On finding the character of Jesus – Matthew chapter 1

There was a time, when after spending most of my life in church, that I felt like I had heard every story or read it. For several years I could not stand the thought of opening my bible; that made sense to me for I had heard all the stories, and it was rare that anyone applied life to them, or they used the scriptures to manipulate through guilt. Fortunately, I have not experienced that lifeless feeling for several years now. I decided that, for me at least, I would not read any aspect of the bible without applying flesh and blood to what I was reading.

The men’s bible study I am a part of is looking at Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. Because the focus of the book is on finding the character of Jesus, a character that seems to know no restraint, it only makes sense that we find these characteristics in the gospels as we go. The leader of the group has a couple of week’s head start on me, and so I opted to jump straight into Matthew’s gospel.

While my motivation was to look at Jesus’ character, I am struck by this lead in to those who would have helped to form Jesus character that I see in the opening verses of Matthew’s gospel.

I do not know that the translators meant it to come off this way, but I love how this is stated in the ESV – “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way“. This strikes me as firm and decisive, something that I can trust.

“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph”

That seems simple enough, something that happened everyday I imagine. It was anything but ordinary, especially when you were poor. The family must have initially been elated to have someone like Joseph ask for their daughter’s hand. It meant a possible break from poverty, and certainly implied that their daughter would not have live an impoverished life. Betrothed; by definition, one who is, legally pledged to be married. At this point, she is scarcely a teenager at best, with evidence of womanhood.

“..betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

Both parties in this agreement attested to the purity and uprightness of their character; Joseph may have been able to speak about his own character, and they knew of him, could agree with his statements. The parents would have attested to Mary’s and therefore put the entire family name on the line. However, she is found to be with child”, and they know it was not Joseph. At this point, the assumption has to be, someone has committed adultery. It does not matter what the excuses are. You are in legal agreement to a marriage, a contract that is treated no differently than the consummation itself, and you are pregnant. The law calls for death.

If any man commit adultery with the wife of another, and defile his neighbour’s wife: let them be put to death, both the adulterer and the adulteress. (Leviticus 20:10 DRB)

 Had things gone differently Joseph would have come to collect his bride when their home was completed or the betrothal period ended. However, in the midst of the preparation time, she is found to be with child (from the Holy Spirit).

Work that out in your head for a moment. She is probably only a few months pregnant at the most, and not showing at all. Therefore, this finding to be with child would have to be the result of her going to friends, or female family members and telling them that she missed her period. The family probably dismissed her initially as merely missing her period, after all, she is young and has never given us any reason to mistrust her; but wisdom cautiously watches for the next period to come or not. Besides, community, tradition, and a close abidance to Jewish law would have helped to keep most in-line. At such a young age, how would Mary have known about missing periods and what that could mean? It is probable that she naively began to question what was happening to her, and that would have opened the door to some horrific accusations and negativity.

I tried to talk about these things with my girlfriend. Her response was, she knew because the angel told her. I am not so sure about that. They did not have “health education” classes as we had to go through. Luke’s gospel gives us some additional detail about that conversation, so let us explore that for a moment.

Luke 1:26-38, (ESV) In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Did anyone else notice Mary’s response to what the angel said? “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” I see no great understanding of life and anatomy in that response, but she is very much aware that it takes two people to make a baby. Obviously further explanation is in order. Perhaps this is when Gabriel said, “Listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.” She comprehended what pregnant was, but this was like speaking another language to her. Mary responds with, “How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband?” (Luke 1:34 AMP)

Mary’s husband, Joseph, was a good man

Something we seem to forget; from Malachi to the announcement of Jesus birth was four hundred years of silence. Sure, you might be able to flash back to the old stories about the prophets and how angels interacted with people, but most did not. What they thought about was stoning a young girl that is probably misleading and the man who got her pregnant. You can rest assured that Joseph took some scathing glances.

The next few verses speak toward Joseph being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, that says nothing about the kinsfolk and rumormongers about town. How much less pressure Joseph would have experienced had he said, yes, we were intimate. Do not think for a moment that he escaped scrutiny; he would have been the first person they asked, but this was a man’s world and they were already legally bound, so the abuse would have been minimal.

Matthew 1:19 ERV “Mary’s husband, Joseph, was a good man. He did not want to cause her public disgrace, so he planned to divorce her secretly”

How does that work? Everyone in town knows you were under contract to be married. In addition, the word spreads quickly about pregnancies in a small town. So, how is possible that he would just make her go away?

(to sendG630 her awayG630 secretlyG2977 ) Odd how they used the Greek word apoluo twice; the word means to set free or dismiss.

That title, a good man, it says much about you and yet it does not stop you from being human. The NASB used the word righteous to describe Joseph. If you look up the Greek word, you find: upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God. This begins to answer some other questions about how Jesus gained his understanding of who God was.

Joseph, lying in his bed, is ruminating over what has happened, and how. Whom do I blame, what about my reputation, my business, and how do I get out of this quietly. Joseph apparently intended to free her from their marital contract and cut his losses on this deal. However, after the angel talks to him, he does something unusual; he takes her into his home.

