Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-15; 2:19-23
Well, let me begin today by saying “Happy Father’s Day” to all of our Dads. One little boy, when asked to explain about Father’s Day, said, “It’s just like Mother’s Day, only you don’t spend as much on the present.”
That’s a joke, of course, but really, Father’s Day never seems to be as big a deal as Mother’s Day, does it? On Mother’s Day there is a higher attendance at church, mothers often have corsages, emotions run high, and people gather at Mom’s house—all to pay honor to the hands that rocked the cradle.
But on Father’s Day the church is not as full, emotions are not as high, and businesses don’t profit nearly as much.
As you may or may not know, the very first national celebration of Father’s Day was on June 19, 1924, by proclamation of President Calvin Coolidge. But it all came about because of the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd.
Sonora was sitting in church in 1909 listening to a Mother’s Day sermon when the idea of Father’s Day first came to mind. Having been raised by her father after her mother’s death, Sonora wanted her father to know how special he was to her for all his parental sacrifices and for being, in her eyes, so courageous, selfless, and loving. To make a long story short, twenty-five years later, through her efforts President Coolidge designated the 3rd Sunday of June as “Father’s Day.” And our nation has been celebrating it ever since.
I’m glad there is a Father’s Day (and not just because I’m a dad myself). Even though it may not be as significant or special as Mother’s Day, it still gives us a chance to honor those who stand at the helm, who gather their team in a huddle, and who lead their family through life’s battles. And, since just six weeks ago I preached a Mother’s Day message focused on Mary the mother of Jesus, I thought it would only be appropriate for us to take a thoughtful look at Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, for Father’s Day.
The cast of characters associated with the story of Jesus’ birth is colorful and memorable. We often recognize them by their unique speaking parts. With dramatic words, the Angels take center stage to announce the birth of the Savior. They appear to Joseph to announce that the name of the child would be Jesus. The angel Gabriel makes the unforgettable announcement to Mary. And an angelic choir interrupts the shepherds, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV). Mary, whose divine selection humbles her, offers a beautiful hymn of praise and thankfulness in Luke 1:46-48. The wise men are desperate in their search to find the newborn King and prepared to present Him with gifts of honor and worship. The shepherds became early evangelists—telling everyone they saw about the newborn Messiah.
Oddly enough, only Joseph has no speaking part. He is the lone silent member of the cast and often forgotten. Angels bring heavenly greetings. Mary sings a praiseful solo. Wise men worship. Shepherds preach. Joseph is silent. No notable lines are attributed to him. No sound bites. No quotes. Only silence. However, as people sometimes say—actions speak louder than words! And Joseph is irreplaceable in the story of Jesus’ birth.
I believe it’s a significant thing that even as God chose Mary to be the one who would give birth to the Son of God, so in His mighty providence He chose Joseph to be a father to Jesus and to raise Him into manhood. Mary and Joseph were chosen together to be parents.
I remember a movie that was on television several years ago. It was one of those depressingly sad movies that your wife forces you to sit down and watch with her as she systematically cries her way through an entire box of Kleenex, and then at the end says: “That was so sad – wasn’t it just wonderful?!” But this particular film I remember was entitled something like “Who Will Love My Children?” The story tells of a poor family – hard-working parents with a large number of children – where the woman discovers that she has an incurable illness and will die within a year. Her husband is a good man, but obviously incapable of looking after the large number of children alone – particularly in those days when there was no government assistance or social security. And so the heartbreaking tale is of this mother who goes out searching for loving parents who will care for all of her children; she wants to have them all placed before she is taken. (If you ever intend to watch this movie, be warned – it’s definitely a king-size Kleenex movie!)
But as I recall this film, it leads me to thinking about the birth of Jesus. Just like that woman who loved her children so much that she wanted to personally choose parents for them, and not leave it to chance, Father God in the same way went looking for parents to raise His beloved, only-begotten Son. He searched the earth, and He found a young girl – a teenager engaged to be married – of whom the Bible says: she “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, NLT). She was a choice young lady. A God-fearing young lady.
But NOTE: God also went looking for a father. He called Mary AND Joseph as a couple. And here is the point of it – God clearly demonstrates for us that the role of the father is a most important one. Fathers are not only needed for the physical act of conceiving a child; they are also needed for the spiritual act of raising a child. The child was conceived in the womb of Mary “by the Holy Spirit” – a miracle took place so there was no need for a man to be involved in the conception. But a man WAS still needed to fill the role of father in Jesus’ childhood.
