These Bible studies are intended to be a guide for you to lead your family in Bible study, and to help you to get into the right habits of studying the Bible yourself. You can use this Bible study as a leader’s guide, and walk through the text asking the questions and encouraging your family to try to answer them. You can then use this guide to ensure you stay on track, or to help when you get stuck. I encourage you to try to work through some passages of the Bible by yourself too, asking the same questions and working out the answers from the text.
WHAT DOES IT SAY?
What is the Matthew’s intended message to his audience? What does he want his hearers to know and to believe about Jesus, who he introduced in the first 17 verses? Read through Matthew 1:18-25 together.
C. WHAT IS THE CONTEXT?
In the opening paragraph, Matthew ran through the genealogy of Jesus to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David. Through Jesus, all the world would be blessed. Jesus would reign as king forever over His eternal kingdom. Having established that the King has come, Matthew now gives us an account of his birth in verses 18-25, from Joseph’s perspective.
A. ANALYSE THE FLOW OF THOUGHT
While Mary was betrothed (engaged) to Joseph, and before they came together (had intercourse) [explain to your children that it was before they were married], Mary was found to be pregnant. Matthew says that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit – meaning that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. This was a supernatural pregnancy.
Joseph considered divorcing her. Her being pregnant must have been a massive shock to him. Knowing that he wasn’t the biological father, he must have assumed that somebody else had made her pregnant. He was considering ending the engagement quietly and out of the public eye, so that Mary wouldn’t be publicly shamed.
One night Joseph had a dream, and in the dream an angel appeared to him and told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife. He said the baby was from the Holy Spirit, not another man. Then the angel told Joseph that the child will be a boy, and he must be named Jesus, because “He will save his people from their sins”.
At this point Matthew points out that these things – the birth of Jesus and His name – were told by “the prophet” and he quotes from the Old Testament. Matthew is saying that the prophet’s revelation was now fulfilled in Jesus. When Joseph woke up, he resolved to obey the angel. He married Mary, but they didn’t consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born.
R. LOOK FOR REPETITIONS AND REFERENCES
Matthew continues the theme of fulfillment that we saw in the first Bible study. We will see Matthew repeat this phrase and variations of it often in the gospel of Matthew: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord said...”
There is a reference to an Old Testament prophecy in verse 23. The reference is to Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. ~ Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
If you have time, read Isaiah chapter 7-9
This is part of the message that God gave to Isaiah to give the king of Judah, Ahaz. After a brief read of the surrounding chapters, we see that Syria and Israel were mounting an attack on Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:1). When king Ahaz heard about it, he nearly had a heart attack (verse 2). But God sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to fear (verse 4).
In chapter 8, God tells Ahaz that He will cause the nation of Assyria to come against his enemies in battle and defeat them (verses 7-8).
9 Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered; give ear, all you far countries; strap on your armor and be shattered; strap on your armor and be shattered. 10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us. ~ Isaiah 8:9–10 (ESV)
God’s message to Ahaz is the God will come and fight the battle for him, and gain victory over the enemy. What Ahaz couldn’t defeat but could only look at in fear and dread, God would come and destroy. “God is with us” – that is the meaning of the name Immanuel.
God again tells Ahaz not to fear or be in dread of the armies that are surrounding him, but to rather fear and dread the holiness of God (verse 12-13). Then in chapter 9, we see this stunning prophecy concerning Jesus:
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. ~ Isaiah 9:2–7 (ESV)
Other cross references
Read the following verses together:
- Psalm 130:7-8
- Isaiah 12:1-2
- Isaiah 45:21-22
- Jeremiah 23:5-6
- Jeremiah 33:16
- Luke 19:10
- John 1:1, 14
- John 1:29
All of these cross references and their stories are telling a bigger story. God’s people have strayed from Him and have gone their own way. They didn’t fear God but they feared man. There was no fear of God or faith in God. Therefore the judgment of God is what they deserved. But God will turn away from His anger (Isaiah 12:1-2) and come to His people as a Saviour (Immanuel – God with us. Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, 45:21). God alone is our Saviour (Isaiah 45:21) and He will be our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16). He will destroy the enemy for us, because we can’t.
If God alone is Saviour, and He will come to us, then who does that make Jesus? He is Immanuel, “God with us”, who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
P. WHAT PROBLEMS NEED TO BE SOLVED?
- Betrothed – engaged to be married. The custom of the Jews was for the man and woman who were engaged to be married, to live with their respective parents and not with each other.1 Only once the man had prepared a house for them to live in and was ready to take over from the woman’s father in terms of providing for her and caring for her, would the woman move out of her parent’s house and live with her husband. Then, and only then, was the marriage consummated. This is wise custom!
