First of all, let's introduce what we know about one of the least studied, most overlooked people in Scriptures. He is depicted in more artwork, mantel pieces, and outdoor decorations than just about any other male in Scriptures besides Christ Himself. And yet, less is known about him than just about any other prominently mentioned male of Scriptures. This man has such a story to tell and such a lesson to teach us about how to draw near to Christ, and be used mightily. He truly is a perfect definition of the, "Unsung Hero" of Scriptures. A quick introduction of what we know about Joseph up to the opening of our story…
No one has a clue to his true age when betrothed to Mary. Some depict him as an older man. The only basis for this assumption is from unfounded stories in the writings of the Apocryphal, depicting him as an elderly widower. Jewish custom however had young Hebrew men betrothed by the age of sixteen or seventeen, almost never later than twenty. Usually, the male was a few years older than the female in marriage. Therefore, it is very probable that Joseph was in the range of 17 to 20 years of age. Though, with all that we will study about this man of God, his age will matter little. For those not here last week, he lived in the small village of Nazareth (agricultural), with a population of 50 to 100 with one well for the whole community and a terrible reputation with most other communities of Israel in the first century. He was a simple craftsman, a worker with his hands (Matthew 13:54-56). Most today consider Joseph and Jesus to have been carpenters (wood workers), the Greek word used to describe his trade is tekton—which is applicable to a builder or worker who constructs with any hard material, including wood, stone, and metal. Thus, opening up a number of possibilities, not just wood as tradition suggests. In consideration of where and when Joseph lived, the vast majority of carpentry work involved stone masonry. Joseph and Jesus more probably would have mainly worked in chiseling, carving and building with stone and block, involving much lesser wood work.
Joseph never spoke one recorded word in Scriptures, and yet, his actions give us a thundering testimony about how to live a successful, intimate life before God.
Let's compare this simple man to ourselves, and see what he can teach us about pleasing God: Matthew 1:18-19. First of all, please understand that Joseph had no possible reason to believe this incredible story at this point. He simply knew that his childhood sweetheart had been unfaithful to him, and now was covering things with an incredible lie. We talked in the first Christmas Study about how the Jewish Talmud called Jesus, "A bastard of an adulteress", seeming to show powerful non-Christian proof, not only of the reality of Mary and Jesus, but of her unwed pregnancy. But did you know we also have information from a Greek writer and hater of Christianity in the second century, named Celsus? Celsus wrote a book in about 177AD, entitled "The True Word" (though lost in history now). We have segments of his writings from Origen, a Christian Bible Scholar and Apologist born in 185AD. In Celsus' Greek writings, he bitterly accused Mary of being turned out by her "carpenter husband" after having an affair with a Roman soldier named Panthera (also spoke of going to Egypt/ and learning secret arts of magic). This rumor seems to have made its way into the Jewish Talmud as well (remember they hated Jesus). Where the Talmud twice gives reference to Jesus as, "Yeshu ben Pantera", (meaning "Jesus, son of Pantera") [Tosefta Chullin 2:22-24]. And we have Scriptural proof that local Jews in Jerusalem also tried to discredit Jesus with slurs concerning the doubt of His Birth: John 8:40-41, meaning, "We are true Jews, not illegitimate half-breeds.” We show all of this proof: 1) to give incredible historical, unarguable evidence in Christian, Greek, and Judaic history. That Jesus and Mary were real, and the account of her unwed birth was known and needed explaining. 2) to realize these are the thoughts and stories going through Joseph's mind at that time. Not only was he emotionally broken, but Jewish law (Talmud- Sotah 5:1, Yebam 2:8) and Roman law, both claimed that a husband should divorce an unfaithful wife, and in some cases demanded it. Not to do so, was not only a disgrace to Joseph, but to his family as well. Joseph could have brought Mary before the Sanhedrin, and had her tried publicly, where she could have received the death penalty. But even if he chose not to do this, he could have had her publicly shamed and humiliated. Yet, he chose to quietly sign a bill of divorce with two witnesses, protecting the one who had betrayed him (and her family) from further public embarrassment or judgment. When you are done wrong, especially in an extreme way, when plans have to change that will embarrass you and even cause question of your own character, and it was someone else's sins or failures, could you stay quiet at your own expense to protect them? Would you desire to show them mercy even in their betrayal? Or would you justifiably want to hurt them and reveal their wrong against you? Joseph thought only of the pain and embarrassment of Mary, and put himself last, even in these degrading and justified moments. Matthew 9:13: If we could just get this one verse of Scripture that Jesus spoke to the judgmental, yet righteous living Pharisees. If we could get past how people do us wrong, and how they live long enough to show them how special they are to God. If we could have half of the concern for touching lost and broken people that we have for living a holy life in front of the world—we would have the right heart. We could love like Joseph. We could love like Jesus. "A holy life, with a holey heart, leaves an empty soul!"
