Sermon Notes by David E. Owen
The Christmas Story: The Story Of Joseph
This morning, I want us to consider again a Bible character named Joseph who was the son of a man named Jacob.
Joseph was a man that God spoke to through dreams; a man who, because of an attitude of rejection, ended up in
Egypt; and who, because he went to Egypt, really became a deliverer to his family. Are you familiar with this Bible
character? Your thoughts have perhaps been drawn to the preeminent personality in the first book of the Old
Testament whose name was Joseph, but this description is just as applicable to the premier personality in the first
book of the New Testament whose name was also Joseph.
As the Christmas story is reiterated year after year, we always recognize the role of Mary, the angelic host, the
shepherds, and even the wise men that actually didn’t arrive until some time after the birth of Jesus. But, as
Manfred Kober states, “There is one person who normally receives little or no recognition in the drama of the
incarnation. That individual is Joseph.” While Joseph is often overshadowed and subtracted from the Christmas
story, the personal name Joseph means “adding,” and I want to say with great confidence and certainty that Joseph
adds to the dynamics of the wonderful event of Christ’s birth.
On Wednesday evening, I tried to share with you that were here the fact that the Christmas Story is The Story Of
Joy. This morning, I want to remind you that the Christmas Story is The Story Of Joseph.
I. This Story Involved Joseph’s Domestic Dilemma (vs. 18-19)
Several men named Joseph are mentioned in the New Testament, the most important being the husband of Mary, of
whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ (Matthew 1:16). Though we learn in Matthew’s gospel of Joseph’s
parentage (Matthew 1:1-16), and his profession as a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), in many ways he lived a life that is
veiled in obscurity. Much of what we do know about Joseph is discovered in this first chapter of Matthew. In the
first 17 verses, we learn about the patriarchs in his lineage, and then in verses 18 and 19 we are informed of the
perplexities in his life.
It is written that when Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the
Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18). According to Luke 1:56, Mary had spent about three months in the hill country with
her cousin Elisabeth and then returned home. It was possibly upon her return that she told Joseph of her expectant
condition. Adam Clarke said, “What conversation passed between her and Joseph, on this discovery, we are not
informed; but the issue proves that it was not satisfactory to him.”
Herbert Spencer said, “Marriage (is) a word which should be pronounced ‘mirage’.” And Joseph must have felt this
way about his own marriage now. Nothing was, as it had seemed to be.
A. Joseph’s Hopes Must Have Been Crumbling (vs. 18)
1. Their Relationship Had Involved A Betrothal
Betrothed, or engaged to be married. There was commonly an interval of ten or twelve months, among the Jews,
between the contract of marriage and the celebration of the nuptials, yet such was the nature of this engagement, that
unfaithfulness to each other was deemed adultery. (From Barnes’ Notes)
2. Their Relationship Now Involved A Barrier
As he brooded over the matter alone, in the stillness of the night, his domestic prospects darkened and his happiness
blasted for life. (From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
B. Joseph’s Heart Must Have Been Crushed (vs. 19)
(Matthew 1:19) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was
minded to put her away privily.
1. This Verse Shows That Joseph Made His Commitment
Betrothal was, in Jewish law, valid marriage. In giving Mary up, therefore, Joseph had to take legal steps to effect
the separation. (From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
2. This Verse Shows That Joseph Manifested His Character
a. His Character Is Stated In This Attribute
just – Greek 1342. dikaios, equitable (in character or act); by implication innocent, holy, righteous. It has the idea of
b. His Character Is Suggested In This Action
(Matthew 1:19) … not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
[A public example] To expose her to public shame or infamy. Adultery has always been considered a crime
of a very heinous nature. In Egypt, it was punished by cutting off the nose of the adulteress; in Persia, the nose and
ears were cut off; in Judea, the punishment was death by stoning, Leviticus 20:10; Ezekiek 16:38,40; John 8:5. This
punishment was also inflicted where the person was not married, but betrothed, Deuteronomy 22:23-24. In this
case, therefore, the regular punishment would have been death in this painful and ignominious manner. Yet Joseph
was a religious man – mild and tender; and he was not willing to complain of her to the magistrate, and expose her
to death, but sought to avoid the shame, and to put her away privately.
[Put her away privily] The law of Moses gave the husband the power of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1. It
was customary in a bill of divorce to specify the causes for which the divorce was made, and witnesses were also
present to testify to the divorce. But in this case, it seems, Joseph resolved to put her away WITHOUT specifying
the cause; for he was not willing to make her a public example. This is the meaning here of “privily.” (From
II. This Story Involved Joseph’s Directional Dream (vs. 20-23)
While little is revealed about Joseph, some very significant things were revealed to Joseph. Like his Old Testament
counterpart, Joseph was a man that God spoke to through dreams, for we find time and again that an angel of the
Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. As Manfred Kober stated, “The first divine directive, given in Nazareth, was
to ‘Marry Mary!’ (Matthew 1:20)” “The second angelic command is, ‘Escape to Egypt!’ (Matthew 2:13)” “The
third dream occurred upon the death of Herod. The command was, ‘Proceed to Palestine!’ (Matthew 2:19)” “The
fourth revelation came in a dream while he was back in Israel. The command came to ‘Go to Galilee!’ (Matthew
2:22)” The first time was when his heart was filled with consternation and concern. If anyone ever needed a word
from God, it was Joseph at that moment. But at such a time as that, God sent a revelation of consolation and
confirmation to Joseph saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is
conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:20).
