Joseph: The Portrait of a Righteous Foster Father
I recently read a good illustration which demonstrates how a person should have a deep desire to do what is right and to please our Heavenly Father. This true story was told by an unknown author. He relates this:
In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished.
Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food -- elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from dysentery, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating. Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, said,
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS." We can understand Shackleton's obsession with food, which offers a glimpse of the passion Jesus intends for our quest for righteousness.
The word righteousness is an important biblical term and is used hundreds of times in the Bible. It can be defined as the "quality of being morally correct or justifiable." It is one of the chief attributes of a Holy God.
We learn from the book of Romans that no man is righteous on his own. In fact we are just the opposite. For "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). It is rather a free gift of the Lord, given to us by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was our substitute on the cross for sin. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and gave to us His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21).
We are taught by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4 that God has always justified ,or declared righteous, those who practice faith in Him (Romans 4:4-5). He uses the example of Abraham and quotes King David to show that It was never by works that a man was justified. The works of the Law could never save a person because it was never meant to do this. It served to point out our sin and show us our need for a Savior (Romans 3:20-31)
Though the Old Testament saints like Abraham didn't understand the full plan of Salvation that we know today, they accepted the plan of God based upon the knowledge that they were given by Him up to that time. So, as Paul said in his example of Abraham: "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:1-3).
From a human perspective, we can't tell a righteous man from an unrighteous one except by seeing their life of faith and obedience to God. For a person who is righteous should want to live a different life than a person that hasn't been touched by the grace of God through faith. Abraham demonstrated his faith through leaving Ur of the Chaldees and later Haran, and going toward the promised land given to him and to his descendants.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we see another example of a righteous man who trusted God with his life and that of his family. We talk about his wife more than we do him because she was the mother that the Lord used to give birth to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Her name was Mary. His name, Joseph.
We find Joseph's story in the books of Matthew and Luke and we see in Matthew 1:18 that Scripture calls him dikaios , meaning just or righteous. In this article, we will look at his story a little closer and see the proof the Scripture gives to demonstrate his righteousness But first let's find out a little about Joseph's background.
I. What we Know of Joseph's Life
If truth be told, we know very little about the man Joseph apart from the Gospel records that talk about him. The New Testament books written by Paul make no mention of him at all. Nor does the Gospel of Mark. Of the Gospels that speak of him, only Matthew traces Joseph's lineage to King David.
Added to our dilemma is some extra-biblical literature which are apocryphal writings and are not accepted by the church as accurate. One claims that he was a widower with children when he met Mary and that he lived to be 111. I also read one account that said that Joseph was born around 100 B.C. and died around 1 A.D. If that is true, then he was considerably older than Mary.
But this dating doesn't make sense if one accepts the biblical teaching that Joseph and Mary had other children together after the birth of Jesus. And it doesn't seem to allow for the fact that Joseph was around until Jesus was at least 12, since that was his age in Luke when our Lord, as a child, was talking with the Pharisees in the Temple in Jerusalem during a yearly Passover Celebration (Luke 2:41-51). The truth is, we don't know for sure the dates in which Joseph lived and died. All we really have to go by for a true account is the biblical record.
We don't even know anything of the circumstances surrounding Joseph's death. We can assume, however, that it is likely that he was dead before Jesus began his ministry. It is definitely implied in the book of John that he was dead before the crucifixion of our Lord, since Jesus had to give Mary to John as her son who would take care of her the rest of her life (John 19:26-27).
Now that we know a little about this man of God, let us see why God called him righteous.
II. Joseph's Unquestioning Obedience to God
We first hear of Joseph because he was betrothed to the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18). In biblical times betrothal was just as binding as marriage and a divorce was necessary to terminate the relationship. The betrothal couple were regarded as legally husband and wife, though they did not yet live together and they were not yet allowed to physically consummate their union.
By Law, Joseph was allowed to take Mary and have her stoned for adultery when he found out she was with a child that wasn't his. However, being righteous, he was merciful and didn't want to disgrace Mary and certainly didn't want to see the person he loved killed.
The phrase " a righteous man" is a Hebraism, or a term that comes to us from Hebrew. It suggests that Joseph was a true believer in God who had thereby been declared righteous. Because of that he sought to carefully obey the Law. So he had to do something. Rather than inflict Mary with public humiliation he decided to send her away, or divorce her quietly.
It would be hard to accept the idea of a virgin birth. There has only been one of them in history, and Joseph had never heard of such a thing. Obviously, any man who hears that his wife or fiance is pregnant, and he is not the father, would automatically believe that she has been unfaithful. What a blow it must have been to him to hear that his betrothed had been in the arms of another man.
So when the angel appeared to him in a dream, it was at once a great relief and an eye-opening experience to hear that Mary was indeed faithful to him. But more importantly, she was faithful to the God of their ancestors. The angel of the Lord told him this:
"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. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20).
Scripture tells us that Joseph immediately responded to the angel's command. When he awoke he took Mary as his wife. But he was careful to maintain her purity by keeping her a virgin until after she gave birth to her Son. And he called the child Jesus, meaning "Yahweh is salvation", just as he was told.
