The Story Of Mary And Joseph (and 3 powerful lessons)

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The story of Mary and Joseph is incredible. The faith these two display is inspiring and should cause us to pause and reflect. 

Unfortunately this story has become mundane. We hear it every year and often it’s portrayed in a frankly boring fashion. What should be an incredible and awe-inspiring story has become commonplace. 

I want to revisit this famous story and look at it with fresh eyes. I think if we do that this story can come to life and reinvigorate our sense of awe. There’s some powerful lessons in this story that I want to help us unearth. 

So, let’s look at the story of Mary and Joseph and see what we can glean from it.

The Story Of Mary And Joseph

I think it will be helpful if we start by looking at Mary and Joseph individually. And then we will merge the two stories together after. This will allow us to get a sense of who each were individually and what they went through. 

I’m going to paraphrase most of the text with my own wording and include links to the actual scriptures. The point of this isn’t to change the Bible, but rather to help it come to life for you. 

I would encourage you to not just read this as a story, but place yourself into. Image what it must have been like to go through what they went through, feel what they felt, and do what they did. That will help this story take on a new life for you. 

Let’s start with Mary’s story. 

Read the story of Mary and Joseph in entirety here: Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-56

Mary’s Story 

Luke gives us the most detail about Mary’s story, so we will be pulling mostly from his account. 

Mary has her life planned out. She’s young, about to be married, and a virgin (an important detail). She’s following the path that women of the day were supposed to. She’s done the right things, and she knows what to expect in return. (Luke 1:26-27) 

Then a curve ball. An angel shows up. (Luke 1:28-29) 

Luke says Mary is greatly troubled. You think? She knows that whatever comes out of that angel’s mouth next probably means her life is going to change forever. 

Then a bomb is dropped. Mary, you are pregnant. (Luke 1:30-37)

But that’s not it… Not just pregnant, Mary you are carrying the Son of God. 

Put yourself there… What was she thinking? What was she feeling? I know we read this every year and it’s lost its shock value long ago. But put yourself in Mary’s shoes. How many times did she pinch herself? How long did it take for this news to sink in and become reality? 

I know today we think this must have been viewed as great news. Good for Mary, that’s so great for her. What a blessing for her to carry the Son of God. 

But at that moment Mary isn’t thinking that. She’s scared, fearful, wondering why her, and wondering how in the world she is pregnant? She’s a virgin after all… She’s just trying to make sense of it all. 

I imagine after the angel left she’s laying there trying to process all that just happened. At some point the implications had to hit her. 

OH NO. I have to tell my parents… I have to tell Joseph… What are they going to think? There’s no way they’re going to believe I’m pregnant with the Son Of God! 

I wish the Bible recorded that conversation don’t you? Mom, dad. I’m pregnant. But don’t worry, I didn’t do anything wrong. You see there was this angel… Probably not going to fly. 

And Joseph… What’s he going to do? He knows that it takes two to tango. And he knows they haven’t slept together. Logically he’s going to assume she cheated on him. 

This was not good news for Mary. At least not in terms of how the next few years of her life were going to go. She could lose her marriage, her family could kick her out, she would be a social outcast, and at worse she could even be put to death. 

This was tough, life-altering news for Mary. It’s news that could cost her. Her life would be forever changed. 

Pause here. Let’s switch over to Joseph.

Joseph’s Story 

While all this is happening Joseph is left in the dark. 

I’m not sure why God did it this way, but Mary had to tell Joseph she was pregnant before the angel visits him. There’s no way that that conversation is going to go well. 

So, Mary goes off to find Joseph (Matthew 1:18-19) Guess what?! I’m pregnant. And I know you are thinking how’s this even possible? But don’t worry… It’s from God. 

Now put yourself in Joseph’s shoes… What’s he thinking right now? How is he going to respond? 

Remember, at this point he hasn’t been told anything by God. The logical conclusion is that Mary cheated on him. And he does what most of us would have done. He dumps her. 

But in doing so he reveals his character. He had to have been angry, but he responded graciously.

He had every right to throw Mary under the bus and publicly disgrace her. That would have upheld his social status. Instead he quietly breaks up with her to spare her shame. A move that likely would have cost him. (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph is a good guy. Even when he’s perceived he’s been wrong, he does what is gracious. 

Finally in Matthew 1:20-23 an angel appears to Joseph and confirms what Mary told him. 

Put yourself in his shoes. His head has to be spinning, his world has been turned upside down twice over. 

One day he’s about to get married, life is good. The next day you find out your fiancé is pregnant and you know you can’t be the father. She claims God is the father, that’s crazy so you back away very slowly. That night you are counting your blessings that her crazy side came out before the wedding when all of a sudden an angel appears and says, yeah what she said is true… 

If that’s not an episode of Jerry Springer I don’t know what is… 

Let’s put the story of Mary and Joseph back together and see how they responded to this crazy series of events. 

Mary And Joseph’s Response 

At this point in the story both Mary and Joseph have a choice. Will they do what God is asking of them? Will they keep trusting him? 

Mary and Joseph are two of the greatest displays of faith in the entire Bible. They get overshadowed by Jesus, understandably, but their response is simply incredible.