A. Joseph’s Life Was Touched By An Angelic Word (vs. 20-21)
1. God Seemed To Say Through The Angel, “Trust Mary” For The Sake Of Courage
(Matthew 1:20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream,
saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of
the Holy Ghost.
thought – Greek 1760. enthumeomai, meaning to be inspirited (that is, to instill courage or life into), to ponder.
[Fear not] Do not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about her virtue and purity. Do not fear that she will be
unworthy of you, or will disgrace you. (From Barnes’ Notes)
a. God Settled His Direction fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife
b. God Settled His Doubts for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost
2. God Seemed To Say Through The Angel, “Trust Me” For The Sake Of The Child
(Matthew 1:21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people
from their sins.
a. This Was Better Than Joseph Thought thou shalt call his name JESUS (Jehovah is salvation)
b. This Was Bigger Than Joseph Thought for he shall save his people from their sins
B. Joseph’s Life Was Touched By An Ancient Word (vs. 22-23)
1. Let’s Consider The Context Of This Ancient Word
[Now all this was done] The prophecy here quoted is recorded in Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy was delivered
about 740 years before Christ, in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. The land of Judea was threatened with an
invasion by the united armies of Syria and Israel, under the command of Rezin and Pekah. Ahaz was alarmed, and
seems to have contemplated calling in aid from Assyria to defend him. Isaiah was directed, in his consternation, to
go to Ahaz, and tell him to ask a sign from God (Isaiah 7:10-11); that is, to look to God rather than to Assyria for aid
(2 Kings 7). This he refused to do. He had not confidence in God, but feared that the land would be overrun by the
armies of Syria (Matthew 1:12), and relied only on the aid which he hoped to receive from Assyria. Isaiah answered
that, in these circumstances, the Lord would himself give a sign, or a pledge, that the land should be delivered. The
sign was, that a virgin should have a son, and that before that son would arrive to years of discretion, the land would
be forsaken by these hostile kings. The prophecy was therefore designed originally to signify to Ahaz that the land
would certainly be delivered from its calamities and dangers, and that the deliverance would not be long delayed.
The land of Syria and Israel, united now in confederation, would be deprived of both their kings, and thus the land
of Judah would be freed from the threatening danger. This appears to be the literal fulfillment of the passage in
Isaiah. (From Barnes’ Notes)
2. Let’s Consider The Comfort Of This Ancient Word
When Ahaz was attacked, he was depending upon Assyria for help. But Isaiah gave him the promise of Immanuel
(God with us). Isaiah indicated that the house of David would not be utterly destroyed so that this prophecy would
be fulfilled. Joseph, this “son of David,” must have felt like he was under attack from the circumstances. But these
circumstances would not utterly destroy him for God was fulfilling the promise of Emmanuel (God with us).
III. This Story Involved Joseph’s Dedicated Devotion
Helen Rowland said, “Before marriage, a man will lay down his life for you; after marriage he won’t even lay down
his newspaper.” But this certainly wasn’t the case with Joseph. He responded with obedience to God’s leadership.
I wonder, how would you react if you learned that your fiancée was expecting a baby, and you knew that you were
not the father? How would you respond if you received supernatural and unusual instruction to proceed with your
marriage plans in such an event? What would be your reply to a transcendent voice that repeatedly selected you and
your family for relocation? Hesitation and reluctance would surely rule our course. Deliberation and uncertainty
would doubtless be factors in our response to the divine mandates. As has so often been the case, we might attempt
to bypass God’s instruction and follow the dictates of our own hearts; but not so with Joseph. The best way to know
God’s will is to say, “I will” to God.
A. There Is Dedication In Joseph’s Response
(Matthew 1:24) Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto
him his wife:
While Joseph’s response did not involve articulation, it did include action. In response to God’s will for his
wedding, the Bible says, Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took
unto him his wife (Matthew 1:24). Any hesitation and fear that may have found residence in the heart of Joseph was
dispelled when the angel informed him that the child’s name would be JESUS, for as Mr. Spurgeon reminds us,
“Truly, no name can banish fear like the name of Jesus; it is the beginning of hope, and the end of despair.”
1. Notice His Silent Response
a. Let’s Point Out His Consistent Silence Matthew 1:24; 2:14, 19-23
There is not a single word spoken by Joseph recorded in the Bible. I think it safe to conclude that Joseph was
physically able to speak. The dream environment may have not allowed a dialogue in which both the angel and
Joseph would speak as opposed to the monologue of the angel. Perhaps the wonderful realization that God
Almighty had a word and a work for a lowly, uncelebrated carpenter literally left Joseph speechless. Joseph may
have believed with the psalmist that there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether
(Psalms 139:4), and therefore felt that his words were unnecessary. Whatever the case, Joseph said nothing, but
quietly and compliantly did what God had told him to do.
b. Let’s Point Out His Compliant Silence (He didn’t declare; he did.)
2. Notice His Submissive Response
a. He Associated With Mary
and took unto him his wife (took) – Greek 3880. paralambano, meaning to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself
(in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office; figuratively it means to learn; to receive.
b. He Accepted Mary and took unto him his wife
B. There Is Devotion In Joseph’s Regard
1. Joseph Exhibited A Regard For His Wife
(Matthew 1:25) And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Joseph would be there through each journey, each joke, each step and each slur.
Some believe that this was such a scandal that even years later, Jesus detractor’s had this in mind when they said…
(John 8:41) Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one
Father, even God.
2. Joseph Exhibited A Regard For The Word
…as specified in verse 21
(Matthew 1:25) And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
A couple married for 15 years began having more than usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage
work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip in a “Fault” box. The boxes
would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and
approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in hamper,” on and
on until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected
on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same; the message
on each slip was, “I love you!” (Source Unknown)
The story of Christmas is about growing in your family experience and your faith experience.