The story of Joseph and Mary is an intensely personal one. It is the story of two individuals who had decided to marry, but had no idea what awaited them. God’s eye was upon them, and their spirituality and character would be of great importance in bringing forth and raising the Messiah to maturity. In this week’s lesson we consider the events that occurred in their individual lives prior to the birth of the Savior.
JOSEPH WAS “A JUST MAN”
● Matthew 1:18 The shocking news comes to Joseph. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”
We can only imagine the agony and torment of uncertainty and doubt that must have filled the soul of Joseph. He knew for certain that he was not the father. He could not talk to Mary directly to hear her side of the story. He had received no heavenly vision to tell him otherwise, so he had to assume that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph did not understand initially He could have reacted selfishly and with bitterness, and if he did, who could blame him? All his hopes and plans now seemed dashed.
When Joseph learned of Mary’s maternity, he had two alternatives under the law:
— Require that Mary submit to a public trial and judgment, resulting in her death; or
— Privately sever the espousal contract before witnesses.
● Matthew 1:19 Joseph’s love and mercy for Mary. “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” Despite his agony, Joseph chose the most merciful of the two alternatives, which reveals much about his character. Elder James E. Talmage said, “Joseph was a just man, a strict observer of the law, yet no harsh extremist; moreover he loved Mary and would save her all unnecessary humiliation, whatever might be his own sorrow and suffering. For Mary’s sake he dreaded the thought of publicity; and therefore determined to have the espousal annulled with such privacy as the law allowed.”
● Matthew 1:20–21 The Angel Gabriel appears to Joseph to explain things. “While he [Joseph] 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. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (vv. 20–21).
Notice that it was after his trial of faith that the angel came to explain it all. Joseph’s mercy for Mary was shown without fully understanding what was happening to her. But after he made his merciful choice, the angel came and explained it all to him.
● Matthew 1:24–25 Joseph obeys immediately. “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife” (v. 24). The consummation of their marriage would have to wait. Joseph “knew her not” until after she had given birth to the baby Jesus (v. 25). But he became her husband and protector immediately.
The Importance of Joseph’s Role
Though he is sometimes the “forgotten person” of Jesus’ nativity, Joseph was, without a doubt, an essential part of Jesus’ birth and upbringing. His love for Mary is evident in his mercy upon learning of her pregnancy, and in his loving care thereafter as he sought in vain to find her some comfort when the day of the baby’s birth arrived.
As a man, he courageously provided for and protected the Savior’s life, taking Him into Egypt for a time to avoid the murderous plots of Herod. He was the earthly guardian of Christ, treating Him as his own son in every respect, teaching Him from the scriptures, and teaching Him the craft of carpentry to sustain Him in his early manhood. Thus, Joseph was the role model for Christ in both temporal and spiritual things.
Joseph was also the father of a later Apostle—James, the brother of the Lord, who wrote the book of James in our Bible. And he was the father of Jude—not an apostle but an inspired leader and writer who wrote the book of Jude n our Bible. All of these important sons were raised and trained by Joseph the carpenter.
Legend suggests that Joseph did not survive to the time of Jesus’ ministry. We do not hear of him in the scriptures after the time of the Savior’s youth. He may have been older than Mary. But they clearly loved each other and are eternal companions now.
Joseph remains, for me and for others, a hero—a man who did not react with macho anger or abuse but rather gentle forgiveness when he learned of Mary’s plight. His faith, his loyalty, his willingness to play the role of earthly father to the Son of God, all of these bear witness that he was a chosen man in God’s plan for the birth and childhood of His Son.
A SPECIAL DAUGHTER OF GOD
Mary’s role was truly prophetic. Isaiah spoke of her 700 years earlier (Isaiah 7:14). Nephi called her “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Nephi 11:15). King Benjamin knew that the mother of God would be named Mary (Mosiah 3:8), and Alma called her “a precious and chosen vessel” (Alma 7:10).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Can we speak too highly of her whom the Lord has blessed above all women? There was only one Christ, and there is only one Mary. . . . We cannot but think that the Father would choose the greatest female spirit to be the mother of His Son. . . .”1
Elder McConkie also said, “As the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all His spirit sons to come into mortality as His Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that He selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all His spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of His Eternal Son.”2
Mary Learns of Her Sacred Mission
● Luke 1:26–30 Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary. It was during “the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that] the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (vv. 26–27). This is how we know that John the Baptist was six months older than the Savior.
The Prophet Joseph Smith tells us that Gabriel is Noah.3 This ancient prophet—the father of us all—had already annunciated John the Baptist’s birth to his father Zacharias. Now, he appeared to the young virgin Mary, saying, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (v. 28). This was an odd salutation, and the young girl was somewhat troubled by its praise (v.29). Gabriel noticed and reassured her: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (v. 30).
● Luke 1:31–35 Mary learns that she will be the mother of the Son of God. Gabriel told her that “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus” (v. 31). “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). This was very surprising news to a young virgin who was not yet married—only espoused. “How shall this be,” she asked, “seeing I know not [have never had intercourse with] a man?” (v. 34). “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (v. 35). Thus, the baby’s father would be God the Father Himself and Mary would be His earthly mother. Moreover, “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (vv. 32–33). She would be the mother of the King of Kings.
At this news, Mary certainly must have been overwhelmed. According to legend, she was only about 16 years old, had never been married and had never had a child. Her conception would be miraculous and unique. God the Eternal Father would be the father of her child. Yet, even after conception, she would remain a virgin. It had never happened before, and would never happen again, worlds without end.
● Who would believe her explanation? She must have had many concerns as she tried to absorb this heavenly message.
— Would Joseph believe her? She could not explain things to him face to face.
— Would her family believe her? Or would they simply cast her out?
— Would anybody else believe her? Some did not. They said that Christ was “born of
fornication” (John 8:41).
— Even today, many Christians, including pastors, do not believe in the virgin birth.
— We are left to wonder: “Just whose child do they think Jesus was? A child of
● Luke 1:38 Mary humbly accepted her assignment with faith. Despite these concerns, Mary said simply to the angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
1. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979-1981], 1:326-327.
2. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–1973], 1:85.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 157.