Jesus: A miraculous conception

The story of Jesus begins with his parents: Joseph and Mary, both from Nazareth, Galilea.

There are problems from the start.

Joseph and Mary were engaged. Marriage customs in those days were quite different from today's. Engagement, or betrothal, was a very serious business. Though formally still not married, Jewish law considered them man and wife. But the marriage was not yet consummated. Matthew explicitly states: before they came together.

And then Joseph is confronted with a problem: Mary is pregnant.

That must have been a shock! It could mean only one thing.

A Jewish man in that position had three possibilities. You must realize that an engagement in first century Judea could only be 'ended' by a divorce. That's how serious engagement was in those days.

  1. He could, of course, consummate the marriage; but that would imply that the child was his and that they had broken the law of God.
  2. He could file for a divorce, publicly; that meant exposing the woman as unfaithful.
  3. It was also possible to divorce silently, privately, bringing less shame on the woman.

Joseph had considered his options and he had chosen the last one. He was a righteous man, and he wanted to keep his own slate clean. Yet neither did he want to shame Mary. He was not only righteous, but also kind.

And then the incredible thing happens: He does not divorce. He takes his wife in marriage. He takes the shame, the implication that he and Mary had been together before their marriage.

What had caused this change? Why did this righteous man, this law abiding Jew, accept the shame of being considered a law breaker?

Because God spoke to him.

An angel of God came to him in a dream and revealed that Mary had not been unfaithful. The child was conceived supernaturally, by the Holy Spirit. 'Fear not,' the angel said. Do not be afraid of what the people may say. God is doing something exceptional. He is fulfilling something that has been said hundreds of years ago. God has a very special plan with this very special child.

What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

'And you shall give him the name Jesus.' No free choice there. He was Gods son, so God gave the name: Jesus (which is the Greek form of Joshua): the Lord saves, 'because he will save his people from their sins.'

Now, do you know what is really amazing, when you think about it?

Mary's silence.

An angel had come to her and told her that she would get pregnant. Apparently, she had not told Joseph anything. Who could blame her? Would he have believed hér? No, she chose to wait, to trust in God. If God told her in advance what was going to happen, she trusted that God would also tell Joseph now that it had happened. And he did.

So the beginning was rough. But Joseph finally took his wife and they married. And when the time was there, Jesus was born. I'll tell you more about that later.

You can read Joseph's side of the story in Matthew's biography of Jesus, Mary's side in Luke's.