Righteous Parents and Unbelieving Brethern
His Natural Family
"And Mary said, my soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46, 47).
Jesus was perfect, yet still he needed to learn what it meant to be human. In this endeavor he needed parental oversight to guide him in this new phase of learning. God’s wisdom arranged for Jesus to go through the processes of growth and development from a baby to a full-grown man. Only in this way could Jesus gain the full depth of experience required to prepare him for his future position.
In considering Jesus’ natural family, attention is usually focused on Mary. Obviously the Lord took care in selecting her. God’s choice of Joseph required care as well.
The Gospel accounts record only two incidents in the first 30 years of Jesus’ life. The scriptural account is sketchy, but contains enough information for us to understand certain elements of Joseph’s character that would have influenced the boy Jesus.
Matthew describes Joseph as a "just man" (Matthew 1:19). We are attracted to his righteous character and the balance of justice with love and mercy. Upon discovering that Mary was "with child," clearly not by him, Joseph could have chosen a harsher course of action. The one he settled on demonstrates balance: "not willing to make her a public example, [he] was minded to put her away [secretly]."
Our minds are drawn to Jesus’ attitude, when dealing with situations that were potentially embarrassing to others. The Samaritan woman (John 4:7-30), the woman of ill-repute (Luke 7:36-50), and the gentle rebuke of Peter (John 21:15-19), are examples of a similar attitude. Joseph may have played a role in developing this God-like quality in Jesus and would have merited his respect.
Joseph’s dilemma regarding his pregnant betrothed presented a difficult trial for him. Only after he had made his decision to "send her away secretly" (Matthew 1:19NASB) was an angel of God sent to him with a special message in a dream. "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20).
As in the case of Abraham (Genesis 22:10- 12), character was developed and manifested by first allowing him to make a decision, and then overruling that decision with divine direction. We are thankful that God did this because it gives us some insight into Joseph’s character. Such kindness as Joseph displayed would have been manifested on other occasions and would surely have influenced his step-son.
Evidently Joseph did not broadcast the fact that Mary’s being "with child" was miraculous in nature. To the outside observer, it would have appeared that Mary was guilty of adultery or that it was Joseph’s child out of wedlock. This gossip would have had its effect not only upon Joseph and Mary, but upon Jesus as well. We conclude this because such rumors continued into Jesus’ adulthood (John 8:41). A correct explanation would have been given to Jesus by his mother, and by Joseph as well. Jesus understood, before the age of 12, that his real father was not Joseph but God (Luke 2:49).
God is a wise economist. He used the taunts of neighbors and peers as a test of faith to all three. It would provide an occasion to present to Jesus the story of his exalted origin and future role, and to equalize that with the humbling influence of disdain — similar to the odium attached to the city of Nazareth. And it prepared Jesus for the ultimate humiliation of the cross.
Jesus faced many experiences during his ministry when his righteous actions were misrepresented by the hardhearted scribes and Pharisees. He did not engage in self-defense, but humbly pursued a higher objective. It may have been Joseph’s method of handling the gossip and disdain that he also encountered that set a good example for Jesus.
Joseph’s reaction to this first dream was simply that he "did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:25). In Joseph’s reaction we see simple obedience. How refreshing to see a man at first struggling with a moral dilemma, but then so easily accept the Lord’s direction. Notice also the carefulness of Matthew, stating that Joseph was "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus" (verse 16). Matthew does not refer to Joseph as Jesus’ father.
When Jesus’ life was threatened by Herod, an angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take the family to Egypt. Again, Joseph obeyed without hesitation. Fleeing to Egypt with his family, for a stay of many months, required great faith on the part of Joseph. Whether he took his carpentry tools with him is not mentioned. In any case, the carpentry trade was taken up again in Nazareth, when, after another dream of Joseph, they returned.
Joseph undoubtedly had a strong influence upon Jesus in his early years. They would have worked closely together while Joseph was training Jesus, and later as his remarkable skills became more evident and he gave Jesus an increasingly larger role. Jesus’ perfect mind missed no detail, and that included not only the mechanical skills of the carpenter, but the principled temperament that guided those hands. The fact that Jesus followed in Joseph’s footsteps and became a carpenter suggests that a close relationship had formed between them.
God knew that certain essential elements of character could be developed in this profession:
Patience:time, effort and much practice.
