The Faithful Father to the Son

Matthew 1:16, 17-24 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was born (who is called Christ).

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother, Mary, was pledged in marriage to Joseph. Before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her. So he decided to divorce her privately. 20 But as he was considering these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son. And they will name him Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him. He took Mary home as his wife.

My dad is the youngest of five children. My dad’s mother died when he was only 4 years old. That left my dad’s father with five children to raise on his own. It was too much for him. A year later, my dad’s father died from a nervous breakdown.

Within a year, my dad had lost both of his parents. He was now an orphan.

But, he didn’t stay an orphan for long. In that age, godparents really meant something. My dad went to live with his godfather, William Miske.

Obviously, he never adopted my dad – because my last name isn’t Miske. He became my dad’s foster father.

Grandpa Miske wasn’t my dad’s biological father, but my dad always called him, “Pa.” A young boy, who wasn’t his own, was given to him by God to raise – to raise as his own son.

On this Father’s Day, let’s look at another foster father who was given a young boy to raise as his own son.

When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant before their wedding day, he proved himself to be a Christian man. He did not wish to humiliate her publicly, so he was going to divorce her quietly. He loved Mary and wanted to treat her with affection and respect.

As Joseph was considering these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel addressed him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

As soon as Joseph woke up, he immediately and energetically set out to obey the divine instructions. By giving the child His name, Joseph was formerly adopting Jesus as his legal son.

When this child of Mary and from the Holy Spirit was born on the night of His nativity, Joseph peered into the baby’s face. There he saw no hint of his own eyes or the shape of his nose or the contours of his jaw.

People notice that my girls all have similar features – especially their height. Some people say they look like their dad. The smart ones say they look like their mom. No old woman ever said to Joseph, “That Jesus is the spitting image of His daddy.” Jesus may have looked like Mary, but he certainly did not look like Joseph.

Joseph is indeed called the boy’s father in Scripture (Luke 2:33), but Joseph and Mary and Jesus Himself knew that a paternity test would yield negative results. When Jesus met people, and they asked where He was from and who His dad was, little did they realize what loaded questions those were.

It wasn’t the seed of Joseph that was planted in Mary’s womb, but when that baby was born; when Herod sent soldiers to murder Him; when the family had to flee the country; when they made the long journey home; when they needed a roof over their heads and sandals on their feet and food on their table, Joseph was the man to get it done. When baby Jesus filled His diaper, Joseph was man enough clean up his baby.

When Jesus took His first wobbly steps, Joseph laughed with Mary as those divine legs learned how to walk. He taught Him to say aleph, bet, gimel as Jesus learned His Hebrew ABCs. This carpenter showed the Lord of all how to cut down and fashion into lumber the very trees He had planted at the dawn of creation. Joseph was not the father of Jesus, but he was his foster father. That made Joseph, Jesus’ “Pa,” his father on earth. Jesus was the true offspring of the heavenly Father, very God of very God, begotten not made, but even the Son of God needed a daddy.

That’s the reason that out of all the Bible verses that speak about fatherhood, I wanted to teach you today about Joseph. When we see Joseph, we see our Father in heaven hallowing earthly fatherhood. The Son that He is sending into this world will need more than a mother; He needs a father. As great a blessing as Mary was to our Savior, loving and caring for Him as mothers do, Joseph was equally a blessing to Him. Call him the foster father to Jesus; the adoptive father; the stand-in father; whatever you wish: the Bible simply called Joseph “His father,” (Luke 2:33). For so he was in every way except biologically.

Joseph is God’s way of reminding us that fatherhood is not a hobby but a vocation — a calling that is both sacred and life-encompassing.

God hallows fatherhood, makes it holy, something that is set apart and special to Him. For in it He both conceals and reveals His own fatherhood to us. As Joseph protected his family, led them, worked for them, cared for them, taught them, he was but a mask for the Father in heaven who used Joseph as His hands and feet and mouth to care for the Savior and His mother.

Joseph provided for his Son; he protected his Son from murderous King Herod; he taught his Son God’s Word when he was sitting at home and when they walked along the road (Deut. 11:9); he took His Son with him to the synagogue and to the temple; he taught his Son the trade of carpentry.

