Except for the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, Joseph and Mary have relatively minor parts in the overall story of Jesus presented in the four gospels. And of the two, far more is said of Mary that of Joseph. The reasons for this are unclear, but one significant factor is likely found in the fact that all four gospels are written by people who became associated with Christ in his adulthood, likely after he began his formal ministry.
Had a gospel been written by someone who knew Joseph and Mary and family while the kids were growing up (Can you imagine what a story that might be?), we might see what a significant influence these two faithful servants of God were on their children, including the child Jesus as he grew and matured. There is no proof of this, but I can’t help but see reflections of Joseph’s treatment of Mary prior to their marriage, when she was found to be pregnant, in the attitudes and actions of Jesus toward the women who crossed his path. Like Mary, these women (in the eyes of the law, culture, and customs of the day) deserved nothing from Jesus, yet they so often received grace, mercy, and generally well-being from their interactions with Messiah.
All of that was for free. Let’s move on an look at Matthew 1:18-25.
But before the marriage took place…she became pregnant…
In my previous post about the genealogy of Jesus, I took a look at some of the unsavory stories that Matthew included in his introduction to Jesus’ Messiahship. Reading from this side of history, knowing how the story would end, it’s easy to read past this eight-verse story of Jesus’ birth and move on to the rest of the story. These eight verses, though, are saturated with an unwritten story of unfaithfulness, betrayal, and broken promises. Yet, once again, through all of this God’s masterplan of salvation continues to move forward in a seemingly most unlikely way.
Being pregnant out-of-wedlock with a man to whom she was not engaged was beyond scandalous. For Mary, it was a matter of life and death. The Law allowed allowed her to be stoned for her infidelity. Her family would be disgraced and humiliated publicly. It was not good.
Joseph…was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly…
Joseph had every right to turn his back on Mary and never look back. Even if others may have thought he was father of this illegitimate child, he knew he was not. He was an innocent. He had done nothing wrong. “How could Mary,” he may questioned, “betrayed him in this way?” We must be careful not to project our modern-day sensibilities about how a man might react to a situation such as this, but clearly Joseph thought it best to end his relationship with Mary.
Yet Joseph takes in unexpected path. He cannot stay with Mary and remain ceremonially clean in the eyes of the Law. His righteousness, then, is on display in the form of his love for God and God’s law. As a faithful Jew, he really has no other choice. Yet, his love for Mary is on display in his compassionate decision to separate from her quietly, without making a spectacle of her. He treated her with a grace that she was not due, at least in the eyes of the Law and the limited information he had at the time. He found himself with an impossible decision, but did what he could to act it faithfulness to both God and Mary
“…do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
It’s just a guess, but Joseph probably wasn’t accustomed to receiving messages from angels in his dreams. This encounter changed Joseph’s mind and the direction in of the story of Jesus, still in utero.
Angels, when they bring messages to people, often begin with “do not be afraid.” They do this because there are reasons to be afraid–angel’s bringing messages to people, for one. Beyond that, Joseph had reasons to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Transgressing God’s Law? The good name of his family? His own reputation? Taking Mary as his wife means taking her assumed transgression (in the eyes of many) upon himself.
And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
And here we have it, folks, the first clue as to who this baby is and what he has come to do.
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded…and Joseph named him Jesus.
Joseph, true to his character, made the difficult choice and did the right thing. He took Mary as his wife, maintained his ceremonial cleanliness by not having relations with Mary during her pregnancy, named the boy Jesus, and became the father, caretaker, and mentor of the boy who would become the man who would save people from their sins.
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet…
In the first chapter of his gospel, Matthew takes his first look back into the Prophets, something he would frequently do throughout his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Take a moment to read The Professors introduction to the NewTestament’s use of Old Testament prophecy here.
But for now, let’s let Joseph enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
“Heavenly Father, Almighty God of salvation and the source of all hope. Thank you for Joseph and his model of righteousness. May my life, too, reflect a deep love and faithfulness to you, and a deep compassion and mercy toward the people around; those I know and love and those that cross my path unexpectedly. Thank you for sending Jesus to save me…and to make hope, peace, and salvation a possibility for all people. Amen.”
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