When God Chose a Father For His Son

Bill McFarland

June 17, 2007


Someone wrote some time ago, “A young man’s success in life often depends on his selection of a father.”  The truth of that statement is obvious and yet the difficulty of it is pretty clear, too, for none of us had much say in the selection of our fathers.  We do have a selection on what kind of father we will be, but we couldn’t choose who our father was.

It is interesting, though, that scripture teaches that God was able, and did, make such a choice when he prepared to send his own Son into this world.  God sent Jesus as a man to be raised by a man.  The man who, in God’s providence filled that role, of course, was named Joseph.  Though Joseph was not biologically the father of Jesus, he was a father to Jesus.  Luke makes clear in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was the son “as was supposed” of Joseph.  Both Matthew and Luke in their accounts of the circumstances surrounding the Lord’s birth indicate that this child was “of the Holy Spirit.”  Yet, Joseph is referred to in those same accounts as the one who acted as a father and who legally served as a father to Jesus.

In Luke 2:27, Luke uses the phrases “his parents.”  He mentions it that same way two more times in Luke 2.  In Luke 2:33 he mentions Jesus’ father and his mother.  And in Luke 2:48 Mary speaks to Jesus of “your father and I.”   So, in a very real way, God had chosen a father for his Son.

This raises to me a very interesting and important question.  When God chose a father for His Son, what kind of man did he choose?  Of course, the implications of this question are pretty obvious.  It would suggest to each one of us what kind of father God wants us all to have.  It would say to those of us who are dads, “Here’s what your role needs to be.  Here’s the kind of preparation you need to make in order to fill this place.”  And it would say to all the rest of us, “Here are the kinds of qualities that we ought to be thankful for when we see them in our dads.”  Here are the circumstances within which we ought to encourage good men who do their best to be what God wants them to be.

As I read Matthew and Luke’s record, the first thing I notice is that when chose a man to be a father for His Son, he chose a man who would treat a woman right.  In Matthew 1:18-19 Matthew says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to put her away her quietly.”  Joseph and Mary were betrothed, which means under Jewish customs at the time that they were legally regarded as husband and wife, but that they had not yet left their parents’ homes and begun to live together.  In that period of time, Mary was found to be with child.  Joseph knew that it was not his child because they had not yet come together.  At that moment, if you think about it, there are several avenues open to this man.  He could have fallen into angry self-pity, resenting the fact that anyone could have treated him this way.  He could have gone out and committed immorality himself in order to get even.  He could have, within his rights as a godly man, brought an accusation against Mary publicly, thus subjecting her to humiliation and possibly even the penalty of the law at the time, which would have been death by stoning.

But the Bible says Joseph had one part of his character that turned him away from any of those courses of action.  He was a just man.  He was thoughtful and fair even in this most heartbreaking situation.  He considered not just his own feelings but Mary’s too.  And contrary to the spirit of those who delight in making other people’s supposed faults public for everybody to see, Joseph was unwilling to put this dear woman to shame.  He had determined to deal with the situation quietly, to remedy the circumstance between the two of them but to do it quietly. 

It seems to me as I read the story, after it unfolds at this point, Joseph’s keeping Mary with him even when he had to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth and the law didn’t require her to go too, his being with her when the baby was born and present with her through all the difficulties, indicates that a tender type of love and consideration existed between these two.

Friends, what a boy needs first in a dad is a heart which is gentle and fair in his treatment of that boy’s mother.  A real father is a man who will treat a woman with consideration and respect.  You cannot be the kind of person who would use and cast aside a woman and be the dad to your children that they need.  I think of Jesus from the cross having among his last words instruction that his mother be cared for (John 19:26-27).  When I read that, I wonder if Jesus learned something of how to think of her that way from Joseph’s tender treatment of Mary.

Secondly, when God chose a father for His Son, he chose a man who walked by faith, a man of obedient trust in the Lord.  Joseph is a much more heroic example of this than you might first think.  It shows in several ways as this story unfolds.  For example, when the angel of the Lord told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, explaining that her child was from the Holy Spirit, what would you have thought of that explanation?  “How can this be?  No one ever heard of something like that.  Everyone knows how babies are conceived!”  Not with Joseph.  This man, the Bible says, did as the Lord commanded him (Matt. 1:21 and following).  He took Mary to be his wife and he named her child Jesus (the Lord saves).  How much trust did that take? 

