Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, is mentioned only within the context of Matthew’s and Luke’s “Christmas story” accounts.
After Luke’s account of the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple (Luke ch. 2), we hear no more of Joseph in the record of Scripture.
This minimal information about Joseph from Bethlehem has not prevented any number of people from saying much more than they know about him through fictionalized accounts of the gospel in television, movies, and videos.
From the Holy Spirit’s somewhat scant portrayal of Joseph we should not conclude that he had an insignificant role in the earthly life of Jesus or in God’s plan of salvation. Joseph had no small role, but a large one with weighty responsibility.
Although references to Joseph in Scripture are relatively few, what those verses tell us is significant. God promised that the Savior would be born from King David’s family line. Thus the virgin mother of our Savior was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:26). While Jesus’ bloodline was established through Mary, His biological mother, His legal lineage would be established through Joseph who “as was supposed” (Luke 3:23) was His father.
In God’s plan of salvation, His Son was to be “born under the law to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4b-5). A complete and perfect obedience by the Savior was required to redeem those who were under the law—all sinners. Yet this Savior would be born a helpless infant with no ability to self-fulfill the law’s early-life requirements. It would therefore be the responsibility of the household leader—the father—to circumcise his Son when He was a week old (Luke 2:21), to present the Son before the Lord, and to offer the required sacrifice (Luke 2:22-23).
This Savior born under the law would grow and mature in a very natural way—He “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52)—but to do so would require a faithful home in which the spiritual leader both saw and undertook the responsibility to “teach [God’s Word] diligently to [his] children…” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
God chose and called Joseph to the important role as leader in the earthly home of His Son and our Savior–no small role indeed!
God describes Joseph as a “just man” who was going to “put [Mary] away secretly” (Matthew 1:19) rather than bring her to public shame by exposing her to the charge of adultery. Joseph demonstrated a love that did not seek its own, nor did it seek revenge after what he felt was a grievous hurt (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4ff). In so doing Joseph reflected the love of his heavenly Father who promised to send the Messiah.
This faithful child of God—proclaimed to be “just” in God’s eyes through the faith God worked in his heart—also acted faithfully at the instruction of God’s Word. When God told Joseph to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20), when He told him to name the child Jesus (Matthew 1:21), when He told him to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13ff), and when He told him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19ff)—in each instance, faithful Joseph acted on God’s Word without hesitation or delay.
Joseph’s no small role in the early years of our Savior’s life on Earth is not to be forgotten. He was chosen by God to provide the promised legal lineage, to serve as faithful father and spiritual leader of his home, to provide for the well-being of both Son and mother, and to lead his household by word and example. Joseph was a man of God’s calling to serve His Son—no less than Mary His mother!
Earthly fathers, take heed and find encouragement in the example of Joseph to fulfill the important role to which God has called you. All who support and assist earthly fathers—or who stand in the place of absent fathers—rejoice and give thanks to be involved in such an important calling. It is no small role which you fulfill. It is no small role to nurture and lead a young soul—a soul for whom the Son of God Himself was born under the law to redeem.