• We celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth each year at Christmas time. But what were the impressions, responses, and transformations of those involved in the very first Christmas? In this series we'll look at those first impressions, and in them, learn how we can and should respond to the reality that God in the Person of Jesus came to earth to bring transformation to human beings who respond to His love and grace.
4. Joseph’s View (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-7, 21-40; Matthew 2:13-23)
  • Joseph was engaged to Mary, and everything was going along fine until he learned from her that she was going to have a child. What did Joseph think when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy? What did he think of the messages he received from God? What was his view of this most important event? Let's see what insight the Scriptures provide.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • God is considerate of His children as seen in His giving Joseph a confirmation of His intentions. Matthew 1:21 & 22
  • God’s purposes will be accomplished through His obedient people notwithstanding the contrary intentions of man. Matthew 2:13, 19 & 20
  • God made it clear to Joseph, and hence to us, through multiple means that Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 20; Luke 2:17 & 18, 27-35, 38
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • God doesn’t tell us everything, but enough for us to be able to act out of our faith. Do you feel that God is considerate of you?
  • Do you believe that God is carrying out His purposes through you sometimes despite what is going on around you? Are you obedient to what you know of God’s word to you?
  • How had God “told” you that Jesus is who He says He is (the Messiah)?
      Talk it Over Discussion Guide

  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • What does it mean that Joseph was a “just” man, and how did that character trait inform how he dealt with the discovery of Mary's pregnancy
  • Describe Joseph's response to the dream he had about Mary. What do you think he might have been thinking?
  • Did Joseph understand what God was doing in this child that was to be born to Mary? Did Joseph understand what part he was to play? What was that part?
  • How did Joseph begin to carry out his responsibilities after Jesus was born?
  • What did Joseph think about what Simeon said concerning Jesus? What do you think were Joseph's thoughts after Anna spoke about Jesus?
  • Why did God have to speak to Joseph, in his case by an angel through dreams?
  • Describe Joseph's character from these texts. What kind of a man was he? Was he a good choice by God to act as Jesus' earthly father?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How do you think you would have responded to discovering Mary's pregnancy if you were Joseph? How did he plan to treat Mary in his initial response?
  • How might you describe Joseph's relationship to God as a Jewish man in his day? Was he faithful? Was he obedient to what he knew?
  • Compare Joseph's response to the angel's message to him with Mary's response to the angel's message to her? What are the similarities? What are the differences?
  • What should your response be to information and revelation from God to you that you might not understand, but that clearly asks for a certain response from you?
  • What was the level of Joseph's trust in God in this story? What is the level of your trust in God, knowing what you know of Him and of His calling on your life?
  • How can you respond to God in ways that are like the way Joseph responded?
  • What is the key lesson you have learned through looking at Joseph in this first Christmas?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)

  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
Much is written about Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. But what about Joseph, the earthly father? He certainly played a significant role in the story of the coming of Jesus to earth. What do we know about Joseph? He lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, and was a carpenter by trade (Matthew 13:55). He was betrothed to Mary, a betrothal being a covenant as final as the actual marriage. In fact, except for the physical consummation, a betrothal was as if the man and woman were actually married such that a betrothal could only be set aside by death or divorce. Typically, a full year would elapse between the betrothal and the actual wedding, and the wedding ceremony and customs were ornate and beautiful ending with the procession of the bride to the home of the bridegroom and a wedding feast which lasted for days. Thus, Joseph and Mary were in this one year period between betrothal and wedding when the events of the announcement of Jesus’ coming took place. Their engagement and betrothal was most likely arranged by Joseph’s parents, and during this one year period, Joseph would be readying the marital home and helping provide the marital dowry, while Mary and her relatives would be preparing for the actual wedding and related festivities. Joseph would probably have been in his early twenties, and Mary between fourteen and eighteen. Thus, Joseph was simply living out his early life as a young man in a little town awaiting the time of his actual marriage.
