This post is an extract from Straight to the Heart of Matthew:
HOLY JOE (1:18-25)
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
In June 2009, the American financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. For almost two decades, his Madoff Securities had offered a mouth-watering 10% return on investments, but he had been uncovered as a fraudster. Even though his company looked like one of the soundest financial investments in the world, he was in fact running a ‘Ponzi’ scheme and had swindled investors of over $65 billion. One French investment manager committed suicide when he realised that he had lost $1.4 billion in the scheme.
God had something very precious to invest, and he was very careful where he put it. He had one precious, only-begotten Son, Jesus, and he was about to entrust him to a couple of parents on Planet Earth. Jesus told us that this was like God “selling all he had” to buy treasure buried in a field or to buy a pearl of great price. It must have been even tougher for God the Father to entrust his only Son to a pair of humans than it was for Moses’ mother to entrust her baby to the River Nile. Therefore if we want to discover what God prizes highly in his Kingdom, our greatest clue is to consider his big investment decision.
I find it fascinating that God was not swayed by any of the things which attracted investors to Bernard Madoff. The US financier had a solid reputation, a wealthy lifestyle, an impressive track record, natural charm and the promise of exceptional fortune. God could easily have chosen the same. He could have placed the Messiah in the home of a wealthy nobleman, like the Jewish historian Josephus who boasts in his writings about his impeccable aristocratic and priestly family. He could have placed him with the spiritual élite, in a famous Sadducee family like that of the high priest Caiaphas, or in the home of a prominent Pharisee like the great rabbi Gamaliel or his disciple Saul of Tarsus. But he didn’t. He chose a manual labourer called Joseph who lacked even enough influence to get a room in a hotel when his wife was in labour. He also chose his teenaged sweetheart, Mary, and the two of them were so poor that they offered the Temple sacrifices which were reserved for the lowest of the low. Frankly, God’s choice of Joseph and Mary is surprising and bewildering, and it shows that what God values in his Kingdom is very different from what is valued in the world. He chose them because they had three things going for them – three things that God wants to find in us too.
Joseph was very humble. He lacked the stylish flair of the rich and famous, but anyone familiar with the Madoff affair knows that wise investors see past superficial charms. Joseph was not self-assertive but meek and gentle, showing astonishing kindness towards his fiancée Mary when he discovered that she was pregnant, and not by him. Despite his sense of betrayal, he decided to break off the engagement quietly to minimise the pain it would cause her. A lesser man would have retaliated in fury, but this was the humble kind of man whom God prizes in his Kingdom. He was humble before God, observing the ceremonies required by the Mosaic Law, even though he could scarcely afford to lose precious days away from his workshop. God loves humility. He just loves it. There’s very little of it around.
Joseph was also a man of great faith. He believed the angel’s story when Mary told him that she was pregnant. Remember, there was no precedent for what the angel told him, and the Old Testament prophecy which Matthew quotes in verse twenty-three is not obviously about the mother of the Messiah. Many modern theologians dismiss the idea of the Virgin Birth as too fanciful to believe, but none of them has as much reason to doubt it as Joseph did. I am amazed at the faith of this humble, blue-collar worker from Nazareth, who dared believed that his pregnant fiancée had truly conceived her baby through the power of the Holy Spirit. He was so full of faith that he had a celibate wedding-night, and preserved Mary’s virginity after their marriage until the baby was born. I am also amazed at the faith of Mary, who heard from the angel that she was about to be viewed as an immoral woman with an illegitimate baby and yet replied: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”
Joseph was also a man of instant obedience. He saw an angel four times in his sleep in the first two chapters of Matthew, and each time he obeyed without delay. He married Mary at once, and woke up his family to flee as refugees to Egypt on the very night that the angel warned him about King Herod’s plan. He returned to Judea and then Galilee in swift response to two more angelic visions because he was a man who obeyed rather than just weighed God’s Word. Joseph was not just a “son of David” by birth – he was a true spiritual son of David, the man whom God found to be “after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”
The human parents that God chose for his Son are therefore a radical statement of what is and isn’t valued in his Kingdom. He is still looking for people today who are like Joseph and Mary, and who can be trusted with his Kingdom. He is utterly unimpressed by your looks, your wealth, your charm, your education or your breeding. But his eyes rove all over the world in search of any man or woman who is humble, full of faith and swift to obey.
God is still like the man who saw beautiful treasure hidden in an unimpressive field. He is still like the merchant who sold all he had and invested it in a pearl of great price. He is still the world’s greatest investor, searching for this godly character to which he can entrust his Kingdom.
Let’s examine the character which is hidden under the surface of our own hearts. Do we have the same humble, faith-filled, obedient heart as Joseph? God calls us to join his revolutionary army of Holy Joes.