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Joseph: An Unexpected Fatherhood (Step Up)

Joseph: An Unexpected Fatherhood

A Cincinnati Reds baseball fan Jacob Kingsley told reporters, “(As a dad) you have to always be expecting the unexpected and be ready for anything to be flying out of whatever.” He should know. On Tuesday, April 26th, 2022, Jacob and his wife took their 11-month-old son Shepherd to his first Cincinnati Reds game. Jacob told his wife before the game he would protect their son if a foul ball came close to their seats, which were located about 15 rows from the field. Ms. Kingsley said she was anxious about the ball hitting their son and told her husband to be on constant lookout for foul balls. She said, “The entire game I was like, ‘Are you watching, are you watching?’”

Then a foul ball actually zoomed in their direction. Shepherd was strapped to his father’s chest in a baby carrier and was enjoying a bottle when a foul ball popped over the protective net and headed in their direction. “When I saw the ball, I was like, ‘OK, this is my time,’” Jacob said in an interview. “I gotta step up.”

The ball continued flying in the direction of Jacob, who was using his left hand to feed his son his bottle. His right hand, however, was free. “It was just coming right towards me, and I was like, ‘I can’t not try to catch it,’” said the 26-year-old Cincinnati resident. “So I just reached my hand out – there wasn’t anybody right next to me—and I made the catch.”

People on social media praised Jacob for his deft catch. “Bottle didn’t even come out. Legend,” one user tweeted. Another said: “Highlight of the Reds season so far.”

Today, we celebrate fatherhood. Many parts of our society and culture do not. In popular culture, dads are typically depicted either as bumbling fools who can’t parent and spend most of their time drinking beer and passing gas, uninterested in parenting their kids – really just another bigger, smellier kid living in the house that mom has to take care of, or they’re pictured as violent, abusive husbands and fathers. Very rarely is a father depicted as appropriately protective and loving, involved in family life and having a positive impact on is home and his community. Cold and distant. Violent and abusive. Bumbling and foolish. These are the pictures we have of fatherhood in our culture today.

And yes, just as many mothers fall far short of God’s intent for motherhood, many fathers fall short too. According to Pew Research Center, almost a quarter of America’s children under the age of 18 are being raised in single-parent homes, a rate far higher than any other country in the world. The worldwide average is 7%. But while the percentage of single parent homes still leans strongly toward single moms, homes with single dads has increased dramatically in the past several decades, from just 14% to almost 25%. Increasingly dads are stepping up. And many, many dads don’t have to step up, because they’re already up there – a positive influence on their homes, good husbands and involved fathers, and today, we’re going to celebrate that.

In the typical church, Mother’s Day features sermons celebrating moms and motherhoods, while father’s day sermons beat fathers up, pointing out all the ways that dads fall short. And we wonder why there are so few dads in church. One little girl said, of Father’s Day, “Father’s day is just like mother’s day, only you spend less on the gift.” And before the explosion in cell phone use in the last 15 years, phone companies tell us that while Mother’s Day was the busiest day of the year for their phone lines as children called home to talk to mom and wish her a happy Mother’s Day, Father’s Day was actually a bigger money maker, because while fewer people called dad, those who did called collect. Yes, some still called dad, but dad had to pay for it. Mom’s call went on the kids long distance bill.

Yes, many fathers fall short, as do many mothers. And so to those raising kids on their own as single moms who have to be father and mother to their children, we celebrate you today. To the dads who are stepping up and raising their kids as single dads, we celebrate you today. And to those of you who have or had parents who fall short, I want you to know that while your biological parents may have abandoned you or abused you, and while you may have been raised in horrific circumstances, the psalmist says, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in” (Psalm 27:10). And “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home …” (Psalm 68:5-6). My prayer is that we as a church will come alongside single moms and single dads offering real, tangible support and encouragement, and that we’ll come alongside the fatherless and the motherless, offering home and protection and provision. And we want to come alongside those who are falling far short of God’s intention for mothers and fathers offering support and encouragement and mentoring, calling them and holding them to a higher standard as parents. And to those who long to be mothers and fathers and haven’t been able to, I want you to know that there are young men and women who need you to step up as coaches, as mentors, as teachers, as friends, to come alongside them and fill in the gap left by biological parents who fall too far short.

But the truth is, many fathers don’t “gotta step up.” They already are. And always have been. And today, we’re going to celebrate that by looking at an often ignored figure in the Christmas story – Joseph. Yeah, we talk about “Mary and Joseph,” but we always focus on Mary. And Joseph was a dad who stepped up, even though he didn’t have to. Let’s see what we can learn from him. So, in the middle of June, let’s go to the Christmas story. Turn with me to Matthew 1:18-25.

