The Courage of Joseph, the Earthly Father of Jesus
A story of courage is told every Christmas season. But it is a story we often miss because the hero is usually in the background. In nativity scenes (the birth), he stands silently next to the manger, where the baby Jesus is laid. His name is Joseph, and he seems to play a secondary role in the nativity story. He is not even given a single line to speak! After the teenage years, he disappears completely from history.
Yet the courage of Joseph made it possible for the child to be born in Bethlehem and survive the life-threatening early years of His life. Joseph was the man to whom God entrusted the task of protecting the mother and her child from the time she conceived Jesus. He was the rugged and brave man who led Mary safely along the dangerous roads to Bethlehem, Egypt, and eventually back home to northern Israel.
God selected this man to protect the infant Jesus in the dangerous first years of His life. As we look over his life, we see that Joseph had the courage to:
- Live a morally upright life in an immoral world.
- Marry a pregnant girl who was not carrying his child.
- Protect his wife and son during their flight to Egypt and then again upon their return to Nazareth.
God the Holy Spirit has included the story of Joseph to encourage us to live courageously, even if it means living dangerously, in doing God’s will. We must remember that Joseph was not some super being. He was an ordinary flesh and blood man.
GOD USES ORDINARY PEOPLE
Amid this story of the miraculous birth of Jesus, one that features angel visitations, we find this ordinary man by the name of Joseph. One theme in the Bible is that God uses ordinary people to do His work—people like you and me (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Joseph was the kind of man God could trust to be strong during a crisis. He was strong and resilient enough to protect his family during hazardous journeys. Joseph had courage because of his relationship with God—he lived a morally upright life.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:
Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.—Matthew 1:18-19
Joseph was known as a righteous man. This means that he had such a strong relationship with God that he became like God in character. Joseph was courageous enough to stand up against his own sin nature. He had disciplined himself to live the way God wanted, not out of duty but because it was what he wanted to do.
He was courageous enough to live a moral life in a corrupt culture. He grew up among people who were very religious but not very righteous. Even the religious leaders of the day were corrupt men, more interested in politics, power, and possessions than in living for God. Truly righteous people make the rest of us uncomfortable; how they live make us aware of our shortcomings. People have never treated righteous men very kindly. They killed the prophets. They would later reject Jesus.
Even today, moral purity is sneered at by many. Joseph was an unusual man. He was the kind of man every child would wish for—a father who knows the right way to live and follows the right way, no matter the cost!
This God-fearing father may not have been able to fill his children’s stomachs, but he nurtured their spirits! He was a carpenter and made sure that his son knew those skills to support himself even though Jesus was God and the Creator of all things and that all were created for Him. Do you have the courage and integrity of this father?
We can only imagine how Joseph reacted when he discovered Mary was pregnant. The only way he could explain her pregnancy since he and Mary had not consummated their marriage, was that she had been unfaithful to him with another man. She was an adulteress! “The Nativity Story” shows how Joseph must have agonized over what to do about Mary. He agonized, just as any man would have under such circumstances:
- Shock—Joseph thought that Mary was a pure and chaste girl. He must have been shocked to the core.
- Deep sorrow—His dreams of marriage to this young girl now seemed to be forever shattered.
- Anger—Joseph must have felt betrayed. His manly pride would have made him want to punish somebody! No one would have blamed him if he had caused a terrible scene in the village.
But Joseph’s godly character enabled him to rein in his anger. Even under these circumstances, his love for Mary compelled him to seek a way to protect her. Love covers a multitude of sins!
Paul teaches that God, the Holy Spirit, empowers us to love. When we live in the Spirit’s power, the fruit of the Spirit always triumphs over uncontrolled human emotions, even anger and rage. The Spirit also empowers us with supernatural love (Galatians 5).
Joseph faced down his own emotions and courageously chose to forgive Mary, but he also had to face down the society in which he lived. As Mary’s pregnancy became obvious to the people in their small town, Joseph knew that he also would be publicly embarrassed. To save face, Joseph would have been justified in publicly divorcing Mary. The society he lived in expected him to express outrage and punish Mary.
Because of his strength of character, Joseph decided to divorce her privately and protect her from public disgrace. However, after an angel explained to him that Mary was pregnant because of a miracle, Joseph decided to marry her.
After he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.—Matthew 1:20-25
When the angel told Joseph that the Holy Spirit conceived the child, Joseph would likely have thought of the role of the Spirit of God in creation (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 33:6). So, the Word of God reinforced the angel’s word.
Even so, with the scriptures and an angel directing him, Joseph had to make a courageous decision. He had to take for his wife a woman who was not bearing his child and, in so doing, share in the unjust shame that was heaped upon her. He would also be undertaking to provide for the child and function in a fatherly role as he raised Him.
Joseph did what the angel commanded. Joseph’s faith in God was what enabled him to overcome the stigma of becoming the husband of Mary and to accept responsibility for the child. The writer of scripture adds a comment displaying the integrity of Joseph. Although he had the legitimate right, he did not have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus was born. And this simple fact underscores the truth of the virgin birth of Jesus!
It takes courage to say no! We tend to treat our sexual urges as if they have overwhelming power. But, for God’s higher purposes, Joseph could restrain himself. The fact that they did have sexual relations after the birth of Jesus models for us that, within the boundaries of marriage, sex is a pure and beautiful gift of God.
Joseph’s courage was tested again after the child was about two years of age. Wise men from the East visited the family and worshipped Jesus! The night after their visit, Joseph was again visited by an angel who commanded him to take the child and flee to Egypt, for Herod sought to kill Him.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.” So, he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”—Matthew 2:13-17
When Herod realized that the Magi had outwitted him, he was furious, and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So, he got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”—Matthew 2:18-23
Having heard from the wise men that they were seeking the One who had been born to be King of the Jews, Herod commanded that all boys under the age of two were to be killed.
An angel of the Lord commanded Joseph to take the child and His mother first to Egypt and later back to northern Israel. This meant months of dangerous travel over hostile terrain. Joseph probably walked most of the way! But God knew Joseph was courageous and strong enough to handle the task.
In conclusion, there are four principles that we can apply today from Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus:
- Courage shows up when we least expect it, and most need it. Joseph had no idea that his tranquil life would be thrown into upheaval. But because courage had been growing inside him, it was there when he needed it. But how do we cultivate the growth of courage?
- Courage is cultivated by learning that God is more powerful than any threat that may come our way. David learned about God from nature, history, and the scriptures while caring for his father’s sheep. David fearlessly faced Goliath, confident that the Commander of the Armies of Heaven was with him. Joseph had cultivated his relationship with God, so he was ready when the day of testing came.
- Children need courageous dads! Children want to be able to boast, “My Dad’s bigger than your dad!” Knowing that their dad is brave enough and strong enough to protect them gives them security.
- Wives long for courageous husbands! One of the greatest statements of a husband’s love is when he protects her, regardless of the cost to himself.
Here is the story of one such man—Joseph.
God is still at work creating courageous men like Joseph. Men with moral courage and manly courage.