Nativity Lectures 2021 (2)

Divine Intervention

Holy places, holy days and ordinary day-to-day items populate the Bible story. In fact, the people of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth would probably like to be remembered as occupied with their custody of holy things. Although time was a sacred and familiar thing that is familiar to all the people, neither the hour, day, month or year appear in Matthew’s narrative. The alignment of Israel’s annual feasts with the great acts of God and the events of Jesus’ life and mission (Passover, Pentecost, Unleavened Bread, Tabernacles, and Harvest) seems incomplete when his coming into the world to be the saviour of the world has no counterpart to his departure on Passover or (Matthew 26:2, 17, 18, 19). A birthday was not on Matthew’s agenda. The writer brings us instead to the child’s holy pedigree, and the certainty of what the couple was experiencing. Who would have thought that the incredible story being told by Matthew about Mary and Joseph could have, perhaps at least, a prophetic framework?

The unprecedented holy child

“The conception is holy” must certainly mean that the operations were beyond the normal, beyond what we can expect. If the Child who has been conceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit, then the mother and her husband are in grand company. It is no secret that childbirth is well-documented as straying away from the normal. The pregnancies of well-known women after what seemed like infertility are witness: among them are Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Miracle babies are famous, but “holy child” suggests an entirely new horizon. Of course, all the miracle babies are special and unique, but this is the first time that the mother-to-be has never had sexual relations, and the expectant parents receive instruction about the child’s name. The fingerprint of grace and justice – targeted – at Mary – is unprecedented with the prospect of people’s sins being remitted apart from the animal sacrifice procedures, because a Davidide was not going to be serving as a priest in the system Mary and Joseph knew.


Joseph and Mary knew the baby was going to be male. They knew that the baby was going to have a name that tells what his function in the world would be.  Joseph could not feel the usual pride of having an heir as do Israelite men with an interest in the continuation of their name. Every male wants a male heir, even though inheritance of property and prestige was not restricted to males (See Numbers 36 for the innovation of women’s inheritance rights). Abraham obviously felt that pride when Isaac was born: he had an heir. This was not Joseph’s experience. His genes had nothing to do with this yet unborn baby called salvation, but it makes sense that “taking the pregnant betrothed Mary to be his wife” demonstrated Joseph’s opportunity to take up and put on one of the most complex instances of the paternal mantle. Furthermore, Scripture calls the couple “his parents” (Luke 2). Joseph’s parental role appears in that anxious moment when Yeshua, at age twelve, talks to Mary and Joseph about the temple as his father’s house” (Luke 2:49). Yeshua is to be pictured “in submission to” his parents.

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:21

The facts as they occur, along with the dream instructions, give the couple confidence, but there is more on that score. At some point, Mary and Joseph are fully aware that a new era was dawning from her contact with John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth. More reason to be thrilled at their distinction as caretakers of God’s anointed Saviour of his people from their sins comes from the prophetic legacy. Here was more evidence on which to proceed with caring for the child.

Still we have no birth story. Matthew reports the marriage of Yeshua’s mother as Joseph complies with the angel’s instructions in the dream, telling us  “Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,” (Matthew 1:18-24, NASB)

The certainty of the events

Yeshua’s birth comes in a prophetic envelope. There are the already-mentioned women who had children after it was established that they were infertile, but all these developments are part of the fulfilment of predictions. Matthew presents two from Isaiah, (A) virgins have babies and B) a baby named “GOD-WITH-US”. Predictions have a way of outlasting the people who first hear it, and prophetic intervention is not always welcome. Take the experience of Moses, Jeremiah, Micah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist, who all knew what it means not to receive the respect of their countrymen (Matthew 13:53, Mark 6:4, John 4:44).

22) Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: (  23) “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 

Matthew 1:22-23

John the Baptist’s parents ran into questions about naming their child off the beaten trail. Naming a child “Salvation” and accepting his presence as God’s presence breaks new ground, the very ground that will lead to Golgotha, death, and resurrection. “A created being” cannot be God, was the rebuttal of the leaders of Judaism at the time. A man cannot be even “son of God”, and God cannot be the father of one human being, and a man cannot be the salvation of people. Israel’s ancient redemption is said to be paid for by the giving up of Egypt, Saba and Ethiopia. But the disciples of Yeshua would come to know that redemption is connected with the giving of a life (Colossians 1:14, Galatians 3:13).