We know that the angel, Gabriel, had visited Mary with the startling news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). We also know that Mary had left Nazareth shortly thereafter to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, in Judea, as Elizabeth was six months pregnant, a recipient of her own miracle baby, and that Mary stayed there for three months and then returned to Nazareth (Luke 1:39 & 40, 56). It seems that it was after this three month period, and upon Mary’s return to Nazareth, that Joseph discovered that she was pregnant (through the change in her physical appearance), but did not know the details. He and Mary had apparently not had a conversation (as can be seen from the angel’s words to Joseph in his dream, referenced below), and he considered the matter thoughtfully and determined that he would divorce her quietly, saving her from public disgrace and protecting his claim that he was not the father. The text says that Joseph was “a just man” (Matthew 1:19), meaning that he sought to do what was right and fair, and also follow the Jewish law; a divorce was appropriate, and doing it quietly out of public view (a divorce could occur in private before two witnesses) was testimony to his character and his thoughtfulness for Mary.
In the midst of this circumstance, Joseph had a dream one night in which an angel of the Lord appeared with a message to him and for him. And God’s message through the angel was clear: he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife since the child was of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary had not been unfaithful, and marrying her was not an acceptance on his part of any unfaithfulness. Further, by taking her as his wife, Joseph would take on legal responsibility for the child as its father. To underscore the significance of this earthly fatherhood, the angel addressed Joseph as “son of David” (Matthew 1:20). The angel was saying that the child would thus be in the Davidic lineage, which was key to the further message that this child, who was to be named Jesus, would “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Did Joseph understand from the dream that this child was the Messiah? It is not clear that he did. But when Joseph woke up, he did not hesitate to obey (Matthew 1:24) and took Mary as his wife, though they did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25). So, Joseph's view at this point was that he had a message from God that related specifically to his own circumstances, and led him to know how to react. Joseph understood that somehow God was at work, and that God was at work through the baby to which he was going to be a father on earth. Joseph understood that this was a supernatural baby, that Jesus was from God. And was it the angel who spoke the prophetic words of Isaiah quoted in verse 23? It is not certain, though some commentators hold to that view. If the angel did speak those words, then Joseph knew that the baby would be God's presence amongst humanity, that Jesus Himself would be Immanuel.
As events unfolded, Joseph had to return to Bethlehem, the town of his lineage and where he likely still owned property, to be counted as part of the Roman census initiated by the emperor. He brought Mary with him, even though she was pregnant (Luke 2:1-3). How long they were in Bethlehem is not stated, though it is likely that the time frame was late in her pregnancy. While Joseph may not have had to bring Mary along, and only gone to Bethlehem as head of the household, he brought her anyway so that they could be together when the child was to be born, and to take her away from what by then were probably awkward circumstances in Nazareth. So we don't know the exact timing, but the gospel writer tells us that while in Bethlehem, the time came for the child to be born. It is also not certain exactly where Joseph and Mary were while in Bethlehem. However, as Bethlehem was where Joseph was raised and where his relatives were (others having no doubt returned as well for the census), it makes sense that they were staying with relatives of Joseph. When the child came, there was no room for them at the home or the “guest room” and, as tradition holds, Mary had the baby in the cave behind the home that was used as as shelter for the livestock. Most likely, there was a midwife present to assist with the birth, and Jesus was placed in a manger, which was a feeding trough for the livestock, as it was convenient in terms of size and availability. Mary wrapped him in long cloth strips (used in that time period to keep the babies' limbs straight). There was nothing extraordinary about the physical aspects of the birth, and it took place without incident. What was extraordinary was the child himself, as it was the child whose coming had been declared by Gabriel, and by the angel of Joseph's dreams. One wonders the discussions Mary and Joseph had been having since Joseph obediently took Mary as his wife; one wonders what they were thinking as the child was actually born, and if part of that thinking was how his life would play out in the coming years. And it was just after Jesus' birth that some shepherds came to see the baby with a story about a message from an angel concerning the baby and of an angelic chorus praising God for the coming of the child (Luke 2:8-20). Luke writes that Mary treasured the words of the shepherds and “pondered” them in her heart. One thinks that Joseph did likewise, and considered just what God was doing in bringing Jesus to earth.
