Immanuel: How God Came to Us (Matthew 1:18–25)

advent03This week we started a new sermon series through Matthew 1–2. As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we look to the way Matthew explained his birth as the “fulfillment” of God’s promises of old. For instance, as Matthew writes, Jesus is Son of Abraham and the Son of David (Matthew 1:1), the “Immanuel” promised in Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23), the royal son born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2), and the child like Israel who God brought out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13–15; Hosea 11:1)—to name but a few. 

Matthew’s Gospel begins by introducing  who Jesus is and how to read the Old Testament in the light of his coming. So important is this information about the Messiah’s identity, Matthew crafts a 42-person genealogy to identify Jesus. Two years ago, Jared Bridges preached on Matthew 1:1–-17, so we began this year with Matthew 1:18–-25.

In what follows, I have included discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and resources to consider biblical interpretation and the birth of Jesus Christ. You can listen to or read the sermon on online. Or even better, if you are in Northern Virginia, come join us during this advent season.

Matthew 1:18–25

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Discussion Questions

How Matthew Read the Old Testament

  1. Read Matthew 2:13, 15, 23 (and their surrounding context). How does Jesus “fulfill” the promises of old? Are the quotations Matthew selects direct prophecies from the Old Testament, or does Matthew (taught by Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit) teach us how something of how to read the Old Testament?
  2. Read Isaiah 7–8. How might Isaiah 7:14 be fulfilled in the historical context?
    1. Read the whole sign (7:14–16) and notice its historical marker in v. 16.
    2. Compare the verb choice in 7:14 and 8:3.
    3. Consider the language of “Immanuel” in 8:8, 10 and the use of “sign” to describe Isaiah’s son in 8:18.
    4. Observe the way Isaiah turns to the future in Isaiah 9:1.
    5. Last, see article below on the ambiguity of the word “virgin.” [1] How should we difficult passages? Does context define the word, or does the word find its meaning in context?
  3. What are the benefits and challenges to plumbing the depths of Matthew’s use of Isaiah? Does the difficulty of interpreting Isaiah and Matthew increase or decrease your confidence in the Bible? Why or why not? How can you grow as a reader of the Bible?

Reading Matthew

  1. What was Mary and Joseph’s plight? What were the costs that each had to count in order to follow the Lord? What does God’s calling on their lives teach Christians about God’s blessing? The cost of discipleship?
  2. Multiple times in Matthew 1–2, God directed Joseph through an angelic intervention? Should we expect that today? Why or why not? What is different between Joseph’s situation and ours? (Hint: redemption has been completed; the Holy Spirit has been sent; the Bible is complete; etc.)
  3. Why is it important that the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 comes with the promise of salvation? Is God with us automatically good news? Is it good news for unrepentant sinners?
  4. Stepping back to look at the whole scene (Matthew 1:1–25), how do we see God’s perfect plan in action? How does this (= God’s perfect sovereignty) amplify your worship? How might it increase your confidence in God? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that God is working “all things for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)?

Further Resources

On Interpretation

On the Birth of Christ

As we remember the Lord’s birth this Advent Season, may God fill our hearts with joy in his Son and the way he fulfilled all the ancient promises of redemption.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

[1] Virgin (בְּתוּלָה, bethulah; עַלְמָה, almah; παρθένος, parthenos).

Generally, a woman of marriageable age, with or without focus on virginity; could be translated “girl.” In early Christian literature the term referred to one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. In the Hebrew Bible, “virgin” customarily meant a female who had begun to menstruate and was therefore marriageable (Wenham, “Betûlāh”). Virginity is prized; unmarried girls living in their father’s house are expected to remain virgins until they are married to a man of their father’s choosing.

Consideration of the New Testament and Septuagint’s παρθένος (parthenos) (15 and 64 occurrences, respectively) and the roughly corresponding Hebrew בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) or עַלְמָה (almah) of the Masoretic Text (50 and 11 occurrences, respectively) has confirmed the importance of attending to the literary context in which the terms appear. Both the Hebrew and Greek terms can refer to either sexual status, age, or both, and are therefore alternatively translated as “virgin” or “young woman.”

In her survey of Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian discourse, Mary Foskett has shown that the figure of the virgin “is not a single cultural symbol, nor does she bear a single valence. Rather, she is multidimensional, connoting a spectrum of images and meanings” (Foskett, A Virgin Conceived, 72). Virginity might connote prophetic power as well as vulnerability; purity as well as erotic attraction and danger; single-mindedness as well as physical integrity.

Virgin, Virginity in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism

Frequently the term means simply “girl” or “young woman,” conveyed, for example, in its common pairing with the word for “young man, בָּחוּר (bachur) (Deut 32:25; Isa 23:4; Ezek 9:6; Zech 9:17; Psa 78:63; Lam 1:18; 2:21; 2 Chr 36:17).

When the text wants to emphasize the sexual status of a girl, it occasionally adds the phrase “who has not known a man” (Gen 19:8, 24:16; Num 31:18; Judg 19:30; Judg 21:12). In other contexts, however, where בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) is contrasted with various classes of women who have had sexual experience, it seems probable that the concept of “virgin” is in view (Lev 21:13–14; Ezek 44:22; Judg 11:37–38). Similarly, the plural term בְּתוּלִים (bethulim) in Deut 22:13–21 serves as a “telling sign” of a new bride’s virginity—namely blood of defloration or menstruation.

The mother of Immanuel in Isaiah’s famous oracle to Ahaz (7:14) is a special case. It is difficult to determine whether the translation of the Masoretic Text (MT) עַלְמָה (almah) by παρθένος (parthenos) in the Septuagint (LXX) Isa 7:14 bears the marks of a theologically purposeful deviation (see De Sousa, “Is the Choice of Π, PAPΘ, THENOΣ, S; in LXX Isa. 7:14 Theologically Motivated?”). The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term עַלְמָה (almah) is commonly νεᾶνις (neanis, “young woman”; Exod 2:8; Song 1:3; 6:8; Prov 30:19; Psa 68:25), though παρθένος (parthenos) is used in Gen 24:43 (of Rebekah) and Isa 7:14.

As a result, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since early Christian times as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ (Matt 1:23). On purely lexical grounds, however, it is impossible to say whether the LXX translator of Isa 7:14 is expressing true virginity when he uses παρθένος (parthenos): עַלְמָה (almah) probably has the same sense that בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) and παρθένος (parthenos) had originally, namely, a young woman who has just reached sexual maturity.

The ambiguity and variability of use of the term בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) (and עַלְמָה, almah) in the Hebrew Bible (and παρθένος, parthenos; in LXX) arises from a basic, patriarchal valuation of the premarital female body. Since the בְּתוּלָה (bethulah) was conventionally a virgin, it was not difficult for this meaning to become attached to the word. This was especially the case in relationship to the economics of marriage: a young girl’s virginity was frequently perceived as a temporary, requisite state that preceded proper conjugal relations (Gen 24:16; Exod 22:15–16; Deut 22:13–29; Judg 11:37–40).

J. M. Glessner, “Virgin,” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.