“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:18-19
I was struck again this morning at the grace Joseph showed to Mary when he found out she was pregnant. It says so much about his character. Because this isn’t him showing grace when he’s at his strongest and it isn’t really a big deal; this is him showing grace when he is humiliated and his life turned upside down, when he has been so evidently betrayed. The woman he is to marry is now with child, and it clearly isn’t his.
I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy, and just read through the passage in chapter 22 that deals with promiscuity. A woman who was not a virgin on her wedding night was to be stoned “to purge the evil from your midst” (verse 21). (For the record, if a man slept with a woman who wasn’t his wife, he received the same fate—so there wasn’t a double standard here.) This is a big offense. To be a virgin of Israel was a point of pride. This was a beautiful and holy display of the nation’s commitment to and love for a God of purity and righteousness. To cast aside that commitment and rebel against the God of Heaven demanded steep punishment.
But Joseph doesn’t pursue this course with Mary. Before he even knew her story—that she is still a virgin, and through a miracle of the Holy Spirit and the high favor of God Most High, she is carrying the Messiah for whom they’ve been waiting for generations—Joseph planned to divorce her quietly. He was going to dismiss the engagement, but allow her to live.
In this man’s pain, he doesn’t make a scene or expose her to shame and guilt even though many would say he had every right to do so. He stands strong in character even at his lowest point. And when God reveals to him the truth of her situation and calls him to take Mary as his wife, Joseph unquestioningly obeys. He chooses to trust the Lord enough to follow Him down this unbelievable, very difficult path. Is it any wonder that God chose this man to be the earthly father to His Son? A man who exercises compassion and mercy even when it goes directly against his pride?
I think the application to our lives can be seen a couple different ways. First, there’s a challenge here to not get caught up in our emotional reactions to pain, humiliation, and difficulty. We definitely shouldn’t bottle them up until we explode, but we also shouldn’t base our response on the emotions of the moment. We need to exhibit the Christ-like responses of compassion, grace, and wisdom from above. But to do this requires preparation before our world crashes. We must be walking with Christ daily, reading His Word and talking with Him, listening to Him and learning to follow Him with each step. We won’t get there overnight or just “be ready” when something happens. There is a closeness we must pursue in our personal relationship with God that will strengthen our heart and purify our character so that we are able to respond in ways that honor our Lord and reflect who He is.
The second application is that God creates us to fill a certain role. He forms our character and prepares us for what He has in front of us. I’m certain He was working in Joseph, making him into the man who would be a father to Jesus and a husband to Mary, long before Joseph arrived at this juncture. And God is working in us accordingly. Preparing us for what is ahead. Making us into the people for whatever role He calls us to. So when He calls us, we can trust that He is and has been enabling us to accomplish His purposes and fit into that piece of His puzzle.
While Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot of details about Joseph, I pray that this glimpse into who he was will challenge and encourage us as we seek to live lives that honor and glorify God. Let us pursue our Lord and love Him with all that we are, trusting Him enough to follow Him even down the most “impossible” paths.