Mary submitted to God and accept the role he had given her. (Luke 1:38) But that’s not all she does. After the dust had settled and she had a clearer picture of what was happening, she wrote an incredible song proclaiming her faith and the goodness of God. (Luke 1:46-55)

Joseph did exactly what the angel told him. He took Mary as his wife, despite how that would look publicly. He took Jesus in as his own. And he did not sleep with Mary until after Jesus was born, something he was never told he had to do. (Matthew 1:24-25) 

These two have little idea of what lay ahead, but they display incredible faith and trust that God will lead them through. 

And things are still getting more and more difficult for the two. 

Caesar Augustus decrees that everyone has to go take a census. In those days that meant that they would have to travel back to their home town. So not only are they ostracized from their community, but little Miss favored by God, 8 months pregnant has to travel on a donkey a long distance. I’m sure that was a pleasant journey.

But they do it faithfully. 

We know the story, she arrives late, can’t find a room, and gives birth in a stable (a cave most likely) surrounded by animals. 

No complaining, no whining about their circumstances. They follow God faithfully. 

Surely at this point the story of Mary and Joseph gets easier, right?  

But it doesn’t. Herod hears of a king being born (Jesus) and feels threatened. He sends the wiseman as spies so he can find this king. They double cross him and warn Mary and Joseph who subsequently flee to Egypt. Herod then decrees that EVERY boy under 2 is to be killed. (Matthew 2:3-17)

That’s not the Christmas story I remember growing up. It was happy and joyous. And don’t get me wrong, Jesus coming into the word certainly should bring those emotions. But for Mary and Joseph those first few years were more like a horror movie. 

Matthew 2:18 tells us a chilling prophecy was fulfilled and there was weeping and great mourning over the children that had been killed. And that’s the Christmas story. That’s the part we all like to ignore, but it happened. 

And yet despite all the troubles, drama, danger, grief, and even death, Mary and Joseph followed God and did what he said. 

What an incredible example of faith. Despite the danger they faced, the fear they had, the price they paid, they didn’t let anything dictate their actions except God. 

3 Lessons From The Story Of Mary And Joseph 

I want to end by offering 3 lessons that we can learn from the story of Mary and Joseph. There’s certainly more in this story, but I think these are 3 of the most important things we can learn. 

Fear Doesn’t Have To Dictate Your Faith 

My guess is when you think about the Christmas story you don’t associate it with fear. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first words in the story of Mary and Joseph is do no be afraid

Fear plays a central role of the Christmas story.

I mean, Mary and Joseph had every right to be afraid. Their lives are falling apart. When the angel told them Do not be afraid they have to look back on that and chuckle right? For years their life was a nightmare. Of course they were going to be afraid. Anyone would be. 

The key for Mary and Joseph was not to be absent of fear. Rather to be faithful despite their fear. That’s why Mary was able to say I am the Lord’s Servant may it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38).

When she says that she doesn’t know exactly what’s in front of her, but she knows it won’t be easy.  She’s able say that, and then live that, because she doesn’t look at her circumstances. Rather she looked at the one who has control over her circumstances. 

Fear didn’t stop Mary and Joseph’s obedience. Instead they kept their eyes on God. 

Fear doesn’t have to stop you either. Rather than focus on what is causing your fear, focus on the one has overcome the storm.

Follow God’s Plan, Not Your Own Plan 

Mary and Joseph were both thrown a curve ball. Their response? They adapted. They followed what God said. 

I know in hindsight that might seem easy. After all, it was Jesus that they were getting to raise. But we know the end of the story, they didn’t. Their plan was known and comfortable. God’s plan was unknown and risky. They had a choice to make. Whose plan would they follow? 

And I doubt in that moment with that decision that they had any idea what hung in the balance on their decision to embrace the calling God had for them. We know now, but they didn’t. 

They decided to abandon their plan and follow God’s even though it was risky and unknown. And I doubt at the end of their lives they ever regretted that decision. 

For us today I believe the same is true. I believe God has something incredible for you. But you have to abandon your safe plans to embrace what the difficult, but meaningful, plans God has for you. 

And I doubt you have any idea what hangs in the balance on that decision to follow God’s calling on your life. Follow God’s plan, I doubt you will ever regret it. 

Trust God, Even When It Doesn’t Make Sense 

The story of Mary and Joseph show us how to trust God even when his plans don’t make sense. From a human perspective the whole thing doesn’t make sense. But Mary and Joseph displayed faith anyway. 

What I love about this story is you can see both Mary and Joseph’s human side. Mary questioned the angel. Joseph was about to leave Mary. They struggled with what God was asking them, as we all would.

They were struggling to understand a plan that from their perspective didn’t make any sense. And they choose that despite their lack of understanding that they would trust God anyway. 

Sometimes God asks us to do things that will not make sense. In those moments we need to be like Mary and Joseph. Look at God instead of what we think makes sense. We will struggle, as they did. But if we can push past those struggles and trust God he can use us in incredible ways. 

Closing Thoughts On The Story Of Mary And Joseph

The story of Mary and Joseph is an incredible display of faith, trust, and what God can do through normal people. 

The next time you hear this story taught in church or read through during the Christmas season, resist the urge to hear it as commonplace. Place yourselves in their shoes. Focus on what God did through Mary and Joseph. And be encouraged by the example that these two gave us. 

You might also like: 6 Common Myths We Believe About The Christmas Story

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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