Just about 2000 years ago, there was, in the small city of Nazareth, in Galilee, the
disrespected northern province of the Jewish homeland of Palestine, a troubled couple.
Not a couple, actually, as in married couple. Instead, two people - a man and a woman -
who were betrothed, which was the step before marriage. Just about 2000 years ago,
there was a couple - the man named Joseph, the woman named Mary - who were
troubled, the trouble caused by the fact Mary was pregnant.
To set the stage for today’s look at the Joseph part of the troubled couple, let me
mention that three months before today’s passage, Mary had been visited by the angel
Gabriel, who had for her a message. An announcement that she had been chosen by
God to conceive. For that to happen, not by Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, but by
the Holy Spirit and God. The announcement continued that the baby she would
conceive - the baby she would bring into the world - was to be named Jesus and that He
would grow up to be the Savior.
The announcement had to have been startling for Mary, including the shock it would
have caused to the plans she had for her life, which featured becoming pregnant the
normal way and in the normal timing, and then having a normal, quiet life with Joseph
and whatever children they would have together.
The announcement by Gabriel of God’s plans for her had to have been startling. But she
agreed to God’s plans. She said to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
After Mary’s acceptance of God’s plans, rather than her plans, the Holy Spirit came upon
her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. The result was that she did
conceive. After which she left Nazareth and traveled to Jerusalem to visit a relative
named Elizabeth, who was also pregnant through a miracle of God.
For three months, Mary stayed with Elizabeth. But then, about the time Elizabeth’s
baby was to be born and about the time it was becoming evident Mary was pregnant, it
was time for her to return to Nazareth, where she was going to have to face Joseph.
Joseph may have wondered, three months earlier, why Mary had left to visit Elizabeth. I
wonder if Joseph wondered if something was wrong. I wonder if Mary had changed
following her visit from Gabriel.
When Joseph saw Mary after her return, think how shocked he would have been. The
woman to whom he was betrothed was obviously pregnant. He knew he was not the
father. Think how shocked - how discouraged - how disappointed Joseph must have
been. Interestingly, there is no indication Joseph was angry, but how dismayed he must
Which brings us to today’s passage, which is Matthew 1, verses 18 and 25. The passage
starts like this. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother
Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with
child of the Holy Spirit.”
That finding happened when Mary returned from her visit to Elizabeth. Mary being
with child was evident. It was at that time Joseph learned what was going on.
According to verse 19, Joseph was a just man. We are going to get to the meaning of
that description, but before we do, I want to share some things I learned about Joseph.
Some of his history before today’s passage.
Here is some of what I learned. It is known Joseph was a carpenter. It is believed that
earlier in his adult life, Joseph might have done that occupation in Bethlehem, a small
town a few miles from the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern province of the
As we know, a few months after today’s passage, Joseph, to obey a decree, went to
Bethlehem, which was at least his ancestral home. The decree was for a census to be
taken. Each man was to report to his ancestral home. The place his ancestors called
their original home. Bethlehem was that for Joseph.
It is believed Bethlehem might have been Joseph’s home earlier in his adult life, and
that he had moved north to Nazareth, perhaps for two reasons. First, to escape some
persecution that had occurred in Bethlehem a few years before today’s passage. Second,
to find work. There may have been more work in and around Nazareth than there was in
and around Bethlehem.
Joseph was a carpenter. A very good carpenter. In fact, it was no doubt his skill that
made him worthy of being betrothed to Mary. Mary’s parents must have been happy
their daughter was promised to a man who would be able to support her and any
children they would have.
But it was not just his carpentry skill that attracted Mary and her family to him. He
truly was a just man. Righteous and upright are two other translations of the
description of Joseph. All together they mean Joseph was a devout servant of God. A
man who regulated his life according to the standards of Jewish law.
Actually, in just a bit, we will get to an interesting twist in Joseph being described as
just, in which he did not do what he was legally allowed to do.
But as a devout servant of God, he had studied and he knew Jewish law. Including the
part of the law that describes proper relationships - as in loving relationships - with
In fact, that became evident right after he learned that Mary was pregnant. Verse 19.
Being a just man - a righteous, upright man - “he was unwilling to put Mary to shame
and resolved to divorce her [a divorce was necessary if a betrothal was to end] quietly.”
Shame? We of course know there was no cause for shame. We know that because the
Bible tells us so. But no one else, except maybe Elizabeth, who Mary had visited, knew
that at that time.
