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We do not face sin alone

Joseph and Mary face the stigma of sin because the child was Jesus, the One who would save His people from their sin, Immanuel, God with us.

Foto: [link]Phil Hearing[/link], Unsplash CC0.

The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 points to the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham and David. It also gets the reader thinking about the troubled reputation of several women in earlier days.

In Matthew 1:18-25, we see another couple troubled by apparent sexual sin.


Joseph’s gracious plan (vv18-19)

Couples married young, and this young couple had their lives before them. The young carpenter and his younger bride-to-be.

But then the ultimate slap in the face: Joseph discovers that Mary is expecting a child. It is not hard to imagine the shattered dreams, repulsive images, and emotional turmoil that Joseph endured.

Not only did this crisis mean their forthcoming wedding was a sham, but Joseph also now faced the shame of suspicion. The obvious pathway forward was to save face for himself by publically disgracing her and distancing himself.

If he could be sufficiently indignant and distance himself, then maybe his honour could be saved. But Joseph did not choose the obvious path.

Public disgrace for Mary might have meant some sort of public execution by stoning, but even without that, public disgrace is too painful to describe in a shame and honour society.

Joseph chose an incredibly gracious option: he would divorce her, and he would do so quietly. What would people say about him? The cloud of suspicion would linger, but Joseph looked out for the best interests of the girl whom he thought had sinned.

Joseph’s selflessness is worthy of reflection, not least because we know what he didn’t – the identity of the baby inside her!


God’s greater plan (vv20-21)

During the agonizing turmoil of Joseph’s deliberation, new information was introduced.

Perhaps he tossed and turned on his bed. The thoughts, the images, the options, the consequences. But the troubled young man must have slept, for an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream.

He was told not to fear taking Mary into his home. He was told that the baby was in her from the Holy Spirit. He was told to name the boy Jesus. And he was told why.

Jesus. The Hebrew name Joshua. Yeshua in Aramaic. However we might pronounce it, this was a name of significance.

Actually, it was not unusual. There were lots of little Jesuses running around the neighbourhood for it was one of the most common boys’ names in Palestine at that time.

But the angel didn’t just give the name choice, he also gave the reason. This boy would live up to His name – He would save people from their sins.


God’s great plan predicted (vv22-23)

Matthew adds some theological commentary for the sake of the reader. Going back to Isaiah 7:14, Matthew quotes the prophet’s anticipation of a virgin giving birth to a special child with a special name.

Ahaz may have been a king with all sorts of issues, but God was not out of touch with his struggling people. In fact, an unmarried woman was soon to give birth to a son of significance, and the significance was God’s presence with the people.

What was true in Ahaz’s day proved to be infinitely truer still with Mary. She was a virgin, unmarried, but with child.

This time it was not a matter of sequencing prediction and then fulfilment by normal means. This time she truly bore a miracle child, a child whose significance could not be greater. Immanuel – God with us!

So what would Joseph do? Seems obvious: obey the angel. But not so fast. So he had insider information concerning the child inside her. The boy Jesus was to save the people from their sins and He would be God with us, Immanuel.

All very well and perhaps worthy of some Christmas carols, but what about Joseph and Mary?

You can imagine his thinking. Two men come into his carpenter’s shop and request a bid on a certain job. Joseph tells them a price. They look impressed but concerned. Joseph adds a comment about how they could trust his word.

Little boy Jesus runs in and starts playing with some wood blocks. They look at the child and whisper to each other. Joseph hears a snippet of a comment about an angel in a dream.

They laugh and press him further for assurance on whether he can follow through on his bid. Joseph knows what they are thinking. They leave and go looking for another carpenter, one they can trust.

The stigma of the sinful reputation would linger for years. It could cost them on so many levels. How would he provide for them? How would Mary cope with the dagger comments in the market? How long until the child sensed what everyone thought?

It wasn’t that nobody sinned in Nazareth, that was all too common. But when a couple perceived to be different turns out to be the same as everyone else, well, they don’t get treated the same as everyone else.

And what about family? What would they say? Family, friends, work, and just about every aspect of life would be stained by the reputation of sinful infidelity.


Joseph’s immediate obedience (vv24-25)

Matthew leaves us with no doubt what kind of man Joseph was. He had been kind to Mary, even when he thought she had been unfaithful. And now he proved faithful to God when the days ahead looked so uncertain.

He took Mary into his home, thereby offering the protection and security she needed. A quick wedding was the best thing for all involved. Then he had no marital union with her until after she had the boy. And Joseph named the boy Jesus.

Three times Matthew points to the name of the child. Indeed, the significance of the birth story here is wrapped up in that name.

Everyone thought they saw just a normal couple getting married in a hurry for the ‘normal’ reason and later giving birth to a son with a common name. But this was not normal in any way.

How could they face the uncertainties, the knowing looks, the suspicious smiles from family members, or worse, the rejection that may come their way?

They could face the stigma of sin because this child was Jesus, the One who would save His people from their sin. This child was Immanuel, God with us.

This post is adapted from chapter 9, Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014), 83-87.

Peter Mead is mentor at Cor Deo and author of several books. He blogs at Biblical Preaching




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