If historical records can indeed be trusted, anyone who denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as prophesied hundreds of years prior is not someone you want on your team when playing Trivial Pursuit. (No offense to the morons.)
A college student in our church wrote me several months ago to ask me some questions that arose from a Religions class she was taking. As we wrote back and forth, I came to find out that her professor for said class denied the birth of Jesus. Not the birth of Jesus as the Son of God and ransom for humanity; just the actual historical event itself. How anyone can refute the fact that a baby named Jesus was born in Bethlehem at the time of Caesar Augustus, during the reign of King Herod, when Quirinius was governor of Syria is simply beyond comprehension. I can understand denying the significance of His birth, but to deny His birth altogether? Somebody needs a pink slip from their position as Professor of Religion. But I digress.
In the whole Christ-birth story, we tend to focus on all the various characters involved; from the shepherds to the angels to the magi to the sheep. Heck, even an unnamed inn keeper gets an honorable mention. But it has always felt to me like Joseph gets among the least amount of attention in all this.
Have you ever read the first 17 verses of the book of Matthew? Most people skip it because it seems to be essentially a long list of names. Not terribly exciting. Like watching somebody else’s home movies, but nobody you know. Most people generally skip to the good part which starts in verse 18 so that they don’t start nodding off as they try and get through the genealogy of Jesus. But its in the genealogy that we find some pretty interesting details. Do you know what 14 x 3 is? It’s 42. Now 42 might just seem like a number, but what we should realize is that this the minimum number of generations that had been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting (don’t worry I won’t do this 42 times) and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the promised Messiah to come.
We’ve lost sight of that kind of waiting. It doesn’t exist anymore. That stretch of time was a once-in-history thing. Trace the lineage of the genealogy back into the Old Testament accounts and you’ll see glimpses and foreshadowing of the Messiah. The centuries preceding His birth are peppered with teasers as to the fact that He was still on His way. So, when He came it wasn’t just a “Oh look. Jesus is here.” kind of thing. It was a sky-splitting, angel-heralding, eternity-shaking, shepherd-gawking, humanity-rejoicing kind of thing! And Joseph was the final man in the long line of waiting. Joseph would be the one chosen, just as Mary was chosen, to usher in and raise up this child from heaven.
Not much is said of Joseph, but we do know that he was in the line of King David, so he had a legal right to the throne. We also know that Joseph was a carpenter by trade. The last mention in Scripture of Joseph was when Jesus was age 12 and was found in the Temple discussing the Law with the priests and teachers. It was then that Jesus made His well-known statement, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” And by “Father”, He didn’t mean Joseph.
We can safely assume that Joseph likely died before Jesus earthly ministry began. He is not found at any of the otherwise significant events recorded in Scripture. He wasn’t at the marriage feast in Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle; only Mary was mentioned. He wasn’t mentioned at the cross where Jesus was crucified; only Mary was mentioned. And remember that at Jesus’ death, He turned the caring of Mary over to John, his cousin. This would indicate no one was left to take care of Jesus’ mother.
So, what can we learn from a man who we know so little about? Let’s take what we know and apply it:
1. Joseph sought to do what was right. When he learned that Mary was pregnant and that the child wasn’t biologically his, he planned to divorce her quietly so as to save her from public disgrace and quite literally save her life. Do I live each day with a sincere desire to simply do what’s right, no matter the cost?
2. Joseph was dedicated to his wife. We get the sense that Joseph was a “man’s man”; a guy who worked with his hands, who wasn’t afraid to get dirty, a man with a solid work ethic, and a man who loved to love his wife. We see glimpses of this in how Joseph cared for Mary through her pregnancy, how he listened to and obeyed the angel’s instructions (Joseph also got his own angelic visit, too). Do I dedicate myself every day to the care, love, and protection of my wife?
3. Joseph cared about Jesus. If there were anyone in history that could rightly have that “That’s my boy!” sentiment, its Joseph. From the delivery of Jesus to the toddler years in Egypt to helping to retrace their steps back to Jerusalem then they misplaced Him at the age of 12, Joseph cared deeply about Jesus. And not merely Jesus his son, but Jesus THE Son. Do I care about Jesus more than I care about any other person or thing in my life?
As you move slowly toward Christmas this year, take some time to get to know Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.