But what was the life of Joseph, Mary and the baby to look like going forward from the birth. They stayed in Bethlehem at first. Luke 2:21-24 tells us that they took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem as required by the law to consecrate him to God as their firstborn (Exodus 13: 2, 12; Leviticus 12). In so doing, and as head of his family, Joseph was committed to having his family live a righteous life, obedient to the Scripture. But when in Jerusalem, they come into contact with two individuals who added more wonder to the extraordinary things that had already happened to them. First, a man named Simeon, to whom the Spirit had revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, went to the Temple courts under the direction of the Spirit and encountered Joseph, Mary and the baby (Luke 2:25-27). Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed him, recognizing that he had now seen the Messiah (Luke 2:28-32). Then he blessed the couple and told Mary of what was to come, and that it would pierce her heart (Luke 2:34 & 35). Following that encounter, an aged prophetess named Anna came up to them and thanked God for the baby and spoke about him in reference to his being the long-awaited redemption of Israel (Luke 2:36-38). Both Joseph and Mary marveled at what these two individuals said to them about Jesus. Again, one thinks that they both wondered what it really meant that Jesus was God's salvation prepared in the sight of all people and a light for revelation to the Gentiles. What did this all mean?
We know from the last lesson that after a time, some wise men from the east visited the family in Bethlehem, worshiping Jesus and presenting him with precious gifts. This likely occurred sometime in the first year (or so) of Jesus' life (Matthew 2:1-12) if it is the case that the wise men left their homeland after seeing Jesus' star, their travels taking a minimum of probably 4 months. Their coming to visit the “king of the Jews” just born was another amazing happening for Joseph (and Mary) to ponder. Yet they didn't have long to consider the event as an angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in another dream and told him to take the child and Mary to Egypt right away as King Herod was planning to kill the child (Matthew 2:13-15). Again, Joseph obeyed immediately, leaving on the 75+ mile trip to Egypt that very night and staying there until being told by an angel in yet another dream that it was safe to return (Matthew 2:14, 19-23). Upon returning, Joseph settled his family in Nazareth as he considered it yet unsafe to live in Bethlehem in Judea as the area was at that time under the rule of King Herod's ruthless son, Archelaus.

So here is Joseph, just a young Jewish carpenter living in the tiny village of Nazareth, an anonymous individual engaged to be married to a young Jewish girl named Mary, and preparing for their wedding. And suddenly he is thrust into an unexpected situation, namely that he finds Mary to be pregnant, and then in a dream he hears from God through His angel that the child is from the Holy Spirit, that he should go ahead and take Mary as his wife, and that this child was going to save the Jewish people form their sins. Then, presumably from Mary, he hears Mary's story of her angelic visit, and the story of Elizabeth's miracle baby, and some six months later travels to Bethlehem where the baby is born whereupon some shepherds visit with an amazing story of an other angelic message about the baby. And later, the wise men come and worship this child and Joseph is warned by God in a dream to flee to Egypt. Who could have imagined such a story, and yet it actually happened to Joseph. And his viewpoint of it all was one of obedience, and a sense of the meaning of who Jesus was and that God was at work in redemption for His people Israel. Did Joseph fully understand all that was involved in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah? Undoubtedly not; but he must have had at least a rudimentary understanding that Jesus was not a mere human being as His conception was of the Holy Spirit such that his birth was indeed miraculous, and that he was in the kingly line of David and had come from God to bring about redemption and forgiveness of sin. He also understood that he had a great responsibility as the earthly father of this child – to protect him, to rear him, to train him up, to provide for him, and to love him and prepare him for whatever was to come in the years ahead. Joseph knew this first Christmas was special, that it was miraculous, and that he was in the midst of the carrying out of the purposes and will of his God, the God of Israel, the God of the Scriptures he had studied and memorized. It is no exaggeration to think that this first Christmas was indelibly etched in Joseph's memory for the rest of his life, and that he was humbly thankful to God to have been chosen by God Himself to be a part of the greatest story in history. What a special man, this godly Joseph, who obediently carried out his God-given responsibility with grace and without complaint. Might we all faithfully follow God's leading is like manner!