Joseph is missing from the large nativity scene in our living room. When I asked Janet why one of the magi was kneeling in Joseph’s spot, she reminded me she got that really nice set at a garage sale for $9.
Sadder still is the fact that we’ve owned that nativity for three years! Jospeh is so easy to overlook in the Christmas story, yet he’s likely the one person in the nativity I identify with the most.
I looked in Matthew’s Gospel for clues as to why God chose Joseph for this sacred assignment. Part of the answer lies in pedigree.
Matthew and Luke both trace Joseph’s family back to David’s royal family tree. Prophecy required that the Son of God also be the Son of David. But surely Jospeh wasn’t the only one qualified for that DNA/prophecy match. Here are four other reasons I believe God chose Joseph.
1. God chose Joseph because of his convictions.
In first century Palestine/Israel, there was no legal difference between being engaged and married. The engagement set the marriage contract in place, not in motion. The wedding was the formalization and celebration of it, similar to baptism.
To get un-engaged, they had to do more than cancel their wedding, they had to get a divorce. Joseph had an out that was both legal and moral. He could have divorced Mary on the grounds of adultery and moved on with his life. But:
Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. (Matthew 1:19)
A divorce was allowed both according to the civil law and the Scriptures, which is one of the reasons why God calls Joseph righteous. Before you prematurely jump to judgment, consider Joseph’s point of view.
- His wife was pregnant.
- The baby was not his.
He likely concluded that Mary had not only cheated on him, but then lied about it by making up some crazy story about being impregnated by the Holy Spirit! It seems like God commends him for desiring to keep the divorce under wraps, but chose Joseph for the job because He knew he’d do the right thing.
2. God chose Joseph because of his compassion.
Joseph handled this sensitive situation in a compassionate way by preparing to divorce Mary privately instead of humiliating her publicly. Being “righteous” means doing the right thing in the right way. This is the kind of father God chose to raise His only Son. It’s also the kind of father God chose to raise yours.
Good fathers and husbands don’t intimidate and humiliate those God called them to love and lead. Joseph knew how to treat people, and quite frankly, so should we as pastors. Deuteronomy 22:21 gave Joseph the legal right to have Mary stoned, though that was rare in the first century. We don’t stone people these days; we sue them or bully them on social media.
I can tell a whole lot about a pastor by how he treats his wife, kids, parents, employees, servers, or flight attendants.
3. God chose Joseph because of his courage.
Some fear is healthy and normal. Fear of death makes us drive slower…theoretically. Fear of punishment prods us tell the truth to our spouses, friends, church members, and CPA.
Fear of being stoned for your fiancee’s indiscretion is a good reason to keep from marrying her. His options weren’t obvious. There was no easy way out of this jam because if Joseph couldn’t prove that Mary was unfaithful to him, the divorce idea could backfire.
Then the elders of that city will take the man and punish him. They will also fine him a hundred silver shekels and give them to the young woman’s father, because that man gave an Israelite virgin a bad name. She will remain his wife; he cannot divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:18-19)
I don’t think I can overstate what a huge step of faith this was for Joseph to believe Mary or the angel of God in his dream. I’ve had dreams that seem so real that it took me a while to get my bearings when I woke up.
How could Joseph verify whether this baby was a result of Mary’s indiscretion or God’s intervention? Joseph displayed great courage by trusting his heavenly Father instead of his own feelings.
He accepted his leadership role as a husband and father bravely, and so should we. If our family has problems, perhaps we should pray over them instead of panicking over them. Trusting God with the imperfect people in our families and ministries takes courageous faith.
4. God chose Joseph because of his compliance.
When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)
Godly compliance is the result of blending convictions, compassion, and courage together.
Joseph took a pregnant Mary almost 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then from Bethlehem to Egypt (760 miles) with their newborn. Eventually, he’d back-track at least 900 miles from Egypt to Nazareth, having taken the long way to avoid trouble in Jerusalem.
Joseph wasn’t chosen because he was a smart man, a rich man, or a famous man. Joseph was chosen because he was a “yes” man.
Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)