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The Character of Joseph

Last week we began turning our attention towards Christmas – and we started, not by looking at the events surrounding Jesus birth, but rather by looking at Jesus Himself. We wanted to answer the question: Who exactly is Jesus?

And so to find that answer, we looked at the first few verses of the Gospel of John which remind us that before Jesus was even born, He existed as “The Word” – the eternal, all-powerful, second-person of the Godhead who is directly responsible for creating everything in the universe!

That in itself is a pretty astounding thought, but then we read John 1:14 which completely blew our minds! It says…

14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. John 1:14a

That is simply amazing! The infinite God of the heavens permanently fused his deity with our humanity and became human. We call Him Emmanuel because He is God-with-us. He became human like one of us. Even today in his resurrected state, Jesus is both fully God and fully human. And why did he do that? He came to be with us so that we could with Him forever.

I kinda like how the message Bible puts that verse. It says…

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14a MSG

What an incredible thought! That God would love us (his created beings) so much that He chose to move into the neighbourhood to be with us!

But yet sadly, most people, both then and now, choose to reject him… As John stated in verse 10,

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:10-12

And that’s really what Christmas is all about! Christmas is about God coming into the world so that those who believe him and accept him might become children of God. John 3:16 puts it quite simply….

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV

And so to answer our original question of “Who is Jesus?”…

Jesus is the Word – the eternally existing second person of the Godhead – our Creator. He is also Emmanuel – God with us – born on earth as a human being so that we might become children of God and be with Him forever.

So that’s what we looked at last week. This week, I want to continue looking at the characters of the Christmas story and this time, I want to ask the question: who is Joseph?

For being such a central figure in the Christmas story, Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, is a little bit of an enigma. We don’t really read a lot about his life story and in fact, as the Gospels go on to record Jesus’ adult life, we actually don’t hear anything further about Joseph – even though we often hear about Jesus’ mother, Mary.

But despite having very little information about him, from the information we do have, we can see that Joseph was a pretty exemplary husband, father, and follower of God. He was a man that we would do well to model our lives after! So this morning, I want to look at the brief snapshot that the Bible gives us of Joseph and see if we can pull some things outta there that we can learn and apply from his life.

The story of Joseph begins in Matthew chapter 1 with a long list of genealogies – 42 generations to be specific. One of the main points that Matthew brings out in his Gospel is how Jesus fulfills the many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah – and more specifically, how Jesus is the long-awaited King that would descending from King David’s royal family. 

That’s why Matthew chapter 1 begins with this introduction:

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:

Matthew 1:1

And then it goes on to list all the generations from Abraham to King David, and then from King David to King Jehoiachin (who was the last king before the exile to Babylon) and then from Jehoiachin finally down to Joseph himself. And I won’t read all all 42 generations, but the list of names concludes with this statement:

Jacob was the father of Joseph, 

the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

Matthew 1:16-17

And so Joseph is introduced here as the great, great, great, great (and add 20 more greats to that) grandson of King David. In fact, in just a few verses when the angel speaks to Joseph, he addresses Joseph as “Joseph, son of David” – even though Joseph’s dad was named Jacob. So the angel is clearly connecting Joseph with his ancestor King David.

But of course, by this point in history, the royal family of David was no longer ruling Israel and hadn’t been for quite some time. Right now the Romans are in charge and there hasn’t been a descendant of David siting in the throne of Israel for the last 14 generations. So while Joseph is a direct descendant of King David, we should not think that Joseph has enjoyed the privilege of royalty in his lifetime.

Instead, the Bible paints Joseph as a pretty regular Joe. Just an average run-of-the-mill Israelite who really was no celebrity. And there are at least two clues that the Bible gives us later on to show that Joseph was neither rich or famous!

First of all, the Bible indicts that Joseph was a regular blue-collar worker. In Matthew chapter 13, we see that most people from Jesus’ hometown knew him as the son of the carpenter. It says in Matthew 13:53…

53 When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. 54 He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” 55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. 56 All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?”

