The Advent of Matthew (04) - Joseph's Faithfulness (Matthew 1:18-25)
Matthew 1:18–25 – Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” . . .
The Shameful Report (1:18) - In the first century Jewish world, betrothal or what we call engagement, was a not only a relational matter, but a legal matter. Betrothal happened over the course of one year prior to marriage and the couple did not live together. Breaking the vows of betrothal due to infidelity could have grave civil consequences. In Deut. 22:24, the specific penalty is death; however a man might also “divorce” the betrothed, if he found “something indecent” (Deut. 24:1). This could be a private divorce before two witnesses. Mary was betrothed to Joseph and then was found to be pregnant. We can imagine that Mary had sought to persuade Joseph of her innocence by explaining the visit from Gabriel (Luke 1:26ff). But Joseph did not need modern scientific medical research to know that virgins do not conceive. Especially in that society and from her peers, Mary was now in a position of utter shame. Have you ever experienced shame?
The Righteous Response (1:19-20) - Joseph’s response needs to be highlighted, because Joseph is often forgotten. He was “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, [and] planned to dismiss her quietly” (v 19). This gives us two character attributes about Joseph’s justness: a) He could not go through with a fraudulent betrothal. He had the honor of not settling for an impure bride. We can imagine responses of anger and retaliation at Mary’s apparent infidelity. b) But Joseph was also a compassionate man. He did not want to expose Mary to the shame of a public humiliation and even greater penalties. This is an important expression of his character, both an honorable and compassionate person unwilling to shame Mary. Rather, he intends to rescue her from this shame. Have you ever helped relieve someone else’s shame?
The Angelic Revelation (1:20-24) - We know that Joseph was righteous in his response to a shameful situation, but he was also a man of faith. Joseph was a man who accepted the word of God without demanding undue evidence: he received two witnesses, Mary’s word + the angelic revelation and these were congruent with the promises of God. He lived up to his name-sake, the Joseph of Genesis who saw visions, but endured difficult days before seeing the blessing of God. “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph was given this Child to adopt, through naming him (a Jewish custom). Joseph was apparently waiting for just such a Savior (Gen. 3:15, Ps. 110:1). Faithful Jews were waiting for their Messiah. Joseph was among them. As it turned out, it was through this teen-aged pregnancy, this heart-broken fiancé, this Nazarene. God accomplished His redemptive plan in an usual way. The story of God’s redemption surprises us all. How is God working out your redemption in ways you don’t expect?
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more