Matt. 1:18-25 - Aren't You Ashamed?
So a couple of weeks ago we were in Clearfield for their Christmas parade—Selah was marching with her Kidnetix Baton club. After the parade we hit a couple stores to do some quick Christmas shopping, and decided to stop by Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home. And it was there that tragedy struck—we had ordered at the counter and had gone to get our drinks at the fountain. Selah was carrying hers back to our seats at the big round table in the middle of the room, and—whether the lid wasn’t on tight or she tripped, we don’t know—but the cup slipped out of her hands and completely doused two of the chairs and a wide stretch of the floor right in the middle of the restaurant. (I asked her earlier, and she said it was okay to tell this story…)
Poor Selah was absolutely mortified—we couldn’t sit down because the chairs were soaked, and there was a large puddle of SoBe Life Water all over the floor that an attendant (who was not having her best day ever!) came out and mopped up, while everyone else in the busy restaurant watched. We all did our best to comfort Selah and tell her not to feel bad, that it was an accident and could have happened to anyone—but there’s really nothing you can say at that moment to lessen the shame of a tenderhearted 8-year-old who dumped her drink all over the floor at the KFC.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, spilling your drink in public is well down on the low end of the scale of disgrace, isn’t it? How many of you wish that that was the biggest thing you have to be ashamed of in your life?
Some of you carry a load of shame over the things that you have done—you look back on your past and feel almost a sense of panic over the thought that someone might find out about some of the things you did. Even though it may have been years ago, your face still burns with shame and regret over what you’ve done.
Or for some of you, the shame comes not from what you did, but from what has been done to you. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t deserve it, but still it haunts you. You bear the disgrace of being the victim of someone else’s shameful behavior.
Whether through things that we have done or things that we have been through, all of us at one time or another have borne a load of shame in our lives. Some people deal with their shame by trying to hide it from others: No one can ever know what they have done or what they have been in the past, and if anyone ever finds out the consequences would be terrible. We try to hide it, but it is always there, always hanging over our heads that someone, someday will see what we really are. Some people deal with their shame by trying to justify it: It wasn’t really their fault, that they couldn’t help it, that they had no choice—but no matter how hard we try to justify our shame, we can’t ever really make it go away.
Some people even try to deal with their shame by going so far as to flaunt it—to celebrate it, to insist that it isn’t shameful at all, and the only people who should be ashamed of themselves are the people who refuse to join them in celebrating their shame.
But whether we hide it, justify it or even flaunt it, the fact is that
We are helpless to free ourselves from our shame.
Because even if you successfully hide your shame from everyone throughout your whole life, even if you succeed in convincing yourself that you have nothing to be ashamed of, even if you get the whole world to join in with you as you insist that your shame is something to be celebrated—you will never be able to hide the shame of your sin from God. As the writer of Hebrews puts it:
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
That day is coming when you will give an account before God for every shameful act you have ever committed, every disgraceful thing you have ever tried to justify. And so we need to go to God’s Word today to ask, “Can we be freed from our shame? And if so, how?” And so what I aim to show you this morning from these verses is that
Jesus Christ was born in shame in order to deliver us from our shame before God.
We are so far removed from the time and culture of this story that we can easily miss how shocking and embarrassing these verses are. Look at verses 18-19:
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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
When we tell the Christmas story we have a tendency to highlight the beautiful and miraculous and glorious parts of the story. But we need to hear this part of the story as well, because we can never let ourselves forget that
I. Jesus Was Born Into Shame (Matt. 1:18-19; cp. Deut. 22:13-17)
I. Jesus Was Born Into Shame (Matt. 1:18-19; cp. Deut. 22:13-17)
When we read that Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph, we really don’t get the sense of how binding that arrangement was. We have the practice of “engagements” here in our culture, but a betrothal was a far more serious bond. In many ways a betrothal was considered the first year of a couple’s marriage—they were considered married in every sense of the word except they did not live together, nor did they physically consummate their marriage.
And so when we read that “Mary was found to be with child” during their betrothal, this would have been like a man in our day standing at the altar on his wedding, watching his bride walk down the aisle in front of him--and noticing at that moment that she was pregnant! This was a deeply shameful condition for Mary to be found in, and
Mary couldn’t avoid her shame
—it was obvious to everyone who looked at her and knew that she and Joseph hadn’t come together yet. And not only was this shame unavoidable for her, but her parents as well—Mary’s mother and father (especially her father) were supposed to be the guardians of her purity, after all. And it was obvious to everyone that saw her that they had failed. Joseph, as well, would have been shamed by Mary’s condition—imagine the shame of that man I described a moment ago, realizing with horror as his bride walked down the aisle on their wedding day that she was pregnant. Everyone in the church would be seeing it as well—and everyone would be drawing one of two shameful conclusions: Either he was responsible, or someone else was!
This whole situation described here was an unavoidable, shameful mess for everyone involved—Mary, her parents, Joseph himself. Even though they didn’t deserve it—Mary’s parents had been faithful to guard her purity, she never had been with any man, she and Joseph had been perfectly chaste in their betrothal—even so, they still could not avoid the shame that they suffered in Mary’s pregnancy.
