We are talking here, in Matthew 1:18-25, about the circumstance surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, it would be wise to establish a little background for the Gospel according to Matthew.
Jesus’ Birth Explained to the Jews
This book was written primarily for the Jewish people. How do we know that? It is because he starts out the first chapter with 17 verses about the lineage of Jesus. Two thousand years ago, a person’s lineage was important. The churches of that era kept detailed records of whom was related to whom. Jesus came down the lineage from Abraham and King David.
The bible had predicted hundreds of years before that a messiah would come to save the people from their sins. Key to those predictions was the promises to Abraham and David that the Messiah would come from their lineage. Matthew argues his case that Jesus was the Messiah for whom the Jews were waiting.
He lists the people through whom Jesus had descended. It begins with Abraham and goes through David. He divided the listing into three groups of 14 generations. This method of the listing provided an easier way for the people of Israel to remember.
Once he had established the lineage of Jesus, Matthew now turns to the birth which in itself is rather unusual. It was important that things were done in certain ways to ensure promiscuity was not rampant.
A woman was considered to be an adulteress if she was not a virgin at the time of her marriage. The penalty for adultery was stoning to death. Such an incident also tarnishes the reputation of the man, who chose an adulteress to be his wife. It seriously damages his standing within the community due to his lack of judgment.
Circumstances of Jesus’ Birth
With that little bit of information, we jump into the story of the birth of Jesus.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Two thousand years ago, it was common for a man and a woman to be engaged for a year. That engagement period was legally the same as a marriage, even though the couple was not living in the same house.
Any indication of adultery was considered an affront to the relationship, the same as if it had happened in the marriage itself. Joseph has the option to go before a magistrate to sever the relationship. He has to provide a reason. If it was adultery, Mary faces stoning to death.
Mary returned from visiting with her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary has a visitation by an angel in her dreams and is informed that she is the mother of Jesus. She is impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph Reacts to Mary’s Pregnancy
It is not clear whether Mary was already beginning to show signs that she was pregnant when she returned home. Or did she simply tell Joseph of the event? He was obviously shocked that she would be pregnant.
It was anathema to her character to consider an act so heinous as adultery. And, he really loved her and cared for her. Joseph found himself in a profound quandary.
19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
Joseph could have gone immediately to the magistrate to divorce her on the basis of adultery. He was a good man, a devoted religious man, and deeply cared for Mary. Joseph did not rush the decision to divorce Mary.
He didn’t want to expose Mary to charges of adultery. It would end Mary’s life through stoning. So, he was considering how he could divorce her privately, or quietly, to save Mary’s life.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
While he deliberates the options to end the relationship without endangering Mary’s life, Joseph receives a visit by an angel in his dream. Some biblical scholars believe it to be the same angel who informed Mary of her pregnancy via the Holy Spirit.
In this dream, the angel calls out Joseph’s name and the fact that he was the descendant of David. Since Joseph was a righteous man, he would understand the significance of this reference, as would the Jewish readers of this gospel. The significance would be that the messiah would come down the lineage of David, as mentioned before.
After the angel brought attention to his lineage, the angel confirms to Joseph that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. He learned that he should not be afraid to take her as his wife. She has not been guilty of adultery.
21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel explains to Joseph that life begun in Mary is a son. Joseph is to name the son Jesus because the name means “the Lord saves.” The angel informs Joseph that this is important because Jesus will save his people from their sins.
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”
The angel goes on to explain to Joseph in his dream that all of this is happening in order to fulfill the prophecies which God had expressed through the prophets centuries before. As the prophets had proclaimed, a virgin would become pregnant and give birth to a son whose name would be Immanuel because the name means “God is with us.”
Joseph Accepts Jesus
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
As soon as he woke up from his dream, Joseph went and brought Mary into his home as his wife. Joseph eliminates the risk of her treatment as an adulteress. The action spares her life.
Joseph believes that Mary is not adulterous, which had certainly been one of his concerns. He believes that the pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit. Joseph also refrains from a physical relationship with Mary until Jesus is born, from a virgin as predicted by the prophets.
Lessons from Jesus’ Birth
So, what else can be learned from the birth of Jesus beside just the story surrounding his birth?
I learned that we shouldn’t be quick to judge, no matter how clear cut the situation appears. If Joseph had been quick to judge Mary, which he had every right to do legally, he would have missed out on a life with a woman he truly cherished.
