• Chrissie Angell

Joseph: The Power of a Short Story

When I think of the Holy Family, my first thought is always Jesus, quickly followed by Mary. Perhaps because I’m a mother of boys myself, I feel a connection to Mary’s heart for her son. So, when Diana and I discussed writing about the Holy Family this Christmas and determined the writing assignments, I was surprised that my heart leaned toward writing about Joseph.

I’ve always thought kindly of Joseph, but the account of his story is brief in Scripture. I wasn’t sure what I would say about this man who is key to the lineage of Christ Jesus, but about whom we know so little.

A few weeks ago, in our small group at church, we discussed Matthew 1:18-25; we all thought it would be a lovely discussion but didn’t expect much new would come from it. After all, we read this passage and hear sermons taught on it every December. Surely we’ve learned all there is to glean from it. I think the Holy Spirit saw that as a challenge because He revealed things that were new, at least to all of us. As we discussed this well-known account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph’s story stood out in a fresh way, providing a realization about the kind of man Joseph was deep down and what his character says about Jesus.

Joseph, the man who would raise Jesus as his own child, is first introduced to us in Matthew 1:16 in the account of Jesus’ genealogy. However, in verse 19, we get our first glimpse at his character. Joseph had learned that Mary, to whom he was betrothed to marry, was pregnant. Since Mary and Joseph did not yet know one another intimately, he knew the child was not his. His response to that information tells us so much about the man who would raise our Lord on earth.

“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:19 (ESV)

It’s important to note that at this point, Joseph did not know that Jesus was conceived in Mary supernaturally by the Holy Spirit or that He was the Son of God. Joseph’s reaction in Matthew 1:19 was under the assumption that Mary had committed adultery. Being betrothed was legally binding at that time, so having relations with another man would have been adultery, and under Mosaic law punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10).

In the ancient Hebrew culture, adultery would have cast shame on those who committed the offense as well as the man who was betrayed. Enforcing justice by having Mary killed would have removed Joseph’s stain in the community’s eyes, easing his burden.

Yet, Joseph did not demand her death. Instead, Joseph vowed to show grace and mercy towards Mary by divorcing her quietly. The world would have looked down on him for perceived weakness, but Joseph chose to humble himself to do what He thought was right out of love for her. His choice to quietly divorce her would have been countercultural. The expectation was that an adulteress would be punished.

Yet, Joseph was a compassionate man who was willing to let his status, his position in the eyes of the world, be lowered to show mercy and grace towards Mary. That sounds very similar to someone else we know from the Scriptures, doesn’t it?

As I read this account, I couldn’t help but see foreshadowing in Joseph’s response. Joseph’s decision to humble himself in the world’s eyes by showing mercy and grace sounds a lot like the son he would soon welcome. After all, Jesus, the second person in the Trinity, humbled himself by taking on human form. And Jesus’ death, a critical assignment in His mission on earth, would extend mercy and grace towards all humanity from a compassionate Father God. Joseph’s humble extension of mercy and grace personifies the love Jesus came to demonstrate for and towards us at the direction of God the Father.

Matthew 1 continues explaining that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, conveying that Mary had not committed adultery but that the Spirit of the Lord had supernaturally impregnated her and that Joseph should take her as his wife. Matthew 1:24 shares Joseph’s response to the news, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (ESV).

Here we learn more about Joseph’s character, faith, and devotion to God. Joseph didn’t question the angel; he didn’t attempt to reason with God. Instead, he simply obeyed. Joseph took the hard road, one that would very likely disgrace him in the eyes of his community. His decision would be misunderstood and questioned by many. Yet, in His love and respect for God, he chose to obey. No matter what it cost him.

That response points directly to Christ Jesus’ obedience to the Father, to His willingness to lay down His life on the cross because the Father asked Him to make the sacrifice.

So often, I’ve thought of the influence Mary had on Jesus’ life and the love she poured into Him; I’ve thought about the burden she bore and the sacrifices she obediently made. I’ve been inspired by her love for and faith in God. I still feel all of those things toward’s her.

But this year, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes not only to the price Joseph paid but even more to his heart for God. It is no wonder that God chose Joseph for this Kingdom assignment! Who better to love and raise the Son of God on earth than a man with a heart faithfully seeking the will of God?

This new view of Joseph invites us to take inventory of our hearts. This Christmas season, let’s ask ourselves if we’re compassionately extending grace and mercy towards others? Do we have a posture of humility before the Lord, obediently saying “yes!” to what He asks of us, even if it doesn’t make sense?

Our stories may not be the ones to which books or even chapters of books are devoted. We may end up getting only a few short sentences. But let’s make sure to give reasons for anything written about us to be those as powerful as what was written about Joseph by demonstrating humble obedience towards the Father and compassionately extending grace and mercy towards others with a heart like Jesus’.

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