Fatherhood is a high calling. In fact, it’s the highest calling for any man. You see, in the case of Jesus, Joseph wasn’t needed for the act of conception. That happened miraculously, through the Holy Spirit. But God still made sure that Jesus had an earthly father, even though Jesus didn’t carry the genes of Joseph. And that wasn’t JUST so that Jesus would have a father who worked and could provide for him, which was the norm in that culture. Joseph was much more important than that. Because according to the Old Testament prophets, messiah would be a descendant of David. And Joseph was a descendant of David. Mary wasn’t. That’s why, in Luke 2:27 Luke emphasizes that Joseph was “of the house of David.” That’s why Mary and Joseph had to travel from their hometown of Nazareth to Bethlehem, the City of David, for Caesar’s census. It was through adoption by Joseph that Jesus was a descendant of David.

After the narrative of Jesus’ birth and childhood, Joseph doesn’t again appear in the gospels, and from the cross, Jesus places his mother Mary in the care of John, one of his closest friends, indicating that Joseph had died by then and Mary was a widow. But Joseph understood the high calling of fatherhood, and, even though he didn’t have to, he stepped up. He didn’t treat Jesus as someone else’s child. He adopted him. We know that because Joseph NAMED Jesus. He is the one to whom God communicated the name to be given to the baby growing in Mary’s womb, that wasn’t from Joseph. And on the appropriate day after his birth, Joseph offered the appropriate sacrifices, according to Jewish law and custom, and named the baby Jesus. In doing that, he adopted Jesus, because fathers named their children in that culture. Jesus would have been known as Jesus bar Joseph – Jesus, son of Joseph. Fatherhood is indeed a high calling. Steven Covey said, “Creating a warm, supportive, encouraging environment is probably the most important thing you can do for your family.”

A father who steps up is a faithful man. Faithful first and foremost to God. Joseph was known as a righteous man. People in his community knew that he was someone who sought to follow God’s law. And he taught his children to do the same. Look at Luke 2:41. Joseph is traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And this was something that they did every year. It was their custom, a part of the fabric of their family. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. But he was still raised, by Joseph, in a home faithful to the law of God, in relationship with God. It was the custom of Joseph to travel to Jerusalem from Nazareth with his family, including Jesus, to worship God. Later, in Luke 4, we find Jesus as an adult, back in Nazareth, his hometown, and “as was his custom,” the exact same words Luke used to describe Joseph’s faithful worship of God, Jesus goes to the temple on the Sabbath. Luke is subtly but very intentionally highlighting the similarities in the customs of Joseph and his adopted son, Jesus. Jesus is God incarnate, God with skin on, but he was still taught faithfulness in action by Joseph, his faithful father.

Not only was Joseph faithful, he was loving, and his love was love in action. He loved Mary well. James Dobson said, “One of the best things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” And Joseph loved Mary. He didn’t HAVE to take Mary as his wife, just as Mary didn’t HAVE to agree to have the baby in her womb. Just as Mary submitted to the will of God, so did Joseph. You see, he would have been expected to divorce Mary.

In Jewish culture at the time, a man and woman were betrothed before they were married, but this betrothal was far more than our modern idea of engagement. A betrothal was a ceremony before witnesses and a binding contract. It happened in the community with the blessing of the community.

And then, about a year later, after the man had built a home for them and developed a business or source of income to support his wife and their future kids, they would have a coming together ceremony in which, again in the eyes of the community, he would take his bride into his house, and they would fully be husband and wife. That is when a sexual relationship would start.

So a betrothal was far more than a ring and an engagement. In fact, it could be terminated in only two ways – through the death of one of the betrothed, in which case, if it was the future husband who died, the woman would be considered a widow, or through a certificate of divorce, again sought publicly. And sexual infidelity was one of the legitimate reasons for seeking a divorce to end the betrothal.

Yes, in the Old Testament, a woman found not to be a virgin before marriage could be stoned. And the Roman empire typically allowed peoples they conquered to live by their own laws, with one exception. Only the Roman government could sentence someone to death and carry out the execution. That’s why the Jewish religious leaders had to get Pilate to have Jesus crucified. They couldn’t do it themselves. Even Herod, the Jewish puppet king under Rome, couldn’t sentence someone to death. Only the Roman governor could do that.

So when Mary became pregnant, she wasn’t in any real danger of being stoned, but she was in danger of being divorced by Joseph because of sexual infidelity. And that is what would have been expected of him. And it would typically be done in a public trial, making an example of Mary and humiliating her. But Matthew tells us that Joseph wasn’t going to do that. He was going to do it quietly. A minimum of two witnesses was required, but it didn’t HAVE to be a public spectacle. It just usually was.

