In Matthew’s presentation of the genealogy of Jesus — which was aimed at substantiating His Jewish heritage going all the way back to Abraham as well as to establish His legal right to the throne of David — he concludes, writing in verse 16, that “Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.”
As we noted last Sunday, in this verse, Matthew hammers home two important realities regarding Jesus… First, he’s crystal clear Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son and was conceived by Mary alone. Again, he introduces Joseph as “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus.” Since “of whom” is both singular and feminine, Matthew is affirming the virgin conception and therefore eliminating Joseph as being Jesus’ birth-father.
That said since Joseph was “the husband of Mary” Matthew is also telling us Jesus was his adopted son. As such, Jesus possessed legal standing to sit on David’s throne.
Regarding the birth of Christ, since this Gospel was written with the intention of presenting Jesus as the promised King of the Jews, unlike Luke who focuses his record on the experiences of His mother Mary, Matthew instead centers his account on this man Joseph. By the end of this morning’s study, you’ll understand why he takes this approach.
Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus (the) Christ was as follows (Matthew is about to tell us how it all went down): After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”
Pertaining to the virgin conception of Jesus, all Matthew tells us is that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Understanding his focus was on Joseph’s role, Matthew mounts no attempt to explain the miracle other than to simply confirm the supernatural origins of this pregnancy. Mary was “with child” through a working “of the Holy Spirit.”
Focused instead on the unique experiences of Joseph of whom Jesus had this important genealogical connection, the key idea Matthew is presenting is that, while Mary was “betrothed to Joseph” but “before they came together,” she “was found with child.” Right from the jump, what Matthew just articulated would have been seen as scandalous.
Regarding the process by which people were married in that day, there were 3 distinct phases… First, there was the shiddukhin which was a prearrangement made between families (the fathers) that their kids were going to get married one day.
The shiddukhin was then followed by a second phase known as the erusin (air-is-en) which was an official engagement period that occurred when the kids reached marrying age. In order to bind the agreement, what was known as the mohar or literally the purchase price for the bride would be paid by the father of the groom.
Once the transaction was completed, the bride and groom were legally married and could only separate through a formal divorce proceeding. And yet, the union was not to be consummated at this point as the two parties remained apart until the groom had prepared an adequate dwelling place — which was typically an extension to his father’s home.
Finally, this second period would be followed by a final stage known as the nissuin. Once their new home was completed and passed inspection, the groom would be given permission by his father to go and retrieve his bride. He would pick her up and bring her back to his father’s house where a wedding ceremony with the entire community would commence. A celebration would follow and the marriage, at long last, consummated.
When Matthew tells us that Mary was “betrothed to Joseph” adding that they had not yet “come together” we understand they were in the erusin (air-is-en) or the second phase.
With this in mind, there is no doubt the families of Mary and Joseph know each other well. Since Nazareth wasn’t a big place, it’s likely they had grown up together. Early on, as the families sat around the dinner table, the father’s hatch a plan… As a sign of their enduring friendship, one day Mary and little Joe would become husband and wife.
We can also surmise that since they were officially “betrothed” to one another Joseph’s father has paid the mohar for Mary meaning the two are legally married. While Mary was still living in her father’s house waiting for the day to finally arrive, Joseph was busy preparing an adequate home so that he could finally go and retrieve his bride!
Keep in mind, for months Joseph has been working his tail off! His days are filled with hard labor and his thoughts are dominated by the hopes and dreams of the wonderful life he and Mary would soon be sharing with one another. His lonely nights are enraptured with the anticipation of Mary laying next to him. For Joseph, that day cannot come soon enough.
I’m sure news that Mary had gone down to Hebron to care for her cousin Elizabeth during her final trimester wouldn’t have caused any alarm. In fact, Joseph was still blown away that Lizzy and Zacharias had finally been able to conceive — especially at their ages.
Tragically though, Joseph’s life takes a hard and unexpected right when, following Mary’s return, a rumor begins to circulate… His betrothed wife has been “found with child!” At first, Joseph can’t believe it's true. It can’t be true. Not his Mary. No way! Sadly, in walks in his father. Joseph can see the pain and hesitancy in his eyes. He doesn’t know what to say.
Overcome with emotion, Joseph would need to verify this for himself. As such, he breaks protocol and runs across town to Mary’s home. Sure enough, he discovers the unimaginable… The love of his life was standing before him showing the undeniable signs of pregnancy. Understandably, Joseph falls apart. All of his plans have been ruined. His heart crushed. He’s in agony and angry! His thoughts race! His imaginations run wild!
Imagine Joseph’s reaction… “Mary, how could you do this? I thought you loved me? Wasn’t I enough to wait for? What about the promises you made? I thought you wanted to start a life with me. Ever since we were kids I’ve always love you! My heart has been yours!
