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The Wedding That Never Happened

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:18–25

God’s plans sometimes interrupt our own. We simply need to obey Him and learn to readjust our thinking. God’s great plan for the coming of Israel’s Messiah into the world created some challenges for Joseph, but this godly man’s character was up for the challenge.


The Wedding That Never Happened

Matthew 1:18-25


To the average person on the street, the mention of Joseph’s name in relation to the birth of Jesus usually brings out feelings of pity. The poor guy got engaged to the girl he loved, planned to get married, have children, expand his carpentry business, and—wham! Out of left field comes news that will turn his world upside down. There will never be a wedding—for either Joseph or Mary.

The average person thinks of Joseph as a man who is barely willing to participate in this terrible development that is deeply confusing. He is now thrust into the spotlight of human history for a brief moment—and then he is gone.

Have you ever noticed the typical nativity play at Christmastime? A little boy portraying Joseph comes out on stage, leading a couple of kids dressed up like a donkey. Joseph knocks on the innkeeper’s door, and asks, “Is there any room?” Then he might have a couple of lines in the stable, and that is about it.

The truth is, Joseph was an incredibly faithful, godly man, who actually embraced the incarnation of Jesus Christ with his entire life. He is an overlooked model of humility and integrity, and as such he is worth a closer look in our Wisdom Journey together.

Now if Joseph and Mary were the typical ages of young people who wed in the first-century Jewish community, Joseph would have been around eighteen to twenty years old, and Mary probably would have been around the age of sixteen.[1]By the way, don’t ever think that God cannot use young people to accomplish great things for His name.

The next events that occur chronologically—and that is how we are studying the Gospels together—take us to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, and verse 18:

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.

Listen, supernatural though it was, to understand the devastating blow of Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph, we need to understand something about the three stages of a Jewish wedding.

Engagement was the first stage, and it was actually arranged by the parents while the children were younger. Parents in that day normally picked the spouses of their children.

The young people typically did not meet until the second stage, which was called betrothal, or kiddushin. This stage lasted a year, giving time for the groom to build a house—typically built onto his father’s house. During this time, the bride prepared and collected the things she would need to become a homemaker.

During kiddushin the couple were legally married but did not live together. The only way out of a betrothal was death or divorce. In fact, had Joseph died during the betrothal period, Mary would have been considered a widow in those days. And of course, sexual purity during this time was expected.

Joseph is anticipating the third and final stage, called huppah, which was the actual wedding ceremony. This ceremony involved several days of feasting and celebrating the goodness of God in establishing another household of faith. At the completion of the wedding celebration, the groom took his bride to his house.

Now try to understand the devastation to Joseph here in Matthew 1:18 where, again we read, “She was found to be with child.” He knows this Child is not his. He is taken aback by what this must mean about the girl he thought he knew. What is he supposed to do now?

Well, verse 19 tells us: “Her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Notice the reminder here of Joseph and Mary’s legally binding relationship: Joseph is called “her husband.” Infidelity during the betrothal period was considered adultery.

Joseph is a “just man”; he wants to do the right thing, and if Mary were guilty of adultery, it would be perfectly right for him to make a public accusation and end their betrothal. But Joseph also loves Mary. So, he decides to quietly break off the betrothal without any public humiliation for Mary, even though a public charge would have vindicated his own reputation.

Let me tell you, Joseph is surrendering his personal pride. But Joseph is going to have to surrender more than his pride; he is also about to surrender his privacy. Verse 20 says:

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.

With this announcement of a supernatural conception, Joseph knows he is about to be thrust into the public spotlight. He was going to put all of this aside quietly, privately; but now that he knows Mary has miraculously conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, and Joseph is to be an earthly father to Him, there is no more quiet life.

Think about it: shortly after his adopted Son’s birth, angels will light up the sky announcing Him, shepherds will unexpectedly show up to see Him, and wise men from Persia will arrive to worship Him. Joseph and Mary will soon have to flee their home, as Herod tries to find Him—this baby who has been given Herod’s favorite title, “King of the Jews.”

Joseph could not have imagined all that, but he at least knows at this moment that raising the Messiah will pull him from the shadows of obscurity. If he obeys this angel’s message from God and takes his pregnant fiancé as his wife, effectively skipping the wedding ceremony, he knows his life will never be the same again.

There’s a cost to his obedience. He must sacrifice his pride and his privacy. I wonder, beloved, what God might be asking you to surrender today, for the sake of His Son.

Joseph surrenders one more thing—I’ll call it his personal priorities. In verse 21, the angel tells Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The birth of this Child, the angel says, is in fulfillment of that great prophecy of Isaiah that the virgin will conceive and bear a son (Isaiah 7:14).

God is calling Joseph to exchange his priorities—namely, a typical marriage and home and career—for God’s priorities. There is a baby who is going to need a father.

As we dive a little deeper into this scene and into the life of Joseph, two things become pretty clear. First is that surrendering to God is going to require some changes in our lives. We do not know exactly what they might be because we cannot see around the corner, and the Christian life is full of corners.

Second, surrendering our life to God does not require experience, just obedience. How many giants did little David kill before he stood in front of Goliath? None. How many Messiahs had Joseph raised before kneeling over that manger in Bethlehem? None. Beloved, God isn’t looking for people with experience but readiness, willingness!

The most significant moment here in Matthew 1—at least to the life of this man Joseph—is recorded in verse 24: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”

Wow—he did it. Joseph obeyed the Lord. Just don’t forget, it will crush his pride, it will cost him a quiet life, and it will change his priorities. The typical, expected wedding and the celebration never happened.

Joseph’s response to God was essentially to say the same thing his adopted Son, Jesus, will one day say: “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 48.

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