STUDY | Spend the week studying Matthew 1:18–25. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
DETERMINE | Which discussion points and study questions will work best for your group.
PRAY | Pray for our pastors and this week’s message, the upcoming group time, your group members, and their openness to God’s Word.
LANDING POINT | God is with me and He is faithful to His promises. This gives me confidence to be obedient and trust my future to Him.
Remember the 4 Rules for Small Group Discussion
- Confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group.
- No cross-talk. Be considerate of others as they share. Refrain from side conversations and texting during group time.
- No fixing. We are not in the group to fix each other. Jesus does that part.
- Sharing. Be sensitive to the amount of time you share. Don’t talk too much or too little. Every person brings something valuable to the group.
As your group time begins, use this section to introduce the topic of discussion.
THAT CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
For many people Christmas is a time of joyful celebration with family and friends. Christmas traditions like pageants, parties, gift exchanges and Christmas music on the radio 24/7 put them in the Christmas spirit. For others, however, Christmastime can bring a lot of the heartache and hardships of life to the surface. Whether it’s financial strain, an estranged relationship or feeling anxious and uncertain about the future, many find it difficult to capture the Christmas spirit. Really, all they want for Christmas is hope.
This week your group will discuss a man who needed to hear a hopeful message in a difficult circumstance. Joseph’s story reminds you that God is with you and He is faithful to His promises regardless of how uncertain and hopeless your path may seem. God has a plan for your life, and He wants you to trust Him and His plan.
Q: How are you feeling in the midst of the Christmas season this year?
Q: Recall a time when someone gave you a hopeful message during a difficult circumstance.
Select 2-3 questions to discuss as a group.
A TOUGH DECISION
Joseph didn’t know what to do. He and Mary were engaged to be married, but now Mary was pregnant. In those days, engagement (betrothal) was a legally binding commitment for Jews. Marriage typically took place when a young man was about 18 years old and a young woman was in her early teens. After the marriage took place, the groom would ceremoniously take his bride home, where they would consummate the marriage. Any infidelity during the engagement period leading up to the wedding was considered adultery.1
Joseph was a law-abiding, obedient Jew. He loved Mary and wanted to marry her. But he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The events surrounding Mary’s pregnancy were potentially scandalous and would likely bring great shame on her. In their tight-knit community people would always see her as “that adulteress.” So Joseph thought of a way to save his fiancée from scorn and derision while maintaining his own righteousness. He would divorce her quietly, which would protect Mary from public exposure and ridicule.
Read: Matthew 1:18–25. Consider the cultural background. How does that change the way you see Joseph’s dilemma?
Q: Based on the story, how would you describe Joseph’s character?
AN ANGEL’S ASSURANCE
While Joseph was contemplating whether to follow through on his plan, an angel visited him in a dream. The angel told him, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Her child is from the Holy Spirit. Mary is going to give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus because he will save his people from sin.” Matthew tells us that this fulfilled a prophecy given many centuries earlier about a Messiah (Christ) King who would come and rescue God’s people. This child would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” All three names (Jesus, Christ, and Immanuel) made it clear that this was no ordinary child. This was the Messiah God’s people had been waiting for!
When Joseph woke from his dream, he didn’t hesitate to do what was right. He obeyed the angel’s instructions and took Mary as his wife.
Q: The angel encouraged Joseph with hope from God’s Word. Who encourages you with hope from God’s Word?
Q: When is it easy for you to obey God? When is it challenging?
So far we’ve learned that angels are God’s agents and messengers. They protect and support God’s people and are examples of worship for us. Angels are also ministers. They ministered to Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11) and in the garden of Gethsemane before He went to the cross (Luke 22:43). They also minister to us (Hebrews 1:14). When they minister, they give encouragement and direction to believers. Chip Henderson defines an angel as “a created, spiritual, powerful being that stands before the presence of God and carries out God’s commands delivering messages and waging war in the spiritual realm.”
