My dear friends, and Merry Christmas:
This is the finale of what has been our yearlong quest through “The Gospel According to Matthew.” I have thoroughly enjoyed this, and regret that it couldn’t have been done in more depth and detail. A small newsletter makes that difficult, but we did offer many of our programs that did go into more depth. But now because it is Christmas we must go back to the beginning of the gospel, and the birth of our Savior.
Matthew’s account is so crisp and to the point, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” He is brief and simple, and we are obviously fortunate to have Luke’s very Jewish account with its lilting and majestic songs, and fuller details. Mark provides nothing, beginning as he does with the ministry of John the Baptist, and John provides instead his own magnificent poetry of the preexisting Christ. We have but Matthew and Luke’s account of the birth, and they so complement each other,
Matthew will provide us this simple account and the narratives of the Magi, and the necessary flight to Egypt, always relating how each is the fulfillment of prophecy. And even this simple account of the birth is full of marvelous revelations. He seems to take for granted that his readers are aware of Luke’s account; Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, the enrollment and journey to Bethlehem, and John’s birth. But Matthew’s interest, as always, is prophetic fulfillment, and here he highlights the remarkable utterance of Isaiah. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called ‘Emmanuel’ which means God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
This he tells us is all by “the Holy Spirit.” In so singling out the Holy Spirit, Matthew introduces something that is unique and a distinctive mark of Christianity. Describing the Holy Spirit as individually at work empowering the distinctive outworking of God’s purposes is just not found in ancient Jewish writings. He tells us simply that Mary is “with child by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph’s effort to quietly and without undue humiliation end his betrothal will instead be told not to fear, for the child “is of the Holy Spirit,” not of any unfaithfulness on Mary’s part. That the child is a boy, and he is to name him “Jesus.” Meaning Joseph’s is to accept the child as his own, and even if Mary is also of the line of David, it is the father linage that counts. And Jesus is to be of the linage of David.
This all is to “fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (v 21-22). This is a reference, of course, to Isaiah prophecy that “a virgin shall conceive” (Isa. 7:14). Most of us are surely aware of the ‘controversy” that has raged over the translation of the Hebrew word ‘alma’ as ‘virgin’ rather than as ‘maiden.’ Yet when the ancient Jewish translation of the Hebrews scriptures was done in Greek, they would use the Greek ‘parthenos,” or ‘virgin’ in this passage in Isaiah, why? Could it be that the ancient Jewish scholars saw something that our modern skeptical scholars are unable to see?
If Isaiah wanted to stress the virginity of the mother why not use the Hebrew ‘betula,’ unless his desire was to stress more than mere virginity? This was a prophecy of dual force. That the child born to the Judean king Ahaz would still be in his immaturity when his enemies Syria and Ephraim would be destroyed (Isa. 7:16,22). But Isaiah has so much more to say, and it requires a word with more richness and diversity, that would cause us to look beyond the time of Ahaz. Yes, there is a double meaning to Isaiah’s words that require every succeeding generation to anticipate the birth of “Emmanuel,” God’s promise of His very presence.
This Divine presence means that a ‘virgin,’ an ‘alma,’ a young maiden of marriageable age, one unmarried, one of exception qualities is to be ‘overshadowed’ by God’s Spirit. Not only as a sign of God’s involved with mankind, but is to be the actual reality of that experience of ‘God with us.’ This all had to extend beyond the ancient conflicts in an insignificant region, but is to be the universal expression of God’s truth, which is to be “more than a vain hope,” but the greatest expression of divine love, and what is the great hope of our faith. Yes, the birth of the Christ…”In this way!”
May this Christmas be also a special time of love and hope for you,
Thomas R. Wyatt
At this time of year we all here at The Wings of Healing want to wish you, and all those you love a wonderfully warm, blessed, and joyous time of celebration and gloring in the season that is centered in this birth of the world’s savior, and coming king