The Supernatural and The Natural, The Saviour and The Sinner
Christ’s birth happened in such a way where God’s great power was displayed and at the same time, human responsibility and obedience played a vital role. God is sovereign and his purposes come to pass through human means as we will see here in Matthew 1:18-25. Or to put it another way, the events surrounding the first Christmas was both supernatural and natural.
Supernatural and Divine
The coming of the messiah was first and foremost a supernatural act initiated by God. Apart from Him, no one can cause this to happen.
Christ’s birth and its surrounding events were supernatural in more than one way:
1) The announcement of his birth was supernatural(verse 20; Luke 1:26-35).
2)His conception and birth was supernatural.(verse 18) ¹In the Bible, only four ways are noted to get a body(or come into flesh):
- without a man or a woman–as Adam did, made from the dust of the earth;
- with a man, but no woman–as Eve did, made from Adam’s side;
- with a man and a woman–as all humans are born;
- or with a woman, but no man–as Jesus was born, having an earthly mother but no biological father. Mary conceived her by the Holy Spirit.
3) The origin of the prophecy about the virgin conception and birth of Christ was supernatural.(verse 22-23)
Christ’s coming was not an afterthought. It was spoken by the Lord, and since the Lord has spoken, it will surely come to pass.
4) The purpose of his birth was supernatural.(verse 21)
He came to supernaturally save his people from their sins because sin’s power is supernatural(Ephesians 2:1-4).
We must also remember that any act of condescension on God’s part will always be supernatural.
Natural and Human
The birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it was also natural.
- God chose a human being to be the bearer of God(verse 18).
- God gave Joseph the responsibility of naming the child Jesus.
- God gave Joseph the responsibility to maintain Mary’s virginity until she gave birth to her son(verse 25).
- Joseph did all that was entrusted to him.(verse 24)
Outward righteousness is an obstacle to true righteousness(verse 18-20)
But before we admire Joseph for his obedience, let’s look at him in his not so admirable moment. He was a “righteous” man, and how others might view him publicly matters to him. However, a mere righteousness in the sight of men can become an obstacle in trusting God. But an angel of the Lord came at the right time when Joseph was contemplating an outward obedience to the Law instead of doing what’s really lawful in the sight of God, namely to love the way God loves. Since Joseph was not allowed to have marital relationship with Mary during the betrothal period, he’s risking his reputation as a righteous man in taking her still as his wife.
One of two things might tarnish his reputation; 1) some will accuse him of harboring someone who broke the law, or 2) that Joseph and Mary had a child out of wedlock, hence committed fornication. If Joseph’s concern was for his own righteousness in the sight of men only, he would’ve rejected the child who can provide him a righteousness that is counted as his in the sight of God.
Supernatural revelation(verses 20-21)
Notice that a supernatural revelation was needed to persuade Joseph not to be frightened about what others might think in receiving Mary. Without divine intervention, he was left to himself contemplating his self-righteousness like the rest of us. So an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid because the child Mary conceived was from the Holy Spirit.
Do not be afraid for God is with us(verses 22-23)
Take note of how the angel addressed Joseph. He said to him, “Joseph, son of David.” He’s calling attention to how the Lord reminded king Ahaz and the family of David to calm down, and not be afraid or intimidated by the enemies in Isaiah 7:4-5. In a similar manner, Joseph was not to be intimidated by mere men because God is with him. It is not what others might devise or say against him that matters, what really matters is that God is with him. Now if the family of David was doubting God they may ask Him for a sign, even a miraculous one. The sign given to them for both God’s judgment against the wicked and salvation for his people was the coming of a child, born of a virgin. So in saying to Joseph that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit born of a virgin, he’s telling him that he was favored by God.
The God who is with us(verse 21)
The Greek form of the name Iesous , which was translated into Latin as Jesus, is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves” (Yahweh is typically rendered as “Lord” in the OT). It was a fairly common name among Jews in 1st century Palestine ². In the OT, there are two well-known Joshuas: the soldier who led Israel into Canaan (see the Book of Joshua), and the high priest mentioned in Zech 3. Christ is our Captain of Salvation, leading us to victory. He is our Great High Priest, representing us before the throne of God ³. In both ways God is with his people. Take note that the child was to be named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. There are four things to take note of in this statement:
1) Jesus came to save from the tyranny of sin.(1 Corinthians 15:55-57) Sin was disarmed by the coming, death and resurrection of Christ.
2) Jesus came to save sinners not the righteous.(Mark 2:17) This flies in the face of Joseph’s concern for personal public righteousness, however having learned that this child would provide him the righteousness in the sight of God and not men, he willingly risked his public reputation.
3) Not all people are his people and that he came to save only his people.(John 10:11-17)
4) He is the saviour of all kinds of people. Salvation is not for the Jews only but also for the gentiles. Notice the words, “being interpreted.” Why should the word, “Emmanuel,” in the Hebrew, be interpreted at all? Was it not to show that it has reference to us Gentiles and, therefore, it must be interpreted into one of the chief languages of the then existing Gentile world, namely, the Greek?
Christ came with the intent to save and not to fail to save. He came with the intent to save only his people from different nations. He died definitively for his sheep only. Jesus did not came hoping that the non elect would believe. He did not came just to potentially save but actually save his people from their sins. Now let’s return to Joseph, a “righteous” man who thought that this child was conceived in iniquity. But in reality, this same child is the righteous One of God, and Joseph was the one conceived in iniquity and needed saving. When he heard the good news of salvation from his sins, he believed and obeyed no matter the cost. It may cost him his reputation or Mary’s reputation, but it doesn’t matter because true righteousness is found only in the one who can save him from his sins.
- In what ways the birth of Christ and its surrounding events Supernatural and at the same time Natural?
- Did Christ came to save all human beings?
- Why did Matthew bother to translate the Hebrew word “Emmanuel”?
References: ¹ Warren Wiersbe’s Commentary ² NET Study Bible Notes, ³ Warren Wiersbe’s Commentary