Born of the Virgin Mary

Matthew 1:1-25
James T. Dennison, Jr.*

You have come today with your face towards Christmas. You have come longing for a Savior—possessing a Savior. With your face toward Advent, you have come today yearning for salvation from your sins—possessing salvation from your sins. You have come to this place today hoping for the fulfillment of the promises—participating in the fulfillment of the promises. You have come today with your face fixed towards the incarnation—longing for the union of God and man—by faith, possessing union with God through the man—the God-man—Jesus Christ.

Are you then Abraham's covenant seed, looking for the miracle child, the son of the promise? Jesus is son of Abraham!

Are you then David's royal seed, yearning for the child who is King of kings, royal son of the everlasting covenant? Jesus is son of David!

Are you then sons and daughters of exile—captivity—seed of the death of a nation, looking for liberation, yearning for life out of death? Jesus is son of captivity—seed of exile—child of death and resurrection! Like Mary and Sarah and Rebekah and Leah—are you daughters of the covenant—women filled with your esteemed role in the history of the seed—the seed of the woman?

Like Joseph and Isaac and Jacob and Judah—are you sons of the covenant—men satisfied with your venerable role in the history of the seed—sons and fathers, fathers and sons of the seed?

Jesus is the seed of the woman; the manchild from the fathers!

Are you seeking today to be included—included in the blessings of the covenant family with Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba—outsiders from the nations grafted in to the covenant family?

Are you stangers from the nations seeking to come home—to come home to the family covenanted with eternity? Jesus is the gathering of the nations; Jesus is the discipler—the baptizer of the nations. Jesus commissions the nations with a great and everlasting covenant.

Are you seeking to find the Holy Spirit at work in you? To find yourself new created—a new creation by the Holy Spirit hovering, brooding, shadowing creation-life over you, within you? Jesus is born of the Spirit. Jesus gives the Spirit without measure!

You have come today with your face towards Christ, looking for God, longing for God with you—yearning for God the Son with you. Jesus is God, God with you, God the Son with you!

That which you seek today; that for which you long this Advent season; that for which you yearn this Christmas is here—here in Matthew 1—here in the first miracle of the New Testament: this miracle conception, this miracle child, this son of Abraham, son of David, son of the Exile, son of the covenant genealogy, seed of the woman, Savior of sinners, Savior of the nations, born of the Holy Spirit, Immanuel!

This is your story—you with your face towards Christmas—your face towards Jesus—your face towards the Savior—your face towards God, God the Son. Indeed, this old, old story has become yours by the birth of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew's Hooks and Pegs

Matthew 1 is a story of hooks and frames; yes, a story of frames and hooks. Hooks to hang and connect and peg things to—to peg and connect and hang—to hook yourself to.

Matthew 1 is a story of frames—frames to outline and enclose and encase things in—to encase and enclose and outline—to frame yourself in.

The hooks to which you may peg yourself—connect yourself—hang with are in the genealogy, verses 1-17. The hooks with which to connect yourself begin in verse 1—the first clause—"the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ." Matthew begins by connecting you with the central figure in his story—the first name—the chief name in his drama—the most important person in the narrative is Jesus Christ. Indeed, hooked up with Jesus, you are connected to the central figure in all history. Matthew tells you so from the beginning.

But from the center of history, Matthew moves to the past—to David, to Abraham. And you will notice his method is to work backwards—back in the history of redemption to the great kings of Judah—to the great patriarchs of Israel. Jesus, the central figure, is pegged, hooked, to the great figures of Israel's past. And the name that ends verse 1? Is the name that begins verse 2. Matthew in verse 1 having related Jesus to the past retrospectively—backwards—now in verse 2 reverses direction and moves forwards—prospectively—from Abraham to David (v. 6) to the Babylonian Exile (v. 12) to Christ (v. 16). Hooked to the Abraham at the end of verse 1 is the Abraham at the beginning of verse 2. Having returned from Jesus to Abraham (v. 1), Matthew proceeds from Abraham to Jesus (vv. 2-16).

