This scene explains the ambiguity that we found in 1:16 regarding the father of Jesus, and I’m sure you will recall our discussion of that from last time. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, which in that place and time was a process of about a year in length. During that time, the couple was legally married, but their union could not be consummated. During this time, the woman would normally continue living with her parents, and after the appropriate time had expired, she would move to her husband’s house to begin their lives as husband and wife and consummate their marriage.
Since they were legally married, even though they were not living together, the only way this betrothal could be broken was by the death of one of the parties, or by a legal divorce. When our story picks up, Joseph has just found out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph does not know who the father of her child is, but he does know who the father is not. OK, so you are Joseph: What would you do?
Being a righteous man, Joseph recognizes that his betrothed has committed adultery, and that the Law prescribes what must come next. Being a compassionate man, he doesn’t want to initiate formal proceedings and bring Mary to disgrace, so he resolves to present her with a bill of divorce quietly, in front of two witnesses, rather than have formal proceedings, which technically would have her facing a capital crime.
With this all bouncing around in his mind, God steps in.
A messenger of God comes to Joseph and explains the situation (vv. 20-21) telling him that the child has come from the Holy Spirit of God. All of this takes place in a dream and then Joseph awakens. Verses 24 and 25 tell us that Joseph believed this and did as he was instructed, taking Mary into his house, and when the son was born, naming him Jesus; we are also told that Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. It’s all well and good for us to read this and accept it without much more thought, but we also know how the story of Jesus ends, so the news that He was the Son of God is already a given in our minds, but what about Joseph? Every December we hear sermons and stories about the great faith of Mary, while Joseph is only mentioned in passing. Clearly, Mary’s faith was amazing, but it always strikes me that Joseph’s was even greater. Maybe it is because I’m a man, but Joseph was still faced with a rather significant choice here; what if that was just a regular old dream and not an angel coming to deliver a message?
Whatever thoughts and lingering doubts may have been in his mind, Joseph did as he was instructed, and Jesus was of the royal line of David by adoption.
Some might be thinking here that Mary was also of David’s line as seen in Luke’s genealogy, and that would appear to be true. However, Mary was a descendant of David through David’s son Nathan, while Joseph was of David’s line through King Solomon, and the throne was passed down to and through Solomon, not Nathan, thus any claim Jesus would have had to the throne of David, would have been by his adoption by Joseph which, by the way, would be perfectly legal.
Much more important than any claim to the throne at that time, was the fact that Jesus’ actual father was God, and His unique status as royal heir and Son of God will play a major part in his ministry.
To complete our brief look at the faith of Joseph, let’s get back together and discuss the verses I haven’t mentioned here, 1:22-23, and Matthew’s interesting use of a prophecy form Isaiah.