The Birth of Jesus and the Faith of Joseph
Jesus coming into this world followed over fifteen hundred years of preparation. In a sin-filled and dark world God was laying the foundation for this one event that would change everything. He had created a nation, Israel, that was designed to point to this one event. Their history was a living example of God’s salvation. Their worship rituals were full of practices that were designed to point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. The priesthood in Israel pointed to Jesus as the ultimate high priest. The sacrifices pointed to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. The temple, that place where God connected with his people, pointed to Jesus - the ultimate temple where God is at home with us. And the list goes on…
God also brought prophets into Israel who, in their truth-speaking, would talk in detail of events that would be perfectly fulfilled hundreds of years later.
The language God prepared for this event (Greek) was full of nuance and precision so that two thousand years later we can still understand the intricacies of God’s plan. This language also helped assure that two thousand years of translation remained accurate.
Even the Roman Empire allowed for easy transport of the message - Rome ruled the world.
Today we’re going to look at a passage about the birth of Jesus from the book of Matthew. Matthew was written as a message to Jewish people. He overtly shows the fulfillment of at least 12 O.T. prophecies and quotes the O.T. more than 60 times.
Joseph, as Jesus’ earthly father, was an important character to Matthew because Joseph was in the lineage of King David and the Messiah needed to be connected to King David. So Matthew opens his gospel with a genealogy to show this and verse 1 summarizes it - A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham
There are some very interesting characters in the genealogy of Matthew one, prostitutes, gentiles, and adulterers - Tamar was a Canaanite prostitute (vs3), Rahab was a gentile prostitute (vs5), Ruth was a Moabite (vs5), Solomon’s mother was an adulterer (vs6). It seems that Matthew was overtly setting up the scandal of verses 18-25 by pointing to the historic working of God through lives and situations that didn‘t fit the religious expectation - which brings me to my first point. God is not limited by our religious expectation. Instead, God works in the face of religious expectation. Often we do not draw the right conclusions
Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and 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 (savior), because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Is 7:14) - 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 had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
It is very important that we understand this story in light of the Jewish community two thousand years ago. A Jewish marriage typically took place over a long period of time and had two stages. The first stage involved the pledge (vs 18). Vows were exchanged before witnesses, and the man and women were considered husband and wife - it would take a divorce to dissolve the relationship at this point. This first stage also involved a long waiting period - as long as 12 months. So, after the vows to each other there was a waiting period with very limited contact between the boy and the girl. Many understand this waiting period as a time of “proving”. Proving that the bride had been chased and is not pregnant - if she was it would become obvious.
This waiting period shows how very, very important sexual purity was to the Jewish culture - it really can’t be overemphasized. To fail here would DEVISTATE and SHAME the families involved and, in the best case, create outcasts of the participants.
After this waiting period there would be a lengthy wedding ceremony - perhaps 7 days. Later in Jesus’ life he was at a wedding where they ran out of wine, if you remember.
It was during the waiting period that Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. Can you imagine how this news must have landed on him? Being removed, as we are, from this very different culture; I would guess we can barely imagine how this would have devastated the families involved. At this point Joseph was most likely under the greatest stress of his life. Everything he had thought about for Mary and him was not crashing down around him.
God let Joseph experience and struggle with this horrific news before he explained it through a dream. From Joseph’s perspective Mary was unfaithful and had turned her back on God and him, and he could not simply ignore this or excuse it as a mistake. He had two choices. He could initiate a public divorce or he could initiate a private divorce - he chose the private one. He would try to spare Mary as much public humiliation as possible - Joseph was a righteous man. Joseph acted righteously by caring for Mary even though he thought she had dishonored him.
Why didn’t God clear this up with Joseph before he went through the pain? While I certainly can’t read God’s mind here and can’t specifically answer that question in Joseph‘s situation,…
So, after Joseph had thought about the action he would take toward Mary, and decided righteously, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and explained the whole thing and give Joseph instructions - so Joseph would know the truth. Knowing the truth, no doubt, was a wonderful thing - Mary was not unfaithful! What a blessing - thank you God! Knowing the truth, however, was the foundation for a deeper call to faith. Joseph would NOT put Mary away, as the cultural demanded - HE WOULD, IN FAITH, CARE FOR HER. He would do what God asked in the face of what would have been public humiliation.
The call of God on your life will ALWAYS lead to faith. It will lead to thinking and actions that moves against the norms of this world. This is the pattern - God works in lives and the outcome is faith. The power of God’s friendship, the forgiveness of our sins, produces freedom - freedom from the slavery of sin and culture. We no longer need be enslaved by culture or upbringing, or the tragedies of the past - we can leave that and move forward.
If you simply look through the Bible you will see this over and over again. Abraham, Moses, the prophets, the disciples, all those who would follow Jesus are called to a new vision of life and a new mission for life.
We don’t know a great deal about Joseph and most people think he died sometime between Jesus’ age 12 and Jesus crucifixion. At age 12 Jesus went to Jerusalem with his parents (Luke 2) and Mary was probably a widow at Jesus’ death because Jesus asked John to take care of her (John 19).
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We can learn much by studying Joseph - but the heart of this passage is all about Jesus, the one who came to make us right with God, the one who would save us from our sins.
The first part of Matthew 1 is there to show Jesus as aligned with King David - very important. Verses 18-25 shows us that this child was divine - “God with us”. Many are willing to accept Jesus as a great teacher who changed the world. It is another thing to believe and embrace Jesus as God - the One who would save from sin.
Two Sundays ago we talked about how Jesus saves us from our sins and how he takes away the power of Satan. Jesus came, in humility, as a man two thousand years ago so he could face life as we do - without sin. And then in death stand in our place before God and absorb the judgment I deserve. How is the power of Satan destroyed? Our sins are forgiven.
By claiming Jesus as my Champion, by trusting Jesus as my hope, I am forgiven.
Last Sunday we saw that Jesus did not come to be served - he came to serve. (Mark 10:45) He did not come to gather a bunch of slaves - he came to create friends (John 15:14-16) who trust him. He came to die and then turn undeserving people, like me, into friends.
Acts 4:12 (NIV)
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Many people are more than willing to see Jesus as simply a good teacher – even someone who fits into a religious construct. Jesus did not come two thousand years ago to fit into anything. He came to make us right with God. He came to give new life. He came to claim a people that are desperate for help. God is now with us.