by Pastor Matt Ritchey, Managing Editor
Estimated Time to Read: 9 Minutes
“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily” (Matt. 1:19).
You know the account of Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, who was chosen by God to carry the Christ child. Mary is remembered quite often during the Christmas season. Joseph, however, is only casually mentioned, and not often without being linked to Mary (i.e., Mary and Joseph). Joseph certainly isn’t the center of the incarnation of Christ—he was not even the biological father of Jesus—but he stands as an example of how to respond in faith to God’s work.
At the time of Matthew 1:19, Joseph had learned of Mary’s pregnancy. He knew how conception happened, and he knew he was not the conceiver. I am assuming that Mary told him of the events leading to her pregnancy, but what was Joseph to do? He was a just man, meaning that he was a faithful follower of the Mosaic Law. He knew he must follow the Word of God, and that the Law was a public and painful process leading to the death of the guilty one (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:13-22).
Yet, Joseph had compassion and mercy for Mary; he loved her and did not wish to see her subjected to public ridicule and death. Matthew 1:19 finds him weighing how to privately end their engagement in a way that respected her while, at the same time, keeping him in obedience to the Word of God in the matter of divorce. We see him emotionally and mentally wrestling with this decision with the phrase in the next verse “while he thought on these things” (v. 20).
I can only imagine the thoughts going through Joseph’s head. I know our fleshly minds tend to highlight the worst case scenarios, and it is possible Joseph was experiencing all the physical manifestations of anxiety that come with such important, life-altering decisions.
The Lord’s Words of Assurance
Thankfully, in Joseph’s case, the angel of the Lord appeared to assure Joseph that he could rest in the will of God by accepting Mary as the Lord’s chosen. Joseph could focus on the Lord’s words of assurance as he obediently provided for and protected Mary during her time of pregnancy. He could continue to be betrothed to the woman he loved AND continue to be a Law-abiding man of God.
The implications for the Kingdom program was that this baby in Mary’s womb was the Christ-child, the long awaited, prophesied Messiah and Redeemer of the nation of Israel. Joseph would play a part in raising the Emmanuel. This is the only time he gets highlighted in Jesus’ narrative. We don’t have insight into his time of raising Jesus, and we are not privy to his inner thoughts and outward behaviors during his time as Jesus’ earthly father.
Joseph’s ultimate responsibility was to trust the Lord, no matter how difficult it was for him to understand all of the logic, and no matter what everyone else was saying behind his back. In Matthew 1, Joseph was facing a choice that would affect the rest of his life: Did he choose to trust the Word of the Lord revealed through the angel?
We should not expect an angel to give us progressive revelation today in the current program, the Dispensation of the Grace of God. In fact, if an angel did appear, we should reject the message and remain faithful to the Word of Grace revealed to Paul and contained in his epistles (Gal. 1:8). Similarly, the virgin birth was a one-time thing. Still, we can learn from this short insight into Joseph’s life.
Obedience and Compassion
In verse 19, we read that Joseph was a “just” man. I explained that this word meant he was a Law-abiding citizen, which would mean he was obedient to God’s Word for him. He sought to do God’s will in every situation, even when it was difficult. We, too, are told to “hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of [Paul], in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 1:13). We are to “keep that which is committed to thy trust” (I Tim. 6:20), in other words, remain faithful to the Word and ministry of Christ according to Grace. When Paul wrote those words to Timothy, it was not going to be easy to remain obedient to the Grace message; yet Timothy was told to remain faithful to God’s instructions and desire for his life and ministry. Are we willing to remain committed and confident in our ministry in this current Age of Grace?
Though Joseph was obedient, he had compassion for Mary. He did not want to see her life and reputation ruined. He sought to treat her gently and privately. Their betrothal was not anyone else’s business; it was between Mary, Joseph, and the Lord. Not only are we to minister the Words of Grace, we are also to do so with compassion and grace. When we care about someone, we show them compassion by treating them gently and patiently.
This is what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in II Timothy 2:22: “Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Regarding Timothy’s treatment of others, we read, “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing…” (II Tim. 2:24-25a).
In our flesh, we would understand it if Joseph threw himself a pity party after hearing of Mary’s pregnancy. We could relate to feelings of vengeance and wanting to distance himself from any rumors going around town, but Joseph opted for compassion and mercy. His choice involved longsuffering and gentleness. We can learn these attributes for Joseph’s reaction to his seemingly unwinnable situation. Are we merciful and patient when others are caught up in sin or have spoken unkindly against us? Do we wish for their edification in the Lord?
Trust the Lord
Finally, after hearing the angel’s explanation, Joseph’s choice came down to his willingness to trust the Lord. He did not have to understand the finer points of the situation; he could not be concerned about other people’s opinions on what He should do. Did he trust the Lord to work? Our choices, behaviors, and reactions today come down to the same choice: Do we trust the Lord to work according to His dictates of Grace?
Some of you may have recognized that I only quoted the first part of II Timothy 2:25 in the above paragraph. In a context of two men who have erred from the word of God, Paul points Timothy to trust in God to work in the lives of those two men and others who are acting as “vessels of dishonor.” Second Timothy 2:25 goes on to state “if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” It was only God who could, and can, bring lasting change in a person’s life.
Joseph could not worry about what the town was saying about his situation, he “did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him” (Matt. 1:24). Timothy could not worry about shutting down the talk from Hymenaeus and Philetus, he was instructed to “foolish and unlearned questions avoid” (II Tim. 2:23). Timothy could not be worried about what people wanted to hear, he was to “preach the Word” (II Tim. 4:2). We, who understand Paul’s unique ministry and message, cannot worry about what other “Christians” think of us, we must continue to preach the Gospel of the Grace of God.
However, we must not resort to emotional frustration and arrogant behavior. Just as Joseph was to concentrate on His faithfulness to the Lord as “he took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matt. 1:24-25), Timothy, despite opposition and the methods of others, was to “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (I Tim. 4:12). We don’t react to our circumstances, we behave as a new creature in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).
Faithfulness in Adversity
I am sure Joseph did not understand how Mary, a virgin, could be pregnant with the Christ child. Biologically, we cannot explain it. The only explanation we are given is what Mary received from the angel: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Timothy was forewarned that people in the church were going to start withdrawing from solid Biblical truth, and he did not know how his ministry was going to end. Yet, he is assured of the faithfulness of God. Even when we are unfaithful, “yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:13). It is “the faithful Word” and its “sound doctrine” that is able to “convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). How exactly does that work? We do not know. We do not have to know the exact formula. We are called to trust the God who declared it.
Why was it Joseph’s bride who was chosen to bear the Messiah? Why was Timothy living in times of upheaval in the church? Why did your brother die at a young age? Why does evil seem to gain? We don’t need to know the specifics. We need to remain faithful to the Word, live in a way that reflects our Savior, and trust our great God. We can rest assured in this truth: “Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it” (I Thess. 5:24).
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