Even though, in Joseph’s eyes, Mary didn’t really love him, had been unfaithful to him and had loved another, and before the angel told Joseph what was going on, Joseph was trying to act in Mary’s best interest, not humiliating her. He was trying to end the betrothal, to divorce her, as quietly as he could. Sure, eventually people would find out what happened. Juicy gossip always travels fast, but Joseph was trying to protect Mary. He was loving her, even when loving her was hard, because he felt betrayed.

And then, when he found out what was really going on, as crazy as it sounded, he took Jesus who, in the eyes of the community, was a child of adultery, as his own. He gave Jesus his name. He taught Jesus, sought to protect Jesus.

Joseph was a faithful man, and he was a loving man. He was also an obedient man. Fathers who step up are faithful, loving, and obedient. When God said, “Mary hasn’t done anything wrong, I put this baby in her womb,” Joseph believed God, obeyed God, and went ahead with the marriage, even though Mary would eventually be showing, and he took Jesus as his son. But that isn’t where Joseph’s obedience stopped. Turn over to Matthew 2:13-15. God tells Joseph, “This child isn’t yours, it’s mine, but you’re going to raise him,” and Joseph obeys. Then God says, “By the way, the baby in your arms, the one you’re stepping up to parent, is in danger from Herod. I need you to go to Egypt for a while.” Egypt was, at the time, another Roman territory, and many Jews actually lived in Egypt, especially in Alexandria. So this journey wasn’t unheard of, but it also wasn’t easy. First of all, they traveled at night to avoid Herod’s agents searching for Jesus to secretly kill him. And traveling at night was really dangerous. Robbers and bandits abounded on the roads at night. But Joseph protected them. And this was no quick trip. It was a minimum of 150 miles, and just like the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, this journey would happen on foot. It was more than a week’s journey. In danger every day and night on the road. Sleeping during the day and traveling at night, at least early on in the trip.

Now, look down at Matthew 2:19-25. Joseph, the dad who stepped up when he didn’t have to, is traveling again. More than a week on the road, back to Israel. But then he finds out Herod’s son is on the throne, so he doesn’t want to go to Bethlehem, just a few miles from Jerusalem, so he decides to go to Nazareth, in the region of Galilee, farther away from Jerusalem and the region of Judea. Joseph has been doing a lot of traveling since he first said “yes” to God’s plan. No danger of him getting fat. He’s walked to Bethlehem, and then to Egypt, and now back, and he then decides to travel farther, to Nazareth, to keep Jesus safe. When God says, “Step up,” Joseph steps up. When God says, “Go,” Joseph goes. When God says, “Come,” Joseph comes.

And not only is Joseph obedient, we see again his care and concern for Jesus. Matthew tells us that he was afraid for Jesus’ safety, the kid who wasn’t even his son, and so he acts wisely on Jesus’ behalf, even though it means more travel, more work. In Luke 2, when Joseph takes his family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, as he did every year, as was his custom, Jesus goes off on his own, in Jerusalem, where his life had been in danger, and goes to the temple by himself. And Joseph and Mary just figure he’s somewhere else in the caravan they’re traveling with, and they’re some distance away from Jerusalem before they realize that Jesus isn’t with them. That Jesus missed the plane, so to speak. Kind of the very first “Home Alone” story. And so off they go again, on their own again, without the safety of the caravan, back to Jerusalem, hoping he isn’t dead. And they find him, and even scold him. Care and concern and discipline.

Being a mom isn’t easy. Neither is being a dad. All fall short. Some fall way too far short. But there are many who are stepping up as faithful, loving, obedient men, fathers who parent well. Through your words and by your example, you are teaching your children how to worship God, how to obey God, how to love and be loved. You are teaching them that there is a God who loves them and calls them to come home to him, just as he called you. And today, we celebrate you. So mom’s lets give the dads here today a hand. And we have a gift for you. It’s a tool. It doesn’t look like a tool, but it’s a tool. It’s this frisbee. This frisbee represents time with your children. And I encourage you to take one and to put it to good use, laughing, playing, and teaching your kids as you do. A father who steps up is faithful, to God and to his family. A father who steps up is loving toward his wife and his kids. His love is love in action. And a father who steps up is obedient to God’s leadership. He recognizes God’s authority in his life and submits himself to God, even when it costs him.

There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Dad’s you offer that to them, just as God offers it to you. Fatherhood is a high calling, perhaps most of all because we call God our heavenly father. We get our concept of God in some way from our earthly fathers. So thank you, dads, for stepping up. Let us pray.