Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25
Epistle: 1 John 4:7-16
Lesson: Is. 7:10-14
Psalm: Psalm 110:1-4
CLB Commentary – Dr. David Veum
That God is with us—Emmanuel—means that God has forgiven our sin. “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The context of the text is as follows. The Old Testament ended with warning, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. The book of Matthew begins with genealogy of Jesus the Messiah. He is descended from Abraham—the promised Seed—and from David—the promised King.
Our pericope gives the other line of the genealogy of Jesus: He is the Son of God. This pericope is not about Joseph. This pericope is about Jesus as the Son of God. Matthew carefully tells the story for his Jewish readers to demonstrate to them that Jesus is divine. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Greek preposition denotes origin. It “introduces the role of the male.”1
Matthew then tells the story of God’s intervention in Joseph’s life. How could he take a pregnant woman as his wife when he clearly was not the father? Matthew tells us. “Joseph son of David,” the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Of course Joseph’s obedience is a part of the story, but it is not the main story. The main story is that this child conceived in Mary’s womb is the Son of God. He is God the Son.
The Evangelist then shows the readers the prophetic proof that this was to be just as he was reporting it. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel!” (which means “God with us”).
He then returns to the narrative. Joseph woke up. He did what the Lord commanded. Then with a delicacy that our English translations cannot quite capture, Matthew, using the Hebrew euphemism, makes it clear that it was physically impossible for Joseph to have been the father of Jesus.
Why is all of this so important? The catechism states this so clearly when it asks, “Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true man? It was necessary for our Savior to be true man in order that He might fulfill the law for us, and suffer and die in our place. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. He is fully human. Then the catechism asks, “Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true God?” It was necessary for our Savior to be true God so that His blood might have unlimited power to pay for the sins of all people.
When this unique person, God and human, was born, Joseph did just as he was told. He gave him the Name Jesus, the name the angel had said to give him. Why this name? Because he would save his people from their sins.
The thesis in the opening line of this summary follows from the parallelism in the naming found in verses 21 and 23. The prophet Isaiah had told unbelieving Ahaz that this virgin-born future child would be named “Emmanuel.” El—the almighty God—with us! Then Matthew’s account puts the name “Jesus” in parallel with Emmanuel. Thus we ought to conclude that God being with us ultimately means that God forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake.
Why is this important? It’s easy to say, “The Lord be with you.” It’s common to long for God to be with us when we are troubled. Ahaz wanted deliverance from Israel, but he did not want a savior from sin. He would not ask a sign. We have no promise that God is with us unless he is with us first as the one who forgives us our sins. On the other hand, when we wonder, “Could God ever be with me, sinner that I am,” the name “Jesus” promises me the forgiveness of all of my sin and promises me that God is with me.
A couple more notes. The word of “sin,” ‘αμαρτια, is commonly referred to as “missing the mark.” But here it has a broader meaning. The scholar Colin Brown notes, “For Paul sin is almost a personal power which acts in and through man.” That is the sense one should think of here when we are told that the child was named Jesus because he would save us from our sins.
Finally, the name “Jesus” in Hebrew is Yeshua, “Yahweh saves.” The Hebrew verb for “save” means originally “to be roomy, broad, to make wide the narrow place.” Sin has put us in the very narrow place. There is no way out of God’s judgment. But Christ has made wide that narrow place. Even the grave, perhaps the narrowest place of all in a concrete sense, no longer is that very narrow place because Jesus has saved us from our sins and broken open even the grave itself.
The Name of Jesus assures us that God is with us this Christmas.
1) Because of his birth certificate
a. Conceived by the Holy Spirit
b. Born of the Virgin Mary
2) Because of his birth announcement
a. Jesus, saving from the narrow place of judgment
b. Emmanuel, God with us.
1 “εκ”, BAGD.