I’ve shared this story before, but over a decade ago I had this dream. I was sweeping out a garage of a house in a neighborhood. It was a house I had never lived in, but in the dream I knew it was my house. The driveway was sloped up to the garage, and I had just finished cleaning the whole thing out and making it look nice. It was a spring day, and the sun was out, but it wasn’t hot. That’s when I saw it, a snake making its way into the garage. I didn’t panic, but instead, started poking the snake with the broom in my hand. I played around with the snake for a while and then I woke up. In the moment I woke up God spoke to me and I knew the dream was more than just regular dream. I knew in that moment that the dream meant something more. The house was me, my life. It was cleaned out, and looked good, on both the outside and the inside. The snake was sin, and instead of getting rid of the snake as soon as I saw it, I played with it. This is where God revealed to me that though he had saved me and made me clean, I was playing with sin in my life.
Since that moment, I have understood that God still gives dreams today that can reveal something that he desires us to know.
This brings us back into our Gospel of Matthew series where we’ll be picking it back up in Matthew chapter 1, starting in verse 18. And as we open up to Matthew 1:18, let’s recap our first two weeks in our series.
So far in our Gospel of Matthew series, we’ve talked about understanding the background and history of the Scriptures. In the first week we talked about knowing the human author that God used to bring about this Gospel. We walked away with the understanding that by knowing more about the author, we can better understand the way in which he writes. Because Matthew was both a Jew and a close disciple to Jesus, we talked about how we need to understand the Jewishness of Jesus as we read through Matthew’s writing.
In the second week we talked again about understanding the background and history of what has been written, because even though it’s easy to quickly overlook the genealogies that the Bible presents, they actually contain valuable insight into both the salvation work of God and the trustworthiness of God’s Word.
With that fresh in our minds, let’s open up to Matthew chapter 1, starting in verse 18 and read together.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
This passage is the start of the Christmas story in Matthew. But it’s approached differently than in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel the emphasis in on Mary, but in Matthew’s Gospel the emphasis in on Joseph. The reason for this is probably because we just got done reading through Jospeh’s genealogy. We are following the adopted father of Jesus’ story. This is one of the reasons why having multiple Gospel accounts is important. By having Matthew focus mostly on Jospeh, and Luke focusing mostly on Mary, we get a more well rounded account of the whole situation. In addition to that, we get insight into why Matthew focus’ on Jospeh; this is because the Hebrew line follows the male descendant. This plays into first born and inheritance practices for the Jewish culture.
But what happens to Jospeh in this passage? A lot of the time we tend to focus on the angel’s words in verses 20 and 21 about a son being born to Mary even though she is a virgin. Then we follow up these words, by focusing on Matthew’s own commentary in verses 22 and 23, that what the angel said was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.
Because this part of the passage gets so much attention, due to its connection with Christmas, I think that a simple understanding that we can take away from it, is that that Matthew is, again, helping us understand that God fulfills his spoken word. We saw this in the genealogies, and we see it again here with Matthew taking time to reveal it to us.
But it’s here that I think we need to notice something else that is happening. Matthew lets us know that Jospeh has this encounter with the angel in a dream. This is different than Mary’s encounter with an angel (Luke 1:26-38), where the angel physically shows up. This reveals something very important. See a lot of the time there tends to be a disconnect for us Christians between the Old and New Testaments. Our reading of the Bible tends to focus on the New Testament, and the idea can develop that it’s for us as Christians, and the Old Testament is for the Jews.
Yet what the Holy Spirit reveals here, is that God consistently works in similar fashion throughout history. Dreams are an extremely important way in the Old Testament by which divine proclamations, or insights are given to humanity. Mathew is showing us that God still is working through dreams, which helps connect the New Testament work of God to his work in the Old Testament.
Let me given a few examples of this work in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 20, Abraham meets a man by the name of Abimelek. Being that Abraham’s wife was really pretty, Abraham told Abimelek that she was his sister. This was to save Abraham from being killed and his wife being taken anyway. So the Scriptures say that Abimelek takes her, which literally means to have as a wife for the marriage bed. But before he consummates the marriage, God comes to Abimelek in a dream and we get this back and forth between the two starting in verse 3 of Genesis chapter 20. Let read through the encounter, “3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’
“4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, ‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’
“6 Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.’”
