There are times in life that we are called upon to lay aside our own natural reasoning and to act instead upon the command of the Lord. Such a time came for a common laborer in an obscure rural village two thousand years ago.
The opening New Testament account of the coming of the Messiah begins in an unlikely place. It is not in the Temple. It is not in a palace. Rather, it begins in a lowly carpentry shop. Here, in these humble surroundings, Joseph of Nazareth acted in simple faith upon the Lord’s command.
Although he was descended from a long line of kings and governors, Joseph earned his living by the sweat of his brow. Because Joseph was a direct descendant of the royal line of David, if there had been an Israelite king in the days of the Roman Empire, Joseph might have reigned in Jerusalem. Instead of sitting upon a throne, Joseph toiled daily at his workbench. We do not know much about Joseph in the Biblical record, but what we do know is admirable. Joseph is described as a “just man” (Matthew 1:19).
When we meet Joseph in Scripture, he is betrothed to a young maiden named Mary. Joseph had just received the news that his betrothed was “found with child” (Matthew 1:18). This news would have been a crushing blow to Joseph’s heart. Had Mary been unfaithful to the covenant of betrothal? The Gospel record gives us only a glimpse at the agonies of Joseph’s position. “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily” (Matthew 1:19).
Two courses of action were available to Joseph according to Biblical law and custom. If the presumed charges against Mary were found to be true as confessed by witnesses, she could be stoned to death. On the other hand, she could be quietly given a writing of divorce without bringing public charges.
At this critical moment when Joseph was considering this agonizing decision, God Himself intervened. “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–21).
God’s revelation often conflicts with man’s reasoning. Sometimes, God’s will is something we have not even thought of yet. In this moment, Joseph will have to take a giant step of faith and go against the customs of his times by taking Mary as his wife. We have the advantage of centuries of evidence that Jesus Christ is all that He claims to be, the virgin-born Son of God. Joseph does not have the advantages we enjoy. He is given by the angel a verse of Scripture from Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). For Joseph, this is no doctrinal discussion. This is life! A real man must believe a real angel who quotes to him a verse of Scripture about a real woman. Reason says, “It is impossible.” Faith says, “Hear what I say. Adjust your mind, and believe the Lord instead.”
The next verse is a splendid summary of the entire life of Joseph of Nazareth: “Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him” (Matthew 1:24). Swift obedience was the mark of Joseph’s life. Several months later, near the time of Mary’s expected delivery, Joseph submitted to Roman law and journeyed to his ancestral village of Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census. While the couple was there, the Son of God entered the world. Joseph was the first to look upon the face of the Lord Jesus. Obeying God’s Law, Joseph took Jesus to be circumcised and offered a poor man’s offering for Mary’s purification.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Joseph of Nazareth continued to follow God’s leading. While Jesus was still very young, Joseph again laid aside his own preferences to obey the angel’s warning to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. Later, when Jesus was a boy, we see in Scripture where Joseph took his family to God’s house, regularly bringing his wife and children to Jerusalem to keep the feasts of Israel. In Joseph’s home and at Joseph’s workbench, Jesus became a man. In Joseph’s care, Jesus was furnished with practical illustrations that He used in His teaching: the plow, the coin, the door, the plumbline, the ledger, the ox, and the yoke.
By all evidence from Scripture, Joseph had died by the time that Jesus left the carpentry shop to begin His public ministry. There is no mention of Joseph in Jesus’ adult life, and Jesus, from the cross, entrusted the care of his mother to the Apostle John, indicating that Joseph had already departed this life.
Joseph of Nazareth left behind a splendid example of what a Christian man ought to be. As we prepare to enter a new year and begin this new Matters of Life and Death series, it would be worthwhile to list a few things that we as men can learn from Joseph of Nazareth.
- He set aside his own human reasoning to follow God’s revelation.
- He was content with his humble station in life.
- He made his family his priority rather than his career.
- He led his family regularly to the house of God to worship.
- He obeyed God, even when he did not fully understand.
May God give us the grace to do the same! In the coming new year, we are going to look at a new biography every week. Some lives will be drawn from the pages of Scripture, like this one. Other biographical sketches will be from the pages of history. We invite you to join us as we seek to learn practical and valuable lessons from the examples of Godly men of the past.