Believing the Unbelievable: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph (Matthew 1:18–25)
The devotional study below was a challenge given at my own church this past week. May you find it encouraging for your own soul, and have a Merry Christmas!
The point of Matthew 1:18–25 is to tell how “the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way,” that is, in the way described in the rest of the passage. We will come to the highlights of this passage by focusing on its details through the eyes of Joseph.
A Rocky Engagement (Matthew 1:18–19)
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18–19 ESV)
Joseph came from the line of David, as did his fiancé Mary. Though they had royal blood, they were not rich, and Joseph would provide for his family by being a carpenter. We do not see much of Joseph later in the Gospels, probably because he passed away, likely because he was older than Mary, which was customary in their day.
We find Joseph and Mary “betrothed,” which means they virtually saw one another as man and wife, though they were not yet officially so and would not have physical relations until marriage. However, for a brief amount of time, Joseph planned to “divorce her quietly,” “unwilling to put her to shame” because he was a “just man.” Mary was pregnant, which led Joseph to a logical but incorrect conclusion— he thought Mary had been unfaithful to him and had become pregnant as a result. If Mary truly had been unfaithful, such an act could have been punishable by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:13–31), which would have been shameful for both her and her family. Joseph planned to avoid this shame for her, quietly dissolve the betrothal, and move on in life.
God, however, had other plans.
A Dream Come True (1:20–21)
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21 ESV)
We can imagine that Joseph was probably heartbroken and undergoing somewhat of a psychological crisis. Mary seemed to have been unfaithful, and all of his plans for their future together had been shattered. Sometimes, however, God brings about or even at least promises great blessing in the midst of suffering. As Joseph slept, an angel came to him in a dream and delivered a message from God that completely changed his outlook for the days ahead. Slowing down and taking time to break this message into its several parts will help us to see just why it made such an impact on Joseph.
First, Joseph was reminded that he was a royal descendant, a “son of David.”
Second, the angel commanded him to “not fear” and to “take Mary as your wife.” This was a direct change of course from what he had planned to do.
Third, the angel reoriented Joseph’s thinking as to how Mary became pregnant—“that which is conceived in her from the Holy Spirit.” The explanation for her pregnancy was an amazing act of God, not an adulterous act of Mary.
Fourth, Joseph was told the gender of the child—“She will bear a son.” It’s not like they had sonograms and 3-D imaging for unborn babies in their day. Knowing the gender ahead of time of a child was only for a few people up to this time and always by the promise of God and somehow related to redemptive history (e.g., the promise of Isaac, John the Baptist).
Fifth, the angel commanded Joseph to “call his name Jesus,” which means “Yahweh saves,” which ties into the angel’s reason for the name—“for he will save his people from their sins.” How much Joseph could explain of this is hard to say. We know today, however, that Jesus saves us from sin when we repent and believe in Him. The penalty of death that He paid on the cross was not for His own sins but for all those place their trust for salvation in Him. And, the righteousness that He merited in living a perfect life is attributed to us at faith as well. One day, when Jesus comes again, we will be saved in full—resurrected, sinless, and glorified! Jesus certainly saves His people from their sins.
As we will see in Matthew 1:24–25, the angel’s message in his dream certainly changed his mind and plans for the future.
A Promise from the Past (Matthew 1:22–23)
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:22–23 ESV)
Matthew then breaks from the angel’s message to fill us in as to what Isaiah had prophesied roughly seven hundred years prior to this point in time. A virgin would conceive, have a son, and be named “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us,” a fitting name for Jesus.
A Baby Born and Believing Father
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:24–25 (ESV)
Coming back to Joseph, his “just man” description comes to life again. He faithfully obeyed God and carried out the words of the angel. He married Mary and even abstained from relations during her pregnancy. As promised, she had a son, and Joseph obediently named the son Jesus— showing us that he believed, however much he understood it, that this Child would save His people, Joseph included, from their sins.
This path would not be easy. For the unbelieving, Joseph would perhaps be seen as having impregnated Mary before marriage and having to marry as a result. Others in literary lore would make Jesus’ father a Roman soldier. One way or the other, people in Jesus’ day attributed His conception to “sexual immorality” (John 8:41). But not Joseph—Joseph believed Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would save His people from their sins.
Do you believe that Jesus can save people from their sins? Can you look back to His death on the cross and see that it was for you? Can you see Him today with the eyes of your heart as raised from the dead, the Lord of all in heaven, and the One who is coming to judge us all one day?
Imagine giving up everything to walk by faith and find salvation in Jesus. Joseph did. He married a pregnant woman and was faithful to God, whatever others would say.
If you have never believed in Jesus, join the many who have given up everything to know Him and find Him eternal riches as a result. He is Jesus, and He will save you from your sins!
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.