Why Joseph? – Matthew 1:18-25

YouTube video sermon

Matthew 1:18-25

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Matthew 1. We started this new Advent sermon series last week called Why the Nativity? And we’re just exploring some questions as we peer into the manger. Last week we considered why Jesus even needed to become a man at all? This week we’re asking the question: Why Joseph?

I saw an article on Wednesday in the CBS News Moneywatch website titled “High school athletes are getting major endorsement deals following state law changes.” The gist of the article was how NIL is impacting high school sports. (For those of you that aren’t familiar with NIL, it stands for naming, image and likeness.) The article highlighted one female high school basketball player that moved from KS to CA in order to position herself to take advantage of the NIL endorsements and college opportunities it presented. It also listed the three (3) highest paid high school athletes at the present time: Bronny James, the son of Lakers star LeBron James; Arch Manning, the third generation of the first family of quarterbacks; and Mikey Williams, a basketball star at San Ysidro High in San Diego.

Bronny James tops the list with a valuation of $7.5 million. He’s at Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles and recently signed a deal with Nike. Mikey Williams, committed to Memphis and has a multiyear deal with Puma. His valuation is figured to be $3.6 million. And Arch Manning, who attends Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans and has committed to Texas, is at $3.4 million.

The aspirations of many young people today would be completely alien to the men of Joseph’s day, and to Joseph himself. In fact, alien to many of you in your younger years. When Joseph was young, indeed when many of you were young, men didn’t desire prestige. (Well, maybe they did, but it wasn’t as obvious.) It seems that the desire of men from earlier generations was a good reputation. The decision to stand by Mary and stand for God was not an easy choice to make. And it’s not necessarily any easier today.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say concerning Joseph, and see if we can’t unpack the question: Why Joseph?

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. 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.” 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). 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.

“Speak, O Lord, we pray, to our hearts this morning. Many of us have heard these verses before. Indeed, every year, in some way and in some fashion, we hear this story told. So, help us to hear it anew. Bring to us a fresh awareness of the lessons that we, too, can learn from the life of Joseph. Help us to see You – Our Savior – and to see ourselves and our need for You, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Author, Howard Edington, referred to Joseph as “the forgotten man of Christmas” – the man who was chosen to be the adoptive father of our Lord. He writes, “In the Word of God, Joseph stands silent. He is spoken to, he is spoken about, but not a single syllable crosses his lips. He is viewed by many people as just a bit player, an extra, in the Christmas drama.”

But according to Matthew’s genealogy (vss. 1-17), Joseph had the pedigree of a king. He had royalty in his blood. And yet, we know very little about him. He appears on the scene for a moment and then disappears. Judging from Mary’s sacrifice of two turtle doves (in Luke 2:24), we might imagine that he was relatively poor. When Jesus was teaching in Nazareth, later in life, the people said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). So, we know he was a carpenter, a craftsman (tekton is the Greek). He would have liked the feel of wood and stone, the satisfaction of building something sound and useful. He was also most likely a simple and practical man.

It’s important to know that in the Jewish culture, unlike our own, the groom was the primary focus of the wedding. Joseph probably looked forward to celebrating a simple life – taking Mary into his household, having children, maintaining a good name in the community, attending synagogue and just being the best husband and father, he could be. I imagine that he was fashioning a “well-constructed life.” But all of that was about to change when he discovered Mary’s baby.

Joseph’s Discovery of Mary’s Baby

We read of Joseph’s discovery in Matthew 1:18: “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.”

They were engaged, but there hadn’t been any physical union. That’s a novel idea. It’s a rare thing these days for couples to be engaged and not be sexually active. But such was the case with Joseph and Mary, and yet here she is and she’s PREGNANT. So, how do you explain that? It’s quite likely that even Mary’s parents didn’t understand or accept her story. But according to Matthew 1:18, Joseph had listened to Beyonce – he put a ring on it. The engagement agreement had been signed; dowry gifts had been given. Friends and relatives knew that Joe and Mary were a thing. But Mary’s got a baby! His discovery was sudden. It was unexpected. And I imagine there was a little suspicion on his part. Now let’s see his dilemma.

