Joseph Gets the News

Matthew 1:18-25

This scene explains the ambiguity that we found in 1:16 regarding the father of Jesus, and I’m sure you will recall our discussion of that from last time. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, which in that place and time was a process of about a year in length. During that time, the couple was legally married, but their union could not be consummated. During this time, the woman would normally continue living with her parents, and after the appropriate time had expired, she would move to her husband’s house to begin their lives as husband and wife and consummate their marriage.

Since they were legally married, even though they were not living together, the only way this betrothal could be broken was by the death of one of the parties, or by a legal divorce. When our story picks up, Joseph has just found out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph does not know who the father of her child is, but he does know who the father is not. OK, so you are Joseph: What would you do?

Being a righteous man, Joseph recognizes that his betrothed has committed adultery, and that the Law prescribes what must come next. Being a compassionate man, he doesn’t want to initiate formal proceedings and bring Mary to disgrace, so he resolves to present her with a bill of divorce quietly, in front of two witnesses, rather than have formal proceedings, which technically would have her facing a capital crime.

With this all bouncing around in his mind, God steps in.

A messenger of God comes to Joseph and explains the situation (vv. 20-21) telling him that the child has come from the Holy Spirit of God. All of this takes place in a dream and then Joseph awakens. Verses 24 and 25 tell us that Joseph believed this and did as he was instructed, taking Mary into his house, and when the son was born, naming him Jesus; we are also told that Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. It’s all well and good for us to read this and accept it without much more thought, but we also know how the story of Jesus ends, so the news that He was the Son of God is already a given in our minds, but what about Joseph? Every December we hear sermons and stories about the great faith of Mary, while Joseph is only mentioned in passing. Clearly, Mary’s faith was amazing, but it always strikes me that Joseph’s was even greater. Maybe it is because I’m a man, but Joseph was still faced with a rather significant choice here; what if that was just a regular old dream and not an angel coming to deliver a message?

Remember: Mary knew she was still a virgin; Joseph only knew he wasn’t the father of her child.

Whatever thoughts and lingering doubts may have been in his mind, Joseph did as he was instructed, and Jesus was of the royal line of David by adoption.

Some might be thinking here that Mary was also of David’s line as seen in Luke’s genealogy, and that would appear to be true. However, Mary was a descendant of David through David’s son Nathan, while Joseph was of David’s line through King Solomon, and the throne was passed down to and through Solomon, not Nathan, thus any claim Jesus would have had to the throne of David, would have been by his adoption by Joseph which, by the way, would be perfectly legal.

Much more important than any claim to the throne at that time, was the fact that Jesus’ actual father was God, and His unique status as royal heir and Son of God will continue to play a major part in his early years that are discussed in the next chapter.

Coming up next, I will discuss the two verses I had skipped, verses 22 and 23 which tell us that Jesus’ unconventional conception took place to fulfill the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14; see you then!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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3 Responses to Joseph Gets the News

  1. Two things about this story always bothered me, and without a good answer.

    First, if Joseph had put her aside quietly it would come out that Mary was pregnant. The result would have been the same, Mary would still face a capital crime.

    Second, if Mary insisted that she did not violate the marriage and was still a virgin, it would not be uncommon for the claim to be verified by two women.

  2. If he had divorced her publicly, she would have had to stand at the door of her parents’ home and be stoned to death. I think she ran immediately to see Elizabeth for two reasons (1) If Elizabeth was pregnant & showing, Mary knew she was. (2) Get advice on how to handle Joseph’s reaction as well as the neighbors who could count. But she faced the music and didn’t stay with Elizabeth. And Joseph, by marrying her, everyone would call him gullible for raising some other man’s kid, etc. When I wrote my book, “Joseph: The Other Father” I was overwhelmed at facing all the things he had to face. But he was strong. Oh, so strong. Sometimes in my book when he and Jesus were in danger (they lived in a violent world) Joseph would cry out, “God, help me protect our son!” Of course, I do not know what actually happened, but I can imagine how difficult and how strong Joseph was to get Jesus raised in those violent times. (I wonder how many times Jesus was called Bastard by his school mates.)

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