The Christmas Story: The Story of Joseph

Bible Book: Matthew  1 : 18-21
Subject: Joseph; Faith; Obedience; Christmas

This morning, I want us to consider again a Bible character named Joseph who was the son of a man named Jacob. Joseph was a man that God spoke to through dreams; a man who, because of an attitude of rejection, ended up in Egypt; and who, because he went to Egypt, really became a deliverer to his family. Are you familiar with this Bible character? Your thoughts have perhaps been drawn to the preeminent personality in the first book of the Old Testament whose name was Joseph, but this description is just as applicable to the premier personality in the first book of the New Testament whose name was also Joseph.

As the Christmas story is reiterated year after year, we always recognize the role of Mary, the angelic host, the shepherds, and even the wise men that actually didn't arrive until some time after the birth of Jesus. But, as Manfred Kober states, "There is one person who normally receives little or no recognition in the drama of the incarnation. That individual is Joseph." While Joseph is often overshadowed and subtracted from the Christmas story, the personal name Joseph means "adding," and I want to say with great confidence and certainty that Joseph adds to the dynamics of the wonderful event of Christ's birth

On Wednesday evening, I tried to share with you that were here the fact that the Christmas Story is The Story Of Joy. This morning, I want to remind you that the Christmas Story is The Story Of Joseph.

I. This Story Involved Joseph's Domestic Dilemma (vs. 18- 19)

Several men named Joseph are mentioned in the New Testament, the most important being "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16). Though we learn in Matthew's gospel of Joseph's parentage (Matthew 1:1-16), and his profession as a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), in many ways he lived a life that is veiled in obscurity. Much of what we do know about Joseph is discovered in this first chapter of Matthew. In the first 17 verses, we learn about the patriarchs in his lineage, and then in verses 18 and 19 we are informed of the perplexities in his life.

It is written that when "Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 1:18). According to Luke 1:56, Mary had spent about three months   in the hill country with her cousin Elisabeth and then returned home. It was possibly upon her return that she told Joseph of her expectant condition. Adam Clarke said, "What conversation passed between her and Joseph, on this discovery, we are not informed; but the issue proves that it was not satisfactory to him."

Herbert Spencer said, "Marriage (is) a word which should be pronounced 'mirage'." And Joseph must have felt this way about his own marriage now. Nothing was, as it had seemed to be.

A. Joseph's Hopes Must Have Been Crumbling (vs. 18)

1. Their Relationship Had Involved A Betrothal

Betrothed, or engaged to be married. There was commonly an interval of ten or twelve months, among the Jews, between the contract of marriage and the celebration of the nuptials, yet such was the nature of this engagement, that unfaithfulness to each other was deemed adultery. (From Barnes' Notes)

2. Their Relationship Now Involved A Barrier

As he brooded over the matter alone, in the stillness of the night, his domestic prospects darkened and his happiness blasted for life. (From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

B. Joseph's Heart Must Have Been Crushed (vs. 19)

(Matthew 1:19) "Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily."

1. This Verse Shows That Joseph Made His Commitment

Betrothal was, in Jewish law, valid marriage. In giving Mary up, therefore, Joseph had to take legal steps to effect the separation. (From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

2. This Verse Shows That Joseph Manifested His Character

a. is Character Is Stated In This Attribute

"just" - Greek 1342. dikaios, equitable (in character or act); by implication innocent, holy, righteous. It has the idea of being fair.

b. His Character Is Suggested In This Action

(Matthew 1:19) " ... not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily."

[A public example] To expose her to public shame or infamy. Adultery has always been considered a crime of a very heinous nature. In Egypt, it was punished by cutting off the nose of the adulteress; in Persia, the nose and ears were cut off; in Judea, the punishment was death by stoning, Leviticus 20:10; Ezekiek 16:38,40; John 8:5. This punishment was also inflicted where the person was not married, but betrothed, Deuteronomy 22:23-24. In this case, therefore, the regular punishment would have been death in this painful and ignominious manner. Yet Joseph was a religious man - mild  and tender; and he was not willing to complain of her to the magistrate, and expose her to death, but sought to avoid the shame, and to put her away privately.

[Put her away privately] The law of Moses gave the husband the power of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1. It was customary in a bill of divorce to specify the causes for which the divorce was made, and witnesses were also present to testify to the divorce. But in this case, it seems, Joseph resolved to put her away Without specifying the cause; for he was not willing to make her a public example. This is the meaning here of "privately." (From Barnes' Notes)

II. This Story Involved Joseph's Directional Dream (vs. 20- 23)

While little is revealed about Joseph, some very significant things were revealed to Joseph. Like his Old Testament counterpart, Joseph was a man that God spoke to through dreams, for we find time and again that an "angel of the Lord" appeared to Joseph "in a dream." As Manfred Kober stated, "The first divine directive, given in Nazareth, was to 'Marry Mary!' (Matthew 1:20)" "The second angelic command is, 'Escape to Egypt!' (Matthew 2:13)" "The third dream occurred upon the death of Herod. The command was, 'Proceed to Palestine!' (Matthew 2:19)" "The fourth revelation came in a dream while he was back in Israel. The command came to 'Go to Galilee!' (Matthew 2:22)" The first time  was when his heart was filled with consternation and concern. If anyone ever needed a word from God, it was Joseph at that moment. But at such a time as that, God sent a revelation of consolation and confirmation to Joseph saying, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 1:20).

A. Joseph's Life Was Touched By An Angelic Word (vs. 20-21)

1. God Seemed To Say Through The Angel, Trust Mary For The Sake Of Courage

Matthew 1:20) "But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."

