To DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.
Ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and sinned against God, fear has been part of mankind’s daily experience.
We fear what others may think. We fear what tomorrow will bring. We worry about our jobs, our friends, our children, our debts. We fear what the economy will do. We fear wars abroad and violence on our own soil. We fear pain, and sickness, and disease. We fear sadness, depression, and mental illness.
After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us that they heard the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And what did they do? Did they run to their Creator and seek his help for what they had just done? No. They hid from God. And when the Lord called out to Adam, saying, “Where are you?”, Adam replied,
“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,” (Genesis 3:10a ESV).
Our fears are often wrapped up in uncertainty. We don’t know what is going to happen, and this fills us with anxiety. But today, the Lord will dispell our fears by saying, “Do not be afraid. I will provide for you.”
In the days and months before the birth of our Savior, Joseph found himself in a fearful and heavy situation. And yet, through the miraculous appearance of an angel, God provided answers for Joseph, and lifted up his heavy heart.
And in doing so, God was also fulfilling his promise to provide a Savior, a Hero to rescue sinners like us from sin, hell, and fear.
Matthew 1:18-24 (ESV)
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.
To fully understand what was going on here, it’s helpful to be familiar with Jewish marriage customs. Jewish betrothal was not the same thing as American engagement. When a Jewish couple got betrothed, that was a legal binding. They were married. But they didn’t start living together right away. The wife would continue to live with her parents, or wherever she was living, and the husband would prepare their new home.
After a period of time, sometimes a year, the husband would go on a special “marriage walk” to the home of his wife. Then they would walk together, with joyful friends and family, to their new home where a special marriage celebration would take place.
At the beginning of our sermon reading, Joseph and Mary were already betrothed. But the “marriage walk” had not yet taken place. And so it came as quite a surprise to Joseph that his young wife was pregnant. It must have all been very confusing and distressing to him. He knew Mary’s character. She was no promiscuous girl. And he knew that they had not shared a bed. It was not his child growing in her belly. Matthew informs us that this child was from the Holy Spirit, but Joseph didn’t have this information as of yet. And so anxiety gripped him. What was to be done?
It appeared that his wife had already been unfaithful. It appeared that all his work to prepare a home for them had been wasted. With a heavy heart Joseph decided to divorce his wife, though quietly. He had no wish to drag Mary through the mud and subject her to public disgrace. Back then there was a way to go about securing a divorce that required only two witnesses be in attendance, and which required only the vaguest reason to be submitted by the husband. This was the path that Joseph decided to take.
Joseph had a grief-filled problem. But he had arrived at a solution. And though that solution would still be grief-filled, it was all he could think to do. And it was at this point that the Lord stepped in to provide a better solution.
In the dark of night, an angel was dispatched by the Lord to go once again to the city of Nazareth. But this time, this angel was to go to Joseph. The angel pushed through Joseph’s restless turnings and troubled dreams, and appeared to speak on behalf of God.
Is it surprising that the angel’s first words to Joseph were, “do not fear?” It shouldn’t be. This has been the Lord’s message to sinners since the very beginning: Don’t be afraid, I, the Lord will provide.
And all of Joseph’s fears and anxieties were laid to rest in the short and simple message of the Lord’s angel.
“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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV).
Joseph’s crisis was averted. Mary’s Child was not conceived as a product of her unfaithfulness. Instead this Child was the product of God’s faithfulness. Through the life of this Child God would keep the promise he had made to Adam and Eve—to send a Savior to rescue the world of sinners from hell.
All Joseph’s work to prepare a home for them was not wasted. He would not only gain a blessing from God in Mary, his wife, but he would also become the step-father of the Son of God. His dream of a family had not been crushed. His family would be unique among all the families the world had ever known.
And as for Joseph’s grief-stricken decision to divorce Mary—well that plan no longer needed to be carried out. All the puzzling happenings of late had now been revealed as the mysterious workings of the Lord.
And though it was still all very strange and miraculous to Joseph, answer enough had been provided for Joseph’s anxious uncertainty.
May the Lord help us to remember how the Lord works when we find ourselves in heavy and distressing situations. In the same way that the Lord provides food and drink, and clothing and shelter, he will also provide the answers that we need if we but wait for him to do so.
Through the words of the angel, God not only provided answers for Joseph, he also provides insight for us today. He reveals that the Savior of the world was born to a virgin. And this doctrine of the virgin birth is incredibly important in the history of our salvation.
In the book of Genesis we’re told that God created living creatures in “kinds”. That is, when cats get together, they have more cats. When dogs get together, they have more dogs. And the same is true of human beings. When sinful human beings have children, those children are also sinful human beings. Think about it as “spiritual genetics” if that helps.
But the Savior of the world would need to be holy—sinless and pure. Only a sinless sacrifice could be accepted by God to free sinners from their fate. And so the Savior of the world would need to be born differently than all other human children. And so the Christ Child was conceived in the womb of Mary, but was holy, being the Son of no human father, but the Son of the Holy God. Only God could provide this needed quality in our Savior, and he did through the virgin birth.
The virgin birth also happened as the fulfillment of long standing prophecy. Isaiah had written…
“…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 ESV).
And now at least two people understood exactly what God had meant by having Isaiah pen those words. Mary knew, and now Joseph knew too.
And by revealing this to Joseph God was continuing to provide for his people. In later years both Mary and Joseph could witness to the fact that Jesus had been miraculously conceived, just like the prophesy had foretold.
And here, God also provided for poor young Mary. Just imagine what it was like to be her. There weren’t many who could understood the things that were going on in her life right now. But now her husband was one of them. Now he could support her like no one else.
As sinners living in a sinful world, we have many problems, fears, and anxieties. But through the Bible we have come to know that we also have a great God who provides the answers to all of these. And this powerful promise of peace is encapsulated for us in the name that Isaiah gave the Savior—Immanuel.
Matthew explains that in the Hebrew that title simply means, “God with us”. And how comforting it is to know that we have a God who is not distant and unfeeling to our anxious fears. We have a God who came down from heaven to be one of us. To live like us. To suffer like us, and far beyond. To die like us. And in doing so, to erase the record of our sins and open the door to heaven.
King David once wrote,
“1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 ESV).
Paul later wrote,
“If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 ESV).
And today we rejoice with the same certainty. Through the virgin birth the world received a perfect, holy, sinless Child—God himself made human to be the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Indeed! If God is with us like this, what is there to fear?
With a heart of repentance over our sins and a heart of faith toward our saving God, WHAT IS THERE TO FEAR?
Take those words of the angel to Joseph today and personalize them for yourself. They were spoken TO Joseph, but they were preserved FOR you. “Dear Christian, do not fear, for that which was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. The Son she bore was Jesus—the one who saves you from all your sins. Don’t be afraid, the Lord has provided, and will continue to provide, for you.”