Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 22, 2013
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
— Matthew 1:18-25, ESV
Joseph is one of the most important and enigmatic persons in Christian history. Unlike Mary and Jesus, there are no outstanding Old Testament prophecies about him. Unlike Mary and Jesus, he has no speaking parts in the New Testament. Unlike Mary and Jesus, no one worships him, prays in his name, or puts him on big stained-glass windows in church sanctuaries.
But without Joseph, Jesus may not have been born. Mary could have been scorned and possibly stoned to death, with the baby in her womb. Therefore, Joseph is an integral part not only to the Christmas story, but the entire gospel story. While the other Gospels virtually ignore him, the Gospel according to Matthew tells the brief, brave, beautiful story of the gospel according to Joseph.
Devout Jews are fiercely monotheistic and decidedly anti-trinitarian. They believe in one true and living God, who has only one form as Father, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes” (Walter Chalmers Smith). No Messiah, no matter how much He claimed to be the Son of God, could get His ministry off the ground without some attribution to an earthly father. This father, of course, would have to be devout, Jewish, and able to trace his ancestry to the tribe of Judah and house of David. Joseph was perfect for the part in the script that was, of course, written by God.
In the grace and providence of the Author of history, “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph.” According to Jewish custom, the marriage of Mary and Joseph was arranged by their parents. “Betrothed” is a legal word pertaining to a contract. This is followed by an engagement period, usually about one year, which concludes at the wedding when the two become one. “Divorce” was almost out of the question after the wedding, but mostly referred to the breaking of the betrothal contract during the engagement period. Breaking off the engagement was something Joseph actually considered, which we will consider later.
The starting point of married life is deciding to get married. But before Joseph and Mary decided, their parents decided they would be married. But before Mary’s and Joseph’s parents decided Mary and Joseph would get married, our sovereign God decided that they would be married to carry out God’s saving purpose for the people of the world. Far above any American president, God really is the “decider.”
Contrary to popular opinion and watered down theology, God does not leave things to just happen by chance. When God decided to send His Son to be the Lord and Savior of Heaven and earth, He decided to place Him in the virgin womb of a woman named Mary and give His early care over to an earthly father named Joseph, these things “having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (ref. Ephesians 1:11).
Joseph’s story and the Christmas story begins with God’s sovereign grace. Such grace, in this and every case, is a blessing and a responsibility. Grace was shown to this man, Joseph. How did Joseph respond to the grace of God? How should we respond to the grace of God? By faith, of course.
One of the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of justification by faith. It is seen in the Old Testament and in the cement of the New Testament. “The righteous shall live by his faith (ref. Habakkuk 2:4).” “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (ref. Romans 1:17).
We do not know a lot of details about Joseph, but one thing we do know, he was “a just man.”
Is it important to you to be a “just” person? People, more or less, seem content with being good, or honest, or hard-working. But God puts a premium on being “just” (ESV), which can also mean “righteous.” People, more or less, consider themselves to be righteous, self-righteous by being good, honest, or hard working. But God does not accept self-righteousness (ref. Isaiah 64:6), only the righteousness that comes by faith. And faith is no mere decision, it is an active lifestyle.
Joseph was a just man, a man of faith, a fully devoted follower of God. So, he lived his life not for popularity (he is almost anonymous, even by biblical standards) nor money (he was a working class carpenter) nor fame (compare him again to Mary and Jesus), but by faith. Faith is a belief in God that is so sincere and strong that it effects the way you made decisions and live your life. A just person lives a life of faith, and its accompanying repentance, in the gospel according to Joseph.
Joseph repented, or changed his mind, about the situation with Mary. At first he could not wrap his mind around her story. An angel of the Lord? Virgin birth? “That which is conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit?” At first he did not believe, which is not to say he had no faith. Faith and reason are compatible. Faith and fact-finding go hand in hand. But so do faith and patience, kindness, prayer, and belief in a God with Whom all things are possible. Joseph decided to do a good deed for Mary by not reporting her to the Jewish authorities, by not risking a trial and death sentence for her (for convicted adulterers could be stoned to death), and “to divorce her quietly.” Then, by faith, Joseph patiently took some time to pray and “considered these things.” Then, Joseph changed his mind, or repented, guided by God’s Spirit and God’s word.
Joseph trusted the Lord. He gathered God’s word from “an angel of the Lord” in amidnight dream, although today God normally communicates His word to us in the completed Bibles we hold in our hands. Mary’s story was actually confirmed by both, the dream and the word of God (ref. Isaiah 9:6; this is the first of twelve “fulfillment” passages in Matthew). In repentance and faith, Joseph obeyed God. Joseph did not file for divorce. Joseph did not pressure Mary to get an abortion. Joseph trusted God and married Mary, then became an earthly father for the holy child, Jesus.
So it was by grace that Joseph was brought into this picture in the first place. Then, by faith, Joseph demonstrates how grace empowers ongoing repentance and faithful obedience. Amazing grace and abiding faith are chief characteristics of the gospelaccording to Joseph. But the greatest character is the Christ.
Other religions and other gospels offer some form of grace. All religions and all gospels require some faith. But only the gospel, the gospel according to Joseph, gives us the Christ.
His name is “Jesus,” (Joshua in the Old Testament), which means “God saves.” This salvation is specific. God did not send His Son into the world to save us from government (Roman or American), from poverty and sickness, or from that Christmas party you really didn't want to attend. “He will save his people from their sins” by providing the perfect atonement with absolute forgiveness.
Only Jesus can save because only Jesus is “Immanuel, which means, God with us.” Jesus was not half man and half god, like the god-men of mythology. He is fully God and fully man. He was not merely born of God, He was, is, and always will be God. Only God can save, and God only saves from sin. He will not save all people, but “his people.” God has no plan to save people who choose to be atheists, agnostics, or adherents of world religions other than Christianity. God chooses to save people who choose to follow Jesus Christ.
But how do people choose to follow Jesus Christ? God’s saving gospel comes to us by grace through faith in Christ, to be sure, but it also comes to us through people, people like Joseph. Joseph, in what little we can know about him in the Scriptures, used his short life to glorify God. He repented, and was constantly open to changing his mind in order to be in a more perfect union with God. He trusted, at every turn and at every trial, in the providence and word of God. He found his purpose in life as life in Christ.
Joseph’s major purpose in life was to be a husband to Mary while she brought Jesus Christ into the world. When you think about it, Joseph’s purpose is our purpose, too. Our greatest purpose in life is to be a husband, wife, parent, child, worker, student, retiree, or anyone who, by grace through faith, brings Jesus Christ into our world.
Realize that you are who you are and where you are by the sovereign grace of God. Make sure you repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and live your life by closely following Him and His word. Honor Him in the major moments of your life, like if an angel should come to you in a dream. Moreover, honor Him in the everyday moments of your life, in public worship and Bible study, in prayers and acts of kindness, and in witnessing to others about your faith in Jesus Christ.
This is Joseph’s life, a life of grace, and faith, in Jesus Christ. And, this is the gospel, according to Joseph.