Monday, May 12, 2014

The Circumstances of Jesus’ Birth

Matthew 1:18-25

“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.” (Matthew 1:18)

As a man writing primarily from his personal experience, Matthew starts with just the simple statement that before she and Joseph had ever been sexually involved, Mary became pregnant with Jesus through the action of the Holy Spirit.   Luke, on the other hand, wrote what he learned from interviewing the different people involved.  He describes Mary’s experience. 

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.  And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-35)

Had it not been for Luke’s different approach to the story, we would not know about the miraculous birth of John the Baptist or the details of Christ’s conception, although both emphasize the critical aspect of the virgin birth.

“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” (Matthew 1:19)

 In Deuteronomy 22:13-21, the law commanded, “If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.

But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.”

Claims of sexual promiscuity were serious charges under the law.  That Mary was pregnant left little question that under the law, Joseph had every grounds for having her executed.   Because he cared for her, and didn’t want to punish her unduly for something that was not solely her fault, Joseph preferred not to exercise his right. Instead just privately breaking off their engagement.

“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.” (Matthew 1:20-25)

While Joseph was still considering what to do, the Angel appeared unto him telling him not to worry, that Mary had not been sexually promiscuous and that it was the fulfilling of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Assured of Mary’s fidelity, Joseph took Mary as his wife, adopting Jesus as his son and protecting them from any claims of illegitimacy.  Clearly, Joseph was not only a just man bout a man of great faith.

Because of Joseph’s action in adopting Jesus as his son, his right to the throne of David would nt be questioned. 

Luke 2 provides the details of Jesus birth in Bethlehem, fulfilling The prophecy of Micah 5:2, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”   Luke also details announcement of his birth by the angels, the visit by the shepherds, and the adoration of Anna and Simeon, as well as his circumcision when eight days old, as the law prescribed.  Luke learned these things by interviewing those who were there.

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