Dads, these are things you are to be doing with your children. You work hard to provide your children a home, food, clothing, and education. You protect them from all kinds of harm. But, the most important job God has given you is to teach your children about their heavenly Father. That’s the job that God has specifically given to fathers. “Fathers, bring up [your children] in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

God has chosen men to be the heads of their households. Our culture wants to remove men from that God-appointed position. Yet, no matter how much our culture wants to despise these God-given roles of men and women, somehow our children know who is supposed to be the leader of their family.

In 1994, the Swiss carried out a landmark study that revealed the truth about the faith lives of children. The study found that it is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines children’s future church attendance or absence.

If only the mother attends regularly and the father is a no-show, a mere 2% of adult children will attend regularly.

If only the father attends and the mother is a no-show, 44% of adult children will become regular attendees.

If a father practices his faith regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, 60 to 75% of his children will practice his faith as adults. [1]

Obviously, it is best if both Mom and Dad practice their faith at home and bring their children together to church. Sadly, many men today have become what I call, “spiritual wimps.” They let the wife do everything – bring the children to church, pick out the Christian school to attend, go over the religious homework and confirmation work with their children. All the spiritual decisions are left to the wife. Men, this should not be. God knows this. Our wives know this. And, according to these statistics, our children know this. A quote from this Swiss study says: “... it could be argued that nothing in a child’s faith development matters more than the picture of faith that they see in their own father” (3-4). 

Fathers, don’t be spiritual wimps. Be the leader of your family that God has made you to be. That begins by bringing your family to the Father’s house. Begin each week by following the custom that has been going on for nearly two thousand years now for Christians. On the first day of the week, to go to see Jesus. Earthly fathers bring their children into the heavenly Father’s house for worship.

Are we going to falter in our role as fathers? Yes, all the time? Do we fail miserably at times? Every father does. Joseph was a flawed human being, so I’m sure he messed up sometimes when he was a father to Jesus. But God forgives, covers our weaknesses with the cloak of His grace, and continues to use us to teach our children about the love of the heavenly Father through earthly fathers.

The best way to show your children what it means to be a man is to lead them in worshiping their heavenly Father. Sons need to see a dad who is the spiritual leader of the family. Daughters need to see what kind of man they need to find in a husband. Wives need a strong leader who carries out the vocation God has given him.

There is nothing we can teach our children better than when they see their father announcing that he is a sinner in need of God the Father’s forgiveness. They need to hear dad singing God’s praises for that forgiveness. They need to have dad teach them how to sit still in church and participate in the service - there is nothing sweeter than hearing children praying the Lord’s Prayer louder than their parents. They need to see mom and dad communing and praying together. They need to talk with mom and dad on the way home about what they learned in church that day. They need to have parents that won’t let them skip church, because nothing is more important that the Father giving sinful humanity His only begotten Son.

God gave us children as a gift to us. But, He wants those children back with Him. The way to prepare God’s children for their heavenly home is to bring them to God’s home here on earth – His Christian Church. We belong in church with our children every Sunday morning without exception. We as a family need what God gives us there.

Joseph is also God’s way of reminding us fathers that our children are, from conception onward, divine gifts to us. Whether we are their biological fathers, adoptive fathers, foster or step-fathers, “children are a gift from the LORD,” (Psalm 127:3). As such, they always remain, first and foremost, God’s children. Every child has two fathers, one on earth and one in heaven. And, no matter what DNA is woven into their cells, it is the heavenly Father that defines who they are. They are not ours to do with as we please, but as God pleases. So, we bring them to their Father’s house where He baptizes them into the divine family. We bring them, perhaps kicking and screaming at times, to their Father’s house, where He talks to them in His Word, tells them about Himself, tell them about themselves, and draws them ever closer to Him. We teach them at home, in the car, wherever we might be, about the Father who loves them so much that He sent His own Son to be born into a human family, to live and to die and to rise again, that they might receive the gifts of life and salvation. We are all Joseph — all masks of the heavenly Father by which He cares for the children He has given to us.

Anytime you see Joseph in the nativity scene, kneeling by the Virgin, say a prayer of thanks for him. And say a prayer of thanks for all fathers, for we struggle, we fail, and we try again to live out our vocations. Some of us do better than others, some worse, but we all live by grace of Jesus, who lived and died for Joseph, for Mary, for all of us. Amen.

[1] Footnote: Robbie Low, “The Truth about Men and Church,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 16, no. 5 (2003); see also Werner, Haug Eric al., “The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities on Certain European States,” Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, no. 31 (Strasbourg: 2000).