Joseph’s Tenacious Love

Matthew 1:18-25

December 24, 2006 | Brian Bill

[Note: A spike was placed under every chair in the sanctuary]

It’s a bit awkward for me to be speaking to you today because I’m known as a man of very few words.  I may look like one of your long-winded pastors but my name is actually Joseph.  I’m the only character in the Christmas account that doesn’t say a word.  I actually did speak a little, and at times I wanted to scream a lot, but Matthew and Luke didn’t write down anything I said.  I’m fine with that because it helps to keep the focus where it belongs.

Most of my relatives lived in Bethlehem but my home was in Nazareth.  This was a small agricultural village that at one time was beautifully secluded.  When I was a young boy the pagans started putting up altars to their gods and it became a pretty dark place to live.  Then, when the Romans started pushing their weight around, my little town was run down by them and became known as a place of bad morals.  People even made fun of how we talked, kind of like how many of you tease people from Wisconsin for their accent.  A disciple named Nathanael, who was from Nazareth, said these words in John 1:46: “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?

I’m known as a carpenter but I was more like a general contractor.  I was good with hammers and nails [hold up spike] and I also worked with stone.  Most of the homes in Nazareth did not have much wood in them but I would make furniture and sell it to other communities that could afford it.  My father’s name was Jacob and he was a carpenter as well.  I dreamt of the day I could pass along my trade to my son.  My parents always teased my about being a dreamer, pointing out that the Joseph of the Old Testament was also known for his dreams.

One of my dreams was to be as righteous as I could be.  I loved God so much that I wanted to live out my faith in every way.  I’m a bit embarrassed that Matthew referred to me as a “righteous man” in 1:19 but I had become known as a tsaddiyq (sawd-deek).  That’s a Hebrew word that was reserved for someone who was known for his uncompromising obedience to the Law of Moses.  I was careful about what I ate, who I hung out with, and how I spent the Sabbath.  I didn’t just do spiritual things; my very identity was a tsaddiyq.  People admired me and little boys wanted to be like me.  I understand in your culture that people look up to athletes and actors; from what I’ve been reading I think you’re aiming way too low

I should tell you that while I was a tsaddiyq and therefore kept my distance from anything out there that would derail me spiritually; I was also unsettled by what kind of blood flowed within me.  Let me explain.  I had the wonderful benefit of being related to King David.  That meant that I had some royalty in my veins and I knew that the Messiah would one day rule on David’s throne.  However, just as many of you have some nuts hanging off the branches in your family tree, one of my relatives really messed things up for me.  Let me take you way back to an incident that happened in Jeremiah 36.  In David’s line there was a wicked king named Jehoiakim who when confronted with Scripture, decided to burn the scroll written by the prophet Jeremiah.  As a result, verse 30 states: “…He will have no one to sit on the throne of David.”  I’ll come back to this curse later.

So I had some fame but my family name was also filled with shame because of what Jehoiakim had done.  As a tsaddiyq I determined to delight in Scripture and not disparage it like he did.  I had it all – a strong faith, a good family and a lot of friends.  My business was going well and my dreams for the future were filled with images of a beautiful maiden named Mary.  

Our families had known each other for many years and our parents had actually arranged for us to get married.  I was OK with that because she was beautiful on the outside and on the inside.  I was really attracted to her faith because she was a woman who feared the Lord.  There was no way I wanted to marry someone who was lukewarm toward the Lord.  I hear that believers in your culture often settle for a spiritual mismatch in matrimony.  

I was quite a bit older than Mary when we got engaged.  My dad used to tell me a joke that went something like this: Son, I hope you marry a pretty girl on our side of the street because your mama says you’re too young to cross the street!  Then he would tip his head back and laugh for a few minutes.  Our engagement period, or betrothal, was very serious.  We had a ceremony with two witnesses and we signed an official marriage contract.  I gave Mary a present and her father made a down payment on her dowry.  This betrothal period often lasted a year and people referred to us as husband and wife.  

