During the Christmas season, there is much ado concerning Mary and her baby Jesus. We read scriptures about them; we sing songs about them. We are reminded of the miraculous circumstances when God became man, born of a woman. We marvel at the shepherds and the Wise Men. However, there was another player in this unfolding drama that we hear very little about. He was the man chosen to care for Mary and her son, Jesus… Mary’s husband Joseph.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the man put into dangerous and awkward positions numerous times by God Himself, to get good lessons from a good role model about being a faithful father.
An Awkward Position
Life in Nazareth of Galilee would have been somewhat ordinary for Mary and Joseph. They had followed the Jewish marriage traditions by becoming first “betrothed” when Joseph would probably have been between 18 and 20 years old, and Mary would probably have been between 14-16 years old.
Betrothal was done using a ritual, somewhat like a wedding ceremony, with shared wine and exchange of rings. It was a legally-binding ceremony which could only be broken by divorce. Although they were called husband and wife, their union would not be consummated until after the marriage ceremony, which would occur a year or so later.
In Matthew 1:18-21 we read:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son: and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins…’”
In Verse 24, the scriptures say:
“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took her as his wife; and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
A Righteous Man
Notice that Joseph is called a righteous man. He had committed to Mary during a betrothal ritual, but later, he was obviously having doubts about Mary’s pregnancy since he was quite aware the baby was not his! But being a “righteous man”, he decided to put her away, or divorce her quietly, so that she would not be accused of adultery, and most probably stoned! By this Joseph showed himself to be a selfless man, being more concerned with Mary’s safety than his own humiliation.
When Joseph heard the angel of the LORD, he immediately obeyed even though he had decided, before sleeping, to divorce Mary! When God speaks, we are to act! And that is what Joseph did! He acted in SWIFT obedience to the Word of God! Joseph arose immediately from his sleep and did as the angel of the LORD commanded him, and took Mary as his wife. No delay!
Turning to Luke for more information we read in Luke 2:4-7:
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David; in order to register, along with Mary who was engaged to him, and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Notice that Joseph did not leave Mary alone but took her with him to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were not in a hospital when the baby was born. They were not even in a building at all. If she was laying her baby in a manger, they were in a stable which was more likely a cave in Bethlehem. There were no midwives present to help Mary with her labor and birth. It would have been up to Joseph to help her through labor and then deliver the baby that was not his! He would have had to cut the cord and make sure she was comfortable and resting after the birth. To say that Joseph was completely devoted to Mary and this baby, who came from the Holy Spirit, would be an overwhelming truth.
Reading further in Luke 2:10-17, we find angels appearing to shepherds in the fields.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’ And it came about that when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them by the shepherds.”
A Faithful Protector
In Luke 2:19, the Bible simply says:
“But Mary treasured up all the things, pondering them in her heart.”
Notice how the shepherds showed up to see Mary and the baby Jesus, not long after his birth! Mary was obviously astonished at the arrival of the shepherds with their explanations of angels, and the birth of a Savior. She would have instantly become protective of her new baby. And where was Joseph? I’m sure he was suspiciously watching every move those shepherds made, making sure that none came too close or was threatening in any way. He would have been shocked as well, but God knew he would be a faithful and protective guardian over Mary and the baby Jesus and help to reassure her after their visit!
Comfort In Obedience
We read further in Luke 2:21-24 the obedience of Joseph in following the Law of Moses for newborn babies. He took Mary and the baby to the temple to be circumcised at 8 days old according to the Law of Moses. Then a few weeks later, he took them to the temple again to make purification for Mary, and to redeem the firstborn son back from God, again according to the Law of Moses.
He was still there when an elderly man named Simeon met them in the temple and said such amazing things about baby Jesus being a “light to the Gentiles,” and the glory to the people of Israel. As astonishing as those things were, Simeon also warned Mary that Jesus had been appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her soul. That is something that most mothers would want to hear, but then not want to hear! Joseph again, would have been there for Mary, to give assurance and comfort.
Everything Joseph had done to protect and provide for Mary and the baby Jesus is exemplary. But the best is yet to come!
