Father and Son, 2002, Corbet Gauthier (prints available at http://www.artbarbarians.com)
(…continued) It was at that point that the angel appeared to Joseph and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save the people from their sins.”
On one level, this was very helpful and Joseph, without hesitation, did the right thing and obeyed God. He decided to take Mary as his wife and be the earthly father of this child. But on another level, this still wasn’t going to be easy because the angel’s story, while convincing enough to Joseph, might have been a little hard to explain to the guys at work. In those days, as well as today, people could count up the number of months from the wedding day to the birth of the first child, and the angel probably did not appear to everyone in town to explain the whole situation. Can you imagine Joseph at the cafe eating a donut and saying, “Look guys, it’s not what you think. Mary is a good girl, and it wasn’t me; but there was this angel that appeared to Mary, and then the angel appeared to me, and it was a miraculous conception– you see?…” My guess is Joseph didn’t even try to explain. He and Mary probably just bore the embarrassment quietly until… Until what?
This is another place you need to read between the lines. WE have the entire New Testament ahead of us. We have always known the whole story from beginning to end, from the birth to the childhood to the manhood of Jesus, including the miracles, his crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead. We have the whole miraculous story to see and believe in. But think about it. That did not happen all at once, but took thirty-three years to unfold.
The angel spoke to Joseph on four different occasions. Mary told him of the angel’s message to her. The shepherds appeared after the birth of Jesus with their news of a sky full of angels, singing and proclaiming that a Savior had been born. And the Wise men were led to this child by a star in the sky. But then, that was it for Joseph. There were no more signs from God, and what followed were many years in which nothing at all happened out of the ordinary. Joseph was there yet when Jesus was twelve years old, but then is not mentioned anymore. Mary is mentioned often during the public ministry of Jesus and in the days leading up to his crucifixion, but Joseph is not there.
It is assumed that Joseph died sometime between Jesus’ twelfth and thirtieth year. That is to say he died before any of Jesus’ public work, before any miracles, before any public talk of Jesus being the Messiah, and before the conclusive proof of Jesus divinity came in his resurrection from the dead. Joseph died before there was any further validation of the angel’s message. That Jesus had, in fact, a normal childhood without any fanfare is clearly shown in Luke four when Jesus, as an adult, went back to his hometown. He read an Old Testament prophecy in the synagogue, and then Jesus said it applied to himself, saying he was the one promised by God in Isaiah to come and save his people. But the people were shocked at this, and accused him of blasphemy, saying, “This is just the son of Joseph, the carpenter! Who does he think he is?” There had been nothing that special about Jesus as a child or young man in Nazareth.
Therefore, it looks like Joseph lived out his entire earthly life without any further validation of the angel’s message, and therefore without any vindication of his honor before his neighbors. Joseph always treated Mary honorably, he obeyed God without hesitation, and throughout the story of Jesus’ birth Joseph acted righteously. He served God in a most amazing way by providing an earthly home to Jesus, God’s own son. He was a good and godly man. But in the eyes of all the world he had acted dishonorably and shamed himself, and there was no way to ever undo the inevitable misunderstanding. Yet, he was obedient.
God chose a good man to be the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph deserves our respect and our admiration. His job was not an easy one, but he acted well his part in God’s plan. His life can be an example for us. It is an example of obedience to God’s Word in difficult circumstances. Have you ever found obedience difficult? Joseph’s life is an example of enduring misunderstanding nobly and graciously. Have you ever been misunderstood? And, his life is an example of quietly and patiently accepting the silence of God. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t seem to come through for you?
When we hear the Christmas story we hear of many miracles. When we read between the lines in the rest of the story, we see long periods of time with no miracles and no vindication by God. We see, in fact, the same silence of God that we often, even most of the time, experience. God gave Joseph a few words from angels, in the early days of his relationship with Mary, and that was all Joseph had to go on from then until the end. It was certainly not all he could have wanted. God must have seemed to him to be silent for a very long time.
We too have been given a word, God’s Word, in the Bible. But it is still only words for now. Oftentimes we will want more. Sometimes, even when we study God’s word, it raises more questions then it answers. God doesn’t give us all the knowledge and all the answers and all the proof that we want. But God gives us all that we need for life and for salvation. He gives us enough, as he did for Joseph. He gives us His Word, and, His promise of a most wonderful eternity.
Luke 4:22b — …“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Mark 6:3 — (They asked), “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Micah 7:7-8 — …As for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy. Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.
II Corinthians 5:7 — For we live by faith, not by sight.
I ask not to see; I ask not to know; I ask only to be used.
J. H. Newman (1801-1890)