Joseph – A Great Role Model
Joseph does not get a lot of attention in the Christian faith. Sure, we briefly talk about Him around Christmas time but he is almost an afterthought. Jesus is rightly the center of attention. After that, Mary is usually the focus of most discussions of Jesus’ family. Even the Wisemen and their journey get more attention from Christians. Yet, Joseph is quite a special individual. Only Joseph is chosen to be Jesus’ earthly dad out of all of the men of history. It is an amazing privilege. It is worth looking at the reasons God gives the job of raising Jesus to this one man. Joseph’s faith and obedience to the Lord are just as impressive as Mary’s. His leadership of his family is something we can all learn from. In a world filled with terrible examples of men, husbands, and fathers, Joseph is one man we can look to for a great example on how to follow God well…even when we don’t understand the plan.
A Man with a Big Problem
Joseph is introduced in the midst of a big predicament. He is betrothed to a young lady named Mary. This is great news. She happens to be pregnant. This is not so good news as they have never had sexual relations. We as readers know this child was Jesus born of the Holy Spirit. Joseph does not have the New Testament to fill him in. All he knows that Mary is to be his wife. He knows she is pregnant. He knows it is not his child. What is the only logical conclusion to arrive at based upon those facts? That it is another man’s child. The woman promised to him has been unfaithful. What should he do about it? Talk about a tough hand to be dealt! This would be a mess of a situation to deal with now.
No one likes to be betrayed. It was even harder to navigate back then. In addition to the relationship issues, Joseph and Mary were facing big trouble legally and in their community. Betrothal is the rough equivalent to our modern engagement process. There is a major difference between the two, though. If one party was unfaithful during betrothal, it was treated as adultery. This was a very serious business. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning. If that were not bad enough, in a close-knit society like Israel, their reputations and that of their families would also be ruined by the scandal involved. An unwed mother was unheard of in Israel. When people found out Mary was pregnant, her life and the future of both of their families were ruined.
Justice or Mercy
Joseph had a choice when learning of the child. We don’t know what he was told about the baby. Did Mary tell him about Gabriel? The Bible does not say. But at this point in history, it has been more than 400 years since God spoke to the Nation of Israel. God sending His angel to a poor peasant girl in a backwater town would have been hard to believe. Joseph’s young fiance comes to him saying she is pregnant but was not unfaithful must be hard to believe. It violates the simple “Birds and the Bees” we all know. The explanation “God did it” was Mary’s only defense.
With her soon to be showing obvious signs of pregnancy, the evidence of infidelity seems overwhelming. So Joseph is left with a decision from a human perspective. He could demand “justice” as he understood it. This would involve Mary stoned or publicly ostracized. Everyone would see she was clearly unfaithful to him. The baby was undeniable evidence of her actions. This would absolve Joseph of any wrongdoing. It would also publicly wash his hands of the situation and prove he was the sinned against the party.
Joseph’s reputation would remain intact. This is the justice option. For many of us, this feels like the only option. Justice must be cold and swift. The guilty must be punished. This is comfortable for us until we realize we are the guilty. The other way Joseph could respond is with love. He could choose mercy first and do his best to protect Mary. He does not have to give up on justice, he plans to divorce her, but he tries to be merciful in doing so.
Joseph can deal with the perceived sin issue but he does not need to abandon love when doing so. If we don’t have love, we are just as the clanging gong, a loud annoying sound. His choice was between mercy and justice. What would most soon to be husbands do in this situation? Honestly, what would each of us do if our beloved showed up to the wedding pregnant and we know it is not our child?
Love Always Protects
Joseph chooses mercy. He believes he is right, betrayed and greatly wronged and the law is on his side. He knows his rights under the law. Yet, Joseph still puts what is good for Mary before what benefits him. The Bible says Joseph desires to put Mary away privately. This means he plans to divorce her but does not wish to hurt her in the process. He does not demand her death or public punishment. He is a just man and he does not want to make a public example of Mary. That would not be merciful How do we do in similar circumstances?
