My Life Group lesson for Dec. 13, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
What are your favorite Christmas songs?
How many of them reference the virgin birth?
“Offspring of a Virgin's womb” (Hark the Herald Angels Sing)
“Round yon Virgin Mother and Child” (Silent Night)
“This day is born a Savior, Of a pure Virgin bright” (God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen)
“The virgin sings her lullaby.” (What Child is This)
“Jesus and His virgin birth” (Angels We Have Heard on High)
How important is it to you that the virgin birth is true?
It’s actually something that many don’t believe. A couple of polls several years ago showed:
--- 56 percent of the students in protestant seminaries studying for the ministry rejected the idea of the virgin birth.
--- 69 percent of American Baptists believed in the virgin birth.
--- 66 percent of the Lutherans believed in the virgin birth.
--- 57 percent of the United Presbyterians.
--- 39 percent of the Episcopalians.
--- 34 percent of the Methodists.
--- 21 percent of the Congregationalists believed in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
The Bible says Jesus was born of a virgin. If you don’t believe God is capable of something supernatural like that, then it’s easier for you to doubt God’s sovereignty and Jesus’ divine nature, not to mention think the Bible is capable of lying.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** This lesson begins our study of the Gospel of Matthew.
--- Appropriately we begin in December with the coming of Jesus.
*** Chapter 1, verses 2 through 16 give the genealogical record of Jesus. It was important for readers of the time to understand that Jesus was from the line of Abraham and David.
--- God promised to bless all nations through Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). To David God promised to establish his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:16). God fulfilled both of those promises through Jesus.
*** In Matthew 1:18-25, we will see how the miraculous birth of this baby, unlike any other babies, fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies.
--- God’s greatest promise was that a Messiah would come to save His people. Throughout much of the history of the Old Testament, God’s people anticipated that Messiah’s arrival.
God never forgot His people or His promise. He simply waited for just the right moment in history.
SUPERNATURAL CONCEPTION (Matt. 1:18)
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
*** “Unto us, a child is born. Unto us, a son is given.”
--- Joseph: You are not the father.
--- It may seem like the Maury Povich Show, but Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus. (But like on Maury, he could take it two ways: Celebrate, or throw chairs.)
--- Verse 16 is carefully worded to not say that Joseph is the father, instead pointing out he's the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.
*** “Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”
--- Prior to the finalization of the marriage of Mary and Joseph, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She conceived without a sexual relationship with a man; she was a virgin. Divine activity existed as the only possible way for that to happen.
--- Every birth is a miracle, but Mary's virgin pregnancy occurred in a way that had never happened before or since.
--- In the ancient Greek myths, so-called gods were often getting women pregnant by taking on human form and having sex with them. The people of Jesus’ time would be familiar with many such stories.
But Mary’s conception differed in the sense that God made her pregnant miraculously. No physical encounter took place. God creates life in the way He chooses.
*** Question – Why was it important that Jesus be born of the Holy Spirit and not man?
(Jesus' conception was supernatural, in order that He could be both fully human and fully divine. If he was just another “son of Adam” he couldn’t do this.)
PROMISED MESSIAH (Matt. 1:19-23)
19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. 20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
*** “Mary, did you know?”
--- Yes, she knew. Stop asking. But how about Joseph?
--- Joseph was called a righteous dude, so we know that God had a good opinion of him.
--- Mary and Jesus were engaged, which was a year-long process in which they lived separately, but they were considered husband and wife. To end the relationship during that period required divorce.
--- Joseph took some prodding to convince him that Mary was actually pregnant by God and not man. If Mary had cheated on him, then divorce was a given, and stoning wasn’t out of the picture, either.
--- Her pregnancy couldn’t be hidden. It was going to be the talk of the town. This would be embarrassing for Joseph and his family as well.
--- Joseph, however, as a righteous man of mercy and kindness, didn’t want to disgrace Mary publicly, so he was going to divorce her quietly and not make a scene.
--- As in Deut. 24:1, Joseph could divorce her secretly, write a certificate of divorce and send her on her way. The law was on his side. But the Lord had other plans.
--- It's hard to put ourselves in Joseph and Mary's shoes. They are probably just teenagers in an unforgiving world.
*** "Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angel voices."
--- An angel changes Joseph's mind.
--- God often communicated through angels and through dreams, so this was nothing new.
--- The angel reassured Joseph that since this was all God's great plan and Mary had not been unfaithful, Joseph was encouraged not to fear the consequences of marrying an already-pregnant woman.
*** “Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!”
--- The angel directed Joseph to name the child born to Mary. As the legal father, the task of naming belonged to Joseph. Typically the naming process took place on the eighth day after birth, the day of circumcision for a Jewish male child. Although Joseph declared the name of the child, the actual name originated from God.
--- The name Jesus, Joshua in Hebrew, was common in that day. It means “Yahweh is salvation.”
*** "Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
--- Jesus came to save His people from their sins. The Jews were looking for the savior promised by God, but they anticipated a human, political-military leader to save them from Roman domination. They are still looking.
--- Verse 23 quotes Isaiah 7:14, which says that a virgin will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel. This name means “God is with us.” The child Jesus became “God is with us” to deliver people from sin.
--- Throughout Matthew there are 12 mentions where Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies. The long-promised Messiah finally showed up, and He was everything God intended Him to be.
*** Question - Can you recall a time when you faced a situation in which none of your options seemed good, but God provided a better solution? What is required of you if, like Joseph, you are to receive direction from God in times of trouble or uncertainty?
OBEDIENCE REQUIRED (Matt. 1:24-25)
24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.
*** "Ave Maria! Undefiled!"
--- Joseph obeys.
--- Just as we saw in Genesis just how fast Abraham responded to God's instructions, Joseph woke up and didn't dilly-dally, doing as the angel commanded.
--- Once he knew God's will, he followed it. He passed the test. Even though his community might stigmatize his family, he stuck with her, took the child as his own, and he married her.
--- He obeyed God even though the law gave Joseph an easier option. He found that real righteousness equals doing things God’s way.
--- Obedience often requires the sacrifice of personal preferences in favor of the desires of God. But ultimately God rewards submission to His direction.
*** “Go tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere, Go tell it on the mountain, Our Jesus Christ is born.”
--- Mary and Joseph abstained from sex prior to Jesus’ birth. This left no doubt that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born.
--- They went on to have several children together.
--- Joseph set a great example for fathers who step up to take care of a child not of their own seed.
*** Question - How would you describe the example set by Joseph?
I know it's hard to imagine, but think about if you walked into your kids' rooms and toys were everywhere. You ask - or demand - for them to clean up. What kind of responses do you usually get? (For example: obediently responds, argues back, continues to play but later obeys, throws a tantrum, and so on.)
Now think about how the child’s different responses reflect our responses when God calls us to obey His call to action. Is partial obedience really obedience? How can we imitate Joseph’s obedience in our lives today?
*** God works through ordinary people (vv. 18-21).
--- He knows our plans: how they are different from His (Isa. 55:8-9).
--- He directs our path: He has promised to give us direction (Prov. 3:5-6).
*** Share the good news of Christmas, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine and did the saving work of God.
*** God works through our obedience.
--- Joseph faced a difficult challenge common to every believer. Once you know God’s will, are you prepared to follow it?