Published Dec. 10, 2013

Paul's Epistle...
"The Forgotten Father"

He's an important part of the Christmas narrative. He's more important than the shepherds or the wise men. He's right there in every manger scene you've seen. Without him the Christmas story would have been very different. And yet you seldom hear much about this man.

Why don't we hear more about Joseph?

Probably it's simply because the Bible story says very little about him. But what it does say makes this very clear – God chose a worthy man to serve in the role as Jesus' earthly father.

What do we know about Joseph?

We know that he was of the house and lineage of David. The genealogy given in Matthew 1 makes that clear. And the angel that appeared to Joseph in a dream confirmed it by addressing him as "Joseph, son of David..." (Matt. 1:20).

We know that God considered Joseph a "just man," for he is described as such in Matt. 1:19.

We know that Joseph loved his betrothed wife, Mary, for, even though she was found to be pregnant before that would be naturally possible, he chose to "put her away secretly," "not wanting to make her a public example..." (Matt. 1:19).

We know that God honored Joseph with instructions directly from angels, such as when he was told to take Mary and the Child and flee to Egypt for safety. In all these things, Joseph "did as the angel of the Lord commanded him..." (Matt. 1:24). There's no record that Joseph even questioned God. Overwhelmed as he must have been, he simply obeyed.

We know that Joseph's trade was that of a carpenter – actually a broader term in Greek than in English, more like "mechanic," although specializing in woodwork. Jesus worked with Joseph, also becoming known as a carpenter – and people often referred to Him in that way. (See Mark 6:3.) And they still do.

Interestingly, although Mary is quoted extensively (especially the "magnificat," or "Song of Mary" of Luke 1:46-55), Joseph is never directly quoted in Scripture. He is simply part of the narrative.

We last hear of Joseph when he and Mary take Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, "according to the custom of the feast" (Luke 2:42). Joseph and Mary left, supposing Jesus was with relatives, but He had stayed behind in the temple, astonishing the learned men He found there. Mary said, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought You anxiously."

That is the last time Joseph appears in the Biblical account, although he is referenced after Jesus begins His ministry by some of the Jewish leaders, who said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph...?" (John 6:42).

In fact, after they were formally married, Joseph went on to father several children with Mary, including at least four sons and multiple sisters, according to the plain language of Mark 6:3.

Some traditions say that Joseph was considerably older than Mary, who was thought to be in her early teens when Jesus was born. We know Joseph wasn't still around when Jesus went to the cross, or there would have been no need for Jesus to instruct John to take care of Mary. (John 19:26-27.) Consensus seems to indicate that Joseph most likely had died by then – but we just don't know.

There's something especially noble about a man who would accept the role of father – for a child not biologically his own. And yet that's exactly what Joseph did. Scripture doesn't say explicitly how he felt about it, but the fact that he performed the role conscientiously – completely in accord with God's wishes – indicates clearly that He wanted to do exactly what God told him to do.

There are so many details that we'd like to know. Just what did Joseph think about all this? Did he have inner conflicts about all this? Was his faith every truly challenged? What was it like bringing up Jesus, nurturing him as a young child? We just don't know. But we have to be confident that we know, from the Biblical account, everything we need to know about this humble man who was especially chosen by God for a very important role.

Joseph was a man who fully trusted God, even in difficult and unprecedented times and circumstances. He faithfully did what God told Him to do, even when, most likely, he didn't understand all that was going on. He is forever known as a "just" man.

Oh, that each of us could be accurately known and remembered in such a way.

- Paul

PS: These thoughts were prompted by the song "Joseph" that aired on TGG last weekend, sung by Wilburn & Wilburn.

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