Shame was indeed the case because of what it appeared had happened. Apparently right
after Mary had left to visit Elizabeth, she had been unfaithful to Joseph and been
intimate with someone else. Or maybe that had happened before she had left. Maybe
that is what had caused Mary to seem different.
And even if she had not been unfaithful, at that time in Jewish history, the homeland of
the people of God was under the control of the Roman government, which meant
Roman soldiers were around all the time. There were at least occasional incidents when
Roman soldiers took advantage of Jewish women. Maybe Mary had been assaulted as
she had traveled to visit Elizabeth.
However it had happened, Mary’s baby was not Joseph’s baby. Either she had been
unfaithful or she had been attacked, but either way, there was shame. Either way, the
plans Joseph had with Mary were doomed. How could he be expected to marry
someone already pregnant with a baby that was not his?
Yes, there was shame. But to keep from causing her even more grief, Joseph decided to
divorce Mary quietly.
And yes, that was an indication that in this case, Joseph did not follow through on a
certain part of the Jewish law he knew so well. You see, there was, according to the law,
the right for a man whose betrothed had been unfaithful to have her stoned to death.
Joseph could have done that himself, or he could have organized it to happen. Either
could have been done by taking his case to a magistrate, which would have brought
shame to Mary publicly.
Instead, Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly, which would have involved simply
filing a certificate of divorce, doing so in front of just two witnesses, thereby keeping her
shame as quiet as possible. That is what Joseph decided to do, meaning he understood
the loving part of Jewish law.
A quiet divorce is what Joseph planned. However - verses 20 and 21 - as he considered
this, he fell asleep. “And behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,
saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is
conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit - she will bear a son, and you shall call His name
Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’”
I wonder if Mary had shared that same message with Joseph when she had first arrived
back in Nazareth - that the conception had been by God, that the baby would be a boy,
that His name was to be Jesus, that her son was to be the Savior.
Had Mary shared all that with Joseph? She probably had. But really? Was Joseph
really to be expected to believe such far-fetched things?
Now Joseph heard it again. This time from an angel. No, Mary had not been unfaithful.
No, she had not been attacked. Yes, her son was divine. Yes, He was to be named Jesus.
Yes, her son was to be the Savior.
“Do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife.” That is what the angel - an angel from
God - told Joseph in a dream. After which he awoke.
Last week, when we featured Mary, we talked about two different kinds of headphone.
There is the kind of headphone that allows a person to hear when the headphone is
plugged into a source of sound. There is the kind of headphone that shuts out sound,
keeping a person from hearing what is going on around him or her.
Last week we talked about the spiritual headphone Mary chose when she heard the
sound of the message given to her by God. And hey, may we never take her choice
I mean, to listen to God’s plans for her - to obey God’s plans for her - was going to mean
accusations of immorality and being rejected by family and friends and maybe Joseph.
In fact, rejection is what Joseph planned.
If she agreed to obey God’s plans for her, think of the jealousy she would face. Think of
the changes that would happen in her life. No quiet, peaceful, normal life, but being the
mother of the one destined to be the Savior. Think of the demands of that.
It was a major decision Mary had to make. She could easily have chosen the kind of
headphone that shut out the voice - the plan - of God.
But instead, she chose to listen to God. To stay plugged in to God, and agree with God
and obey God.
So, too, did Joseph have a major decision to make. Think of the ridicule he would face
from his family and friends. Ridicule at first accusing him of being immoral with Mary.
I wonder if he heard behind his back or to his face, “Joseph, you claim - you pretend - to
be righteous. I guess you’re not as good and holy as you claim to be.”
Then, from those who believed he was not the father, being ridiculed for staying with
someone who had not been true to him. And yes, Mary had stayed true to Joseph, but it
certainly did not look that way.
And what about his plan for a quiet life with Mary? That plan was shot if he agreed to
God’s plans. The plans announced in the dream.
And having to raise a son who was not his? That could be problematic.
Plus, just like Mary had been, Joseph was the only one who heard the message - the
message that came to him during a dream. With no one else hearing it - with no one to
confirm the message, even to him - how was he ever going to explain, to himself and to
others, what he was called on to do?
Therefore, Joseph could easily have chosen the kind of headphone that shut out the
voice of God - the plan of God.
After all, he had already agreed to spare Mary being stoned to death. By the way,
stoning Mary would have killed Jesus, too. How wonderful it is that Joseph decided
But he had already agreed to spare Mary. And think of this. God’s people had waited
many years - centuries, actually - for their promised Savior. In their minds, they
imagined He would come as a mighty king or a strong warrior or a wise ruler. Certainly
He would come with authority. Enough authority to immediately overthrow the
oppressors of God’s people.
