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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

No Fear, Jesus is Conceived of the Holy Spirit


"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”" Matthew 1:20-21

We turn our attention now, with one week to go, to the imminent birth of Jesus.

Mary is found to be pregnant whilst pledged to be married to Joseph.

The child that is conceived in her is conceived ‘through the Holy Spirit’ Matthew says in verse 18.

But, Joseph doesn’t know that. He thinks in natural terms - not virgin-birth terms; after all, why would he? He thinks Mary has been unfaithful to their pledge and has landed herself pregnant.


Which is why, v.19: ‘he had in mind to divorce her’. Betrothal was a legal matter in Jewish law and to break off their pledge, a legal divorce was required.


We’re not talking adultery here because they’re not married yet - that doesn’t come until verse 24. Casual sex doesn’t constitute adultery in the context of betrothal. The sin here is thought to be fornication - casual sex outside of marriage. Therefore, the kind of ‘divorce’ Joseph has in mind is a legal divorce to break a betrothal. Not a divorce to break a marriage.


And the divorce is necessary. Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary is not onlylawful, but it’s also required under the law. Matthew records in verse 19 that Joseph sought the divorce because he was ‘faithful’ to the law. Meaning he was doing the required thing in planning to divorce Mary.

Joseph is not only a law-abiding citizen though, he’s also an honourableman, still in verse 19: ‘he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace’. The law demanded a divorce, but it didn’t demand a publicone, so Joseph had in mind to divorce her ‘quietly’. He didn’t want Mary to be disgraced.

And that sets the scene for our focus this morning, because it is one thing to want to preserve, as far as is possible, the reputation of someone who has sinned against you. And that is what we’re looking at here. Joseph doesn’t know that Mary is a virgin impregnated by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nor is that a reasonable conclusion from his perspective. As far as he’s concerned his betrothed woman has been sleeping with another man. And that must have been distressing for him. I mean he must have felt the betrayal of that!


Nevertheless, he cares deeply for Mary. And in caring deeply for her he wants to limit her exposure to the disgrace of the sin that he thinks she’s committed.

And I’m saying that is impressive in its self-sacrificial nature. There is surely a lesson for every single Christian in that heart attitude towards those we think have wronged us. But in comparison with what the angel is now about to ask Joseph to do, it seems like a small thing really.

Verse 20 says, ‘after [Joseph] had considered all this [the pregnancy, the law, the divorce and how to minimise Mary’s exposure - which is a lot to consider], an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] and said, “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…


So, the implications of that, for Joseph are these, at least:

First, the bombshell revelation that Mary hasn’t been promiscuous at all. And that the baby conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. ‘Joseph do you believe that?’ I mean do you believe that?

Joseph has to weigh it up: ‘do I believe the natural explanation of conception that requires a male and a female, and conclude Mary is a fornicator. Or, do I believe the angel that appeared to me in a dream?’

And I don’t think you can say, ‘well that’s easy - you believe the angel because let’s face it who sees an angel every day’.

I don’t think it’s that simple because, the angel appeared in a dream. And dreams are by their very nature fuzzy. I mean, seriously, if I took every dream I had as informative, I’d be doing all kinds of crazy stuff in my life!

So, I think there’s ambiguity here for Joseph.


Does he take words that came from the mouth of an angel, in a dream, conveying that Mary’s baby is conceived of the Holy Spirit of God as real, or as a crazy dream? I don’t think that’s clear cut - like, ‘obviously he’s going to listen to the angel’.


The dream, the character in the dream, the content of the message might all suggest this is nothing but the product of a light REM cycle.

But Joseph concludes ‘no, this is real’. We know that because verse 24 says that when he ‘woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home to be his wife’.


So that’s implication number 1: believe it! The baby in Mary is really conceived of the Holy Spirit of God and Mary is innocent.


Implication number 2 is, so far as everyone else is concerned, they will think Joseph got Mary pregnant whilst they were betrothed and before they were married. The public nature of the disgrace that would have been Mary’s and which Joseph would have distanced himself from by divorcing her - which he wanted to minimise for her as much as possible - will now be his.

He will be the one that everyone thinks has been fornicating. She might have been his betrothed, but she wasn’t his wife yet.

And we see that this must have ended up being the case because when Jesus is in his ministry phase – around the age of 30, John records the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being ‘steeped in sin at birth’. They meant he was conceived by fornication. So it had got around and it had certainly stuck.

Right there, I see two massive reasons for Joseph to be afraid then. One, a completely unheard-of type of conception in the woman who the angel says, ‘you marry her’.

And two, the social implications of taking a woman who the rest of the community will assume Joseph got pregnant during betrothal for the simple reason: he is not divorcing her but marrying her.


