(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The featured Scripture for this Gem is Matthew 1:18 through 21. It features the next just person in this series, Joseph, when he was visited in a dream by an angel.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came to- gether, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away se- cretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
We too often read the Scriptures with a perspective from our twenty-first century western world mind-set. So let’s clear up a couple of problems that this passage might seem to put forth:
- In verse 18, we are told, “…Mary was betrothed to Joseph….” But the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife….” And in verse 19, it says, “…Joseph her husband…”!
✡ “...betrothed...” – that means they were engaged, right? Yes, but engagement among the Jews in the first century was different from our understanding of it today. It was a much more binding agreement between a man and a woman. They were bound together in a legal agreement that could only be broken by divorce! ✡ The official marriage did not take place for six months to a year after the betrothal!
- Also in verse 18, it says when Mary “…was found with child of the Holy Spirit….Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Being pregnant, “…found with child…,” was considered adultery! There were two legal options open to Joseph:
✡ He could divorce her, putting her away publicly! Mary would then live in shame her whole life.... if she lived! ✡ The other option was, according to Leviticus 20:10, “...the adulterer and the adulteress...shall sure- ly be put to death.” This law was still in effect in Jesus’ day, as shown In John 8:3 through 5: ...the scribes and Pharisees brought to [Jesus]...a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned [to death].”
But “…Joseph…being a just man…” didn’t want to shame Mary or have her stoned to death! So he was just going to have her disappear – maybe back “…into the hill country…to a city of Judah… [to ] the house of Zacharias and [Mary’s cousin] Elizabeth…” (Luke 2:39, 40), where she could have her baby and raise Him out of Nazareth’s public eye!
Then the Angel came to Joseph…
...in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:39, 40).
Joseph was called just because he was right with God and with man! He was familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, and believed the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. And God chose him to be the human father to His Son, Jesus Christ!
As a just person, what will God have you to do?
Mark 6:20 – John the Baptist
Perhaps this just man should have been featured before Joseph because he was six months older than Jesus, and the events highlighted above were at least nine months after his mother Elizabeth’s conception.
Here is what Herod Antipas said in Mark 6:16 through 20, when he heard about Jesus’ growing ministry:
...when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” For Herod had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for [Herod]...had married her. For John had said, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.
“…a just and holy man…”! That was John! He was so just and holy that many of the Jews thought he might be the Messiah!
- But John was the forerunner of the Messiah, as prophesied in…
✡ ...Isaiah 40:3 – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (see the New Testament fulfilment in Matthew 3:3). ✡ ...in Malachi 4:5 and 6 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” (see the New Testament fulfilment in Mat- thew 17:11-13).
- However, Jesus said something puzzling concerning John in Matthew 11:11: “…among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” How is it that the one “…who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than…” John the Baptist?
✡ John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets! “But he is featured in the New Testament!” you might exclaim. Yes, he is! But until Pentecost, the Bible narrative is still under the Old Testament economy! ➔ The focus was still on the Jewish people in the holy land. ➔ The temple and the age-old system of sacrifices were still standing. ➔ The revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, had not yet been revealed, except as prophesy to a few individuals! (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31-33; 1:76, 77; 2:29-32; John 1:29). ✡ Although John had the privilege of meeting Jesus (see John 1:29, 30) and even baptizing Him (see Matthew 3:13-17), and succinctly proclaiming His ministry (see John 1:29, 34); his own ministry of preparation was suddenly cut off (along with his head) by Herod! ➔ John did not witness Jesus’ death, resur- rection, and ascension into heaven! ➔ He was not there to receive the permanent internal dwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost! ➔ He did not have the privilege of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus as Savior and Lord of all mankind! ➔ He did not participate in the introduction and growth of the Church! ✞ But the lowliest believer in the risen Christ as Sav- ior and Lord has all those privileges!
So you see, when Jesus spoke that “…he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John]…,” it is not a matter of our position in heaven, but we are greater than John in the blessed privileges given to believers on earth!
John the Baptist did the best he could with what was revealed to him!
who have the fulness of the gospel,
and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
living up to our potential?
If not, why not?