But Joseph, like Mary before him, had received a different version of what was to
happen. They received God’s version, which was that the Savior was to come as a baby.
Joseph had already shown kindness to Mary, and what he had heard in his dream most
assuredly did not match the expectations of anyone, including Joseph. Because of those
two things, how easy it would have been for Joseph to shut out the sound of God.
However, he, like Mary before him, chose instead the spiritual headphone that allowed
him to hear God. He, too, listened, then agreed and obeyed. Verse 24. “When he woke
from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary to be his
In a moment, a question. But first, it seems appropriate to share that Joseph stayed
plugged in to God’s voice. He listened, agreed, and obeyed, not only right after waking
up from the dream recorded in Matthew 1, but far into the future as well.
For instance, a few months later, shortly before Jesus was to be born - this is in Luke 2 -
Joseph was required, by decree, to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to take part in a
He had to go, but Mary, being a woman, did not have to go. However, Joseph took her
along, which I assume was the result of another message from God. At least a prodding
from God. Of course, Mary was still suffering rejection by family and friends. I am sure
she did not want to stay behind. But I assume God told Joseph to take her with him.
That is my assumption because according to Old Testament prophecy, the Savior was to
be born in Bethlehem. I am sure God saw to it that it happened that way. Again, Joseph
was willing to listen to and obey God.
A few weeks after Jesus was born - this is also in Luke 2 - it was time for Him to be
officially named. Once again, Joseph obeyed, allowing Mary’s son to be named Jesus.
There was no issue of Joseph wanting the baby to be named Joe, Jr., or any other name.
Joseph agreed with Jesus being the name.
Sometime after that - maybe two years after that - this is in chapter 2 of Matthew - Jesus
was in danger. His life was in danger when Herod ordered that all boys two years of age
and under in and around Bethlehem, which is where Jesus still was, be killed. As soon
as the order was made public, Joseph had another message in another dream, that one
instructing him to take Jesus and Mary from Bethlehem to Egypt.
Again Joseph could have shut out the voice of God, claiming he and his family were
settled in Bethlehem, and that was that. But he again stayed plugged in to God. Joseph
again listened and agreed and obeyed.
Sometime after that Joseph had yet another message from God in yet another dream.
That message told him to return his family from Egypt to Palestine.
Then, on the way back to Bethlehem, Joseph was led to bypass that town and return to
Nazareth. Which is where he and Mary had been rejected. Where it was unlikely they
would be accepted a few years later.
Twice more Joseph could have shut out the voice of God. He could have refused to
listen to God. As it was with Mary, if Joseph did not hear, he would not have to obey. It
must have been yet another temptation to shut God out.
But twice more - in leaving Egypt and in avoiding Bethlehem - Joseph listened and
agreed and obeyed.
So. Which kind of headphone are you using?
What you face is not whether to raise the Savior. That has already been done. But there
are other issues you are facing. Challenges you have. Proddings from the Lord to do
something or to grow in some way. Or maybe it is God offering to help you with grief or
a financial problem or a relationship issue or a move of some kind.
Which kind of headphone are you using?
May none of us ever shut out the sound of hope that comes from God. Instead, may we
do what Joseph did and stay plugged in to God.
May that be shown in our reactions to whatever message God has for us. May we do as
we are commanded. Whether it is easy or not. Whether it makes sense or not. May we
always use spiritual headphones that allow us to hear God.
Today’s closing carol is Emmanuel, that being one of the names of Jesus - the baby of
Mary - the one Joseph helped raise - including staying with Mary and protecting her
Emmanuel means “God with us.” Think of that as we sing.
His name is called Emmanuel;
God with us, revealed in us;
His name is called Emmanuel.
There is a story of a young boy who complained to his mother about the role he had in
the Sunday School Christmas program. He had been chosen to be Joseph, and he said,
“I don’t like having to be Joseph.”
“What don’t you like about being Joseph?” his mother asked .
“I don’t get to say anything. All I do is walk in with Mary and then stand by the manger.
That’s it. That’s all I get to do.”
That young boy had it right, didn’t he? Walking with Mary and standing by Jesus is
about all Joseph did before Jesus’ birth and at the time of Jesus’ birth and when Jesus
was named and when Jesus had to be saved and when it was time for Jesus to return to
Nazareth, which is where Old Testament prophecy said the Savior was to grow up.
Joseph accepted his role. Will you and I also stay plugged in to the voice of God so we
can hear whatever role He has for us? Will you and I listen and agree and obey? Even if
we are the only ones to hear?