From The Second Half of the Cross
“Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way; Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14)
Joseph in the New Testament, the step-father of Jesus, is a person who does not get a lot of mention in Protestant sermons or books except around Christmas time. The second half of the cross, however, sheds light on the life of Joseph that can further instruct us about our godly calling and the Christian life. Joseph, the step-father of the Son of God, deserves more credit than he generally gets.
Joseph and Mary are obviously the first people recorded in the New Testament to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Joseph intends to wed Mary in the city of Nazareth, only to discover before they are married that Mary is pregnant. In a dream an angel explains to Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and to not be afraid to take her for a wife.
After the angel informs Joseph of the situation, we can reasonably assume that Mary discussed all that she knew with Joseph. We can assume that the couple discussed the visit Mary had from the angel Gabriel and all that the angel told her, and the subsequent visit Mary had with Elisabeth and Zacharias, and what they had said to her about the baby she was carrying.
Joseph was present and assisted at the birth of the baby Jesus. Joseph heard what the shepherds said about an angel telling them to go and see the baby that was born who is the Savior, Christ the Lord, and about the multitude of angels praising God over the birth of Jesus. Joseph was present when the three wise men from the east came bearing gifts, and heard what they said about the baby Jesus. Joseph was in the temple when Simeon spoke about Jesus, and the scripture in Luke says that “Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken by him.” Joseph was there in the temple when Anna, a prophetess, spoke about Jesus regarding redemption in Israel.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and warns Joseph to take his wife Mary and the young child Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt to destroy the future “King of the Jews.” After Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph in a dream telling him it is now safe to return to Israel. Joseph returns with Mary and Jesus to live in Nazareth.
We see in Joseph an excellent choice to be the step-father of Jesus. He accepts this huge responsibility given to him by God the Father, and manages all of the challenges with quiet resolve and leadership. Joseph is apparently a man of character, as we see no signs of him bragging to the town of Nazareth about any remarkable talents of his oldest son, or trying to exploit or benefit in any way from the natural abilities of Jesus.
Joseph and Mary show such self-restraint in keeping the divine conception of Jesus a secret that even the half brothers and sisters of Jesus appear to be totally unaware of the full story. It is only after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that two of His brothers, James and Jude, come to believe that He is the Christ. It was probably only after the resurrection that Mary told her other children the full story about her first son and their remarkable half-brother.
One of the interesting and instructive elements in the ministry of Jesus is that His step-father Joseph is not on hand for support. It is not the will of God that Joseph still be alive when Jesus starts His public ministry sometime in His early thirties. Joseph is therefore not present in the synagogue in Nazareth to defend Jesus when He stood up to read the messianic Isaiah 61:1-2 scriptures about Himself, and the townspeople were violently offended that they had not previously been given the inside information about Jesus that would support such astounding claims. Joseph could then have given them the reasons why he and Mary had kept this information from family and friends, and this might have defused this volatile situation.
Joseph is not present during the many visits that Jesus made to Jerusalem, where he could have cleared up the pivotal question by the Pharisees and scribes regarding the birthplace of Jesus and their complaint about Jesus that: “we know this man, from where he is”, meaning Nazareth and not Bethlehem, the scriptural birthplace of the Messiah.
As head of the family, Joseph could have been there to pull aside each of his children and privately tell them the real story about the conception and birth of their half-brother Jesus, to prevent the painful situation described during the ministry of Jesus: “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” Joseph might have comforted Mary regarding the cold reception that the ministry of Jesus had received at the hands of the established religious leaders in Jerusalem. Joseph might have helped Mary reconcile in her mind what she knows to be true about Jesus her son with the rejection His ministry is receiving from the Pharisees, scribes, and rulers. Joseph might even have been present at the trial of Jesus, and spoken up about the true origin of his step-son and His flawless character before these powerful men.
We clearly see in the life of Joseph the second half of the cross—the death of the self-in-charge nature, in favor of the plan of God for Joseph’s life. All Joseph started out to do was marry a lovely young woman in his hometown of Nazareth. None of us can truly grasp the magnitude and magnificence of the actual life that Joseph experienced. If Joseph could do it all over again, would he choose for himself a different, more normal life?
The plan of God for the life of Joseph was narrow and well-defined in the duties that God gave him to do, as briefly described above. Joseph does not live long enough to become a leader in the early Christian church. Joseph did not have the opportunity to leave us inspired writings like Peter, Paul, John, or his own son James. Joseph was not called by God to be a great evangelist after the death and resurrection of Jesus, with a unique perspective that only he could give.
But does anyone think that the degree of honor and gratitude that will be given to Joseph in heaven will be small? Like a lifelong faithful servant who performed his assigned duties well in the service of a great king, Joseph served the eternal Son of God in the role of a step-father from the birth of Jesus through sometime into the teens or possibly middle twenties of Jesus. Joseph after all taught Jesus, the Creator of the universe, simple carpentry. Joseph knows Jesus like few people can claim to know Him.
I believe that Joseph will cherish for all eternity the opportunity and responsibility that God the Father placed with him to protect and watch over the Son of God during His childhood, and that God’s unique plan for his life was and will be a source of immeasurable value to him. I believe that Joseph will be one of the most sought-after guest speakers in heaven, if there is such a thing, with his social calendar booked for eons, because of the special relationship he had with Jesus during the “silent years.”
One of the lessons that we can learn from the life of Joseph is that it was the will and plan of God that Jesus the Son of God stand alone to accomplish the great work of salvation on the cross. For reasons that will probably only be fully understood on the Day of Judgment and the final demise of evil, God knew that the task of presenting love to the universe by the example of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, could only rightly be done by Him alone.
No human agents can appear to be aiding Jesus during the trial and crucifixion—not apostles, disciples, a mother, family members, or possibly even a faithful and courageous step-father. At basic issue was right and wrong, love and hate, goodness and evil. As Jesus hung in agony on the cross hour after hour, no one present there at the time knew that the most beautiful example of character in the history of mankind, or indeed for all eternity, was taking place.
Mary, on the other hand, is quite human in that she appears to have problems understanding the second half of the cross in the ministry of Jesus her son. No one can be any closer to this issue than Mary. Like all mothers, Mary wants to see her son Jesus succeed in life. Mary has good reason to be confident in the abilities of her son, because both she and Joseph know the true parentage of Jesus the Son of God. Mary is therefore deeply shocked and staggered by the opposition shown from the powerful Pharisees, scribes, and rulers in Jerusalem toward her son’s ministry and message, people she would otherwise respect and admire.
Mary probably had profound confusion over the disconnect between what she knew to be the true nature of the person and the abilities of her son Jesus, and the failure of the Jewish authorities to likewise recognize this and accept Jesus as the Messiah. The official rejection of Jesus during His trial and crucifixion must have been heart wrenching. Mary was the only person alive at that time other than Jesus Himself, who knew about His conception, birth, and the extraordinary prophesies that were pronounced about Him by angels, shepherds, wise men, prophets, and the Old Testament scriptures. Being a woman in the first century Jewish patriarchal culture, if Mary had come forward and told all that she knew, few people would have believed her.
Like the rest of the apostles, Mary had to painfully wait for the unexpected Resurrection Day to be able to fully understand through hindsight that Jesus her son died on the cross as the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel took away the sins of the world, in order to become the resurrection life that lifts us up out of death into a new spiritual life with God.