This month we’re taking a break from the story of King David to discuss Advent. Advent is the part of the Church calendar that is the leadup to Christmas, and ultimately Advent is all about waiting and looking forward: looking forward to Christmas which is essentially looking forward to Jesus.
Last week we discussed how there were centuries of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, centuries where the Jewish people didn’t hear from God. It probably felt to them as if God had abandoned them. People waited and waited to for God to speak.
And then God broke his silence, by sending an angel to talk to a teenage girl and tell her that she was the chosen one, the one chosen to bring God incarnate into this world and raise him. We talked about how it was a complete turn—the patriarchy of ancient times turned on head by God speaking to a teenage girl instead of some bearded old man, and God telling this girl that she was the favored one.
And Mary took this news with joy, even though being pregnant and not married could mean her death. She trusted God had her back, even if she wasn’t sure her fiancé Joseph would. Today we’re going to study Joseph and see how he responds to Mary’s news.
So please get your Bibles and turn to Matthew 1. I’m actually going to read the first section because it’s a little long and full of crazy names. So please flip to Matthew 1:1-17.
1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
If you’ve been paying attention over the last year, then some of these names are familiar. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Ruth, David, these are all people we’ve studied. And some of these people will be people we will study in the next year. The whole point of this section is that it is the genealogy of Jesus, to show that Jesus is of King David’s line, and therefore an heir to that promise we talked about last week, the promise that King David’s line would never end and reign forever.
Alright, now let’s dive into the story. Someone please read Matthew 1:18-19.
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
So Joseph. Joseph is an average dude. He’s not an important man when it comes to wealth and politics. He’s not a man who has studied at the finest schools or has great knowledge. He’s a young carpenter who is looking forward to getting married when his fiancé comes to him and is like “Hey an angel came to me and said I’m going to have a son who will be God and by the way it’s like a miracle pregnancy. I’m still a virgin.”
If you were Joseph what would you think of Mary’s declaration? [Let them answer.]
I would think she’s gone crazy if I was Joseph. It might seem like a desperate excuse by a girl who doesn’t want to get in trouble. Because Joseph would know he’s not the father—he never slept with Mary! So he would think maybe she had an affair, maybe someone raped her, or something, and she’s trying to cover it up, or at least make it more palatable so he would forgive her and marry her so they could hide it or something. I doubt he would think God actually spoke to her, because remember God hadn’t spoken to anyone in centuries. That would be a crazy claim.
But Joseph isn’t a bad person. He doesn’t want to cause Mary harm, he doesn’t want her to be taken into the town square and be stoned for adultery, which remember was a pretty standard punishment back then. So instead he doesn’t want to expose her. He plans to basically break up with her quietly, in a way that will protect her as much as possible. But he can’t marry her, because he’s pretty sure she had an affair. And no one wants to be with someone who cheated on them.
Alright someone please read Matthew 1:20-23.
20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
God has Mary’s back, so he’s not going to let Joseph break up with her. So an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and is like “Hey Joseph! Mary didn’t cheat on you. This all part of God’s plan. She’s going to have a son who will be God with us—God walking amongst us and being one of us—and that son is going to save us are. So Mary marry, and it’s all going to work out.”
Now if you were Joseph what would you think about this dream? [Let them answer.]
Well I would think I’d been thinking about Mary too much and her claims, and all that thinking was leading to crazy dreams. I doubt I’d think it was a real angel! Let’s see what Joseph things. Someone read Matthew 1:24-25.
24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[a] and he named him Jesus.
Joseph wakes up and he believes everything the angel told him. He obeys God’s command, even though it might seem crazy. He marries Mary but she remains a virgin until after she gives birth to Jesus so that no one can try to claim Joseph might be Jesus’ physical father.
And literally in the book of Matthew verse 25 is all there is about Jesus being born. Just “she had a son and named him Jesus.” Doesn’t that seem to be missing something? Maybe something about shepherds and angels and inns and mangers.
All of that usual Christmas story that we talk about is in the book of Luke, which is also the book where the verses we talked about last week were found. So why is that? Why are Matthew and Luke different? Any ideas? [Let them answer].
