Relationships have changed so much over time that today we have such things as “trial marriages” in which people will move in with one another prior to marriage or even talk of marriage. According to an article written in 2012 in Berkeley Science Review almost half of all marriages end in divorce. It goes on to say that roughly two thirds of Americans will cohabitate before marriage and that roughly half of those “trial marriages” result in actual marriages and of those who got married there was a greater percentage of marriages that ended in divorce than that of a more tradition view of marriage.
Things used to be different though. During the time that Mary became pregnant she was betrothed to Joseph, which in the most basic of terms meant that they were married. There would have been a form of contractual agreement between Joseph and Mary’s family in which an agreed upon “bride-price” was set and Joseph would have had to pay that to Mary’s family. During this time of betrothal they would have been considered bound together, much as a married couple would have been, but they did not live with one another, nor would they have been allowed to have sexual relations with one another. Any infidelity would have been treated as adultery as is seen in Deuteronomy 22:23-24, “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.”
The consequences for premarital relations was death, so when read in Matthew that Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but was now pregnant through the Holy Spirit this would have been a big deal. How could she deny that she had not been with a man if she was carrying a child? The marriage would have been over. Her family would have been humiliated and she would have likely been stoned to death. Certainly God would not allow this to happen. Let’s read about how God orchestrated the whole thing and see what happens.
Matthew 1:18-25, ESV
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.
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Joseph had every right to publicly shame her, but he had mercy on her. He could have taken her before the magistrate and had her stoned to death, but instead he had planned to call off the union, as was his right, but he planned to do so quietly or in other words without stating an offense or reason. His love for her was so great that not only did he not want to see he stoned, but he also did not want to see her harmed in any fashion. As he was contemplating these things though an angel of the Lord came upon him and explained to him what had occurred.
Consider for a moment the enormity of the situation that Mary and Joseph had found themselves in. First Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will become pregnant even though she had never been with a man. Then Joseph finds out and as he’s contemplating what to do he too is visited by the angel of the Lord who told Him what was to happen and that Joseph was to take Mary as his wife. Imagine trying to explain this to the family. The contract would have been broken and the couple would have been shamed. But we don’t ever read about that happening.
In the world we live in today of premarital everything and baby daddies hardly and eye would have been blinked at this situation. We have become numb to this and it has become acceptable by so much of the world today. This was not the case for Mary and Joseph though and yet they followed the Lord’s instructions and would eventually conceive Jesus while Mary was still a virgin which fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Matthew 1:24 says that as soon as Joseph woke up he took Mary as his wife, probably immediately. In other words he completely believed the angel that had appeared to him and took it to be a word from God and he did exactly as the angel had told him and he took Mary as his wife, but had no relations with her until after she gave birth to Jesus.
The first chapter of Matthew started with tracing the genealogy back to Abraham showing that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and thus fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant which stated, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18). Jesus being the fulfillment of this prophecy and covenant shows that Jesus possesses the gate of his enemies and all of the nations of the earth will be blessed by Him.
Likewise, we see Jesus’ genealogy traced back to David in order to show the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant which stated, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of God. It is through Him that we receive life everlasting.
Finally we see the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 when Jesus is conceived by a virgin. All three of these are extremely important because they show that Jesus is the Messiah and that prophecy has been fulfilled through Him. This is the very fulfillment of prophecy that so many have rejected and the reason for the separation of the Jewish people and Christians. The Jewish people do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and are still awaiting His arrival while Christians know that Jesus is the Messiah and as we continue to venture through the book of Matthew we will see even more prophecies fulfilled through Jesus who is Christ.
It is so extremely important for us to understand how much Jesus did and fulfilled when He came to earth. It is important for us to be able to know that the evidence of His authority as God was foretold thousands of years before He was born of the virgin and that through Him we can have the confidence that He is the Savior of the world and not just a prophet. It is through Him that we receive life and that we have been given the Holy Spirit it guide us in our daily walk and to lead to a right relationship with God if we will only follow His leading.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Because of this we need to be confident in who Jesus is and why He came to do what He did. It is because of this that we must seek Him daily and know in our hearts that Jesus is who He said He is and that He saves. It is because of this that we must boldly stand on the Word of God and share it with our friends, family, and our neighbors. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14). When we believe in the Word and follow we are given life through Jesus and a heart that longs to see people brought to the path that leads to life rather than seeing them face death.
Following Jesus needs to bring about change in our lives, otherwise we need to seriously question whether or not we are saved because the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Jesus himself told us that those who find the gate are few. Are you one of the few? Will you help others to find the way or do you hate your neighbors so bad that you would rather see them die? This is the reality of what happens to those who do not have someone who is willing to show grace and love and mercy to them, just as Jesus has done for us. This is what happens when we let fear conquer us and we are more concerned about self-preservation than saving other people. We have the power to save through Jesus Christ. I’m not pointing fingers in saying this because I struggle with this too, but we have a responsibility to let our light shine in the dark world around us and when more of us begin to do that the world will become a brighter place and it can start with your neighborhood or your family or your place of work.
Joseph and Mary boldly accepted the word that they were given from God and though they faced trials of many kinds they remained faithful. They lovingly obeyed God and they were blessed because of it. They were blessed even in the midst of facing the humility of becoming pregnant before being married. They were blessed even though they had to travel a great distance be counted in the census where they would come to give birth to Jesus in some sort of barn, likely in a cave. Joseph and Mary were blessed, but they faced their fair share of struggles, yet they remained faithful. Jesus said that “in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Following Jesus is messy, but our days on earth are limited and few and our life in heaven is eternal when we trust and obey.