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What did Joseph and Mary know about Jesus?

Years ago, someone wrote a song that asked how much Mary knew about Jesus. As I have been reading through the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, I have recently had a similar question come to mind. How much did Joseph and Mary know about the child before and after He was born? From our vantage point, we know who Jesus is. The New Testament is filled with the records of His life, teaching, and accomplishments. But Joseph and Mary were not aware of all that has since been revealed. They had the Old Testament Scriptures but many of the prophecies were not completely understood at the time. We know why Jesus came and what He eventually accomplished for us on the cross. But did Joseph and Mary know that? In today’s message, we will attempt to answer that question.

  1. What did they know?

    In this section, we will look at the different times that God revealed truths about Jesus to Joseph and Mary.

    What the angel told Mary (Luke 1:26-38)

    Before Joseph and Mary were married, an angel appeared to Mary and greeted her with great honor. She was a bit surprised, as you might guess, and wondered what his greeting meant. The angel went on to tell her that she had found favor with God and had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. In his speech, he gave her the details of what would happen. From this announcement, she learned three things:

    • She knew that Jesus would be miraculously conceived and born (Luke 1:31).
    • She knew that Jesus would reign on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:32-33).
    • She knew that Jesus would be the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 34-35).

    She was a bit shocked at this announcement, and asked how it could take place since she was a virgin. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would miraculously cause her to become pregnant with the child without a man. During this short conversation with the angel, Mary learned only three things about her coming child. He would be the result of a miraculous birth, He would be the promised King of Israel, and He would be the Son of God.

    What the angel told Joseph (Matt. 1:18-21)

    In this passage of Scripture, we find out what Joseph knew about Jesus. Although Mary had already heard from an angel, all Joseph knew was that Mary was pregnant somehow without him. He was a kind man and didn’t want to embarrass her in front of everyone, but he also didn’t want to marry the woman who had been unfaithful to him during their betrothal period.

    It was at this time that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. He told Joseph to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. He explained that the child was from the Holy Spirit and then announced the child’s purpose for coming. It appears that the angel did not mention anything about Jesus being a king to Joseph. But Joseph did learn two things during his dream.

    • He knew that Jesus was a miracle from God (Matt. 1:20).
    • He knew that Jesus would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

    Isn’t it interesting to see the difference between what the angel told Mary and what he told Joseph? Mary was told that Jesus would be the King of Israel and the Son of God. Joseph was told that Jesus would come to save His people from their sins. Both were incredible purposes for coming. But the one that resonates most with us is what Joseph was told.

    All of us are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Since the beginning, all of us have sinned against God’s commands, have been affected by the curse of sin, and will someday face God’s judgment. But God sent us a Savior to save us from our sins. This is what Joseph knew.

    What others told them (Luke 2:8-20; Matt. 2:1-12)

    Besides the angelic messages, there were three other times that God revealed truth about Jesus to Joseph and Mary. But these three times the messages came from people. Can you think of who they were? They were the shepherds, Simeon, and the wise men.

    The shepherds were surprised at night by an angel who announced the birth of Jesus in nearby Bethlehem. He told them that the baby in the manger was Christ the Lord. After hearing from him and seeing the sky filled with other angels praising God, they visited the baby and told everyone in town what had happened.

    Later, when Joseph and Mary took the child to the temple, a man named Simeon prophetically announced to them what God had told him about Jesus. He was to be the Savior of all people (not just the Jews) and He would cause the rise and fall of various people. His message to them was a bit cryptic but was still a message from God about Jesus.

    Finally, the last message from God came from the wise men. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they expected to find the baby with the current king. They had seen a message in the stars that led them to celebrate his birth. When they finally arrived at Joseph and Mary’s home, they worshiped him and gave him gifts. There is no mention of what they said, but is there any doubt that they told Joseph and Mary the reason for their visit and their expensive gifts?

    After hearing from these three groups of people, what did they learn?

    • The shepherds would have told them that the angel said Jesus would be Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).
    • Simeon told them that Jesus was God’s salvation for all people (Luke 2:29-32).
    • Simeon told Mary that Jesus would cause people to rise and fall (Luke 2:34).
    • The wise men would have told them that Jesus was the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).

    When you consider all that happened before and soon after Jesus’ birth, it is clear that Joseph and Mary knew many things about Jesus. Can you remember the nine things they learned?

    1. Jesus would be miraculously conceived and born (Luke 1:31).
    2. Jesus would reign on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:32-33).
    3. Jesus would be the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 34-35).
    4. Jesus was a miracle from God (Matt. 1:20).
    5. Jesus would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
    6. Jesus would be Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).
    7. Jesus was God’s salvation for all people (Luke 2:29-32).
    8. Jesus would cause people to rise and fall (Luke 2:34).
    9. Jesus was the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).

    These truths are what God revealed to Joseph and Mary about the child, Jesus. But as you know, it is one thing to know something and quite another to act on your knowledge. This leads us to our next question.

  2. How did they respond?

    They followed God’s plan.

    Mary agreed to be used by God.

    Luke 1:38 – “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’”

    After hearing the surprise announcement from the angel, Mary responded with both faith and submission to God’s plan. She believed God’s message as given by the angel. And then she offered herself to be used by God in this unique way. This is a great example of someone submitting herself to whatever God wants.

    Joseph did as he was told.

    Matt. 1:24 – “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”

    When Jospeh awoke from his dream, he also submitted to God’s plan. He no longer doubted Mary’s integrity, but took her as his wife just as the angel had told him to. But notice that he did not start the physical part of their relationship until after the baby was born. He was unwilling to spoil God’s plan for his own desires. He also named the child Jesus, just as the angel had said.

    As you look at the response from both Mary and Joseph, you might think that they were robots who simply did what God told them to do without thinking. I don’t think that is a fair description of their response. These two were believers who had already lived faithfully for God. So, it was not a unique response but one similar to how they had already been living in the past.

    But they also responded in another way.

    They thought about what happened.

    Mary pondered what she heard.

    Luke 2:19 – “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

    Ladies, if you had just given birth to a baby, would you want a troop of shepherds to come into the room straight from the fields? I would imagine not. But that is what happened. And as they came in, I am sure that they explained why they had rushed over. They didn’t just rush in, look at the baby, and leave. They must have told Joseph and Mary what they had heard from the angel.

    Their words caused Mary to think. Along with the other things she and Joseph had learned, this was another surprise. As she looked from one shepherd to another and as she listened to their report, she thought about what had happened with wide opened eyes.

    Joseph and Mary marveled at what they heard.

    Luke 2:33 – “And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.”

    We have already looked at what Simeon said to Joseph and Mary. His announcement of Jesus’ purpose and effect on people’s lives was extraordinary. But this was still a marvel to them. It was a confirmation of what the angel had already told them with a new twist to it. This caught them off guard but also caused them to think.

    Having heard the story for many years, it is hard to put ourselves in the place of Joseph and Mary and to understand their surprise, marvel, and perplexed response to all that was said. But it is a good thing to think about what God has said. So we should do the same. We should also learn from their response of submission to God’s will and follow their example.


As we conclude this message, we should remember who Jesus is. He is the unique Son of God, born to a virgin, sent to be the Savior of all people, and who will be the future King of Israel. This same Jesus, who was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died in our place to pay for our sins, and rose from being dead three days later. It is this Jesus whom we worship today.

But the fact that you know these facts is only part of the equation. Our knowledge must be mixed with faith—faith not only in who He is but also in what He had done for us. Joseph and Mary heard the facts, believed them, and then submitted to God’s plan. This is what God requires of all of us. We must not only know the facts but must also believe and act on them. Will you do that today?