Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The circumstances of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)

I wonder where or how Joseph proposed to Mary. It looks from the rest of the Gospels that he was older than her, perhaps by twenty years or more. Whenever it happened, he would have been very happy. He was a devout man and the Lord had provided for him a devout person as his future wife. Then he heard that the unexpected, even the unthinkable, had happened. His future wife was pregnant, which for Joseph could only mean one thing – Mary had been unfaithful. We can imagine his surprise and shock. 

We can excuse Joseph for responding in this way, but the question does arise as to how we should respond when we read these verses. Our response should not be that the miracle has yet to come, when the infant is born. Instead we should rejoice that the miracle has happened already inside Mary’s womb – the Incarnation occurred when Jesus was conceived. We can do what Joseph could not do and turn elsewhere in the New Testament and see what it says about the miracle.

When we do, we discover that the persons of the Trinity were involved. This is another reminder that Christians should always be Trinitarians. The two mysteries of our faith (the three persons in the Trinity and the two natures in Jesus) appear together here, as it were, as they do on other occasions in the Gospels when the authors focus on specific experiences of the Saviour, such as at his baptism or when he was on the cross. Matthew mentions the activity of the Holy Spirit, as does Luke in his account. 

The Book of Hebrews records the Son saying to the Father, ‘A body you have prepared for me.’ It is best to see this as the Father planning the human nature of Jesus – this body and soul were going to experience incredible things – think of the Transfiguration and what happened to it when he was on the cross. The Father planned the amazing beauty of the perfect man, but he was also going to give to his Son the most awful burden – our sin – to carry away.

The work of the Holy Spirit was to fashion the human nature of Jesus in the womb of Mary – Luke uses the word ‘overshadow’ to describe what took place. Everything that Jesus would become was woven by the Spirit into what he was putting together. We are not to imagine a period during which he did this fashioning. Instead we are to remember that the Son united himself instantaneously with the human nature the Father planned and the Spirit produced.

What are we to make of poor Mary? We know what Joseph mistakenly thought, but do we give her thought? The Son of God was not placed within her without being affected by her. She contributed in maternal ways to the humanity of her Son. This was God’s planning. If Jesus had been born of another woman, he would probably have looked different. Maybe he would have a different colour of eyes or of his hair. Of course, he was not affected by her sinfulness. 

Yet there she was, in a situation of confusion and rejection. It is true that she knew the whole story, but who would believe her? It does not look as if Joseph even asked her what had happened. Instead he made his plans, but it was good for Mary that God could intervene on her behalf. There is a lesson here for us. If we are being misrepresented, leave it with God to sort out.