So, the question is, why wouldn’t Joseph be afraid to take Mary as his wife? He’s got every reason to be afraid. Yet the angel says in verse 20, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife’.

And the angel gives us the answer, does he not? Don’t be afraid Joseph, ‘because what is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit’. There’s something about the fact that the baby is conceived of the Holy Spirit that is meant to, in the angel’s mind, serve to dispel Joseph’s fears. And that’s what we want to know? And that’s what the rest of this message is about.

Why is it important to know what it is? Well mainly, I think, because Joseph represents a person just like us. What I mean is, there’s nothingof Joseph in the baby Jesus - he did not get Mary pregnant, the Holy Spirit did. But he is wholly involved with the life of the baby Jesus.


Imagine if the angel hadn’t come to him in the dream. Imagine if he had divorced Mary quietly. Imagine if Mary had brought Jesus up a single mother.

Joseph would have had nothing to do with Jesus. But because of the angel, and Joseph’s belief in the angel’s message, and his obedience to the angel’s message, he’s actually wrapped up in the life of Jesus.

And that’s us too. We are like him. There’s nothing of us in Jesus, but we are wholly wrapped up in his life, if we know him by faith.

So, if there’s something that the angel intended Joseph to understand by the miraculous - Holy Spirit - conception of Jesus that could calm his fears - which the angel is saying there is - then I believe it is for us too.

What is there about the Holy Spirit conceived child that calms our fears? I see 5 things from these verses. Starting at verse 21 and working out from there.


Number 1 - The boy who is conceived by the Holy Spirit is to be called ‘Jesus’ - which means ‘saviour’ - because he will save his people from their sins.


Just consider with me for a minute what fear is. Fear is the negative anticipation of something that could result in or contribute to death.

And you might say, ‘well not really because there are lots of things that are unlikely to result in death that I’m afraid of’. Granted. But fear comes in degrees. The greater the threat to life the greater the fear. The less the threat, the less the fear. That tends to be how fear works. The finality of death drives fear.


Which is why the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus came as a man - in human flesh - in order to break the power of the devil who holds the power of death over people.

And then the writer says that people are terrified their whole lives of death. But then, Jesus came into the world and died, so that people could be released from their fear of death.

How does he do that? He does it by dying for them as we know. But what is it that drives fear out? Well, it is the receipt of eternal life.

Death is nullified in the face of eternal life. The finality with which life ends causes the fear and eternal life is the antidote to that finality. And that has a profound effect on fear.

Since all fear derives from the threat of death, when that threat is gone, fear is nullified too.

We might say, to the extent that we perceive that our lives are hidden with Christ above and that we cannot die, our fears are alleviated.


And what else is eternal life, except the forgiveness of sins. The consequence of sin is death, Paul says, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ.


So when the angel says, ‘Mary will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’, he’s saying she will give birth to a unique child - born of the Holy Spirit of God - and he will save people from their sins and thereby give them eternal life, and thereby nullify the threat of death, and thereby nullify fear itself.


In other words, we do not need to be afraid because the baby conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit has saved us from death and given us eternal life.

Number 2 is that: the baby conceived of the Holy Spirit has a people. It’s not just that he will save people from their sins. It’s that he will save his people from their sins. The baby Jesus has a chosen and called out people who belong to him.


We know that the people who are his, are chosen. We know it becauseEphesians 1:11 says ‘God chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. And the reason why being a chosen people is so fear-confronting is that if he did the choosing and not us, then we can’t ever fall out of God’s favour!

If Jesus came to save his people, God’s favour cannot fail to rest on them. God is a faithful God, and he will not change his mind.

We are not like that. If we did the choosing, then just as easily as we opted in, we could opt out again. We could jeopardise our eternal futures.

But since he chose us in Jesus, and he will not change his mind, Jesus will always have us as his people.


We do not need to be afraid then, because we belong to the people who belong to the child whom the Holy Spirit conceived in Mary.

Number 3 is that: the baby conceived by the Holy Spirit is a son of David. That means that he is subject to a human nature. Hebrews, again, says, he had to be made in that way - as a human - so that he could suffer like we suffer, and be tempted as we are tempted. And in so suffering and being tempted, become familiar with what that is like so that he could help us who are being tempted.


Fear is a type of temptation. Fear is a failure to trust in the all-wise, all sufficient ways of God for our lives - many of which look difficult and painful. And Jesus has called us to carry our cross following in his footsteps. I don’t suppose any of us think a cross is a pretty thing, and that would be right.


