Matthew 1:18- 2:25
The Eclipse of Joseph
The book of Luke is our go-to Gospel on Jesus’ birth. This is the book where we see the angel Gabriel make his announcement to Mary that she will have a miraculous son. Mary visits Elizabeth and pronounces her Magnificat. Mary gives birth to Jesus and places her son in a manger, Mary contemplates the news that she hears from the shepherds. When she and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem for his circumcision, Mary receives prophetic news from Simeon the prophet.
Because Luke’s account is so powerful, it tends to dominate the season, and that puts Mary in the spotlight. Joseph resides in the background. In most of the Christmas stories, he becomes the passive father. He is anything but.
Matthew’s account shows him to be a principled man who stands prepared to act on his beliefs. He listens to God’s word, and he is a man of action who acts without hesitation to protect his family.
A Man of Principle
Matthew opens Jesus’ birth account from Joseph’s point of view, when he first learns that his fiancée is pregnant. Matthew writes,
Matthew 1:18-19 (ESV)
18 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 from the Holy Spirit.
19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
In the Hebrew culture, a marriage betrothal was as binding as marriage itself. This is the reason why Matthew refers to “her husband Joseph.”
Matthew affirms that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately for Joseph, Gabriel’s message to Mary was private. Doubtless, Mary told Joseph about her pregnancy. With only her word, though, Joseph finds himself in a delicate position. His only logical recourse is to assume that she has been unfaithful and has broken their marriage vow.
Matthew gives us a glimpse into his character. He is “a just man and unwilling to put her to shame.”
The combination of his sense of justice and tempered with compassion is significant. Many men believe in justice, but their practice is cold. A “just” man could have counted his reputation more highly than anything else. Such a man might have shamed his fiancée publicly to bolster his own reputation. Joseph is unwilling to do this and resolves to put her away quietly. We must admire the sense of mercy that prevents him from using rage to masquerade as principle.
A Teachable Man
Matthew goes on to show us Joseph’s willingness to let God lead him.
Matthew 1:20-21 (ESV)
20 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.
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel’s instructions to Joseph, “Do not fear…,” refer to a calling. Do not be afraid to commit to Mary because she is God’s chosen servant.
Joseph also receives instructions to call the child’s name Jesus, the equivalent of the Old Testament name Joshua. The name means “God has saved.” Historically, God had acted under Joshua’s ministry to plant his redeemed people in the land that he had promised Abraham. Now Jesus will save his people from their sins.
Joseph’s command to name the child signifies both his acceptance of the child as his own and his commitment to protect his family.
A Man of Action
At this point in the narrative, Matthew turns to the Maji from the East. Their story is familiar. King Herod tells them to return with word of the child’s whereabouts so he can go to worship him as well. This, of course, is a ruse, and God directs the Maji to return another way.
Joseph is the unsung hero in the account, however. After the Maji leave, God tells him in a dream, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13).
Joseph again obeys. Matthew relates that Joseph leaves “by night” with his wife and child for Egypt (Matthew 2:14). When he is called to protect his family, he acts immediately.
Matthew records one more incident in which Joseph intervenes for his family. After Herod dies, God tells him that he may return to Israel safely. On the return, he learns that Herod’s son Archelaus rules in his place, and he takes his family to Nazareth in Galilee (Matthew2:22). He is not just a man who follows instructions blindly. He thinks on his feet.
A Humble Man
Joseph understands from the beginning that God has chosen to work through Mary to bring his Son into the world. When Mary takes center stage during Jesus’ early years, he accepts his role as guardian.
He never complains. He never seeks recognition. He remains content to serve his family. His genuine humility makes him almost invisible, and the is his glory.