Joseph is a less visible figure in our re-living the Christmas story each year. He’s only mentioned a few times in Scripture, and I don’t recall singing many Christmas carols about him. When I wanted to understand his role in the birth narratives and the appearance of Jesus, I misread one of the important verses Matthew had written about Joseph. Matthew wrote, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man…” (Matthew 1:19, KJV). Trying to comprehend why God had chosen Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly Father I thought the verse said, “Then Joseph her husband, being just a man…”. Yes, of course, he was just a man. But, there was a special quality about him that helps me understand God’s purpose in entrusting Jesus to his earthly stewardship.
Matthew described Joseph as a just man. Some versions translate the word “dikaios” as “just” while others render it “faithful” or “righteous”. Basically it means that Joseph sought to conform to God’s standard for his life. One particular character trait of Joseph made the just label appropriate. Joseph was obedient. Note these three references…
When Joseph woke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord
commanded him…Matthew 1:24
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and
departed to Egypt. Matthew 2:14
And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the
land of Israel. Matthew 2:21
Obedience was central to God’s revelation in history. Noah (Genesis 6:22, 7:5, 7:9), Abraham (Genesis 21:4), Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7:6), Joshua (Joshua 11:15), and David (2 Samuel 5:25) are specifically noted for obeying what the Lord had commanded. Surely God chose Joseph because of his genealogical lineage, but also because his concept of righteousness was centered in simple obedience.
The religious system of Joseph’s day sought to enhance human standing before God with outer, visible evidences of faith. As Jesus later taught, their system was long on self-justification and self-righteousness. Not Joseph. As Matthew explains, Joseph “…considered these things…” (Matthew 1:20) related to his betrothal to Mary rather than be intimidated by others’ expectations of him. Then, he obeyed.
Even more, the angel gave Joseph a glimpse of the Great Commission. Matthew recorded it when the angel spoke to Joseph about what was going to happen: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Joseph believed what was said, and obeyed the words God commanded through His heavenly messenger.
A challenge in thirty-five years of pastoral ministry involved listening to and doing what God commanded as opposed to pursuing other ministry agendas. There were plenty of others too, either of my own invention or the preferences of the people around me. It sounds so elementary because we suppose obedience to the Father as a given quality for spiritual leadership. It’s a subtle distinction not always readily apparent, however. We’re busy today, have our new scorecards and mission programs, while we weigh and often overplay the limits we perceive. As a result we have back seats at the table of cultural influence. While the analysts are scoring the surveys and giving us charts and graphs maybe the issue is simple obedience. Without it we cannot be Great Commission people.
My friend Curt Bradford, retired pastor of Riverbluff Church in the Charleston Association, has a card one of the children in his church made for him. It was fashioned after a sermon about the qualified obedience that marks so much of church life today. The card is labeled “yes, but…”, a hint about the way we so often hedge our obedience to Christ. It’s a vivid illustration of our reluctance to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus with total obedience. It may be my greatest take-away from the celebration of Christ’s birth this year, the immediate response of Joseph in preparing the way for the Great Commission.
So, the angel of the Lord came to a simple craftsman and told him news about the birth of Jesus. It was an incredible announcement, the birth of the savior, Immanuel, God with us. The Gospels don’t tell us much about this man Joseph. But, there is his amazing obedience, and the significant role he played in demonstrating how we are to fulfill the Great Commission. Simple obedience.