The Old Testament consists of thirty-nine writings, more commonly known as books. The first book of the Old Testament is called Genesis and the last book of the Old Testament, number thirty-nine, is called Malachi. Genesis is rather big. It has fifty chapters. Malachi is rather small. It has just four chapters. The fourth chapter of Malachi is the smallest of these four chapters having just six verses. But that sixth verse has something really important at the end of it: a period.
What is so important about that period? This period brings the whole Old Testament to a close. There are no more Old Testament writings after this period. And there are no more Old Testament writings because there are no more prophets after this period. And even though this period brings the whole Old Testament to a close, it begins another period. This is not another grammatical period, but rather a time period – the time between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. The technical name for this is the intertestamental period. But it is also referred to as a time of silence. Why is it called a time of silence? After that period at the end of Malachi and until the New Testament begins, there are no more writings and there are no more writings because there are no more prophets. There are four hundred years between that period at the end of Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament.
And the question is, what breaks that silence?
An Angel Speaks
The answer: an angel speaks. An angel first speaks in Luke 1:12. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” An angel speaks a second time in Luke 1:30-31. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” An angel speaks for a fourth time in Luke 2:10-11 to some shepherds out in some field. It was Christmas night. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
An angel speaks four times and each time is a part of breaking that four hundred years of silence that began with that period at the end of Malachi. And the question is, why does this, an angel speaking, break that silence? This is so exciting. I want us to listen to 1 Peter 1:12. This verse is the end of one long sentence. “It was revealed to them [this refers to the Old Testament prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you.” Pause there for a moment. How were these Old Testament prophets found to be serving us? By the way, this includes prophets like Malachi. “In the things that have now been announced to you.” This is great. So, Old Testament prophets, which includes prophets like Malachi, were found to be serving us in things! What things? Keep reading. “In the things that have now been announced to you through those who have preached the good news to you.” The things are found in the good news. Now make note of this; one of the four times that was used to break that silence started by that period at the end of Malachi was the good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.
Keep reading. “In the things that have now been announced to you through those who have preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things…” What things? “…things into which angels long to look.” Mark the word look. Angels long to look into these things. What things? The things found in the good news. The word look means to stretch forward the head through a window or door. In the second century b.c., this is that intertestamental period or the time of silence, look was used of slaves who would bend over the edge of a flat roof to catch a glimpse of musicians playing their music in the courtyard. So, these things are like music to the eyes and ears of angels! These things are those four times of breaking the silence!
And in Matthew 1:18-25 an angel who longs to look into these things, speaks for the third time, again, breaking the silence.
The Birth of Jesus Christ Took Place
It all begins with Matthew 1:18. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” First, notice the word “Now.” It is a word of transition; a transition right in the middle of Matthew 1. Why is that? What is it transitioning from? Notice how Matthew 1 begins. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is the book or record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. And the book is Matthew 1:2-17, a record or family tree of the ancestry of Jesus Christ. But what is really interesting is the word genealogy. It is the Greek word genesis. So, Matthew 1:1-17 is the historical record of the genesis or ancestry of Jesus Christ. Then in verse eighteen is this word of transition. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Mark that word birth. It is the Greek word genesis. Matthew 1 is the transition of one genesis to another genesis. The first genesis is the family tree, the historical record of Jesus Christ. The second genesis is how it all took place, how the birth of Jesus Christ took place.
And it took place in this way. Pay close attention to the way this is worded. The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. In what way? There is no inn. There is no manger. There are no shepherds. There is no drummer boy. How did the birth of Jesus Christ take place?
Mary Had Been Betrothed to Joseph
The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: Mary had been betrothed to Joseph. This is really important, more important than I have ever seen before. The word betrothed is like being engaged to be married, but not really. I just want us to observe that this is the very first thing that Matthew mentions when it comes to how the birth of Christ took place. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. And to be betrothed was to be engaged, the difference being was that it was legally binding, as legally binding as being married. The marriage process began with this betrothal and was not completed, and this is so sweet, until the groom took his bride home. This is why Matthew includes the next few words. “When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together.”
