Joseph: The Noblest of Men


A Message on Matthew 1:18-25

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 12, 2021

By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Today, the third Sunday of Advent, we are going to explore the true story of the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.

Of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, only two contain information on the birth of Jesus: Matthew and Luke. Of those two, Luke contains the most information on the birth of Jesus. Luke also focuses more on Mary, while Matthew gives us the most information about Joseph.

Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel comes right after Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

Matthew starts out with a genealogy list of names. He starts with Abraham, then goes all the way up to Joseph. Luke waits until his third chapter to give Jesus’ family tree, and when he does, he goes all the way back to Adam.

Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite Christian musicians, even wrote a song containing all the names that Matthew includes in his genealogical list. He titled it “Matthew Begats.” It really is a catchy tune. (I would get my guitar and sing some of it for you but I’ve been told some people don’t like it when I do that, so I won’t.)

The first verse is:

Abraham had Isaac

Isaac, he had Jacob

Jacob, he had Judah and his kin

Then Perez and Zerah

Came from Judah’s woman, Tamar

Perez, he brought Hezron up

And then came…

So why does Matthew start off with such an extensive genealogy of Jesus?

It’s because the prophets said that the messiah would come from the lineage of David. God promises David that if the Jewish people will obey his (God’s) laws, then a descendent of David will always sit on the throne as the leader of the people.

The prophets also predicted that the Messiah will be a descendent of the Davidic line. Isaiah 11:1 says, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Jesse was the father of David, by the way.)

Jeremiah also prophesied about the messiah’s lineage: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”  –  Jeremiah 23:5-6.

Matthew would have known this, and so he includes a genealogy of Jesus to start off his gospel.

But there was still one particular challenge that Matthew faced. Jesus’ biological father wasn’t Joseph. It was the Holy Spirit that “overshadowed” Mary (Luke 1:35), and Joseph had no relations with Mary until after she had Jesus. So how could Jesus be of the line of David if his father was the Holy Spirit?

Matthew answers this in this way: “… and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”  –  Matthew 1:16.

Or as Andrew Peterson wrote it:

“Now, listen very closely

I don’t want to sing this twice

Jacob was the father of Joseph

The husband of Mary

The mother of Christ”

Matthew points out that Joseph is the husband of Mary, but avoids the fact that he is not the father of Jesus. That puts Jesus in the bloodline of David while still emphasizing the divinity of Jesus. This is very important because Jesus is fully God while also fully human.

Matthew paints a positive picture of Joseph. In the scripture we read today we find that Joseph receives a surprise about the woman he is engaged to: she is with child. Joseph knows this shouldn’t be, that it isn’t his, and had to be upset about the situation.

The Jewish laws in this matter were in his favor, and even included the harshness of taking Mary in front of her father’s house and stoning her to death. But even though that was his legal right, Joseph doesn’t want that to happen.

Joseph was a man of compassion. Today’s scripture said he didn’t want “to expose her to public disgrace.” Instead he “planned to dismiss her quietly.” He was going to nullify the engagement, call off the wedding, and go on his way.

But then something supernatural happens: an angel appears to him in a dream and explains everything that was going on.

In his song “It Came to Pass,” Andrew Peterson succinctly describes it this way:

So it came to pass this man named Joe was with his fiance

Back when her pregnancy began to show he planned to go away

But it came to pass that in a dream an angel of the Lord

Said, “Joseph, don’t you be afraid to marry Mary for

The little baby in her womb it is the Holy Spirit’s work

You may have rеad the prophet said a virgin would give birth

Joseph awakes from the dream and does as the angel says. He is obedient to what God calls him to do. He takes Mary as his wife, even in light of the unusual circumstances, and becomes an integral figure in the birth of Christ.

As Andrew Peterson sums it up in “It Came to Pass”:

Yes, it came to pass that Joseph was the noblest of men

With a woman on a donkey on their way to Bethlehem

One of the things about Joseph that we can emulate today is the fact that he was okay being a supporting character instead of the main star. If the birth of Jesus was a movie, Joseph would not get top billing.

The focus on what was happening was on Jesus and also on Mary, but not on him. And he was okay with that.

Very rarely does God call us to have a starring role in what he calls us to do. Almost always the focus should be on Jesus and not ourselves. God calls us to have a supporting role, not the leading role.

I think one of the best things young people can be a part of in high school is band or choir. Being a part of those groups teaches a lot of great life lessons: how to work with others, self discipline, responsibility, and the importance of playing or singing your part, even if it isn’t the melody.

In music there are different parts. Not everyone plays or sings the same note at the same time. But it is these different notes that give a broadness to the music, that gives it depth, and make it pleasing to the ear.

Here’s a good illustration on the importance of a supporting role. (Introduce Mike and Alicia, playing oboe saxophone and oboe.) Now listen to this musical part. (One of them plays the harmony part, which will sound bad by itself.) Not too great, huh? Now let’s hear it again with the melody this time. (They play together).

See the difference?

Unfortunately the world we live in tries to convince each one of us that we are the most important and that we should sing our own melody and not harmony. The deceiver tells us that our song is the most important and that we should sing it out as loud as we can so that we can drown out the melodies that others are singing. The world tells us, “It’s all about me,” and the loudest voice wins.

But what if instead of singing our own melody we started singing harmony with others? What if we joined in the song sung by others and supported them in the song of their life? What beautiful music that would make!

And what if the song we joined others in was the song about Jesus, about his birth, life, death, and resurrection. It would be the ultimate song of love. And what an awesome thing to praise God with!

So my challenge to you today, this third Sunday of Advent, is to be like Joseph and be willing to play a supporting role as you follow God’s will. Christmas is not your birthday, but Jesus. May we be willing to sing wonderful harmonies to Jesus’ melody so that the world may come to know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. 

Yes, it came to pass that Joseph was the noblest of men

With a woman on a donkey on their way to Bethlehem

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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