Comfort for Joseph

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

This article continues a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The series begins with, Called To Bethlehem. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

Part 5 Comfort for Joseph

Mary, a godly Jewish virgin, was pregnant. It was a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, but not everyone knew this or believed it. How would others take this? What would her family and friends think? And most importantly, what about Joseph?

Back in 2004, in Westfield Township, Ohio, a 35 year old woman by the name of Jennifer died from smoke inhalation. She had plenty of time to get out of her burning house but didn’t. Why would a woman linger in and move through a burning house when she could have run outside to save her life? It wasn’t because she didn’t have a fear of fire or of dying. It was because her children were in there. Before she succumbed to the smoke she saved the lives of her three children ages 6, 8, and 10.

When we have a great concern for something important to us, we can overcome almost any fear and do amazingly brave things. Courage to conquer what holds us back doesn’t come from the absence of fear. It comes from the presence of something far greater than what threatens us.

This is what moves brave men to stand in harms way to preserve our freedoms in foreign wars. It’s what drives fire fighters and law officers to put themselves in danger to preserve our safety. It’s what led martyrs to give of themselves to bring down evil empires and oppressive nations. It’s what gave Joseph the strength to stay with Mary though she was pregnant with a child that was not his own.

Matthew 1:18 introduces us to the story of our Savior’s birth. Unlike Luke, Matthew told the events from the perspective of Joseph.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.’

Somehow he found out that Mary was going to have a baby. We don’t know if Mary came to him directly, or if he found out through others Mary had told about her pregnancy. Joseph does not seem to be aware of the nature of the conception, or at least he didn’t seem to believe it if he was.

The situation presented him with a very difficult moral problem. He deeply loved Mary and evidently respected her. Joseph looked for a solution that would both honor God and preserve Mary’s honor. Matthew 1:19 says, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”

As a righteous man, Joseph wanted to obey God’s revealed principles and laws. He trusted in the ancient promise that God would one day pay for our sins. Little did he know then what an intimate part he would play in that price being paid.

God’s law was clear. If a betrothed woman consents to be intimate with another man, she was guilty of a grave sin and condemned as an adulteress. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 required execution, but execution for adultery wasn’t permitted among the Jews under Roman rule. But still the principle was clear. God saw it as a serious crime that would end the marriage promise.

Joseph had always trusted Mary, but now this! How could he explain what had happened without assuming that she’d been with another man? So would he just marry her contrary to God’s law? Would he lie and tell people it was his child? Those weren’t moral options, so he looked for a way to avoid disgracing her. He planned to end their betrothal secretly.

It was then that God’s angel appeared to assure him that it was a work of God. The angel said in Matthew 1:20-21, “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.”

The Bible doesn’t point to Mary’s explanation to Joseph. It doesn’t tell us that such a conversation ever took place. The foundation for his trust was to be in God’s word which came through a heavenly messenger who appeared to him in a dream.

There was a purpose in the situation that his human mind hadn’t been able to comprehend. God was sending the promised Messiah to redeem lost humans. His betrothed Mary was going to be the mother of the baby that would crush Satan and sin.

There was no uncertainty left to trouble Joseph’s conscience. God had spoken and had given him a sure confidence in what was said. The Lord produced a holy obedience in Joseph. He took Mary to be his wife, but “did not know her” until the child was born. There would be no human interference — this would be the Messiah, God, the Eternal Son.

It all had worked out. The seeming dilemma disappeared. Joseph’s trust in God gave him confidence. He laid aside all the plans he had imagined for their lives. His commitment to this greater thing made him courageous, regardless of the gossip that would almost certainly go around the town.

The ancient plan of God, and the promise to King David about 1000 years before, were about to unfold on the pages of history!

Our world needs people of courage — those who rest in higher things. Many of our hard, complex choices would fade into simpler ones if we truly loved God’s ways so much that they drove us to uncompromising obedience.

Joseph humbly obeyed God even when things confused him. We need to rest in his promises too, even when our limited understanding and worldly advice would say otherwise. It’s when we put our trust in these higher things that we become the brave victors the world and our families need us to be in these restless and confusing times.

Next Study: Another Special Birth

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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