Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
In business, people sometimes conduct what is called a “cost-benefit analysis” (or CBA) of a project. That is, they study a project to assess the potential costs and the potential benefits of the project. If they find that the costs of a benefit greatly outweigh the benefits, the project becomes undesirable. On the other hand, if the benefits of a project outweigh the costs to a sufficient degree, the desirability of the project is greatly increased.
In other words, a “cost-benefit analysis” simply asks the following two questions of any project:
1.      What will this project cost us?
2.      What will be the benefits of this project?
It is really a very simple idea, and one that we all do all the time when we try to make decisions.
The gospel of Matthew’s account of the birth announcement of Jesus and the effects of that announcement is interesting because it is possible to do a cost-benefit analysis of the coming of Jesus into the world. To be sure, the coming of Jesus cost something. On the other hand, the benefits of the coming of Christ are almost incalculable.
This morning I would like to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of Christmas. By the way, lest you think this an inappropriate venture – a CBA of Christmas – let me remind you that Jesus asked us to do nothing less than this and, in fact, said it was unwise not to consider the costs of following Him. For instance, in Luke 14 Jesus said:
27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Indeed, we should consider the cost of Jesus…and we cannot help but consider the benefits of Jesus. This does not mean that accepting Jesus is a pragmatic or utilitarian decision. In fact, I hope to show that at the very heart of the costs of Christmas there is a paradox which transforms the costs themselves into joys. Nonetheless, let us consider the costs and the benefits of Christmas. I would like to conduct this CBA of Christmas for the three central figures we find in this morning’s text: Mary, Joseph and, lastly, Jesus Himself.
I. A CBA of Christmas for Mary (v.18-19)
Let us turn our attention first to the most obvious figure in the story: Mary. The mother of Jesus, for obvious reasons, stood to face the most devastating costs…and the greatest benefits. This is because Mary carried the gift of Christmas within her. She was connected to this gift in a way that nobody else could be.
18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
·         Christmas cost Mary her peace.
New Testament scholar Craig Keener notes that “Mary would have probably been between the ages of twelve and fourteen (sixteen at the oldest), Joseph perhaps between eighteen and twenty.”[1] He is basing these numbers on what appears to be the average age of marrying couples in first century Judaism in the extant records from the time. If this is correct (and we have no real reason for denying that it likely is) then this means Mary was just a girl. Of course, all of this is relative since it was customary for a twelve to fourteen-year-old girl to marry in that day and in that culture. Either way, though Mary was almost certainly more mature than the average teenage girl today, Mary was just a girl.
It was a scary time to be alive in many ways. Being a young woman in this society had its challenges, though I do reject the myth that all females at this time were miserable and oppressed and devoid of happiness. Even so, this was a patriarchal society which itself existed under foreign rule. A young girl was about as vulnerable a figure as one could find in this society.
Even so, there were certain protections available to her. One of those was a good and solid marriage. A good marriage to a good man afforded material provision, a measure of protection, and, as much as could be had in a society like this, peace. To be sure, Mary’s peace of mind was bound up in having a good marriage.
Imagine, then, how this unexpected pregnancy shattered the peace of her present and the hoped-for peace of the future.
18b When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
An adulterous woman cast off from her husband was a woman with no hope of a second marriage, no hope of social normalcy and no hope of peace. She would be the Hester Prynne of her day: forever marked with a scarlet “A”. Imagine how this pregnancy shattered the peace of this young girl! Talk about your world being turned upside down! Mary’s peace was undermined by Christmas.
·         Christmas cost Mary her honor.
A young woman’s sexual purity in this day was her honor. It was the guarantee of a good character. On a Jewish girl’s wedding night physical proof of her virginity (the blood-stained bed sheet) was displayed for all to see as evidence of her purity and as confirmation of her honor. Mary would not have this. The gift of Christmas removed her honor as the world understands honor. Christmas meant to Mary that probably most people would view her as “damaged goods.”
·         Christmas likely cost Mary some friends.
People have ingenious ways of distancing themselves from the neighborhood scandal. What condescending whispers followed Mary through the streets? How did the other girls look at her when she was not looking? How did they look at her when she was looking? What did people say about “that girl” over the dinner table or at the well?