Matthew 13:53-56

It’s clear that Jesus’ family was not thought of with any sort of prestige. “He’s just the carpenter’s son”, they said. No one though of Joseph as anything more than common blue-collar tradesman – certainly not royalty!

The second hint that we get of Joseph’s rather humble life comes from the offering that He and Mary brought to the temple when they presented Jesus there as their first born. In the law of Moses, the Isrealites were instructed that after a woman has a baby, 8 days later they must bring both a burnt offering and a purification offering to the temple. Leviticus 12:6 says…

6 “When the time of purification is completed for either a son or a daughter, the woman must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a purification offering. She must bring her offerings to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle.” Leviticus 12:6

Then if you jump down a bit to verse 8, we read:

8 “If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Leviticus 12:8

God, in his goodness and mercy, did not want to place a financial burden on those families who could not afford a lamb, and so instead of requiring everyone to bring a lamb, poorer families could bring a less costly gift of two turtledoves or two young pigeons.

So with that in mind, look at what we read in Luke 2:24 as Mary & Joseph presented their offering at the temple:

24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:24

From this verse we can deduce that Joseph was clearly not a wealthy aristocrat – or even someone who was in the middle class – or we would have seen him bring a lamb for this offering – but instead we see him bringing the lesser expensive offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons.

All that to say, Joseph was just a regular old Joe, just like you and I. He knew what it was like to come home exhausted after a hard days work. He knew what it was like to get stressed about the bills as they piled up. He certainly didn’t live a life of luxury lounging around in some palace. He was just about as ordinary as any of us here.

And I think that’s what makes him such a relatable example for us. Joseph was not anything impressive by the world’s standards, he was just another guy. But yet God saw something in him – something that led God to choose Joseph to be the earthly father of God’s one and only Son.

Just think about that for a minute. As God carefully considered which man on earth would be a suitable dad for His Son, Jesus – as God examined the hearts and the motives and the character of all the candidates, in the end, God choose Joseph. He entrusted Joseph with the task of caring for and teaching and training and raising Jesus. That’s got to say something about the kind of man Joseph was.

And just before we go on, for you fathers out there – God’s kinda done the same thing with you!  Of all the people on the earth, God has entrusted you to raised the children that God has given you. Those children may not be “God’s one and only begotten son” – but they are still God’s dearly loved children none-the-less. Each child is absolutely precious to God – created in God’s own image. And God has entrusted you with the responsibility to care for them, to training them up to be mature, godly people, and raise them to know and love the Lord. It’s an awesome responsibility – and God picked you for the task! 

And if you’re like me, right about now you’re asking the question: Why in the world would God pick me? And how in the world can I ever live up to such a task?

Well, I imagine Joseph asked those very same questions. It is an overwhelming thought to know that you are responsible to care for and raise up God’s children. So how do we do it? Well, I think we can take some of our cues from the life of Joseph.

And as we read through the Scriptures, I would say there are a couple things – a couple of characteristics of Jospeh – that uniquely qualified him to be the guy to raise God’s Son. Now was Joseph the perfect dad? No, I’m sure he made his fair share of mistakes like all of us. But I can see a few things in his life that would go a long way to making sure that Jesus grew up in a healthy, happy, God-honoring family and would setup Jesus to know and obey his heavenly Father – which I think, is what we want for all of our children. So let’s take a look at those characteristics.

Let’s start by reading Matthew 1:18-19…

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

Now just for a minute, imagine how you might feel if you were in Joseph’s place. He is engaged to be married. He is committed to sharing his life and being faithful to this girl, Mary, for as long as he lives. In fact, in those day, the commitment level at engagement was pretty much the commitment level we have on our wedding day today. As far as committing yourself to someone else, in Joseph’s mind they were married. He was all in!