And as we look at this mess, we recognize ourselves in it, don’t we? We know what it’s like to be so sunk in shame that there’s plenty to go around—shame on ourselves, on our families, on our loved ones. Sometimes we bear the shame for our actions, sometimes we bear shame because of the actions of others, and sometimes we bear shame unjustly, even though we’ve never done anything to deserve it. But even if we don’t deserve it, we still cannot avoid it—and we cannot rescue ourselves out of it.
Mary didn’t deserve her shame, but she still could not avoid it. In verse 19 we see how Joseph reacted to their plight. Even though he tried,
Joseph couldn’t remove their shame
Verse 19 tells us that Joseph was a “just” man—(the word there is the word used in the Scriptures to refer to a man who was faithful to the Covenant Law of God revealed in the Old Testament). We are told that he was “unwilling to put her to shame”. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy gives instructions on what to do when a man suspects that his wife is not a virgin:
then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city.
Joseph would have been well within his rights to have Mary brought to a public trial (“in the gates of the city”) where her father would have been responsible for presenting physical proof of her virginity. I don’t have to go into specific detail for you to understand what a humiliating, horrifying experience that would have been for the poor girl. And Deuteronomy 22 goes on to state that if the woman is found not to be a virgin (as would have been the obvious case with Mary), she was to be taken to the front door of her father’s house and stoned to death on the spot (Deut. 22:21).
It’s hard to imagine how devastating this would have been for Joseph—to find out that he had been living a lie, that Mary did not really love him, that she was not the girl that he thought she was, that she could so humiliate him and ruin both of their lives. A lesser man may very well have thrown the book at her just out of his pain and spite, but not Joseph—he was a just man. He was unwilling to put her to such shame, even though it would mean that he would always be known as the guy whose betrothed wife cheated on him and he just let her get away with it!
Joseph was a good man—he was willing to live with the stigma of a failed marriage, to let people believe he had been cheated on, to give up all of his dreams for their life together just to spare Mary the shame of a trial! He could have exonerated himself by throwing the book at her, but he was too honorable for that! (Parents—you want your daughters to marry a man like that! You want your sons to grow up to be like that!)
But no matter how honorable he was, no matter how willing he was to bear the shame of Mary’s infidelity, no matter how quietly he wanted to release her from their betrothal with a certificate of divorce, Joseph could not remove the shame that they both lived under. When we read the story of Mary and Joseph, we cannot forget that when Jesus was born, He was born into that shame.
But when He was born into that shame, He didn’t just become another victim of it, did He? In fact, what we see in verses 20-23 is that He was not buried under the shame He was born into:
II. Jesus Carried Our Shame (Matt. 1:20-23)
II. Jesus Carried Our Shame (Matt. 1:20-23)
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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Have you ever been in a situation like Joseph’s, where there is just no good solution to the fix you’re in? That all you seem to have is a choice between a terrible decision and a painful decision? That's where Joseph was when he went to bed that night—there was no way for him to rescue himself or Mary out of the shameful mess they were in. So he crawls into bed dreading what he had to do the next day—write Mary a certificate of divorce and go their separate ways.
But as he fell into an exhausted and fitful sleep, God spoke to him! An angel of the LORD comes to him and gives him something he never thought he would have—a way out of their shame! That Mary’s pregnancy was absolutely not a result of infidelity—it was an act of God Himself! That Joseph wasn’t going to lose the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with—she would be his wife! In one sentence, God through His messenger gave Joseph back everything he thought he had lost! And more than all of this, God gave Joseph the promise that this baby would save His people from their sins! The name “Jesus” in the original Hebrew is “Yehoshuha”, meaning, “Yahweh Saves”. That baby in Mary’s womb was going to save His people—not just from their shame before others, but save them from their sin and shame before God!
But Jesus was not going to save Joseph and Mary from their shame from above—He was going to be born into it! Because
Jesus’ birth was a disgraceful birth (cp. John 8:41)
His whole life, Jesus would be dogged by the accusation that He was an illegitimate child—a bastard. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is in the middle of one of His many clashes with the religious leaders of His day. In John 8, the Jews are arguing with Jesus that they are righteous before God because they were descended from Abraham:
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”
Do you hear it? “Well, Jesus, you’re sure one to question someone’s family tree! You were born because your mom slept around!” (In verse 48 of John 8, the Jews double down on their accusations, insinuating that His mother was sleeping with a Samaritan!) None of it was true, but that didn’t matter to His enemies—all they wanted to do was shame Jesus as deeply as possible. But that’s why Jesus came to earth, isn’t it? To carry shame that He didn’t deserve—He came to carry our shame.
If Jesus’ birth was only a shameful birth, He would be no different than a lot of the rest of us, would He? “Jesus, you were born out of wedlock? Join the club—we have T-shirts!” But here is the reason that we celebrate this whole season—here is the reason that you and I have hope that we can be delivered from our shame before God--
Jesus’ birth was a miraculous birth (cp. Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:31-35)
Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah here, to show his readers that Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of a promise that God made to His people centuries earlier:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
King Ahaz was terrified of the Assyrian army that was threatening Judah, so God sent Ahaz a sign to show that He would be with them, and would defeat their enemies for them—a woman who was a virgin would have a son and name him Immanuel. Now, In Ahaz’s case, that woman who was a virgin at the time the prophecy was given would eventually marry and conceive a son in the natural way. But that prophecy that Isaiah gave to King Ahaz would find its ultimate fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ, who was born of a woman who had never been with a man.
