Just as Luke’s gospel gives us Mary’s story about Jesus’ birth, so Matthew chose to tell us about Joseph who would be Mary’s husband. As was the case with Mary in Luke, so in Matthew we learn something about the character of Joseph. As we have seen, Mary was a deeply devout woman in her commitment to God. She also had close relationships within her family that reinforced her confidence in the God of Israel. So she was able to exclaim, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38).
First, we see that Joseph was forced into an incredibly difficult choice regarding the woman he was pledged to marry. He finds out that Mary is pregnant, but not by him. Listen to how Matthew’s gospel describes this in chapter 1:
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.
For a moment, try to put yourself in Joseph’s shoes: First, he was much older than Mary. His young, soon-to-be bride is pregnant. Joseph is told that God was the cause of her pregnancy. It may be difficult for us to imagine Joseph’s feelings, but today, that kind of explanation for a girl’s pregnancy would not go very far. Nonetheless, lets examine the options Joseph had at the time.
Within the Law of his religious world, Joseph could have followed through with its requirements and have her put to death (see Leviticus chapter 20). A second option would be to accept the circumstances, marry Mary and then divorce her later. Or, he could marry her and stay married. While all three options were available to Joseph, he chose the middle course—marry and quietly divorce her. This would protect him from ridicule while protecting Mary from disgrace or death.
However, God’s hand was indeed moving in their lives. The angel had already told Mary about her pregnancy and, through a dream, God confirmed that announcement to Joseph. Throughout this process we see that not only was Joseph a “good” man, but he was in a spiritual position to listen to God and to obey. Much like his “father” Abraham, who is included in both gospel genealogies of Jesus, Joseph obeyed God. He didn’t understand everything, but he trusted God’s word.
We see how God communicated his approval of Mary to Joseph: Matthew 1:
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.”
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. Here we realize that Joseph was a man of quiet confidence. As the Scriptures say about Mary, while he may have kept everything in his heart, his confidence came out of his trust in God. The words of the messenger from God trumped the nagging doubts about Mary’s pregnancy that may have been troubling to his soul.
We are not given any insight into what Joseph understood by the words, “and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” It appears from the remaining gospel accounts that Joseph did not live to see Jesus during his three ministry years and certainly not his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Yet early on he must have realized that Jesus was no ordinary baby. He must have known from everything he later saw and heard in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt and Nazareth, the baby that Mary carried was the promised Messiah. God was entrusting him to be a parent of this child and was allowing him to be a living example of how to be a faithful father. Like Mary, Joseph obeyed God’s command.
Next: The Innkeeper & Shepherds