The Forgotten Figure in the Nativity Scene by Daniel K. Eng for The Gospel Coalition
As a kid I remember a hierarchy of characters in the Sunday-school Nativity play. All the girls wanted to be Mary and hold baby Jesus. It was fun to dress up like a shepherd or make sheep and cow noises.
But I don’t remember any kids asking to be Mary’s husband. Joseph is often the forgotten figure in the Nativity scene, but he shouldn’t be. The heavenly Father deliberately chose him to be the earthly father of Jesus. Let’s see what Matthew tells us about him.
Matthew 1:1–17 gives us Jesus’s family line, from Abraham to Joseph. Two figures stand out in this list: Abraham and David.
Two thousand years before Jesus, God made a promise to Abraham: all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through your nation of offspring (Gen. 12:3). In Jesus, God kept that promise.
One thousand years before Jesus, God made a promise to David. When David became king of Abraham’s nation, God promised to raise up one of David’s descendants to rule over an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:11–16). Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise: the anointed one, the Messiah, who would rescue the people and establish an eternal kingdom.
A descendant of Abraham and David, Joseph was qualified to be the earthly father of Jesus because of his family. But it’s more than just his family that makes Joseph a character worth remembering. It’s also his faith.
In Matthew 1:18–25, Joseph displays God-pleasing character and imitable faith, expressed in three ways.
1. He sacrificed his reputation by marrying Mary.
While Joseph was pledged to be married to Mary, he discovered his bride-to-be was pregnant with a child not his own (Matt. 1:18–19). Nevertheless, Joseph displayed compassion by wanting to spare Mary’s reputation through quietly dismissing the marriage pledge. But an angel appeared to him in a dream: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20–22).