The Christmas story reminds us that a good man can bring much joy to the world when he quietly plays his part behind the scenes in furthering God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity. That’s what Joseph did, the earthly father of Jesus. And we can do the same. Listen in to learn how.
Joseph – silent night personified
One of the most intriguing characters in the Christmas story is Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus.
He plays such an important role in the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, yet we know so little about him. Joseph isn’t mentioned at all in Mark’s gospel. In the other gospel accounts he is briefly mentioned a few times in conjunction with Mary, as “Jesus’ parents.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus is referred to on two occasions as “the son of Joseph.”
I find Joseph intriguing because nowhere do we find him saying anything. He says nothing. Not one word. He’s the Marcel Marceau of the New Testament.
Yet Joseph doesn’t have to say anything for us to learn qualities from him we can take on as our own to bring joy to others and ourselves this Christmas season. Listen in to learn how.
What Luke’s Gospel tells us about Joseph
In Luke’s gospel, which has the most detailed description of the birth of Jesus, Joseph is mentioned 5 times.
We learn from Luke that Joesph, a descendant of King David, is engaged to be married to Mary, and at the time is living in the village of Nazareth in Galilee. Luke tells us Joseph was present at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem when the shepherds arrived to worship the Christ child. Later, Joseph and Mary presented Jesus together in the temple as the religious law required.
This is all that is mentioned about Joseph in Luke’s gospel.
Joseph In the Gospel of Matthew
We learn the most about Joseph in Matthew’s gospel, where he is referenced 10 different times.
We learn that Joseph’s father is a man by the name of Jacob, which of course makes him the paternal grandfather of Jesus. I wonder who the maternal grandfather is, Mary’s father. Can you picture Jesus with his grandfather? It’s a bit of a stretch for me.
Here’s how Matthew begins the story of Christ’s birth. He writes:
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, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
I’m struck by Luke’s description of Joseph as simply, he was a “good man.” Not a great man. Not a wonderful man, nor an awesome man. Just a “good man.” There is power in the simplicity of that one-word adjective, the only adjective used to describe Joseph – good. It carries a lot of weight, especially in today’s culture where we give out superlatives like water from a fire hydrant.
When we’re at a restaurant and the waitress asks what we want to drink and we tell her a glass of water is all we want and she replies, “Awesome. I’ll go get that and come back to take your order.” This is not awesome. If this is really awesome, what word do we use to describe the Grand Canyon, childbirth, or God himself? These are what are truly awesome.
“Good” is a really good word. Don’t you admire a “good” man? I do. I would love to be known as a good man. My son is a good man; so is our daughter’s husband. He’s a good man. My grandsons are on their way to being known as good men. Good is good enough.
I hope you take note of the good men in your life. Appreciate them. And if you’re a man, be a good one. Be a good man.
What a good man does
Joseph shows us that part of being a good man is being kind to those who hurt you. Imagine for a minute you’re Joseph and your fiancé tells you she’s pregnant and you know you’re not the father. How would you feel? Mary must have explained to him what the angel Gabriel told her, but from the text we can see that Joseph didn’t believe her at first. He was ready to break off the engagement. I can just imagine him feeling betrayed and thinking:
“Here I’ve been pure in my relationship with Mary, but she goes off and gets pregnant by another guy, and then expects me to believe this wild and crazy story that the baby is from the Holy Spirit. And then she says he is going to be the Messiah our people have been waiting centuries for? What are people going to think when this gets out? Mary has gone off the deep end with this explanation.”
In the midst of feeling like this, Joseph, being the good man that he is, doesn’t want to humiliate Mary with a public end to their engagement, so he decides to end it quietly. He doesn’t want the problem to be any worse than it already is. He does what good men do, he doesn’t let the betrayal he feels come out as anger at Mary. Joseph plans to do what’s best for her, even though he’s got to feel torn up inside.
The gospel writer Matthew continues the story like this
As he [Joseph] 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. 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 1:18-25
A Good man listens to God
I love this part of the Christmas story because it shows another aspect of being a “good man.” Joseph was willing to change his mind. He was willing to be open to something different than his initial, but understandable, knee-jerk reaction. It so reminds me of the profound but simple advice my first boss out of college gave me and all the new teachers at the school where I taught: never fall in love with your own idea. Joseph didn’t fall in love with his own idea of breaking off the engagement with Mary.
