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A Study of Matthew 1 & 2

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Introduction: Joseph – Chosen by God

As we celebrate the advent of Christ, it is easy to overlook the important role played by Joseph. Not only did God choose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but God also chose Joseph to be his earthly father. There is not a lot known about Joseph, but what we do know reveals a person who trusted in God and was the perfect one to be in charge of the care of the young Jesus. Joseph was a poor man. He was not especially remarkable. He was a carpenter by trade. But God chose him for one of the most important missions to ever be done by a human being. Let’s examine what we know about this man who was unimportant by the world’s standards, but extremely important to God.

Matthew 1:18-19

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 of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

The first thing we learn about Joseph is that he was a just man. He was a man of compassion. He was not the kind who would do things out of anger, but was careful to consider things dispassionately. This was important for God’s plan for his son. The guardian chosen to watch over Jesus must be someone who would make decisions wisely. Here we see Joseph confronted with his first test of faith. Sometimes God allows us to go through difficult times that we don’t understand so that we can learn to place our trust in him. It is never easy when we are confused about what’s happening to us, but if we can learn to trust God even in those times of confusion and uncertainty, our faith will be strong no matter what might come our way. This was the case with Joseph. God was preparing him for a time when he would have to make decisions for his young family based entirely on faith and trust in God. If you are going through a time of uncertainty, maybe you need to ask – what is God preparing you for?

Matthew 1:20-25

But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is 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." All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (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 borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

I find this interesting how God treated Joseph and Mary differently. Right at the beginning the angel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son as recorded in Luke 1:26-27, "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary."

But Joseph received no such announcement. He was forced to go through a troubling time before God revealed his divine plan for Joseph and his family. Why did God do it this way? I believe it was so that Joseph would learn how to trust God for all the important decisions that he would be called on to make in the next few years. God doesn’t always tell us his plans. He sometimes lets us struggle with circumstances so that we can learn how to take those important steps of faith.

Kerr comments about Joseph, "If a type is to be sought in the character of Joseph, it is that of a simple, honest, hard-working, God-fearing man, who was possessed of large sympathies and a warm heart. Strict in the observance of Jewish law and custom, he was yet ready when occasion arose to make these subservient to the greater law of the Spirit. ... Joseph is known to us only as a dim figure in the background of the Gospel narratives, yet his whole-hearted reconciliation to Mary, even in the face of possible slanderings by his neighbors, his complete self-sacrifice, when he left all and fled into Egypt to save the infant Jesus, are indicative that he was not unworthy to fulfil the great trust which was imposed upon him by the Eternal Father."

So we find Joseph learning to be obedient to God. He took Mary as his wife and then had to travel with her to Bethlehem for the census. It was there where the Christ child was born. Imagine Joseph’s wonder as first the shepherds came to worship the baby in the manger. And then when Joseph took the baby to be circumcised, he heard the prophecies of Simeon and Anna in the temple. It must have made him realize how God had something special for this tiny son that God had placed in Joseph’s care. And finally imagine his reaction when eastern wise men visited them, bringing expensive gifts and talking about a special star in the sky. Each one of these events I’m sure confirmed in Joseph’s mind how God was working something special in Joseph’s life.

Matthew 2:13-15

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son."

After the wise men left, Joseph received a warning from God to flee to Egypt. Notice that Joseph immediately obeyed God. He did not question God or try to figure out what was going to happen. He did not try to come up with his own reasons for staying which could have been many. We know that the wise men visited Joseph and Mary in their own house. This could have been as long as two years after Christ’s birth. It is possible that Joseph had established himself as an important tradesman in the city of Bethlehem. Perhaps he had built up a number of customers. It seems he was doing well enough to have his own house. Then suddenly, God tells him to leave.

There was no hesitation on Joseph’s part. God had chosen the right person. Joseph had learned to trust God and was willing to sacrifice everything for what God told him to do. No doubt Joseph and Mary would be able to use the gifts from the wise men to help finance their trip and pay for their necessities in Egypt. Imagine how Joseph must have felt seeing all these miracles unfold before his very eyes. God sent along the provisions for the journey before the journey was to begin. And Joseph was willing to obey no matter what the personal cost to him.

Matthew 2:19-21

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

Once again God speaks to Joseph and he obeys. I’m sure it was not easy being a Hebrew in a foreign land, but Joseph waited for God’s message before he returned.

McGee comments, "It’s essential to get Jesus out of the land of Egypt and back up into Israel. The most important reason is that He has been born under the Law, and He is to live under the Mosaic Law. He is the only One who really ever kept it."

