Exposition of Matthew 1:18-25

It has been correctly observed by expositors of Holy Writ that the Gospel of Matthew is written for the believers who were once under the law of the Old Testament, in the days of the types and shadows, but who are now believers in Christ Jesus; that Matthew consequently is writing in this entire Gospel from the viewpoint that in Christ the entire Old Testament promises, covenants, types and shadows are fulfilled. 

This viewpoint explains the fact that when Matthew delineates upon the “Genesis,” the “beginning” of Jesus Christ, he picks up this beginning with the patriarch Abraham. While Luke traces the genealogical line of Christ back from Christ to Adam, Matthew traces the line forward from Abraham to Christ. The line, as given in Matthew 1:1-16, is such that it is from Abraham to David, the king; from David to the Babylonian captivity; and from the Babylonian captivity to the coming of Christ. 

And this is interpreted by Matthew in Chapter 1 verse 17 as follows: “Now all the generation from Abraham unto David are fourteen generations, and from David unto the Babylonian captivity are fourteen generations, and from the Babylonian captivity unto the birth of Christ are fourteen generations.” It is very evident that, in order to arrive at this figure, Matthew must omit some names from the lists of the successive generations. And this can be understood when we notice that Matthew is tracing the rise, the highpoint of Jesse’s house, and its descent to a sawed-off trunk of Jesse’s tree. For Abraham is blessed in the Seed which is to come, that is in him who did not come from the will of man, nor from the will of blood, but who is born by the will of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born from the virgin Mary! 

That the birth of the Seed, of David’s Son and Lord, is different from the conception and birth of every other child which is born to man is foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “For, behold, a virgin shall conceive, and she shall bear a son . . .” 

And this entirely different birth of the Christ is due to the fact that the “beginning” of Jesus Christ is in a class all by itself. Hence Matthew writes: “The birth (genesis) of Jesus Christ was thus.” The manner of the beginning of Jesus Christ, his entire coming into the flesh was in a class and mode all by itself. 

And it raised peculiar problems; it gave a problem to Joseph. Fact is that Jesus was conceived in Mary, conceived by the Holy Ghost, apart from a man, as the only exception to the universa1 rule. Never before or afterwards has a child been conceived in the womb of a woman without the man. And since this was an exception it raised a problem which could only be received by faith; only by faith could Joseph be reconciled to Mary’s condition. 

Let us not forget that, according to the Bible, Mary was espoused to a man named Joseph. Joseph, too, was of the house of David. He is called “Joseph, thou son of David,” in verse 20. However, Joseph is not a son in the royal line. He is placed in this line by Matthew as the father “so-called” (Luke 3:23). He adopted Jesus, Mary’s Son. It seems that Joseph marries Mary since he is the nearest kinsman in the line. However, Mary is the daughter royal from David’s house. Otherwise Jesus is, not out of David as far as the flesh is concerned, the Son royal to sit upon David’s throne. The genealogies in Matthew and Luke are both of Mary, I hold. The line in Luke from Mary’s mother’s side over Nathan, David’s son, and the one in Matthew over Mary’s father, Jacob, from Solomon. 

Such was this Joseph. And we ought not to overlook the fact that no better and more understanding father could have been found. God must have moved Joseph’s heart in a very wonderful way by His Spirit and grace. 

It really required grace of God for Joseph to be reconciled to the situation which God created in this man’s life and that in the relationship of him to his espoused wife. 

For “before they came together” Mary is found with child! 

And that created a moral and spiritual problem. There were, as far as the people of Nazareth were concerned, only two alternatives left them to explain this “case” of Mary. Either she and Joseph had had pre-marital co-habitation, they were guilty of fornication; or Joseph was innocent, and Mary was guilty, virtually, of adultery with another man! Thus the tongues would wag. And that, from a human standpoint, very understandably! And from Joseph’s standpoint there was really only one alternative. Since, in his heart and conscience he was free and innocent, there could only be the stark reality that Mary had played the harlot.

And this was too painful for Joseph. His confidence in Mary was greatly shaken. What every man so jealously desires, to have a chaste and innocent virgin to wife, here was made impossible. If he married Mary he would needs have to be father to the child from another man! 

On the other hand there was Mary’s account. Was it factual, or was it an impossible and preposterous story? Never had it been heard that a woman conceived without a man. And, lo, Mary told him in all truthfulness of the visit by the angel Gabriel some three or more months before. She undoubtedly told him of the angel’s words, of how she had said: “I know not a man” and how Gabriel had told her that “the Holy Ghost would come upon her, that the power of the Highest would overshadow her and that which was to be born of her, that Holy thing, would be called God’s Son!” 

