The Quiet Character of a Good Man
A little girl approaches a little boy at daycare and says, "Hey Johnny, wanna play house?" He says, "Sure! What do you want me to do?" The girl replies, "I want you to communicate." Johnny replies, “I have no idea what that means." The little girl smiles and says, “That’s OK, cause you’re gonna be the daddy!” [i]
Where do you suppose this little girl gets the idea that daddies have a hard time with communication? You men say probably from her mama! But she might get that idea from her daddy. Sometimes daddies have a tough time communicating, especially in words. More often, fathers are the silent lovers of the family, communicating by actions. Their character speaks volumes more than mere words can ever say.
I want to talk to you about one of these silent fathers who shows up in the Christmas story. He’s a very important character, but he has no speaking parts; the Bible never records even one word from his mouth. He shows up in only a couple of chapters, then disappears. Yet his character communicates so loud and clear what kind of man he was, and his example is a good example for all of us to follow. His name is Joseph, and his story begins in Matt. 1:18-19.
I want you to imagine what would happen if you knew you couldn’t be around to raise your children. Who would you choose to parent them through their lives to adulthood? You wouldn’t pick the first stranger you met on the street and inform them, “This is how I want my kid raised.” You want someone you can trust- someone whose values are as close as possible to your own, who was responsible and faithful.
I believe God wanted the same thing when it came time to choose the parents of Jesus. I don’t believe He left that choice to chance. He gave this task to two very special people, one of them being this carpenter named Joseph. What does the Bible tell us about the quiet character of this godly man?
I. JOSEPH IS A RIGHTEOUS MAN (Matt. 1:18,19)
The first word describing Joseph’s character shows up in vs. 18 where the Bible tells us Joseph is a just=upright man, a righteous man= someone whose character= way of thinking, feeling, and acting= is wholly conformed to the will of God. Joseph is a man whose character reflects the character of God, specifically in 2 very important ways:
a. He loves what is right. Joseph and Mary are espoused, or some versions say betrothed. A Hebrew marriage in the ancient world consisted of 2 stages: the betrothal (kiddushin) and the marriage ceremony (huppah).
To begin the betrothal, the parents arrange a contract in which the groom’s father pays the bride’s father a dowry, or bride price, which provides “insurance” should the groom change his mind. The couple is considered legally married, though it is often up to a year before they consummate the marriage. It’s a time of probation and testing of fidelity. But when word gets back to Joseph Mary is pregnant, this puts Joseph in a dilemma.
The Law gives him the right to publicly humiliate Mary. He can have her stoned as an adulteress. One option a just man would never consider would be to marry an immoral woman. Joseph is a man who loved what is right, but Scripture also makes it clear
b. He loves one who has done wrong. Joseph chooses to divorce Mary quietly, meaning a private ceremony with just them and 2 or 3 witnesses. The reason is he’s not willing to make he a public example. Why not? Why not hurt and humiliate her as she has done him?
I believe it was because he really loved Mary. Joseph is not a vindictive man who nurses his own wounds, but a man who loves this girl, in spite of what he thinks is her unfaithfulness. In spite of what he sees as her sin, he loves her. Though Joseph will later change his plans, even here her paints a perfect picture of how God’s righteousness.
God loves righteousness perfectly, and hates sin with a perfect hatred.
Ps 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Yet God also loves sinners- those who have betrayed and disappointed Him..
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates (proves, exhibits) His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Joseph loved Mary in spite of what he thinks she is- God loves us in spite of what He knows we are. This is the righteousness of God reflected in the character of Joseph.
Do we reflect God’s righteousness in our lives? Too often we’re very good at hating the sin, but not very good at loving the sinner. When people disappoint us, mistreat us, hurt us deeply, and we are not as just as Joseph. We get angry, lash out at them, take vengeance and try to treat them the way they treat us.
Joseph is a beautiful example of true righteousness which reflects both the holiness and grace of God. He hates sin as much as God does, and yet he still loves Mary. Many years later Jesus command us to do the same thing:
Lk 6:32,35-36 32“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 35But love your enemies…and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
Is that easy? No. Who ever told us it would be? But it is just—it is the right thing to do—it reflects the character of our holy, gracious God.