For years I’ve dreamed of the day you’d become my wife. In fact, I’ve been at home laboring every single day so that we could finally start that life together. I was so close. I’ve remained chaste. I’ve kept myself for you… Who’s the father? I feel like I deserve a name!”
Imagine how Mary’s explanation came across… “Joey, I do love you! Nothing has changed. I’m just as excited today to start a life with you as I was when we were betrothed. I know this is going to sound weird but I’ve also remained chaste. I’m still saving myself for our wedding night. I know this is an unforeseen development, but you have to trust me…
Joey, a few months ago, before I visited Elizabeth, an angel named Gabriel appeared to me and said I was going to be the mother of the Messiah. I didn’t understand how that was possible as I’ve never known a man, but he said the Holy Spirit would come upon me and the power of the Highest would overshadow me. I still don’t know what all that means other than the fact it didn’t take long for me to realize I was pregnant. This baby is God’s Son!”
Matthew 1:19, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.”
Despite the raw, human emotions flowing through Joseph’s veins, it says a lot about him that he doesn’t react rashly to the situation or act out in spite. To this point, the phrase “was minded” implies deep consideration. In the next verse, Matthew will write that Joseph “thought about these things.” You see Joseph demonstrates amazing self-discipline and incredible wisdom in that he took time to think it through before deciding what to do.
As he weighs the options in front of himself, the most logical conclusion Joseph can reach is that Mary had likely lost grip on reality. I mean she really believed she was carrying God’s Son! Though it would have been well within his rights to have Mary dragged into the town’s square and stoned to death, how do you do that to a crazy person?
Matthew also tells us that Joseph was “a just man.” The word translated as “just” means he was righteous — there was a true virtue to Joseph’s character. Clearly, he was kind and merciful. While hurt, Joseph didn’t “want to make Mary a public example.” He knew her family was dealing with enough all things considered. Why make it any worse?
Matthew ends verse 19 by letting us know Joseph was leaning towards “putting her away secretly.” He didn’t believe her story. And in contrast to the advice being given to him by his friends and family, he didn’t want Mary to suffer. Joseph reasons a quick and quiet divorce would enable him to move on with his life while minimizing any further embarrassment.
Matthew 1:20-21, “But while Joseph thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus (which means Jehovah is Salvation), for He will save His people from their sins.’”
Imagine waking up from such a dream! Your skepticism transforms to wonder. Your despair morphs into joy. Your pain has been supplanted by a genuine relief… Mary was telling the truth! She hadn’t cheated on you! She’d remained faithful! She really did love you!
Once more… You sit there in your bed in complete awe of the reality Mary — this girl you’d known your whole life and loved — had actually been chosen by God to bring into the world the promised King. There was no question something supernatural had taken place in her life — a work of God, the Holy Spirit. Your wife would be the mother of the Most High!!
The phrase “for He will save His people from their sins” is radicle. The coupling “for He” in the Greek is emphatic. It’s not just that Jesus came to “save His people” it means that He and only He could save. As Peter affirmed in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Through this astonishing revelation provided to him in this dream by “an angel of the Lord,” Joseph came to understand that this male child Mary was carrying in her womb would be more than a King — Jesus was coming to earth to be a Savior from sin! While the Jewish people only saw the Messiah as being a liberator from Roman subjugation, Matthew is making it known that Jesus was coming to liberate His people from a much greater foe!
Don’t overlook the entire purpose in His coming to earth… Jesus didn’t come to give you a moral code or a new ethic to live by. He didn’t come to make you a better you, increase your self-worth, or make you feel better about yourself. Jesus didn’t even come to help you attain a purpose driven life. Instead, Jesus came to save you from your sins!
When we discuss concepts like sin it’s easy to speak in platitudes and not fully understand what is being articulated. For starters, the word we have translated as sin simply means to miss the mark and describes a falling short of a standard God established for humanity.
Since this is the case, you aren’t a sinner because you sin — you sin because you are a sinner. Every arrow misses the mark because the bow is warped. What this means is that sin manifests in your life as both an identity (you are a sinner) as well as in your behaviors (you sin). Your behaviors fall short of God’s standard because you fall short!
You see when we read that Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” we understand He came to first transform our identity (who we are) knowing that will in turn manifest in a very real change in our behaviors (what we do and how we live).
For example… When someone says they act a certain way because they were born a certain way, they are speaking a truth. And yet, you can always tell the person who doesn’t see the full picture when they then say, “Jesus loves me just the way that I am!” No, He actually doesn’t! In fact, Jesus actually finds the way you were born to be perverted, deviant, destructive, and a far shadow of the person He intended for you to be.
Sure, Jesus loves you (that much is true) but He came to save you from the way that you are in order to change the things that you’re doing. We were all born with a warped bow which explains why our lives miss God’s perfect standard. This is why a rebirth is required whereby Jesus transforms who you are and by default changes what you do.