Intellect: knowledge of math and geometry.
Creativity: extending beyond natural vision.
Open-mindedness: seeing things from many perspectives.
Diligence: learning something new every day.
Attention: to even the smallest of details.
Conciseness: in both work habits and ethics.
Giving: sharing knowledge and experience of the trade with others.
Such traits existed in Joseph, and were engrained in Jesus with lasting influence that manifested itself countless times in Jesus’ ministry. As we piece together the little things we know about Joseph, we see that God chose a noble man who gladly obeyed the Lord’s directions. It is not difficult to imagine that Jesus came to admire his earthly father.
Jesus’ religious training was influenced as well by the faith of Joseph and Mary. Both were pious individuals who carefully observed the features of the Jewish Law (Luke 2:41). Frequent visits to the local Synagogue, and the three annual trips to Jerusalem, gave Jesus ample opportunities to become acquainted with the word of God, and prepare him for his future ministry. We see evidence of this when Jesus, at 12 years of age, displayed a remarkable knowledge and insight, so much so that even the Doctors of the Law were astonished at his level of understanding (Luke 2:47). And yet, all of this was developed largely in obscurity, an obscurity that Joseph shares to this day.
The fact that Joseph is not mentioned in Mark 6:3 where Jesus’ family members are listed, implies that he had died before Jesus became a man. This was sometime after Jesus’ 12th year. Jesus would likely have taken over the carpentry business, become head of the household, and assumed the role of family provider. Joseph’s firm but loving hand prepared Jesus to take on those duties.
The foregoing suggests that Joseph was an exceptional man of God, showing prompt obedience, having a keen sense of justice, reacting to difficult situations with faith and love. No doubt Joseph Bar-Jacob will be among the Ancient Worthies in the Kingdom.
Mary is consistently referred to as Jesus’ mother. It is this relationship that constitutes Jesus as the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Since Mary continued to be a part of Jesus’ life to the end, her role was even more significant than that of Joseph.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, Mary was "troubled at his saying" and "cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be" (Luke 1:29). The Greek for "cast in her mind" means to reckon thoroughly, to deliberate. Here we have of Mary’s character. She was a deep-thinker who considered the logic and meaning of what she was told. This is emphasized also in her reaction to the statement that she would have a son. "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34).
Though Mary was not afraid to consider and ask honest questions, she was also quick to obey, as shown in her response: "And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (verse 38).
When Mary left her parents’ house and went to be with her cousin Elizabeth, it may have been to prove what the angel had said to her. The fact that she went "with haste" would be consistent with that thought. The words of Gabriel were that she was to give birth to "the Son of the Highest." Who would not want proof that Gabriel was God’s messenger?
Thus we gain several insights into Mary’s character that would have influenced the development of the child Jesus. Like Mary, he was a deep thinker who thoroughly and deliberately considered what he was told. He was not afraid to ask honest, yet difficult, questions. He was quick to prove the verity or falsity of what was presented to him. These traits were manifested at age 12 and as an adult (Luke 2:42-51).
The visit with Elizabeth began with a confirmation to Mary of what Gabriel had told her (Luke 1:41-45). This was a second witness and Mary was convinced.
The song of Mary, as given in Luke 1:46- 55, manifests character qualities already noted. In addition, it demonstrates Mary’s knowledge of the word of God, her faith in God’s promises, and her keen appreciation of God’s character and plan. These qualities would have been impressed upon the mind of the child Jesus as well, and a close bond would have developed between them.
The next major event recorded in Mary’s life is the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-19). God gave a special message to the shepherds, which they shared with Joseph and Mary. Mary "pondered in her heart" their words (verse 19), especially the declaration that Jesus was to be the savior (verse 11). Simeon’s prophecy added another dimension to her pondering, foretelling of a time when a sword would pierce through her soul (verse 35).
Though perfect, Jesus had all the normal needs of any human infant. His awareness and mental capacity grew gradually. He learned things he had never known before, even as the Logos. We know nothing of the first 12 years of Jesus’ life, except as deduced from the scant details given, including those concerning Joseph, Mary, and the influence they would have had in his life. The record simply says, "And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:39, 40).
