Monday, December 23, 2013

Joseph: God's Other Divine Choice

(Editor's note:  This post was originally published December 15, 2010.)

As we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded of specific people, things, and events that surround God the Savior’s glorious entrance into the world.  The most prominent is usually the manger scene and our focus is placed on Mary, who is certainly a major participant in this divine event.  But what about the man God the Son chose to be His earthly father -


I have always had a curious fascination with Joseph and the role he played.  Much more is written about Mary than her husband and, unfortunately, her status and significance has been un-Biblically elevated by the Catholic Church.  She would be the receptacle through which the Lord would come, but not the deliverer or intercessor, as they would have you think.   The Messiah she would carry and give birth to would die for her sins as well as the sins of others.  

In my mind, the blessing that was poured out upon Mary was no greater than the blessing Joseph received from God.  The Lord entrusted His feeble infancy and fledgling adolescence to the watchful care of this poor carpenter.  And Joseph accepted the responsibility of loving, nurturing, providing for, and protecting Jesus until He physically matured (Matthew 2:13-15).  Until that time would come, it was Joseph’s responsibility to raise up and teach Jesus as his own son, even training Him in his chosen trade of carpentry.

In the beginning verses of Matthew and Luke, Jesus lineage is given.  Because he was writing to the Jews, Matthew traces Jesus' genealogy from Joseph and Mary back to Abraham in order for him to demonstrate His right to the throne. (See Matthew 1:1-17)  Luke, because he was writing to the Gentiles, traced the Lord’s lineage back to Adam, emphasizing Jesus as the Savior of all people.  But what is clear from both genealogies is that Mary and Joseph were equally direct descendants of David, thereby proving and legitimizing Christ’s rightful inheritance. (See Luke 3:23-38 for Mary’s genealogy)  The significance of this is that the Christ must come from David’s seed and is proven in both gospels.  It further demonstrates that, although Jesus was not Joseph’s physical offspring, it established Jesus’ rightful claim to the throne of David as Joseph’s legal heir by adoption.

Joseph’s age is not mentioned, however.  We know Mary’s approximate age to be between 13 and 19 because girls were then considered mature enough to marry at this age due to their child-bearing ability.  Any unmarried woman beyond her teen years was not as desirable,  and she may have been considered an old maid of lesser value, her ability to produce offspring lessened by her age.  Because it was common for an older man to take a young girl as his wife to insure progeny, Joseph could have been middle-aged when they married.  This is not to say that he was, rather to give us a possible explanation for his lifespan as compared to Mary's as recorded in Scripture.

In the Jewish culture, when a man chose a wife, he became “betrothed” to her.  In other words, a promise of marriage was struck and a year-long engagement ensued.  Joseph probably looked with joyful anticipation to the day when his marriage vows would be fulfilled.  But, what must have crossed his mind when Mary, the virgin that had been betrothed to him, came to him and revealed she was pregnant with not just a child from another man, but a child she claimed was from the Holy Spirit?  Surely, Joseph would have thought she was attempting to cover up infidelity by concocting a wild story, or that she was insane.  

As Mary recalled the unbelievable account of the angel Gabriel’s visit to her, proclaiming her as the “favored one” of God (Luke 1:28), Joseph’s discomfort had to have been just as great as Mary’s.  Although she believed Gabriel’s pronouncement, she felt “greatly troubled” over his words (v29), and it probably added to Joseph’s doubt over her mental state.  For Joseph to hear her say that God had chosen her to bear His Son Who “would reign over the house of Jacob forever,” establishing an eternal kingdom of which there would be no end (v33), nothing short of quickly relieving himself of Mary would be prudent.  It would have seemed such an exaggerated tale given the fact that the Jews believed the Messiah would physically reign over Israel, and Joseph's economic status was a poor one.  Wouldn't the long-awaited King be born in less humble circumstances, in spite of what was evident in their holy scriptures?  How could he believe what Mary was telling him?  And to top it off, what would he tell his family, his friends, and worse yet, the synagogue leaders?

The social stigma for Joseph would have been tremendous.  The legal complications of the Law would have been greater still.   Because the term “just man” is used to describe him, Scripture suggests Joseph was a true believer in God and was declared righteous.  He carefully followed the Law and applied it to his own life.  For Mary to be found pregnant before the marriage was legally consummated would have been seen by Joseph and his peers as disgraceful.  Justice would have been demanded by certain pious Jewish leaders and others in his community.  As a Jew and because he knew the child was not his, Joseph had two legal choices in how to deal with Mary’s pregnancy: the remedy of stoning her for adultery (Deut. 22:23-24), or obtaining a legal divorce (Deut. 24:1), which would free him from his obligation of marriage to Mary.