So, first, we see that the love of God lived in Joseph's heart simply by the mercy and care shown to the one he thought had ruined his future and shamed him, shamed and his family. Now, look at this next incredible testimony to Joseph's love and trust in God: Matthew 1:20-25. Stop here and notice something very important. The Angel calls Joseph by a very special name: "Son of David". Why? He was reminding Joseph of the fact that, although he was a simple man, he was of the kingly lineage of David from whom the Messiah would come. Surely Joseph was aware of his own lineage and of the prophecies. “Are you aware of your lineage and rights in the King?” This prepared Joseph for the rest of the news. Mary knew for certain the miracle which grew inside her womb was from God. Joseph had only a dream with which to base his trust in God. He risked his reputation and future on a dream, a prophecy, and his faith. Do you realize that he did not actually have one more single sign of proof until the night of the shepherds visit with their incredible story? Do you not think there must have been nights that he doubted it all? Maybe nights that he felt it had all been wishful thinking? Especially for him, when things seemed absolutely unfitting for the birth of God's Son. [How many times are we told to do something by God through His Word, or through His Spirit and we either find reasons why it must not be God because we are not fully committed to His will? Or we give up the moment we don't see roads paved ahead, and new signs of confirmation every step of the way?] Do you think sometimes God might just like to see how big your faith and your desire to serve Him could be? Do you think maybe He wants to see our passion to serve and follow, instead of having to push and coax us every step of the way? Joseph followed God, though the cost was everything. The pressure and attacks were constant, long-term, and eroding, and nothing happened to lessen the load or pave the way for him—all with one Word from God, and he stayed faithful to the end. [Imagine the sweetness as Joseph told Mary the news that he wanted to stay with her.]
Joseph did everything that he did, for his God and his wife. Not one thing he did was for himself the entire time. He became a fool and a mockery to everyone in his hometown. Even his own children grew up not believing Jesus was the Messiah, until He arose again late in life (John 7:1-5). All of Joseph's life, his own children believed that he had played the fool, and raised a Child that was not his own. Joseph lived his whole life loving a woman that was shunned by the world and possibly their own families, and everything he was doing was misunderstood, or totally unknown to the world. He never got any encouragement, any praise, any recognition. Most didn't even know he was on a mission for God, yet he stayed his course because he never did it for self. If you find yourself stopping and starting in your service to God, maybe you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Remember to ask yourself the two questions that are most important—which I am sure Joseph asked himself in some form, frequently: 1) "Am I doing what God wants me to do right now?" 2) "Is He pleased with me, in how I'm doing it?" If the answer is yes to those two questions—no looking back, no regrets, no guilt, no changes, no stopping—stay the course. Joseph risked his life with King Herod for his family. Joseph left his home town and business to go to Egypt for his family. Joseph quite possibly lost the support of his parents in life for his family. Joseph most probably died long before he ever saw even a select few people understand and appreciate what he had been doing. He most probably left this earth having never seen the fulfillment of prophecy—having never seen the effects of all he'd suffered.
Are you willing to be like Joseph and stop worrying about what the world thinks outside? Or about the praises or criticism you get inside? Stop waiting to be noticed by men at all? And just start living sacrificially for God alone? And men, let's dig up this gemstone together—here is why Joseph was the best man to raise Jesus (I don’t care if gender roles are politically correct or not)—learn from this: Compare your actions and attitude in your family. He humbly responded in love, to what seemed like terrible injustice from his wife with mercy and gentleness (putting her first, even in her seemingly wrong ways). He lived his life, with the single focus of protecting and providing for his family above pleasure, praise, money, or notoriety. He took this responsibility as his alone. He lived in faith, no matter the cost to his whole family. (Stop spoiling your family at Christ’s sake—you’re not helping them). He never quit. No matter the resistance, no matter what it looked like, no matter how little encouragement he received, or what it cost. He lived in righteousness before his family, not just in public. He reached out in sacrificial love to those he did not have any responsibility to help. In his own pain and loss, he cared for others first, not spitefully, but in love. He never lashed out, acted out, or demanded justice. He simply walked on in meekness and strength. The money he did not make, nor the education that he did not have, nor the relatively short life he lived, had any bearing on the incredible man he was or the success his life was in God's eyes. He did not have to be the center of attention or the most respected and admired in the eyes of men to understand how important his job was in God's Kingdom and go on unnoticed and unrewarded here on earth. He considered it nothing to share in the shame and disgrace of the ones he loved, in order to relate, comfort, and love on them. All of this love, righteousness, and manliness communicated to you and I, men, and not a recorded word was spoken by him in Scriptures. So, men, listen: "Shine it, don't whine it."
What has the Christmas Story taught us about finding our way to the King thus far? His Word has given us the light in the darkness to show us undeniable, intellectual grounds for why there is not only a God, but that Jesus Christ is His Son. To truly love and follow Him, you must finally realize that He is worthy of your complete and unconditional surrender in obedience, because He first surrendered, as God to the Father on our behalf. We must walk in faith, no matter the cost, no matter the praise, no matter the lack of praise, no matter the consequences, even if we do not see the results—and we must live in love and mercy for others above ourselves. Remember, most that met Jesus on His journey in this world missed everything He tried to teach them. Are you getting these lessons from our Jesus or are you simply looking for another, "More pleasing" God as well? Some of you need to choose the path of serving and trusting in faith, and not allow anything to take you from the path again. Some of you need to learn to love and serve others sacrificially, even those who may not deserve it at all, realizing in reality, your mercy and love are greater than your sacrifice and holy living. These are the defining attitudes of the heart that will cause God to use you in the days ahead.
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