone else’s baby, regardless of who she claims is the father.
But at the same time, you can see that Joseph is a compassionate and kind man, and it seems like he genuinely loves Mary, because he does not want to disgrace her publicly.
So, he’s determined to do the right thing, as far as he can tell is the right thing, but it’s going to be very painful and he wants to do it quietly in a way that causes the least harm or embarrassment to Mary.
That’s really admirable! I think we’re meant to read this as a moral victory for Joseph!
And yet, it’s obvious that at that point he doesn’t really get it. Either he doesn’t believe that the Holy Spirit was responsible, or Mary hadn’t told him, or he just had no idea what it meant.
It’s not like this was just run-of-the-mill stuff back then, this would have seemed as wild to them then as it would to us now.
And that’s why God intercedes for both Mary and Joseph, to clarify and verify what’s happening. And Matthew gives us a description of the message Joseph received in verses 20-21. Let’s read it again:
Matthew 1:20–21 CSB
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
There are two parts to this message.
The first part is to tell Joseph not to worry, not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the child really was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The second part has a specific instruction for Joseph: the angel reveals that Mary will give birth to a son, and tells Joseph exactly what to name their son.
And this is where it gets really cool! Matthew is including this detail for a reason.
The angel tells Joseph “you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Now, I know Mike already brought this up, but I can’t help but bring it up again, because it plays a major part in the theological, spiritual claims Matthew is making about Jesus.
The name itself is not particularly special. It’s not unique. The Hebrew name Yehoshua was a very common name.
Yehoshua. If you say it fast enough times, you’ll want to shorten it by collapsing the second syllable…and it becomes either Yoshua or Yeshua. It’s the same Hebrew name that you’ll find translated as either “Joshua” or “Jesus” in the Old Testament. In Greek it’s translated as “Yesus” and later on through other languages, the “Y” sound became a “J” sound and so we have “Jesus.” And in our culture it happens that not many people name their kids Jesus. That’s just the way it is. In other cultures it’s not as weird…there are a lot of Spanish-speaking cultures in which the name “Jesus” is common. But, ironically, it’s not weird at all in our culture for people to be named “Joshua” or “Josh.” Even though Joshua is as much the name of Christ as Jesus. They’re just two different English translations of the same Hebrew name.
Anyway, the point is that the name itself is not unique. It was a common Hebrew name long before Mary and Joseph had a kid, and it’s still a common name in its various transmutations today.
What’s astounding is the statement the angel makes as to why this child must be named “Yehoshua.”
The name “Yehoshua” means “Yahweh Saves.”
And the angel says you must name him “Yehoshua” because HE will save his people from their sins.
This is just a mind-boggling statement!
What’s this guy’s name? Yahweh saves. Why? because this guy is going to save his people.
Who saves? Yahweh Saves. And this guy is going to be the one saving.
Do you see how by making this statement, the angel is already revealing a profound theological truth about Yeshua’s identity? Yeshua, THIS Yeshua, IS Yahweh incarnate.
And his name establishes his purpose and mission: to save his people from their sins.
Who are his people, by the way?
Well, the Jews, of course! Right? Jesus was a Jew! Born raised by a Jewish family in a Jewish household. Of course, HIS people are Jews!
So, he’s coming to save his fellow Jews from their sin?
Well, yes, of course that’s part of it, but we find out later that that’s only the beginning. And it comes as a great surprise to most of his fellow Jews that Jesus wants to include gentiles in the kingdom of God!
But for an astute reader of Matthew, it really shouldn’t be that shocking. After all, remember all the gentiles who were included in the genealogy of Jesus himself! And not just gentiles, but some people of questionable character, and even some of the Jews who were included were some of the worst ones!
Ultimately, it’s not the human genealogy, the human lineage of Jesus which qualifies him to save people from their sins, it’s his divine nature, his equality with Yahweh himself which qualifies him to save people.
And as the incarnation of Yahweh himself, he’s not concerned about saving just the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s the one who created Abraham. And Noah before him and Adam before him. He’s the creator of humanity itself, and as such he’s the savior of humanity itself.
ALL THIS is what’s being implied by the Angel’s instruction to Joseph.
Joseph and Mary’s Response
I don’t know how much of that Joseph was actually able to take in and absorb and comprehend. I mean, even today we struggle to comprehend it, so I can’t even imagine what was going through Joseph’s head when he woke up from that dream.
It’s just CRAZY!
