Believing the Best in Others
Each year we hear the Christmas story, how Jesus was born of a virgin, in a stable, in Bethlehem during the time of a Roman census. In the midst of our celebration we have images of Mary and baby Jesus while we push to the back Mary’s husband Joseph. Not much is said of him in Scripture. We know he was there for the birth, when they fled to Egypt and returned, and then when Jesus turned up lost, then found in the Temple in his childhood years. Other than that, the Bible tells us no more. What it does say contains deep, life-changing truth we could well apply to our own lives today.
Lets read the Matthew passage, 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be pregnant [through the power] of the Holy Spirit. And her [promised] husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.
But as he was thinking it over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary [as] your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [in Hebrew means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent their failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].
All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet, Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which when translated means, God with us.
Then Joseph being aroused from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him; he took [her to his side as] his wife, But he had no union with her as her husband until she had borne her first-born Son, and he called his name Jesus.
Joseph is faced with some interesting choices. You ever have someone tell you a story you thought was a whopper only to find out it was true? Imagine guys being presented with a story like this from the gal you were engaged. “I just want to let you know, I’m pregnant, your not the father, its from God.” That was the story Mary told Joseph, and the laws were a lot stricter in dealing with situations such as this than they are today.
Mary and Joseph was in the midst of a Jewish marriage which involved three parts…
1. Engagement. A contract is made out between the families. That’s right, arranged marriages were the norm of the day. Families would meet, sometimes with a matchmaker, to determine if the couple would be suited for each other, arrangements made usually when the prospective couple were children, and they usually never saw each other until the engagement was announced. The next step of the marriage, probably the step Mary and Joseph were at is…
2. Betrothal. This is the public ratification of the marriage. This step is similar to the engagement though more narrow in its termination. While in the engagement stage either party could buy out of the arrangement, in the betrothal, the only way to exit the marriage was through divorce. For all legal purposes, the couple was considered husband and wife except they did not live together as husband and wife. This second stage of marriage lasted for about a year. The final stage was…
3. Marriage Proper. Here a celebration was held, the couple came together as man and wife and consummated their marriage with the bride moving in with her husband.
What is Joseph to do? How should he feel? What would you do, how would you feel when the moment you had awaited for, that night you had anticipated, had been violated because another had robbed you of that moment as his child’s heart beat in the womb of his bride.
The law was quite helpful; it had considered such an event as possible and prescribed a remedy, justice. The full impact of the law was public stoning, though it was rarely carried out in that time period, much like law violators in our day seldom receive the maximum sentence, though some do.
The thought ran through his head as he considered the options. “How could she?” he must have thought. “How could she sleep with another man, become pregnant, and then say it was God’s plan because it was God’s child.”
There are some things we quickly learn from Joseph, lessons for life. His character displays these attributes…
A. Righteousness. Verse 19 describes him as a righteous man. Instead of dragging her through the muck of gossiping neighbors he decided against public exposure. Sure, people would talk, how could you miss the growing belly of Mary. And because he did not want to expose her to public shame he could be thought to be the father who backed out of the marriage and thought less highly by others.
Today it is rare to see people take the high road to life’s dilemmas. Dr. Joseph Tucker wrote in Jesus’ Strategy for Healed and Healthy Relationships, “The number one health problem of the united States of America and the world…is not AIDS, drugs, gun violence, cancer, heart disease, etc. [It} is the chronic enmity of persons and groups toward each other. It’s the national pandemic problem of persons and groups putting emphasis on the race, color, language, creed, gender, national origin, etc., of persons and groups. It’s the problem of persons and groups not putting emphasis on the common human identity, which God gave all humankind at the beginning through Adam and Eve.
Joseph had that before him, to maintain his standing, to respond to his hurt, to expose Mary for her pregnancy and his own humiliation over the situation. Instead he took the higher ground, seeking to end things privately. He wanted to believe the best in Mary. Joseph was a man of…
B. Discretion. Verse 19 says, he did not want to expose her to public disgrace. Here is a lesson for us. National newspapers display at the checkout counter of the local supermarket with headline news of alleged indiscretions of public figures. How much more damaging in our world are the words spoken that cut down people in our sphere of influence? Joseph knew Mary’s situation in the norm of life was not right. Being a man of character he was not going to let everyone else know her business, just the two witnesses that were required to nullify his marriage. People could draw their own conclusions, he was not going to be party to their tongue wagging, or add fuel to ignite their innuendoes. This passage indicates another character of Joseph, he was a man of
C. God. As he was considering what to do, an angel of God came and had a chat. If you have not connected with God, it might be difficult to fully take in this angelic conversation. Most of us have strange dreams that stay in that realm and are never taken as truth. Do you follow me, or am I that only one? Sometimes the natural clashes with the supernatural and you have to know the difference between the two and from which side the supernatural is clashing. The Bible says Satan comes as an angel of light, and if you are not grounded you might follow that moonlight instead of the Sonlight. You do know the moon is just a reflection of light, not true light? Joseph knew because he demonstrated another Godly characteristic…
D. Obedience. In verse 24 it says he did what the angel said. He took Mary home as his wife. Betrothal ended. It doesn’t sound like they had had big marriage celebration with friends and family, he just did what the angel of God told him was the right thing to do.
It is an attitude that says I will do what is right; I will walk obediently with the Lord, no matter what others might think. In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I seeking the favor of men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Obedience, it is a hard characteristic to master because we consider the thoughts of others. We need to ask, what are those thoughts worth in the light of God’s instructions. Joseph was obedient despite what it might have meant to his reputation as a righteous man in the eyes of others.
There is one final character I see in the life of Joseph,
He took Mary home and verse 25 states he set aside his needs for the needs of Mary and did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born.
I don’t think we honor Joseph enough in the way we cast honor on others. His obedience to God changed the world. Because of free will, he could have changed the course of Jesus coming to earth by ending the life of Mary, or affected the teaching of Jesus on the importance of family by having divorced her even after hearing from God’s angelic messenger. Instead he chose the high road, believing the best in others, and as a result impacting history.
The story does not end there. We too have the opportunity to live a life representative of the character of Joseph. The Christmas story is not just about a day, its about a life and lifestyle. Normal people used in a supernatural way by God all because they listened and did not re-act to what they did not understand. God wants you to assimilate the character of Joseph in your life. Imagine what would happen in furthering the cause of Christ in the lives of others.