We’ve been walking through Jesus’ family tree of imperfect men and women. Today is the final character study: Joseph. Interesting the way the genealogy describes Joseph: READ Matt. 1:16. Mary, of course, is made pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Yet the line of Jesus is traced through Joseph in Matthew 1.
It’s clear Joseph knows he is in the family of David; likely he would be King if Israel were a sovereign nation….READ Luke 1:26-27. King David is part of the family heritage. [QUESTION: Who has a famous relative in their family tree from generations past?] God made a promise to David, a promise that would not die. No doubt Joseph at least had a general thought that God was not yet finished and the fulfillment of the promise was still coming, someway, somehow… who knows if he thought he’d see the promise revived or if a centuries old tradition….
God entrusted to Joseph the human role of father to baby Jesus. It is guessed that Joseph is older than Mary, because that is the culture, and the fact that he is mentioned in a few stories but then disappears from the record of the Bible. The Bible, after all, is not about giving us a full picture of each character, but rather it is about faith in Christ Jesus. The Bible tells us as much as we need to know!
The last story that includes Joseph is in Luke 2:41-52, the story of 12 year old Jesus and his parents who go on their annual trip to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. READ Luke 2:41-43. What do we learn about Joseph’s character from this story? Joseph is a devout Jew that follows the customs of the day. We learn he loves Jesus and when he discovers Jesus is missing he worries…. We learn that Joseph and Mary work together. We learn Joseph discovered he has more to learn. Talk about humility for Joseph and Mary to be schooled by their 12 year old son who they found in the temple listening to his elders and asking questions. READ Luke 2:46-50. Obviously Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus, a role for him alone, yet in the broader sense this story points to the need to submit to Jesus, to humble yourself…. That’s a godly character for all men and women/all people. To understand there is always more that we can learn from Jesus.
Joseph had to endure rumors about himself, yet he was faithful to his family. When he made the decision to marry Mary in spite of the fact that she was pregnant, not by his doing, it was the beginning of a life of whisperings about him… at one point when Jesus was an adult the Pharisees taunted Jesus in John 8:39, “Abraham is our father…” as if to suggest you don’t know who your real dad is… a reference to the persistent rumor that Mary was not faithful to Joseph. Indeed, when Luke has his own version of Jesus genealogy, it says in Luke 3:23, “Now Jesus himself was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”
Joseph himself, naturally, questioned Mary when she was first pregnant… even though it appeared Mary was unfaithful, he has an amazing attitude about their upcoming marriage. READ Mt. 1:19. At that moment, Joseph truly thought Mary had done something completely wrong, but he seeks to make the best of it and bless her anyway. That is one of the hardest principles of life but a vitally important one ~ human nature is to seek revenge, to get even, to fight….Joseph shows a better way. What makes a godly man or woman: bless others no matter what, want the best, let go of your own personal insults directed at you and seek to lift up the other person. Joseph is remarkable. It says he is righteous. If he were the actual king of Israel, this statement that he is righteous is equivalent to the declaration of many of the Kings that he is a good King. Righteous means he is right/correct in his relationship to God. He knows God and God knows him. Are you right with God? Are you seeking to follow Him? These are good questions.
A huge part of Joseph’s character is that he listens. READ Mt. 1:20-21, 24-25. Joseph listens to God and follows in obedience (which is what listening means). You might argue but Joseph was given a divine dream! True enough. Not many in the Bible actually have dreams and visions, Jacob of old, Daniel, and now Joseph, later Peter has a vision in the book of Acts… the book of revelation is a vision. Only an arrogant person would declare I will listen too if faced with an angel or an unmistakable dream. We don’t need an audible voice, a miracle dream, to know what God wants of us. If he really wants to get our attention maybe that’s what he’ll choose to do! In the case of Joseph, the miracle of the virgin conception is so amazing I’m glad God gave Joseph a dramatic dream, how else could he have any hope of understanding the truth of what happened.
