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Jesus Our Savior

December 24, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Advent

Topic: Salvation Passage: Matthew 1:20–21


An Exposition of Matthew 1:20b-21

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: December 24, 2023

Series: Advent

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Holy Scripture says:

“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.” (Matthew 1:20b-21)


These words from Matthew 1 that I read just a moment ago, are words spoken by an angel to the man Joseph in a dream. These clear and straightforward words informed Joseph, and they inform us, about the purpose of our Lord’s coming. In fact, these words are nothing less than a proclamation of good news for Jesus’ people. As the world is so often preoccupied with bad news, and as peddlers of bad news are part of great marketing efforts to direct our attention to the bad news, so that we will be fearful enough to spend money on coping methods, it seems to me that we really ought to turn our backs on the bad news, and warmly celebrate the good news over and over again.

What is the good news? The good news is this: “The LORD reigns” (Psalm 97:1). The Lord rules over all things, and He exercises His sovereign authority for the good of His people. In Psalm 97, “He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 97:10) When the wicked apply their hand against us to persecute us, we really do need the Lord to rescue us. Our greatest problem, however, is not the external wickedness that fights against us. Our greatest problem is the internal wickedness that arises from our own hearts. In other words, as important as it is that we be saved from our enemies, it is even more important that we be saved from our sins. The Lord not only “preserves the lives of his saints” and not only “delivers [his saints] from the hand of the wicked”, but also “[saves] his people from their sins”. The Lord reigns supreme over all the world, and He leverages His almighty power for the salvation of His people.

I would like to walk through Matthew 1:20b-21 in three parts:

  • first, a son is given;
  • second, the son is named;
  • and third, the son’s name reveals the son’s mission.


First, a son is given. Recall the words of Isaiah 9: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). A very unique and special son is given. The whole context of Matthew 1:18-20 makes this very clear.

As it happens, Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary. They were betrothed one to another – and such betrothal was legally binding – but they had not yet come together in the fullness of marriage. Therefore, Joseph was shocked to discover that Mary had become pregnant. The sort of immorality that facilitates out-of-wedlock pregnancy is just cause for divorce, and Joseph intended to break the betrothal. But Joseph didn’t have his facts straight, and so the Lord sent an angel to reveal the truth of the matter:

“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.”” (Matthew 1:20)

Mary has not been unfaithful. Just the opposite: Mary had found favor with God (Luke 1:30), she had humbly submitted to God’s sovereign word (Luke 1:38), and she magnified the Lord in a beautiful song of praise (Luke 1:46-55).

The very fact that the Holy Spirit had supernaturally brought forth a conception in Mary’s womb independent of man’s involvement, highlights the fact that what is happening is happening at God’s initiative, by God’s power, and according to God’s plan. The very manner of the conception of this child, shows that this child is unique, extra special, sent from above. Men did not engineer the coming of the Messiah. Man’s strength did not produce the holy child. Man did not decide that this was a good time for the royal Son of David to be born. Joseph did not agree to the arrangement. Mary didn’t even agree to the arrangement. God decided the what, the where, the when, the who, and the how. God’s decision included the fact that both Mary and Joseph were God-fearing people. When God revealed His plan to Mary (in Luke 1), she responded with faith and worship. When God revealed His plan to Joseph (here in Matthew 1), he responded with faith and obedience (see Matthew 1:24-25).

Think about it from Joseph’s point of view. When you learn that your wife is having a baby, not by ordinary generation but only by the extraordinary power of God, then you know that something very special is taking place. Quite obviously God wants to send this boy into the world at this time, in this place, and as part of this family. Joseph, of course, was of the house and lineage of King David, and God had promised to give a very special son into the house of David. Jesus is referred to as “the son of David” in Matthew 1:1 and elsewhere throughout the Book of Matthew. Jesus is the promised Davidic King who will sit on David’s throne and bring righteousness to His people.

Are you tired of the continual bad news of man’s unsuccessful efforts to fix the moral rottenness and cultural decay of our world? If you fix your eyes on yourself, it is a dead-end trap. If you fix your eyes on the words and works of men, that is also a dead-end trap. If you fix your eyes on speculations and fanciful philosophies, that also leads to increasing despair. We need something solid, something reliable, something beautiful, something true. We need the living God to stand in our midst, and we need to fix our eyes on His words and His works.

Here is a great work of God: the Holy Spirit caused a little boy to be conceived in a virgin womb. Here is a great word of God, for He told us what He did: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The result follows: “She will bear a son”. A son is given. Pay attention!