Mary Was Found to be With Child
The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: Mary was found to be with child. This too is really important, more important than I have ever seen before. Pay attention to how this is all worded in verse eighteen. Notice the word when and notice the word before. “When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was found to be with child. It had become obvious that she was pregnant. And the question is when? When did it become obvious she was pregnant? It was when she had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together. In other words, this was not Joseph’s child. It was not any man’s child. This is why Matthew includes “from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew will emphasize this again in verse twenty. “For that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Remember the very first observation given by Matthew. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. And when she had been betrothed to Joseph it was discovered that she was pregnant. What happened first? The betrothal or the pregnancy? Listen to Luke 1:26-27. “In the sixth month [this refers back to the previous verse] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Now pay attention to verse thirty-one. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” The betrothal happened first and then the pregnancy. And the point is that God did not choose a single, available young woman to conceive and bear and raise His Son. God chose a virgin woman to conceive and bear and raise His Son. But it was a virgin who was betrothed, meaning, God also chose a man.
And Her Man Joseph
This is why in verse nineteen, considering all that was just said in verse eighteen, it reads, “And her husband Joseph.” I love how this literally reads: And her man Joseph. How did the birth of Jesus Christ take place? The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: her man Joseph. God chose a man to raise His Son. His name was Joseph. What is there to know about Joseph, her man Joseph? He was a man, a just man, a righteous, upright, virtuous man. Joseph was a good man. And this good man discovered that Mary was pregnant. He discovered it because it was obvious. So, what possibly could he be thinking? Better yet, what possibly could he be feeling? Who really was this good man?
Listen to the rest of verse nineteen. He was “unwilling to put her to shame.” He would divorce Mary, quietly, he thought. But just let those words – “unwilling to put her to shame” – sink in and answer, who really was this good man? This was her man.
My Dad said that this is his favorite Christmas passage. It is because he admires Joseph so much. And my Dad admires Joseph so much because of the end of this passage. “He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife” (1:24). Joseph, her man, took his woman home. This was the man God chose to raise His Son. In choosing a virgin woman betrothed to this man, God also chose a home. The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.
What Changed Joseph’s Mind?
What changed Joseph’s mind? When he found out that Mary was pregnant, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, he was going to divorce her although quietly. He was going to end this relationship. So, what changed his mind? He went to sleep. And when he went to sleep, he was thinking about all these things. And when he went to sleep thinking about all these things, “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.’” This is third of the four times that an angel speaks breaking the silence began by that period at the end of Malachi. And the angel breaks the news that Mary is indeed pregnant. And it is not Joseph’s child. It is not any man’s child. It is by the plan of God. It is by the design of God. It is of God. This is a divine conception.
And the great part is that when Joseph awakes, there is no wondering what had just happened. Instead, he runs to his woman and takes her home. He obeys with joy. Why?
And He Called His Name Jesus
The angel told Joseph that the child was a boy. And the angel told Joseph the boy’s name. Listen to it. “And you shall call his name Jesus.” The you is singular, meaning the you is Joseph. Joseph, you will call his name Jesus. And notice how the chapter ends. “And he called his name Jesus.” But what does Jesus mean? Look at Matthew 1:21. “For he will save his people from their sins.” What really changed Joseph’s mind? Jesus. How does Jesus make the difference?
And this is the greatest part. Listen to verse twenty-two. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” What took place? What is all this that took place? The birth of Jesus Christ. This, Matthew 1:18-21, all took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. The prophet is Isaiah and what Isaiah said was Isaiah 7:14. Listen to it. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” What does Immanuel mean? God with us.
How does Matthew 1:18-21 fulfill Isaiah 7:14? Joseph was told he will call his name Jesus. Isaiah said that they will call his name Immanuel. Jesus means he will save his people from their sins. Immanuel means God with us. So, what is fulfilled? Who is the they in the quoting of Isaiah 7:14? It is the people who are saved from their sins.
And the big point is that the people whose sins Jesus forgives are the ones who will gladly call him God with us. Imagine, these are part of the words that break the silence! It is to know Jesus. Jesus who forgives sins. And he forgives sins because he paid the full punishment for those sins forever at the cross. And the ones who not only know that their sins are forgiven, but know the one who forgives those sins, can gladly and joyfully and restfully say, “He is God with us!”
The last recorded words of Jesus in Matthew are Matthew 28:20. “Behold, I am with you always.” The question for everybody is, do I know the difference Jesus makes? And, how am I knowing the difference Jesus makes? (John 14:23; John 15:1-11; Isaiah 43:2).
 D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, page 81.