- Came together – consummated the marriage / had intercourse (see Genesis 6:4)
- but knew her not until she had given birth to a son (verse 25) – he didn’t sleep with her (see Genesis 4:1)
1. The text is saying that because Joseph was a “just man” and “unwilling to put Mary to shame“, he resolved to divorce Mary quietly. Why was that considered just and merciful of Joseph?
By looking at your cross references, you might see a link to Deuteronomy 22:22-25. Read it now. That chapter deals with sexual immorality, which is a serious sin in God’s eyes. In verses 22 it says that if a man sleeps with another man’s wife, both of them should be stoned to death. In verses 23-25 we see that the same thing should happen if a man sleeps with a betrothed woman in the city (where she could have called for help but didn’t – the principle scenario is one where both the man and the woman are willing participants in the sin). Joseph knew this, and he knew that if he divorced Mary publicly, everyone would know that the baby was not his and would conclude that Mary was guilty of adultery, and she would have been stoned to death – though she was innocent of the crime. Even though Joseph didn’t yet know that Mary wasn’t guilty, he still had mercy on her. He obviously loved Mary.
2. Why did the angel tell Joseph the baby’s name must be Jesus, if the prophecy in the Isaiah 7:14 which he quoted said his name would be Immanuel?
Jesus is actually given a number of names in the Bible. As we saw in Isaiah 9, He will also be given the names of Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. That Jesus is given many names is not a contradiction, but each name communicates something to us about Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means Yahweh is salvation or Yahweh saves.2 Joshua was an Old Testament figure who was a shadow of Jesus. He took over from Moses after he died and led Israel into the promised land of Canaan. He is a picture of Jesus saving His people completely and delivering them into the kingdom of Heaven. The name Immanuel means God with us. Together, the names given to Jesus in this text tell us who Jesus is: He is God with us, and He has come to save us from our sins.
S. SUMMARIZE THE MAIN POINT
Jesus is God with us. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to come to the rescue of His people and to save them from their enemies, and there are no greater enemies than sin and death.
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT GOD?
C. WHAT DOES IT TELL US ABOUT GOD’S CHARACTER?
- God is faithful to keep His promises. He kept every promise He gave to His people in the Old Testament, and their enemies were defeated by God every time He promised to do so. He promised to send a Saviour, and He did.
- God is sovereign and He plans the future. He foretold that the Saviour would be born to a virgin mother. It was always His sovereign will and intention to do so, and He did exactly what He intended to do.
- God is gracious. His people were so rebellious in the Old Testament. They didn’t deserve to be saved from their enemies at all. Yet God would time and time again come to their rescue – not because they had done anything to deserve it, but because He wanted to display His power and His glory by graciously delivering and redeeming His people. He promised to save Judah from their enemies, and He did. He also promised to send.
- God alone is Saviour (Isaiah 45:21). There are no other saviours. God doesn’t share His glory with man, or with any other being.
- God is merciful. Merciful in rescuing Judah… merciful in sending an angel to Joseph and sparing Mary public shame, and merciful in coming to our rescue to save us from our sins.
- God became a man. This is an incredible truth! God took on human flesh, and was born as an actual human baby! This is Jesus’ true identity – He is God with us, God made flesh… God in human form. In theological terms this is referred to as the Hypostatic Union – it means that Jesus had both fully divine and fully human nature. Jesus isn’t 50% God and 50% man, nor did He switch between the two natures and sometimes have a divine nature and sometimes a human nature. Jesus is at the same time 100% God and 100% man.
C. WHAT DOES IT TELL US ABOUT GOD’S CONDUCT?
- God is sovereignly working all things according to His perfect will. If God worked everything in human history according to His will, to bring about the birth of Jesus as He promised as well as His death & resurrection, then we can also be sure that He is working all other things in the world and in our lives according to His perfect will and wisdom. Joseph initially may not have understood why God allowed him to find himself in the embarrassing situation of finding his fiance pregnant, but he did see later that God was working out a much bigger, far greater plan.
- God saves. Being faithful to His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s seed, merciful to not give us what we deserve and gracious to give us that which we don’t deserve, God alone is Saviour and He came to save us from our sins.God doesn’t just make salvation possible, or open a way for there to be an opportunity for people to be saved; God actually saves. Just like Joshua led Israel into the promised land, Jesus will lead His people to the promised salvation. Jesus saves.
C. WHAT DOES IT TELL US ABOUT GOD’S COMMANDS?
- God is to be feared. God’s message to king Ahaz was to stop fearing and dreading man, and instead to fear and dread God. God is the sovereign ruler and ultimately all kings, presidents and governments are under His rule and authority. We shouldn’t be in awe of these earthly rulers, but we should always be in awe of God and revere Him.
