Joseph lived an incredible life and there are many things we can learn from him as we look as his life.
Jesus was not born into a rich family. Mary and Joseph came from very poor homes, ones you would not expect a King to come. Joseph was a carpenter, a job that provided for the family but certainly not a lucrative money making profession.
Joseph’s decision to marry Mary took place in three stages. William Barclay in his “Daily Bible Study” explains each stage.
(I) there was the engagement. The engagement was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents, or through a professional match-maker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.
(ii) There was the betrothal. The betrothal was what we might call the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. At this point the engagement, entered into by the parents or the match-maker, could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife, although they had not the rights of man and wife. It could not be terminated in any other way than by divorce. In the Jewish law we frequently find what is to us a curious phrase. A girl whose fiancé had died during the year of betrothal is called "a virgin who is a widow". It was at this stage that Joseph and Mary were. They were betrothed, and if Joseph wished to end the betrothal, he could do so in no other way than by divorce; and in that year of betrothal Mary was legally known as his wife.
(iii) The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal.
His engagement to Mary was a very serious commitment to her. During the normal one year waiting period, the groom would work and save money to be able to provide a home for his wife. The time between was a sort of testing of fidelity with the couple having little, if any, contact with each other.
I am sure that Joseph and Mary where both looking forward to their wedding date. Jewish weddings were very important for both families. The actual wedding did not last only a day but lasted a week in which the couple stayed at the groom’s family’s home and were treated like a Prince and Princess. Friends of the bride and groom came to visit during the week so it was like an open house. But we do not know if Joseph and Mary were able to have a true wedding ceremony and celebration as described. Her pregnancy most likely changed everything they had planned.
When we look at the life of Joseph we note several things about him.
Joseph was a chosen man.
Joseph was chosen by God and was a recipient of God’s grace. He was from the right lineage from which the Messiah would be born. His ancestry was recorded by Matthew to the time of Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith. Abraham received the promise that through his lineage the blessing of God would come. The blessing is singular indicating it was meant to be the Messiah. Joseph was chosen by God to be the final link in the ancestry of the Messiah. It could have been one of Joseph’s brothers instead of him but he was specially chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus. This was an act of God’s grace that Joseph specifically was chosen. He did not deserve it nor was he a person who others would probably say was the perfect future father as he was from a humble family.
Each of us in the same way have been recipients of the grace of God. Our salvation is totally an act of God’s grace to us. It is his gift which he freely gives to us but we have to receive it by faith.
Joseph was a troubled man.
God’s choice of Joseph was not quickly accepted by him. He did not understand what God was doing and his perspective at the time regarding Mary’s pregnancy was a shock to him and Joseph did not know how to respond. Questions must have flooded his mind and doubts about Mary’s fidelity had to enter his thinking. Being pregnant before marriage was not acceptable in the Jewish culture.
Jewish law provided that his betrothed, because of her unfaithfulness, could be placed before the elders for judgment and stoned to death or he could chose to privately divorce her with two witnesses testifying of his statement of divorce. Joseph opted to just put her away quietly without public knowledge. Betrothals or marriage engagements in those ancient times were binding and could only be terminated by an official divorce decree.
Mary’s pregnancy would damage both of their reputations and Joseph was greatly troubled by her news.
At times we like Joseph experience situations that are unplanned and at times unwanted. We may lose a job, suffer a sickness, experience financial difficulties, be misunderstood or mistreated, neglected or overlooked, lied to or lied about, and a host of other situations that we can encounter in life in which we do not understand why they are happening. We are troubled because we lack understanding and often we do not see things from God’s perspective and his plan for our lives.
Joseph was a righteous man.
Joseph was a man who followed the law and wanted to do what was right. He was a man of character whom God could entrust this mission. The best option he could think of was to secretly end the relationship. He did not want to continue his promise to Mary as the covenant they had made in the engagement was broken. I am sure that he felt shame, disillusionment, discouragement and a lot of emotional ups and downs after receiving the news.
