Joseph: A Devout Son of David

Daniel Darling
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I find it interesting the way the angel appealed to Joseph in confirming the news of Mary’s pregnancy. He first, as we noted above, called him “son of David,” appealing to the pride of his legacy. You are of royal ancestry, he seems to be saying to this scared man, you are part of the people of God. Then second, he appeals to him based on Scripture. This is, the angel reminds him, to fulfill Scripture.

Obedience Is Difficult

This tells us two things about the man who would be the earthly guardian of Jesus: he knew who he was, and he was committed to Scripture. This is no small thing. This is how the Bible appeals to followers of Jesus today: know who you are as a Christian, and know what the Bible says.

An ungodly person reacts to a difficult assignment by saying to himself, “I don’t care what the Bible says, this is how I feel.” We may not vocalize it that way, but when we knowingly go against what God has said, this is what we are doing. What’s more, we are forgetting who we are.

My daughter currently goes to a public school and is often faced with temptations from her unbelieving friends. I often remind her that above everything, she is a child of God, a follower of Jesus. This not only gives us security in our identity, it comes with a different set of expectations.

And Joseph’s response was what you’d expect from a devout son of David committed to the Scriptures: he immediately obeyed. Matthew tells us, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (1:24).

Immediate obedience to a difficult mission. Contrast this response to the prophet Jonah, who was also called to a difficult mission. Jonah didn’t wake up and go to Nineveh immediately. Instead he tried to find a way around God’s mission. Craig Keener writes, “Joseph’s obedience to God cost him the right to value his own reputation. Many Christians today, probably much older than Joseph and claiming the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, have yet to learn his lesson.”[1]

Joseph Trusted God

Joseph was a man of few words. We don’t know much about him at all. But we do know he was a man of simple faithfulness. He did the next right thing in front of him. So much of following God is asking, “What is the next right move?”

And let’s consider, for a moment, what Joseph was signing up for. This was no easy assignment. In marrying Mary, he would be subject to endless scrutiny. If you think he reacted strangely, at first, to Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit, how well do you think others in his immediate circle would react? Unlike Joseph, they would not have the benefit of an angelic visit. They’d either have to take his word or they’d reject him.

In listening to the voice of God, Joseph was giving up his reputation. Tim Keller writes about the significance of Joseph marrying his pregnant wife in this society:

Everybody in that shame-and-honor society will know that this child was not born nine or ten months after they got married; they will know she was already pregnant. That would mean either Joseph and Mary had sex before marriage or she was unfaithful to him, and as a result, they are going to be shamed, socially excluded, and rejected. They are going to be second-class citizens forever.[2]

By saying yes to God, Joseph was saying no to everything he had worked for, his reputation in the community. It’s easy for us to glance over this and not give it another thought as we read this part of Matthew’s gospel this Christmas, but we should pause and consider how significant this decision was. Joseph would be a pariah among his own people. He would bear the shame for sins he didn’t commit. And yet it only foreshadows the shame that this baby would one day bear on behalf of Joseph and Mary and all who know Jesus. This is why Jesus would later sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would literally become sin for His people, so much so that the Father, who cannot abide sin, turned His face away from His own Son. He was, to quote Isaiah, “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53:3 KJV).

Listen to the way the hymn writer Philip Bliss describes Jesus’ shame in going to the cross:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Joseph could bear the shame in answering God’s call, and we can bear the shame that sometimes comes with being a Christian because Jesus bore our shame. We can live as outcasts in a world dominated by the devil because Jesus was the ultimate outcast.

Joseph would not only lose his reputation, he would lose his comfort and safety. He would also not be intimate with Mary until Jesus was born. This was not something the angel told him to do. But he went above and beyond what was required in order to say yes to God. Rather than asking, “How do I feel?” Joseph continually asked, “What’s the right and best thing to do?”

Joseph Was a Faithful Father

We learn later in Matthew that once Herod heard of the birth of Jesus and sought to kill Him, Joseph was commanded by God to take the young infant and his wife Mary and leave Bethlehem and go to Egypt. Again, we tend to pass over this detail as we read Scripture. But let’s imagine the difficulty of travel in those days: the added expenses, and the severing of ties with family and friends. And yet when the angel appeared to Joseph in another dream, Joseph didn’t hesitate. He, again, immediately obeyed the voice of God and went to Egypt. In this journey to Egypt, we once again see echoes of the Old Testament, where another Joseph was summoned to a hard life in Egypt in order to save the people of God and of Abraham and Sarah’s journey to Egypt for food in the midst of famine. This is why Hosea references this history, when he says of God’s care for Israel, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1).

This speaks to Joseph’s faithfulness and character. He put the interests of his family above his own comfort. I’m sure the transient nature of their early family life hurt his carpentry business. Living as a refugee in Egypt, where he likely joined other Jewish exiles, probably made his life more difficult. And yet even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was Jesus’ earthly father in every sense of the word. He adopted Jesus as his own and cared for Him. This is why the genealogies use Joseph’s name to trace Jesus’ heritage.

I’m a father in the throes of raising four children. If you are a parent or help care for children, you know that parenting can be difficult. But imagine, for a moment, the difficulty of parenting the Son of God. We don’t have much in the Scriptures about what Jesus’ childhood looked like. We only have His birth, His travel to Egypt as an infant, and His time at the temple at the age of twelve. But we can assume that Joseph was a father to Jesus in every sense of the word. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, He still, as a fully human young man, had to learn and grow. Luke tells us that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

By all accounts Jesus was an ordinary boy. Consider the way His peers reacted when He returned to Nazareth and began His earthly ministry:

and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matt. 13:54–58)

Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? When Jesus began His ministry, it was His father who was better known than He. Jesus was, in His childhood, defined by His father. It’s hard for us to fathom, but Jesus, fully God and yet fully human, likely learned most of what He knew from Joseph. The Scripture He quoted when tempted in the wilderness was probably first heard from the lips of Joseph. The care He showed toward the weak and vulnerable was probably first exhibited by the self-sacrifice of His earthly dad.

Joseph Discipled All of His Kids

What’s more, it seems that in His childhood, Jesus was indistinguishable from His siblings. That seems to be what people in His hometown are saying in Matthew 13:55. We know His brothers and sisters. They’re nothing special. Maybe I’m reading a lot into this text, but it appears that while Joseph understood the weight of his calling to raise the Son of God, he seems to have parented Jesus with the same care he gave to his other children, who were not divine, who were his own flesh and blood. He didn’t favor Jesus, but he didn’t ignore Him because Jesus wasn’t his biological child.

Joseph exhibited the true spirit of adoption. It is a vivid picture both of God’s adoption of us as His children in Christ, but also the call every believer has in welcoming into our homes and communities the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten. It was Jesus’ brother James who would later write that true religion is defined by care for orphans and widows (James 1:27). With Russell Moore we can speculate that perhaps James first learned this by watching Joseph. “Did the image of Joseph linger in James’s mind as he inscribed the words of an orphan-protecting, living faith?”

We can assume, without stretching the story too much, that Joseph patiently fathered Jesus, teaching Him the Old Testament Scriptures, teaching Him to build his carpentry shop, and modeling for his young son what faithful manhood looks like. Perhaps this was one of the reasons the rabbis in the temple were so impressed with Jesus. Yes, His teaching was that of the supernatural. God visiting them. But was some of His recall of the Old Testament due to the teaching He heard at the foot of His earthly father?

[1] Craig S. Keener, Matthew (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 63.

[2] Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (New York: Viking, 2016), 56.

For Further Reading:

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