Joseph is one of the forgotten men of Scripture. Matthew’s Gospel is the only source we have for information about this pivotal man. He is one of the links in the chains of God’s providence without which we have no Messiah, no Savior, no hope, no peace with God or one another. Joseph … how can we not be thankful for Joseph?
Joseph is called a righteous man, and as a result he was going to divorce a mysteriously pregnant Mary. We can see that his righteousness is like that of Abraham, who trusted God, instead of the Pharisees who sought to put God in their debt with their goodness.
They were betrothed, which in that day meant you were as good as married. It was not broken off without just cause, and sexual indecency of some sort was about the only just cause. It appeared that Mary had either been unfaithful, or raped. Joseph sought to put her away quietly. He did not want her exposed to severe penalties. He was compassionate as well as righteous.
But here we find the first of many relevatory dreams Joseph receives.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The message is inconceivable. A child by the Holy Spirit? Unheard of. Even Abraham’s child of promise was conceived the old fashioned way. It was a miracle, though it used ordinary processes. This was a different order of miracle- for this promised Son was to be the Savior.
We see the rest of the pattern in that Joseph woke up and obeyed. He trusted God, just as Abraham did. He then did as God said, just as Abraham did. We see something of the nature of saving faith here. It is not content to receive revelation, but also believes that revelation and acts upon it appropriately. Joseph’s life will never be the same. By faith he will raise a child that is not his, as if it was his. By faith he resists the temptation to take the easy path and abandon Mary and Jesus. To do so would have been to place them at great, perhaps mortal, risk.
Some time after Jesus’ birth (perhaps as long as 2 years) Joseph received another dream. This after a visit from 3 Gentiles who wanted to pay homage to Jesus as Messiah, in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham & David (see Matthew 1:1 which alludes to Genesis 15 & 2 Samuel 7). Herod fears any threat to his authority, and sends the army to slaughter all the male children under 2. But Jesus is gone, safe, long before they arrive.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Another dream, and more faith and obedience. The dragon (Rev. 13) stirred up Herod to destroy this threat to their rule. A simple carpenter stood in the way. He was not a warrior as in the first Terminator movie. Joseph does not fight back against insurmountable odds. He does as God said, fleeing to Egypt. If Joseph does not act in faith, Jesus is among the many children slaughtered by a demonically incensed King.
After Herod’s death, Joseph has another dream. Once again he obeys, and they return to Israel. But another threat to Jesus’ life emerges. Joseph is afraid of Archelaus, who apparently like his infamous father. Joseph is warned in a dream (this time we are not given the content of the dream). But Joseph is again obedient by faith. He brings his family to Nazareth, to live in obscurity in a despised region filled with Gentiles as well as Jews.
Joseph often gets lost in the Christmas story. He’s the odd man out it would seem. Yet, his role was just as important as Mary’s. But it cost him so much more. It was not his child- but he believed Jesus was to be his Savior & Messiah. So this man stood in the gap- standing between Him and danger human (religious & secular) and spiritual. Take a moment to ponder this man of faith, and thank God for his vital role in God’s providential mercy & grace.