Instead, Joseph took the time and put in the effort to try to understand how and why Mary’s pregnancy could have happened. She was apparently not defending herself. It would seem that she was sure of her innocence. To argue the case would have only raised the concern as to the truth of what she had said.
This, of course, left Joseph completely perplexed. Or, as we would say today, Joseph found himself between a rock and a hard place. Should he reject her, because of adultery? He dismissed that because he loved her too much.
He didn’t want her to be shamed, hurt or killed. Should he marry her? Marrying her would go against one of the Ten Commandments and reflect poorly on his judgment. What was he to do? An angel stepped in and provided the answer.
First Glance Can Be Deceiving
So, the lesson here, for me, is that there might be more going on than seems apparent at first glance. One should take the time to reflect and question the situation.
The worst-case scenario might just turn out to be a best-case scenario when seen from the right perspective. Think through your decisions whenever they seem cut and dry obvious.
Listen to that voice that tells you which way to go. Follow that voice, even when it seems so contrary to your thinking.
I can tell you from personal experience that usually the snap decisions I have made in the past were most often the wrong decisions.
And, the decisions that I’ve agonized over? At some point, there has come a quiet, simply knowing realization that there is only one path to follow.
Most of those have been life-changing, and most of them have been the right decision. Honestly, I say “most” because I can’t be sure that they were the right decision one hundred percent of the time; but, I truly can’t remember a case when it wasn’t the right decision.
Make a Decision and Act Upon It
I also learned from the story of the birth of Jesus Christ: when you have arrived at the decision, act on that decision in a timely manner. Once Joseph understood the situation, he acted immediately to bring Mary into his house and protect her.
Imagine what would have happened to Mary had Joseph not acted immediately. It would have become obvious to all that she was pregnant. They would have known that she hadn’t lived with Joseph.
How does that apply to us? When we arrive at the decision or understanding of a complex situation, timing is important. The situation surrounding that decision change over time. A delay renders the decision useless, or contrary to our effort.
As an example, the story of how I came to Chile. I originally came down to Santiago for a workshop. The decision to come to the workshop came through a “quiet knowing” that I had to be there.
I left the workshop knowing two things: this is a country where I needed to be; and, the meeting of a lady, which I know will always be a part of my life.
I agonized over the next couple of years whether I should be in Chile. Was it a fanciful dream, or was it real? The day came when I knew that it was time to go to Chile.
Putting together the paperwork and delivering it to Santiago to start my Temporary Resident visa took barely over a month. We anticipated that it would take several months for the approval to go through. It took about half of the time expected for the approval.
The visa was approved in January of last year (2015). I have 90 days to show up, or it will be revoked. The approval was discovered a month after it is issued. I obviously showed up in time.
The Unexpected Happens
In the process of finding an apartment to rent before arriving, I discovered an apartment in Valparaiso that I ‘just knew’ was the right place. Sadly, it would not be available in time for my arrival.
I found another apartment that worked out well in Reñaca for a really good price. The second apartment would only be available until the middle of December when the landlord wanted to charge the higher rates of the tourist season. So, I knew there was a limitation there.
During my stay in Chile last year, I kept in touch with the landlord of the apartment in Valparaiso. Indeed, we discovered that we had many of the same outlooks concerning events in the world.
At some point during the year, we met and enjoyed some time walking around Viña del Mar, as well as had some coffee outside a little restaurant at the beach watching the sunset. It had become obvious, at that time, I would be returning to the US for the tourist season in Chile (the winter in the northern hemisphere).
We walked to the bus stop, where we would be going in separate directions. He told me the apartment was mine, when I returned this year (2016), for as long as I wanted it. Whoa!
I entered for my reservation for the apartment, through the reservation system, as my departure time approached. I let him know that I’d put in for the reservation.
The listed price wouldn’t be the price he would charge since we were reserving for a minimum of a year. When he did submit a price, it was more than I was anticipating.
I believed there was no way that I could afford the apartment and started looking for another one. I found an apartment in Viña del Mar that I liked. It was within a block of the bus terminal where all the cross-country buses come and go. That seemed like a really great solution.
In fact, I was preparing to book it, when I found myself hesitating to press the button. Suddenly, this “quiet knowing” that this was not the apartment for me. The apartment in Valparaiso is where I am. I didn’t know how I was going to afford it. God will show me how.
The picture above was taken over the months since I’ve been in this place of inspirational views.