What Joseph Knew About Jesus
…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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.”
Matthew 1:20. How hard do you suppose it was for Joseph to receive this news concerning his fiancé? A baby conceived by the Holy Spirit? In truth, every baby is the result of the work of God. Making a baby is not exactly what is on the minds of the parents when conception happens. We know that a baby does come from such activity but nobody can say why. It just does, not by any will power of our own, and many times in spite of efforts to hinder it. But the situation with Mary is of course unique. According to the scriptures, Mary was impregnated without the usually activities taking place. Joseph obviously knew how pregnancy usually occurs and was prepared to divorce his fiancé. But after his dream, Joseph accepted that this was a unique scenario in which God was bringing about a special purpose. We may snarl at such a notion. We in our enlightenment stupor have reduced sexual intercourse into nothing more than the bodily need of our animal instinct. But to the Jews, God has always been at work in every pregnancy and in every area of life. The Jews did not believe in a great separation between heaven and earth but rather that heaven and earth would meet and mix in many different ways. In fact, the Jews believed that if you were in their temple, you would be in heaven and earth at the same time. The idea that God might skip a step in the normal process of how a woman becomes pregnant was not at all unbelievable to the Jews, though it would be undoubtedly suspect for any unmarried, pregnant young woman to make such a claim. For Joseph, the dream was enough to convince him that this baby was indeed in existence because of a sovereign act of God. As every Jew would know, this would not be the first time that God had acted in such a way. The Matriarch of the Jewish people, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was well past the child-bearing stage of her life when she became pregnant. Was this an act of Abraham or an act of God? The answer to that question has to be yes, but Abraham’s action was something that he had done, undoubtedly, many times before. The difference this time was that God “opened” Sarah’s womb and she became pregnant (Genesis 21:1-2). Does this offend our enlightenment ears? Well, yes, but our enlightenment ears may simply be two sizes too small. But neither did this automatically mean, for Joseph or for Mary, that Jesus was not actually to be Joseph’s son any less than Sarah’s son, Isaac, was actually Abraham’s son. As far as Matthew’s gospel is concerned, all Joseph is told is that Mary is pregnant by an act of the Holy Spirit and that she will bear a son who will be named after one of the great deliverers of Israel, “Joshua” or “Jesus”, (variations of the same name), and who will “save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). This last statement did not mean for Joseph that Jesus would save people’s souls from post-mortem Hell, which is more of a Greek concept than it is a first century Jewish concept. It meant that Jesus would bring the people of Israel out of slavery and exile just as Joshua did many hundreds of years before. Israel went into exile and slavery because of their sin, and therefore a salvation from this sin would mean return from exile and deliverance from slavery. Also, the angel’s words that Jesus would rescue “His people” suggests that this child would become King or a least a great leader for Israel. This is all that I believe Joseph knew about Jesus at the time of His conception, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Certainly, God had a special purpose for this child but what exactly that was or how those purposes would be fulfilled remained to be seen. Many exciting and puzzling events would take place before anybody would even begin to get a clue as to what it all meant. We ourselves are only scratching the surface.