In Luke’s Gospel we see this very clearly stated by the angel Gabriel when he came to announce to Mary that she would be Jesus’ mother:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
These passages together (Isaiah, Matthew and Luke) very clearly teach us about what we have come to refer to as the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ (though it is more accurately called His Virgin Conception—His birth was a normal birth). This is an absolutely foundational teaching of Christianity—Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb apart from any human father’s involvement underscores the fact that He is not just another human being, but He is also divine. He is not just God and not just Man—He is the God-Man.
The virgin birth is absolutely essential to Christianity—if Jesus’ divine nature were not demonstrated by His virgin birth, then the rest of our faith collapses like a house of cards. If Jesus were a mere man, born in sin and shame like us, living in sin and shame like us, and dying in sin and shame like us, then there would be no point in following Him over any other moral teacher!
But the Scriptures teach that Jesus is both God and man, and that He was born without the stain of sin that you and I were born with. And so that means that He does what no other mere mortal teacher can do:
III. Jesus Delivers Us From Shame (Matt. 1:24-25)
III. Jesus Delivers Us From Shame (Matt. 1:24-25)
Look at verses 24-25:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Joseph and Mary were delivered from their shame over her pregnancy—Joseph did not divorce Mary, but went through with the rest of their betrothal. And everything that the angel told Joseph came true: Mary gave birth to a baby boy, and Joseph gave him the name Jesus—the one who would save His people from their sins!
Jesus’ conception is the work of God alone—there is nothing that mankind could do to bring about His birth. There was absolutely no way for us to bring God down to us. It had to be God’s initiative to bring Himself down to us—to be “God-WITH-us.” Joseph and Mary could not deliver themselves from their shame—but Jesus delivered them from their shame through His sinless life and guiltless death and powerful resurrection.
You see, Jesus delivers us from the shame of our sin before God by carrying our shame on Himself. Because He is both God and man (as demonstrated by His miraculous birth), He had no sin of His own to pay for. The sin and guilt and shame that He carried to the Cross was not His own—it was yours!
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Because of the miraculous Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, He can do what no other individual could ever do—He could suffer the punishment for your shameful sins! When you call on Him for salvation, all of your shame for all of your sins against God were carried to the Cross, where the God-Man Jesus Christ died in your place to free you from that shame forever!
Beloved, if you have called on Jesus in faith and believe that He died in your place to free you from the penalty of your sins before God, don’t you see how you are
No longer defined by shame
? You are no longer defined by that shameful past—you have a new name, a new nature, a new birth in Jesus Christ! You are free from that shame—it no longer defines you, any more than Mary’s shame defined her! You are now defined by what Jesus says about you:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And if you are no longer defined by your shame, that means that you can live in Jesus Christ
No longer denying your shame
You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone, because you have been justified before God in Jesus Christ! You don’t have to defend your past or explain it away or rationalize your deeds—you are free to say, “Yes—I lived a shameful life. I don’t have an excuse, I don’t have a defense, I don’t have any way to justify myself. But I don’t need to! All of my justification took place on that Cross where my Savior died—He took on the shame of my sin, and that means I am free!
Jesus Christ died to deliver you from shame—you are no longer defined by it, you no longer have to deny it, and you are
No longer disqualified by shame
God’s Word promises you that
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
It doesn’t matter what kind of shameful past you have come out of—it doesn’t matter what kind of sins have stained your life! Jesus Christ was born into your shame—God with us—carrying the shame of your sin before God to the Cross where He killed it forever, so that you would be delivered from it once and for all! You are not a second-class Christian because of the shame of your past—you are not disqualified from worshipping Him, serving Him and representing Him to the world! You have the most wonderful message to share, and you are the perfect person to share it, because you know personally how great the grace of God is to deliver a sinner from the shame of their sin! So go from here into a world full of people who are desperately fighting a losing battle with their shame, and tell them that they can come and lay that shame down at the foot of the Cross of the God-Man, Jesus Christ!
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Have you ever felt trapped in your shame the way Mary and Joseph did? How did you try to deal with that shame? What does this passage teach you about the way to deal with the shame of your sins before God?
Why is the virgin birth of Jesus Christ so crucial to true Christianity? Why would our faith be completely undone if Jesus had a regular human father and mother?
Read John 8:42-50. When the Jews accuse Jesus of being an illegitimate, demon-possessed Samaritan, how does He respond? Does He accept the shame that they are trying to lay on Him? What do you learn from Jesus’ response that can help you respond to shameful accusations from others?
Are you struggling with the shame of your guilt before God today? Do you feel the weight of your sin before His holiness? The Day is coming when you will stand before God to answer for your sin—are you ready for that day? Jesus Christ came to earth to save His people from their sins. Call on Him today and know that your sin and shame has been taken away forever!