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Joseph, the surrogate father....

I visited the Dachau prison in Bavaria many years ago.  Dachau and Auschwitz, as you know, were extermination camps during the WWII.  People were sent there to be worked to death or simply gassed. We’ll never know the precise number of innocent Jews and Christians that were exhausted or starved to death there.  But it’s a horrible place.  And yet, when I went to see it, 55 years after it was freed by the Allies, the Germans had cleaned it up, painted the buildings planted grass, removed all the vermin, lice, stench of human flesh rotting, etc.  It was organized, neat, clean, well made…just like Germans do things.  But it was not true and authentic to what life was truly like under the Nazis when they murdered 41,500 people.

We often have a fairy-tale, sanitized idea about the Christmas story as well.  The manger scenes we see today have clean, fresh straw, and pretty little animals.  But that’s not the real smell or appearance of a real stable or barn.  And the shepherds we depict today are all attractive, handsome young men, the wise-men are immaculately dressed with white beards, and so forth. But the real pageantry of His birth was far more primitive, dirty, smelly, rugged and scary.

And we often get very sanitized and spotless ideas about Mary and Jospeh, as well.  Most of us probably think of Joseph as a very gentle,  compliant, quiet young man that was embarrassed about Mary’s pregnancy—-until he learned  the truth.  And after an angel told him the truth, we imagine that he simply continued to be a simple carpenter and father.  Never in a hurry, never worried, never anxious about his life and the life of his family.  But I am sure that we have the whole idea of Jospeh right.

God chose Joseph for the same reason He chose Mary—they were the ones He would trust with His beloved Son. In Joseph, the little boy Jesus was able to see how a real man, born of flesh and blood should live and work.  He was taught how to be gentleman, how to  take out the trash, how to be use a hammer and a saw and work with His own hands. Joseph, the step-father,  taught Jesus how to survive on the earth— rather than in the glory, splendor and perfection of heaven, he taught Jesus how to make it,  in a cursed, crooked, dirty and broken world.

There’s not a better man God could have chosen to be a step-son for Jesus than Joseph—that’s what I believe.  And it’s a question every one of us men should ask ourselves. Are we caring for the children He’s given us as the best possible father or mother for that child?   Even f we call them our biological sons and daughters, they belong to God—they are His gifts to us— only on loan, as it were, from God. They belong to Him—so does every child and youth that visit our church They belong to Him—and pity the man or woman that hinders them from finding salvation by our preoccupation  with property, facilities, or how much they mess things up here.

Jesus spoke to every father, and would be-father in this room when He said, ““If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

So when Joseph,  this Godly man, who was in love with his fiancee, discovers that Mary was pregnant, don’t think for a moment that he did not suffer! You don’t just “get pregnant”, then, or now!  It takes two tango, at least that’s how it’s been from time of Adam and Eve till the immaculate conception of Jesus.  It tore him apart to hear that Mary was pregnant!  I am sure that Joseph prayed, was in anguish, and was torn apart between having to choose to follow the letter of the law, and turn Mary in for adultery—which would have led to her being stoned to death—or simply calling off the marriage and meekly walking away, empty and  broken hearted.

As I thought about this, I happened to  watch a famous movie with one of my favorite actors. Look at this clip, please, and consider think about what Joseph prayed and suffered when he found out his beloved was pregnant:

This character that James Stewart represents is George Bailey—a righteous man.  But he did not know what to do.  So he prayed, wept, and cried out to God to help him, “help me find a way.”  There’s no better for our nation to be praying today….

The truth is, we don’t know a lot about Joseph before he becomes the surrogate father of Jesus, and we have no idea how old Mary or Joseph were when Jesus was born.  Most people assume Mary was merely a teenager, because that was the age at which young Jewish girls got engaged and married back then. She would probably have been thirteen or fourteen.  Most scholars believe that Joseph was older, but again, only because that was the custom of the time.  We don’t know anything about Joseph’s parents or Mary’s.  We don’t know if Jesus’ grandparents were alive or dead when He was born.  Again, the Bible does not tell us, probably because it’s not important and people tend to get the attention off the most important thing.

