“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” ~ Matthew 1:18-19
There is not a lot of information about Joseph in the Bible. There is no record of the words he spoke, advice he gave, or lessons he taught. We know he wasn’t a town leader, a respected businessman, or an influential politician. He wasn’t a priest, a rabbi, or even an up-and-coming church leader. By all accounts, Joseph, the earthy father of Jesus, was just a regular guy. And, within the Christmas story, he was a seemingly insignificant and obscure character. Or was he?
We find Joseph’s story in Matthew 1:18-25. In these verses, we will discover three lessons from the life of Joseph that make him more than an obscure character in the Christmas story.
The first lesson from Joseph’s life is found in verses 18-19, where Joseph demonstrated GRACE over RETALIATION.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly” (Matthew 1:18-19).
By the time Joseph learns Mary is pregnant, they are already betrothed. In biblical times, engagement was a HUGE deal. Although still living with their parents, betrothed couples were committed to a binding and unbreakable covenant. It meant dowries were given, gifts were exchanged, relatives were notified, and a wedding date had been set. All that remained was the wedding day itself and the honeymoon night. Breaking off the engagement was so significant compared to an act of divorce.
So, while Joseph would have been fully justified in disgracing Mary by publicly divorcing her (potentially leading to her being stoned to death), Joseph decided to divorce Mary’ quietly.’ More notably, he made that decision BEFORE the angel appeared and told him the truth about Mary. When given a choice, he demonstrated grace over retaliation!
Secondly, in verses 20 & 24, Joseph demonstrated FAITH over FEELINGS.
“But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream . . . And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife” (Matthew 1:20-24).
Can you imagine Joseph’s emotions when he learned Mary was pregnant? Have you ever considered the conversations he had with himself when pondering what to do? Thankfully, he did not allow his emotions, circumstances, or self-talk to dictate his actions! Although Joseph had predetermined to show grace to Mary by quietly breaking off the engagement, he demonstrated FAITH over FEELINGS when he changed his mind and obeyed what the angel told him to do.
Finally, in verse 25, we can learn how to choose CHARACTER over RIGHTS from Joseph.
“but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:25).
Isaiah 7:14 says, “behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” For Scripture to be fulfilled, Mary had to be a virgin until after Jesus was born. That choice was made to maintain this boundary in Joseph and Mary’s marriage.
It’s easy to forget about biology when talking about Bible prophecy and the Christmas story. But let’s not forget that while the Bible describes Joseph as a good and moral man, he was still a man! He still had desires and passions for his wife that were natural and good. This meant Joseph chose to unselfishly put aside those desires and his conjugal rights to wait until AFTER Jesus was born to consummate his marriage to Mary. He demonstrated CHARACTER over RIGHTS when he unselfishly said NO to his natural desires and refrained from being intimate with his wife until appropriate.
In the end, Joseph was hardly an obscure or insignificant part of the Christmas story. He was quite the opposite! He demonstrated grace over justice, faith over feelings, and the character necessary to love, encourage, and influence a little boy who was the Savior of the world!
Questions for Thought
- Is there someone in your life to whom you need to choose to demonstrate grace over retaliation this Christmas?
- In what area(s) of your life do you need to show faith over feelings? Character over rights?
On a note card, write an answer to the following questions: A person God challenges you to extend grace towards? An area of your life where you struggle to demonstrate faith over feelings? A place of your life where God may want you to demonstrate more Christlike character? After writing these down, tuck the note card into your Bible in Matthew 1. Pray over the card until Christmas Day. As you pray, respond and take action on each item as the Spirit leads you. On Christmas Day, or soon after, flip the card over and describe what God has taught you in each area, positive progress you’ve made, or action items you’ve taken. Thank God for your progress; pray for the wisdom and strength to respond to His ongoing prompting.
Young Adults Minister
Barry is passionate about helping couples in all seasons of life have extraordinary marriages, healthy families, and Christ-like homes. Barry and his wife, Ellen, are the proud parents of twins.