Having said that, let me say a word to single parents tuning in today. Please don’t despair that your children are beyond hope because their father is gone, or their mother is gone, because that is not the case. God is so gracious. Psalm 27:10 says, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (NLT).
Nevertheless, the normal pattern is for children to be raised with father and mother. And those single parents I know will testify to the multiplied difficulties when one parent is gone. So single parents, today, we salute you. We honor you. God bless you for your diligence with those children!
So, Joseph was chosen. And just as God had looked for a godly young woman to bring forth the child, so He looked for a godly man to be the father. And what an inspiring model of fatherhood Joseph was. God made a good choice! He is a wise God. Let’s look together, for a few minutes, at some things the Bible tells us about this man Joseph.
I. HE WAS A LOVING MAN.
Firstly, would you note with me that he was a loving man. The Scriptures draw the picture for us of a wonderfully caring and affectionate man.
And we can see this, firstly, in his relationship toward Mary.
Look at Matthew 1:19 for example: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (NIV).
Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. He hasn’t had any great revelation yet. What is he to think? What would you think, guys? You’ve fallen in love with this pretty young girl. You do all the right things. You pursue her in the proper customary way. In stolen moments you’ve talked with her about dreams for a future together. A cottage with a white picket fence. A family. A business. And then out of the blue you learn that this sweet girl – the one you thought you knew so well – is pregnant. Newly pregnant. And you don’t know who the father is, but there is one person you know you can rule out! How does it make you feel? Angry? Betrayed?
The penalty for adultery in the Old Testament was death by stoning. And this penalty applied to infidelity during betrothal as well as marriage. Now by New Testament times things had changed somewhat, but the matter was still treated as a grave offence. Upon discovery that Mary was pregnant, Joseph would have been obliged to divorce her – divorce was required to break off a betrothal engagement – and this would expose Mary to public shame and humiliation.
But, even before God spoke to Joseph, Joseph didn’t have any vengeance or bitterness in his heart. The Bible says, “he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). There were ways in which a divorce could be enacted very quietly, without the involvement of a judge, and Joseph was already considering the best way to do this.
Joseph was kind. He loved Mary. Forget the Harlequin romance novels, this here is a true love story. It’s based on a real commitment.
And husbands, the Bible says to us today that we must love our wives with all that we have.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (NIV).
And the example is that we must love our wives sacrificially, even as Christ loved the church and lay down His life for it.
Joseph was a loving man toward Mary.
But we also see that Joseph was a loving man in his relationship toward Jesus.
When the child came along – the child he had not conceived – there was no attitude in Joseph that “this boy isn’t my flesh and blood!” There was no resentment or indifference toward Him; no lack of love at all. Joseph adopted Jesus as his own. He protected Him from the hatred of Herod. He nurtured Him and cared for Him. Evidently he taught Jesus his own trade of carpentry. He adopted the one that the rest of the world would reject.
Today, by contrast, we see men who are prepared to abdicate their role even toward their own children. Men are opting out of the father role because of its costs. Do you know what the Bible says? First Timothy 5:8 says, “Those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers” (NLT).
Joseph was a loving man. That’s the first thing that is clear.
II. HE WAS A DEVOUT MAN.
Secondly, Joseph was a devout man.
He was a man who obeyed God.
He explicitly followed the Lord’s leading and direction. He didn’t follow his own marked-out plan for life, he wanted God’s plan for his life. So when God spoke to him in a dream and told him to marry Mary – even though she was pregnant – he obeyed.
Then when God spoke and said: “Take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt for safety,” he immediately obeyed. He closed up his business and left.
Then when God said: “It’s okay now, so head back to Israel,” again he did as he was directed. He was a man of obedience.
For another thing, he was a man of faith.
It takes faith to pack your bags and head off to a foreign country with no prospects and no planning; simply on the basis that God said so. He had faith and obeyed the dream. He could have made excuses to stay where the prospects looked good, but no – he was a man of faith.
Fathers watching this morning, your faith will speak to your children! Raise them in an environment of faith toward God.
