Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. (Matthew 1:19 KJV)
What an amazing Christmas story!
Joseph was a man of justice. He was a just or righteous man. He thought that he had been wronged. More importantly, he thought that wrong had been done, wrong to which he could not be conjoined. All the evidence indicated that his bride had cheated on him. The Law of God gave him the right to put her away from him, that is, to divorce her.
But this was not the plan of a righteous man. A righteous man’s plan was to divorce her of the guilt of her sin. His plan was to deal with her privately and to put her away, or release her, privately.
This word for release is found in some other places in the New Testament Scriptures as well. Two other examples are found later in Matthew, in 18:27 and in 27:15.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
The lord loosed the indebted servant and Pilate released Barabbas. Joseph’s plan was to go to Mary privately and release her from her debt to him. He had no desire for self-vindication. He was a true Israelite and trusted in God’s forgiveness for himself. Therefore, having no burden to carry of his own, he was filled with God’s compassion and looked upon Mary with tender compassion himself.
Now as it turns out, Mary had no sinful relations with anyone and it was Jesus, the Savior, whom she bore in her womb. God the Holy Spirit had worked this miracle of bringing forth the promised Seed without the aid of a human sire. So Joseph received her as his wife, even as the Lord directed him through the angel.
This demonstrates a couple of wonderful examples of the righteousness that is by faith. First, Joseph was willing to stand firm in what was right without making himself Mary’s judge. He judged the situation according to the evidence and then set forth to act in accord with true faith. Faith moved him to forgive and to release Mary from her debt to him. His only desire was for her spiritual and temporal good. His plan was one of loving confrontation, the kind that our Lord describes in Matthew 18.
Secondly, Joseph was ready to hear the truth. When the angel corrected the misunderstanding regarding the circumstances, even though it was an impossible story (except for God), Joseph acknowledged the Truth and repented of his earlier plans. Moreover, faith moved Joseph to take upon himself the enormous burden of caring for the mother of the Lord, and even the Lord Himself. Joseph did not ask for any of this any more than Mary did. Yet when he heard the truth, he submitted to it and followed it.
So what began as an earthly divorce was transformed into a Christmas divorce. Joseph and Mary were married and through this the World and Sin became divorced. Joseph cared for Mary and Jesus for as long as Joseph lived. By then Jesus was a man and able to look after His mother. Jesus entered into His ministry at the appointed time, preached the Gospel and prepared His disciples for the ministry to come, and went to the cross and grave to finish the divorce from Sin. Now all the world is free to live by faith.
What an amazing Christmas story!