Of all the characters in the Bible none perplex me more than Mary and Joseph. Like many people, I tend to formulate my opinion of others based on my own life experience. What little we know about this famous couple centers around the birth of Christ. What we do not know about them causes me to wonder what they were like as individuals. It is easier to explain my position by first looking at what is written about this couple in the Bible.
Matthew 1:18-25 New International Version (NIV) 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-38 New International Version (NIV) 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
In these two passages the miraculous conception of Jesus is recorded. More is known about Mary from other passages; however, not a single word is recorded of anything Joseph said. I have contemplated what Mary may have thought after being visited by an angel. In Mary’s culture women found honor in having children and at the same time it was dishonorable, to say the least, to have a child out of wedlock. An unwed woman becoming pregnant would have faced being shunned and possibly even killed. I imagine that Mary, a teenager, could have been filled with a mixture of fear and great excitement. The biblical account only shares her excitement. Of course considering she indeed turned out pregnant without ever being with a man, fear probably would have been replaced with awe and wonder.
I wonder about Joseph’s reaction. Consider his position; the girl he is engaged to and has never had relations with says “I am pregnant with God’s child”. It is easy to consider how he may have felt betrayed. Would any reasonable person accept such a story readily? It is impressive that despite his personal feelings Joseph wanted to protect Mary’s reputation. I suspect my reaction would have been very different than Josephs. But then an angel spoke to him in a dream. What was it that the angel said that changed his mind completely? Did Joseph have other experiences with angelic visits? After all, he readily did what the angel told him to do. What was it about Joseph that caused him to be so obedient in such adverse conditions?
To be certain, the circumstances surrounding Jesus earthly conception were incredible as well as the events on the day of His birth. Yet after His infancy we do not know anything about Jesus childhood. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40). Jesus is twelve when his parents find Him in the temple teaching and this caused them some concern and confusion (Luke 2:41-50). All indication is that Jesus was physically as normal a human as anyone. With the exception of not sinning there were not any miraculous signs and wonders recorded about His childhood or young adult years.
Most people become discouraged in just a few years of waiting for God to answer a prayer or fulfill a promise and yet Mary did not lose confidence in the promise she received. Mary and Joseph are recorded as being devoted to God. As a parent I wonder if they ever had doubts about the child they raised. Were they hoping Jesus would grow up to be a king and rescue the Jews from the Romans? Did they ponder the possibility of their son arising as a judge that would lead the nation? Did they ever discuss the political turmoil of their time and wonder how Jesus was going to bring change? Did they truly understand that this was the son of God?
Never again will a person be called on to birth and raise the Son of God. Yet we are called to raise Godly children, our own and others, and it will take true devotion to the one and only God to stand the test of time. Remember that Mary and Joseph were just two poor people that were willing to do what God asked.
Jesus would have most likely been thirty years of age when He started His earthly ministry. Three decades had passed since the angel visited Mary. Joseph had most likely already died. If in fact Joseph had passed away, he never saw a single miracle Jesus performed. Thirty years of waiting and watching would have shaken most anyone’s faith. Yet it was Mary that prompted Jesus to perform His first recorded miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus ministry began without loud proclamations or newspaper ads. No billboards or television shows. Jesus gave us the example of simple obedience to God as a ministry model. Jesus earthly ministry lasted a short three years and yet changed the world forever. His crowning achievement took Him only three days. Three decades to start a three year ministry and three days to seal the eternity for any who will believe. By first putting our trust and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior a person can face the uncertainty of life Knowing God will accomplish His plan.
Rev. Burt Schwab