Even though Abraham is deceitful in this moment, almost causing another man to sin against God, God intervenes through the dream to make sure that Abimelek did not sin. This is an example of God using dreams to give insight into a situation for a human’s benefit.
Later on in the Bible, in the book of Judges chapter 7, Gideon is called by God to attack an army, but Gideon is afraid. So, God tells him to go to his servant’s tent and listen. And so, starting in verse 13 of Judges chapter 7, we get this, “13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. ‘I had a dream,’ he was saying. ‘A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.’ 14 His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.’”
In the next verse we get Gideon’s response. “15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, ‘Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’”
God sending a dream to the friend of Gideon’s servant, gave strength and confidence to Gideon as he was called out to battle. This is an example of divine revelation being given out, so that encouragement could occur for the people that God called to action.
The final Old Testament example I want to given you is in 1st Kings chapter 3. Early in the life of Solomon, God came to him in a dream and had this interaction, “5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
“6 Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “‘Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
“10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”
In this dream, God comes to the new king of Israel and asks him what blessing would he like from God. Solomon asks for wisdom, and because he does, God blesses him with wealth and honor greater than any king living at that time. In this dream we see God using it as a point of interaction where he gives out a blessing on a human.
In each of these situations, God uses dreams to bring about different outcomes. For one it was so he wouldn’t sin, for another it was for encouragement, and for another it was a blessing. These are just some of the instances of God using dreams. We haven’t even mentioned the dream and interpretations of both Jospeh and Daniel, or the other dreams that are given in the Old Testament.
We must understand dreams are an important Old Testament vehicle, in which God reveals divine proclamations, or gives insights to humanity. And here in Matthew’s opening chapter, we see that God again is using this Old Testament device to reveal something to Jospeh. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel is the only place in the New Testament that we get God revealing things by dreams. In other parts of the New Testament we see that God uses another vehicle of revelation called visions. The basic difference between the two, is that your awake for a vision and asleep for a dream.
It’s only in Matthew’s Gospel where we get revelation by way of dreams. Jospeh gets four dreams himself. First, the one we read about taking Mary to be his wife. Then in chapter two we get the need to escape from Egypt (v.12), the return from Egypt (v.19) and the need to live in Galilee (v. 22). In addition to Jospeh receiving dreams, two other parties receive dreams as well. The first is the Magi in chapter 2 verse 12, and the second is Pilate’s wife in chapter 27 verse 9. God gives these dreams at the beginning and end of Jesus’ life. And these dreams are give to non-Jewish people, showing us, like in the genealogies, that God’s salvation work is for all of humanity.
The only two times that dreams are mentioned again in the New Testament is once by Peter in Acts 2:1, where he tells the people that God gives dreams as a part of God’s pouring out his Spirit on his people. The other time is when Jude writes a warning to the Church that tells them to be on the lookout for people who relay on false dreams to push their agendas (1:8).
By showing us that dreams were a part of Jesus’ birth story, Matthew helps us understand that God’s work in the Old Testament, is carried over into the New Testament. That what we divide into two Testaments is one overarching story of God’s work to bring humanity out of its sin and back to its Creator.
This should give us a moment of pause, to examine ourselves and ask do I do this? Do I separate the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament from each other. Do I look at the Old Testament as something that isn’t of value? We must realize that the God of the Old, is the God of the New.
It’s easy to separate the work of God form the Old and New Testaments, but all of God’s Word and work is for our benefit, and we must recognize that it all works together.
Paul states in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
When Paul writes this, the Scriptures he’s referring to are the Old Testament Scriptures. And Matthew shows us that there is no disconnect between the two. He does this through showing us the fulfillment of prophecy, and through the work of God in dreams.
This week I want to challenge you to read through the dream accounts of Jospeh (Genesis 37-41) and Daniel (1-7), comparing and contrasting what God was doing in each of the dreams, and how God brings about his divine proclamations and insights to humanity.
Let us be people who seek the work of God in our own lives. The work that he has been doing since the beginning of time and into today. Amen.