12/14/11

Praise for Jesus' Father ... the Earthly One

I am involved with several women's ministries, but that doesn't mean I don't care about the spiritual state of men. It's important to me that men today follow hard after God and grow in character and integrity.

That is why, as I think about Christmas, my mind keeps returning to Jesus' earthly father, Joseph. Unlike the Old Testament Joseph, we know little about this man that God ordained to care for Jesus and His mother. In fact, we would know little about Joseph if Jesus hadn't been born. He doesn't speak a single word in the four Gospels.

We read about him in the first two chapters of both Luke and Matthew. While Luke focused more on Mary's viewpoint and memories, Matthew noted the life of the family patriarch, Joseph (Matthew 1:16). Joseph adopted Jesus quietly, but with purpose, and he was the tool God used to protect the Christ-child throughout his infancy and possibly into his youth (Matthew 1:18-24). Though most artists depict Joseph as elderly (such as this painting by Guido Reni), we don't know how old he was when Jesus was born, and we don't how long Joseph lived after Jesus' birth.

Joseph was a carpenter, and he taught young Jesus the trade. Dr. David Jeremiah writes about him in Why the Nativity?: "He would have liked the feel of wood and stone, the satisfaction of building something sound and useful. We can imagine that, like Mary, he envisioned an orderly and ordinary life. He would pursue his craft, maintain a good name in the community, attend the synagogue, and raise a family." (1)

He sounds like a manly man ~ a man of character and responsibility.

Matthew made sure to tell us Joseph was an upright man ~ righteous, just, and faithful to the law of God (1:18).

But he was also a man who heard from God. On at least four occasions, Joseph dreamed supernatural dreams. When he discovered Mary's pregnancy, he was no doubt shocked, even angry, and filled with anger. Everyone would accuse him of getting her pregnant. Matthew says Joseph intended to gently break off the betrothal, showing that though he was tough, he was also tender.

But the angel of the Lord came to Joesph in a dream and told him about the high purpose of Mary's pregnancy ~ "for the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20-21). Here was Joseph, a man used to practical things, having to deal with the supernatural, and a tough event that God had ordained. Imagine all of his questions. Imagine the tremendous faith needed to believe little Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Imagine what strength it took to face the mockers who would never understand. But Joseph obeyed the command (Matthew 1:24).

Joseph had other dreams. He was told in a dream to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus (Matthew 2:13-15), and when to return (Matthew 2:19-21). He was also told to establish a home in Nazareth (Matthew 2:22b-23). And God knew that he could depend on Joseph to follow through each time.

"The man of wood and stone had to become a man of dream and destiny," Dr. Jeremiah wrote. "Today we know Joseph's name because of his faithfulness and obedience in following every instruction that God gave him." (2)

I believe that God puts each of us in an earthly family with purpose. We learn from our parents ~ we learn good things, and we sometimes learn things we want to avoid in our own lives. Jesus learned faith, stability, practicality, courage, strength, and compassion from Joseph; but he also learned the importance of being sensitive, responsive, and submissive to the voice of God.

It was a lesson that Jesus learned well. We see signs of this desire growing in Jesus at age 12 when He told his family he must be about his Heavenly Father's business (Luke 2:49). And Jesus would someday yield all His will to the Father's will in a garden called Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

I have nothing but respect for humble Jesus' earthly father. Joseph stood in strength when God needed Him, and then stepped quietly out of the picture. It's almost as if his life echoed the words of John the Baptist ~ "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).

This manly man, a practical carpenter, tuned his ear to the voice of God. Joseph obeyed the Lord in the midst of a generation that desperately needed a Savior. What an example for men today.

(1) Dr. David Jeremiah, Why the Nativity?, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), p. 26
(2) Ibid., p. 28

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