Why Joseph?

This sermon examines the character and faith of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.
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When my children were minors there was a clause in my will concerning their custody in the case that both Lise and I should die leaving them without natural parents. When it came time to choosing who would be their guardians we had a very hard time. We wanted the best for them physically and spiritually.

Many of you younger parents are in this situation - think about it, who would you choose to leave your children to if you had to? You now, I am amazed to think that God, our heavenly Father, had exactly this choice to make in sending Jesus, His Son, to be born here on earth. I mean, who would He choose to be Jesus' earthly father and entrust into his hands the care for His Son?

Now if it were me. If God would have asked for my advice in the matter, I would have chosen a devout, rich, rabbi in Jerusalem:

  • Someone to teach Him about religion
  • Someone powerful and influential in the major religious center of Israel
  • Someone respected and experienced in raising children

So, as is His habit, God did not take my advice in this matter. When it came to choosing an earthly father for Jesus He chose Joseph:

  • He was not a rabbi or priest
  • He was poor and unknown
  • He lived far from the seat of power in Nazareth
  • He had no family experience that we know of

And yet, with all of this going against him, God chose Joseph nevertheless - Why?

On this Sunday, Father's Day here in America, I'd like to look at some of the reasons why God chose Joseph to become the earthly father of Jesus, and how Joseph can serve us today as a model father.

Well, this story begins in Matthew 1:18:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth (about 70 miles northwest of Jerusalem). They were betrothed or engaged to be married. In this culture, to be betrothed was as binding as actual marriage. You took vows, exchanged a dowry, and needed a divorce to dissolve this union - even if the couple had not yet been intimate.

In normal circumstances there would be a betrothal followed by a period of preparation for the wedding feast which was followed by the actual cohabitation. Now when the wedding feast would take place the groom with his party of attendants would wind his way through the streets with music and merriment and go to the house of his betrothed in order to bring his bride to the wedding feast. After the celebration she would return to his house to begin their married life together.

Until this point all had been going as planned with Joseph, like all grooms, busy preparing the feast and his home for his new bride. Before going to her house to fetch his bride however, we read that he learns in some way that his supposed virgin bride is pregnant - but he does not know as of yet how she has become so. Imagine his great disappointment:

  • The girl he loves and promises to marry is pregnant by another
  • He's been cheated on
  • He's been ridiculed, embarrassed
  • His plans and dreams destroyed

But in this moment of pain and confusion we get a glimpse of the type of character Joseph had that factored into God's choice of him as Jesus' earthly father. You see:

1. Joseph was merciful

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
- Matthew 1:19

The Bible says he was righteous or just, meaning that he wanted to do what was right before God and man in this difficult and painful situation. This quality made him react with mercy in this situation - because he knew that God wants us to be merciful to those who hurt us. (Proverbs 11:17) Now because he is a good Jew, he can't marry a woman pregnant by another man (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) - even if he does love her. So, he has only 2 options:

  • To divorce her openly with public testimony which would clear him of any responsibility but would publically disgrace Mary.
  • To pursue a quiet bill of divorcement without a public trial.

This would save Mary public shame but puts him in the difficult position of shouldering some of the ridicule that might follow. There would always be some doubt about his integrity here. In choosing this second option that puts himself at risk we see his mercy and kindness towards someone that he may have perceived at the time as one who hurt him.

Another quality that favored Joseph with God was the fact that:

2. Joseph was humble

20But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." 22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." 24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
- Matthew 1:20-25

Notice that once Joseph has chosen a plan of action, God sends him a dream in which He reveals to him the true nature of Mary's pregnancy and what He wants Joseph to do. In this sequence we clearly see a quality in Joseph that is quite appealing to God - humility! Now, humility is the absence of the desire to always impose one's own will. A humble man accepts the fact that he doesn't get his own way. Joseph had a right by Law to refuse to take Mary as his wife. After all, he had gone the second mile in agreeing to divorce her quietly saving her from public disgrace.

Joseph had a right to complain. The child he did accept was born in a stable, he had to flee to Egypt, move again to Nazareth, and no sexual relations with his wife until she had a baby that was not his! Joseph even had a right to demand special privileges. He was given the task of caring for God's son but he remained poor and had to continue to work to earn a living. But Joseph didn't complain! He gave up his rights, his demands, his needs in order to serve God's purposes and the needs of others (Mary and Jesus).

In this we see his great humility and a key reason why God chose him. I want you to turn to Luke 2:21 to read about two episodes in Jesus' life where Joseph is not specifically mentioned but that clearly demonstrate another reason why God chose him to be Jesus' earthly father:

3. Joseph was pious

21And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"), 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
- Luke 2:21-24
39When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. 41Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
- Luke 2:39-41

These verses reveal the piety of this man called Joseph. Now piety is that attitude where one considers the things and people related to God with great respect. As the head of his home and family, Joseph took seriously the responsibility of training his eldest son in the ways and teachings of God. We see this in his obeying the law for circumcision and his yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem which were time consuming and expensive for a poor family.