And as he moves forward in the history of redemption, you will observe another hook. Matthew pegs every genealogical relation to the phrase "was born": to Abraham was born Isaac (v. 2); to David was born Solomon (v. 6); to Josiah was born Jeconiah or Jehoiachin (v. 11). The formula "to X was born Y" is a hook pattern connecting father and son from Abraham to Joseph (v. 16), "the husband of Mary." But there—in verse 16—the hook pattern is broken! You see it, don't you! Verse16—"to Jacob was born Joseph" (hook pattern) "the husband of Mary by whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." No hook—no peg! The pattern is broken!! Not—to Joseph was born Jesus, but "Mary by whom was born Jesus."

Now why does Matthew suspend his pattern? For fifteen and a half verses, he hooks X to Y, father to son. But abruptly in verse 16b, he breaks the pattern; he does not hook Jesus to Joseph. Every other name in his genealogy of Jesus is connected father to son. Why not Joseph the father of his son Jesus? Because Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, as the rest of chapter 1 makes clear. Verse 18—before Joseph had sexual intercourse with Mary, she was found to be pregnant. Verse 25—Joseph had no sexual intercourse with Mary until after she gave birth to Jesus; he kept her a virgin until then. The birth of Jesus occurred in this way—he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by no natural power; he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by supernatural power. The virgin birth of Jesus is more accurately called the virginal conception of Jesus. Conceived supernaturally in the womb of a virgin, Jesus is fathered by no natural human male. This child in utero is a miracle child. The first miracle of the New Testament is not by Jesus; the first miracle of the New Testament is by God the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. The sharp break in the hook pattern from verse 2 to verse 16 is an emphatic declaration of the supernatural, miraculous, preternatural conception of Jesus Christ. Matthew affirms the virgin birth of Jesus—his supernatural conception and subsequent birth from a virgo intacta—intact virgin.

Having concluded with Christ in verse 16, Matthew once again focuses our attention on the central figure in the history of redemption as he did at the inception in verse 1: Jesus Christ at the beginning of his gospel; Jesus Christ at the conclusion of his genealogical summary of the history of Israel. As if Matthew wishes to sum up all of Israel's history from Abraham to Jesus in Jesus himself. The genealogy of Israel's history culminates in Jesus. Is Matthew attempting to indicate at the outset of his gospel that Jesus is the true Israel? truly Abraham's son, truly David's son, truly the son of the Exile and return? I believe he is. Matthew pegs the genealogy of Jesus to the genealogy of Abraham's Israeli seed in order to proclaim Jesus as the eschatological Israel. Israel's patriarchal history; Israel's royal history; Israel's exilic and post-exilic history is summed up once and for all in Jesus—son of the Exile, son of David, son of Abraham, Son of God.

We noted the change in direction in verses 1 and 2: Jesus, back to Abraham; Abraham, forward to Jesus. Now, in verse 17, we change directions again, but this time there appears to be no hook. The summary of the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus is replayed in patterns of fourteen: fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile; fourteen generations from the Exile to Jesus. We move from the past history of redemption to the present: from Abraham to Christ. As the detailed genealogies go (verses 2-16) so goes the summary of the genealogies (v. 17)—backwards point to forward point. And the summary in verse 17 ends as the detailed list in verses 2-16 ends—it ends in Christ. There is the hook! The central figure in Matthew's story—the central figure in the history of redemption—is the final, climactic figure in his genealogical register. Christ at the end of verse 16; Christ at the end of verse 17; Christ at the beginning of verse 1—Christ, Christ, Christ! Matthew wants our eyes fixed on Christ.

The hook and the pegs in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus have connected us to the history of redemption—to the story of the patriarchs of Israel, to the story of the kings of Israel, to the story of remnant Israel. And finally, in the fullness of time, the fullness of the history of redemption: Matthew's genealogy has connected us to Jesus himself.