This is the third time an angel has appeared to someone in the Christmas story. What did they look like when they appeared? Matthew doesn’t reveal much about their appearance, but we do know angels don’t look like the popular images portrayed in art and in culture. They aren’t feminine. They don’t wear halos. They do shine and reflect God’s glory.
Select 2-3 questions from this section to answer.
We can only imagine the emotions Joseph experienced in the time leading up to Jesus’s birth. Maybe he doubted Mary’s story and thought she had been unfaithful to him, which would have broken his heart. Maybe he believed her, but that wouldn’t prevent them from being shamed and ostracized by their community. Thankfully, God intervened to assure Joseph that what was happening was all according to the plan. God had a purpose for Joseph, and Joseph had a role to play in a larger story.
The angel’s message to Joseph was that the time had come for God’s plan to be fulfilled. Although God’s people waited centuries for the Messiah, God revealed to Joseph that His plan and His ways are rarely what we expect and rarely in the timeframe that we think best. God is never late. He is always on time with the best plan for us.
Today, we can celebrate the Messiah’s coming and His victory over evil. King Jesus is the Victor, and our view of the world, others and ourselves is changed when we believe that this victory is the reality we live in.
Q: What role has God given you in your life story? How does that role fit into God’s larger story?
Q: Elaborate on the statement, “God is never late.”
LIVING THE GOOD NEWS
The next chapter in God’s salvation plan was under way and Joseph had a part to play. God would come into the world as Immanuel (“God with us”). The Christmas story reminds us that the Son of God left His home and gave His life so you might come back home and find true life and purpose in Him. Jesus continues to be “God with us” today. That is the promise He gave to His disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
God is with you. He hasn’t forgotten you. You are never alone. God is faithful to His promises. That should give you confidence to be obedient and trust your unknown future to a known God who has revealed Himself.
Q: In what ways do you experience God’s presence in your life? Where is it missing?
Q: What’s one thing you can do this week to remind yourself that the Christian life is a hope-filled life?
Select 1 question from this section to ask your group.
Hope is something we should feel when we hear the Christmas story. Jesus’s birth is good news that we should celebrate and rejoice in. God sent His Son into the world to save us and bring us back home. The events surrounding His birth didn’t draw the attention of the world, and Jesus lived much of His life in relative obscurity. But it was all according to God’s plan.
God has a plan for your life just like He did for Joseph’s. The Bible tells us that everything that happens to us—good or bad—can work out for good for those God calls (Romans 8:28). You see, it’s all according to His plan. When you trust God, you trust His plan. You trust His character. That gives you hope.
Q: How would you define hope in your own words?
Q: How does faith in God’s character give you hope and confidence?
Ask God to give you real hope in Him this Christmas. Ask Him to search your heart and reveal any ways you’ve put your hope in other people or things. Is something blocking you from trusting God with your circumstances or your future? Tell the Father. He loves you, knows you and wants you to give Him any anxious or worrying thoughts.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
- Read Romans 5:1–5 and reflect on how God shapes our character and gives us hope through life’s circumstances.
- Ask the group to share any stories or lessons learned where they see God at work in their lives.
Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 to show that Jesus’s virgin conception was a fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than fifty times in his Gospel. See Matt. 2:6, 15, 18, and 23.
Why Did Mary Need to be a Virgin?
“Though Matthew expounds nothing of its significance here, the virginal conception has regularly been understood as a way by which Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. His father, in essence, was God, through the work of the Holy Spirit; his mother was the fully human woman, Mary. As fully God, Jesus was able to pay the eternal penalty for our sins (v. 21) for which finite humanity could not atone. As fully human he could be our adequate representative and substitutionary sacrifice.”2
Joseph, Son of David
In Matthew 1:1–17, Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus to show that His family lineage is in the Davidic line of kings. The Messiah would be a king from David’s line. By calling Joseph “son of David,” the angel wanted him to see the significance of the role he would play in God’s plan of bringing the Messiah into the world.3
1. D. A. Carson, “The Gospels and Acts,” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 1927; D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 99.
2. Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 58. Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 66; Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 56.
3. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 100.