However, we were never intimate and wouldn’t think of living together.  Mary lived with her parents and I lived with mine.  It was a period in which we were to test our commitment and faithfulness.  Any sexual immorality during this time would be severely punished and would be immediate grounds for divorce.  This was a happy time, filled with dreaming and planning and building.  I fashioned a number of pieces of furniture and works of art for Mary with my tools [hold up] and Mary stored them at her place in anticipation of our big day.

I was busy building a house for us to move into after the wedding.  [Hold up spike] Actually, it was an addition to my father’s home (that’s how we did it back then).  I drew up the design and labored in love for the love of my life.  Shortly after we got engaged, Mary traveled to her cousin Elizabeth’s house to help her out because amazingly, she was pregnant in her old age, after having been barren her whole life.  Mary mentioned something about an angel appearing to Zechariah in order to announce the news but I was skeptical.

After Mary returned she sat me down and said we needed to talk.  She looked a bit different and I sensed that this was going to be a life-changing conversation.  She got right to the point and it was pointed, let me tell you!  She told me that she was pregnant!  The only thing I knew was that I wasn’t the father.  How could she do this to me?  I thought I knew her.  My dreams were dashed like a hammer hitting some fragile pottery [Demonstrate].  I cried more that day than I had my entire life.  Tell me, men, would you have believed her?  One of your Country and Western songs summarizes how I felt: “My pain comes and goes.  It comes in the morning and goes all night long.”

I felt like a spike had been driven through my soul [Hold up spike].  My idyllic expectation of getting married and having a son had turned into a nightmare.  My dreams were destroyed and I didn’t know what to do because I still loved Mary.  I was torn between my legal rights and love; between conviction and compassion; between doing what would be right for her and still being thought of as righteous myself.

I’m now a tsaddiyq with a problem.  My fiancée is pregnant and I’m not the father!  This is a big problem because as a tsaddiyq my reputation was on the line.  In my small town filled with gossipers (most of you are from small towns so you understand), people were saying all sorts of bad things about me.  My fellow tsaddiyqim quoted the Scriptures, urging me to expose her publicly and then have her punished.  A tsaddiyq never questioned what the Scriptures taught and they were very clear that Mary should be taken to the city gates and stoned to death.  Deuteronomy 22:24 gives the reason for this:  “…You must purge the evil from among you.”

I didn’t want to be like Jehoiakim and just disregard the Scriptures and yet I was in a huge dilemma because as a tsaddiyq I was committed to obey the Word of God.  I was thankful that I had some other options.  Stoning was not done very often in my day because the Romans wouldn’t permit it, but Deuteronomy 24:1 allowed me to take her to court, to collect more money from her family and to publicly humiliate her.  I had every legal right to do so but because I loved her, I didn’t want to do that.  Instead, my plan was to just find two witnesses and privately break off our relationship.  This would lessen Mary’s shame and it would restore my name as a tsaddiyq.  If I didn’t divorce her people would assume that I was the daddy.  I guess I was trying to do the loving thing and still fulfill the law at the same time.  But most of all I wanted to do what God wanted.  My plan was to do everything quickly and quietly…but I was a sad tsaddiyq. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about this.  Mary told me that she had not been with another man and that somehow the Holy Spirit was the cause of conception.  Who had ever heard of a virgin getting pregnant?  And then the scroll of Isaiah shouted in my mind: “Behold a virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel…” I quickly brushed this aside.  Mary was too young.  Nazareth was too small.  We were supposed to get married!  And so I determined to divorce her and just get on with my life.  By the way, I didn’t rush into the situation and I didn’t allow my emotions to control my response.  Sure I was hurt but I wanted to take the time I needed to allow God to speak.  I’m glad I did.

