– (Please read Matthew 1:18-25, NLT.)
THESIS = Even when he was unaware of God’s plan, Joseph acted graciously. When he was made aware of it, he acted obediently.
Joseph as an example of grace (18+19).
Engagement in this society was a lengthy process, a time in which man and woman were “sort of” married. Fidelity and loyalty were expected, even though the marriage had not yet been consummated. When Mary’s pregnancy became known and it was clear to all that Joseph was not the father (remember last week when I said that’s one reason why Mary got out of town?), it was naturally assumed that she’d been unfaithful.
The penalty for marital unfaithfulness was either of two things:
– A public writ of divorce, which left the woman shamed and made her unlikely to be married and quite possibly homeless.
– Death by stoning for the sin of adultery, as the Law allowed.
Either of those options would’ve satisfied a natural desire for revenge for the shame, sense of betrayal and bitter disappointment a man in Joseph’s place would have felt. Here is Joseph’s dilemma:
– If he went ahead with the marriage, he would shame his own honor by associating himself w/ a “loose” woman.
– But he could not bear the thought of Mary being made destitute or dead by his actions.
A casual reading of this passage might seem like Joseph was running away from the problem, but the truth is, he thought “outside the box” and came up with the most gracious solution. Think about it. What could be more gracious than giving someone a helping hand when, by all rights, they deserve a slap in the face instead? Joseph would have been perfectly within his legal rights to drag Mary to the middle of town and call for the community to stone her to death. Many men with wounded pride have done worse. Grace is giving what someone needs instead of what they deserve.
Joseph made his gracious decision. Then God entered into his life to advise Joseph of what He was planning. As we see in verse 20, Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of an act of adultery. In fact, it is just the opposite; it is an act of faithful obedience on Mary’s part. The conception occurred as a miracle, an exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit. Because Mary was not an adulteress, Joseph’s honor is not in any danger. Marrying Mary was the right thing to do.
Though it is an exceptional, unanticipated, one-time event, it is the fulfillment of promises God made hundreds of years earlier (vs. 22-23). Incredibly, this baby would be the Messiah, the Savior for whom Joseph and his people had been waiting. Joseph had been chosen by God to be part of this plan!
Now knowing the truth, Joseph acted in perfect obedience = HE DID WHAT THE ANGEL OF THE LORD COMMANDED (vs. 24-25).
In verse 21, the angel explained the purpose of this extraordinary set of circumstances: “HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.” The father had the right to name the child and Joseph was instructed to name the child JESUS. JESUS is the Greek form of Joshua, a Hebrew name which means “Yahweh is salvation.” So the purpose of the divine pregnancy is revealed in the name! As we see the story of Jesus unfold, He did offer salvation first to His own people, the Jews, but they refused Him, and God’s plan grafted Gentiles onto the tree of salvation.
Joseph as an example of obedience (20-25).
We have been in a similar fix to Mary’s. We have been sinners who have defied God and brought the death penalty on ourselves. But God chose to offer us life instead. What a good and godly man Joseph was!
None of the usual responses were acceptable. To his eternal credit, Joseph proved himself worthy to be the stepfather to the Messiah by choosing a third option. Joseph decided to give Mary a private writ of divorce, keeping the whole thing as quiet as possible. Of course, in a small town no one has any secrets, but the charge of adultery could only be brought by Joseph and he would refuse to do so. Mary would have to bear the shame alone, but she would survive and could stay in her father’s home.
– HE BROUGHT MARY HOME TO BE HIS WIFE. This means he went ahead with the marriage ceremony and brought Mary to live with him. He gave her a place to live and in every way treated her like the honorable woman she truly was.
– SHE REMAINED A VIRGIN. You’ll notice this was NOT commanded by the angel. This was an extra level of obedience and respect for the holy child that Joseph voluntarily gave. Matthew was lead to note this in His Gospel for at least three reasons:
– One, to show the depth of Joseph’s obedience.
– Two, to refute those who falsely said that Joseph took Mary as his wife because the child was really his.
– Three, because that’s simply the way it happened. Though this was an intimate detail about their personal relationship, it was real and relevant to our theological understanding of the birth and nature of Jesus Christ.
– JOSEPH NAMED [HER SON] JESUS. As we saw with Zechariah naming John in Luke’s Gospel, here we see Joseph giving Mary’s baby the name Jesus, as the angel had commanded both he and Mary to do. In the Bible, people placed a great deal of stock in the names of people and what they meant. How much more important was this unique case, where Jesus would be the means by which God saved His people!
We’ve just taken a look at one of the most overlooked people in Scripture – Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. Here is a man who serves us as an example of grace and obedience. Because this man acted in the way he did, Mary’s son – God’s son – had a home and a name and grew into manhood. Joseph was protector and stepparent to the Messiah! What a great man he was, fully deserving our grateful thanks and an example to which all of us can aspire!