Joseph’s Dream  
The Christmas story starts in the gospel of Luke with the announcement that John the Baptist will be coming in the power and spirit of Elijah the prophet. This was predicted in Malachi 4:5-6. We will discover in the gospel of Mark that John was the messenger who was to clear the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1; Mark 1:1-3). In addition to these prophecies being fulfilled, miracles also occurred. The first miracle was the birth of John the Baptist to a senior citizen named Elizabeth. Later an angel named Gabriel visited a young girl named Mary, a virgin, and told her that she would give birth to a son named Jesus even though she had not had sexual relations with a man. This was the second miracle. Before 640 B.C. Isaiah the prophet predicted that the Messiah would be a descendant of Jesse (Isa. 11:1-12), and we have discovered in the gospel of Luke from Mary’s genealogy that Jesus fulfilled that prediction as well. We have also found that Joseph, Mary’s future husband, is a descendant of Jesse too! When we come to Matthew 1:18, we learn that God is still putting the pieces of the Christmas puzzle together. Mary has returned from her visit with Elizabeth in the southern part of Israel, and she is about three months pregnant (Luke 1:56).
From Joy to Pain. I wonder when and where Joseph saw his future wife after she returned from her visit with Zacharias and Elizabeth. I wonder what they said to one another. Since her cousin Elizabeth had eagerly received her news with joy, she probably thought that Joseph would be wonderfully excited too! But she was mistaken. I imagine that Mary had talked about Gabriel’s visit, Zacharias and Elizabeth, and her pregnancy. As we will see shortly, Joseph did not believe his future wife. I am sure that there were strong emotions and maybe some strong words during their discussion. What did the parents of these two think and what did they say? In Matthew 1:18-19 the Holy Spirit gives us a clue that the conversations and conclusions of the family members were not very positive.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (NASB) Matt. 1:18-19

If the family had believed Mary, then Joseph would not have been thinking about putting “her away secretly.” According to Jewish law, an engagement was a legal contract requiring the couple to marry. The engagement could only be broken by divorce or adultery. Deut. 22:23-25 gave the law allowing the woman and man to be killed for a violation of the engagement contract. Once engaged, the marriage did not occur until the groom ceremonially took his bride home and the couple had sexual intercourse.
Mark of a Righteous Man. In this passage Matthew has told us that the couple had not come together yet. Therefore Joseph had several options. By marrying her, Joseph could send the message to others that he was the father of this child and imply that they had had pre-martial sex. Legally he could have had her stoned for being unfaithful - at least he thought she thought she had been unfaithful.
So it is not a surprise that Joseph was planning to put “her away secretly.” He did not want her stoned to death; and because he was a righteous man, he did not want her humiliated.
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