All those crosses though, are good for us, and all of them are perfectly designed to be good for us. The temptation is to distrust the God of the crosses. Jesus came in the flesh of his forefather David, was tempted as we are, and therefore learnt how to help us to bear our crosses.


We need not fear then, because the baby conceived in Mary, by the Holy Spirit, has known temptation to distrust, and is able to help us in our temptation to unbelief.

And it’s clear (this is a side note) that Matthew wants us to focus on the Davidic line of Jesus because it’s only here, when quoting the angel, that Joseph’s full title is used - ‘Joseph Son of David’.


Jesus didn’t get his human nature in the line of David from Joseph, but he did from Mary. Mary was also of the line of David. Luke doesn’t mention Mary in the lineage he records, but the lineage is different than that of Matthew’s which Matthew tells us was Joseph’s line. So, Luke, starting with Mary’s father Heli, records for us Mary’s line which is also of David. That’s why Jesus is a son of David by blood, not just law.

Number 4: Jesus the babe, conceived of the Holy Spirit is the Messiah, verse 1. Messiah means, ‘anointed one’ or ‘chosen one’. We might say in our modern language, ‘hand picked one’. Which begs the question, hand picked by whom? And the answer is God. Acts 3 refers to the Messiah as ‘God’s Messiah’.

In the New Testament the word ‘Messiah’ is sometimes used in conjunction with the designation ‘the Son of God’. Peter says, ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of God’. And therefore, the good news is, if we believe in the baby conceived by the Holy Spirit - as I think Joseph did - then we are heirs with king Jesus.

As Jesus - being the kingly Son of God - is an heir of God, we also are heirs with him - Romans calls us ‘co-heirs’ with Jesus.

Therefore, we have a guaranteed inheritance which is a share in his kingly glory. That share serves to nullify fear because, whatever challenges we face in this life, they are working for us an eternal weight of share in God’s kingdom glory, according to 2 Corinthians 4.


Therefore, do not fear because the baby conceived of the Spirit of God has made us to be co-heirs of eternal kingdom glory!

Number 5, the baby conceived by the Holy Spirit will be ‘God with us’, verse 23. Therefore, do not fear. When you face your enemies alone, there is cause to fear. But, when you have a mighty warrior on your side there is no need to fear.

And we do have a mighty warrior on our side! Jesus is not merely a man with us, he is God with us! God is in the camp, and we need not fear.

The social ostracism of Joseph’s situation looks a mighty obstacle to obedience. The fear of the consequences of taking Mary as his wife looks insurmountable. But not when God is with you.


God is with us in the baby, born of the Spirit of God, and therefore, what can mortals do to us? Psalm 56:4, ‘In God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Therefore, do not fear.

It really does come down to what Jesus accomplished by coming into the world and what that means for us in the future. It really is that simple.

It is the appreciation of what the future holds because of Jesus’ God-ness (conceived of the Holy Spirit), that serves to conquer fear in us.


The reality of the future has to break into the present and become reality to us now. That’s how fear is conquered in us.


Christmas is about joy coming into the world. The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’.

Baby Jesus is joy for us. And where joy exists fear doesn’t.

The angel host appeared praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’.

Baby Jesus is peace for us. And where peace exists fear cannot.

So, how will you find your peace this Christmas? And that could be for the first time, or it could be a reset in your life.

How will you find your joy this Christmas? Either for the first time or as a reset?

How will fear be extinguished and peace and joy rise to the surface?


Well, not by sheer application of will that’s for sure. It will happen, rather, by the will of the Holy Spirit of God, by whom Jesus was conceived, working in us - helping us to see more of the glories of Jesus.


We need to see more Christmas glory folks. We need to be like the angel host and see the glory of God etched all over the Christmas story. And then we need to experience the realities that are ours in Jesus and experience them casting out fear.


We need to delve deep into Jesus and then test the power of what he has accomplished for us, working itself out in our lives. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18) and Jesus is perfect love!

I remember being a young boy who had faith in Jesus but was afraid of everything. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of school. Afraid of speaking in front of class. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

And I remember how the realities if what Jesus had done for me began to dawn on my understanding and started to banish fear from my life.


I’m not saying I don’t get afraid; I’m saying that more of Jesus is the answer to our inmost fears.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears’ Psalm 34:4. The psalmist, David, was delivered from all his fears when he sought the Lord.


So, I encourage you to seek more of Jesus this Christmas. Seek Jesus in the details of the narrative because there are nuggets of glory in there.

Joseph beheld the glory of Christmas as he received the angel’s message. And as he beheld the glory - in whatever form it took - his fears melted away.

Matthew says he woke up and did the hard thing - he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do. He took Mary home to be his wife.


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