“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
Let’s see if I can ruin our Christmas celebrations, in July, as well as I do in December. A bit of background for those unfamiliar with my Christmas opines, I’ll spare you for the moment, mostly. Consider the context and watch, maybe some traditions will be tweaked, others, hopefully will disappear. However, based on the context, I cannot lead an all-out assault. I wish I could but most of our misconceptions are based on a wrong reading of Luke. Nevertheless, we’ll find plenty to stir up our celebrations in the first two chapters in Matthew. But not at the expense of the context.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph and Mary, we are told, were formally engaged. They were “betrothed” (μνηστευθείσης, in Greek) to each other. Now we know, from the context, that this was a “legally” binding union, for the context states that Joseph considered “putting her away secretly.” Literally in the Greek; “to release;” used specifically in regards to divorce (ἀπολῦσαι). Therefore, they were in a binding union. Now, put yourself in Joseph’s sandals. Honestly, when we are giving gifts, decking halls and lighting trees, do we ever consider Joseph? First, he is in a contract to wed, then before his marriage is consummated, that is, no sex; he finds out his bride is pregnant. But it’s good, she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit and must remain a virgin until after she gives birth. What a patient man Joseph must have been. Now think of young Mary. She’s going to give birth being a virgin. Yet to my Roman Catholic friends, notice the context. Joseph “took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son.” Do I believe in the Virgin birth? (Look at that, we’re so catholicized that my spell-check makes me capitalize virgin birth). I do, and defend the Virgin birth 100%. Jesus was born of a virgin. Perpetual virginity is not only uncalled for in the Biblical text, it’s cruel. But again, I am getting way ahead of myself.
Back to the immediate context. Joseph being a righteous man, who desires to follow the law, is willing to divorce Mary, but secretly–he wants to spare her shame–what a guy! It wasn’t for himself but for Mary’s well-being. Remember, he did not yet know that she was pregnant with the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. Walk a while in Joseph’s shoes. Pondering, place yourself in his position. Would you have the grace that he had? Notice the context that follows his decision to divorce. “But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.'”
Would you believe? I wouldn’t. That must have been one very convincing angel. Possibly, in fact, probably, yet it also goes to Joseph’s character. Imagine Joseph out on the town, walking with Mary as his friends come up to them and say, “Joseph, you have obviously consummated your marriage, congratulations!” “Actually, no, she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” Crickets chirping. Yes, silliness, but it is intended to make us think and to consider the context. We tend to romanticize and culturally appropriate the first century Jews to our culture and time, translating the story to the contemporary, forgetting the difficulties of the characters at that time, in that culture. We have no need to read between the lines, but we must see the aspirations of the author to his audience. Yes, it’s wonderful news, the best ever, for it’s the beginning of the gospel. Nevertheless, Matthew, while very deliberate and dry, provides the reader with the details needed to understand, if the reader is willing to focus. The first century church would have had a much easier time digesting the details because they were part of the culture. We however, must mine the text for all it’s worth.
The text tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. Not that he was self-righteous, but that he had a heart for God. He desired to be obedient. And while he was truly blessed to be the earthly father of the Messiah, it must have been very difficult. Although Joseph vanishes from the texts after Jesus is about 12 years old, we can learn about walking with God from Joseph.
In the context, the angel continues, “‘and she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled.'” Mary is going to bear a son. This is the same word used in the introduction to the chapter and also the word used by the angel referring to Joseph as the “son of David.” Transliterated it reads, “huios.” It literally means, “son” but also is used to denote the inheritance or likeness of the father or ancestors, as in “Son of God.” Again, this harkens back to the genealogy. Jesus is not only the son of Joseph by adoption, he is the son of God in total and complete essence. We already see the dual (for lack of a better word) natures of Jesus–fully man, fully God. Nevertheless, he laid aside his majesty to be born of the virgin and his mission is brought to attention. He is going to save his people from their sins. If you are confused about who his people are, read my missives on Revelation. We also see the beginning of many fulfilled prophecies and Joseph’s selfless obedience.
“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
I love how Matthew writes, “the prophet.” They knew who the prophet was, they knew which scroll to unfurl. We do as well, at this point–it’s on 25% of Christmas cards–Isaiah 7–but that is a missive for another time. Notice now though, that Joseph did what the Lord commanded. He was obedient though it wasn’t convenient. Maybe at Christmas time I will compare and contrast Matthew and Luke’s accounts and really ruin Christmas. I won’t take the time now but most know the story in Luke chapter two. It was not very convenient for Joseph, was it?
Jesus, son of Joseph, David, Abraham, God. Matthew chose the patriarchs to present the Jewish line to the Jews. He also gives us a great picture of who Joseph was. Matthew focuses on Joseph, don’t miss that. We understand that it is for proof to the first century Jews, that Jesus was who he said he was. But also to show that Joseph was chosen from long ago to be the father to the Messiah, and that God made the right decision and was indeed with Joseph. This is not a Christmas passage, it’s a father’s day passage.