I’m curious: how many of her girlhood friends suddenly found difficulty finding the time to hang out with Mary? How many of her friends sheepishly called her into some dark corner to apologetically explain that while they still loved Mary personally their moms and dads just were not going to allow them to be seen with Mary again? How many friends hugged Mary goodbye and said, “I’m sorry Mary. I’m sure you understand.”
I’m curious: How many of the townsfolk made a u-turn when they saw Mary, alone, drawing water from the town well? How many conversations grew quiet when she walked by, only to pick up again in judgmental whispers when she passed? How many friends did Christmas cost Mary?
·         Christmas cost Mary her reputation.
How do you regain a reputation when it is lost? In a society in which a woman’s reputation was all she had, what exactly is left when you lose even that? Christmas cost Mary her reputation. She was no longer “Sweet little Mary.” She was now the girl who got pregnant out of wedlock, probably with somebody other than her betrothed, Joseph.
·         Christmas cost Mary the temporary loss of her husband’s trust.
Joseph was a righteous man. At no point does he attack Mary. But notice that Joseph learns of the pregnancy that he did not create in v.19 before he receives the angel and his explanation in v.20. This means that, at least for a time, Mary lost her husband’s trust.
I say “husband” because, in this culture, a betrothed couple was referred to as “husband and wife” even though the wedding had not yet occurred and the union had not yet been consummated. Betrothal, then, was something more than our idea of “engagement” though a bit less than our idea of “marriage.” It was a legal agreement, recognized by society at large, and infidelity in the betrothal period was seen as nothing less than adultery demanding divorce.
Perhaps the most painful cost Mary faced was the cost of Joseph’s trust. How do you explain something like this to your betrothed? Where do you begin? How did Mary look into the eyes of Joseph and begin to explain, “I am innocent, Joseph. I did not betray you. I have not been unfaithful.”?
·         Christmas threatened to cost Mary her life.
Christmas threatened Mary’s life, as the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary explains:
“The terminology ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ were now used to refer to the betrothed partners…Sexual unfaithfulness during this stage was considered adultery, the penalty for which was death by stoning (cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:23-24, although by New Testament times stoning was rare.”[2]
Christmas could have cost Mary her life. Joseph could have turned her over to be stoned. Even so, religious zealots could have taken it upon themselves to carry out their own ideas of justice. I daresay this was not a safe time for Mary to be caught alone among some of the more stringent Jews.
Dear brothers and sisters, have you considered the amazing costs of Christmas to Mary? It cost her so very, very much. She did not need to have this explained to her. She understood it and experienced the costs of Christmas in ways that we will never understand.
I ask you: in the face of such overwhelming costs, can we even begin to speak of benefits? Is it not reasonable and right to assume that Mary must have wilted and lost faith under the crushing burden of this most invasive gift from God?
How did Mary assess the costs? How did she respond? Fortunately for us, God’s Word reveals the answer. You see, Mary did her own Cost-Benefit Analysis. After looking the whole situation over, she decided to sing her conclusion. Her song was sung to Elizabeth in Luke 1, and it reveals what Mary thought of the costs of Christmas:
46And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

How can this be? Has Mary seen the same Cost-Benefit Analysis that we have? Can our ears really be hearing rightly?
Yes, church, your ears have heard rightly. Mary weighed the costs, and she found them almost invisible in the face of the overwhelming joy of being the instrument through which God would bring His Son into the world. Her soul magnified the Lord! She saw herself as perpetually blessed!
For Mary the benefits obliterated the costs. Mary came to understand something very important: Christmas costs us everything…but Christmas costs us nothing, for the yoke of Christ is liberation and the burden of the gospel is nothing less than the wings on which we fly to heights of joy we can barely comprehend.
Mary weighed the costs and saw in the end that the benefits of having Jesus make the cost of accepting Him very, very small. Consider Mary and take heart: what you lose in embracing Christ is real and can be painful…but it is a temporary pain leading to an eternal joy.