After I thought I had settled everything (though I admit that I was still very unsettled), I had a dream in which an angel of the Lord showed up and said: “Joseph, son of David, [he reminded me that I was related to royalty as a descendant of David – it’s cool that he never brought up the junk that Jehoiakim did] do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife [I was afraid to do that because I didn’t want to offend God or be an offense to others] because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit [Mary was telling the truth!].  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name [in our culture for me to name the baby meant that I would become the legal father and he would be my adopted son] Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” [The name “Jesus” was common and was a form of Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.”]  It was true!  The baby inside Mary’s belly would be called “Immanuel!”  God was really with us.

Interestingly, the name Jesus also comes from the root word Hosea.  I was reminded that the prophet Hosea was asked by God to demonstrate unconditional love by taking a wife who had a bad reputation.  I knew that Hosea’s tenacious love was a picture of God’s love for us.  Just as he was told to love no matter what his wife did, I would do the same…knowing that that’s how God loves me.  At the time I didn’t fully understand that Jesus would not only show unconditional love but He would be love incarnated.

What a relief…I was able to obey the Word of God because God’s Word came to me through an angel!  As soon as I woke up I immediately did what the Angel had commanded me.  I ran to find Mary and told her we were getting married.  She wanted to know when and I said, “right now!”  I then sealed it by taking her to my half-finished home as my wife, deliberately tying my destiny to Mary and her child, no matter what.  Out of respect and reverence for the baby she was carrying I was not intimate with my wife until after she gave birth to Jesus.  

Many people wondered why I did what I did.  Some of my good buddies warned me not to do this because they said by marrying Mary people would think that I was the father.  I didn’t care but I did tire of how mean people were to us.  We were never invited to their homes, no one would hire me as a carpenter and the things they said about Mary were really hard to hear.  Whenever we would try to explain the facts people would just shake their heads and say, “Yeah, right!”  We lived under a cloud of humiliation, knowing that almost everyone believed that we had been immoral.  Because of my tenacious love for Mary and my devotion to the Lord I gladly took her shame and made it my own.

I was frankly glad when I heard that everyone had to register for the census in their hometowns because that would get us away from the nosy Nazarenes for a while.  That meant that we had to travel about 90 miles south to Bethlehem, the city of David, because that’s where my family records were kept.  It was no easy task traveling this far with a pregnant wife.  It took us about 10 days to get there, stopping only on the Sabbath to rest.  I wept and worshipped as God brought Micah 5:2 to mind which says that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem.   Incidentally, we were too poor to use a donkey.  We walked the whole way there.  I know that messes up your Christmas cards but you’re going to just have to believe me.  One clue that should help you know how poor we were is that after Jesus was born and we took Him to the temple to dedicate Him, we were only able to afford inexpensive turtle doves, not a lamb.

When we arrived in Bethlehem I thought one of my relatives would help us out with a room but we were shunned by all of them.  It’s amazing how quickly gossip spreads, even before the advent of telephones and email!  I kept watching Mary and knew that we didn’t have much time.  I started running from place to place, finally finding an inn but was told that it was full.  The manager told me that there was a manger out back so I gladly accepted.  When we got there, I was overcome with sadness.  My dream had been to build a house for us [hold up nail] and now we were in a cave-like area that was dirty and smelly.  We hurried to the area reserved for animals and Mary’s water broke.  I became frantic, as new dads do, and started yelling, “My baby’s having a wife!  My baby’s having a wife!”   Mary told me to sit down and that everything would be OK.  I think she knew that if I hadn’t sat down I would have fainted and fallen down.