Instead, he listened to God who used an angel to speak to him in a dream that what Mary told him about her pregnancy is completely true. It’s like the angel is saying, “You can believe her, Joseph, she is the woman you always thought she was, in fact, she’s better than what you thought she was by virtue of the assignment God is giving her, and you, too, Joseph. You are definitely marrying up.”
There is a cost to believe and trust
There is a cost to Joseph in choosing to believe God and trust Mary. Other people they know in Nazareth aren’t going to believe the supernatural when it runs counter to the natural. That’s how many people are. So Joseph is opening himself up to criticism in taking Mary as his wife.
But a good man, as Joseph is, doesn’t let Mary be the sole target of criticism. He joins her in believing God together, regardless of what his parents, her parents, all the relatives, and all the people in town think. They are in this together.
This is what good men do. They protect their wives as best they can. They don’t let them go through difficulties alone. How about you? If you’re a man, to what extent are you protecting the women in your life?
A good man handles his emotions well
And another thing I love about this good man, Joseph, is how he handles his emotions. A lot of men have problems dealing with their emotions, but not Joseph from what we see in Matthews's account.
The angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because everything she’s told you about her pregnancy is true. You can believe her. He pushed through his fear by believing God and trusting Mary, even though all outward indications were pointing in the opposite direction.
Later we see Joseph acting in spite of his fear when he and his little family are hiding from Herod in Egypt after Jesus is born.
A good man pushes through his fears
Herod eventually dies and an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him it’s safe to return to Israel. So Joseph gets up and takes Mary and Jesus back to Israel. He learns though, that Herod’s son has succeeded his father, and Joseph becomes fearful. But then he is warned in a dream and returns to Nazareth with Mary and Jesus anyway.
Joseph followed directions from God in spite of his fears. That’s what a good man does. He trusts God more than his emotions.
I think about the knee-jerk responses I sometimes have to events in my life, and how often they are proven not to be helpful. As much as possible, it is so much better to take our time in responding to our emotions, as Joseph did. I wonder about you. How relationally skilled are you in letting your emotions sit for a while before responding?
Except for King Herod and his son Archelaus, Christmas is in part a story of good men doing their best to follow God. Zechariah, wise men from the East, shepherds tending their flocks, Simeon, and of course, Joseph.
Good men who listen and obey God. Who protect the weak and vulnerable. Good men who function largely in the background to support the unfolding of God's redeeming story He brings into the world through … one woman.
Here’s the main point I hope you remember from today’s episode
A good man is hard to find. But Christmas reminds us that good men like Joseph are out there, often in the background, not saying much. Their character and behavior tell us more than their words. Look for them. Be like them.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to reflect, as Joseph did, and then act by obeying what God wants from you. In doing so, you will find the joy God intends for you in your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week, with one more relationship story before Christmas. Until then, goodbye for now.
Related episodes you may want to listen to
134: A Better Kind of Christmas Joy
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Thank you, John for giving me invigorating ways to encourage my sons. I like to springboard off their personality traits and help them see God at work in their lives. Your devotional today did just that. As I pass along your words, they will be fresh fuel for them to BE the men God’s called THEM to be. I’m realizing more and more that one of my roles as a mother to adult kids who seek to follow the Lord is to OBSERVE THEM LIVE, LEAD, LEARN, and LOVE and SPEAK TRUTH OVER THEM, to revive the embers of their hearts.
Thanks for your comments, Linda. Mothers play such an important role in helping their sons become “good men,” no matter how young or old they are. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of it.
You have always proven to be a good man during my life. Love you!
Thanks, Karen. I love you, too!
John, I had never really heard this perspective before on Joseph. Thank you, and well done!
Thanks, Chris. You’re a “good man” too, just like Joseph.
Hi John! I never thought of Joseph as the Marcel Marceau of the New Testament. Lol. But I will now!!! In all seriousness though, this perspective adds another layer to the Christmas story for me. Thank you!
I’m glad you appreciated the Marcel Marceau connection with Joseph! Setting that aside, the older I get the more layers of the Christmas story I come to appreciate. I’m glad you’re doing the same. Thanks for your encouraging words, Becky!