Sermon — Matthew 1:18 — The Genesis of the Earthly Life of the God-Man

9 Oct

We have seen how the genealogy pointed to the fact that Jesus was a great King, the greater David who would reign forever. So the genealogy tells us who Jesus is and the account in Matthew 1:18-25 tells us how and why He came. We are going to look at the first aspect of that account this week. In future weeks we’ll look at Joseph’s role and at how this text fulfills Old Testament prophecy. This morning we’re looking at the genesis, or beginnings, of the earthly life of the God-man. This message breaks into three parts. The first part is the first sentence in verse 18 where we will talk about the issue of genesis, or beginnings. In the second part we’ll focus on the earthly life of Jesus from the second sentence in verse 18. Then we’ll conclude this morning by looking at the last phrase in verse 18 and reflecting on Jesus’ nature as fully God and fully man.

Matthew 1:18 then is about “the genesis of the earthly life of the God-Man.”

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

We see first . . .

The GENESIS     (1:18a).

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

In this first sentence the Greek word genesis is used for birth. It was a common word for birth but there were other options as well. I believe Matthew used it on purpose as a Jew writing to Jews to show the parallel between the coming of Jesus and God’s work in creation.

In Genesis, we read those wonderful first words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was spread upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” And then in chapter 2, when the account of the creation of man is given, God breathed into Adam the breath of life.

Now we know if we’ve read our Bibles that the gospel of John picks up the parallel between Genesis and Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In Him was light . . . the light shines in the darkness.” So John shows one aspect of Jesus’ relation to creation, namely that as God He was there and was instrumental in the formation of the universe. So on one level Jesus never had a beginning, He is eternal God. But on the other hand, Jesus, in coming to earth, had a beginning as to His human origin and this is what Matthew addresses. Like John, Matthew connects Jesus to the creation account in Genesis but in a more subtle way. Matthew shows us that the actual birth of Jesus had many connections with the creation account in Genesis. First, we see in the word genesis that as God created the world in the book of Genesis now He is bringing the new creation through the birth, the earthly genesis, of His Son. Second, as the Spirit moved over the face of the water and was instrumental in bringing shape to the creation, so the Spirit is involved in the virgin birth. God does not tell us exactly how it happened, only that it happened. As in the creation account there is some mystery about how the Spirit was involved but no doubt that He was involved, so it is with the Spirit at the birth of Christ. And as the Spirit gave life to Adam in chapter 2, so the Spirit gives life to Jesus in the womb of Mary. Matthew intends for His readers to see this connection to Jesus and this new work of creation.

We are also reminded through this reference to the book of Genesis of the reason why Jesus came: Adam and Eve tempted by the devil sinned against God and brought a curse on humanity, leading to our separation from God and His eternal judgment of humanity. But even there, in Genesis 3:15, God made a promise to do something about the problem of sin. God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” This is fascinating because even back in Genesis God promises that He will deal with the problem of sin. This is called in theological circles the protoeuangelion, the first gospel, because it is the first hint in the Bible that God is going to do something to deal with the problems sin has caused. And doesn’t it show the grace of God that He doesn’t wait at all to disclose the fact that He is going to do something about sin? He is going to do something to crush the head of satan. And did you notice what He is going to do? He is going to bring an individual man (notice “He” will crush your head) and He is going to bring that individual man through the woman. One of Eve’s descendants, a woman, is going to have a child who will crush the head of Satan. Now Adam had been the one whom God had instructed about obedience, Adam had been the one who was initially held responsible for the sin, but now Adam is not in the picture. It is through a woman that the Savior would come. And then when we get to Matthew, what do we find with regard to Jesus? Joseph, though an honorable man, has nothing to do with the coming of Jesus into the world. Instead, the Holy Spirit overshadows the woman Mary and she carries this baby and gives birth to the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, the Messiah Jesus. Did you notice in verse 18 how he is called Jesus Christ? That name Christ is not His last name, it is a title, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, the Savior. So in Genesis, God promises saving seed from a woman and in Matthew, God delivers that seed through a woman.

As Matthew’s readers reflected on the fall of humanity in Genesis and read through this passage, another connection would become clear. In Genesis, a man is born who would succumb to sin. Adam would rebel against God and plunge the human race into condemnation. We have all inherited Adam’s sin nature and all follow Him in our rebellion against God. But in Jesus what do we have? Look down at the angels words in verse 21, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So in Adam we have one who gave in to sin but in Jesus we have one who saves from sin. This reminds me of the great contrast set forth in Romans 5, where Paul compares Adam and Jesus . . .

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We see secondly in verse 18 a focus on the phrase . . .

Of the EARTHLY Life (1:18b).

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child . . .