If Zacharias’ faith was severely put to the test in the news that they were to have their son in their old age, surely here was something far more taxing. At least Joseph had not been visited by an angel as had been Zacharias in the temple. Besides, there was a “precedent” in the case of Zacharias in the birth of John from the barren and aged Elizabeth. There was the case, the classic case, of Abraham and Sarah. But always there was a man, be it then a quickened and rejuvenated man! But Joseph had nothing by way of precedent. . . 

And consequently Joseph does what a “just man” will do. He will, according to the law, put Mary away. He will, in effect, divorce her; give her a writing of divorcement. The text says that he would do this “privily”! He would do this without citing the grounds of adultery. Thus he thinks of it and purposes it in his mind. He has come upon the most human solution to this knotty problem. He will try to cut the Gordian knot. He will put her away privily and thus he will leave the real “grounds” for his conduct an open question. The question whether Mary alone is to blame and then some other man, or whether Joseph is to blame for this, the people in Nazareth will needs have to decipher for themselves. If he puts Mary away privily then a measure of the reproach will fall upon Joseph, and Mary will at least be the object of some leniency since the people will opine that Joseph had made her the “innocent” victim of his own possibly evil conduct. 

Thus the pendulum swings between jealousy and loyalty to Mary!! 

And while, in weariness, he fell asleep, behold, the angel of the Lord makes the first of his four visits to Joseph in a dream! 

What a beautiful address: “Joseph, thou son of David,” be not afraid to take Mary to wife. For what Mary told you, Joseph, that is factual. She told you that the “Holy Ghost had come upon her, that the power of the Highest had overshadowed her” and that the child would be “great” and would sit upon the throne of your father David, and be called the “Son of God.” 

Incredulous as that may have sounded in your ears, and a fact without precedent in all the history of the world, that is nonetheless the truth, Joseph. For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And, what is more, Joseph, you are to take Mary to wife and this child to be thy “Son.” He is to be called Jesus. 

And that name you are to give him at the occasion of his circumcision upon the eighth day. You are to give him the name which is above every name. Thou shall call his name JESUS!! 

You are to see in this son of Mary your son by adoption, the well-beloved Son of God, in whom is all God’s good pleasure. For here where all possibility is gone for man to raise up seed to sit upon David’s throne, since you are not in the royal line, God himself has come, without the will of man, to bring forth the Seed, which is Christ. Among all the sons of Jesse, there is none like him. He is not only to be David’s son, but he is also David’s LORD! 

He it is that shall save his people from their sins! 

Other kings delivered Israel from the hands of the surrounding nations. But none were able to make the people themselves free from sin, so that in the just judgment of God they would no more be delivered into the hand of the enemies. But this one, this Son will be a King. He will be the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace! 

When this child is born then you must name him JESUS. 

He is Jehovah God. He is the eternal God. He is God in the flesh. He is the only hope of Israel; he is the root of David, the Lion out of Judah’s tribe and to him shall the gathering of the people be. Only in him does Israel, as nation, have significance and purpose. Only in him does the line from Abraham through David have a consummation, so that no more sons need to be born. He will sit upon the throne forever! After he has served the counsel of God he will not need to be “gathered to his people” and see corruption, but he will go to heaven at God’s right hand to live and pray as the great king-priest. 

Believe this, Joseph! 

He will save all his people. The entire church, both Jews and Gentiles, will he save. He will save them from their sins. He will pay the guilt and debt of sin. He will be the glory of Israel and light of the nations. 

And Joseph believed and obeyed. 

He took Mary to wife and shared her secret in faith! 

He called the little babe’s name: JESUS! 

Why did this all thus come to pass? The answer is that this is the fulfillment of what Jehovah spake through Isaiah to king Ahaz when the latter was given a sign, that upon David’s royal throne there would be no lack of an heir. The royal line had run out of heirs to the throne, humanly speaking. There “was no man.” But now God does the impossible. And this can and need happen once and only once. A virgin shall conceive and bear a son. That is the “sign.” It is one all in its own class. And therefore Joseph’s heart can rest assured. He need not fear to take Mary to wife. He need not be ashamed of this child. Blessed is he who is not offended in him! 

In him the triad of fourteen generations find their climax and fulfillment. God’s covenant is established in him; the promise is fulfilled in this Son of Mary, Son of God. 

Presently she gives birth to her firstborn Son and lays him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn. 

Immanuel, God with us. 

—G.L.