During the Christmas Holiday Season we will be taking a break from 1-2 Samuel and looking at the birth of Jesus from 4 perspectives: Joseph, Mary, Magi, and Jesus. This week is our first one in our Follow the Star Series: Joseph.
Matthew 1:18–25 “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. 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.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 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.”
Joseph is probably the least celebrated character in the Christmas Story. I reckon the livestock have more prominent places in most of our songs and plays than Joseph. However, this obscure Middle Eastern tradie has a few things he can teach us about what it means to be a part of Jesus’ family.
Several times in this short text we see Joseph’s Conviction. In v. 19 Joseph is described as being “faithful to the law”.
That’s why he was going to divorce Mary. For the Jewish people being pledged to be married (Engaged) was binding enough that divorce was required to terminate the future marriage. Joseph had conviction that even though they were engaged—sex was still not permitted. Since Mary was pregnant she obviously had not honoured that aspect of God’s Word. Joseph knew he wasn’t the father so divorce was the right thing to do by God’s Word, especially considering her far-fetched attempt at blame shifting her sin onto the Holy Spirit. Again, showing his faithfulness to the spirit of the law, he planned a quiet divorce, as that would be the right thing to do for Mary’s sake.
In vv. 20-21, Before Joseph could follow through with his plan, “an angel of the Lord” came to him in a dream with another message from God: Mary wasn’t blame shifting after all—the child was in fact from God.
Incredibly, vv. 24-25 shows us Joseph doing exactly what God told him to do. He took Mary as his wife immediately, which would protect her greatly from social scorn surrounding the pregnancy. He also did not consummate the marriage until after the birth which would further honour the miraculous conception which God had done.
A couple things about Joseph’s Conviction are worth noting:
-Joseph didn’t compromise his convictions, even when it involved someone he loved. All too often God’s Word becomes less applicable when it involves our own lives or the lives of those we care about. Not so with Joseph. He didn’t allow sentimentality to shade the truth. He didn’t allow his feelings to make God’s Word foggy.
-Joseph was steadfast in his conviction both when God’s Word was logical (divorce for adultery) and illogical (Holy Spirit conception). At times we can be tempted to obey what we understand and see clearly as true, and ignore what we find counter-intuitive. Again, Joseph shows us a consistency that is all too often rare. Both when God’s word made sense and when it didn’t—he obeyed.
-Joseph was clearly more concerned with what God thought than what others thought. Conception via the Holy Spirit was something he didn’t even believe at first, but when he discovered it was in fact from God, he accepted it immediately. God’s Word mattered more than Mary’s word and more than his mate’s words.
Thanks to Joseph’s conviction Mary wasn’t going to face the enormous social cost of this whole season alone. Imagine the scorns and scoffs they both would’ve endured when they shared their beliefs. Imagine how many eye rolls Joseph would’ve witnessed as he explained the situation to his family. Just as with Joseph, there are going to be a lot of people who just don’t understand why you believe what you believe.
As Timothy Keller notes, “There is as yet little physical persecution of Christians in Western countries but there is, increasingly, ridicule and contempt for those holding to historical Christian beliefs. All this takes courage to face. Just as with Joseph, there are going to be a lot of people who just don’t understand, and in many cases your reputation will suffer.” (Page 57, Hidden Christmas)
Welcoming Jesus into your life will inevitably force you to say good-bye to your reputation. Of course that is never easy, because the roots of our reputation go deep into our pride. But that isn’t the only cost coming to Joseph’s pride.
In v. 21 Joseph is told he doesn’t even have naming rights to the child.
It’s always been the case that if you have a child, you can name the child, because you’re in authority over that child. In fact, if you don’t take authority over that child, you’re a negligent parent. You need to set the course of this child’s life and tell this child how to live. Therefore, naming a child is a sign that you have authority over the child.
Joseph was basically told, you do not manage him. He manages you. Jesus can only come into your life as the ultimate authority. He can only come into your life so that you lose the right to live your life the way you feel like. You lose the right to self-determination. Joseph is learning about discipleship before Jesus is even born! Joseph does something that our modern culture thinks is absolutely crazy, he denies himself and obeys God. The angel said name the child Jesus, so Joseph named the child Jesus. Joseph set aside himself, his own rights, his own will and instead submitted to God’s authority.
There is one final Cost Joseph faced. In v. 21 Joseph is informed that his adopted son “will save his people from their sins.” There is no self-righteous objection from Joseph. No prideful pushback. He was “faithful to the Law” even when it forced him to face his own sin. As Martin Luther wrote in his Christmas Book: "God holds before us this mirror of sinners that we may know that he is sent to sinners, and from sinners is willing to be born."
Again Keller sums up this thought in Hidden Christmas, “There has never been a gift offered that makes you swallow your pride to the depths that the gift of Jesus Christ requires us to do. Christmas means that we are so lost, so unable to save ourselves, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God himself could save us. That means you are not somebody who can pull yourself together and live a moral and good life.” (Keller, Page 17)