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Matthew 1:18-25

15th December 2002

The silent early years of the life of Jesus had a profound impact on the boy Jesus. When Jesus was aged twelve years, he went up to Jerusalem for His Bar Mitzvah. How the wonders of the Temple in Jerusalem must have awed him. Little wonder he was found missing on the return journey. Mary and Joseph anxiously returned to search for Him. They found Him in the Temple talking with the religious leaders. He described God to them using a term He used of Joseph. For the first time in history, someone called God, "my Father", a name Jesus used of Joseph!


The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is built on a historic site. Here is the grotto and site of the house where Mary first heard the message from the angel that she would conceive and bear a son, and call him Jesus. Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph the carpenter who was a descendent of King David. In this grotto, Mary heard the words: "Peace be with you. The Lord is with you ....." Luke 1:28?33 Mary was surprised and protested "How can this be?" For she was a virgin. But she was assured that the Spirit of God would rest upon her, and the power of God would be known to her.

Scripture presents Jesus as the child of Mary, not Joseph. Some Jews insulted Jesus because He was seen as illegitimate. "We are not illegitimate" they said. Jn 8:41 "Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son?" Mark 6:3 A boy was always described as a child of his father, but Jesus was described as "Mary's son". How Jesus must have suffered in childhood from other children when this was still being said of Him as a man. People never forget. Some may doubt the Virgin Birth but the villagers knew!

So why does Matthew trace the ancestry of Jesus through Joseph? You will notice on a close study of the ancestors of Jesus, that Matthew 1:6 traces Jesus' ancestry through Solomon and hence down to Joseph, while Luke 3:31 traces the ancestry of Jesus through Solomon's older brother Nathan and so down to Mary. Both Joseph and Mary were descended from King David through his sons. So Lk 2:4 "Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David."

Every other person in the list of the ancestors of Jesus says "Abraham was the father of Isaac..." and so on except the last, where Joseph is not said to be the father of Jesus, but rather Joseph is referred to as "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." Luke 3:23?38 records the ancestors of Mary all the way back beyond the time of Abraham to Adam and the commencement of humanity. Jesus "was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph." Luke 3:23 This "so it was thought" indicates that Jesus was not really the biological son of Joseph. Jesus was descended from David naturally through Nathan and legally through Solomon.

The pledge taken by a couple to be married was legally binding. Only a divorce writ could break it, and infidelity at that stage was considered adultery. The marriage itself took place when the groom, already called "husband," Matthew 1:19 ceremoniously took the bride home. Matthew 25:1-13. Mary is here introduced unobtrusively, "before they came together" implying sexual union had not taken place. Sexual intercourse occurred after the formal marriage when the "wife" moved in with her "husband." Only then was sexual intercourse proper.

The phrase affirms that Mary's pregnancy was discovered while she was still betrothed, and the context presupposes that both Mary and Joseph had been chaste. This pregnancy came about through the Holy Spirit. The power of the Lord, manifest in the Holy Spirit who was expected to be active in the Messianic Age, miraculously brought about the conception.


Joseph was a descendant of David, a carpenter by trade. Matt. 13:55 He was regarded as the legal or foster father of Jesus. Matt. 1:16,20; Luke 2:4; 3:23; 4:22; John 1:45; 6:42 Upon learning of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph, being a righteous man, sought to put her away without public disgrace. Joseph learned of his betrothed's condition when it became unmistakable. For Joseph this was the biggest crisis of his life. He had always considered himself a man who did things correctly and according to the law. Joseph does not appear later in the Gospels, and it is likely that he died prior to Jesus' public ministry. Matthew 12:46-47 He was probably an older man, a widower who already had children Mark 6:3 and this shock was overwhelming. I guarantee some busy body had already questioned him about the wisdom of marrying a young woman like Mary!

Joseph, died sometime after Jesus' twelfth year when Joseph is mentioned with Jesus in Jerusalem. Luke 2:41-50 Mark, who mentions nothing of Jesus' life before his baptism, nowhere mentions Joseph. Tradition says Joseph was an older man who already had children. Joseph is only mentioned in the birth and childhood stories about Jesus. Mary is alone when she comes to Jesus during His ministry and when she stands weeping at the foot of the Cross.

