The Integrity of Joseph, Christ’s Earthly Father
Though we do not have too much detail into the life of Joseph, we do know one key thing—he was the earthly father who raised Christ. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, promised to each other. This step in the marriage process was about a year before the actual marriage. During this time, you were bound legally to the other person as if already married (marriage vows even took place), but this was without physical intimacy or the sharing of a household. One would even begin to refer to the other as husband or wife despite a lack of consummation. Arranged marriages were very common and their situation probably echoed the culture in this respect. However, it is easy to see how Joseph truly had affection for Mary.
Matthew 1:18 states, “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”
Being pregnant without marriage would have been considered a disgrace and result in public shaming for Mary. Imagine the disappointment that Joseph felt. He likely was building a home for Mary, saving money to care for her, and preparing for a family. Joseph experienced the anticipation of entering into a marriage and the heart that goes into those plans for the future. He was leading up to one of the biggest moments in his life—all to hear that his fiancé was pregnant and it was not his child.
Matthew 1:19 says, “Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Joseph does what many emotionally would not be able to. He silently withdrew his proposal without shaming Mary. This could tell us a few things. He may have genuinely loved Mary, explaining to him not wanting her to face public ridicule. He also may have seen the faith that Mary had in God and thought perhaps she was raped by a Roman soldier rather than committing adultery. However his reasoning, Joseph showed compassion and humility in this act of kindness towards his betrothed.
Later, he does receive a dream from the Lord concerning Mary…however, notice that his choice to break off the engagement quietly was already made. Does this not speak of the integrity and character of Jesus’ father, Joseph?
In the dream, Joseph is told in Matthew 1:20—“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 conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.”
We are told that after this, he did as the angel commanded. Joseph is not only a sensitive man but a righteous one. His obedience to the Lord is shown as he believes the dream and acts in faith, despite the threat of persecution. By staying with a pregnant Mary, it would have easily been seen as admitting fatherhood for that child. Therefore, he took on the shame that was not his. Later, his son Jesus would also take on the shame that did not belong to him and bear burdens that he did not earn.
We see Joseph, Christ’s earthly father, naming his son Jesus in Matthew 1:25—“But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” Joseph may have officially made Jesus his son at the moment of naming him, but we know that the instant his heart softened to obedience he took on the role of the father of Christ.
This Christmas, remember those involved in the greatest story ever told. These are men and women whose obedience and humility before God led them to live extraordinary lives and be included in the miracle of the greatest life of all—Jesus.