Second, the son is named. This very unique son – conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin – is given a very special name: “and you shall call his name Jesus”. In the Bible, names are very important. It is not that every person always has a name that carries massive theological freight. But there are times when God steps into the unfolding storyline and names or renames someone – and the name is important and revelatory. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. God named Ishmael, which means ‘God hears’. God named Isaac, which means ‘Laughter’. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Fast forward to Matthew 1 and Luke 1, and the name chosen by God for this special boy is Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua (or Yeshua). The name Joshua derives from two Hebrew words: “Yahweh” (which is God’s name) and “yasha” (which means delivers). Therefore, Joshua means “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh saves”. Or it might be rendered “Yahweh is salvation” or “The Lord is salvation”. The critical point to understand is that the name “Jesus” is directly linked to the name of God. “Jesus” means “The Lord is salvation”. Of course, it is possible for a mere human being to have this name. The famous Joshua, the man who succeeded Moses, was a mere man whose name meant “The Lord is salvation”. And yet, when we factor in other Scriptural elements, we know that although Jesus is a man, He is not a mere man.

After telling us what the angel told Joseph, Matthew offers an explanatory comment in verses 22-23:

“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).”

The phrases “you shall call his name Jesus” (v. 21) and “they shall call his name Immanuel” (v. 23) help to interpret each other. Immanuel means “God with us”. The Gospel of John begins by telling us that the eternally divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the God who became man and dwelt among us; Jesus is the God who became man and dwelt with us (Immanuel). And what is God’s name? Yahweh. Thus Immanuel points to the fact that Yahweh, the Lord your God, is with us. How is He with us? He is with us by the supernaturally conceived son who is named Immanuel and Jesus. What does’ Jesus name mean? Yahweh saves. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Yahweh your God, who is with us in order to save us.


Third, the Son’s name reveals the Son’s mission. Jesus is “God with us”. Jesus is “the Lord who brings salvation”. The connection between the meaning of Jesus’ name and the purpose of His coming, is clearly made near the end of verse 21: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save [deliver, rescue]”. Jesus is the Lord who saves, the Lord who delivers, the Lord who rescues.

It is not enough, however, to say that “Jesus saves”. We need to know and understand the answers to two questions that verse 21 answers. The first question is: who does Jesus save? The second question is: what does Jesus save them from?

Who does Jesus save?

Who does Jesus save? Answer: “his people”. This phrase alerts us to the fact that Jesus doesn’t save every human being. He saves some (“his people”) but not others (those who are not his people). This distinction between “his people” and those who are not his people, runs throughout the entire Book of Matthew and through the entire Bible. It is instructive to let the Book of Matthew speak for itself in terms of drawing the line in the sand between “his people” and not his people.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist says this about Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12) His wheat represent His people who, in the context of Matthew 3:1-11, turn away from their sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance; all the others are chaff who remain in their sins and bear bad fruit in their lives.

In Matthew 12, Jesus learns that “his mother and his brothers” were looking for him (Matthew 12:46). Jesus then raised the question: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48) “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Matthew 12:49-50) Who are Jesus’ people? Who are Jesus’ family? His disciples – the ones who do the will of His Father. Jesus’ people are the ones who hear His words and put them into practice (Matthew 7:24). But to those who don’t obey His words (Matthew 7:26) – who don’t do the Father’s will (Matthew 7:21) – He will say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). They are not His people.

In Matthew 16, Jesus’ people are those who actually follow Him: they die to themselves, and they lose their life for Jesus’ sake – they come after Him, they follow Him, they give up everything for His sake. But the ones who prefer to keep living life on their own terms, the ones who want to gain the whole world, the ones who want to be their own saviors – they are not His people.

In Matthew 25, Jesus shows us a glimpse of the final judgment when all the peoples are gathered before Him. At that time He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep represent His people: they are the righteous ones who demonstrated their own loyalty to Jesus by showing compassion to Jesus’ other followers. The goats represent those who are not His people: they are the cursed ones who demonstrated their unbelief by not showing compassion to Jesus’ people. The goats “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep, will enter] into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

Underneath all of these distinctions is God’s sovereign activity. God’s people are like plants that God Himself has planted. Jesus said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” (Matthew 15:13) This correlates to the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13. Jesus is the Son of Man who sows good seed, and “the good seed is the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38) who are depicted as the good wheat who will eventually be gathered into the Master’s barn (Matthew 13:30). But the devil has “sowed weeds among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25) and these “weeds are the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). Jesus’ people are those that He himself has sown; Jesus’ people are those that the Father Himself has planted. All the others are not His people.

So, with respect to the good news that Jesus came in order to “save his people”, make sure that you are actually among His people through a personal and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does Jesus save His people from?

Now let’s move to that second question: what does Jesus save His people from? Answer: “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

It is very, very important to recognize that what distinguishes Jesus’ people from those who are not His people, is not the absence of sin. Those who are Jesus’ people and those who are not Jesus’ people have the same problem: sin. All human beings share the same predicament: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All human beings have rather badly missed the mark: instead of faith in God, unbelief; instead of love for God and other people, selfishness; instead of moral uprightness, evil conduct. The key difference that distinguishes Jesus’ people from those who are not His people, is that Jesus saves His people from their sins, whereas those who are not His people remain in their sins and perish in their sins.

