Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Oversight or Insight?

Looking Carefully at a “Mistake” in the Bible

In reading through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth recently, I noticed what appeared to be an embarrassing mistake he made in applying a verse from Isaiah to Jesus’ birth. Here’s the passage:

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. 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). Mt 1:18-23
Did you see the mistake? It’s in the names. Look closely. The angel says “you shall call his name Jesus” but Isaiah’s prophecy says, “they shall call his name Immanuel.” And to make matters worse, Matthew clearly says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken…” If he hadn’t been quite so broad, we might have been able to slip off the hook by arguing that he was only talking about the “born of a virgin” part and not the names part. But he had to go and use that word “all.” Hmmm…

So I pondered and prayed and reread the verses, and then I think I found the answer. It’s in the tiny word “for”—the one followed by the clause “he will save his people from their sins.” But before I explain how that one word solves the problem, we need to think for just a moment about the two names themselves.

Matthew defines the name Immanuel for us right in the verse: “God with us.” The meaning of “Jesus” isn’t quite as explicit, though it is implied. Just like the Hebrew name Joshua, Jesus means “Jehovah saves.”

When the angel told Joseph to name his son Jesus, he was choosing a name that declares the exclusive position of Jehovah as the only savior of His people. But remarkably, he follows the name immediately with “FOR he will save his people from their sins.” In effect, the angel says: “Name your son ‘Jehovah saves,’ because he’s going to save you.” Apparently, this baby is going to do something that previously was done by Jehovah Himself: save His people. The point is unmistakable: this baby must be God!

Thus, when Matthew saw in Isaiah 7:14 that the virgin’s baby was called Immanuel—“God with us,” he saw the perfect fulfillment in the angel’s announcement to Joseph. Since only God can save His people, and since this baby is going to be named “Jehovah saves” precisely because he (the baby) will save His people from their sins, this baby must be God. To say that this infant will be our Savior is just another way of saying that this baby is God with us!

And then, instead of criticizing Matthew for his careless oversight, I was thanking God for his profound insight. Like John Piper says, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but sometimes you find diamonds.” Thanks, Matthew, for the Christmas diamond!

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