Joseph, the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus

I believe that Joseph, the husband of Mary and Jesus’ earthly father, is a Biblical hero and his story is a narrative that deserves more attention. Matthew 1, the first chapter of the New Testament, traces the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David (each of which had received an eternal promise about the Messiah coming from their offspring) to Joesph. This is a genealogy of adoption. Joseph, biologically speaking was not the father of Jesus. In order for Jesus to be the rightful heir to David’s throne (the Messiah or the Christ), his paternal genealogy must trace back to King David. One problem exists humanly speaking, Jesus is the eternal Son of God. How can one who always existed descend from a human lineage? The significance of the patriarchs rests not only in the fact that Jesus is through them, but also that he is before them. Jesus is both the root of David and the heir to David’s throne. Of Abraham he said, “before Abraham was, I am“ (John 8:58). While this represents a difficulty in our minds, it presents God with an opportunity to display his brilliance with ever increasing glory. God would have his own Son seated upon the throne, while remaining true to his covenantal promises to the patriarchs, but he would do it through adoption. Joseph became the sovereignly selected means of that adoption. Such a man is worthy of our attention. What caliber of man would God select for such a task as this? And what can we stand to learn from him?

Joseph was a deeply righteous man 

There is a righteousness that catches the eyes of God and reaches much deeper than outward observances. I believe that men like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham possessed this type of righteousness long before the law was given at Sinai. I believe that Joseph possessed this type of righteousness. Matthew 1:19 says, “Because Joesph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” At this point in the story, Joseph has every right to believe that his fiancé has been unfaithful. He would not only be permitted to divorce her according to the law, he would also be encouraged to do so. But Joseph had a righteousness that reached deeper than that. He was prepared to obey the law, but to do it in a way that would not bring public disgrace or shame upon Mary. What a picture of someone understanding the true character of the Father even before it would be more vividly expressed in the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Joseph understood what it meant to show mercy. 

Joseph immediately responded to the Word of the Lord

Before Joseph divorces Mary, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and reveals the nature of Mary’s pregnancy. He is given further instruction to not be afraid of taking Mary home as his wife and is told that the child Mary is carrying is going to be the Savior of the World. Verse 22 tells us that “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” This is not the only instance of Joseph readily obeying the Word of the Lord. Three different times in Matthew 2 Joseph receives prophetic direction from the Lord in dreams. In the first dream, Joseph is told to take Mary and the child and head to Egypt. “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…” (Matthew 2:14). Joseph didn’t even wait until he woke up and had his morning cup of coffee to act on the Word of the Lord. He left in the middle of the night. Imagine packing up all of your belongings and leaving for another country for an indefinite amount of time with your new wife and baby boy before the sun even comes up. That is radical obedience. The next dream Joseph receives instructs him to go back to Israel because those who wanted to take Jesus’ life were now dead. “So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel” (Matthew 2:21). Once again, Joseph just gets up and immediately does what he is instructed to do. In a third dream Joseph is warned about where he is to settle and raise his family, so “Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene” Matthew 2:22-23). Joseph lived a consecrated lifestyle that allowed him to hear from the Lord with great sensitivity and almost play-by-play detailed instruction. If Joseph had failed to obey the Word of the Lord, at least one of two major things may have gone wrong: Jesus’ life would have been in jeopardy prematurely and certain prophetic promises might have been aborted. But God found a man to work with and through. God had Joseph’s ear and his heart. 

Joseph accepted responsibility

Technically speaking, Joseph could have looked at Mary and the child in her womb and said, “not my kid, not my responsibility.” Instead he decided to stay and raise Jesus as his son. I can only imagine how unfit a lowly carpenter felt knowing he was being given the responsibility of bringing up the Messiah under his roof. This was also Joseph’s first child. He didn’t get a practice run to perfect his parenting skills. Joseph was thrust into a situation where he would be forced to rely heavily on the Lord’s leadership and recognize his own insufficiency for the task. Joseph could only fully accept responsibility after he came into contact with his own inability and his extreme dependency on the Lord. There is a huge lesson in this for both men and women. Our largest assignments from the Lord will be things we are radically unqualified for and things that require our total commitment. Joseph could break his engagement before the wedding, but once he took her as his wife, he would be bound by covenant. He was entering into a deep and lifelong commitment. Our greatest assignments from the Lord require deep and lasting commitment. We must get to a place where we leave ourselves no plan B. Joseph knew that if he walked away after saying “yes", he would be walking away from the Lord. He stayed. He committed. He took responsibility. He became a hero in the process. 

Joseph was humble 

We have no record of Joseph reveling in the dreams or angelic visitations he received. He just acted on them. He was a carpenter. He worked with his hands and apprenticed his son, the creator of the universe, in this trade until it was time for Jesus to enter his earthly ministry. Joseph is almost always in the shadow. Even throughout history he has received very little attention. He was content to be a great dad and a great husband. He was content to practice his righteousness in secret and live close to the Lord in the process. 

I believe that Joseph is a hero that deserves more attention. I believe that this narrative needs to be shared in our generation. He was not a random man, chosen at a random time in history. He was hand selected by God for a most important task that came in the fullness of time. Men and women of faith I encourage you to learn what lessons you can from his life. Be righteous. Be sensitive to the Lord’s voice. Live a life of simple obedience. Take responsibility. Commit. Be humble. Men, I exhort you to hear the Word of the Lord for your family, follow his leadership, and be good dads and husbands. Women, I encourage you to look for Josephs who will cover your shame and make room for what you carry. Children, I encourage you to follow the example of Jesus and honor whoever God has chosen to be your father or mother. Show them love and respect, but in light of all their imperfections, never forget who your true Father is in heaven. He loves you deeply and he is able to fulfill every good promise and bring you into the fullness of all his plans and purposes. 

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