When the baby was born, Joseph saw to it that all the requirements of the law of the Lord were honored – the circumcision, the naming, the presenting of sacrifices for purification and for redeeming of the first born – all of that.  In fact, the law of the Lord is mentioned five times in Luke 2, more than in all the rest of the gospel of Luke put together.  It was Joseph’s way to respect the Lord’s word in everything (Luke 2:39).  When the Lord told him to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt because of Herod, Joseph rose by night and departed for Egypt (Matt. 2:13-14).  If he went all the way to the Nile from Bethlehem, it was a 200 mile journey and the opposite direction from home for Joseph and his young family.  He had to have been walking by faith!  And, when following Herod’s death the Lord instructed him to take the child and his mother and go back to the land of Israel, Joseph got up and went (Matt. 2:19-23).  He took his family to Nazareth and Galilee.  

The point is that Joseph was a man whose way of life was to serve the Lord.  He and Mary went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41).  When Jesus was twelve, they took him according to custom.  Joseph’s family served the Lord with him and not in spite of him.  Fellows, in some of our families, it is working the other way.  If our families serve the Lord, it ends up being in spite of us. 

I think of Jesus later on when he was about 30, according to Luke 3:23, when he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, it says he did so “as was his custom.”  I wonder if he was doing what he had learned from Joseph, whose custom was to worship and serve the Lord.  When in the dark hour of the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed “Not my will but yours be done,” was he expressing the same spirit of obedient trust that he had seen in Joseph?  Every father should be the spiritual leader of his family to set a tone which assists his children in developing their own faith.  That is the kind of man that God chose for Jesus.

Third, when God chose a father for His Son, he chose a man who was a responsible citizen in the community.  In fact, that is how a man from Nazareth like Joseph ended up in Bethlehem where he was when the baby came, according to the first 4 verses of Luke 2.  Caesar Augustus’ decree went out that all in the land were to go to their own town, their own family’s background town to be registered.  It was apparently a census for tax purposes.  Who wants to pay taxes, especially to a government like Rome if you are a Jewish man?  But Joseph took Mary (about an 80 mile trip and she has the birth of a child very near) and made that journey to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David.  Joseph was filling his place as a citizen. 

And I wonder if any of this is in the background of passages that occur later on, like Luke 20:22 and following, when people came trying Jesus, asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not.  Jesus said, “Show me a coin.  Whose image is on it?”  They said “Caesar’s.”  Jesus said, “Then you render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  What an effective way that was of answering that challenge!  But he had had a father who was a good citizen. 

Joseph appears to have been known and recognized as a neighbor, too, and not just somebody who was a resident of the area.  When they traveled to Jerusalem, they went with a sizeable enough group of relatives and acquaintances that they could lose Jesus in the crowd (Luke 2:44).  The people in the synagogue in their home town said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22) and at Capernaum they said, “Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42)  My point is that Joseph was a man who had a good name in the community, and of all the great and precious gifts he could have given to his family, a good name would be the chiefest, according to the Proverbs.  A father shows his children how to engage the community around him and how to function in the larger world.

But then, when God chose a father for His Son, he chose a man who was a capable worker.  When Jesus was born, it is true that Joseph’s young family was clearly of very humble means.  We know that because in Luke 2:22 and following, when they came to offer the sacrifices for Jesus to purify and redeem him as their firstborn, they took two turtle doves or two young pigeons, which was the offering of those who were poor enough that they couldn’t afford a lamb.  But as time went by, we learn that Joseph was known to his home town as “the carpenter.”  They called Jesus “the carpenter’s son” according to Matthew 13:55.  The word that is used for carpenter in that passage means someone who is a worker with his hands, who not only builds things out of wood but also does the work of a mason.  He knew what he was doing, in other words.  He raised his family through honest, honorable work, and the fact that they referred to him as “the carpenter” suggests to me that he was good at it, too. 

Time goes by.  Mark indicates that Jesus, too, was referred to as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3).  Now notice – the carpenter’s son is also “the carpenter.”  How do you suppose that happened?  Undoubtedly Joseph showed him, trained him, influenced him.  That doesn’t mean that every child has to grow up and do the same thing his dad did vocationally, but it does mean that a father is child’s first school in how to work, and how to know the satisfaction of being capable of doing something worthwhile, and of having the sense of industry to do your best at it.  A boy or girl needs that in their dad.

