Joseph, the Forgotten Man

God, in His grace, gave mankind the greatest gift possible in the birth of Jesus. Consider the love He demonstrated by allowing His Son to become a helpless infant. Babies need care, and God provided a loving mother in Mary. But who would care for Mary? Who would protect her and her priceless Child? Who would establish a home for them and work to provide for their needs? What kind of man would God choose to serve in this role?

Joseph was not famous. He was a common man who made his living by the sweat of his brow. When the time came to present Jesus to the Lord as the first-born, Joseph and Mary offered a pair of turtle doves as the expected sacrifice. The young couple could not afford a lamb. Scripture gives only a few facts about Joseph.

  • Joseph was a descendant of David. Luke 1:27
  • Joseph obeyed the law. Luke 2:4
  • Joseph worked as a carpenter. Matthew 13:55
  • Joseph and Mary had sons and daughters after Jesus was born. Matthew 13:55

Why did God choose such a man? The Old Testament prophet, Samuel, on the search for Israel’s second king learned a valuable lesson about God’s appraisal system. Samuel visited the home of Jesse and was certain that Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, would replace King Saul. God had other plans.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

When God positions a man for service, He sees more than the externals. God examines the heart, so what was Joseph like on the inside? Refer to Matthew 1:18-25 for several clues that help answer the question.

1. Joseph modeled moral purity (verse 18).

A man of spiritual character knows the boundaries and observes God’s “No Trespassing” signs. Joseph kept himself within those lines, and his relationship with Mary was above reproach. She confirmed the truth of their purity to the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:34.

2. Joseph understood love (verses 19-20).

As Joseph wrestled with the emotional pain of Mary’s pregnancy he considered options for ending the betrothal. His greatest concern was to minimize the shame for Mary. Rather than demand justice Joseph allowed his love to govern his response in the heart-wrenching situation.

God graciously explained Mary’s pregnancy, and Joseph sighed with relief. Joseph obediently took her as his wife without delay. Tongues wag, especially in a scandal. No doubt the community gossiped about the young man who got his honeymoon before the wedding. Joseph bore that smear on his reputation and protected Mary.

3. Joseph practiced spiritual discernment (verses 21-24).

Joseph’s well-planned life turned upside down and took a direction he never expected. He recognized God’s plan, God’s agenda, as vastly superior to his own and adjusted his life accordingly. God’s purposes often bring uncertainty, but men of discernment step out in faith and obey.

4. Joseph took action as needed. (Matthew 2:13-14; 2:19-23)

Matthew recorded four separate occasions when God revealed specific instructions to Joseph. Without hesitating, without second guessing, and without arguing Joseph acted promptly. Consider the instance when Herod ordered the deaths of all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two. God knew the danger that decree spelled for tiny Jesus and interrupted Joseph’s sleep with a dire warning. What was Joseph’s response?

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, Matthew 2:14 NIV

God gave Joseph clear directions. No doubt remained about the action that was needed. Joseph woke his family, gathered their belongings, and made tracks for Egypt.

That’s Joseph’s story and a brief look at what he was like on the inside. Character matters to God, and He delights in including spiritual men in His work. Joseph and his vital contribution in God’s plan for redemption are often overlooked, but Joseph was a gift God provided to Mary and Jesus. And God is still in the business of calling spiritual men to care for families, churches, and communities today. Christmas represents a great opportunity to remember these gifts.

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