TITLE: Walk the Joseph Path Matthew 1:18-25
Did you ever notice how differently Luke and Matthew tell the story of Jesus' birth? Luke emphasizes Mary's role. In Luke's Gospel, the angel appears to Mary and tells her about the child whom she is to bear. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, and Elizabeth says wonderful things about Mary's baby. Mary sings a song of praise that is beautiful poetry. In Luke's Gospel, we hear almost nothing about Joseph.
Matthew's Gospel is just the opposite. Matthew's Gospel starts with Jesus' genealogy -- traced from Abraham through Joseph, not Mary. The angel appears to Joseph -- not Mary.
Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man (1:19) -- meaning that Joseph tries to live according to God's law -- tries to do what God wants. But Matthew also portrays Joseph as a kindly man who wants to avoid subjecting Mary to public disgrace (1:19). In other words, Matthew portrays Joseph as righteous, but not self-righteous.
In Luke's Gospel, Mary is mentioned eleven times in the first two chapters, but Joseph only three times. In Luke's Gospel, Mary occupies center stage.
But in Matthew's Gospel, Joseph is mentioned nine times in the first two chapters, and Mary only four times. In Matthew's Gospel, Joseph occupies center stage.
The reason for these differences is simple. Luke was a Gentile writing for Gentiles, but Matthew was a Jew writing for Jews. Jews took great pride in tracing their lineage to Abraham, and the genealogy that we find in Matthew's Gospel would have been very important to them. They lived in a patriarchal world, and wanted a Jewish boy to trace his lineage to Abraham through his father.
Matthew tells us some important things about Joseph that Luke skips entirely.
Matthew tells us that Joseph -- not Mary -- is to name the baby (1:21). Why is that important? It is important, because by naming the baby, Joseph claims the baby as his own. Joseph is not the baby's father, and he knows it. The angel tells him that the real father is the Holy Spirit -- but the angel also tells Joseph to marry the girl -- and to name the baby -- and to assume the public role of father. Those would not have been easy things for a righteous man to do, but do you know what Joseph did? Joseph did exactly what the angel told him to do. He married the girl -- and named the baby -- and assumed the public role of father. He did exactly what God wanted him to do.
That was just the beginning. Later, the angel told Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. Matthew tells it this way. He says, "Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod" (2:14-15). In other words, Joseph did exactly what God wanted him to do.
And then, when Herod died, the angel told Joseph to take mother and baby back to Israel. Matthew tells the story this way. He says, "Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel" (2:21). In other words, Joseph did exactly what God wanted him to do. Exactly!
And then, when Joseph was trying to figure out where to settle, God warned him in a dream not to settle in Judea, because there was a bad king there. So Joseph took his family to Galilee, far to the north. In other words, Joseph did exactly what God wanted him to do. Exactly!
And then there is one more thing that Matthew mentions in the last verse of our Gospel lesson. He says that Joseph "had no marital relations with (Mary) until she had borne a son" (1:25). Even after they were married, Joseph and Mary lived in abstinence until Jesus was born. Matthew doesn't tell us why Joseph did that, but it was surely because he thought that was what God wanted him to do.
All of which is to say that Joseph was a really fine man -- a Godly man.
We don't know much more about Joseph. We do know that he was a carpenter, because when Jesus spoke at his hometown synagogue, the people asked, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (13:55).
Luke also tells that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:41 ff.).
And that's it! That's all we know about Joseph! Joseph has no speaking role in the Gospels. He never says a mumbling word. We hear nothing more about him after the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. We assume that he died while Jesus was a teenager.
But we know that Joseph was faithful to God -- and that made all the difference. It made all the difference to his family -- and it makes all the difference to us. God used faithful Joseph as a hinge on which to swing the door of history. Without a faithful man like Joseph, none of this Jesus-stuff would have happened. There wouldn't be any Christmas. There wouldn't be anyone to save us from our sins (1:21). God needed a Godly man and a Godly woman to carry out his work. Joseph was the Godly man. Mary was the Godly woman.