And as we said a two weeks ago, in the Roman Catholic tradition, Mary was believed to have remained a virgin even after Jesus was born. So when the New Testament speaks of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, one Catholic explanation is that these are Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. And yes, that’s very possible.  He could have been quite a bit older than Mary—old enough to have had five or six other children from an earlier marriage.

But by the time of Jesus was baptized, Joseph must have died. Mary is mentioned several times in the gospels, but Joseph is never mentioned after Jesus was twelve years old. Joseph was not at the cross with Mary, and Jesus commits His mother to the care of His disciple John but never mentions His father. This would have been an odd decision if Joseph were still alive.  To me, it’s unconscionable to imagine that Joseph would not have been there if  he  was still living.  We don’t know how he died or what caused his death,  but there are many things that can cause a young father to die in our time and probably many, many more that could have caused Joseph to die relatively young in the first century.

But in terms of the kind of man Jospeh, was, the Bible does share with some important information: Several times Joseph started to do one thing with his family, but was told by God to do something else. Each time Joseph obeyed, and the baby Jesus and Mary were protected because of his obedience. . (See Matthew 2:13, NIV).  Have you  recently had it in your mind to do something, in frustration, disappointment, anger or desperation, and then wish you hadn’t done what you did?  Pray first—and act only after you’ve given Him the opportunity to respond!  George Bailey prayed before he jumped into that icy river!  Joseph prayed also, I believe, and he listened to the angel of God and changed his mind! Are you able to do that? Can you be so sure that you are right, and then humble yourself, surrender the matter to God, and choose to go in a totally different direction when He directs you?  The true men and women of our faith did this. They listened, the obeyed, the world was not worthy of them.

But especially those of us that are fathers: Are we waiting on God to lead us, or are we guilty of acting brashly and using the world’s wisdom?   If we are not pursuing God and His direction, we are putting our families at risk.

Joseph, Mary’s husband, obeyed and disaster was averted.  Likewise, real men like Noah obeyed and an ark was built and humankind was saved. Abraham obeyed and the nation of Israel was born. Paul obeyed and the Gospel was spread to the Gentiles. These men obeyed and because of their humble obedience to God, His work was furthered. God could have chosen other men, but He chose these and they obeyed. But I wonder how many other “would-be heroes” simply did not obey and therefore became forgotten men and women—lost forever to history. Surely there are many—perhaps most—that merely ignore God’s voice and disregard His direction. Count me as one of those at times! I know that I have not obeyed Him on occasion and those that I love the most have suffered because of it!  I have chosen my own “way” and I have refused to do what I knew was the right thing to do, and it’s shameful, but where I am ahead of some of you in that I admit it… and God has been merciful.

I am not proud of my stubbornness or my pride in “doing it my way”, but realizing that it is my fault, and not the fault of my parents, my “village” or my generation, makes it easier to avoid going down the same path day after day. God can work through a person like me if I am able to admit my error, repent of my ineptitude, and ask Him to use me any way He wants for His Kingdom.  And if He can use me,  He can use anyone of you hearing me or reading this today.

It is obedience to Him, when He has told me what I should do, that draws me not only into a closer, more intimate relationship with Him, but establishes me as being one He can count on more—I end of up liking me more….and I notice that as I am more obedient to Him, life does not become easier—in fact it is often the opposite—but rather, I can see His hand upon me (to rescue me and direct me) and His Spirit revealing to me more about who He is, all the more obviously and profoundly!

No one is ever brought into a higher spiritual existence by choosing to be obstinate and disobedient—they’re crippled and developmentally stunted. It’s only when we resolutely determine to trust and obey Him that we can live that abundant life Jesus promised. Why do I then fall back into the bad habits of disobedience that I know are bad for me and that hurt my family?   Because I have an incredibly short spiritual memory!  We  don’t go to church, or a Bible study, or a men’s prayer group to learn new things—we go to be reminded of the very things we should never forget.

We all need fellowship with other believers to be reminded of God’s commands, expectations and direction for our lives—particularly those of us who think we are mature in Christ.

Joseph was not a great step-dad because he had to be—he chose to be that dad.  And God, who is omniscient, elected Joseph because of it. What choices are you and I making that cause God to smile?  What is he preparing us for tomorrow that we are proving ourselves worth of today?

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