- God is to be trusted. Since God is faithful, gracious, merciful and He alone saves, we can and must trust Him alone for salvation.
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT US?
C. WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT OUR CONDITION?
- We need saving. God came to us because we needed to be saved. We need to be saved because all the world is lost and separated from God through The Fall (Genesis 3, Isaiah 59:2)
C. WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT OUR CONDUCT?
- We don’t fear God as much as we should, and we fear man too much. Ahaz nearly had a heart attack because he feared the armies that we gathering to make war against him. He had forgotten who God is and all that God had done in the past to rescue and redeem His people. In those moments when he was stressing, he was more in fear of what the armies of Syria could do than what God could do. Whenever we are stressed about what people can do to us, we are fearing man more than God. In general, we don’t give God the respect and awe that He is worthy of.
- We don’t trust God fully. Whenever we are trusting in any saviour other than God, or looking to anything apart from God for security, assurance and comfort, we are putting our trust in a different “saviour”.
- We don’t always obey God faithfully. Joseph responded obediently to the angel’s message in faith, even when the physical circumstances he found himself in – and in particular Mary – he trusted God and obeyed without questioning further. He married Mary and named the baby Jesus, just as he was commanded. We tend to doubt and question God’s commands at times, and look for loopholes in God’s Word to justify disobedience or failing to obey.
WHAT HAS GOD DONE?
T. WHAT TRUTHS DO YOU SEE GOD TEACHING?
- God is faithful and does what He says He will do.
- God is gracious and merciful, redeeming people who deserve judgment and delivering them to the promised land that they don’t deserve to receive.
A. WHAT ACTIONS DO WE SEE GOD TAKING?
- God became a man and dwelt among us (John 1:1, John 1:14), just as He promised.
- God came to save us from our sins.
P. WHAT PROMISES DO WE SEE GOD MAKING?
- God will save everyone who fears, believes and trusts in Him alone for salvation.
WHAT MUST WE DO?
P. WHAT SHOULD WE PRAISE AND THANK GOD FOR?
- That God is sovereign, faithful, gracious and merciful
- that God saves
C. WHAT TRUTHS AND SINS DO WE NEED TO CONFESS?
- We need to believe that God is almighty, sovereign ruler over all nations, rulers, presidents and governments. God is in control.
- We need to believe that God alone is Saviour and that there is no other god or saviour but Him.
- We need to believe the essential Christian truth that Jesus is God in flesh
- We need to believe that Jesus came to save sinners from sin and death.
- We need to confess our own need for salvation
- We need to confess every way in which we are fearing man more than God (discuss ways in which we might be doing this)
- We need to confess every way in which we are trusting in something or someone other than God for assurance, security and comfort. This can be trusting in our own works / performance to go to heaven, or being assured of salvation because we were baptised / dedicated as a baby, or because we made a decision at some time in our childhood. We can also look to food, music, our spouses, alcohol, drugs, porn, etc for comfort or escape when we ought to be looking to God.
- We need to confess every way in which we are failing to trust God and obey Him, especially when it is difficult and we don’t understand why God is allowing us to experience hardship.
A. HOW DOES GOD WANT TO SHAPE MY AFFECTIONS & ACTIONS?
- God wants me to fear, trust and obey Him, especially in times of hardship and suffering or uncertainty about the future.
- God wants me to desire Him, because He is good and merciful and never turns away anybody who truly trusts Him and confesses their sin (1 John 1:9)
- God wants me to trust in Him alone for salvation and rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross to save us from our sins, because that is what Jesus came to do.
R. HOW DOES GOD WANT ME TO RELATE TO OTHERS?
- Knowing that we are all equally condemned under the law and needed saving, I am no better than any other sinner in need of salvation. I need to be humble in my relations with others – including unbelievers.
- Knowing that God is holy and to be feared, I should have compassion on unbelievers and desire that they would also be saved.
- Knowing that God is faithful and gracious, and that He came to save sinners, I should pray for the salvation of people I know who are not saved, and take the initiative to tell them about Jesus and what He has done.
S. SUMMARIZE IN ONE SENTENCE YOUR CONCLUSIONS AND COMMITMENTS
God is holy, faithful and gracious, and He came to fight and destroy sin and death for sinners and to save sinners of whom I am one; therefore I will trust in Jesus alone for salvation and follow Him, and disciple others to do the same.
1 Smith, J. H. (1992). The new treasury of scripture knowledge: The most complete listing of cross references available anywhere- every verse, every theme, every important word (p. 217). Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson.
2 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1672). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.