But because Joseph was a “just man”, he was also a merciful one.  As he “considered” the situation he found himself in and his choices (Matt.1:20), there is reason to assume he sought the counsel of the Jewish synagogue leaders.  He could have chosen to settle the matter using the stricter punishment the Law provided.  Instead, Joseph chose to spare Mary from death or further “public disgrace” by divorcing “her quietly” (v19), and to try and pick back up the pieces of his shattered life.

Through all the turmoil Joseph was experiencing, there was one thing left for God to do as He set the stage for His human birth.  In a dream, the Lord assuaged Joseph’s fears, doubts, and certain heartbreak by encouraging him to take Mary as his wife.  God assured Joseph that the things Mary had told him were true.  The Son she bore would be the long-awaited Messiah Who would be sent to “save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:18-21).  And, as God did with Mary in His declaration to her in Luke 1:31, He also did for Joseph, giving the Child's Name:   Jesus, “the LORD saves”.

Coming back to the manger scene, we find Joseph faithfully by Mary's side.  As Jesus is born into this world, the anxious father gazes down with wonder and awe at the Child.  Perhaps as he listens to the voices of the angels proclaiming the Lord's birth, he recalls the promises God made to him in that dream: promises of a King born to rescue His people; a Savior to sit upon the throne of David.  He thinks about his own lowly existence and is filled with wonder that the promised Messiah lies helpless in his arms.  Joseph accepts the fact that the infant is not from his own loins, but his thoughts are filled with the days and years ahead when he can bounce Him on his knee, and do what all devoted fathers do: teach Him all that he knows.

From this point on, Joseph became God the Son’s adoptive earthly father.

Any mention of Joseph in Scripture ends when Jesus is 12-years old during the Passover Feast that the family participated in at Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52).  As they were leaving the city, Joseph and Mary discovered Jesus was not with them and frantically began a search for their missing Son.  Finding Him in the temple with the teachers, His parents admonished Him for causing them distress, as any good parent would do for a wayward child.

This account gives us a glimpse into the lack of understanding Mary and Joseph had of just Who their son truly was.  They had been told by Gabriel and God that the son they would raise would be a king. But up to this point, they probably still believed that He would physically reign over Israel in the manner of King David, as did even the teachers Jesus was found with and who were  also waiting for the Messiah.  Many years would go by before the realization of Jesus'  true purpose would come to fruition, and witnessed only by Mary as she watched Him suffer on the cross and rise three days later.  But as any good son would do, Jesus "...went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Although Scripture tells us little of the man Joseph, if we read between the lines, much can be determined by what little is said.  He was a righteous man of great faith.  His heart was full of compassion and love.  He was unquestionably obedient to the tremendous responsibilities God placed upon him. And he chose public humiliation over disobedience to the Lord.  Although Jesus was God incarnate,  the Creator of all things known and unknown, as with any earthly father-son relationship, Joseph undoubtedly influenced the Son of Man as He matured, teaching Him not only what was necessary to provide for one’s life and maintain a respectable position within the community, but also about virtue and mankind’s responsibility to God through obedience and adherence to the Law and the Jewish rituals.  These were the things any good Jewish father would desire to teach his son, and Joseph would have been that kind of father.

Because so much focus is placed on her, we tend to attribute Christ’s earthly rearing to Mary and her efforts.   It is clear that of His two parents, she alone was with Jesus at the end and there is no mention of Joseph.  But let us not forget that without Joseph, who was also God’s other divine choice to lead His family, the events surrounding the Lord Jesus’ life may have been dramatically different.  God chose him for a reason, and Joseph understood the seriousness of his responsibility and assumed the role perfectly and with great devotion to God.

The account of his life and purpose in Scripture may be short or lacking other noteworthy mention, but Joseph's role in God's divine plan should never be found insignificant.  He faithfully fulfilled God's purpose for placing him on earth.  He was the father to  the young Jesus that God planned and expected him to be.

In a way, I find it sad that there is no mention of Joseph beyond the temple incident.  Even sadder is that there is no mention of his death.  I am sure that somewhere buried among the  Jewish genealogical scrolls is a line or two recording his name.  But, perhaps his seemingly insignificant role needs no further accolades because we know that, through his obedience to God, Joseph fulfilled His purpose by taking Mary as his wife and helping raise and bring the Lord safely to the completion of His purpose for being born - to claim His throne and bring salvation to His earthly parents and to the world.

And for this, Joseph received his crown.

I hope you will take a few moments and listen to the following song that was written to perhaps reflect Joseph's emotions and wonder for the Gift with which God graced the world.

 Merry Christmas, everyone.

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