Well you guys know the Bible wasn’t written as one big book, right? All the books inside it were written by different people at different time periods. So Matthew and Luke were actually written by guys named Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke weren’t there when Jesus was born, so they both had different sources. Luke’s source was Mary. He went and interviewed Mary and got her perspective and wrote it down. Joseph wasn’t Matthew’s source, Joseph would’ve been dead by the time Matthew wrote, but it was important to Matthew to get the story of Jesus’s earthly father—of the man in this story. Why? Well Matthew and Luke wrote for different audiences, that is different people they intended to be reading it.
Matthew was writing for Jewish people. For Jewish people it would be really important to tell them that Jesus is descended from King David. For the Jewish male leaders who were used to reading the very patriarchal Bible it would be more palatable for them for Jesus’s story to come from a more male perspective. Luke on the other hand was writing for a Greek audience, and while the Greek’s were still patriarchal, they would have had less preconceptions when it came to what the Jewish/Christian God may or may not do.
So that is why these stories are different. They both thought it was important to emphasize different parts of Jesus’ birth in order to tell their audiences different things. To Matthew it wasn’t that important to talk about whether or not there was room in the inn and Jesus being born in a manger. For Matthew it was more important to tie everything back to the Old Testament, to mention scripture and prophecy as much as possible, so that his Jewish readers could tie this new story back to what they already knew. And Luke wanted to tell a different story, Mary’s story, and for whatever reason it was more important to him to focus on the actual birth and point out the different aspects that heralded Jesus’ arrival on this planet.
Luke’s story is all good news and amazingness, a joyous night of angels and miracles. But not everyone is happy to hear about the birth of Jesus. I want you guys to turn back to the book of Matthew. Someone please read Matthew 2:1-8.
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
Both Matthew and Luke give us time markers to know when this story is taking place. Luke uses a more macro scale, telling us it’s during the time of Caesar Augustus. That would be like saying “something happened during the time of George Washington was president.” It would give a good idea of when something happened. Matthew takes a closer to home approach, by talking about who is king of Israel of that time—though a King of Israel is not a king like David—a king who can do what he wants. Herod would answer to the Romans, because remember during this time Israel was considered part of the Roman Empire, they had been conquered by the Romans. And this is really important to the story.
Rome was pretty happy to let the different peoples in their lands do what they want, within reason. The Romans weren’t the sort of rulers who came in and said “You must worship our gods now or else!” They were more like “Worship whoever you want, as long as you pay taxes and don’t cause civil unrest.”
So these wise men they come from the East—probably from non-Roman lands. They may not know what’s up with the Roman Empire, depending on how far away they come from. They might just come from further east in the Middle East. They may even come as far as China. We have no idea. All we know is that they were traveling for a long time, following the star from Jesus’ birth, trying to find this great person they know most have been born to pay homage to him.
They were looking for a child born to be king, to be a messiah, the next King of Israel. And so of course they went to the current king first.
But when Herod heard about a new king being born, he was very concerned. It says he was frightened and so was all of Jerusalem. Why? Why were they so afraid?
We tend to think of Herod as a very bad guy, and I don’t think that’s necessary a wrong interpretation, but I want to be clear. The fear he was experiencing here is very real. Undoubtedly Herod was afraid of losing his own power as king, but it wouldn’t have been just that. The thing he would most fear is the Romans.
Remember what I said about the Romans not caring what you do as long as you pay taxes and there is no civil unrest? Well, if the Jewish people thought the Messiah was born, what would that mean? A King of the line of David born to Israel, a King blessed by God. This would mean that the Jewish people would want to be independent and free of Roman rule. It would mean—they thought—a rebellion.
Now we know Jesus wasn’t a king like that. He came to be a servant leader, to die for us, not to overthrow the Romans and rule. But the Jewish people of the time didn’t know that. We’ll see that more when we study Jesus and his disciples in the future, how some of them expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans and be free.
And why were the Romans so scary?