Matthew gives the most detailed information, recounting that when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, Matthew 1:18 she was found to be pregnant. Joseph, being a "just man and unwilling to put her to shame," was going to divorce her. Matthew 1:19 Then an angel appeared and told him that the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20 The betrothed couple refrained from sexual intercourse until the formal marriage. Evidence from the time shows that virginity in a bride was to be desired. In any case if the woman was found to have had sexual intercourse with anyone other than her betrothed husband, a divorce or annulment could be affected if she was at fault. She may also be stoned to death. Mary was a virgin during the time she was betrothed to Joseph. Matthew 1:25

He did not have intercourse with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. Virginity in a bride was prized and still is by many Middle Eastern countries. Brides may be inspected by doubting mothers-in-law. I looked up the web site for the Islamic Youth Movement headquartered in the Lakemba Mosque. If you think of having sexual relations with a Muslim girl, then you had better forget it! (www.islam.org.au) Young Muslims are told the punishment today for adultery is death by stoning and for sexual relations before marriage it is 100 lashes of the cane or whip. And even if you should get away with it, Allah is not fooled. You will spend eternity in a ``baking oven in Hell-fire". Apparently the rape of non-Muslim girls, while offensive is not punishable. Joseph was troubled and afraid, both for her and for himself. Joseph betrayed Mary because he suspected Mary had been sexually unfaithful. He was possibly preserving his own reputation as a righteous man.

He was completely bewildered at this development because of her supposed virginity. He had a legal obligation to divorce this woman who was to bear the child of another man. Yet he desired to preserve her reputation. Joseph was a just man but also a compassionate man. He desired to spare Mary shame, and the public consequence. Joseph, a man devoted to the righteous standards of the Old Testament was within his rights to divorce Mary publicly. But he chose a less public or even more lenient divorce, rather than a public accusation. He took Mary with him to Bethlehem for the enrollment even though women did not need to be present. He took special care to preserve the child's life by fleeing to Egypt, and fulfilled all necessary purification rites after birth of the child.

Because Joseph was a just man, justice in the Law of Moses demanded some sort of action. Because he was a righteous man, Joseph could not in conscience marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph would have been judged as neither just nor righteous. Hence, he betrayed himself and her by planning the quieter way, also permitted by the law itself. The law allowed for private divorce before two witnesses. That was what Joseph purposed. It would leave both his righteousness (his conformity to the law) and his compassion intact. Joseph tried to solve his dilemma in what seemed to him the best way possible. Only then did God intervene in a dream. Once more God was intervening in human history. This time to support a young girl and to save a good man from betraying both herself and himself.

The angel's opening words, "Joseph son of David," ties this into the preceding genealogy, maintains interest in the theme of the Davidic Messiah, and, from Joseph's perspective, alerts him to the significance of the role he is to play. The prohibition, "Do not be afraid," confirms that Joseph had already decided on his course when God intervened. He was to "take" Mary home as his wife-an expression primarily reflecting marriage customs of the day including sexual intercourse.

It was no doubt divine grace that solicited Mary's cooperation before the conception and Joseph's cooperation after it. According to Luke, 1:31 Mary was told "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." But now Joseph was told both the name and reason for it. "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 There was much Jewish expectation of a Messiah who would "redeem" Israel from Roman tyranny. But there was no expectation that the Davidic Messiah would give His own life as a ransom Matthew 20:28 to save His people from their sins. The verb "save" in the New Testament commonly refers to the comprehensive salvation inaugurated by Jesus that will be consummated at His return. Here it focuses on what is central to His coming, our salvation from our sin and the sins of the world. When Joseph woke up he "took Mary home as his wife". Matthew 1:24 While the story is told simply, Joseph's obedience and submission under these circumstances is scarcely less remarkable than that of Mary. Luke 1:38 So to submission and obedience of Joseph saves him from second best attempts to fulfil his sense of justice and righteousness.

Some time after the shepherds had come to the manger, Joseph succeeded in getting them into accommodation in a house. Matthew 2:11 So the virgin-conceived Immanuel was born. Eight days later, when the time came for him to be circumcised Luke 2:21 Joseph named him "Jesus." It was in this house that they were visited by the Wise Men. Joseph was again warned in a dream about a plot by Herod against his child and was commanded to take him to Egypt. Matthew 2:13 This was an expensive trip as any young family of asylum seekers know. Thank God the Wise Men had left expensive gifts. Gold was the international passport. Myrrh and frankincense could also be traded. The baby's gifts supported the family. I have known baby gifts to be sold and pawned for alcohol and drugs for the parents. Here we have the gifts of the baby, traded for the lives of the family!

Every Coptic Christian from Egypt can tell you exactly where the young Holy Family traveled and stayed in Egypt. There they found sanctuary until after Herod's death. Matthew 2:19 Such was the influence of Joseph that Jesus, when He was thinking of a word to describe God's goodness and love, used the same word He had used of Joseph as a boy: Abba - Father! Jesus taught the world to say, "Our Father, who art in Heaven." It is said that before Jesus, humans had used ninety-nine different words to describe God - Holy One, provider, judge, law-giver, redeemer, all powerful, and so on. Jesus gave us the one hundredth name - the name He used of Joseph as a boy: Father! What that says about the character of God - and the character of Joseph the carpenter. Because of his righteousness, compassion and obedience to God, Joseph influenced forever our understanding of Almighty God, our Father in heaven!


Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday 1992

Wesley Mission, Sydney.