I remember when I heard the news that I would be a father. I was sitting in a seminary classroom just before the end of the lecture when I looked out the window and saw Beth driving into the campus parking lot. This was unusual. I knew something was up. Within a few minutes we met in the hallway and she announced the coming of our firstborn child. I received the good news with great joy.
Joseph, the father of Jesus, had a different experience. He wasn’t married. He was engaged to Mary when he heard she was pregnant. He knew that he and Mary had not been together sexually. The Bible text (Matthew 1:18) tells us she was, “with child from the Holy Spirit,” but did he know that? And if he did, what did that mean? How could he prove it, and who would believe him if he told them?
When Joseph first heard the news that Mary was pregnant, he did not receive it with joy. He went into damage control mode. He tried to satisfy conflicting goals. He felt he should end the engagement because Mary either had been, or would be perceived as, unfaithful to him. But he didn’t want to increase her shame. So, he planned to quietly end the engagement.
Before Joseph could break up with Mary, the angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream. He assured Joseph that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The child within her was to fulfill the Isaiah prophecy of Immanuel – God with us. He would save his people from their sins. He was not the product of Mary’s sin. Joseph was told to take Mary as his wife and to take the child as his son, and to name him Jesus.
When Joseph learned he would be a father, he was immediately called to respond in faith. Nowhere do we read of Joseph’s joy. The text tells us simply that, “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’s faith worked in obedience to God. This was a hard obedience.
We can imagine that if the writer of Hebrews 11 had included Joseph in the list of people with great faith, he would have written something like, “by faith, Joseph took Jesus to be his son because God assured him that this Son would save his people from their sins.”
We can also imagine that somewhere along the way Joseph did find great joy in Jesus. We know that Joseph entered the greatest joy of heaven when he died in faith.
Thinking about Joseph reminds us that obedient faith and joy go together. Receiving Jesus puts us in the painful position of a self-denying and cross-bearing decision. Who will we trust and rely upon for our salvation? Will self-lordship give way to repentance, faith, and following Jesus? Responding to Jesus in this way is rewarded with joy. Faith is seeing joy in Christ on the other side of a hard obedience and then walking toward it.
It is Joseph’s son, Jesus, who, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
Does receiving Jesus call you to some hard obedience of faith today or in this season of your life? Set joy in Jesus before you and on the other side of the calling. Respond to the call.