My sense is that Joseph, Mary’s husband and head of Jesus’ earthly family, was a man of extraordinary qualities. It was his character and action that provided the framework for all of the major events leading up to the launch of Jesus’ public ministry. For obvious reasons, a greater focus has been on Mary, Jesus’ “mother.” Yet, it was Joseph that repeatedly, in faith, took action, directed by God, that provided the context for the family’s survival and apparent flourishing.
Here, pieced together chronologically from Matthew, Luke, and John’s gospels, are the events which demonstrate Joseph’s role. As I have reflected on his spirit and these events, it seems even more extraordinary that Joseph was an unlettered tradesman prior to Jesus’ birth and throughout Jesus’ first 30 +/- years of life.
Despite appearances, tradition, and likely community “talk,” Joseph hears God’s voice and agrees to marry Mary – trusting God’s communication.
Joseph takes Mary to register for the census in Bethlehem where the baby is born. Shepherds are prompted to come and worship him. On the required eighth day, Jesus is circumcised and Joseph names the child Jesus in obedience to direction by an angel even before Mary had even conceived.
Taken by surprise (I imagine), Joseph, Mary, and the child are visited by a exotic delegation – “Magi, ”wise men from the east, following a star, arrived to worship what they understood was the ‘new king of Israel.’ Having started in Jerusalem, at the top with ruling Herod, they learned the child was to be born in Bethlehem. After delivering their fabulous gifts of honor they are warmed in a dream to go home directly, not via Jerusalem.
Joseph is warned in a dream that jealous Herod is going on the rampage to find and destroy the child. With apparently no more detail, the angel says, “Get out of town, go to Egypt, and stay until I’m in touch again.” So, in the middle of the night Joseph obeys, picks up the child and Mary and heads for Egypt. Herod orders all young males in the Bethlehem area, under two, to be killed. (How did Joseph, a local carpenter, know the way to Egypt – particularly in the middle of the night?)
After what looks like four years (based on date of Herod’s death), Joseph has another dream. An angel says that Herod is dead and it’s safe to return to Israel. Obedient again, Joseph and Mary return to his home town of Nazareth (I wonder about his carpentry business and cash flow as he was obedient in taking all of these steps?! And, was it the value of the Magi gifts that funded their stay n Egypt?)
Joseph obeys the law and, with Mary, presents Jesus, the first born in their family following the Exodus 13 command, as a “consecrated” one to the Lord
At the consecration, Joseph and Mary are stunned by action and statements by the prophets Simeon and Anna – predicting Jesus’ decisive role in the future of Israel.
During one of their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary are astonished after having “lost” Jesus for three days, to find him in the temple talking with the “teachers.” It’s reported that Jesus went home with his parents, was “obedient” to them, and “grew in favor with God and man.” (Wonder what this 12-year old boy did for food and sleep in a strange place those three days?!)
Fast forward. Jesus begins His public ministry and Joseph is mentioned multiple times – often as people sought to fix Jesus’ identity – what father, what family, what home town? Here are the examples.
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
Following Jesus’ temptations, He returned to Nazareth where he taught in the synagogue.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
And, the last time Joseph is mentioned is in connection with Jesus’ controversial remarks in the synagogue in Capernaum.
They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’ ?”
Then, in the other reference to Jesus’ family, Joseph is conspicuously absent in the passage in Matthew 12 which speaks of Jesus’ “mother and brothers” who were trying to connect with Jesus.
Finally, while it is pure conjecture, one can only imagine the influence and modeling Joseph must have provided Jesus during the 15-18 years of young adult life while engaged in the family carpentry business. All under the watchful eye of the seasoned professional, his “father,” Joseph.