In order to properly understand the glory of salvation from sin, we need to reflect on the fact that the salvation that Jesus accomplishes for His people is not focused on temporary relief from worldly troubles. Israel wanted to be delivered from the power of Rome. The poor want to be delivered from their poverty. The sick want to be delivered from their disease. The disciples on the turbulent sea wanted to be delivered from the power of the storm. Jesus, being the Lord of heaven and earth, may grant temporary relief from worldly troubles whenever He chooses to do so. It is not difficult for Him to command the wind and the waves, or to heal the sick, or to turn a beggar into a successful business man, or to dismantle a powerful empire. Even so, Jesus’ priority at the present time is to save you from your sin, not to fix all of your difficult circumstances.

As you read through the Book of Matthew, we learn that the problem of sin places us in grave danger. A great and terrible day of final judgment is coming:

  • “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
  • “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)

The stakes could not be any higher. Those whom Jesus saves from their sins are spared the everlasting fire and assured of a bright eternity in the Father’s never-ending kingdom where sin and all of its effects are gone forever. Everyone else will face everlasting ruin.

Jesus saves His people from the guilt of their sin

“[For] he will save his people from their sins” means that Jesus saves His people from the guilt of their sin. In Matthew 9, Jesus declared to the paralyzed man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2) Jesus has authority to forgive sins. Forgiveness isn’t merely a verbal declaration, but is a gift that Jesus obtained for us with His own blood: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”” (Matthew 26:27-28) The promise of this new covenant is: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34) When Jesus forgives your sin, the guilt is removed, the debt is cleared, and the penalty is withdrawn, on the basis of the fact that He Himself bore your guilt, paid your debt, and suffered your penalty in His broken body upon the cross. This is why the Word became flesh, so that the sword of divine justice would pierce Him through, so that you would be restored to fellowship with God and so His great love would be shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus saves His people from the power of sin

“[For] he will save his people from their sins” also means that Jesus saves His people from the power of sin. When Jesus forgives us, He also equips us to live a righteous life. He knows that apart from Him, we are “harassed and helpless” human beings and are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36), but He has compassion on us. He knows that apart from Him, we are weary and heavy laden (Matthew 11:28), but He bids us come: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) When we come into fellowship with Jesus, He actually teaches us how to live a godly life from a place of rest. Walking in sin is exhausting and defeating. Walking with Jesus is restful and transformational: our good and faithful shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Jesus’ will isn’t limited to forgiving us for our sins; His will is to lead us practically on the narrow way that leads to life. He secures our pardon and sanctifies us in everyday life:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)


If you are here this morning and you are not sure where you stand with the Lord, I would recommend that you consider some of the simple requests that suffering human beings like you and me made to Jesus in the Book of Matthew. Sinners are unclean like the leper (in Matthew 8) who said: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2) Sinners are in a far worse predicament than the disciples (in Matthew 8) who were frightened amid the stormy sea and cried out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” (Matthew 8:25) Sinners are blind like the two blind men (in Matthew 9) who cried out: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” (Matthew 9:27) Sinners are in dire straits like the demon-oppressed girl (in Matthew 15) whose mother cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Moments later “she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”” (Matthew 15:25) Turn away from your sin, and entrust yourself to the mercy of Jesus, and He will save you from the guilt and power of your sin.


For those of you who already are Jesus’ people, take heart from this passage. You have a Savior, sent by the Father, who came to address your most critical and urgent problem, namely, the problem of your sin. He has delivered you from your sins. He has paid your debt in full. He has cleansed your heart and sent the Holy Spirit to empower you. He is directing your steps on the path of obedience, and He intends to lead you all the way home to the Father’s kingdom, where you “will shine like the sun” (Matthew 13:43) in the presence of the Lord.

Now and then, we will sing of the glory of the Redeemer who saves us from our sins. There is no better way to conclude this message than to sing a hymn that celebrates this truth. Consider the sound doctrine that is taught in the hymn entitled “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”. Salvation from sin is about “God and sinners reconciled!” And who brings this reconciliation about? The utterly unique God-Man, “Christ, the everlasting Lord”:

“offspring of the virgin’s womb,

veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

hail th’incarnate Deity,

pleased with us in flesh to dwell,

Jesus, our Immanuel.”

Why did the divine Lord clothe Himself with human flesh:

“Light and life to all he brings,

risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,

born that we no more may die,

born to raise us from the earth,

born to give us second birth.”

The promised Son has been given. His name is Jesus, Immanuel, the Lord who is with us to bring us His salvation. By His death and resurrection, He is indeed faithful and strong to save His people from their sins.

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