Matthew 2:22-23

But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Notice that when Joseph led his family out of Egypt, he headed back for Judea, no doubt to Bethlehem where he probably had a house and many customers. But God warned him to return to his home country of Nazareth. Once again Joseph shows his willingness to obey God in spite of personal hardship.

There was another reason for Jesus to be raised in Nazareth that Joseph could not have understood at the time. The Hebrew word for Nazareth was < rcn > netzer which means branch. The coming Messiah in the Old Testament was often referred to as the Branch. Specifically this Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." And this same meaning is conveyed in Isaiah 53:2, "For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." So by taking Jesus to be raised in Nazareth Joseph was unknowingly fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. It seems that God had chosen the right man.

Years later Joseph and his family once again visit Judea, this time for the feast of the Passover. But as they were leaving Jerusalem they noticed that Jesus was missing.

Luke 2:43, 48-50

And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.

I find this story the most telling of the character of Joseph. Here Jesus had stayed behind causing great discomfort and confusion for his family. When they finally found him, no doubt they must have been extremely irritated and upset over his wandering off as any parent would be. In those days, the father ruled the family with an iron hand. It would be his place to discipline the young man. And yet for some reason he is silent. Even though Mary openly rebukes Christ, Joseph does not say a word. It seems to me Joseph must have understood something that Mary did not. There are times when fathers realize the importance of their son’s actions. I believe this was one of those times for Joseph. He didn’t understand everything that was happening or would happen, but he sensed that this was not a time for discipline or rebuke. Since this is so against human nature, I get the feeling that it could only have come from years of Joseph learning to depend entirely on God so that he could sense the same attitude in his son – especially when Jesus said, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" Joseph somehow understood that Jesus was under his care for only a short while, but ultimately he would answer to his real father, his heavenly father, for his actions. Joseph was willing to allow Christ to have that moment without interference. Once again we see the wisdom of Joseph displayed, and we understand why God chose Joseph to care for his son.

Luke 2:51

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

As a result of this encounter, this verse tells us that Jesus went with them back to Nazareth and was obedient to them. Yes, Christ belonged in the temple, in his father’s house. But he knew that his heavenly father had given him an earthly father to nurture and care for him. Out of honor and respect for Joseph, Christ returned to be the obedient carpenter’s son. His ministry would have to be delayed. Joseph had sacrificed a great deal, and now Jesus would be a son to this earthly father.

We know that Jesus followed Joseph in the trade of a carpenter – helping him in his work and easing the burden of Joseph’s old age. Fausset points out about Joseph, "He was a ‘carpenter’ and doubtless instructed the holy Jesus in this work." Jesus remained in submission to this earthly father. It seems that he did not begin his ministry until after Joseph died as we will examine in the next verse.

John 19:26

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"

At the crucifixion, Jesus is commending the care of his mother to the disciple John. As the first born son, it was his responsibility to care for his widowed mother, so it seems pretty clear that Joseph was no longer around. As Nixon wrote, "It is almost certain that Joseph was not alive during the ministry of Jesus. There is no direct mention of him, and it is hard to explain otherwise the word to John from the cross and the reference to Mary and His brothers seeking Jesus."

What a beautiful story of submission that Christ served Joseph all the days of his earthly father’s life. He patiently waited for God to call Joseph home before embarking on his important Messianic ministry. What a tribute he paid to Joseph. Certainly, there was no job in the world more important than the task Christ was about to perform – to save the world. But that task would have to wait so that a man chosen by God would have the help and support of his son. How Christ honored Joseph.

Luke 4:22

And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph’s son?"

John 6:42

They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?"

Notice that the people of Nazareth knew who Joseph was. He must have had quite an impact on them. They didn’t know Jesus as well, but they knew Joseph. Joseph was the kind of person who had a reputation throughout the community. His integrity, his faith, and his willingness to help others must have been noticed. So as Jesus begins his ministry, he is honored as the "son of Joseph." Joseph may not seem that important to us 2000 years later. But to God, he was extremely important. He was especially chosen to care for God’s only son. What an honor and a privilege. There is no doubt that God had chosen the right man.

Footnotes:

This Advent study on Joseph 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1971, A. J. Holman Company

Kerr: International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, electronic version 1996, Biblesoft

Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 4, pg. 17 1983, Thomas Nelson Publishers

Fausset: Bible Encyclopaedia and Dictionary pg. 397, Zondervan Publishing House

Nixon: The New Bible Dictionary pg. 660 1962, William B. Eerdmans Company

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