In Luke 2:52, we learn “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus grew up. He learned. Though he always had a special relationship with his heavenly father, Jesus, being fully human like us, learned from Mary and Joseph. Luke rightly focuses his telling of the birth of Jesus on the women, Mary and Elizabeth. These women are worthy of honor and respect. Matthew, however, places his accent on the person of Joseph. So our question this morning is this: What did Jesus learn about the love of his heavenly Father by watching his adoptive father, Joseph?
Join me in turning this morning to Matthew 1:18-25. Matthew, chapter 1, beginning in verse 18. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, about 2/3 of the way through the Bible. If you are in any of the prophets, you have not gone far enough. If you are in Mark, Luke, or John, you have gone too far. Matthew 1:18-25. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:
his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph,
but before they came together,
she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
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.
But after he had considered this,
an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give brith to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill 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”).”
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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)
Joseph, I imagine, was a man of few words. We have no recorded speech from him in all of Matthew’s gospel. Instead, Joseph acts. It is his actions that speak most loudly of his character. What kind of man was Joseph? What would Jesus have learned about the love of his heavenly Father from watching his adoptive father, Joseph?
First, we see that Joseph was a righteous man. He had a strong sense of the difference between right and wrong. Listen to verses 18 and 19: This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 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.
Some translations say that Joseph was a ‘righteous man’, others that he was ‘faithful to the law.’ Either way, we get the sense that Joseph knew God’s Word and knew the difference between right and wrong. In Israel, engagements were far more serious than they often are today. Although an engaged couple did not live together or have intercourse, their union was as binding as marriage. Adultery committed during this engagement period was considered even worse than adultery committed during marriage.
When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, he is very aware that he is not the father. The only logical conclusion he can make is that Mary has been unfaithful. We do not know whether Mary told him what the angel had told her or not. We only know that Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to divorce Mary. He had no choice if she had committed adultery. Jewish, Greek, and Roman law all mandated divorce if adultery was proven.
We know that Mary was faithful and innocent. We know the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and what was conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit. Joseph does not. Yet even before he knows this, Joseph’s righteousness is joined with compassion.
The second thing we learn about Joseph is his compassion. Joseph knows right from wrong and yet in living it out, he chooses to live it with mercy. As far as anyone knows, Joseph has every right to divorce her – he is even right to do it – but he chooses to do it in the way most costly to himself and least costly to her. Scripture says Joseph did not want to expose her to public disgrace. Divorce was a deeply shaming event in the life of the people of God. It was not God’s design and, Jesus later said, was only allowed because of the hardness of the human heart. So in a culture that valued honor and reputation, Joseph divorcing Mary, particularly if it was because she was perceived to be unfaithful, would have left a generational scar upon her family’s name. Small town gossip and shaming was not so different then than it is now. Mary would likely had a hard time ever getting married again. Also, adultery carried the death penalty – remember how Jesus encounter the group ready to stone the woman caught in adultery. Additionally, Joseph could have sued Mary’s family to return her dowry. By making all of this public and putting the blame on Mary, she would have been dragged through the mud, but Joseph would have come off looking good. He could have sacrificed her name and reputation to save his own.
But that is not what Joseph plans to do. Again, we know she was innocent and faithful, but Joseph doesn’t. But even before he knows, Joseph chooses to spare her public shame and forgo the opportunity to restore his name in the eyes of the people as well. He decides to do the right thing, but do it quietly, for her sake. Maybe he does this out of a deep love for Mary, but it is clearly an act of mercy.
Even before Joseph learns the truth about Mary, we learn a lot about his character. He is a righteous man, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and seeking to follow God’s ways. But he is also a man of mercy and compassion. He is not harsh or self-serving in how he treats others. Joseph holds together justice and compassion.
However, after he has considered this, an angel appears to him in a dream. Joseph learns the truth about Mary’s pregnancy: what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Far from being unfaithful, Mary is blessed among women for her faith in God and her willingness to bear the Son of God in her womb. I imagine Joseph was both relieved and overjoyed. What he had feared about Mary was not true, and the promised Messiah of God was coming.
