It’s easy to feel sorry for Joseph. He finds the girl of his dreams. They get engaged to be married. And then he discovers she’s pregnant.
What is Joseph to do? Most people would react in one of two ways. Some would simply forgive. Everyone makes mistakes, and this is Mary’s. Let draw a line on under it. We won’t speak of this again. For others, that would be too hard. They could never forgive unfaithfulness like this. The wedding’s off, and if Mary is humiliated in the process it’s no more than she deserved.
Joseph is a good man, and he steers clear of both extremes. Verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” It would be wrong to sweep it under carpet; it would be unkind to make a scene. So he does the right thing, but gently and quietly.
If he does this, it would be a disaster.
If you were here last week, we looked at Jesus family tree in the first half of this chapter. We saw how Jesus brings together everything that God had been doing with his people for the centuries before. Every plan to bless his people, every promise, all comes true in Jesus. Because Jesus is descended from Abraham, from King David, from the Babylonian exile, and from four remarkable women.
Only it isn’t actually Jesus’s family tree. It’s Joseph’s. All these good things could come true in Jesus, but only if he is Joseph’s son. The trouble is, he isn’t. He’s Mary’s son, yes, but not by Joseph. If Joseph divorces Mary, none of the wonderful things we looked at last week could come true. God’s people would have come this close to seeing everything they had longed for, only for it all to fall apart. But if Joseph marries Mary, and raises her boy as his own, everything is on track.
Everything hangs in the balance. Joseph is about to divorce Mary, and that must not happen.
Suddenly, this isn’t Joseph’s dilemma. It is God’s. What is God to do?
Answer: He sends an angel to visit Joseph. Operation “Change Joseph’s mind”. The angel has two things to say it to Joseph.
Mary has not been unfaithful
First, the angel tells Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful. Mary has not been unfaithful.
Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph problem is this: he’s added 1 and 2, and made 3. 1. He knows Mary is pregnant. 2. He knows he had nothing to do with it. So he draws the logical conclusion: 3. Another man must be involved.
In every other pregnancy, his logic would be impeccable. But not this one. This is different. This is unique. Jesus really was born to a virgin. He had a human mother, Mary. But he had no human father. God is the only father he has. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit has planted inside Mary a new human life, a microscopic embryo, that is God the Son in human form.
It had to be this way. If Jesus had had a human father and a human mother, he would simply have been another human being. The product of combining the DNA of two other human beings. But this was not just to be the birth of a special human being. This was to be the moment when the eternal Son of God was born as a human being. For that, he had to have a human mother; he had to be born. But his was not a new life. He came to this world from outside; so there could be no human father. His conception had to be a miracle.
Mary has not been unfaithful. So Joseph has no need to divorce Mary.
God is being faithful
Second, the angel tells Joseph that God is being faithful. God is being faithful.
The angel lets Joseph in on what God will do through the child Mary is carrying. The clue is in the names the child will be given.
First, there is the name he is to be given at his birth. Verse 21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus is the Greek name. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua. It means: “God saves”.
Names have meanings. Today, we don’t usually think about what a person’s name means. It’s just a label, although when parents are choosing a name for their new baby they often look up what possible names mean. I don’t know if you know what your name means. My name is James; it means “the deceiver”. Daniel means “God is my judge”. Isaac means “laughter”, or “he laughs”.
In Bible times, names were very significant. Jesus’s name reveals his mission. He came to earth for a reason. He came to save his people from their sins.
“Jesus” is only one of the names of the child is given in this passage. Verse 22: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
We looked at Isaiah chapter 7 in the autumn. King Ahaz refused to trust God. So God gave him a sign. A sign both that Ahaz would be judged for his lack of faith, and that God’s longstanding plan to live amongst his people was still on track. A child would be born, in Ahaz’s day, who would be given the symbolic name of Immanuel. Immanuel means “God with us”, and the birth of this child would symbolise that God is with Ahaz to judge him, and with his people to bless them.
When God promises Ahaz, child called Immanuel, he taps into a seam in that part of Isaiah. God will give his people a new king in the future. That king will bring them great blessings. And most wonderfully, that King will be God himself living among his people.
It’s a promise that finds a far more wonderful fulfilment with the birth of Jesus. Jesus is God’s son. When Jesus walked this earth, God himself lived on earth as a human being.
There are lots of famous people we feel we know. Thanks to newspapers, magazines and the Internet; thanks to photographs being cheap to take and easy to distribute; people like the astronaut Tim Peake, sports stars, and musicians are piped into our living rooms as if they were our closest friends. But the truth is, we don’t know them at all. We just know things about them, while they have never even heard of us.
God does not just want us to know things about him. He knows us intimately, and he wants us to know him. And so, he stepped into the pages of the history books. He became a human being so that we could know him. The Old Testament looked forward to this day and with the birth of Jesus it arrived. Jesus’s symbolic name is “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”.
Jesus is born. He is given the name Jesus, because God saves us through him. He is given the name Immanuel, because in Jesus God lives among us so that we might know him.
The angel explained all of this to Joseph. And he makes Joseph’s part in all this quite clear. All of this happens to fulfil God’s promises made to King David 1000 years before. Jesus is to be the promised son of David. Which is why he needs to belong to the family of Joseph, the son of David. Verse 20: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.”
That’s God on “operation change Joseph’s mind”.
The angel tells Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful, so he does not need to divorce her.
The angel tells Joseph that God is being faithful, so he must not divorce her.
The question is, does it work? We get the answer in verses 24 and 25, which are the wonderful climax and conclusion of this little story. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Joseph did what he was told. He married Mary. But even more wonderfully, he gave Jesus his name. It was the father’s responsibility to name his child. So when Joseph gives the child the name Jesus, he is taking responsibility for him as his son. Jesus is adopted into Joseph’s family. Jesus is now the son of Joseph, the son of David.
Which means Jesus really is “Jesus,” God saves. And Jesus really is “Immanuel,” God with us.
Which means that we can be rescued, and God can be known.
The question is this: Has he rescued you. And do you know God through him?