Benjamin Franklin observed, “Well done is better than well said.” He added, “Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.”
My father was Exhibit A of Franklin’s wisdom.
Dad fought in World War II, where he experienced such horrific tragedy that he did not attend church again. As a result, I grew up in a home with no spiritual life. We did not attend church or discuss the things of the Lord.
However, my father demonstrated by his example a theology I have sought to emulate all the years that I have been privileged to be a father. He served his family first and always—despite a debilitating heart condition, he worked as long and hard as he could to provide for us. He was always there, never missing a concert or event in which my brother or I participated. Every night, before we went to sleep, he told us that he loved us.
My last time to see him alive was a Monday afternoon when he drove across Houston to give me money to help buy Janet’s engagement ring. He had a heart attack the next Saturday and died.
The great tragedy of my life is that my father never met my sons—he would have been a wonderful grandfather. But I have sought to pay forward his influence with them by being for them the father he was for me.
“Well done is better than well said.” We have a second example of this fact before us in today’s text. As we discuss the “silent man of Scripture,” let’s learn from his example how to be the fathers, friends, and Christians God is calling us to be today.
Matthew’s gospel begins with his famous genealogy (vv. 1–17), proving that Jesus was descended from both Abraham and King David. While his enemies sought other means to discredit Jesus’ ministry, they never suggested that he was unqualified by ancestry to be Messiah. In this way, Matthew accomplished his first goal in demonstrating the Messianic credentials of his Lord.
Now he moved to his second goal: showing how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth further reinforced his Messianic claims. Our text begins: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (v. 18).
Engagement in Mary’s culture was a yearlong process, during which she was pledged to Joseph as though she was his wife. At the end of the year, the two would become formally married and consummate their union. Marriage could be arranged at birth, but the girl was typically consulted before her engagement became official. She was likely a young adolescent at this time, perhaps thirteen or fourteen years of age. Her fiancé was probably much older, perhaps thirty or so.
Joseph was a resident of Galilee, and a “just” man (v. 19). Taken together, these facts mean that he was probably descended from Jewish missionaries who had moved from Judea a century earlier to evangelize this Gentile region. Joseph was a carpenter (thus Jesus was called the “carpenter’s son” in Matthew 13:55). He worked with wood to build malls, mend roofs, repair gates, make ox-yokes and ploughs, kitchen tools and beds, furniture, and even houses and ships. He worked with metal as well. Joseph taught his son this trade, so that Jesus was called a “carpenter” himself (Mark 6:3).
Since Joseph and Mary were pledged to be married, any sexual activity with another person would have been considered adultery. When Mary was “found to be with child,” this must have been the greatest blow of Joseph’s life. For many years he had kept himself for her, waiting for her to grow to the age of marriage. Now to learn that she has been with another man was devastating in the extreme. He did not yet know that her child was conceived “through the Holy Spirit” and would never have guessed such a miracle. Who would?
As he was a “just” man, one who kept the Law in every dimension of his life, Joseph could not marry an adulteress without becoming complicit in her sin. He had two options.
One: he could “expose her to public disgrace,” calling the town elders together and accusing his fiancée of adultery. If she was convicted, she could be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:10). In this way, his public reputation would be preserved.
Two: he could “divorce her quietly.” He could bring two witnesses, go to her family’s home and declare himself divorced from her, pay the fine to the priest, and be done. He would give her a certificate of divorce (cf. Matthew 5:31), and their engagement would be broken. In kindness, Joseph chose the second option.
As a result, Mary would have had no home or family. Since she was pregnant, she could no longer claim her father’s protection. She would have been a single mother raising a child in a very hostile world. Joseph’s role was vital as the husband of Mary and adoptive father of Jesus.
The narrative continues: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20–21).
Dreams were a common way for angels to speak to people in the Bible. An angel appeared in this way to Jacob (Genesis 31:11), Daniel (Daniel 4:13), and Zechariah (Zechariah 4:1). He would speak to Joseph in this way again later (Matthew 2:13, 19). He called him “son of David,” the only time a person other than Jesus is given this title in the New Testament.
As a result, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24–25).
Joseph obeyed the angel at considerable risk to himself. When he married a pregnant woman, society would assume that the child was his and that the couple had been promiscuous. In agreeing to provide parental protection for this child, he was obligating himself to a dangerous and difficult life. How dangerous, he would soon discover.
Joseph was obedient in three ways. He “took his wife,” completing their engagement and giving her the protection of his home and name. He “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” so that there would be no question that the child was not his. And he “called his name Jesus” rather than a family name to reveal to the world the purpose of the Son of God.
“Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua” or “Yeshua,” from the root meaning “to save.” He is our “Savior,” the one who saves us from the penalty of our sins. Our failures have separated us from our holy God, and the payment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus’ death in our place paid this debt so we could be given eternal life.
Three Father’s Day questions
Joseph is the silent man of Scripture. He never speaks a word in all the gospels. But his life and faith were so surrendered to God that Jesus could refer to his Father by the title he first used for his father: “Abba,” Daddy (Mark 14:36).
Now it’s our turn. Following Joseph as our model, let’s ask ourselves three Father’s Day questions:
How can we love our wives as sacrificially as Joseph loved Mary?
It’s been said that the best way to love our children is to love their mother. We then model a healthy and loving marriage for them to emulate and give them the gift of a loving and healthy home.
How can we serve our children as sacrificially as Joseph served Jesus?
It’s been said that few people think more highly of the Lord than they think of their father. When we love and serve them, we model the love and compassion of our Lord. George Herbert was right: “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”
How can we obey our Lord as sacrificially as Joseph obeyed his Lord?
We cannot give what we do not have or lead where we will not go. Charles Spurgeon advised: “Train up a child in the way he should go—but be sure you go that way yourself.”
Ronald Reagan was right: “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
Let’s be the change we wish to see, beginning in our homes, to the glory of God.