But his obedience didn't stop there. He was visited by the an angel of the Lord again telling him that King Herod was about to make an attempt to destroy the child. So he was commanded to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt (2:13-15). Joseph, once again, moved his young family according to the word of the Lord, saving them from certain death in the process (2:16-18).
Finally, we see righteous Joseph unquestionably obey the Lord when again an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a third dream and told him to get up and take the child and his mother back into the land of Israel, because Herod had died. Due to Archelaus being king in the stead of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid and didn't take them back to Judea. He then was warned again by an angel in a final dream and took his family to Nazareth instead, fulfilling another prophecy about the Messiah that he'd be called a Nazarene. (2:19-23).
Of course, we see Joseph's obedience to the Lord in relatively smaller ways. For example, by performing acts of circumcision and purification, according to the Law of Moses, after Jesus' birth. And he also had to present him before the Lord as a firstborn child. Every firstborn male had to be redeemed by an offering (Luke 2:21-24).
Further, we see it again by Joseph's observance of the Feast of the Passover every year in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41). This was a memorial to remind the People of Israel that God had spared their firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:12-14). It was during one of these pilgrimages that Joseph and Mary thought they had lost their son, but found him in the Temple doing His Father's business (Luke 2:41-51).
Obviously the Lord chose Joseph out of all the men of Israel to be the foster father of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And He gave Mary a righteous husband to help her in some of the most dangerous situations that a family can enter into in life.
Thanks to Joseph's uncompromising obedience to the God of his ancestors, some vital prophecy was fulfilled, and his family was protected. Joseph had also performed a key role in taking care of the one who brought salvation to the world.
III. Joseph's Uncompromising Care for His Family
Not only did Joseph have unquestionable faith in God, he also gave uncompromising care for the family that God gave him. We can see that, from beginning to end, Joseph put the needs of others, specifically his family, ahead of his own. From the way he treated his bride-to-be when he thought she had become unfaithful, to the protecting of his wife and child against murderous Herod by obeying the Lord, he thought more of Mary and Jesus than he did himself. And we can glean from he text that he was a kind, merciful and benevolent man.
How he must have been ridiculed by a society that didn't understand what had truly happened when he married a woman whom they thought was an adulteress. Yet he did it with grace and dignity, knowing that the Lord had chosen him to be the foster father of the Messiah.
And how hard it must have been for him to travel from place to place with a wife and newborn infant. But he knew that what he was doing was not only the Lord's will, it was also the best thing for his family.
Sadly, in our modern world that devalues the role of father, it is refreshing to see that Joseph was a man that participated wholly in the life of his household. We know from Scripture that he not only was the foster father of Jesus, but he had four other sons and at least two daughters as well (Matthew 13:55,56).
As a good Jewish father he would have been responsible for their education. He made sure they knew God's Word. And he taught his sons his trade of carpenter. Overall, Joseph taught them how to live and how to treat a woman. And most importantly, he made sure they knew how to be an obedient servant of the Lord.
Reverend Cheryl L. Hauer, in an article entitled: Joseph: A First Century Jewish Man- Part II, had this to say about Jesus' father:
"In the world in which Joseph and his family lived, home and community were two of the most important venues through which the love of God was expressed. People most commonly lived among extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins very nearby, if not in the same house. Most of the villages in Israel were small, and the community was much like a further expansion of that family. The home, which was called beit av (father’s house), was the primary unit for tending to the needs of family members, including the nurturing and education of children.
Although we know that Joseph was a craftsman, the primary responsibility of parents in his day was to train their children in the fundamentals of practical life and covenant relationship with God. The goal of the average Hebrew family man in the first century was not the acquisition of great wealth or the achievement of power. It was to live a life of covenant faithfulness to the Lord and teach his family to do the same."
There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Joseph was anything other than a good husband and father. He loved and obeyed God and he loved his family. For that God called Him a righteous man.
There is a story told by Bill Morgan. He wrote:
"On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, is a portrait with the following inscription:
"James Butler Bonham--no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom."
In the same way, no literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But the likeness of the Son who makes us free can be seen in the lives of His true followers.
This world needs more Josephs who put God and His will first in their lives and who love their wives and children.
It begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ, who alone is capable of making us righteous before a holy God. But then we need to allow the Holy Spirit to continue the journey of making us persons who live out the holiness and righteousness that we have positionally in Christ. This is an act called sanctification, or the work that the Spirit does of setting us apart and making us holy. We need to let Him make us into Christ's image so that our actions and thoughts will be like our Lord's (Romans 8:29).
Our homes and our world need to have truly righteous men who will follow God's will no matter what the cost. They will not compromise what is good but will seek it in every area of their lives.
The righteous man sees sin and hates it. But he also cares for the sinner and wants to see them reconciled to God. And this man also seeks to model Christ's righteousness in his own life, and teaches his children to do the same.
Someone once said that: "The world is not changed by your opinion but by your example." It is my hope that the men who hear this message will talk less about righteousness and practice it more in their personal lives. If we do that then we can make this world a better place in which to live and will lead many others to a saving knowledge of the God who has made us righteous in the first place. At the end of our lives, may our epitaph read: "He was a righteous man!"
© 2019 Jeff Shirley