But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
1. The Espousal
Espousal or engagement in the ancient Jewish custom was much more than what we think of with engagements today. Once the couple was espoused to be married, they were essentially in a binding contract that would only leave the physical union to be completed after the marriage ceremony. Joseph, more than likely, was away preparing the home they would live in together once they were married when he entered the scene in Matthew 1:18. This was the Jewish custom of espousal.
2. The Exposure
So, when Mary was found to be with child before their marriage, it meant that Joseph was in a very difficult situation. She was to be his chaste bride, and now she is with child. Most people would assume that she had been unfaithful to him. I am sure that people were talking about her and how she had disgraced Joseph. But Joseph’s character begins to shine here (Matthew 1:19). Being an honorable man, he did everything he could to shield her from the criticism of their society. He was not hasty in how he dealt with the situation. Rather he spent time thinking and most likely praying for direction now that his future seemed to be shattering before his very eyes. He had the right, according to Jewish law, to make her a public example and embarrass her for her assumed adultery, but Joseph quietly thought about these things and how to handle it all.
3. The Enlightenment
I love Matthew 1:20 – “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” Joseph’s enlightenment didn’t come from talking over the situation with family or friends. It didn’t come from taking up his cause and his rights. It came from thinking and praying about how to handle this situation. What an evidence of a godly man! The angel’s message was, indeed, enlightening – “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). What a message! This is one of the great “Fear nots” of the Christmas story which I will leave for another time except to say that God knows His people and their tendency to fear and is quick to calm that even in the midst of His Son’s incarnation. What peace must have flooded Joseph’s heart when the angel told him that Mary was indeed the chaste woman he believed her to be. God then revealed that this would fulfill that great prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 that Jesus would be born of a virgin (Matthew 1:22-24). Joseph’s obedience in taking Mary to be his wife even though she was with child demonstrated great faith in the promise and word of God!
4. The Earnestness
Matthew 1:24 tells us that Joseph listened to the angel of the Lord, obeyed His direction, and did exactly as he was told. Joseph probably did not understand all the ramifications of the task for which he had been chosen by God, but that did not stop him from being obedient and fulfilling his part of God’s plan for Jesus to be born of a virgin. His earnest obedience goes a step further in Matthew 1:25 – And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. See Joseph could have taken Mary as his wife and even physically consummated their marriage immediately after hearing from the angel of the Lord. But he chose to wait to be with her, dispelling any doubts about Jesus’ being born miraculously from a virgin to fulfill prophecy. He denied his own rights again with his own wife to fulfill God’s plan. And he obeyed the angel’s instruction by calling Him JESUS – Savior! We know this life of obedience continues as Joseph protects his family by taking them to Egypt when Herod threatens the life of the young child in Matthew 2. All evidence of the life of Joseph recorded for us in Scripture is that he was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) and played a massively important role in the Christmas story as we know it.
How does this apply to you and me today? Our sovereign God often directs our lives down paths that are difficult and sometimes even seemingly impossible and unexplainable. But He never leaves us without instruction. All we have to do is listen to Him as He speaks to us through His Word and obey His direction by doing exactly what He tells us to do. We don’t have to understand all that is going on and what it all means. We just have to obey so that God can work His sovereign will for our lives. It might seem like a little thing as we look at it today, but only God knows how important your obedience is to His sovereign will today. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we remember the obedience of Joseph and follow his example.
How does the call for obedience, even in the face of difficulty and uncertainty, resonate with your own faith journey today, and how might reflecting on Joseph's obedience inspire and guide your response to God's sovereign will in your life?
Read also Joseph: The Man God Chose to Raise His Son.
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