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Just Joseph

Matthew 1:18-19 - Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19And Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.

Read Matthew 1 and 2.

What do you know about the Joseph who stands in the background of the Christmas nativity scenes? What kind of a man did God choose to be the earthly father of our Lord? We know he was a carpenter by vocation (Matthew 13:55), but what was he like in character? Was he just an "average believer" like most of us, or was he an outstanding man of God?

According to Matthew 1:19, Joseph was a just man. This is the same as saying that he was a righteous man. Joseph was not perfect or sinless, but his life was characterized by consistently doing what was right before God. Joseph was not only a good, honest carpenter, but he exhibited outstanding moral qualities in every area of his life. Even though the Bible does not contain a lot about this "background" man, the virtuous character and moral excellence of Joseph emerge from the few verses that God has given us about him. As we study what the Bible has to say about "just Joseph", we should be challenged to follow his example.

Joseph was a man of love. We see his love demonstrated in his tender care and consideration of Mary, even under very difficult circumstances. Imagine Joseph's predicament when he found out that his beloved fiancee was pregnant. Mary's explanations about "angel announcements" and "Holy Spirit conception" were just toomuch to believe. With deep hurt and disappointment Joseph must have concluded that sometime during Mary's three-month visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:56), she had been unfaithful to him. How could she have done this to the man who truly loved her? And then to not even confess and tell him the "truth"! She had insisted that this was all of God and had pleaded with him to understand. Joseph had never known such emotional stress and trauma and hurt!

At this point Joseph was left with two options. He loved God and he wanted to do what was right. According to God's law (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), Mary could have been put to death. Even if a public stoning was waived, at least she could have been denounced publicly. (This action would also have the effect of "protecting" Joseph's reputation!) But Joseph loved Mary, in spite of her apparent unfaithfulness to him. There was no desire in his heart for any kind of revenge. For Mary's sake he decided to keep things as quiet as possible and break the engagement privately. Because Mary had not been proven guilty, he had the option of dispensing with his legal rights. Maybe he thought Mary could go back to stay with Elizabeth, who lived some distance away. She could have the baby there and avoid a very painful scandal in Nazareth. Joseph was a man of love and wanted to do the best for Mary--even when he thought she had betrayed him.

Do we show the same kind of love that Joseph exhibited? What is our reaction when we believe a Christian friend has wronged us or someone we're close to has deeply hurt us? Do we look for an opportunity to get back at that person? Are we filled with anger and bitterness? Do we run away from the scene of our hurt so that we can just forget everything? Or do we continue to love that Christian friend and try to do not only what's right by God's standards but also what's best for the person who has stepped on us? This kind of love is never easy, but it is possible. (See John 17:26).

Joseph was also a man of faith. By this we mean that he was more than just a believer. "Just Joseph" lived and walked by faith in the living God. Faithful Joseph must have spent a long time in prayer as he considered what to do about Mary (1:20). It wasn't that he didn't want to believe her story, but how could he have accepted such a fantasy? To believe such an incredible story would take gullibility, not faith! A virgin birth had never happened throughout the history of man--not even back in the miracle days of the prophets!

It was at this point that an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel confirmed everything that Mary had shared with him. She had been faithful! The conception was of the Holy Spirit! Mary was the virgin of Isaiah's messianic prophecy (1:23)! Joseph's fiancee was going to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah! And he was to be the earthly father of this Child and was to name him Jesus! What unexpected good news! What unbelievable relief of soul! Joseph must have experienced reverent awe and ecstatic joy at the same time. He wasted no time in marrying Mary (1:24)--concrete evidence of his faith in God. Can you imagine the beautiful and excited reunion of this godly couple?

The faith of Joseph should be an example for all of us. Notice that Joseph never questioned the angel or doubted the divine revelation given to him. Notice that the angel never questioned Joseph either. There was no rebuke for Joseph's conclusions about Mary. The Lord does not hold us responsible to believe the incredible without divine revelation. God is not looking for blind faith or gullible faith. He calls us to a reasonable faith--a faith which is grounded in His revealed Word. Joseph would certainly have known the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, and it was to these promises in the Word of God that the angel pointed Joseph (1:21-23). As Joseph believed the angel because the message was grounded in Scripture, so we should believe and not doubt what God has plainly declared in His Word. Take the matter of our daily needs, for example. Do we worry about our security? Do we doubt God's ability to take care of us and meet our basic needs? To walk by reasonable faith means that we should not doubt or get anxious about our needs, because God has plainly declared that He Himself will provide "all these things" when we are "seeking His kingdom first". (See Matthew 6:25-34).

Joseph was obviously a man of obedience. He readily obeyed the angel's command to take Mary as his wife. But that command was easy to obey, you may say! Wait a minute! Remember that Mary was at least three months pregnant at this time (Luke 1:56). By marrying Mary, Joseph was taking on himself all the accusations and stigma that were sure to surface shortly. In this connection, note the implication of the Jews' statement made some thirty years later: "We were not born of fornication..." (John 8:31). But Joseph obeyed the angel's message, regardless of the consequences. A further example of Joseph's obedience is seen in Matthew 2:13-14. After Jesus' birth he was told by the angel to take his family to Egypt--quickly! Even though there were Jewish communities in Egypt at that time and even though God had provided the means for the trip through the gifts of the wise men, it was still quite an undertaking. To travel by donkey with Mary and young Jesus to an unfamiliar country at least 300 miles away over wilderness terrain was not a Sunday stroll! But Joseph obeyed--promptly (2:14)! After they were settled in Egypt, however, Joseph was told to move again--back to Israel! Again Joseph obeyed without raising any questions about convenience or God's timetable!

Are we like Joseph in our obedience to the Lord's commands? Do we obey quickly, or do we practice partial and delayed obedience? What about the Lord's command to verbalize the gospel with our fellow students and neighbors that many of us find so hard to obey (Mark 16:15)? What about the area of our lusts--from which we are told to flee (2 Timothy 2:22)? Do we obey only when it's convenient and easy? What about the sins of criticizing others and complaining about circumstances? It's so convenient and easy to disobey in this area! Do we obey even when we don't understand what God is doing in our lives? Do we trust the Lord even when tragedy strikes and the future looks like it's up for grabs? (See Proverbs 3:5-6). Joseph is a tremendous model to all of us of what it really means to trust and obey.

Finally, Joseph was a man of patience. We have already seen that he was not given to rash reaction. He thought through his course of action (1:20). In Matthew 1:25 we are told that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until Jesus was born. Whether or not this was also a command from the angel we do not know. Certainly the Divine/Human nature of Christ would not have been affected in any way since conception had already taken place three months earlier. But perhaps in view of the prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, Joseph kept Mary a virgin until after the birth of Jesus. It doesn't take a lot of profound insight here to recognize that Joseph was a man of governed passions and disciplined patience.

The patience of Joseph needs to be practiced by Christians today. Impatience in the area of sexual desire has led to the downfall of many believers. If God gave Joseph patience in this area, He can give us patience as well! Remember, patience in all areas is part of the fruit of the Spirit Who indwells and empowers every Christian. (See Galatians 5:22).

During this holiday season the figure of "just Joseph" will stand in the background shadows of many nativity scenes. Let's be reminded to follow his example of love, faith, obedience and patience.
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