Jesus grew physically, mentally, and spiritually. We gain no further insight into that process until 12 years later. Several aspects of that account shed light on the character of Jesus, and Mary. Even at such a young age, Jesus manifested independence in action and thinking. The fact that Joseph and Mary were not initially concerned by his absence shows that he could be independent and that they were accustomed to his ability to take care of himself.
During the day, his time was spent at the Temple, both listening and asking questions. No doubt at night he would have been taken to the home of one of the Doctors of the Law. No time was wasted, and additional conversations would have taken place on those three evenings.
Twelve years of raising Jesus under humble circumstances probably caused Joseph and Mary to think of him in an ordinary fashion. This is evident from their reaction to his oft-quoted question: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?" (Literally, "the things of my father," or "my Father’s house?") "And they understood not" (Luke 2:49, 50). But Mary "kept all these sayings in her heart" (Luke 2:51). This incident may have reminded her of the message of Gabriel; the message of the humble shepherds at Jesus’ birth; and the prophetic message of Simeon 12 years earlier. The Greek word for "kept" means to "watch thoroughly," and this incident gave her a renewed purpose in "watching."
Jesus had undoubtedly been told of his miraculous birth; that God was his Father; that he had a special mission to accomplish. He was also familiar with the Jewish traditions concerning a boy’s 13th year. Like his mother, he was a deep thinker who logically considered the meaning of these things and endeavored to place them into the context of his religious train- ing. He was not afraid to humbly but sincerely ask difficult questions. When he received the answer, he was quick to conform to it. "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them" (Luke 2:51).
The first mention of Mary during the period of Jesus’ ministry is at the marriage in Cana of Galilee recorded in John 2:1-11. This was after Jesus had spent 40 days in the wilderness. The conversation between Jesus and Mary, when properly understood, shows a deep respect on the part of Jesus for his mother. Regarding Mary, rather than concluding that she anticipated a miracle, her confidence suggests that Jesus had shown his superior judgment and resourcefulness on previous occasions.
The expression, "Mine hour has not yet come" might better be understood to mean, "The time for me to intervene is not yet come." Likely the wine was not yet fully gone. Waiting until there was no wine remaining increased the power of the miracle. Mary was content to leave matters in Jesus’ hands, saying simply, "Whatever he saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5).
Very little else is said of Mary during the time of Jesus’ ministry. In a few simple words his loving relationship with his mother was manifested at the end of that precious few years. While hanging on the cross he said to Mary, "Woman, behold thy son!" and to the Apostle John: "Behold thy mother!" (John 19:25-27).
Mary undoubtedly became a disciple of Jesus. She is among those mentioned as present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Though she played a large and significant role in Jesus’ life, only this one mention is made of her after his death.
Statements from both Old and New Testament writings indicate that Joseph and Mary had children after Jesus was born. Psalm 69:8 seems particularly strong on this point. Speaking prophetically, it says, "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children."
This suggests that the relationship with at least some of his "mother’s children" may have been somewhat strained. This thought is in harmony with Matthew 12:46-49, where Jesus delayed to take time out from his ministry to speak with them. Their thinking may have been similar to that of his neighbors when they could not believe that such wisdom and works could come from Jesus, the "carpenter’s son" (Matthew 13:54-57).
When Jesus asked John, rather than his siblings, to care for his mother, it suggests that they were not disciples at that point. However, there is an interesting encounter between Jesus and his half-brother James. It occurred after Jesus’ resurrection when he appeared specially to James. Paul referred to this occasion in 1 Corinthians 15:7).
We are not told of their discussion, but it is interesting to note that Jesus’ brothers are mentioned as being among the 120 gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost where we are informed that they all "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" (Acts 1:14).
The appearance to James may have influenced the other siblings to finally become disciples. It is an interesting exercise to imagine oneself as one of Jesus’ siblings. Would jealousy arise because your older brother always did things perfectly? Would sibling rivalry enter in when Mary and Joseph, at times, paid special attention to Jesus?
These are only conjectures, but the possibility that these negative feelings were finally overcome and his brethren became disciples is a thrilling one.
In choosing a family for Jesus, we know that God would have selected individuals who themselves were strong in faith and character. They would have been people that Jesus could look up to and respect, people who could set good examples for the young Jesus.
Joseph and Mary were given the wonderful privilege of filling that important role in his life. They, in turn, were greatly blessed and have left a strong legacy of obedience and wise parenting.