But Joseph was a righteous man and he did not want to publicly announce his intentions to end the relationship. I am sure he was heartbroken over the situation and God understood that he needed a special message to convince him that what Mary had told him was true.
In our lives God is looking for people whose hearts are right before him. People who have his character and whom he can entrust his mission. Our character will determine our mission God wants to give us. If we cannot be trusted to stay faithful we will not be given much responsibility in His Kingdom. Joseph was a man God could use because he was a man of Godly character.
Joseph was a relieved man.
God met Joseph at his point of need. Joseph needed to have a sure word that Mary was telling the truth. God sent the angel Gabriel to him and gave him the message he needed to hear. We don’t know what Joseph’s reaction was to this message but we do know that he did not end the relationship but continued to be engaged to Mary. The news from the angel convinced him that this really was a God thing that was happening and he was specially chosen by God to carry out the mission God was giving him that no one else in history would be able to say they did. Perhaps Joseph understood the magnitude of what was going to happen and he felt relieved that God was truly involved in this situation. Joseph had to be convinced because of his doubts but also because of the trials he and Mary would face in raising Jesus. Throughout Mary’s pregnancy there must have been many people who judged them, possibly gossiped about them and thought badly about them. Their story of her pregnancy was difficult to believe. Once Mary began showing that she was pregnant the speculations ended and more accusations must have started. The assurance they had received from the angels gave them strength to endure whatever came their way.
Any doubts he may have had were most likely dispelled when the lowly shepherds came to worship Jesus in the manger after his birth. The humiliating conditions of the birth place of Jesus must have affected Joseph. As a man and soon to be father, I am sure he wanted a better and cleaner place for his wife to give birth. The rejection of the inn keeper must have been a very humbling experience for both of Joseph and Mary. Would it have made any difference if they had announced that Mary was going to give birth to the Messiah? Would the inn keeper have made a special place for Mary to give birth? Joseph did not demand special treatment but accepted what he was given and probably did the best he could to make the manger as comfortable as possible for Mary.
The arrival of the shepherds with their story of the angelic visitation was another confirmation to Joseph that Mary was giving birth to the Savior of the World. The excitement of the birth combined with the visitation of the shepherds made for an extraordinary night!
In our lives we also need the assurance and confirmation from God that what we are experiencing is part of God’s plan. We may not have complete understanding until later but we desire to have the assurance that we are in the right place at the right time with the right people who are doing the right thing.
Joseph was a responsible man.
Joseph accepted his role as what we would call today, “the step father”. He remained faithful to Mary throughout her pregnancy and cared for her. He took her to be his wife and fulfilled his promise to her. Being married was a great responsibility but being the father of the Son of God must have been heavy on his mind. What must it have been like for him to know that his wife was carrying the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world? He would become the earthly father to this royal son, both a privilege no one else would ever know and a responsibility that was beyond his comprehension how he would be able to fulfill his role.
When Jesus was born Joseph gave him his name “Jesus”. He was told in the angelic visitation that this would be his name and Joseph did as he was told. The name Jesus means “Savior”. His name had great significance and it was important that Joseph give him this name.
But even as a proud father, we do not read where he publicly announced that he and Mary were raising the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for to arrive. How could you keep this news silent? Wouldn’t you want everyone to know? But Joseph did not do this as far as we know. He and Mary kept this information private which must have been difficult to do.
Throughout Jesus’s life we can see how Joseph fulfilled his responsibilities of raising Jesus. He provide a home for him, he fulfilled the Jewish laws of circumcision at 8 days old. He protected him by fleeing to Egypt as instructed to avoid the jealous wrath of Herod who sought to kill all boys 2 years old or less. He brought Jesus to the temple when he was 12 years old as required to dedicate him. He taught Jesus the trade of a carpenter to help him provide for his needs. Jesus became a responsible adult and it appears that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry as he is never mentioned in the gospels during this time. Jesus took on the responsibility as the oldest son to care for his widowed mother.
