Joseph: An Obedient Man of Integrity
One of the best ways to learn about a person’s character is to look at how they react to adversity. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the carpenter, was no stranger to adversity. So to better understand Joseph’s character, we are going to look at his reactions to difficult situations.
“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)
The first difficult situation Joseph encountered was his fiancée telling him she’s pregnant with the Lord’s child. Joseph knows this is not his child, and we don’t read about him celebrating with Mary at this news—we read that he plans to break off the engagement quietly. Joseph was “a righteous man” and he did not wish to disgrace Mary publicly. In that time, Joseph would have been all but expected to publicly shame Mary for having sexual relations outside of marriage and with someone who wasn’t her fiancée.
How many of us have that level of integrity? Your fiancée tells you she’s pregnant and you know it can’t be yours, but you have no desire to shame her about it. Joseph is going against the cultural norms of his time and his actions show that he was a man of integrity. He wasn’t going to let the culture tell him what he should or shouldn’t do. Notice also that he doesn’t run off and tell Mary immediately; he doesn’t shout at her when she gives him the news. He goes away, thinks about it, makes his decision, and sleeps on it.
“As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (…) When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-21, 24-25)
This is a remarkable response. Joseph didn’t believe Mary’s story so God sent an angel to him in a dream to confirm it, and his reaction is very unique. Some months earlier, an angel of the Lord appeared to both Zechariah and Mary, but both of them responded with doubt or clarifying questions. To the news that his wife would become pregnant, “Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years’” (Luke 1:18) and to the news that Mary would be pregnant with the Lord’s child, “Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’” (Luke 1:34).
We see this trend of doubting or questioning a message from the Lord very often in Scripture. When Abraham was told that his wife would have a child, he laughed in disbelief (Genesis 17:17); Moses protested several times as God spoke through the burning bush (Exodus 3 & 4); Jonah ran away from God’s instructions (Jonah 1); and so on. It seems the natural reaction to God’s instruction is to doubt or question, but that’s not what we read about with Joseph. He got up and did as the angel of the Lord commanded.
Joseph was about to face even greater adversity. The baby was expected any day and Joseph and Mary were hit with an unexpected census that forced them to make an 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This trip would have taken around 4 days on foot (the Bible never mentions Mary riding on a donkey but it’s a fair assumption) and if Mary was not feeling all that well, the journey could have taken longer.
If you are a father, you know the stress of the days that lead up to your child’s delivery and the even greater stress when labor begins. All you want to do is take care of your wife, make sure she’s comfortable and has everything she needs. Can you imagine being forced to take a four-day journey when your child could be born any minute?
“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)
Imagine that you have completed the journey and it’s time for the baby to come. Your wife is in labor and you need to find lodging for her. You need a bed, you need sheets, you need water, and imagine everyone turning you away. We don’t read about Joseph threatening the owners of the inns, we don’t read about him kicking people out of their rooms because he had a greater need for it. We don’t read about any panic, frustration, fear, or helplessness; instead, we read about a righteous man, one of integrity and obedience, who continues in faithfulness to God’s plan. Let us aim to be people of integrity, faithfully obedient to God’s will. Let’s aim for a life like Joseph’s, one that, while filled with adversity, was equally filled with responses of integrity, trust, and faithfulness.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.