As we approach Christmas, it’s timely to focus on some valuable truth from the original story. Matthew’s account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth includes the rather embarrassing predicament Joseph and Mary found themselves in because of Mary’s pregnancy, even though neither of them had been sexually active. How would you explain this and would anyone believe you?
The Bible reports, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).
A pledge or betrothal was much more binding than a modern-day engagement, and the couple was already considered to be husband and wife. Mary’s parents most likely had arranged the marriage with Joseph and Mary’s consent, and Joseph would have paid them a bride price. It’s likely that Mary would have been in her early teens and Joseph in his late teens. In Bible days a couple was betrothed to one another for one year before they consummated their marriage. It’s unlikely that the couple had any time alone together during the betrothal year and sexual activity with anyone else was considered to be adulterous. At this time Joseph didn’t know about the miraculous conception (that information came later from an angel in a dream).
Notice how the Bible describes Joseph: he “was faithful to the law”. These words mean that Joseph was a person who obeyed God’s law and applied its rules fairly and without favouritism. So, what did the law prescribe for Joseph to do with Mary in this instance? Consider Deuteronomy 22:22, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
According to the law, Joseph was within his rights to have Mary stoned to death, along with the man with whom she had committed adultery. “Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet.” What two marvelous words they are. Just think of the options if there was no “and yet” in Joseph’s mind:
- Mary could have been stoned to death thus killing the baby inside her womb – no messiah, no salvation.
- A public divorce would mean Mary would be a single mother and unlikely ever to be married. When her parents died, she’d have no means of support and it’s would have been likely that her life as well as Jesus’ would be cut short – no messiah, no salvation.
So what an astounding man of justice Joseph was! The law declared the death penalty for Mary but he chose a more gracious pathway that became even more gracious once he received all the facts. We see Joseph’s character of fairness and kindness replicated in Jesus – like father like son – and we are to be like Jesus.
Sadly, I’ve met way too many Christians over the years who are faithful to the law but there is no “and yet” in their attitude. Their favourite phrase is, “the Bible clearly states,” but their view of Scripture flows through a filter of judgment and legalism rather than compassion and kindness.
Joseph married Mary and then took her to Bethlehem to protect her. Without Joseph, there would be no Jesus, no Christmas, and no salvation. Let’s choose to imitate his exceptional qualities all year round.