But then, at some point during their engagement (which would probably be about a year or so) he discovered that Mary was pregnant. They had had no sexual relations, so Joseph knew that the baby wasn’t his. And of course, at this point, he had no idea that Mary had become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. In his mind, it was devastatingly obvious that Mary had been unfaithful to him. That must have been crushing for Joseph.

But it’s here that the Scriptures record two great characteristics about Joseph.

#1. He was a righteous man. In other words, he always wanted to do what was right by God’s standards. And then #2. He did not want to disgrace Mary publicly.

You might think that after such an apparent betrayal by Mary, that Joseph would be filled with anger and want to lash out. You look at the some of the divorces today and they do everything in their power to disgrace the other person publicly!

But not Joseph. The Scriptures say “He did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” He wanted to what was right.

He was not vengeful. He was not bitter. In fact, it looks like he still cared deeply about Mary. And because he was a righteous man – that is, because he always wanted to do what was right by God’s standards, he made the choice to still act in a loving way towards Mary – even when it appeared that she had been unloving to him. 

This is exactly the principle that Jesus would teach later-on in life. I imagine that as Jesus grew up, he saw Joseph living out this principle time and time again. And of course, it reflects the very character of God. Look at Jesus’ words in Luke 6:27…

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

Luke 6:27-31

Now I know this isn’t a passage we usually apply to our marriages – because we don’t usually think of our spouse as our enemy, and rightly so! But in reality, because we are all sinful creatures, we do end up hurting each other, cursing each other by the things we say, demanding things unfairly from each other. Or at the very least, like Joseph, we misunderstand the situation and we feel like that is happening to us.

And so like Joseph, we need to choose to act in a loving way towards our spouse (or anyone else for that matter) even when they are acting unloving towards us.

And just doing that alone can make such a difference in our relationships. You know, if we could master this one principle in our lives – can you imagine how that would transform our marriages? Or any relationship really?!  Instead of demanding justice, we offer mercy. Instead of getting bitter, we offer true forgiveness. Instead of seeking revenge, we do good to those who hurt us.

After all, isn’t exactly how God deal with us? Despite our constant disobedience and rebellion, God offers us mercy instead of destruction. He offers forgiveness instead of condemnation. He continually does good to us, even when we do all sorts of things to hurt him. This is the very character of God!

And this is the character we see in Joseph – even when he believed that Mary had been unfaithful to him.

It’s no wonder that God would choose this kind of a man to be the earthly father of His Son, Jesus. That’s the kind of dad that God wanted for Jesus. And that’s the kind of men and women God wants us to be as well.

But to get back to our story, as Joseph determined in his heart that he was going to break his engagement with Mary quietly, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to clarify the situation and its following that, that we see the second characteristic of Joseph that we want to look at today. Let me read those verses for you. Starting at verse 20

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:20-25

How difficult do you think it would have been for Joseph to believe that Mary was pregnant – not by some other man – but by the Holy Spirit of God, as the angel declared? Maybe I’m a bit of a sceptic, but man, I would think that would be a little difficult to accept. 

I mean, I’m sure that Joseph believed that God can do miracles. No doubt he knew all about the miracles of the Old Testament and such, but this was something pretty different! This wasn’t something like the children of Israel walking through the Red Sea on dry land – where millions of people could witness and experience God’s amazing miracle firsthand. 

This was a miracle that no one could actually prove – there was no real evidence to be seen. Joseph would have to take God at his Word and just believe that what God was saying was true.

And in fact, doing so would likely put Joseph in a position of great shame and embarrassment among his family and community, to say the least. Ancient Israelite culture did not look favourable upon those who had children out of wedlock! To take Mary as his wife now – with her carrying a child before they were married, would mean taking on a very negative social stigma. 

But amazingly, that’s exactly what Joseph did. Verse 24 says..

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Matthew 1:24

Joseph believed what God said – despite the challenges that he knew would come with that, and he took Mary to be his wife.

