Joseph becomes Jesus’ Adoptive Father
“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)
Joseph always tends to hover in the background when we tell the story of the Virgin Mary and of Christ’s birth. We often picture him reserved and unobtrusive, dutifully standing there behind Mary and the holy Child. During Christmastime we love to sing the Christmas carols and send Christmas cards with scenes of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in the manger along with the shepherds and the angels. And we picture that first Christmas as holy and peaceful and perfect. And it was. But the Holy Family’s beginnings were anything but Christmas-card perfect.
The Gospel of Matthew (1:18 – 25) makes it clear that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal. Yes she was truly with child by the Holy Spirit, but who was going to believe such a story! Pregnant and still a virgin! Come on now! Her pregnancy had brought shame on her parent’s house and most likely her whole village was whispering about this new gossip and laughing at Joseph for being engaged to a woman who is pregnant with a child that isn’t his. No one believed Mary’s story and her pregnancy had put her into an awkward situation.
And Scripture says that Joseph did not believe Mary’s story either. We don’t know what words were exchanged between Mary and Joseph, or just how she broke the news to him but we do know that things did not go well between them. She must have told Joseph about how the angel appeared and visited her and of how he told her that her son would be the Son of God. Mary was joyful about this and wanted to share it with the man she loved.
She must have assured Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that she had never been unfaithful to him. That she loved him and she was a virgin. That he could share in this with her – this joy of the coming of the Christ Child! And she must have begged him to believe her. But Joseph wasn’t believing any of this. He tells Mary he doesn’t want to be engaged to her any longer and that he will divorce her! We wonder if they argued and if Mary cried. .
If Joseph left Mary, she would become an unwed mother. In first-century
Galilee, such a broken home could have dire – even deadly
consequences for Mary since women in that culture had no power. Matthew says that Joseph was a “righteous
man” – he was obedient to the Law of Moses and wanted to do God’s will. Betrothal or engagement in Joseph’s culture
was the first act of marriage and could only be broken by divorce.. Joseph was going to have to divorce Mary
since he didn’t believe her and he assumed that she had had sex with another
man in order to become pregnant.
Joseph probably felt hurt and betrayed by his fiancée becoming pregnant. Scripture says that he wanted to break up with Mary “quietly.” We should note that Joseph could have brought charges against her with the religious leaders. This would have led – at best – to her public humiliation and at worst she could face death by stoning. Whatever happened, she would be permanently shamed and stigmatized by her adultery and divorce, and would find it almost impossible to marry anyone else in that area.
God did not allow Mary to be misunderstood by Joseph for long. God sent Joseph a dream .and in the dream an angel tells Joseph that the child Mary is carrying is indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be the Immanuel promised in the Book of Isaiah. Now Joseph knows that Mary is telling the truth and that his dream was from God. Joseph wants to obey God and be part of His plan. He obeys God and becomes a husband to Mary and father to this promised Child.
God continued to protect the baby Jesus and his family by leading Joseph through dreams. In Matthew 2:13, Joseph follows another dream several years later warning him to run away with Mary and Jesus, now a young child, to
escape the murderous Herod. And then later when Herod dies and is no longer a
threat, Joseph receives still another dream to return to his homeland, Egypt . Israel
Finally Joseph obeys yet another dream from God to settle in
Nazareth since another ruler
might try to kill Jesus if they should return to . Joseph was quick to obey when God gave him
directions through these dreams. Bethlehem
When we open the Bible to the New Testament the first thing we read there is the Genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16) Matthew follows the legal Jewish system in giving the genealogy of the father, even though Joseph was the father of Jesus by adoption.
This genealogy of Jesus demonstrates the continuity between the
of the Old Testament and Jesus. Even
though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, it would seem that
because he obeyed God and adopted Jesus that Scripture considers him as the
earthly father. Perhaps our actions and
our decisions are more real than biology.
Joseph dutifully obeyed God and acted as a loving father to Jesus, his young and vulnerable son. By taking Mary as his wife and naming the child Jesus (the name given him in a dream), Joseph was claiming the divinely born child as his own: in other words, Joseph adopted Jesus.