But both of them, Mary and Joseph, responded in faith. Mary was humble and accepting. She said “whoaaa, I don’t get it, why me, but ok, whatever you think is best Lord! And she praised and glorified God.
Joseph, when he woke up, trusted in what God had revealed to him, and obeyed. Verse 24 says:
Matthew 1:24–25 CSB
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
He not only stayed with Mary and married her, when she gave birth to a son he named him according to what God had commanded.
Notice, by the way, that it specifically says that JOSEPH named him. This was about as close to the legal equivalent to what we would call today an “adoption ceremony.” For a father to name a child was for him to officially accept and welcome that child as his own, as one of his family. A descendant and an heir, whether that child was biological or not. So this goes back and reinforces the point of Jesus being a legitimate descendant of David through Joseph.
And it’s exactly that heritage, the royal lineage of David, the legitimate claim to the throne of Israel, that becomes a point of conflict in the next chapter.
Let’s keep going, right into chapter 2, keeping in mind all of the craziness that just happened in Mary and Joseph’s lives, and their faithful, humble, obedient responses to all of it.
Let’s read chapter 2 together, because I want to put these two pieces of the story together, what happens in chapter 1 with what happens in chapter 2:
Matthew 2:1–18 CSB
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born. 5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” 7 Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route. 13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. 16 Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
And I’m actually just going to stop there for now.
There are several layers to what’s happening here, but for today I just want to focus on the basic, human, experiential level of the narrative.
These pagan magicians come to Jerusalem and start asking around, trying to find this kid who was born who’s the new king of the Jews.
The current “king “of the Jews, the guy in power in Jerusalem, is NOT happy when he heard this, and tries to find out where exactly this child might be. And he sends these pagan magicians to Bethlehem to find Jesus, and tells them to report back to him when they find him.
Meanwhile, they do find him, and they immediately fall to their knees in worship, and present him with royal gifts.
These are not even Jewish men! And yet they are worshiping Jesus even as a child, and recognizing his kingship. Again, this foreshadows his kingdom as being not just that of the Jews but of the gentiles as well.
But, again, I want to focus on Mary & Joseph’s perspective here. I mean, first of all, these guys just show up and worship their child, that’s just wild, as it is.
But then Joseph has another dream. And this time, it’s a warning! And the instructions are to flee to Egypt to escape the violence of a furious Herod. And once again, Joseph obeys, and he does it immediately, during the night, to ensure his family’s safety.
And we can say “Yay! Good for Joseph! He has faith, and he obeys, and God saves their family, hooray!”
And Joseph is, of course commendable for his actions here. I would say he’s more than commendable, this is just insane what he’s asked to do, and he has literally zero time to prepare for it!
From Israel to Egypt is over 400 miles! That’s like going from here to Ohio. And that might not sound like that far…in fact it gives you some perspective as to how close Israel and Egypt are. We can hop on 90 and be in Ohio in 8-10 hours. But I’m exhausted after making that trip in a comfy, temperature controlled car with cruise control! Imagine going from here to Ohio on foot and on horses or camels or donkeys!
It’s a major trip! And it’s not a sight-seeing trip! It’s temporary, but it’s for a period of at least several years! Which means they need money and provisions, not just for the trip, but to actually live in Egypt for an extended amount of time. Which means Joseph has to uproot his carpentry business and start all over, hopefully, to make a living in Egypt! We don’t know exactly what all logistics they would have had to think through, but don’t think that just because this happened 2000 years ago it was an easy thing to just uproot your family and move to a different country. If anything, I think that might actually be an easier thing to do now than it was then!
It would have been a journey and a season of life just so filled with uncertainty, on a daily basis, not to mention the imminent threat of an angry king trying to kill your son! I honestly cannot even imagine how stressful that would be!
And then, on top of all that, even though they escaped Herod’s violence, there were so many families in and around Bethlehem who did not.
And I’m sure that word of this horrible, tragic massacre would have reached Mary and Joseph. The weeping and mourning was profound! It was ugly. It was gruesome. And they had to know it was all because of them. Or their child. Actually, it was kind of all because of those pagan magicians! But put yourself in their shoes and think about how they must have felt. Knowing that their friends and family and neighbors were in agony, and knowing that they and their son had at least some part in that. I’m sure they went through all kinds of emotions, whether it was guilt or regret or horror or just plain sorrow. I don’t know WHAT they felt, but I’m pretty confident in saying they must have felt things. It must have been an incredibly emotional time.