Joseph’s Dilemma Over Mary’s Baby

Matthew 1:19 says, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Did you notice the maturity? What about his desire not to draw attention to the situation. Did you sense his intent to protect Mary, even when his own feelings weren’t quite sorted out? Again, so different from today’s messaging and advice. Record a video; post it to FB and Instagram, put it on Tik-Tok and Twitter. Run the other person through the mud – it’s the only right thing to do. That’s what we see happen today. But not Joseph.

Perhaps she had committed adultery. Not Mary – they’d known each other since childhood. Maybe she was raped. But surely, she’d have said something. Or could it be that, in fact, she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. After all, Joseph was a Jew. He was a devout Hebrew. Surely, he pondered the fact that the Messiah was to be born of the house of David. So, what could he do?

If he didn’t divorce Mary, then it might represent a failure to uphold the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). But to divorce her publicly was unthinkable. He’s in a quandary. He’s caught between a rock and a hard spot. He didn’t think she was guilty; so, he wasn’t able to condemn her. At the same time, however, he wasn’t able to fully justify her pregnancy either. So, he decided to secretly divorce her. Not wanting to interfere with what could be God’s mysterious purposes, ole Joe would set Mary aside. We’ve seen his discovery and dilemma, now let’s see his dream.

Josephs’ Dream About Mary’s Baby

In Matthew 1:20, we read, “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.’” If yesterday’s news of a pregnant fiancé wasn’t hard enough, now he has a dream with an angel telling him that it’s alright, that this is God’s plan.

I like to stop and try to put myself in the shoes of biblical characters sometimes. It’s called reading the Bible existentially – trying to experience the emotion, the pathos, the earthy nature of the text. Think about it. You’re engaged to your childhood sweetheart. She’s the only girl you’ve ever had eyes for, and you really want to get to know her (if you know what I mean). But you know that’s not what God desires. He wants you to wait, and so you have. But now she’s pregnant. And as you’re trying to figure out how to handle the situation, you have a dream where an angel appears and tells you everything is gonna be just fine – it’s all part of God’s plan. Now, you tell me, what kind of sense does that make?

The Explanation
The word for “dream” means to have a vision while you’re asleep. I don’t know about you, but my dreams have a tendency of being sketchy (at best). But not so with Joseph – at least this time. When the angel called Joseph, “[the] son of David,” it was a clear indication to Joseph that God’s Word to the prophets was being fulfilled.

Why do I believe that it was clear indication to Joseph that he wasn’t just seeing or hearing something crazy in his dreams? Look at verse 16 (we didn’t read verse 16). Who was Joseph’s dad? (Jacob.) If someone appeared in your dreams and called you by name, then you’d expect them to get your father right. Right? But the angel went back in time and pulled out Joseph’s great-grandfather from 28 generations ago. It’s hard for me to remember 3 generations ago, much less 28 generations.

This was no mistake. This was clearly prophecy being fulfilled. Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ physical father, but by his marriage to Mary, he would give Jesus true legal status because “he [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4).

The Instruction
The Lord further instructed Joseph that the Child’s name would be Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); and as verse 25 states, Joseph “called His name Jesus.” Joseph was obedient to God. Are we? Would you have done as instructed?

The Revelation
Matthew goes on to reveal that Jesus’ virgin birth fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Notice the article before the word “virgin.” This wasn’t just any virgin, both Isaiah and Matthew spoke of the virgin, the virgin Mary. So, we’ve seen Joseph’s discovery of baby Jesus, his dilemma about baby Jesus, his dream concerning baby Jesus. Let’s conclude with his decision about Jesus.

Joseph’s Decision About Mary’s Baby

Matthew 1:24-25 says, “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”

What happened in Joseph’s life illustrates what often happens in ours. Pastor and author, Max Lucado, in his book The Heart of Christmas describes Joseph as being “caught between what God says and what makes sense.” Have you ever been caught there, between what God says and what makes sense? Max continues, “Joseph didn’t let his confusion disrupt his obedience. He didn’t know everything. But he did what he knew.”

