The Angel’s Message to Joseph
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2013, as part of their "Messages from Angels" Christmas series. Click here to download it.
- When any major event happens, there is always more than one perspective. We are often told it from one person’s angle. Luke told the Christmas story from Mary’s perspective. However, there is another perspective and Matthew tells it from Joseph’s.
- Matthew also tells it within the great big story of God’s working with his people and his plan to change the world. Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy – boring to us but very interesting to many Eastern peoples (or if it’s your genealogy!). Matthew announced Jesus firstly as the one who fulfilled all the promises of God the son of Abraham, the son of David – the promised one. So Matthew as well as writing from Joseph’s perspective is particularly concerned with how it fits in with the big story. This ends up with verse 16, “…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”
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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
- Mary was engaged to Joseph. When an engagement took place in the culture of that time, it was not like in ours but was the first step of the marriage process. After you were engaged, there was no going back on it. If an engagement had to be broken it was described as a divorce. The marriage ceremony itself is the second step which is when the girl leaves her father’s home and goes to live with her husband and then a sexual relationship can take place. It is difficult for us to get our heads round something which is culturally different to most Westerners here though many Easterners can relate to it more easily.
- Soon afterwards, Joseph discovered that his fiancée was expecting a child. Obviously he assumed that she had been unfaithful to him. These rumours continued to surround Jesus during his life and we get hints of that in the gospels.
- However Joseph was a just man. This would mean that to follow the expectations of the law he couldn’t marry her. He would have the right to take her to the court and expose her to public shame. However he was also merciful and did not want to put Mary to shame publicly. This is very powerful in what we call “shame cultures”. Western culture is in the main a right/wrong culture or law/guilt. We talk about rights and wrongs. Many other cultures, including the one into which Jesus was born, thought more in terms of what is honourable or shameful. Joseph had to act in an honourable way and Mary was bringing shame upon him, as he thought.
- Joseph was considering his 2 options. Either he could take Mary to court or he could just quickly divorce her quietly. That was allowed in society at that time whether someone was fully married or engaged. A man could sign a “bill of divorce” which recorded the fact that the woman was being divorced so long as it was seen by 2 witnesses. That way it could be done quietly without exposing the woman to shame but she was still free from the marriage and therefore could show the bill of divorce to any new prospective husband. Joseph obviously spent some time mulling this over.
- Then an angel appeared to him in a dream – not like Mary where the angel actually appeared in front of her. This child is born from the Holy Spirit. So Matthew as well as Luke present the “virgin birth”. When we are witnessing to Muslims, they find virgin birth very difficult. They assume that we mean (as many ancient pagan religions did) that God had sexual intercourse with a woman so producing a hero. That was a familiar pagan belief. However this is totally different from that. It is not the result of intercourse but of the creative act of the Holy Spirit upon Mary’s body, just as the Holy Spirit can do creative acts of healing, of deliverance and indeed the whole creation came as a result of God acting by his Holy Spirit.
- The angel also gave him the message that Joseph was to call the child Jesus, or in Hebrew/Aramaic "Joshua" which means “God saves”. Jesus is simply the Greek form of Joshua. This is again full of significance. Moses brought the law but Joshua led people into the promises. The Messiah, the new Joshua, would not only set people free from Egypt not even from simply wandering in the wilderness but from the power of Satan and sin.
- He was also to be called Emmanuel. This refers to a prophecy in Isaiah where King Ahaz was in danger of forming wrong alliances which would lead to the house of David being destroyed in terms of continuing to provide a King for the Land of Judah. God told him to ask for a sign but he refused giving the super-spiritual reason that he wouldn’t tempt God. However God himself gave a sign that one day the royal line would be restored and Emmanuel would be born. So this again is the fulfilling of the great promises of God that a King would be born who would also bring the presence of God to us. When Jesus was around the presence of God was around on the streets in him.
- So when Jesus was born it says that Joseph named him Jesus. A father naming in these circumstances (where the child actually wasn’t his) was him declaring that he was adopting that child and so the child had the full rights of inheritance from his ancestral line – which in Joseph’s case was the line of David.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
- The Saviour has come. He still rescues. He can rescue from sin, from evil and he is going to change the whole world and is available now for us to change.
- God is with us. No longer is he a distant God who we can’t know but we can know him because he has revealed himself in the beautiful personality of Jesus.
- God speaks through dreams. All over the world he is now reaching out to people of Muslim faith by giving them dreams about Jesus. There is testimony after testimony about this. God can speak to us through dreams too. It doesn’t mean that every dream is from God, most are not but we need to be open to hearing him in our dreams.
- Justice and mercy both met in the birth of Jesus as exhibited by Joseph. Justice and mercy particularly meet in Jesus who, in saving us from our sins, righteously fulfilled the law of God, righteously bore the penalty for all wrongdoing deserves but mercifully frees us from sin by taking our penalty on himself.