Fifth, when God chose a father for His Son, he chose a man who would stay involved with his family.  Fellows, pay attention to this one, please.  A man can let his job or his community activities or his church work consume him so that there is nothing left emotionally or physically for his family.  Joseph, though, was not that kind of man.  He was not either emotionally or physically an absentee father.  The shepherds the night Jesus was born found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger (Luke 2:16).  The point is that he was there.  They (Joseph and Mary) brought him (Jesus) to Jerusalem (Luke 2:22).  The parents brought him to the temple (v. 27).  His father and mother marveled at what was said about him (v. 33).  His parents (Joseph and Mary) took him up to the feast and when he was missing, they began to search for them.  Joseph did not send the boy’s mother to do the work.  They returned to Jerusalem searching for him.  They found him in the temple.  Mary said “your father and I have been in great distress.”  Your father and I!   Jesus went with “them” and submitted to “them,” Luke 2:51 says.  That means that while the eighteen years are passing between age 12 and age 30, when nothing remarkable seems to have been going on, that Joseph stayed involved and that he had a part to play in contributing to Jesus’ intellectual and physical and social and spiritual growth, according to Luke 2:52.

The way Matthew 13:35-36 mentions Mary, Jesus’ brothers and his sisters being there with them, would suggest to me that maybe Joseph had passed on by that time.  But the community still identified his family with him.  He had stayed involved in the lives of his family.  That is what a father does.

And then, when God chose a man to be the father to His Son, he chose a man who would make it easier for that Son to call him “My Father.”  Jesus did end up calling the God of heaven “My Father.”  You know that he did that when he was 12 (Luke 2:49), and he did it all through his ministry.  And in the hour of his deepest agony in the Garden of Gethsemane he fell on the ground and prayed, “Abba Father.”   Abba was the common Aramaic word by which a child addressed affectionately his father.  I wonder, had Jesus as a child addressed Joseph as “Abba?”  And had Joseph made it the natural thing for Jesus to speak to God the Father this way, too?  If so, the spirit which you and I are invited to use in addressing our Father in heaven, according to Paul’s writings in Romans and in Galatians, could have begun in Joseph’s house.  A father’s love should help a child begin to be able to conceive of the heart of God in a healthy happy way. 

Someone wrote, “If he is wealthy and prominent, you stand in awe of him; call him Father.  If he sits in his shirt sleeves and suspenders at a ballgame and picnic, call him pop.  If he wheels the baby carriage and carries bundles meekly, call him papa (with the accent on the first syllable).  If he belongs to a literary circle and writes cultural papers, call him papa (with the accent on the last syllable).  If, however, he makes a pal of you when you are good and is too wise to let you pull the wool over his loving eyes when you are not, and if moreover you are quite sure no other fellow you know has quite so fine a father, you may call him dad.” 

I learned in working on this lesson something that I did not know, and that is that there is not a single word spoken by Joseph found in the New Testament.  Isn’t that interesting?  This is a quiet man who went about his role without saying a lot, apparently.  And yet, look at his influence.  Wonderful! 

Let me leave you with this: “My father’s name was written upon no page of fame; he was no haughty hero for ages to acclaim; he was a modest merit when matched with such as these.  From him I could inherit no princely pedigrees, but he was brave and honest and knightly to the core, the cream of all the commons; who could ask for more?  His love of God was loyal; he served his state with zeal; his home he called his castle, his court of last appeal.  His wife, his sons, his daughter, his neighbors great and small rose up to do him honor and love him one and all.  His bit of earth was better because he passed that way.  Thank God for such a father on our Father’s Day.”  That is well said.

If you and I remember that we owe it be encouragers to our fathers (I Tim. 5:1), we will be on the right track.  And if we further remember that God has given us the privilege through the gospel to draw near to him, to be turned in to his children, to be privileged to call him Father, to hope to finally be at home with him, then we will leave this place today rejoicing.  That privilege can be yours if you will chose to put on the name of Jesus Christ in gospel obedience.  If we can help you, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together.