We recently celebrated or remembered the birth of Jesus Christ during Christmas. After Jesus’ birth, the role of Joseph, his earthly farther, became very significant as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
Joseph called to be the earthly father of child Jesus
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:18-19; ESV).
The Gospel of Matthew records that an “angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph in a dream three different times and gave him directives concerning Jesus and his mother, Mary. First, the angel said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20, ESV).
Joseph obeyed the directive from above and accepted Mary as his wife before the birth of Jesus. Later, after the birth of Jesus, an angel said to him,
“…take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13).
Joseph followed the instruction promptly. Finally, while living in Egypt, the angel said to him,
“Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:20).
In response to the last directive, Joseph took his family promptly to Nazareth, a town he considered safe for child Jesus (see Matthew 2:21-23). Joseph’s conduct, while taking his family to and out of Egypt, were timely and were in the best interest of child Jesus.
In the Gospels, we see Joseph entrusted with the safety and security of Mary and child Jesus against a scheming, powerful and murderous ruler, King Herod—In this role, Joseph was called to do much more than what an average father is expected to do today.
What could we learn from Joseph’s fatherhood
All three directives from the angels resulted in severely life-altering decisions for Joseph—one directive decided his wife for him, and two directives decided for him where he would live and raise child Jesus. He accepted and obeyed the directives for the security of child Jesus without complaining.
Because of the distance from Nazareth, he must have lost the help of his parents and siblings/friends, while he lived in Egypt primarily for the security of child Jesus.
We do not see any record of Joseph discussing or debating his potential problems if he were to obey the angels’ directives to go and live in Egypt. Instead, we see his willingness to obey promptly the angel’s directives to go and live in Egypt for a period of time for the safety of child Jesus.
Joseph does not say to the angel messenger, “How would I make a living in Egypt and take care of my family?” It is not recorded that the angel told him how to make a living in Egypt; it appears it was left to Joseph’s resourcefulness. It is notable, Joseph accepted several disruptions to his life, when he moved to Egypt; examples are: a different language, perhaps a new or unfamiliar job to earn an adequate income to care for the family, loss of friends and family left behind, etc.
In his willingness to go to Egypt and live there as long as necessary, we see that Joseph clearly accepted the responsibility to serve as father-husband-leader-provider for his wife and child Jesus.
God selected the earthly father for child Jesus
Did God choose Joseph to be a mere figurehead of a father, or did he choose him to be a real dedicated, responsible father to lead from the front? The latter seems to be the case. God entrusted newborn Jesus and his entire childhood to a responsible father, who was hand-picked by God.
We can be certain the Holy Spirit guided Joseph to serve effectively as a father and husband. Joseph shows us how a father would conduct himself today if and when guided by the Holy Spirit in raising a child and protecting his family.
If child Jesus needed a dedicated earthly father, hand-picked by God, could we say, every child deserves a father while growing up? What should churches teach today about fathers and the fatherless among us? What could today’s fathers, facing their own challenges of fatherhood, learn from Joseph?