I read the story of a farmer who had toiled over a bumper crop of grain. A badly needed crop of grain. A badly needed crop that was going to pay off many creditors and secure the family for another year. But just a few days before it was due to be harvested a freak wind and hail storm ravaged the property, and the harvest was lost. The man stood with his little boy looking over the fields of destroyed grain. The boy expected to hear his father cursing in despair. But instead his Dad began to softly sing, “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” Years later that boy, grown into manhood, said, “That was the greatest sermon I ever heard!” His father had shown him faith where the rubber meets the road!
Joseph was leaning on God. He was a man of faith.
And one more thing: He was a man who was faithful in spiritual duty.
He set an example for his family – going to the Temple; attending the feasts. We read about it in Luke 2:41: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival” (NLT). He was regular in going to God’s house.
Did you hear about the little boy who was playing on a Sunday morning while his Dad was in a lounge chair reading the paper. And the father said: “Son, get yourself ready for Sunday School.” The little boy asked, “Are you coming with me today Dad?” The man replied, “No, I’m not coming. But I want you to hurry up and get ready.” The little boy then said, “Did you used to go to Sunday School when you were a boy, Dad?” He said, “I most certainly did!” And as he walked away the boy mumbled, “Yeah, and I bet it won’t do me any good either!”
Our kids are watching our faithfulness.
So, let’s just re-cap for a moment. Joseph was a loving man – toward his wife, toward his son, toward his whole family. Secondly, he was a devout man – a man of obedience and faith, and being faithful in spiritual duty.
III. HE WAS A WISE MAN.
Finally, he was also a wise man.
Now listen to me carefully here. Joseph was wise because he lived as one who redeemed the time.
By all accounts it seems that Joseph had a shortened life. We don’t read of him after Jesus’ childhood, and at the Cross Jesus charged John with the care of His mother, so it seems that Joseph was taken from them prematurely. But Joseph had used what time he had been given honorably – wisely! He had provided for his family. He had set an example for them that they would remember. He had raised them in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.
And by the way, Jesus was not the only child he had. He raised other boys for the Lord also, and possibly daughters as well. He had other sons. And two of them, at least, were greatly used by God. They wrote books of the Bible that were named after them – James and Jude. And James was leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Joseph raised his children in the ways of the Lord, and He left behind him a legacy after his lifetime.
Fathers! None of us know just how much time we have left with our children; with our families. You may only have a year. Two years. Five years. Who knows? Only God!
The question is, are we redeeming the time as Joseph did? Encouraging our families at every opportunity; setting an example; providing for their needs.
I mentioned that verse earlier, First Timothy 5:8: “Those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers” (NLT).
Some say, “Oh yes. I provide for my family,” when what they really mean is that they put a paycheck on the table every week. But what about the other provisions they need from you? Affection? Example? Godly counsel? Laughter and warmth? Loving concern? We must provide for our own, men. Let’s be challenged together!
Austin L. Sorensen once said, “A child is not likely to find a father in God unless he finds something of God in his father.” Let that thought sink in a bit. Seeing God in their father is a child’s best way to come to know God as their Father.
Dads, you—more than anyone else in the world—are able to instill faith in your children. You—more than anyone else—are able to show them what a loving father looks like. You—more than anyone else can—give them the ability to trust and depend on their Father in heaven. But you can’t give what you don’t have. Before your children can see God in you, you have to let God into your heart and into your life. You have to seek him, to make him your top priority. You have to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. And when you do, they will see it.
A preacher once asked the preschoolers in Sunday school to draw pictures of God. He intended to use them as an illustration for his Sunday sermon. Toward the end of class the children were excited to show him their work. They came up with rainbows and men with big hands. Finally, the preacher’s daughter showed him her picture—a man with a suit and tie on. “I don’t know what God looks like,” she said, “so I just drew my daddy instead.”
This man, Joseph, inspires me. I’m sure that he wasn’t perfect. But he was devoted. And he was doing his very best – redeeming the time. Even though none of his words were ever recorded in Scripture, Joseph’s example teaches us some invaluable lessons in fatherhood—a lesson in righteousness, a lesson in responsibility, a lesson in spiritual faithfulness. And to all of the righteous, responsible, and spiritually faithful dads here today—thank you. Thank you for showing us what it means to be a good man. Thank you for always being there when we needed you. Thank you for loving God and for making us want to do the same.
But whether you are a father or not, whether you had a loving father growing up or not, you need to know that you have a Father in heaven who loves you. And he wants nothing more than for you to be a part of his eternal family.
First Church of Christ
June 21, 2020