Matthew's Frames

We now move from hooks to frames: verses 18-25. This section contains a series of diminishing frames. They are like smaller and smaller framed pictures or photos laid inside one another—as if from largest framed picture to smallest framed picture, they are attempting to direct our attention more narrowly, more precisely. Matthew's frames are pictures of the drama and meaning surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The largest frame—the most widely framed photo is the family photo: Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. This photo has borders of verse 18 and verse 25. At the beginning of his birth narrative, Matthew gives us a shot of the family (v. 18); and at the conclusion of his birth narrative, Matthew again gives us a shot of the family (v. 25). The term "birth" is the label on this photo: birth at its inception (v. 18) and birth at its completion (v. 25). Incidental to the birth is the fact that Mary was a virgin (v. 18) and remained (or was kept) a virgin until after his birth (v. 25). The birth of Jesus and the virgin Mary and Joseph are the first large-frame picture of Matthew's birth narrative.

The second frame is smaller, more narrowly focused. Its borders are verses 20 and 24. The label on this frame is: Joseph, sleep and the angel. In verse 20, an angel appears to Joseph as he is sleeping. The dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about Joseph: he is a "son of David" (v. 20). Joseph is himself hooked into the genealogy of redemptive history. And the dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about Mary—she is without blame in the matter of her pregnancy and still eligible as a virgin to be Joseph's wife, for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And the dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about the child in Mary's womb—what she is about to deliver is a miraculously generated baby.

This second framed picture narrows the focus upon Joseph and his response to the supernatural conception. A supernatural assurance assuages confusion, hesitancy, even fear. Joseph is comforted by a heavenly messenger even as his fiancée carries heaven's only-begotten Son. Joseph awake (v. 24) acts on Joseph asleep (v. 20). He does what the angel tells him: note carefully the parallels. He took his wife (do not be afraid to take your wife, v. 20); he took her as his wife (v. 24). Righteous Joseph (v. 19) does as God by his angel instructs him (v. 24). Joseph is outlined in this frame photo as a man obedient to heaven's instructions. Joseph becomes a part of the story when heaven descends to him by supernatural messenger, even as Mary becomes part of the story when heaven descends to her by supernatural Holy Spirit conception.

Our frames have shrunk from larger to smaller; from family photo to Joseph photo. But the smallest frame remains. We are somewhat surprised by this frame because it is a border around a center—and a surprising center at that. Verses 21 and 23 definitely provide the final frame in Matthew's birth narrative. But at the center of the frame, surrounded by the verse 21 and verse 23 border is verse 22: "now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled." Strange! The border of our last photo frames a statement about prophetic fulfillment. Odd. Very odd! Or so it seems.

Let's examine the border of this last, this smallest of the frames in Matthew's story. The label on the border of this frame is Jesus—Jesus and his names. How many names of Jesus have we already had? son of Abraham, son of David, son of remnant Israel. But the name in verse 21 is the etymology—the definition—of his name "Jesus". You shall call his name Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). Why? because Jesus-Yeshua means "Savior". In this child, salvation—salvation from sin. In this child—forgiveness, cleansing, justification, atonement for his people's sins. The name Jesus frames the top of this picture—the name Savior frames the top of this picture—the name Redeemer from sin frames the top of this picture. You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. Now there is a photo into which to place yourself—your sinful self in that frame with Jesus who declares he is born to save you from your sins—to deliver you from guilt and condemnation and eternal wrath. Matthew frames this portrait of the name of Jesus so that you may stand in the picture—so that you may stand with the sinners whom the Savior saves from their sins—so that you, yes, you, may stand with Jesus whose name—whose blessed, precious, sweet name means "my Savior"—Jesus my Savior!

And the bottom of this frame? this frame whose topmost label is Savior Jesus—the bottom of this photo frame is Immanuel (v. 23). And just as he did in verse 21, Matthew provides the etymological explanation of the name: Immanu El. Again, the name is Hebrew: immanu ("with us") El ("God"). This child is God—God with us. This child is God—God the Son come to us. This child is the Son of God—very God himself—incarnate for us. The bottom frame of this last photo is the most magnificent: God with us. None other than God himself—the Son of God who is himself God—none other than he has come to dwell with us, to live among us, to be our God and our Savior. The Son Mary bears is Jesus which means "Savior" (v. 21). The Son which the virgin bears is Immanuel which means "God with us" (v. 23). Jesus Savior is Immanuel God with us. Surely this is the focal frame; this smallest frame is the central frame in Matthew's birth narrative. A frame which declares that in fulfillment of his promises given through the prophets down through redemptive history—Mary's child, Mary's boychild is Jesus the Savior—is Immanuel—is God—God with us!

