Matthew 1:18-25 – The Birth of Jesus the Messiah


Matthew 1:18-25


Joseph, a righteous son of David, in obedience to the command of an angel, the prophetic promise of scripture, and events that are “from the Holy Spirit” (1:18, 20), recognizes this miraculous conception, takes Mary as his wife, and adopts the child as his own by naming him Jesus according to angelic instruction.


However brief, Matthew’s narrative captures the promise and the mystery of God’s action in Jesus and at the same time introduces important and distinctive Matthean themes. The word genesis (“birth,” 1:18) places the whole event within the creative activity of God from the beginning. God is here doing a new and yet an old thing. The explicit reference to fulfillment of prophecy for both the conception and the name “Emmanuel” (“God is with us”; 1:23) clearly marks this event as the intentional action of God. The fact that this theme brackets Matthew’s story in Jesus’ promise to be “with you always” (28:20) confirms its importance. Matthew takes pains to explain that the name of Jesus also is significant, as the sign that he will be the agent of God’s salvation, and that this salvation will have to do with the forgiveness of sins (1:21).

The naming of Mary and Joseph and the refusal to sidestep the issue of an uncomfortable pregnancy outside of wedlock remind the reader that it is precisely in the common events of family and relationships that God’s salvation takes place. Often overlooked in Christmas celebrations is the fact that it is Joseph, not Mary, who holds center stage. That the singular word “righteous” is used to describe Joseph introduces one of the most important Matthean themes for the first time. Provocative then is that we see in this righteous Joseph one who risks disobedience to the tradition and the law for the sake of obedience to the command and promise of God, given through the angel in a dream. Joseph’s obedience is underscored by the verbal symmetry of the command of the angel and the response of Joseph.