Devotional: Joseph of Nazareth

Who Is Jesus?
During the next several weeks of devotionals, the question “Who is Jesus?” will be considered through the eyes of those who first met the baby who was born in Bethlehem.

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1: 18-19).

The small village of Nazareth was fairly remote and isolated in the first century. The main roads of the time period did not pass near to it. Located in the upper Galilee, it was a day’s journey from the center of rabbinic learning in Capernaum and a week’s journey from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Nazareth is literally translated “the shoot” or “the branch.” Olive trees thrive there. The olives and their shoots painted a real picture of who the first century residents of Nazareth believed themselves to be, as well as serving the primary crop for their farmers.

The villagers were later Jewish immigrants from Babylon. They were an extended family for the most part. They also seemed to have had an attitude. They were the original “Branch Davidians.” They traced their lineage to King David. They were convinced that the shoot from Jesse’s stump, the long-awaited Messiah, would come from them.

Their isolation and attitude was spurned and resented by their fellow Galilean Jews. As the disciple Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Jesus’ conception and birth were a complicated matter. Put yourself in Nazareth. Imagine the family’s reactions. Mary and Joseph are engaged. In the culture, engagement was a solemn vow and pledge. When we are introduced to them and their story; Joseph is preparing a room on his father’s house for his bride-to-be, and Mary is readying herself for the day when Joseph will show up and their marriage will occur. He will then take her home. In the culture, the female left her parents and become a member of the husband’s family.

Then everything was turned upside down. Mary was pregnant. While she knew that it was by a miracle from God, because an angel had told her so, imagine convincing a skeptical community of extended family members that this was not some far-fetched tale.

Imagine Joseph. His world had taken a shocking turn. He was righteous. The law and community standards required him to send her away. She would become a nothing. She had sinned. He must have been terribly conflicted and distraught. Then an angel showed up.

Imagine being a resident of Shootville. Did Mary and Joseph sin by fornicating? Did Mary have a lover? Why would Joseph cover for her? Had the two conspired to create two stories of angels to cover for their sin? No one else in Nazareth had ever been visited by an angel!

The Bible tells us that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem because he was from David’s line and needed to register there. But one can speculate that they were also a bit relieved to depart the accusatory community and gossipy relatives in Nazareth. After all, these Branch Davidians were the truly chosen ones and could not be stained by such a scandalous affair.

We know little about Joseph. He disappears from the Gospel stories early. In the culture, he was likely around 18-20 when he and Mary married. She would have been around 14 years of age. By the time Jesus began his ministry at age 30, Joseph would have been around 50. That was normal life expectancy in the first century. His absence from any Gospel story suggests that he had died.

We know that Joseph was from David’s line. We also know that he was devout and took his family to the Temple religiously. He accepted the word from God through the angel and did not divorce Mary, indicating that he was a man with a heart for God and others, and not a religiously rigid individual.

Joseph was also a builder. The word carpenter might better be translated tecton or builder. Since the primary building material in the area is stone, he was more likely a stonecutter or stonemason than a carpenter. It fits the culture and a picture of Jesus.

Who is Jesus to Joseph of Nazareth, the man God chose to be Jesus’ earthly father?

Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus through Joseph. Through Joseph, Jesus is a son of David. The people were longing for a king like David. While their expectation for the kingdom was an earthly throne, Jesus didn’t fit their human expectation. But he did fit God’s kingdom purpose. The son of David is the king on the throne of the kingdom of God – an eternal kingdom of peace and of hope.

As the son of Joseph, Jesus was from Nazareth, too. He was the promised shoot from the stump of Jesse. He is Messiah. The attitude of Shootville was wrong, and Jesus rebuked them for it (Luke 4). God does not care about the credentials of a community, but God desires that his children have a heart of love and obedience like Joseph.

Jesus was the son of a tecton. The “stone who the builders rejected is the capstone. The Lord has done this!” (Psalm 118) How fitting that the living stone, who was Jesus, was a stonemason who had apprenticed with his tecton father Joseph.

Joseph, a humble and devout man, was chosen by God. The story of Joseph gives us pictures of who Jesus is and who we should be.

You are called to lead. Use God’s pictures to tell his story.

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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