A Study on the Birth of Jesus Christ

Matthew Chapter 1, Verses 18-21

Please return to the main page of this study for the introduction and other verses.

By Mary Stephens
Nov. 2014

At this point we will hop over to Matthew to get Joseph's part of the story which comes in chronologically here.

Matthew 1:18 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.

Well, that is clear enough. They were espoused but they hadn't come together yet. She was found with child, but it was by the Holy Ghost. She was still a virgin. Only Joseph didn't know this yet. 

We don't know if Mary tried to tell him her story of the appearing of the angel or not. It surely would have sounded unbelievable and impossible to anyone to whom she did tell it. Zacharias and Elisabeth believed her, but they had a revelation given to Elisabeth as well as the revelation about their own son as a point of reference. It looks like her family or friends back in Nazareth did not believe it, or whoever it was that communicated the information did not believe it. We don't know her living arrangements for sure except that we are told that she returned "to her own house" as discussed last time.

Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

Joseph was a just man. In this case it would probably be fair to say that he wanted to do justice to himself by not besmirching his inheritance and lineage with what he believed to be another man's child by taking an unfaithful wife (they were already espoused). On the other hand, he was compassionate about it and must have loved Mary because he didn't want to make a public example of her. Despite his unwillingness to fully marry her, he does not want her to be the center of a scandal and he does not want her to be put to death as would be possible under Old Testament Law. He wants to quietly put her away - a biblical term for divorce. Although they had not come together - he had not taken her as his wife - they were "as good as married" in the Jewish legal sense (I'm not sure about the Roman law at this time regarding that). So, he would have to divorce her in order to break off the espousal and not marry her fully.

Matthew 1:20-21 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, 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.

He did not make a hasty decision. This is not the response of a man who was entering an arranged marriage of convenience or advantage. This sounds like a man of kindness who loved his espoused wife. He wanted to protect her even when he believed her to be unfaithful to him. It seems likely that he had held her in a very high place in his heart and mind. We know that she was a virtuous woman and undoubtedly he had honored her for this very thing, otherwise he would not have been thinking of keeping it as quiet as possible and he probably would not have taken his time to think about what he should do. Had he already doubted her, his response might have been quite different. Based on what we've already learned about her he may have been rather confused and uncertain as to how this happened, perhaps even wondering if she really had been unfaithful or if she had been raped. If her story had been given then he would have been even more confused.

Perhaps he was even thinking about what would become of her if he didn't marry her. Having a child without a husband would have relegated her to a very low and difficult position in life in Israel in those days - perhaps she would even be forced to resort to harlotry (in his thinking, anyway, we know God would not have allowed that in her case). His decision would affect her future very much.

Proverbs 19:2 Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth.

It is a good reminder to us not to rush into important decisions. Sometimes we don't have all the information we need, even if we think we do. It is good to stop and think, and to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom, especially when our decision will affect other people (and usually they do, if we're honest). James 1:5-6 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

It is beautiful how the Lord worked all the details of this couple's marriage out ahead of time. He knew the kind of husband that Mary needed. This marriage was obviously arranged by God, because here we see how important it was that Joseph should be a just man who was not hasty in making decisions. (By the way, it might be worth taking note that just people don't usually rush in with judgment before they stop to think. Just sayin'... That's something I need to think on myself.) 

He also needed to be compassionate and a man who would obey God. That's a lot of food for thought right there. Single ladies, take note. You want a husband that won't jump down your neck when you appear to have made a bad choice. Look for a just man who is compassionate, not hasty; a thinking man who will obey God even when it doesn't make sense.

This must have been a difficult time for Mary. Even if her faith in God's care for her and her belief of the promises she had received did not waver, this could not have been easy to go through. The accusations, suspicions, innuendos, and slander of her neighbors and perhaps family would have been horrible. The possibility of losing the man to whom she was espoused, losing that protection, would have been dreadful. Even if she knew somehow it would work out, there must have been great temptation to doubt God! Her future looked very uncertain to say the least.

But...(Oh, that's a beautiful word sometimes!)....But, God stepped in and took care of everything! He relieved Joseph's fears, explained it to him, and gave him instructions.

It is interesting that Mary had a visit from an angel who appeared in person to her while Joseph received his information and instructions in a dream. God undoubtedly was dealing with them in ways that were appropriate to their needs, but humanly speaking we would consider the actual visit to be on a higher level than a dream. The man is not being elevated or treated as more worthy by God here. Of course, Matthew being the first gospel in the New Testament, Joseph gets first treatment in the book order. Nevertheless, it is interesting when taken with the other observations we've already made regarding God's dealing with Mary.

Note how the Lord first reminds Joseph of his ancestry - "thou son of David". This is important in the big picture because the Messiah is the son of David and will sit on David's throne. This is important since the theme of Matthew has been generally seen as the presentation of Jesus Christ as the King of Israel, as the Son of David.  Luke 1:32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

Next the angel says, "fear not". This is also a good indicator of what Joseph was thinking. If he wasn't fearing to take Mary as his wife, the angel would not have said it. 

It would be interesting to see how many times in scripture God has said "fear not" to people. We humans certainly are given to fear in many ways and on many levels. Here the advent of the Prince of Peace starts with a "fear not" and later the new and greatest story of the resurrection begins with a "fear not."  Matthew 28:5-6 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

It is also interesting in these miraculous events of great importance and joy, the Lord has to tell the humans involved not to fear. I think sometimes we are made to feel guilty for being afraid when God does some big and wonderful event in our lives. Biblically speaking, this a normal human response and God isn't surprised, angry or disappointed. His kind words are "fear not." He knows that we are dust. Psalms 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

[Artist unknown.]

For my own part when God answered many years of prayers and brought my now-husband into my life I really struggled to believe and accept it. I struggled with embracing the reality of it until one day I realized that I had to let myself be happy. In essence, I had to stop fearing what could "go wrong" and receive what God was doing. Why is it so hard to simply trust Him? We sing about it and talk about it and know it, but always we deal with fear in this weak flesh. No one is immune. No one. Don't let them fool you.

Joseph's instructions were to take Mary, his wife. Now he has a clear command. His doubts and confusion are laid to rest. The angel explains to him exactly what is going on. We don't always get this kind of revelation in our own lives, but God has promised wisdom to those who asks in faith, as already mentioned in James 1:5-6. He has also given us His Spirit who will guide us into all truth. John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

There is much to take to heart and to think upon in all of this.

Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.


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