In a sense, Joseph provided a covering for her “sin”

She had done nothing wrong, but you know the community was going to quickly come down on her, and hard. Again, how would I know this? Use your head. How long after this, are they given the instructions to flee to Egypt? Not long; long enough for Mary to visit Elizabeth. However, on their return, to complete the census in their hometown where all the relatives are, NO ONE takes them in. They cannot even get a room in local hotel.

This is one of those “AHAH” moments where I suddenly get it. As many have stated, Joseph was symbolic of Jesus who covered us when we were caught in our sin, removing us from the shame and punishment due.

Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

This is about the time the “angel of the Lord” appears.

but after he had planned this, there appeared an angel of the Lord to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take Mary your wife home, for what is begotten in her comes from the holy Spirit.”(Matthew 1:20 Moffatt NT)

I wish I could have read his mind at this point. There had to have been a comprehension in the Jewish mind, that there was a reality of the Spirit or angels, or else how would any of this make sense, and it did. When Daniel wrote about the angel he saw, he described himself falling on his face as though he was dead. It seems they can be rather intimidating based on size alone. Perhaps appearance helps to convince you that you need to respond appropriately, to what they tell you. I do not think that they merely come to intimidate. I suspect that you have a tremendous sense of understanding and, I want to say peace, but considering stories of angel appearances in scripture, and they were carrying swords that might not be the case every time.

            Maybe we chose to believe at times, or maybe we just need to be reminded of some previously understood truth that redirects our mind back to God’s plan, like we would know what that was. (We do know God’s general outline, but the minute details, those involving our lives we know little about. Some will try to refute that conclusion, because in their minds all has gone according to their plan – up to the point that they die quickly of some acute type of cancer that they did not see coming. See what I am saying.)

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled

And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ASV)

Thayer Definition: Jesus = “Jehovah is salvation”

It is so hard to see the good that is coming, especially when you are neck deep in the bad.

One of the commentaries I read several years ago stated that Jesus would have been called a Mamzer. A mamzer (Hebrew: ממזר‎) is a person born from certain forbidden relationships, or the descendant of such a person, in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious law. A mamzer is someone who is either born of adultery by a married Jewish woman and a Jewish man who is not her husband. (Wikipedia)

Today, we are surrounded by children who have no fathers. My own daughters grew up without me. Do we call names and punish the fatherless, no because it seems every other child has had that fate, but this was the brutal mid-eastern world.

Tradition tells us that the woman, if left alive, would have had her house painted to mark her, as an adulterer, and the boy would have never been allowed into the synagogue to gain any formal teaching. This was Jewish law. They would have had to move somewhere where nobody knew them, and then Jesus and the family would stand a chance. Joseph bypassed much of this backstabbing by taking Mary into his home immediately, but then there is that issue of no relatives taking them during the time of the census.

Though we are not clear on when Joseph died, but it seems that he or Mary got the family out of Bethlehem and moved to the slums of Nazareth. (Yeah, I know, on what premise would I say slums of Nazareth. What was Nathanael’s response to Philip, when he learned that the savior that prophecy spoke of, was here; what good thing comes out of Nazareth?)

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 KJV)

We have our own personal expectations of how life should treat us, but it does not always align with God’s plan. To start a married life under a cloud would not have been my choice. Suddenly now the Savior is coming and Joseph gets to be the step dad. Having played that role it has it’s good and bad points, especially when you are told, you will never be my dad. That kind of comment tends to close doors rapidly, and hey, is there any doubt that Jesus knew who his real Father was?

One might ask who was this prophet. I know that I read things like Matthew 1:22-23 and wonder, who said that? The answer was Isaiah, so for Joseph, this is a word he should trust. No, Joseph did not have the prophet come to him and personally clear things up. The usage of the word good tells me that Joseph had a deep understanding.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 KJV)

This all may well have come clear to Joseph as the angel spoke. I wonder why God chose to not make all this clear to us.

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25 NASB)

Even if God had sent an angel to you, as he did to me, and laid your life out before you; would it change your life, helping you to avoid the pitfalls; probably not. Joseph still had to bust his knuckles trying to make a living for the family that continued to grow.

As for me, I was a younger man of about twenty-five when Jesus appeared to me. I honestly cannot remember if I was asleep or awake, it was that real. (If you think about the covenant God made with Abraham, and how God walked between the bloody parts of the sacrifice as he said to Abraham, “as for me”. This all happened in a dream and yet it was a real as it gets, and the basis for the character of God that we still live by.) Unfortunately, instead of writing it down, which I thought about doing, I said to myself, this is so vivid and real, that I will never forget it. When I awoke in the morning, I remember a tremendous feeling of joy, and I knew that the end was filled with such a peace, but I could not remember a word. Almost forty years later, I still weep over losses, regrets and pains that I experience.

What does this tell me? That all this was done, that it might be fulfilled.

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