It all happened pretty quickly.  Mary gave birth to a baby boy and I wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough.  When Mary put Him in my arms I felt like I was holding heaven.  Just as we were enjoying the miracle of this moment, I heard some loud noise outside.  I grabbed my hammer [pick up hammer] and ran to the door.  I would do anything to protect my wife and the baby.  I was met by a group of gruff shepherds who looked like they had seen something supernatural.  They were filled with joy and couldn’t stop talking, saying something about angels.  I moved to the side and they crowded around the make-shift cradle.  These shepherds dropped to their knees in worship, giving thanks for Mary’s little lamb.  They didn’t stay long and they almost didn’t seem to notice Mary and me.  They were mesmerized by the baby and then they bolted out the door, heading straight for the innkeeper.  I heard them tell him about Jesus and as they ran to the other houses, I could hear them praising God and proclaiming that Immanuel had arrived.

Eight days later at a ceremony I officially gave Him the name Jesus.  Several weeks after that, Mary and I went to Jerusalem and presented Him to the Lord.  Amazingly, when we arrived a fellow tsaddiyq named Simeon showed up and took Jesus in his arms.  He then broke out into praise.  This is recorded in Luke 2:30-32: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”   We marveled at what was said about Him as we tried to put together everything we heard.   Simeon then said something that was very troubling to us.  Some people would believe in Jesus and some would not.  He would be a sign that would be spoken against and He would reveal the thoughts in people’s hearts.  He then said these words that were difficult for a new mom to process: “And a sword [pick up spike] will pierce your own soul too.”  

We were rocked by this revelation and were ready to leave when all of a sudden a widow named Anna came up at that very moment.  I’m glad Luke wrote this down because everything was becoming a blur for me: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”   Some time later when we were staying in a house, some wise guys from the other side of the desert came to worship Jesus and gave gifts to Him.  All of this was beyond my wildest dreams.

I was looking forward to finally going back to Nazareth with my new family and couldn’t wait to teach Jesus how to use my tools.  [pick up tools]  As I was drifting off to sleep one night, I had another dream.  An angel told me to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod was hot and was looking for a way to kill Jesus.  I immediately woke up and we escaped to Egypt, staying there until Herod died.  Incidentally, this fulfilled another prophecy, this one from Hosea 11:1.  

I then had another dream in which the angel of the Lord told us it was time to leave and so we headed back to the land of Israel.  Just when I thought things would settle down I learned that Herod’s son was ruling in the region and I was frightened.  I had yet one more dream at this point and I was warned to not stay around Jerusalem and so we headed back to Nazareth.  Matthew 2:23 points out that this fulfilled yet one more prophecy about Jesus: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

When we arrived back in Nazareth, no one threw us a baby shower.  People were still talking and wagging both their tongues and their heads at us.  I tried to get some work and Mary and I did our best to raise Jesus.  He seemed to enjoy carpentry and seemed to be fascinated by wood and nails.  He spent hours as a toddler using my hammer to pound nails into rough timber [pound spike with hammer].  

One other highlight from his childhood stands out.  When Jesus was twelve years old, Mary and I lost track of Him when we were in Jerusalem for Passover.  When we finally found him three days later, he was sitting among the teachers of the law.  Luke 2:47 states: “Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.”  We were astonished and a bit angry that Jesus had left us.  Mary even said, “Why have you treated us like this?”  His answer showed me once again that this was no ordinary boy, and that I was not His real dad: “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus was committed to doing His Father’s will, no matter the cost.  He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world and He was Immanuel.  As a carpenter’s son He was used to the feel of wood and nails.  [Please reach under your chair right now, pick up the spike that’s on the floor and hold it in your hand]   One day a soldier took a spike like this and hammered it through His hands and His feet and nailed Him to a rough piece of timber [hold up spike and then pound into wood].  The crying in Bethlehem ends with the cry from Calvary.

Lessons from a Carpenter

Before I leave I’d like to pass along some life lessons.