And remember, this is all fresh on the heels of the roller-coaster ride that already was the birth of Jesus in the first place!
Matthew, of course, is layering on all kinds of symbolism and hyperlinks to the Old Testament when he’s telling this story. And that’s awesome! And I’m sure we’ll get a chance to look at that later.
But underneath those layers are the raw, human characters in the story: a couple in the early years of their marriage, with a young child, running for their lives and sobbing for their hometown, maybe even wondering how far Herod will go to find their son.
We don’t know what they felt or what their thoughts were. As far as we know they acted in faith and obedience, and that is how they are remembered. That’s an awesome legacy! Especially for Joseph, who we don’t really hear from much again after this.
But we do know they were human, and I can imagine how I would feel in that kind of situation. I know that even when I am committed to following God, even when I act in faith and obedience to the best of my ability, sometimes it’s scary, and there are a lot of unknowns, and sometimes it just seems absolutely crazy! And sometimes I go through all kinds of emotions wondering what God is doing, how and why he’s using me, and what’s going to happen next.
I think if I were in Joseph’s situation I would be second-guessing myself and my convictions and my decisions, constantly. And I might even second-guess God. Or, having experienced God’s direction once or twice, I would then look for more of those moments, every day! If you’re going to tell me to do something so specific, why not provide a few more specifics as well!
In-between those moments of experiencing God’s guidance and presence, I would be tempted to question God and shout “Where are you?!”
Some of you may have had those moments in the past, maybe even this past week. Some of you may have those moments some day in the future.
Mary and Joseph were faithful. They were obedient. They have an amazing legacy.
And yet, their most impressive acts of faith, their most difficult acts of obedience led to some of the most trying and stressful and agonizing and tragic of experiences.
I don’t know if they ever asked the question “Where is God?” “Where is he in all this? What’s he doing? Where’d he go?”
I don’t know if they ever asked that, but I think I probably would.
Matthew, in hindsight, as he’s writing this, knows the answer to that of course. He knows what God’s doing and he knows who Jesus is, which is why back in chapter 1 he gives us this little narrator’s note regarding the name of Jesus:
Matthew 1:22–23 CSB
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
See, Matthew, in hindsight, knows that while Mary and Joseph were traveling to Egypt, God was literally with them.
Whether or not they knew it, or how much they understood it, God was with them the whole time.
And therein lies the most profound truth of the origin of Jesus. What we have in Christ is a manifestation of Yahweh himself. He is God incarnate. But it’s unlike any other manifestation of God we’ve seen before. He’s not God “above us” on the mountain, in smoke and fire, he’s not God in the tabernacle tent, shrouded in glory and mystery, he’s not even God in a still, small, disembodied voice.
He’s God with us. God among us. God as one of us.
THAT is the set-up Matthew is giving us here, and as we continue through the story, we’ll see this theme flesh out (pun intended) in a variety of ways. But for now, the main idea is that Matthew has given us an opening with a twofold origin story. He’s given us Jesus’s human lineage, but he’s also made very clear Jesus’s divine origin, or originless-ness…his lack of origin. And he’s done the latter in three ways:
In making clear the nature of Mary’s pregnancy as being by the power of the Holy Spirit of Yahweh in a virgin womb.
By including the angel’s message to Joseph about the purpose of the name Jesus, essentially equating Jesus with Yahweh, by the mouth of Yahweh’s own messenger.
Connecting Jesus to a prophesy from Isaiah in which a virgin’s offspring is referred to as “God with us.”
He really couldn’t make it any clearer!
But of course, everything is much clearer in hindsight.
It’s not always that clear in the moment. Our brief look at chapter 2 was just a little example of that. I’m sure Joseph and Mary were confused and scared at times. Sometimes life seems chaotic. Sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s scary. But God is with us. He became one of us so that we could be reunited with Him and enjoy Him forever. Ultimately, that means we can look forward to an eternity at peace with God and with each other.
But in the meantime, we still live in a world filled with sin. With violence, chaos, and destruction, and tragedy. But even though we may question God, and even though we may not recognize him or understand the work he’s doing, that doesn’t mean he’s not there, or that he’s not working.
I can say this about the events of Matthew chapter 2, and I can say it about anything happening today:
Human tragedy does not happen in spite of God’s presence and action in the world.
God is present and active in the world, in spite of human tragedy.
And he’s present and active in ways which are so exciting and profound and radical, and it’s all because of Jesus!
We’ll get to know this Jesus and why and how he made this possible as we continue through the book of Matthew.