Text and Questions
The text for this week offers a good opportunity for us to consider the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We have the very familiar passage from Matthew in which the angel “explains” Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph. And we have what we may think is a very familiar passage from Isaiah which we may think “predicts” the story in Matthew. The reality, however, proves to be something different.
Isaiah 7. 10-17
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’
For extra credit, and to get a little sense of the context for today’s story, read all of Isaiah 7 (you’ll find it below). The first 13 verses will make very little sense. At verse 14 you may think you've come home. Then verses 15 to the end will make very little sense. If we have time, I can explain what the chapter is about in class on Sunday.
Pull Isaiah 7.14 out and place it next to Matthew 1. 23 (note: I did this for you below). What similarities and differences do you see between Isaiah’s words and Matthew’s quote of Isaiah’s words? Are the differences significant?
This question is not as obvious as it sounds: Why did Matthew quote Isaiah here?
It looks like Matthew uses Isaiah’s words to say something Isaiah didn’t mean to say. Is this a legitimate use of Isaiah by Matthew? What is Matthew up to here? Is Isaiah 7 a prediction of the birth of Jesus? Why or why not?
Matthew 1. 18-23
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
(Is 7. 14) Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son,
and shall name him Immanuel.
Does Matthew explain the virgin birth? If so, how?
How do you explain the virgin birth?
If you can’t explain the virgin birth, and Matthew doesn’t explain it, what’s happening in this passage? (Please Note—this is not a silly question; it goes to the heart of the problem of communicating our faith).
Joseph at first believes Mary is pregnant by some illicit means (rape or adultery would be the only possibilities). He is “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” because he is a “righteous” (or “just”) man. What is the connection between his “righteousness” and his unwillingness to shame her? What would have happened to Mary had Joseph followed through on his plan to “dismiss her quietly”? Isn’t it interesting that he is righteous enough not to shame her but not righteous enough to take he in and protect her. Should he have been?
What would Jesus have done with a woman in Mary’s position?
Consider how precarious and vulnerable this soon to be “holy family” is. Assuming these details are given the way they are on purpose, why do you think the story unfolds this way? What was God thinking?
The name “Jesus” is a Greek translation of the Aramaic name Yeshua which is short form of the Hebrew name Yehoshu’a which in English is translated as Joshua and means “Yahweh is Salvation”. What was Joshua’s role in the Old Testament? Compare and contrast it with Jesus’ role in the New Testament. Imagine Jesus as the new Joshua.
v. 21: “for he will save his people from their sins.” What does this phrase mean? Why do you think it means that? Can you imagine an alternative interpretation? What does “save” mean in this sentence, who are “his people” and what are their “sins” and how are they saved “from” those sins?
Extra Credit (we really could start and finish with this one): Why do we love this story so much?
In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. 2When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5Because Aram—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—has plotted evil against you, saying, 6Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it; 7therefore thus says the Lord God:
It shall not stand,
and it shall not come to pass.
8 For the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
(Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.)
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you do not stand firm in faith,
you shall not stand at all.
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’
18 On that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the sources of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thorn bushes, and on all the pastures.
20 On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.
21 On that day one will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, 22and will eat curds because of the abundance of milk that they give; for everyone that is left in the land shall eat curds and honey.
23 On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24With bow and arrows one will go there, for all the land will be briers and thorns; 25and as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread.
Children's Christmas Program