Back to Matthew’s account in Matthew 2:1-12. Evidently, Joseph was able to find a home to move Mary and Baby Jesus into, as we find later that Wise Men, or magi came unannounced to worship and bring gifts to the “Child.” By this time, Jesus would have likely been around 2-3 years old. When they found Jesus, they worshiped him. Shockingly, the gifts they gave to Him were not rattles and diapers, but gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were from the East, and traveled to Jerusalem following a star which had been guiding them.
Asking first in Jerusalem, where “the New King of the Jews” had been born, the magi waited for the scribes to tell Herod where the King of the Jews would be born. Herod, who was insanely jealous, pretended to want to worship Baby Jesus as well, but was really plotting to kill Him. He called the magi to him and sent them to Bethlehem, asking them to report back to him where the Baby was. But being warned by an angel of the LORD that Herod was searching to destroy Baby Jesus, the magi departed by another way.
We read in Matthew 2:13-14:
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord, appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, ‘Arise and take the Child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy him.’ And he arose and took the child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt…”
Matthew 2:16 goes on to say…
“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Magi, he became enraged and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its surroundings, from two years old and under, according to the time which he ascertained from the magi.”
Notice how Joseph is again, being awakened by angels! Joseph immediately gets up and obeys each time! The more we obey God’s commands, the more heavenly revelation, wisdom, and leadership we receive! Not only did Joseph immediately leave during the night; he saved the life of Jesus and Mary getting them out of harm’s way and going to a safe place provided by God. It is pretty clear from looking at the life of Joseph that we, too, should be immediately obeying God.
We should never be so used to hearing this story, that we take for granted the bravery and courage shown by Joseph during this extremely dangerous time! And then, he had to live in a faraway land with unusual customs and language, until Herod was dead! Do you think he signed up for all of this when he was first betrothed to Mary?
A Faithful Listener
Later in Matthew 2:19:
“But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise and take the Child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.’”
In Verses 22-23, the Bible says:
“But when he (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there; and being warned of by God in a dream he departed for the regions of Galilee, and came and resided in a city called Nazareth…”
Notice how Joseph followed God’s plan in every trial, again. And again, we find an angel appearing to Joseph! This man was always faithful to listen to the voice of God! At least this time, he gets to go home.
Respect & Restraint
We find a few other ways in which Joseph was a righteous according to his faith. Remember the verse in Matthew 1:25? He kept Mary a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus. The respect and restraint he showed to Mary was heroic. It was imperative that no one, in any age, questions the fulfillment of prophecy about the virgin birth. Now that's a faithful father!
An Imperfect and Ordinary Parent
For all the circumstances sent Joseph’s way, he was still just an ordinary man. Along with Mary, he “lost” their 12-year-old Son, Jesus, in Jerusalem at the Feast. I’m sure Joseph was just as frantic as Mary to locate Him, and then so relieved to find Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions, even giving impressive and comprehensive answers. I doubt any of us would want to face God for losing His Son.
Also, by trade, Joseph was a carpenter and as any Jewish father, he would have lovingly taught Jesus this trade as He grew. He treated Jesus as his own and trained Him up in the way He should go. He was surely an example of faith by his conduct.
Summing up Joseph’s life, we find an ordinary man, through no fault of his own, steeped in intrigue, adversity, danger, and miracles. But in the face of it all, he still proved himself to be:
• A righteous man
• A selfless man
• A loyal and devoted man
• A defender of his wife
• An obedient man whose obedience to God is swift.
• A humble man who functioned as a midwife when there was no one else
• A faithful and protective guardian of his wife and her Child
• A man who saved his wife and her Child from a gruesome death
• A brave man with much fortitude and perseverance
• A respectful and restrained man
• A man who obeyed the Law of Moses
• A man who was faithful to listen when angels from God spoke to him
• An ordinary man who panicked when his “son” was lost
• A great and noble father figure for a child who was not his own
In one thing after another, and all ways, Joseph was shown to have an unselfish and sacrificial love for God, for Mary, and Jesus. Joseph was a man with unwavering faith. He is one of the greatest examples for all husbands of any age. He is an example of God-given masculinity at its finest, that all men should strive for. The real-life testimony of Joseph gives some good lessons to those of us looking for a good role model. His example shows what a real-life faithful father looks like. A helpful thing to keep in mind during the complicated dynamics of life this Christmas season.