The Roman legions were a well-trained, nearly unstoppable military force who had conquered the majority of the land around the Mediterranean. The Romans didn’t just stop Rebellions by talking to people and working things out. They destroyed the rebels and then destroyed the will of any people associated with them—if they let those people live.
They say that when Rome defeated the city of Carthage they burned the city to the ground and then salted the earth, so that nothing else could ever grow there and no city would ever rise up in its place.
When it came to Israel, eventually a Rebellion did happen in around 70 AD. The Jewish people started rebelling against the Romans, wanting to be free and independent again. And how did the Romans respond? The destroyed the Jewish Temple, literally the most holy site in all of Israel. This is why there is no temple in Jerusalem today. The Romans were ruthless in their subjugation of Israel.
So Herod’s fear was not unwarranted. His actions in response were.
He tells the Wise Men that when the find this Messiah child they are to come back and tell him where they found him, so he too can go and worship him. But do we think Herod wants to go worship Jesus?
Someone please read Matthew 2:9-12.
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
So the Wise Men go out and they find Jesus. Now often we depict the Wise Men arriving at the manger, but that is not the case. This would be a year or two after. Jesus is no longer a baby but more o fa toddler. They offer them gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts not meant for a baby but a king. Think of Frankincense as a perfume and myrrh as an oil you would use to anoint a king. These gifts wouldn’t be much use to a baby, but they would be worth quite a bit.
So then the Wise Men finally go to leave but they don’t go back to Herod, because God warns them in a dream not to.
Do you think Herod is going to be happy about this? About knowing a child has been born but not knowing where? Let’s see.
Someone please read Matthew 2:13-18.
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Once again an angel appears to Joseph but this time with instructions to flee to Egypt, because Herod is going to be looking for Jesus to destroy him. And Joseph does what any good man would do. He follows God’s orders and protects his family. He leaves the land he’s known his whole life and goes to Egypt, a foreign land he never would have visited before. This is why Joseph was chosen to be Jesus’s earthly father, because God knew he could rely on Joseph to be obedient and protect Jesus.
Herod is not happy that the Wise Men have not come back, so he does the only thing he can think of. He has all the children in and around Bethlehem who are under two killed—hoping he’ll kill Jesus. This is why God told Joseph to leave, letting him escape before Herod could threaten Jesus’s life.
Does this remind you guys of anything else? This talk of Egypt and babies being killed?
[Let them answer]
This is a direct call back to Moses. And there is a reason why Matthew, the Gospel writer who is writing for a Jewish audience emphasizes this story when other Gospels don’t mention it. The story of Moses is one every Jewish reader would be intimately familiar with. With this story Matthew is purposefully making them recall Moses, and put Jesus on at least the same level as Moses if not higher. Luke wouldn’t necessarily tell this story because a Greek or Roman person wouldn’t really know the story of Moses. So they’d just hear this story and think “Ok, well, Herod wanted to kill him. Okay. No big deal.” It wouldn’t tell a Greek or Roman person anything. Whereas it tells a Jewish person, “Hey this new guy, Jesus, is literally the new Moses, but better. He will deliver you, just like Moses delivered you from Egypt, except it’s going to be a million times better and a million times more amazing.”
Alright can someone please read Matthew 2:19-23.
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
Eventually Herod dies, and an angel appears to Joseph in a dream again and tells him to go back to Israel. Because Jesus isn’t supposed to be an Egyptian. Israel is to be his home. But Joseph is afraid to go back to Bethlehem because he’s afraid of the guy who took over after Herod. So he basically takes family and moves to backwoods middle of nowhere Israel: Nazareth.
Again and again the Bible tells us what is important about Joseph. He obeys God, following his commands even when he doesn’t understand them or how they’re possible. He doesn’t understand how Mary could be pregnant, but he trusts God and marries her. He doesn’t know anyone in Egypt, but God tells him to go there so he moves their anyway. Joseph is an obedient and righteous man, who follows God, and does what he has to in order to protect his wife and child. This is why God trusted Joseph to be Jesus’ father, as opposed to any other man on the planet.
And that’s today’s lesson. Next week we’ll do a short Advent lesson and then we’ll have a Christmas party!