It’s also worth pointing out how this instruction given by the angel — “and you shall call His name Jesus” — would have landed with Joseph. In this culture, names mattered and the act of naming held a profound significance. While it’s true this Child was named by God the Father, the job of naming this Child Jesus would be entrusted to Joseph.
Not only did this mean God had providentially chosen Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but God wanted Joseph to be the male authority in the life of His Son. “You shall call His name Jesus.” Of all the people He could have chosen, God picked Joseph to raise His Son!
How awesome and challenging it had to of been chewing on the reality it would be his job to care for God’s Son! Practically, Joseph was charged with the task of protecting the Savior of the World. Job #1 — keep Jesus alive! Additionally, Joseph knew he would have to shoulder the burden of providing the basic necessities for Jesus — shelter, and food.
While it’s true by adolescence Jesus had come to the full knowledge that God was His Father, basic sociology tells us that as His father-figure and the most significant male during His developmental years Joseph would have had a tremendous influence on a young Jesus. Obviously, Jesus was sinless and therefore Joseph’s impact naturally restricted to a degree, but, in Luke 2:40, we’re told Jesus “grew and became strong in spirit.”
What this means is that as the man God had entrusted with the care of His Son, Joseph did things to help facilitate that growth. I’m sure Joseph made sure Jesus was at church every week and placed into an environment where He could learn and study the Scriptures.
How cool it must have been for Joseph teaching the Word that became flesh how to read… or bandaging up the scraped knee of the One who formed man from the dust of the earth… or showing the Creator of all things how to work using human hands. It’s not an accident that by the start of His ministry Jesus would be known as the Carpenter from Nazareth. Without question, Jesus had learned the trade by working alongside Joseph growing up.
As you really think through the implications of raising God’s kid, you can understand why the angel begins by saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” You only need to caution someone “do not be afraid” when there was due cause to be afraid! Not only was the job in front of him large and in many ways intimidating, but the decision to take Mary as his wife was going to radically complicate his life as well.
How was he going to look his friends and family in the face and explain his decision to remain with Mary in a way that made any sense? Joseph knew the “angel appeared to me in a dream” sounded just as preposterous as Mary’s original tale. “Dad, I know I’m going to raise someone else’s kid, but don’t worry God’s the father!” People would think he’s nuts.
Before we look at Joseph’s reaction to the dream, in verses 22 and 23, Matthew places all of these things into their Old Testament context. Matthew 1:22-23, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (please note Matthew sees Scripture as God speaking through a human instrument like a prophet), saying (quotes from Isaiah 7:14): “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”
In connecting Jesus and his origins back to Isaiah, in addition to the core mission of the Messiah centering on saving His people from sin, Matthew is also bringing to the attention of his Jewish audience two more truths concerning the Christ they failed to recognize.
First, according to the Prophet Isaiah, the sign of the Messiah’s coming would be a virgin conceiving. You see the arrival of Christ was of such importance God wanted to make sure His people didn’t miss it. As such, His arrival would coincide with a miraculous conception. “When you see the virgin conceive you should know that Child is important!”
Secondly, while the Messiah would be a human descendent of David, He would also be God! According to Isaiah, “They shall call His name Immanuel” or “God with us.” Please understand, the Bible makes an undeniable claim that Jesus was divine. This means Jesus was more than a man, a teacher, or some guru. Jesus was the incarnation of God taking unto Himself human flesh and living among us. Jesus was both fully man and fully God.
Before we move on, I want to clarify a perceived conflict within the text. In verse 21, Joseph is instructed, “You should call His name Jesus.” But then, in verse 23, we read Isaiah declare, “They shall call His name Immanuel.” So… Is His name Jesus or Immanuel?
The answer is clear… YES! While Joseph had been instructed to give God’s son the name “Jesus,” Isaiah says “they” (the masses) would refer to Him as “Immanuel.” Think of it this way… The title “Immanuel” refers to who He is — “God with us” with the name “Jesus” emphasizing what He’d come to do — “save His people from their sins.”
Let me add an additional wrinkle… If you were to get into a time machine, travel back to the first century, visit the Galilee, and start inquiring where you could find Jesus, you’d be sorely disappointed that no one knew who you were talking about! In Hebrew, His name was actually Yeshua which when translated directly into English becomes Joshua. Sadly, Jesus came about by translating the Hebrew to Greek, the Greek to Latin, and the Latin to English.
Amazingly, referring back to the great hero of old, the name Joshua was incredibly common in that day which reinforces what Paul wrote of the Lord in Philippians 2 that “being in the form of God… made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Matthew 1:24-25, “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.” (To my Catholic friends, the phrase “did not know her till” implies Joseph would know her after Jesus’ birth.)