II. A CBA of Christmas for Joseph (v.19-20)
Next we see Joseph, “a just man.” Joseph was a just man before he learned of Mary’s pregnancy and he was a just man after he came to accept it. In between, he was just but tried and sorely tempted. Matthew approaches the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective. Luke approaches it from Mary’s. In Matthew, we find that Christmas did indeed come with a cost for Joseph.
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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.
·         Christmas almost cost Joseph his wife.
As mentioned earlier, Joseph learned of the pregnancy in verse 19 before he learned the truth about the pregnancy in verse 20. Between verses 19 and 20, then, was an intense internal battle. What should Joseph do? Matthew tells us:
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
To say that this pregnancy threatened Joseph’s marriage is an understatement. As the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary puts it, “Divorce for adultery was not optional, but mandatory, among many groups of ancient Judaism, because adultery produced a state of impurity that, as a matter of fact, dissolved the marriage.”[3]In other words, while the nature of the divorce could be more or less public, depending on the groom’s desire, the necessity for a divorce was all but certain.
It was a scandal for a Jewish man not to divorce an adulterous wife, even in the betrothal period. Thus, Christmas almost cost Joseph his bride…and a bride he loved very much. The fact that he did not wish to put her to public shame shows that Joseph’s confusion and possibly Joseph’s anger did not outweigh his love for Mary.
What agonizing grief did Joseph feel before he knew the truth (a truth that itself could not have alleviated all of his questions)? How do you close a door on love, even in the midst of an assumed betrayal? How do you throw a switch and cut off all of your dreams for the future, all of your dreams of having children one day with the woman you love, all of your hopes for domestic peace and stability?
Christmas almost cost Joseph his marriage.
·         Christmas cost Joseph his pride.
In verse 20, the angel encourages Joseph to stay with Mary.
20 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.
While there is no evidence that Joseph was a terribly proud man (indeed, there is a great deal of evidence of his humility!), it cannot be denied that Christmas cost Joseph his pride. While the angel’s explanation was undoubtedly comforting to a degree, how does a man not struggle with his pride when his wife is expecting a baby he knows is not his?
The coming of Jesus cost Joseph his pride, and it costs us ours today. In fact, a heart filled with pride has no room for the Christ Child at all. Even today, Jesus sweeps the pride from hearts that He would inhabit. It is a painful sweeping, but it is necessary.
·         Christmas cost Joseph his reputation.
In keeping Mary by his side, Joseph sacrificed and lost his reputation. We must understand that the stigma of this scandalous pregnancy was not only Mary’s to bear. Craig Keener points out that “Roman law actually treated a husband who failed to divorce an unfaithful wife as a panderer exploiting his wife as a prostitute.”[4]
In embracing the pregnant Mary, Joseph embraced the societal shame of her situation. Had he divorced her, it would have cleared him to a large extent. But to take her with her scandalous pregnancy meant that he shared in the supposed sin of her actions.
Christmas cost Joseph his reputation.
·         Christmas likely cost Joseph some friends.
It is almost unnecessary to put the word “likely” here. There can be no doubt that Christmas cost Joseph some friends. While it is almost certainly true that men throughout history have gotten off a bit lighter than their girlfriends or fiancés when an illegitimate pregnancy ensues, it must be understood that the stigma which fell upon Joseph when he refused to divorce Mary would have been too much for most of his friends.
Perhaps a few stalwart friends stood with him. Most probably did not. When Joseph took that young lady’s hand, he let go of a great deal of friendship. It is no small thing to lose lifelong friends. Joseph knew the pain of this, and Christmas was the reason.
·         Christmas cost Joseph his social standing.
A man’s name has always been his honor, in almost every culture throughout human history. While Joseph was not a wealthy or powerful man, he seems to have possessed the kind of virtues that would have given him a solid, if not exalted, social standing. At the very least we may safely assume that Joseph was known as a good and reasonable and solid man. In time, Joseph would have taken his place among the elders in the appropriate positions of respect and esteem.
But this! A pregnant betrothed before the marriage day? A refusal to divorce her as the dictates of society demanded? A brazen embrace of this woman who was carrying a child that was not his own?