When we feel wronged and betrayed by those we love, are we still willing to protect them? I know I want my public pound of flesh when someone cuts me off in traffic. How dare they! Joseph is dealing with a much greater injustice and much deeper wound. Yet, he is a just man according to God’s description. Righteous men love others…even when the cost is terrible to them. I suspect this is part of the reason for God’s choice of Joseph as Jesus’ earthly father figure. He leads out of love. He protects the guilty. He has a heart for the fallen. He is a just man. That description sounds a lot like the boy he raised, Jesus, right?
A Thoughtful Man
Joseph’s story doesn’t end in divorce. The Bible says that he continues to think about these things. He is a thoughtful man as well as a just one. While earnestly thinking things over, God speaks to him:
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name ]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
This is the third angel that appears early in the Gospels. One first to Zechariah, one to Mary and now the third to Joseph. A similar message of divine birth is given each time. Zechariah responds to his message with doubt. Mary answers in faith but with a reasonable question. Joseph response is unique. He responds only with obedience.
“Joseph…did as the angel told”
Joseph is a man who follows God. When he is later warned to flee to Egypt with the baby Jesus, Joseph is similarly quick to respond. Joseph gets up and leaves his entire life behind and goes to Egypt. He comes back when God tells him to return. Joseph listens to God’s voice no matter the cost. Joseph is far from a perfect man. He was completely wrong about Mary. He reaches a false conclusion about her and is planning to divorce her. In doing so, he almost missed out on the privilege of raising Jesus.
Can we imagine holding the baby Jesus? Think about the blessing of feeding, teaching and cuddling the Savior of the World! Joseph almost turns away from his calling. Yet, when God speaks Joseph immediately listens. Even if it is a correction and rebuke, he responds. Joseph has his plan all laid out for putting away Mary privately. He is applying all his worldly wisdom and doing his best to be just. This had to be agonizing. God corrects him and his plans go out the window. He does not wrestle it out with God or bargain.
He does not try to wait it out or lament God’s choices. Joseph knows that even the path most “just” man by worldly standards has nothing to say in the face of God’s plan. God’s version is always better than our judgment. We may question Joseph’s simple faithfulness. “An angel appeared to Joseph, how hard is it to obey that sort of message?”, is the question. Sure, it was a clear sign from God. Yet, how many of us have heard just as clearly from God on a big issue in life and completely ignore the message.
God’s opinion on pornography is brilliantly obvious when we read God’s Word or see the damage done. Christians continue marching down that terrible path every day. God told me repeatedly to stop drinking for years before I finally agreed. Like Jacob, I wrestled it out with God before finally receiving my blessing. In contrast, Joseph doesn’t even ask for clarity. God says take Mary. Joseph takes Mary as his wife. For him, it is that simple.
Count the Cost
Joseph’s decision was not without a cost. This is the final reason to admire Joseph. There were repercussions from marrying Mary. Pregnancy is not something one hides in a small close-knit community. Their neighbors can count back 9 months. People loved scandals and gossip just as much then as they do now. When Joseph chooses to trust God and marry Mary, he agrees to be associated with this dishonor. Following God means accepting the costs associated with doing the right thing.
He willingly associates with the one everyone thinks is a sinner to help bring the Light of the World to us all. Why? Because he is just man full of mercy who obeys God’s voice. This Christmas season in the midst of the discussions of the Wise Men, the manger and visiting angels, take some time to look at the man chosen to raise Jesus as his own. He is not a perfect man. He is just a man, like us. But God chose Joseph for a reason.
He is a wonderful example of a just man according to God’s definition. He has a simple faith, wonderful obedience and shows love and mercy for sinners in challenging circumstances. This is the perfect man to help bring baby Jesus into this world.
Tom Neary is loving life as an on fire follower of Jesus. Helping others see to the glory of Jesus and to live abundantly in Him is his mission. He is a Christian, husband, father, lawyer and a regular guy called to teach God’s Word simply. To check out more of what Tom is doing visit pastorunlikely.com and calvarycatonsville.com. Tom has also just launched a podcast “Come Let Us Disciple” focused on informal discipleship.