It’s really interesting how much of the “Christmas Story” Matthew leaves out… He makes no mention of the trip to Bethlehem with a very pregnant Mary on account of a Roman census… There’s no mention of there being no room for them in the inn and the lowly stable… No mention by Matthew of swaddling clothes, a manger, shepherd in the fields, angelic hosts singing in the sky… Nothing! Matthew doesn’t even mention Santa Claus.
All Matthew feels is important for the reader to know is that Joseph was obedient to the commands of God, stood alongside Mary by marrying her, remained chaste until her term was completed, and then names “her firstborn Son” Jesus just as he’d been instructed!
One of the main reasons Matthew takes this particular approach rests in the reality his intention was to clear up a primary criticism of Jesus that had been levied by His enemies specifically related to His birth and most notably the identity of His father.
First and foremost, keep in mind everyone knew Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. To this point, in a response to a sermon Jesus was giving in a synagogue located in Nazareth, the people snap back, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3)
You see the residents of Nazareth had first-hand knowledge of what had taken place. The town was small and everyone knew each other. People were aware Mary and Joseph had been betrothed when she turned up pregnant. It was a scandal! Based on the fallout, everyone could see the child wasn’t Joseph’s. I’m sure it’s likely even Mary’s crazy explanation had circulated throughout the community and been dismissed as lunacy.
Even though Joseph decided to stay with Mary and adopts her boy as his own, questions concerning the identity of Jesus’ real father would never stop. In fact, in John 8:41, the religious leaders go so far as to accuse Jesus of being “born of fornication.” The general consensus was that Mary cheated on Joseph making Jesus a bastard.
Here’s why Matthew tells Joseph’s story… Of all the people who would have had just cause to reject Mary’s story of the virgin conception of Jesus, Joseph topped the list. Truth be told, people were likely shocked when Joseph announced he was moving forward with the wedding. Why would he do that when he was completely justified in filing for divorce?
Joseph was still young and an attractive get for some lucky lady. His entire future was still ahead of him! People couldn’t understand why he would willingly raise a child that wasn’t his let alone stand by a woman who’d been unfaithful! It didn’t make any sense!
In a lot of ways, this was Matthew’s entire point! Logically, Joseph's actions only made sense under one particular set of parameters… He actually believed Mary’s story! You see the one person who had all the incentive in the world to reject her story genuinely believed the virgin had conceived and that Mary’s son Jesus was the Son of God.
Don’t overlook this reality… We know Joseph genuinely believed because (A) he didn’t have to, and (B) his life would have been easier otherwise. And yet, Joseph had come to know the truth, he’d counted the cost, and concluded there was really only one option in front of him — he’d rather live a life with Jesus than have a life without Him!
In closing, I want to draw from Joseph’s story two important but vastly different applications… First, every parent should relate to Joseph in that God has given all of us the job of raising His children. I know this is a difficult idea to wrap your brain around in the moment, but your children are not yours! They’re God’s kids entrusted to your care!
While Mary’s experience was unique, can’t we concede the fact every conception is a miracle? Seriously, the science behind two people — enjoying a few minutes of pleasure — whereby they exchange bodily fluids — producing a living human is absolutely unreal! A woman can provide an egg and the man some seed but it’s only God who can initiate life.
Parent, the truth is that your kid was created by a God who has a plan for their life! What’s scary is that after creating that child God gave them to you to care for, nourish, love, and protect. In the end, God will determine the destiny of that child. Your main job is to do the necessary things in order to facilitate they grow into the person God wants them to be! I will say that if you adopt such a perspective it will have a dramatic influence on how you see that kid, parent that kid, and the type of things you prioritize for that child’s life.
Secondly, if you take a step back from the story, you will see how the process of Joseph’s conversion is very similar to our own. At some point, you hear the testimony of someone who sincerely claims to have had a life-changing encounter with God. In fact, they claim Jesus is now living inside of them. When you ask how that’s possible their response comes back to some type of supernatural interaction they’ve had with the Holy Spirit.
While you may initially find what that person is claiming sounds absolutely nuts, Joseph teaches us that, if you’re willing to take some time to think things through, God will always independently speak to your heart confirming that what they’re saying is actually true. Friend, the Scriptures promise that all those who “seek will find!”
And it’s in this moment, like Joseph, you’ll have to decide what you’re going to do. You can’t deny the truth of who Jesus is — the Son of God sent to “save His people from their sins.” And yet, you also know choosing a life with Jesus carries with it major repercussions.
You know your decision will undoubtedly be misunderstood. Moving forward you know your life will be all about Him and not yourself. Ultimately, you are not disillusioned to the reality Jesus tends to complicate life and make it more difficult. And yet, while all of this is true, do you think Joseph ever regretted his decision to give his life to Jesus? I highly doubt it!
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