How long did it take Joseph to fall asleep that night, after he decided to divorce Mary? I imagine his conscience was clear, but I wonder if his heart still hesitated. Then, in the middle of the night, an angel came, saying, “Don’t do what you were planning to do. Do the exact opposite instead” (my paraphrase).
I guess I wasn’t done with Joseph after last week’s post. We noted that Joseph, having considered all his options, knew the repercussions of doing what the angel said, that is, of marrying Mary. But maybe, like me, you’ve never thought about exactly what he lost (and gained) in his obedience. I hadn’t until recently.
Joseph’s faithfulness meant…
- He lost face in the community. He was subjected to rumor and ridicule from people who thought he was a fool (marrying a tainted woman) or impatient (not waiting for his wedding night).
- He lost personal rights.
- Marital rights: There was no wedding night bliss for these newlyweds. Joseph didn’t have intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25).
- Naming rights: He didn’t get to choose the name of his firstborn son (Matthew 1:21-25). At least Joseph was in good company on this one. Both Zechariah and Hosea experienced the same thing.
- Social rights: Back then, the leaders of the town would sit near the gate to handle the legal and business issues of the town. Something tells me Joseph wasn’t welcome there after he married Mary. Maybe even his own family questioned his sanity.
- Business rights: As the owner of a small business, he probably wasn’t at the top of the “Most Recommended Carpenters” list after this. People would have been more interested in his personal life than his woodworking skills. (Is this, perhaps, part of the reason they stayed in Bethlehem?)
- He lost any justice he thought he deserved. After all, Joseph did nothing wrong. He had every right not only to divorce Mary but to have her stoned. He was the one wronged in this whole mess, but he put aside his right to be justified in the eyes of the law and the community.
- He lost his dreams. What were Joseph’s future plans for his life? Like any young man, I think he had ideas and ambitions. I doubt they involved relocating to Bethlehem (the magi found them in a house in Bethlehem—Matthew 2:11) or a middle-of-the-night trek to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18). And that’s just in the first few years!
Joseph’s obedience made no sense to any outside observer. (Around here, we call that uncommon sense.) His life reminds me of Paul’s conviction:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. –Philippians 3:7-8
Joseph mentored Jesus
in earthly life. What
Joseph had the opportunity to know the Christ, to protect him and watch him grow, to mentor him in the things of earthly life (like learning to lace his sandals properly and drive a nail in straight). He knew Jesus in a way even Paul did not, with the intimacy of real family. What a precious trade-off! What a gain to offset the losses of that first year!
Obedience is an investment, one that often doesn’t “show a profit” for years.
We are wise to count the cost of obedience (Luke 14:28), as Joseph did.
But also like Joseph, we are wise to obey,
to trust that God’s plan is better than what we’ve planned for ourselves,
to lay down those rights and dreams and even our reputations in exchange for knowing Christ more intimately.
Because even though we won’t watch Him grow up, we become more intimate with Him through our obedience (John 14:15).
We talk of Mary far more often than Joseph, but if Joseph hoped his life would make a difference in the world…well, that’s one dream he didn’t lose when he woke up and obeyed.
Have you felt like obedience led you to give up something important in your life? Have you seen God exchange one dream for another? What else can you see that Joseph gained? I love how God does that. Let us all know your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to it!