Now put yourself into that frame. Jesus is God with you. Jesus is Savior because he is God; and as Savior God, while he is with us, it is equally true that we are with him. The smallest of frames is to frame you with Jesus—to frame you within the border which is Jesus—to put you into the picture with the Savior, with God the Son, with Immanuel who is your God, your Savior, your Forgiveness.

Birth by the Holy Spirit

The virgin birth, or more precisely the virginal conception, is the inaugural miracle in a flurry of supernaturalism at the fulfillment of the history of redemption. And why not? God has come to us. God has taken flesh upon himself—incarnatus est—he has been enfleshed. God the Son has joined with his divine nature our human nature. But Mr. Dennison, you say, would that not make Jesus, God's incarnate Son, a sinner like us? And then, you say, how could a sinner like us save us from our sins? As a sinner like us, he would need salvation from sin just like we do.

Have you not heard; have you not seen that the narrative of father begetting son is not found in the birth of Jesus (again I refer you to verse 16)? Have you not heard; have you not seen that the virginal conception is precisely adapted to exempt Jesus, God's Son, from the guilt of sin—original and actual sin? Have you not heard; have you not seen that Christ's miraculous birth—his birth from heaven by the Holy Spirit—that Christ's supernatural birth is nothing less than a new creation—a new birth—a new generation—a new beginning in the history of redemption. As Adam in the garden was generated by God immediately without the substance of a woman, so this second Adam is generated in the flesh by God immediately without the substance of a man. A supernatural creation of the protological Adam; a supernatural creation of the eschatological Adam! And as that first Adam came from the omnipotent hand of God sinless, so this second Adam recapitulates the first Adam coming from the omnipotent hand of God sinless. And that sinless Jesus—that pure, sinless Son of God—that unblemished, unspotted man from heaven is able to save to the uttermost the sinful sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Do you not see that Matthew's story of the genealogy and conception of Jesus is nothing less than a new creation—a birth from above—an eschatological birth from above at the climax—at the fullness of the history of redemption?

And do you not see yourself framed by Matthew's story of the virgin birth—the supernatural, heaven-descended birth of Jesus? And do you not pray—have you not prayed—Jesus, Savior, Immanuel, God with us—be born—yes, be born in us today that we may be reborn from heaven—reborn sons and daughters of the last Adam—reborn sons and daughters of the true Israel—sons and daughter of Abraham, David, remnant Israel—sons and daughters of the end of the age, the fullness of the times—sons and daughters of God.

And shall you not live as these heaven-born, new created, saved and delivered, God-with-you sons and daughters? Shall you not live as though God is with you and you—yes, you—are with God? Shall you not live as those saved from your sins by Jesus and you—yes, you—no longer living to the sins of the flesh, but living forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, justified, sanctified lives before the face of heaven?

Shall you not live as Joseph and Mary? Doing as you have been commanded by Jesus, your Lord, your God? fearing not the scoffing and scorn of the world. A virgin birth? Humbug! A miracle child? Nonsense! God in the flesh? Absurd! Fearing not such scorn and scoffing—such tragic, pathetic, desperate kicking against the pricks—kicking against the virgin-born child—Immanuel—Savior—son of David—son of Abraham—Son of God.

I leave you today with your face towards the virgin birth—possessing the virgin-born child. I leave you today framed, enclosed, enwrapped by the child born of the virgin Mary. I leave you today pegged, hooked, connected to the line of Jesus—Jesus the Christ. Cradle this child in your arms of faith. Hold this virgin-born infant in your heart of love. Lean upon this miracle baby as you press him to your breast. Walk before this virgin conceived child as one born of the Holy Spirit, even as he.

I leave you today participating in the story—the story of the birth of Immanuel—Jesus—your Savior.

Northwest Theological Seminary

Lynnwood, Washington


* A sermon delivered to the New Life Mission Church (PCA) of La Jolla, California on December 22, 2002.