I used to think the role of Joseph in the nativity story was because he “happened” to be Mary’s betrothed.
Since then, I have taken another look at that what-usually-is-considered-boring list of Jesus’s ancestors in the first seventeen verses of Matthew 1. It starts out with Abraham and goes on down through King David until it reaches “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” So?
I’m no genealogist and don’t pretend to have done deep research, but here are my thoughts.
Most are on the same page that Joseph was not Jesus’s biological father, that Jesus was conceived by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Scripture even tells us Mary and Joseph, though married, did not indulge in sexual intimacy until after Jesus’s birth.
Okay, now remember that when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant (we have no idea how he found out…), he considered divorcing her quietly so as not to bring her shame. He was a stand-up guy, folks. But an angel appeared to him in a dream and set things straight. Joseph went on to take Mary as his wife, and we know the rest of the Bethlehem story.
After that, Joseph did legally claim Jesus as his son. This was no small thing, as it was important from a Jewish standpoint. And here is the important genealogy issue: Joseph’s family puts Jesus in King David’s line, a rightful heir, and that is vital to back up His later claims regarding this.
In the nativity story we often throw in an addendum that Joseph got a revelation in a dream to get Jesus and Mary out of there when Cesar was on a rampage to kill little boys two years old or under. Later an angel spoke to him again that it was okay to go back, and they ended up in Nazareth.
Can I just point out that Joseph got angelic/dream revelations at four times: to tell him it was okay to marry Mary, that they needed to get out of Bethlehem, that it was okay to go back home, and then, don’t go back to Judea. Wowza! That might be a record.
The most important part of all is that he was obedient to God. Just like wife, Mary.
And that is about all we hear about Joseph except for the time twelve-year-old Jesus got lost at the Passover Feast and Joseph and Mary found their boy hanging out with the teachers in the temple. As a side note, since Jesus was Joseph’s eldest, we can be pretty sure that Joseph taught Him his trade—carpentry.
Joseph is not present in the miracle of turning water into wine, nor at the crucifixion or resurrection. At least his presence is not recorded.
But he plays such a vital role in fulfilling scripture.
What if he hadn’t listened to the angel about not divorcing Mary? If it weren’t for his family, they wouldn’t have gone to Bethlehem for the census. What if he hadn’t paid attention to the revelation to get out of the country when Cesar was killing little boys? Or go to the Egypt? Or then back to Nazareth? A whole lot of Scripture would not have been fulfilled.
The Bible describes Joseph as a just man. And it doesn’t say that about a lot of people, so it had to have been an outstanding characteristic.
I’m not suggesting we worship Joseph any more than we do Mary. He was a flesh and blood man used of God for an important event—Jesus’s entry into the world and his ensuing childhood.
But very much like Mary, Joseph obeyed God.
Jesus is absolutely the center of Christmas. But we also know that the story in and of itself is not the end. Jesus wants a relationship with us. And part of our end of the deal is to do what He says. Yes, that is uncomfortable and today, very unpopular.
Obeying God might be politically incorrect or even unconstitutional.
Still, I choose Scripture. I choose obedience. I choose Jesus.
Do you have special parameters for the choices you make? Do you sometimes feel like you need an angel or a dream to figure stuff out? Or obey?