There are three aspects of Jesus’ earthly life which are worth noting here. First, the birth of Jesus was miraculous. Mary became pregnant before while still a virgin. She had been betrothed to Joseph but they had never had had sexual relations, nor had she been with anyone else in that way.

Betrothal was like engagement but was a stronger commitment. Usually marriages were arranged by parents in the Jewish world of the New Testament, so Mary and Joseph were set up with one another and betrothal was usually for about a year until the marriage ceremony could be held. You had to legally be divorced after you were betrothed, so it was not just a matter of breaking an engagement, it was a legal thing. But here she is pregnant as a virgin. This is clearly miraculous.

It is also mysterious. The Bible does not give us much detail about how Jesus was conceived and there are few details of the actual birth of Jesus. There is much mystery surrounding the birth of Jesus. How could Mary conceive a son in such a miraculous way? How could Jesus be fully human and fully divine? There are many mysteries in the Bible which are mysteries even though they are clearly taught in the Bible. We can’t fully understand the Trinity for example, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it. I view the virgin birth in this way. I can’t understand exactly how it happened but it is clear that it did happen, so I believe it.

Finally, the earthly life of Jesus in His birth is misunderstood. Obviously, a young woman (and Mary was probably about 14-16 years old) being pregnant without any sexual contact would be hard for others to believe. The text seems to say that Mary didn’t trumpet her pregnancy but that she was “found to be with child” meaning that she had started to show and was probably somewhere in the second trimester when Joseph discovered her pregnancy. There are indications later in the text that Joseph was disturbed about Mary’s pregnancy, and who wouldn’t be? He dealt with her kindly, but this had to have been a very difficult experience for him. He surely would have felt that Mary had betrayed him because a virgin birth seemed impossible. And for Mary, this would have been a very difficult experience as well. In spite of the fact that she knew her child was from God, it must have been hard for Mary knowing that she was going to be thought of poorly by many people around her and that perhaps her betrothed Joseph would reject her.

Isn’t it amazing that these three themes are a pretty good description of Jesus’ whole life? Miraculous, mysterious, misunderstood. You could trace that as a theme pretty effectively all through the gospels. I even think it is a pretty good description of life as a follower of Jesus. True Christian living is miraculous, mysterious and misunderstood.

So Matthew 1:18 is about the genesis of the earthly life of Jesus. And finally the last phrase . . .

Of the GOD-MAN        (1:18c).

from the Holy Spirit.

The baby born in Bethlehem is fully human and fully divine. He is the Son of Man and the Son of God. It is an amazing thing to think that Jesus came into this world as a baby. He cried, he did all the things babies do. The Christmas songs make it sound like everything was perfectly calm but the birth of Jesus was not the sanitized, serene picture portrayed by most nativity scenes.

In becoming human, Jesus took on the limitations of humanity. He had to grow and develop. He grew tired. He felt the range of human emotions. He became hungry. As a baby he was dependent on His parents. He learned as He grew up, growing in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man, as we read in Luke 2. Jesus’ humanity was so complete that many of those closest to Him, like His half-brothers and those of His hometown, did not at first recognize Him as God.

Jesus was fully man and so is personally familiar with our struggles, our ailments, our trials. We have a Savior who knows what it is like to suffer as a man.

At the same time, Jesus was fully God. Matthew will show us throughout his gospel how Jesus is God. He has power over demons, He has power over nature, He has power over disease, He has power over the forgiveness of sins, He has power over death. So when we see Jesus’ miracles, it is no surprise. Jesus is God. Of course He can walk on water, He created water!

Jesus is the God-Man. Is He fifty-fifty? No. He is fully human and He is fully God. How is this possible? We can’t fully explain it. But we believe it because the Bible clearly teaches it. Jesus’ natures as God and as Man are unified. He can be an acceptable sacrifice for us because He is a human being, fully identified with those He came to save and He can be an effective sacrifice for us because He is God, perfect in all His ways.

As David Platt says, “The incarnation is the most profound mystery in the whole universe. This mystery is encapsulated in what Matthew writes about the virgin birth of Jesus. There are, after all, other ways Jesus could have come into the world. On the other hand, if He had come without any human parent, then it would have been hard for us to imagine or believe that He could really identify with us. On the other hand, if He had come through human parents – a biological mother and a biological father – then it would be hard to imagine how He could be fully God since His origin would have been exactly the same as ours. But God, in His perfect wisdom and creative sovereignty, ordained a virgin birth to be the avenue through which Christ would come into the world.”

So this morning as we recover from the celebrations and the presents and the family and the food, let us not forget that in Jesus we’ve already received our greatest gift. Have you received Him? Do you know Him? No matter your age today, no matter what your Christmas was like, you can finish the year in a wonderful way by bowing your heart to Jesus. Maybe today is a day for you to begin again. No matter who you are or what you have been through, I call you this morning to trust in Jesus this morning and begin following Him today.

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