As Disciples of Christ we too must fulfill our responsibilities no matter how difficult they may seem at times. Often the easiest thing to do is quit, walk away and leave everything behind which often includes a disaster that will be created. We will all leave a legacy behind regarding the fulfillment of our responsibilities God has entrusted to us. I think we all want to hear Jesus say “well done my good and faithful servant.” We want to end our mission knowing we have accomplished what God has given us to do.
Joseph was a rewarded man.
Joseph’s life of obedience, sacrifice and service was worthy of receiving his reward. God is a rewarder of those who live by faith and fulfill their mission. Throughout his life he must have thought about the mission God had given him in raising Jesus. We have very little information about the childhood and young adult years of Jesus. He was most likely a normal child who went through the phases of growing up and Joseph was there to guide him. Raising Jesus was a reward in itself. Joseph most likely died before Jesus began his ministry and he went on to receive his heavenly reward.
During our time on earth we may not see all the results of our work or be rewarded by people. The acclaim of man is not what is really important but we know that God sees what we do and he will reward us for our labor for his kingdom and our service to others.
William Barclay in his "Daily Bible Study" cited this story.
One of the loveliest of all stories is that of The Fourth Wise Man. His name was Arabian. He set out to follow the star and he took with him a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl beyond price as gifts for the King. He was riding hard to meet his three friends, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, at the agreed place. The time was short; they would leave if he was late. Suddenly he saw a dim figure on the ground before him. It was a traveler stricken with fever. If he stayed to help he would miss his friends. He did stay; he helped and healed the man. But now he was alone. He needed camels and bearers to help him across the desert because he had missed his friends and their caravan. He had to sell his sapphire to get them; and he was sad because the King would never have his gem.
He journeyed on and in due time came to Bethlehem, but again he was too late. Joseph and Mary and the baby had gone. Then there came the soldiers to carry out Herod's command that the children should be slain. Artaban was in a house where there was a little child. The tramp of the soldiers came to the door; the weeping of stricken mothers could be heard. Artaban stood in the doorway, tall and dark, with the ruby in his hand and bribed the captain not to enter. The child was saved; the mother was overjoyed; but the ruby was gone; and Artaban was sad because the King would never have his ruby.
For years he wandered looking in vain for the King. More than thirty years afterwards he came to Jerusalem. There was a crucifixion that day. When Artaban heard of the Jesus being crucified, he sounded wondrous like the King and Artaban hurried towards Calvary. Maybe his pearl, the loveliest in all the world, could buy the life of the King. Down the street came a girl fleeing from a band of soldiers. "My father is in debt," she cried, "and they are taking me to sell as a slave to pay the debt. Save me!" Artaban hesitated; then sadly he took out his pearl, gave it to the soldiers and bought the girl's freedom.
On a sudden the skies were dark; there was an earthquake and a flying tile hit Artaban on the head. He sank half-conscious to the ground. The girl pillowed his head on her lap. Suddenly his lips began to move. "Not so, my Lord. For when saw I thee hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick in prison, and came unto thee? Thirty and three years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King." And then like a whisper from very far away, there came a voice. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." And Artaban smiled in death because he knew that the King had received his gifts.
Our lives are to be marked by our service and willingness to sacrifice and use whatever resources God has given us to be a blessing to others. Joseph's life was one of service and sacrifice to raise Jesus and prepare him for the mission God had given to him.
Joseph’s life reflects our lives in many ways and is a model to us.
He was a chosen man by the grace of God to have the mission of raising the Son of God.
He was a troubled man having received news that was not what he expected.
He was a righteous man who obeyed God’s laws and wanted to do what was right.
He was a relieved man after receiving the assurance from the angel that the situation was ordained of God.
He was a responsible man who faithfully fulfilled his mission.
He was a rewarded man during his time on earth and he received his eternal reward in heaven.