The angel told Joseph to do two things. First, take Mary home as your wife. Second, take her child as your own and name him Jesus. We often rightly emphasize the cost of Mary’s obedience to God, but then we can miss the social costs to Joseph. While Mary, Joseph, and Jesus will know the true story of his birth, the rest of the rumor mill in small town Galilee won’t be so believing. Joseph will live with a truth that others will not believe and their unbelief will be a constant source of shame for their family. Some will think Joseph is the biological father and look down on him for sinning in having sex before their marriage. Others will think Joseph is not the father and think him a fool for marrying her and think even worse of Mary. All of this he will need to shoulder, not just for a moment or a season, but likely for years.
And Joseph is asked to take this child, which is not his own, and raise him as his own. Joseph is told to welcome the Son of God into his family, love him, and cherish him. Joseph is called to adopt Jesus as his son and heir.
His response is action, not words. 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 responds with obedience. He hears what God has spoken through the angel and immediately obeys. Jesus would have learned from Joseph that the truly righteous thing to do is just to do what God says, even if it involves some time of suffering.
The story of Joseph’s love for Mary showed Jesus Joseph’s righteous character, his mercy, his obedience to God, and his patient endurance. But what would Jesus have learned about the love of his heavenly Father by watching his adoptive father, Joseph?
Let me tell you another story. Jeremiah 2 says,
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:
“This is what the LORD says:
‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
through a land not sown..
Israel was holy to the LORD,
the first fruits of his harvest;
all who devoured her were held guilty,
and disaster overtook them,’”
declares the LORD.
Jeremiah describes Israel as God’s bride and the time in the wilderness as their honeymoon. The story of God’s love for his bride, the Church, runs similar lines to Joseph’s story. The LORD is the righteous one who is filled with mercy and compassion. He loved the people of Israel, breaking them out of bondage, cleaning them up by his grace, and preparing them in the wilderness as his bride. The events on Mount Sinai parallel a Jewish wedding ceremony, with the Ten Commandments as the vows. God loved her, protected her, cherished her, and did all that was best for her. Yet, Jeremiah goes on to say,
This is what the LORD says:
“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols.
Unlike Mary, Israel was not faithful. Unlike Mary with Joseph, we like sheep have all gone astray. The LORD who is righteous and merciful has every right to cut off his people from his presence. He has every right to divorce his bride. The story plays out again and again in the prophets. Israel as the bride of God, who has been unfaithful. Eventually, though the prophetic actions of the prophet Hosea, God reveals his amazing love for his bride. The LORD will take her as his wife, even though she is not innocent. He will take her and pay the price himself. He will adopt her children as his own.
What did Jesus learn about the love of his heavenly father from watching the love of his adoptive father, Joseph? Joseph’s human love of Mary is a pale mirror of the great love of God for the church. Joseph is both righteous and compassionate, but The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. Though Joseph will take innocent Mary as his bride and bear the public shame of people’s misunderstanding, The LORD will take a bride of guilty sinners, cleanse them, love them, and perfect them. Jesus adoption by Joseph is also a pale mirror of God’s gracious adoption of us into his family. Joseph welcomed the Son of God into his family, loved, and cherish him, and now, the Son of God welcomes us into his family, loves, and cherishes us.
In watching Joseph, Jesus would have seen a pale reflection of the great love of God for the church – a righteous, compassionate, relentless love. I think Paul says it best about what Jesus would have learned watching Joseph:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with the water of the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
I need to talk to the men for a second. Men: What are your sons and daughters learning about the love of God by watching how you love? Do they see in you what Jesus saw modeled by Joseph – righteousness, compassion, love, obedience, long-suffering, restraint?
Jesus saw a pale reflection of the love of his heavenly father in watching Joseph. May our eyes behold the same, and in doing so, be drawn toward our heavenly Father, whose love for his bride surpasses all understanding.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.