But the question remains: Why Joseph? The ultimate answer is because it was part of God’s plan. God made sure that everything in His plan would be carried out to the minutest detail – including using Joseph – because the purity of Jesus had to be protected. Chapter 1 of Matthew’s gospel reiterates this so clearly. In verse 18 we read, “Before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 20 says, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child.” And, again, as verse 25 says, “[Joseph] did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”

Why Joseph? Because he was the person engaged to Mary, and it was Mary that was to give birth to Jesus. Why Joseph? Because God needed a man who was sturdy, stable, and practical, yet sensitive to the voice of God. Why Joseph? Because He needed someone with the fortitude of a carpenter. Why Joseph? Because God needed someone who would stand by and stand with a young virgin who might have seemed an object of ridicule, yet who carried in her womb the hope of the world.

Joseph was strong, but he was also compassionate; he was able to lead the tiring expedition to Bethlehem and to the stable, to love and encourage the mother of Christ. Joseph was the teacher to give Jesus His first lessons in the law of God. And in Jerusalem, when Jesus was twelve and it became evident that His first allegiance must be to another Father, Joseph was the man to humbly and silently step back and let God step forward. Amazingly, Joseph never spoke a word in the Christmas story. But what he did, speaks volumes to us all.

One of the lessons that comes from the life of Joseph is this: “the most important thing in the whole world can happen to the least important people in the world; that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords can take up residence in the most ordinary of lives; that the greatest Somebody who ever lived can come to nobodies like Joseph [and] Mary [and] you [and] me.”

And isn’t this the very attitude that God requires from us? “Lord God, just tell me what to do, and I will do it. I will be obedient . . . anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anything. Lord God, I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t make sense, and as far as I know, it’s never happened before in the history of the world. But if You say it, I will do it.” That’s Joseph.

Let me conclude with this story. There was a young British student who was having a good time in England, studying engineering and, in his spare time, riding his motorcycle all over the English countryside. On a cold and rainy night, he crashed his motorcycle in a remote section of England and lay injured on the road for many hours. By the time he was hospitalized, pneumonia had set in, and the doctors gave him two weeks to live. During those two weeks, a letter arrived from his father who was a missionary in Angola. The letter, written many months before the accident, finally arrived by ship. The young man opened the letter and read his father’s first words. “Only one life; twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Laying there in that hospital bed, those words stabbed his heart and he gathered up his strength, pulled himself out of bed, and kneeled down to pray, “Lord, You’ve won. I now own You as King of kings and Lord of lords. And Lord, if You’ll heal my body, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, at any cost.”

The young lad recovered and went on to become a powerful pastor and evangelist. His name was Stephen Olford. If that name still doesn’t ring a bell, then it’s probably because – like Joseph – he was a quiet, yet stable, strong, compassionate man of God. A man of greater fame would come along. A man named Billy Graham, who said of Stephen Olford “he was the man who most influenced my ministry.” God brought him into a position of significant usefulness through the tragedy of an accident, but most of all through the willingness to say, “Anywhere, anytime, at any cost.”

And that’s essentially what Jesus said when asked to come to earth as our Savior: “Lord God, anywhere, anytime, at any cost.” When Joseph received the angel’s message, he walked away from what made human sense to do what God asked him to do . . . “anywhere, anytime, at any cost.” Are we willing to say, “Lord, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, at any cost”? Long ago, that was the road to Bethlehem. Today, it’s the road to victory in the life of a true believer.

It’s a happy day when we recognize that we don’t have to completely understand everything that God is doing in order to obey. God reserves the right to give us what we need to know, as we need to know it, and reveal the rest in due time. Think of what unfolded from the obedience of Joseph and Mary to God’s plan – nothing less than the salvation needed to redeem you and me from our sin. “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).