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Matthew 1:20-23 1

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Background

This study represents the third week of Advent. In it, we will spend time looking at the name “Immanuel,” what it means, what it meant to the Jewish nation when Christ was born and what it means to us today, in the middle of both a pandemic and political chaos.

Our study begins with Joseph giving serious thought, contemplating the events that are unfolding in his life. His fiancé is pregnant! He does not act hastily and, although permitted by law, does not take the course which the law would have permitted him to do. In this, we see a minor but important lesson, when faced with even clear choices, God calls us to reflect carefully on our decisions. If Joseph had been hasty, violent, or unjust, he could have permanently affected his own happiness and his personal reputation along with that of Mary’s too. As Psalm 25:9 tells us, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”

The word “angel” literally means a messenger and is typically given to those invisible holy beings who have not fallen into sin and who live in heaven (1 Timothy 5:21; Jude 1:6), Scriptures tell us that they are sent forth to minister to those who are destined for God’s favor and salvation. Angels are those unfallen, happy spirits that are in heaven already, whose dignity and pleasure it is to do the will of God. We find them communicating to mankind through dreams, visions, and human appearances.

It is not uncommon for God to communicate His will with people through dreams. We find some examples in Genesis 20:3; Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:11, Genesis 30:24; Genesis 37:5; Genesis 41:1; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1; Job 4:13-15; just to highlight a few. In this dream, Joseph is told, reassured, that he should not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about Mary’s virtue and purity. God’s direct will as told by the angel is for Joseph to take Mary as his wife. Most importantly, he is to treat her as his wife. This is to be a “no compromise” relationship. Why was this happening? Because her pregnancy is that of the Holy Spirit, a creation of divine power, God’s perfect will. This child was then prepared to be pure and holy, and free from the corruption of sin. Why again? Because in order that this Child might be qualified for His great work, it was necessary to be free of sin. This speaks to one of the great standards of belief that Christians have, the belief in Mary’s immaculate conception. The other standard is that Jesus was and is without sin.

Joseph was given very specific instructions to name this child Jesus. No Joe junior here. The name “Jesus” comes from the verb meaning saves. In Hebrew it is the same as Joshua. While the angel does not share with Joseph or Mary the full story, we know that Jesus will save people by dying for their redemption and by giving them the Holy Spirit to renew them (John 16:7-8). Through the gift of the Cross, people will be able to overcome their spiritual enemies. Jesus will defend them from danger, guide them in the path of duty,  sustain them in trials and even unto death. But the best news is that on that “Last Day” Jesus will raise them up and lead them to a world of purity and love forever.

Jesus had a specific purpose for coming that was created along with our universe itself.

  • Because of our free will and our exercise of it, Jesus had to come to save us, a design created at the moment of the “Apple’s First Bite.” Just check out Genesis chapter 3, it is all right there.
  • To take part in being “Saved,” people, all people, must overcome sin. Unless we give up our sins, unless we renounce the pride, ceremonies, and pleasures of the world, we have no evidence that we are children of God. (1 John 3:7-8)
  • That all who profess Christ as their savior, need to understand that there is no salvation unless it is from sin. Until we are sinless, we can never be admitted to a heaven hereafter. The only way to remove sin is through the blood of Jesus. the Cross.

Our study verses end with a prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy was delivered about 740 years before Christ, in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. The land of Judea was threatened with an invasion by the united armies of Syria and Israel, under the command of Rezin and Pekah. Ahaz was alarmed, and seems to have contemplated calling in aid from Assyria to defend him. Isaiah was directed, reluctantly, to go to Ahaz, and tell him to ask a sign from God (Isaiah 7:10-11). It is what we might say an appropriate story today during our time of COVID-19 and the pandemic. Isaiah said look to God rather than to Assyria for aid. The king refused to do this because he had no confidence in God.  Isaiah answered that, in these circumstances, the God would Himself give a sign, or a pledge, that the land should be delivered. The sign was, that a virgin would have a son, and that Son would save the land taken by these hostile kings. It will not be vaccines, one specific political party or even specific leader(s) that save us. Our response must always be to turn to God first!

The prophecy was therefore designed originally to signify to Ahaz that the land would certainly be delivered from its calamities and dangers, and that the deliverance would not be long delayed. The land of Syria and Israel, united now in confederation, would be deprived of both their kings, and thus the land of Judah would be freed from the threatening danger. This appears to be the literal fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah. That a virgin shall be with child some 740 years later was not envisioned. However, in Matthew’s Gospel, he clearly understands this and is applying it literally to a virgin, this virgin, Mary. In Luke 1:34, he also implies that the conception of Christ was miraculous, or that the body of the Messiah was created directly by the power of God and that is why they call His name Immanuel.

The word “Immanuel” is a Hebrew word literally means “God with us.” The name can be spelled with either an I or E as its first letter, depending on whether you use the Hebrew or Greek word. Matthew understands this and is emphasizing that the Messiah was really “God with us,” or that the divine nature was united with the human Jesus. Matthew intends more than noting just a name here. He had just given an account of the miraculous conception of Jesus,  of His being begotten by the Holy Spirit. God was therefore His Father. Jesus was divine as well as human. His appropriate name, therefore, was “God with us.” And though the mere use of such a name does not prove that Jesus had a divine nature, to Matthew it does, and he meant to use it here,  Jesus is God as well as man.

Items for Discussion

  • How do names influence your opinion of people?
  • Do you know what your name means or how you were given your specific name?
  • Do you believe in angels? Why or why not?
  • To what extent do biblical prophesies influence your faith?
  • Do you think that COVID-19 or the threats of political turmoil are a punishment from God or a gift from God? Explain?
  • To be a Christian, is to accept the virgin birth of Christ – How do you think about it and incorporate the virgin birth into your beliefs and opinions and your faith?
  • Isaiah’s prophesy was that a virtually impossible thing would be shown to the world to prove God is in control – Do you think that the world is so hardened to sin that the only thing it can respond to is the “impossible?”
  • We are given numerous examples in our Bible of problems, like political turmoil or pandemics, that affected people. If you were to recap history, what turned around those bad times? In other words, what did the people do to change course and direction for the better?
  • What signs would you expect to see in a country or State, or city or church or home that it was responding the correct way to God’s call to us?

Discussion Challenge

  • How do we help each other remain faithful in a faithless world?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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