For us, most of the time we know what God wants of us. He wants us to listen for his voice as we read the Bible, as we pray, as we seek him through worship. That is what all the disciplines of faith are about…. God will speak through impressions, through the wisdom of trusted Christian friends, through open doors that are waiting for us to walk through. Men and women of God listen for the voice of God. Later in the birth stories Joseph has another angelic visit in a dream and once again Joseph is obedient when he packs up Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt (Luke 2:13-15).
Joseph is a righteous man; part of his righteousness is listening to God. Listen for God’s voice. Follow in obedience. Risk for God when what God is saying is not popular. Listen for God… Now is a good time to revive the art of listening to God. When faced with a decision, don’t first ask what do I want, what would make me comfortable, but rather, ask, what does God want whether it makes me comfortable or not. A modern translation of Prov. 3:6 says, “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do and in everything you say, He is the one that will keep you on track.”
Not every act of obedience to God from Joseph is in response to a dream. He clearly wants to be obedient to God constantly. He has a pattern of going to the feast in Jerusalem, he clearly knows the scripture, he knows his family heritage that he is in the line of David and the promise of God, he was prepared to accept whatever came his way, such as the provision of a stable for the birth of Jesus. I obviously don’t know for sure what he thought of the stable, but the stable sure seems to have suited him just fine. Even lowly shepherds were welcome.
I like the little story of the children that put on the nativity play. Everyone was excited and happy - except one little boy who had wanted to play the part of Joseph - but had, instead, been given the role of playing the Inn Keeper. Wanting to insert himself into the story, the young boy decided to re-write the dialogue without telling anyone. When Joseph and Mary knocked at the door of the Inn, the Innkeeper threw the door open wide and said ” Come on in – we have plenty of room.” Joseph, without missing a beat, looked behind the open door, then looked the Inn Keeper in the eye said: ” No wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like that. We’d rather take the stable.” Obviously that’s made up, but I like to think that when a person is obedient to God, listening for his voice, what is second choice for the world is first choice to men and women of faith... To obey God, to listen to him, to be humble, is to accept whatever God puts in your path. A humble home in God’s will is far more satisfying than a mansion coming from the pride of your own heart.
Another great quality of Joseph: He is flexible. His home town is Bethlehem, but when it is better to raise his family in Nazareth he quietly accepts the change.
We come to the end of Jesus’ family tree by looking at an amazing man of great character: Joseph. Joseph is a shining example of what it means to be a man or woman of God. At this point in history, Joseph is an ordinary person, the last King in his family to sit on an earthly throne took place 500 years earlier. He is not a king, in fact he is a carpenter, probably a middle class family, not poor, not rich, but a job, a home, some means. Turns out God does not really care about literal kings with great power, he cares about spiritual Kings that are humble servants of God. God uses ordinary people to accomplish great things. It’s so much fun in the Clothesline on those occasions when I see people come in to get clothes, and their story comes out, and one of the Clothesline Crew listens and responds and helps… that’s what I call a great thing because anytime you make a difference to others, anytime you follow in obedience to God, it is an extraordinary privilege. Perhaps the greatest privilege I have as a pastor is to be surrounded by amazingly ordinary great people of God that serve God constantly in daily life.
Joseph was a righteous man which means he had a right relationship with God. He was humble, not some great intellectual thinker or theologian. Yet God decided to use this humble man to shape the life of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Out of all the potential fathers in Israel, to mentor and love Jesus as he was growing up, why did God choose Joseph? Joseph listened to God and he obeyed. He was willing to change. He was a servant at heart. He was willing to live under persistent rumors, knowing obedience to God is more important than what other people thought of him.
On behalf of Chad and myself thank you for allowing us to scratch the surface of God’s imperfect family. We learned a lot and hope you found inspiration as well. Almost weekly Chad and I had at least one conversation bouncing thoughts about how to understand the man or woman of the week, the times they lived, how the character fits in.
May each of you find inspiration in Joseph, ready to hear God’s voice and follow in obedience. Putting aside your own reputation and daring to follow God no matter what others think. Ready to elevate the people in your life by committing yourself to serve them. A real man/woman is not about power/status/getting ahead but is about service, listening, obedience, humility. That’s the way of Joseph. Amen.