Oh, Christmas cost Joseph something. It almost cost him his marriage. It certainly cost him his pride, his reputation, his friends and his social standing. When one considers all of these costs, what benefits could possibly balance out the scales?
Would you believe it if I told you that the benefits of Christmas for Joseph were exactly the same as the costs of Christmas for Joseph? What did Joseph lose or almost lose: his wife, his pride, his reputation, his friends and his social standing. But what did Joseph gain from Christmas: his wife, his pride, his reputation his friends and his social standing.
Is it not odd how the gospel replenishes ten-fold what the gospel costs? Like Job who saw his children and fortune and lands and health restored only after he lost them all, so Jesus takes from us only to bless us, wounds us only to heal us and calls us to a yoke only to set us free.
Joseph almost lost his wife through all of this, but, in the end, Joseph gained his wife. I ask you: was the threat worth the benefit? In the end, how much greater was Joseph and Mary’s relationship because they both had the audacity to believe a truth that threatened their very relationship? How much stronger was their marriage because they dared to risk their marriage for this scandalous Christ Child?
The same happened with the other costs. Joseph lost his pride, but for the last two thousand years the church has looked upon him with an admiration that he could never have imagined when these events occurred. Joseph lost his reputation, but for the last two thousand years his reputation has been consistently praised and celebrated by believers throughout the world who rightly look upon him as a model of humility and faith and trust. Joseph lost some friends through this, but how many friends has he gained? I tell you that I cannot wait to get to heaven and find Joseph and speak with him. I will consider him a friend! Let me also point out that the names of those friends who may have abandoned Joseph because of his refusal to divorce Mary have been lost to history. Nobody remembers Joseph’s friends, but everybody remembers Joe! And Joseph lost his social standing, but here we are, two millennia later, speaking the name of Joseph from a platform in a church in Ar-kansas!
Oh, Christmas cost Joseph everything…but Christmas cost Joseph nothing. For when we compare what Joseph and Mary gained, how can we trip over the small things they lost?
It is so even today, is it not? We give everything…to gain everything! This is the paradox of the gospel, the great irony at the heart of Jesus.
III. A CBA of Christmas for Jesus (v.21-23)
Speaking of Jesus, we dare not forget the costs of Christmas for Jesus. Our text records the angel’s explanation of the coming of Christ:
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
We see the mission of Jesus explained here, but we also see the cost of that mission.
·         Christmas cost Jesus His throne on high.
While Jesus would ascend to His throne after the resurrection, let us not forget that he first descended from His throne when He became a man. The incarnate Christ did not remain enthroned. Rather, He humbled Himself and left His throne to live among lost humanity.
Nowhere is this truth more beautifully explained than in the Apostle Paul’s magisterial “Carmen Christi” from Philippians 2:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
What did Christmas cost Jesus? For a time, it cost Him His throne. This does not mean He abandoned His deity. He was always and ever God. But Paul writes that Jesus “made himself nothing,” that Jesus took “the form of a servant,” that Jesus was “born in the likeness of men.”
Christmas cost Jesus His throne, for a time. But the temporary abandonment of His throne does not lessen the wonder that He would do this for us! It was no small thing for God to become a man! It was no small thing for God to be born among the most humble of all people!
·         Christmas cost Jesus His transcendence.
God’s transcendence is God’s otherness. It refers to the fact that God is beyond His creation, that God transcends what we see. At Christmas, however, the transcendent God stepped out of His transcendent glory and into the muck and mire of the earth. He came among us and walked the same streets that we walk and ate the same food that we eat.
At Christmas, God became a man!
·         Christmas cost Jesus His distance from suffering.
Not only did God become a man, God became a man who suffered. Do you understand that Christmas was not a necessity for God? He did not have to do it. As the transcendent God, He need not subject Himself to suffering.
Unlike you and I, God could choose that God would never suffer. But while God could choose not to suffer, God, because of who He is, could not choose not to love. For His Word tells us that God is love. God cannot deny Himself.
So the loving God loved us so much that He chose to suffer. The angel said in Matthew 1:
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Yes, He will save his people from their sins, and He will do it through the ministry of the cross.