And this leads me to this next observation that I’ve made about Jospeh.

As I read this passage, and actually, as I continued to read the rest of the story, I noticed something very interesting about Joseph. There are actually four different times that an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to do something. We just the read the first – as the angel tells Jospeh to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus.

 Later on, after the visit from the wise men, Joseph would be told by an angel in another dream to take his family to live in Egypt because King Herod was going to try to kill the child. After that, Joseph had another dream in which the angel told him that Herod had died and it was time to return to Israel. And then finally, Joseph had a fourth dream in which he was told to move to Galilee.

In all of these separate events, I noticed that there is no record of Joseph ever saying a thing! We have no record of any words that Joseph ever said. No questions for the angels. No protests or complaints or excuses. All we see from Joseph is obedience.

Every time God tells him to do something, he immediately does it. Verse 24 says..

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Matthew 1:24

Likewise, later, when Joseph is told to go to Egypt we read…

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother.   Matthew 2:14a

All we see from Joseph is immediate obedience. And that, I think, it more telling of Joseph’s character and his relationship with God than anything! That, I think, is a key reason why God chose Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly father.

One of the qualifications for Jesus to be our Saviour was that he had to live a sinless life, in perfect obedience to God. And even though he was the Son of God, as a human, Jesus had to learn obedience. Hebrews 5:8 tells us that…

8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8

So if Jesus had to learn obedience, what better man to be his example, to be his earthly father, than a man who regularly practiced immediate obedience to God?

Again, Joseph was not perfect. I’m sure he sinned just like you and I. But the pattern of his life was one of immediate obedience to God.

So the question that I have for you this morning is this: It that true of you? Is the pattern of your life one of immediate obedience to God?

When you’re reading in your Bible and there’s those verses that kinda jump out at ya and God kinda tugs on your heart and says “Hey, you need to be doing this…” Do you do it? Do you immediately make those changes in your life so that you’re being obedient to God?

We may not have the luxury of having an angel show up and give us specific instructions from God – but God is always speaking to us in all sorts of ways. Through preaching, through our personal devotional times, through songs of worship, through conversation with godly friends…  Whatever the case may be…. 

But the important question is: When God speaks, do you obey immediately? Or do you argue and complain? Do you try to justify doing something different or maybe obeying God a little later?

Don’t do all that stuff. Just choose to be immediately obedient! Follow the example of Joseph. Or better yet – follow the example of Jesus! As I mentioned earlier, it’s was His perfect obedience to God that qualified him to be our Saviour! Philippians 2:5 tells us….

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

And that brings us right back again to the real significance of Christmas! It was Christ’s perfect obedience to God – not just in humbling himself to becoming human, or even living a sinless life on earth – but He was obedient even to the point of dying on a cross for us so that we might have the opportunity to be with Him forever. That’s the message of Christmas.

And that’s why, as this passage says, that God elevated Him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Certainly we are grateful for the example of Joseph – for his righteous character and his example of immediate obedience! He’s a great model for us to follow. But far superior to Joseph is the man that he raised as his own son – Jesus Christ.

The Bible never says what happened to Joseph in his later days. The assumption is that Joseph may have died sometime before Jesus began his earthly ministry. So we don’t really know if Joseph ever fully realized who Jesus was. But I kinda suspect that maybe he did. I imagine there was probably some long conversations in the woodworking shop or out on the construction site where Joseph may have come to realize that his boy, Jesus, was indeed his Saviour and Lord. Of course, that’s just my own speculation, but as we just read in Philippians, there will be a day when everyone of us makes that declaration.

And so my final question to you is just that: Have you come to know Jesus as your Saviour and Lord?

I want to close with the song – Joy to the World – because in that song we make that declaration. We sing Joy to the World – the Lord has come – Let earth receive her king!

And I would just encourage you as we sing that song to truly mean the words you sing. May we declare that Jesus Christ is our Lord and King!

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