Matthew 1:18–25; 2:19–23 comment (0)
December 12, 2013
By Thomas L. Fuller
Related Scripture: Matthew 1:18–25; 2:19–23
Bible Studies for Life
Beeson Divinity School, Samford UniversityCourage
Matthew 1:18–25; 2:19–23
It is a commonly quoted maxim that courage is not the absence of fear but the resolve to press on in spite of your fear. However true this may be, it begs the question, “What is the source of the resolve that gives rise to such courage?” Matthew provides a “profile in courage” of Joseph, who faced an extremely difficult situation with the resolve of faith in God and God’s revealed word.
Crisis is the crucible in which the courage rooted in faith is formed. In one verse, Matthew relates a serious crisis: Mary is “found to be with child” while betrothed to Joseph. By Jewish law, betrothal was a binding contract, which could only be terminated by the death of one or both parties or by a formal decree of divorce. For all intents and purposes, the couple is considered husband and wife, though the woman has neither left her father’s house nor has the couple consummated their union. The penalty for unchastity before marriage was death by stoning (Deut. 22:13–21). Joseph faced a life-or-death dilemma.
We get a glimpse of Joseph’s character in his initial reaction to the situation: He “resolved to divorce her (Mary) quietly” — a divorce before two witnesses. In a scene reminiscent of Abraham raising the knife to slay his son Isaac, God’s messenger likewise warns Joseph to refrain from divorcing Mary. In a dream the angel brings God’s word to Joseph, not only counseling him to refrain from divorcing Mary but encouraging him to proceed with the marriage. By conventional standards, the revelation is fantastic, i.e. the stuff of fantasy. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit; she will give birth to a son “who will save God’s people from their sins;” and He will fulfill the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
If Joseph’s original dilemma was not sufficiently difficult, it was made more difficult by the introduction of God’s word. Or was it made easier? Such is the dilemma of faith in God’s revealed word. “What will people think if I take Mary as my wife under these circumstances? What will they say if I explain that God told me to do this?” By conventional wisdom, Joseph’s courage is religious fanaticism. The courage to face difficult situations by faith will often be deemed foolish and fanatical. The angel’s revelation, however, was consistent with the word of God, prompting Joseph to respond in faith.
The real courage of Joseph’s story is evidenced in his obedience: that he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” This was true not only in his taking Mary to be his wife and in the naming of the child to whom she gave birth (1:24–25), but also in Joseph’s responses to other revelations instructing him 1) to take his family to Egypt (2:13–15); 2) to return to Israel (2:19–21); and 3) to settle in Nazareth in Galilee rather than in Judea (2:22–23). Consistently Joseph demonstrates the courage to trust the word of God as revealed to him in the angelic visitations in his dreams.
Joseph undoubtedly faced fears and concerns that would reasonably call into question the wisdom of his decisions. Time after time he faced those fears with faithful obedience, staking his reputation and his very life on the certainty of God’s revealed word. While Joseph played a key role in the extraordinary events of Jesus’ (the Messiah’s) birth, we should learn from and follow his example. Trusting God and God’s Word, we too can face the fears and difficulties of the Christian life with courage rooted in faith.