Mary, the mother of Jesus, is quite popular. All Christians admire her. Some Christians even pray to her. She has statues, artwork and stained glass windows depicting her. On the other hand, little is said of Joseph, Jesus’ legal father. We will see that Joseph was a courageous, just, strong, and gracious man and even a model for us.
Interestingly, Matthew starts his gospel with the ancestry of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). All the men in the genealogy are named as the father of the son, except Joseph is not called the father of Jesus, but rather the husband of Mary. Joseph played no role in Jesus’ conception and was not Jesus’ biological father; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Thus, Jesus was both fully human (born of a woman) and fully God (conceived by God). God the Son left the majesty of heaven and entered our world in the form of a vulnerable baby, in a poor working class family.
This was not easy for Joseph and Mary. Premarital sex was a no-no in that Jewish culture (as it should be in our culture too). Premarital sex was punishable at worse by stoning to death and at best huge public shame and dishonour. Joseph and Mary were engaged or betrothed at the time of Mary’s pregnancy and therefore had not slept together. In that culture, engagement was also very serious and once engaged you needed a divorce to separate, that’s why in Matthew 1:19 Joseph is called “Mary’s husband” even though they were just engaged and that’s why Joseph contemplated “divorcing” Mary quietly even though they were not technically married.
Once Mary discovered she’s pregnant, she may have told Joseph that an angel told her that she would conceive supernaturally; but if you were Joseph you would be highly sceptical and convinced that your fiancé had been unfaithful. Would you really believe a virgin had conceived?! But because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (v19).
Then v20 and v24 read:
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
The angelic messenger told Joseph to marry Mary and that the child is from God.
Joseph possessed the boldness, daring and strength of character to stand up against his culture and obey God, by marrying Mary. Joseph certainly was a man of courage and obedience. After marry Mary, he legally adopted Jesus. Joseph obeyed God in difficult circumstances and God used him to work out his plan. Joseph is a great role model and we should make more of him.
It is also very interesting, according to Luke’s gospel, that Joseph took his heavily pregnant wife with him to Bethlehem for the census. Why did he do this? In that Middle Eastern culture the male or husband or father would always represent their family in legal affairs. Joseph was unsure of what might happen to Mary in Nazareth without his presence to protect her. Many would have believed that Mary was an immoral adulterous and worthy of punishment. Even in later years, Jesus was looked down upon as the “son of Mary”, rather that the usual “son of Joseph” (Mark 6:3).
As we remember the birth of Jesus our Great King, let us not forget Joseph, the husband of Mary. Let us too do what we must to honour God and obey his Word.