During the days of the American Revolution a Baptist pastor named Peter Miller lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, who was a close friend of George Washington. Michael Wittman also lived in Ephrata, but he had very few friends. Wittman was an evil minded man who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman’s sins caught up with him and he was arrested for treason, carried to Philadelphia and sentenced to die. Pastor Peter Miller traveled 70 miles on foot to to plead with General Washington for the life of the traitor."No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have." "What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a very different light. I'll grant your pardon." Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata - no longer an enemy but a friend.
That is the righteousness of God in action--holiness and grace---that characterizes Joseph’s life. Does this righteousness show up in your life? Joseph is a righteous man, but also
II. JOSEPH IS A RESPONSIVE MAN (Matt. 1:20-25)
By responsive I mean he is responsive in a positive way to a very unique situation. He’s able to respond the right way when God did something different. And the birth of Jesus was definitely something different.
We don’t know if Mary tells Joseph about Gabriel’s visit, but obviously Mary is still heavy on his mind, as he goes to bed that night. I’m sure he whispers before he nods off Lord, please show me what to do. And when God does, Joseph responds in 3 ways:
a. He listens to God. As far as we know, God speaks to Joseph only in his dreams. It’s interesting to me Joseph takes these dreams seriously. He doesn’t wake up and say What a weird dream! It must have been that extra helping of lamb I ate for supper! Joseph’s ears are open to hear whatever God says to him, in whatever manner God says it.
This does not mean all dreams are significant. Sometimes your dream really is just something you ate! But there’s a principle here: if you want to hear from God, you’ve got to be listening. You’ve got to stay alert because God can speak His Word to you in a wide variety of ways. The important thing is to be listening. Joseph is not only listening to God,
b. He believes God. Joseph not only hears, but he believes the Word of God. The words of the angel echo the words of Isaiah 7:14, a promise from the written Word of God about the coming Messiah. Joseph knows as well as you do it’s not normal for a baby to be born without a human father. But Joseph doesn’t argue, or doubt---Joseph trusts the truth of God’s Word in spite of what seems impossible. Joseph listens and believes, and then
c. He obeys God. This is the strongest evidence Joseph truly believes God- he obeys the Word of God. He cancels his plans for a divorce and weds Mary.
Can you imagine what his family and friends must have said? You’re willing to marry this tramp just because of a dream? Joseph, you’re breaking your parents’ heart, and everybody is talking! Are you willing to raise someone else’s Son as your own? (If they had only known whose Son this was!). But nothing hinders Joseph from responding to God’s Word in the only appropriate way- obedience.
There’s probably no big wedding celebration for Joseph and Mary. Nobody else understands what God is doing. But Joseph and Mary know. Joseph knows because he has listened to God’s Word, he has believed God’s Word, and he has obeyed God’s Word.
Many years later Jesus would tell a parable about a sower who spreads the seed of the word of God, and in that story, Joseph would be a good example of the good seed that fell on good ground.
Lk 8:15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
We know how Joseph responds to God’s word. How do you respond to God’s Word?
Think of this issue in medical terms. When you go to the doctor, if he’s going to do you any good, you’re going to have to respond the right way. You’re going to have to listen to him diagnose your problem, you’re going to have to believe him, and you’re going to have to do what he tells you to do, if you want to be healthy. You don’t have to respond this way—you can pretend to listen, you can say (either in your head or outloud) you don’t know what you’re talking about! You can nod your head and then leave and don’t take the medicine, don’t do what he tells you to do. But in that case, no matter how good a doctor he is, you won’t benefit at all, because you are unresponsive.
A man limps into a hospital to have his foot X-rayed, and was asked to wait for the results. An orderly appears and hands the man a large pill and says, “I’ll be right back.” After the orderly disappears the man hobbles over to get a glass of water, swallows the pill, and sits back down to wait. Later the orderly reappears carrying a bucket of water. "Okay let's drop that pill in the bucket and soak your foot."
It is very important to listen, believe and obey your doctor. But Joseph reminds us it is much more important to listen, believe, and obey the Lord. Are you listening to Him? Do you really believe what He says? Are you obedient- even when it doesn’t make sense in your own mind?
