It was an absolute bombshell when Joseph heard the news that his fiancée was pregnant. It was almost unbelievable that Mary could have done this. It seemed so out of character for the young woman promised to him in marriage…
And yet it was true. She was pregnant and the rumours were swirling.
Matthew 1:18-25 tells us Mary claimed that no man was involved in her pregnancy and that the child was from the Holy Spirit. To say that this seemed far-fetched is an understatement of the grandest kind. Many in the village were calling for her to be punished. The legal penalty for adultery was death by stoning and so the course of action seemed clear.
Suspicion also swirled around Joseph. The finger was being pointed at him as the cause of Mary’s pregnancy. He insisted that he was not responsible and Mary, for what it was worth, backed up his story. No doubt people who knew him were surprised as he had a reputation as a righteous man. But what other explanation was there?
Joseph now faced a huge dilemma. He loved Mary and had wanted to marry her but now he wasn’t sure. It seemed that she was not trustworthy and had broken God’s law. Joseph was a righteous man. He knew that it was righteous to obey the law and the law demanded that an adulteress be punished. Surely it was clear?
But there was just something in him which couldn’t bring himself to subject Mary to public disgrace. She had already disgraced herself. There was no way back from this. For the rest of her life she would have a daily reminder as to the consequences of her immorality. Didn’t she have enough to face without further public scrutiny?
And so Joseph came to a decision. He couldn’t condone Mary’s actions and felt extremely confused, hurt, angry, disappointed, let down and betrayed. But he would simply divorce her quietly. He wouldn’t let the village have their say. He would break things off quietly, fulfil the requirements of the law, sign the certificate of divorce, and she would simply remain in her fathers’ house as a disgraced single mother. She would never escape the scandal and the shame. That would be punishment enough.
Decision made. With a heavy and broken heart, but decision made.
But then Joseph had another shock. One night, soon after he had decided upon his course of action, he had a dream. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (v20). Call it a dream – a nightmare might be more appropriate! This was arguably an even bigger shock than finding out that Mary was pregnant. This was God saying that Mary was telling the truth and that the baby belonged to Him!
As if this isn’t enough, the angel goes on to say that the child will be a son, whom Joseph must name Jesus. This boy will live up to His name as He will save His people from their sins. This is as stunning a piece of news as it is possible to imagine. Not only is Joseph told that God is responsible for the pregnancy but that the Child who will be born will save His people from their problem of sin!
To say that Joseph’s brain must have been in turmoil when he woke up is another massive understatement! And he woke up with a new decision to make.
The evidence was saying Mary was a disgrace. God was saying she was chosen.
The community was saying Mary should be punished. God was saying she was blessed.
The law was saying Mary should be divorced or stoned. God was saying she should be accepted and loved.
The rumours were saying that the child was an illegitimate bastard. God was saying the Child was the Saviour of His people.
What a decision Joseph had to make!
God spoke to Joseph in the midst of confusion and scandal and asked this righteous man to risk everything for the sake of obeying His voice. When God speaks, the righteous person has a decision to make. And often it’s a difficult choice. And often God asks you to walk down the harder road. Just because He spoke to Joseph very clearly didn’t mean it was easy to obey.
And so Joseph, that righteous man whose initial instinct was to protect Mary, decided and ‘did as the angel of the Lord commanded him’. He made the tough call to do what God asked. In the face of opposition from friends and family and despite what the village called for, he took his pregnant fiancée, Mary, and married her. She was a virgin when they married and still a virgin when she gave birth to her Son.
And Joseph the Righteous named Him Jesus.