1. The whole point of the story is to show that I am not the father of Jesus. 

The long genealogy in Matthew 1 makes this very clear.  As you go through 15 verses, the phrase “the father of” is repeated over and over, that is until you come to verse 16: “And Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  Jesus was born of Mary, not of me.  And because I was not his biological father, the curse of Jehoiakim was not passed along to Jesus.  Jesus is not the genetic descendant of Jehoiakim and therefore He is not disqualified from the dynasty of David.  And since I adopted Him, He was the legal heir to the throne of David.  Because Mary was also a descendant of David through Nathan’s line (see Luke 3:31), God’s promise to David was fulfilled in Jesus, who is called the “Son of David” throughout the Gospels.

2. God often calls us to do more than we think we can do but He never calls us to do more than He can do. 

If you’re faced with something that seems too hard for you, remember what the angel said to Mary in Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

3. God uses ordinary people who are available and obedient. 

It’s only when you obey that you will find out you are better prepared for what the Lord has in mind than you thought you were

There was really nothing special about Mary or about me.  We were simply available and obedient.  Have you surrendered to the Savior and will you do what He tells you to do?  It’s only when you obey that you will find out you are better prepared for what the Lord has in mind than you thought you were.

4. Following the Savior may bring shame to you. 

It’s not always easy to do what’s right but millions of people have made sacrifices for the sake of the Savior.  God may call you to give up your possessions, your place, your position and certainly your pride.  Related to this, He often leads us down roads that we wouldn’t chose on our own.  What are you willing to sacrifice for the Savior?  With all He sacrificed for us, how can we not give Him our very lives? 

5. God often shatters our dreams so He can give us new ones. 

Are you still holding on to a dream that God wants you to let go of?   Sometimes the future you think you are preparing for is not what the Lord has in mind for you.

6. Always do what God tells you to do even if it doesn’t make sense. 

You will never go wrong when you do what is right

Some of us want detailed explanations before we’ll obey.  God wants us to obey no matter what.  Are you in a dilemma right now?  You will never go wrong when you do what is right.  Like me, you may be faced with the choice between doing what you want and what God wants.  Always do what He wants even if it seems unbelievable and impossible.

7. God will do exactly what He says. 

God will never let you down.  Think of all the prophecies that were fulfilled with pinpoint precision during that first Christmas.  Every promise that God has made will come to pass.  You can trust Him today because of what He’s done in the past and that He promises to do tomorrow.

8. Our righteousness is never enough to satisfy a righteous God. 

My good works were never good enough.  I thought my time as a tsaddiyq was over forever.  I feared that I would never be known as a righteous man again and then I realized that my own righteousness was never enough in the first place.  I needed the Savior’s tsaddiyq applied to my account and that happened when I placed my faith and trust in Him. Here’s a question for you.  If I was righteous and needed a Redeemer, don’t you think you do too?

9. You can have a room in the Father’s house. 

Here’s a cool thought.  I provided for Jesus and gave Him an earthly home and now Jesus has provided salvation for me and will guide me to my heavenly home.  When Jesus left his home here, he went to Heaven to get your home ready.  He’s adding on to His father’s home but the only way you can get there is by being born again here.

10. You are a sinner and need a Savior. 

Jesus means Savior and Immanuel means “God with us.”  You and I need both.  We need to be saved from our sins and the only way that could happen was for the Savior to leave heaven and live among us.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  The Savior is now among us.  You too can be adopted into God’s family by receiving the gift of His Son right now.  John 1:12: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

If you’re ready to receive the best Christmas present ever, you could pray this prayer with me right now:

Lord Jesus, I know I’m not very righteous.  I confess that I am a sinner and I want to turn from the way I’ve been living.  Thank you that you are Immanuel and I now need you to be my Savior.  You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  I desire to live under your lordship for the rest of my life.  Take my dreams and help me to live out your desires for I want your purpose for my life, not my own.  Thank you for not only being born but for dying in my place and rising again so that I can be born again.  I now receive the gift of salvation and forgiveness by asking you to come into my life.  I want to be adopted into your family.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  I want to act on what I know to be true and enable me to adore you for the rest of my life.  I want to fit into your plans.  In the name of Immanuel, I ask this.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?