Verse 40 tells us that Jesus grew strong physically (through hard work alongside his father, as was the custom). It also tells us that He grew wise mentally and emotionally (no doubt through the careful teaching and example of His earthly father Joseph). This is why God gave Him an earthly father in the first place - so that Jesus could learn to be a man as men are.

We have no recorded dialogues between Joseph and Jesus but surely they spoke and surely Joseph taught his Son in the morning and evening the things of God as good Jews were instructed to do in Deuteronomy 11:9. As I mentioned before, it was a 140 mile round trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem each year mainly on foot. Every Sabbath day the family was at the synagogue for worship. The Bible says that this was Jesus' habit (Luke 4:16) a habit learned at an early age at the example of His earthly father.

Joseph demonstrates his piety and reverence for God in the way he trained his family to respect God's commands and how he, himself, led by example. When we look at Jesus' human character we see much of Joseph's pious character imprinted there - this is why God chose him.

Joseph - A Real Man

After reading all of this, why do you think God chose Joseph to raise His Son? Because he was rich, smart, powerful?

No! I say He chose Joseph because he was like men were designed to be: kind & merciful, humble, respectful of God and His commands (This is the summit of what man can be).

Today we have many descriptions on TV, in books, magazines, movies, etc. what a man is supposed to be: sexy, strong, rich, powerful, educated, etc.

Take a look at the condition of the world and especially the family guided by men who are sexy, brave, powerful and proud:

  • Wars begun and perpetuated by such men.
  • Oppression of the weak (especially the poor, children and women) by such men.
  • The church profaned and divided by such men.

What the world needs, what families need, what the church needs - what God wants, are not powerful men, proud men, good looking men - what we need are real men like Joseph! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not down on men - this is not a sermon about male bashing. On the contrary, I want to remind you that the Bible says that it's a glorious thing to be a man.

It's not popular today to be male because males are portrayed as naturally being foolish, brutish, inferior to being a woman. Being a man is not better than being a woman but God loves men and has blessed men in special ways:

  1. First human was a man, Adam
  2. God entrusted to a man the building of the Ark through which mankind was saved, Noah.
  3. He gave the promise of a savior to a man, Abraham.
  4. He chose a man to lead His people out of slavery, Moses.
  5. He chose men to be His kings and prophets, like David and Isaiah.
  6. He chose men to write His holy words.
  7. He chose men to be His leaders in His church and in His homes.

God chose the male nature to clothe the world's savior - it's ok to be a man because Jesus was a man. However God expects a lot from men because He has given them a lot. "To whom much is given, much will be required." The problems that exist in the world are not caused by just "men", they are caused by men who refuse to accept their responsibilities as men and as father. The trouble with this world is that there are not enough Josephs.

  • Men who strive to be kind and merciful and lead in their home through self sacrifice and service, and fidelity.
  • Men who are in awe of the Lord and are able to instill this reverence for almighty God in their children and their church.
  • Men who contribute good families to society for its betterment and not just monuments to their personal achievements.

What good is building a business, a passion, a reputation if your wife and children are deprived of love and direction? Remember, when children grow up they will follow your example, not your advice. A recent survey on college campuses wanted to determine what person was most influential in determining their choice or rejection of a career - over 70% (very high) said their fathers were the primary influence in their lives (positive and negative).

It's good to be a man, it's important to be a "Real Man", like Joseph:

Joseph's Song
How could it be
This baby in my arms
Sleeping now so peacefully
The Son of God the angel said
How could it be?
Lord, I know He's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love
Father show me where I fit into
This plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life I've been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king?
He looks so small
His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs
It shines again
How could it be?
How could it be
This baby in my arms
Sleeping now so peacefully
The Son of God the angel said
How could it be?
- Michael Card

Let us therefore brothers (and I ask the women here to encourage your husbands, brothers, sons and fathers) let us strive to act in such a way to be worthy of the nature and calling that God has given to us as men, husbands, fathers, and as brothers, and sons. Let us glorify God and mold our lives according to the image of Christ using all the Godly examples given to us including Joseph - a real man, a true father, so our sons have in us a model from which to fashion their sons and thus carry on this spiritual heritage for the generations of fathers to come, until Jesus returns.


On this Father's Day, I call especially upon the men of this congregation to examine their lives in light of what your heavenly Father calls upon you to be and to do.

  1. I encourage you to obey the father in repentance and baptism if you have refused His invitation in the past, so He can become your Father.
  2. I encourage you to return to your Father if you have lived like a man of the world instead of a man of the Lord.
  3. I encourage you to come for prayer if you need help being the kind of man you are striving to be in the Lord - a man like Joseph.
  4. I encourage you to identify yourself if you wish to be a part of this congregation, and serve as men should.

Whatever your need as a man and father or son and brother, come to the Lord now as we stand and sing.

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