"thought "- Greek 1760. enthumeomai, meaning to be inspirited (that is, to instill courage or life into), to ponder.

[Fear not] Do not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about her virtue and purity. Do not fear that she will be unworthy of you, or will disgrace you. (From Barnes' Notes)

a. God Settled His Direction "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife"

v. God Settled His Doubts "for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost"

2. God Seemed To Say Through The Angel, Trust Me For The Sake Of The Child

(Matthew 1:21) "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins."

a. This Was Better Than Joseph Thought "thou shalt call his name Jesus" (Jehovah is salvation)

b. This Was Bigger Than Joseph Thought "for he shall save his people from their sins"

B. Joseph's Life Was Touched By An Ancient Word (vs. 22-23)

1. Let's Consider The Context Of This Ancient Word

["Now all this was done"] The prophecy here quoted is recorded in Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy was delivered about 740 years before Christ, in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. The land of Judea was threatened with an invasion by the united armies of Syria and Israel, under the command of Rezin and Pekah. Ahaz was alarmed, and seems to have contemplated calling in aid from Assyria to defend him. Isaiah was directed, in his consternation, to go to Ahaz, and tell him to ask a sign from God (Isaiah 7:10-11); that is, to look to God rather than to Assyria for aid (2 Kings 7). This he refused to do. He had not confidence in God, but feared that the land would be overrun by the armies of Syria (Matthew 1:12), and relied only on the aid which he hoped to receive from Assyria. Isaiah answered that, in these circumstances, the Lord would himself give a sign, or a pledge, that the land should be delivered. The sign was, that a virgin should have a son, and that before that son would arrive to  years of discretion, the land would be forsaken by these hostile kings. The prophecy was therefore designed originally to signify to Ahaz that the land would certainly be delivered from its calamities and dangers, and that the deliverance would not be long delayed. The land of Syria and Israel, united   now in confederation, would be deprived of both their kings, and thus the land of Judah would be freed from the threatening danger. This appears to be the literal fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah. (From Barnes' Notes)

2. Let's Consider The Comfort Of This Ancient Word

When Ahaz was attacked, he was depending upon Assyria for help. But Isaiah gave him the promise of Immanuel (God with us). Isaiah indicated that the house of David would not be utterly destroyed so that this prophecy would be fulfilled. Joseph, this "son of David," must have felt like he was under attack from the circumstances. But these circumstances would not utterly destroy him for God was fulfilling the promise of Emmanuel (God with us).

III. This Story Involved Joseph's Dedicated Devotion

Helen Rowland said, "Before marriage, a man will lay down his life for you; after marriage he won't even lay down his newspaper." But this certainly wasn't the case with Joseph. He responded with obedience to God's leadership. I wonder, how would you react if you learned that your fiancée was expecting a baby, and you knew that you were not the father? How would you respond if you received supernatural and unusual instruction to proceed with your marriage plans in such an event? What would be your reply to a transcendent voice that repeatedly selected you and your family for relocation? Hesitation and reluctance would surely rule our course. Deliberation and uncertainty would doubtless be factors in our response to the divine mandates. As has so often been the case, we might attempt to bypass God's instruction and follow the dictates of our own hearts; but not so with Joseph. The best way to know God's will is to say, "I will" to God.

A. There Is Dedication In Joseph's Response

(Matthew 1:24) "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:"

While Joseph's response did not involve articulation, it did include action. In response to God's will for his wedding, the Bible says, "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:24). Any hesitation and fear that may have found residence in the heart of Joseph was dispelled when the angel informed him that the child's name would be Jesus, for as Mr. Spurgeon reminds us, "Truly, no name can banish fear like the name of Jesus; it is the beginning of hope, and the end of despair."

1. Notice His Silent Response

a. Let's Point Out His Consistent Silence Matthew 1:24; 2:14, 19-23

There is not a single word spoken by Joseph recorded in the Bible. I think it safe to conclude that Joseph was physically able to speak. The dream environment may have not allowed a dialogue in which both the angel and Joseph would speak as opposed to the monologue of the angel. Perhaps the wonderful realization that God Almighty had a word and a work for a lowly, uncelebrated carpenter literally left Joseph speechless. Joseph may have believed with the psalmist that "there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether" (Psalms 139:4), and therefore felt that his words were unnecessary. Whatever the case, Joseph said nothing, but quietly and compliantly did what God had told him to do.

b. Let's Point Out His Compliant Silence (He didn't declare; he did.)

2. Notice His Submissive Response

a. He Associated With Mary

"and took unto him his wife" (took) - Greek 3880.

"paralambano," meaning to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office; figuratively it means to learn; to receive.

b. He Accepted Mary "and took unto him his wife"

B. There Is Devotion In Joseph's Regard

1. Joseph Exhibited A Regard For His Wife

(Matthew 1:25) "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."

Joseph would be there through each journey, each joke, each step and each slur.

Some believe that this was such a scandal that even years later, Jesus detractor's had this in mind when they said...

(John 8:41) "Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God."

2. Joseph Exhibited A Regard For The Word specified in verse 21

(Matthew 1:25) "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."


A couple married for 15 years began having more than usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip in a "Fault" box. The boxes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: "leaving the jelly top off the jar," "wet towels on the shower floor," "dirty socks not in hamper," on and on until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same; the message on each slip was, "I love you!" (Source Unknown)

The story of Christmas is about growing in your family experience and your faith experience.