Joseph is a righteous man. Joseph is a responsive man, and finally
III. JOSEPH IS A RESPONSIBLE MAN (Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23)
One of the qualities that appear in the life of a person who is righteous and responsive to God is a sense of responsibility. Paul mentions this virtue in:
1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
Joseph is given an assignment: take care of Mary and serve as the foster father of the Son of God. In these verses we see Joseph takes his responsibility very seriously, first because:
A. He protects his family. Matt. 2:1-12 tells us as the Wise Men come to worship Jesus they unwittingly alert evil king Herod to the birth of a rival King. Herod tries to use the Wise Men to locate this baby so he can kill him, but God once again intervenes, warning Joseph in vs. 13-15 to take Mary and the Baby and flee to Egypt. ( flee: a word denoting an urgent continuous action, meaning indicating that they were to leave immediately and not stop until they were far enough away to escape danger) Joseph acts quickly, packs up immediately and leaves that night. But if I were Joseph I may have had some questions:
Where exactly will we live? How will we live? Why doesn’t God just get rid of Herod instead of sending us away 100 miles by foot into a foreign land?
We can speculate on some answers. Historians record there was a large population of Jews in Egypt at this time—some of them perhaps kin to Joseph. The gifts of the Wise Men would pay for the journey, and perhaps even giving them extra money to get settled.
But beyond all this, Joseph is compelled by two main facts: his family is in danger, and God is providing a way of escape. Joseph doesn’t know why Herod wants to kill Jesus, only that it’s his responsibility to protect the Baby and Mary. But Joseph also does his duty as
B. He provides for his family. There is no way to know how much time elapses between the flight to Egypt and Joseph and family’s return to Israel, but at some point, God appears again to Joseph, commands him to go back to his homeland. He may have headed back to Bethlehem, but he stops before he gets there, because even though Herod is dead, one of his sons is reigning over Judea. Joseph returns to Nazareth, where it is safer.
What happened next? Joseph and Mary settle down in Nazareth. Joseph is called a carpenter in Matt. 13:55, a trade which makes them a decent living. Like any other Jewish father, he teaches Jesus his trade, teaches Him the Law of Moses, and tries to raise Jesus in the ways of the Lord. He dies before Jesus begins His ministry.
Joseph never preaches a sermon, never conquers any kingdoms, never writes any great works of literature. We would never have even heard of him apart from these few verses.
But let me ask you- how different would the Christmas story be without him? It is the rough hands of this carpenter that deliver Jesus into the world. It is this carpenter who works hard to see Jesus is fed, clothed, and protected. It is this forgotten foster father who teaches Jesus to drive a nail, saw a board, build a house. Joseph teaches the law of God to the One who wrote that Law, and teaches the wonders of Creation to the One Who Created the world. He fulfills his responsibility to God and his family. No one else may have ever noticed this quiet man, but He is an important part of God’s plan.
You are an important part of God’s plan, too! None of us are given the same assignment God gave Joseph, but we can all be faithful in what God does call us to do. Most of what God gives you and I to do are simple, everyday things nobody else notices—being a good husband/wife, father/mother, sharing what we have with somebody in need, speaking to a friend about the love of Christ, teaching a class or listening to a lonely heart share its sorrow. It doesn’t take a lot of ability to be faithful, but it does take availability. That is what counts.
Mt 25:2 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
The sign in the window reads: “Boy Wanted”. A lazy young man applies for the job and is hired. He is sent up to the attic -- a dingy place full of cobwebs and infested with mice. “You’ll find a long, deep box there,” explains his boss. “Please sort out the contents and see what should be saved.” The boy goes up and sees a large container that seems to contain nothing but old junk. After a few minutes he goes back downstairs. His boss asks if he completed his work “No, sir,” he replies, “It’s dark and cold up there and I didn’t think it was worth doing.” At closing time he’s paid and told his services will no longer be needed.
The next morning the old sign “Boy Wanted” appears in its usual place. Another young man is hired, and given the same chore. When he sees the box, he begins patiently separating the usable nails and screws from the things to be discarded. Suddenly he races down the stairs. “At the very bottom I found this!” he exclaims, holding up a 20-dollar bill. At last the store owner discovers the boy he is looking for. For many years the owner of the store would tell the story of the boy who later takes over the business who “found his fortune in a junk box!” Then he always added “No, he actually found it in his mother’s Bible because he heeded the verse she made him memorize: ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much!’”
God is looking for Josephs: people of quiet character who are righteous, responsive, and responsible. The world needs this kind of person. Are you one of those people? Will you ask the Lord Jesus Christ to help you be this kind of person?
[i]Mike Crews, Illustrations of Mike Crews (2008).