I told Joseph's story in great detail, and I did so for three reasons:
First, Joseph is an important part of the Christmas story, but we don't usually talk much about him. Mary takes center stage, and that is OK -- she belongs there. But we don't want to forget Joseph's faithfulness or his contribution to the Christmas story. None of it would have happened without Joseph.
Second, I would like to suggest to the girls and women in the congregation that, when you are looking for a husband, try to find someone like Joseph -- a man who loves God and tries to do what God wants him to do. That's a tall order in an increasingly secular world, but it's worth the trouble. A Godly man will stand by you when the going gets tough -- when you and your baby need protection from the Herod's of the world. A Godly man will help you to raise your children "in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4, KJV).
That doesn't mean that Godly men are always angels -- they aren't. It doesn't mean that you won't have disagreements -- because you will. It doesn't mean that your Godly man won't disappoint you -- because he will. It doesn't mean that it is a guarantee -- because it isn't. But it does mean that when the going gets tough, you will be a lot better off if your husband is a Godly man.
The same wisdom applies to boys and men. Find yourself a Godly woman -- for all the same reasons.
And finally, we can all learn something from Joseph's faithfulness. In every instance that Joseph is mentioned, he is doing what God wants him to do:
-- He is trying to avoid embarrassing his pregnant fiancee unduly.
-- Then, at God's direction, he is marrying her and naming the baby.
-- Then, at God's direction, he is taking his family to Egypt.
-- Then, at God's direction, he is returning to Israel.
-- Then, at God's direction, he settles in Galilee instead of Judea.
-- Then we see him taking his twelve year old son to the temple in Jerusalem.
The Bible portrays its heroes honestly. It deals with David's adultery right upfront. It deals with Samson's foolishness right upfront. But it has only good things to report of Joseph. Joseph was a faithful man. In every instance, he tried to do what God wanted him to do.
It doesn't matter who you are -- boy or girl -- woman or man -- the world will be a better place if you follow Joseph's example -- and your life will be better too. The quality of your life will start getting better the day you get serious about doing what God wants you to do -- and it will keep getting better as long as you continue doing what God wants you to do. That doesn't mean that you won't have problems, but it does mean that God will be right there with you -- guiding you -- giving you strength -- helping you to get past those problems.
I read a story not long ago that came to mind when I was preparing this sermon. Stephen Beck told about crossing a narrow bridge on a country road. When I read his story, I knew exactly what kind of bridge he was describing. I haven't seen one in years, but I used to see them now and then. They were narrow, one-lane bridges on country roads. Two cars could not pass each other on those bridges. If there was a car on the bridge when you got there, you had to stop and wait for it to finish crossing before you could go. If you and another car got on the bridge at the same time, you would be nose-to-nose and one of you would have to back off the bridge.
So Beck told about coming to one of those bridges and seeing a Yield sign. After he crossed the bridge, he happened to look back and noticed that there was a Yield sign on that end too. He was curious enough that he stopped to check and, sure enough, there were Yield signs on both ends of the bridge.
When I read that story, I thought of Joseph, because whichever way Joseph was going, he always yielded to God. He never insisted on doing it his way. Once he knew what God wanted him to do, he did it. Exactly!
What would your life look like if you were to do that? What would your life look like if you were to ask, "WWJD" -- "What Would Jesus Do?" -- and then do it? Exactly!
I think that some of you are already living like that. I see it in the quality of your lives. I see it in the way that you deal with adversity. I see it in the kindnesses that you do for other people. I see it in the work that you do for the church.
But I invite each one of you to assess your own life, asking, "Am I really willing to obey God?" "Am I asking, "What Would Jesus Do?" "Am I doing it?" "Am I seeking God's path for my life?" "Am I taking it?"
If not, try doing those things. Try living obediently for a week -- or a month. Try doing what God wants you to do. If you will do that, God will bless you. God will surprise you.
Walk the Joseph path, and discover what God can do. Walk the Joseph path, and discover what your life can be.