Paul put it like this in Philippians 2:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus put no distance between Himself and suffering. He looked into the deep abyss of human misery and suffering and pain and loved us so much that He drew near to the point of being crushed by His own creation! Christmas cost Jesus His distance from suffering.
·         Christmas cost Jesus His life.
More than anything, Christmas cost Jesus His life. He…was…born…to…die.
Human beings find it socially unexceptional to speak of death around newborn babies. Which of us could imagine going into a hospital room with some young couple and their newborn baby and saying, “Oh, how precious! Wonder when he’s going to die?”
I will wager some of you just cringed at even that fictional account. It is inconceivable and terrible and rude and horrible macabre to speak of a baby’s death.
Can you imagine, then, what it means that Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby who was born to die. His death was bound up with His birth, for His birth signaled God’s resolve to sacrifice His only begotten Son to save lost humanity.
He was born to die. Christmas cost Jesus His life. The cross could be seen from the manger, and sacrifice was not far from his baby’s tears.
He came to die.
If it was hard for us to imagine benefits that could outweigh the costs of Christmas for Mary and Joseph, how much more difficult is it to conceive of the benefits for Christ, for whom Christmas cost so much. Mary did not die a violent death.  To our knowledge, Joseph did not die a violent death. But Jesus came to die. What possible benefit could Christmas have afforded this Child who would give everything?
Consider simply two.
First, in coming, Jesus won a bride. He won for Himself a bride! He grew in wisdom and stature and taught and modeled the Kingdom. He healed and performed exorcisms. He rebuked the proud and exalted the lowly. He spoke the truth and was crucified for doing so. But the crucifixion for which He was born was not a defeat. Rather, the cross was Jesus’ payment for a bride.
Jesus signed marriage papers with His blood. He opened the door to a bride who never would have dreamed of coming to Jesus had He not opened the door. He made the way straight for the bride to come!
Who is Jesus’ bride? Why, it is quite simply you…and you…and you…and us, His church. The bride is all who will come to Jesus and receive Him. Jesus gave His life but won a bride. Jesus rose from the dead and defeated sin, death and hell. In so doing, He secured the bride’s peace and the bride’s safety and the bride’s life!
Jesus won a bride! This was the benefit of Christmas. Perhaps you wonder, “How can winning us be worth it for the cost He paid?” I wonder the same when I consider how unfaithful we sometimes are to our groom. But then consider this: it matters not that we cannot imagine how winning a bride was worth the cost. All that matters is that Jesus thought winning a bride was worth the cost. And He did. And He does. And He paid the price. And Jesus loves His bride.
He loves you. He loves you. He was born to win you. His life was a payment for the wedding to which you are invited not only as an observing guest, but moreso as the bride herself! The groom invites you to walk the aisle to Himself!
What else? What other benefit did Jesus secure? Why, Christmas became the paradoxical means through which Jesus brought glory to His Father. He glorified the Father through His radical obedience and the Father glorified Him as well.
This is what Paul says in the conclusion to the “Carmen Christi” in Philippians 2. Listen:
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What benefit did Christmas afford Jesus? I will tell you: He won glory for His Father. He honored His Father’s name. Oh, church, we cannot imagine how much the Father and Son and the Spirit love one another. We will marvel one day when we drawn near in glory to the glory of the triune God! Even more than a bride, Jesus cherishes His Father’s glory…and the Father cherishes the Son’s glory!
Oh, Christmas cost Jesus everything…but it gained for Jesus a redeemed bride and greater glory for the Father who sent Him.
A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Christmas. When we weigh it all out, was it worth it? Did and do the benefits outweigh the costs?
See the conclusion of our text:
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Amazingly, wonderfully, beautifully, Joseph thought that Christmas was worth all that it cost. Mary thought that Christmas was worth all that it cost. Most gloriously, Jesus thinks that Christmas was worth all that it cost.
It will cost you everything.
It will cost you nothing.
Come to this God born in a manger.
Come to the child born to die.
Come to this Jesus and live.

[1] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.47.
[2] Clinton E. Arnold, Gen.Ed., Matthew, Mark, Luke. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.11.
[3] Arnold, p.11.
[4] Craig Keener, Matthew. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p.61.

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