Joseph, God used ordinary people

Tell me about Joseph. Shout out something that you know about Joseph.

Think about your nativity scene. How many of you have a Nativity Set?

Is Joseph old or young?

So little is known about Joseph that by the beginning of the second century, Christians began to develop traditions about him— traditions that are not likely historically accurate, although we cannot be sure. They began to teach that Joseph was an elderly widower when he married Mary; one source says he was 93 at the time and lived to be 111, dying when Jesus was 18. This tradition seemed to have developed as a way of asserting that a kind elderly gentleman took Mary in to care for her, and since he was more like a grandfather than a husband, the marriage was never consummated and Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. This picture of Joseph also provided one possible explanation for the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13: 55-56 and elsewhere: they could have been Joseph’s children by a deceased wife. (Roman Catholics, for whom the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is important, will also point out that “brothers and sisters” in the Gospels can also mean cousins or close family members.)

This idea that Joseph was elderly is represented in a good deal of art from the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, where Joseph is often portrayed as an older man. Most Protestants who regard the second-century traditions that developed about Joseph as spurious assume that Joseph was likely the age of any other young man getting married at the time— around fourteen or fifteen. So, Protestant portrayals tend to show Joseph as a young man. (As an aside, take a look at your nativity set and see if your Joseph is portrayed as an older man or a young man; if he is older the artist likely came from a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition.)


Today, I want to talk about Joseph. I want to tell you that Joseph was ordinary. I want to tell you that God used Him.


I want to tell you to never discount the ordinary. God will use ordinary events, ordinary people and you.

Let’s read Matthew 1:18-25:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is 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 took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

  1. Let’s start by talking about Joseph as ordinary.
    1. Joseph never said a word in the Gospels. He is never quoted.
    2. Joseph is from Bethlehem.
    3. In Matthew, Nazareth is not mentioned until 2:23. Then Jesus would have been at least two years old.
    4. In Matthew’s Gospel, Bethlehem appears to be Joseph’s hometown. Luke 2:3 would seem to corroborate this when it notes that, with the census.
    5. Since Nazareth was certainly Mary’s hometown, Joseph and Mary’s engagement was most likely long-distance, arranged by their respective families in Bethlehem and Nazareth. Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-56). The traditional location of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home is called Ein Karem, only four miles from Bethlehem. So, immediately upon discovering she was pregnant, Mary traveled nine days south to a town four miles from Bethlehem, where she would spend the next three months.
    6. Since Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem, then it would have been during this time that Joseph visited Mary and learned that his betrothed was pregnant. It would have been during this time, these first three months of Mary’s pregnancy, that Joseph would have had his own “annunciation” by means of a dream.
    7. I learned something recently and that is Following those events, he would have taken Mary back to Nazareth, where the couple was married and began their life together until forced to return to Bethlehem for the census.
    8. Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” It was home to laborers and sheepherders, but it was also home to farmers who grew wheat and barley and likely to millers and bakers— hence the name, “House of Bread.” We can surmise that bread was baked there and then probably delivered to customers in Jerusalem.
    9. Bethlehem and Nazareth were both common, ordinary places. Joseph was a common, ordinary man.
    10. A few years ago I mentioned that Joseph would have been a common day laborer and I received a question later on. Carpenter in that day was not the same as a carpenter today. As I wrote in my Chimes article, to be a carpenter meant “one who works with their hands.”
    11. There was not a lot of wood in Israel and Joseph likely worked with stone or even in the fields. This was a common, ordinary job. It was not a respectable job. It was hard work. It was back breaking work. The occupation was just above the servant status.
    12. Joseph was ordinary. Don’t discount what God will do through the ordinary.
  2. God did the extraordinary through Joseph.
  1. Joseph could have had Mary stoned. He could have divorced her. But he did not. First he could expose her as unfaithful and maybe she could be stoned, though that was rare in the first century. She would probably suffer shame of a public divorce. (Deut. 22:23-24)
  2. A second option was to grant her a private divorce, in which case Joseph needed only to hand her a written certificate in the presence of two witnesses (cf. Num. 5:11-31).75
  3. His third option was to remain engaged and not divorce Mary, but this alternative appeared to Joseph to require him to break the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10).
    1. You know I bet that once it was out that Mary was pregnant Joseph had all kinds of people telling him what to do. Don’t you think there were many people telling Joseph their opinion? If your spouse is pregnant by another man wouldn’t some of your co workers be telling you various things? People are probably telling Joseph to have her stoned. People are probably telling him to make a statement with this. People are probably telling him to divorce her quietly. And I am sure he has friends saying, “Ya know Joseph, I have known Mary’s family. We are waiting on the Messiah, maybe she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” There may be those saying, “Ya know Joseph, I have heard about Zechariah the priest, his wife wasn’t supposed to get pregnant and she is. Supposedly, he saw the angel Gabriel. Maybe God is doing something new. Maybe you should believe her.”
      1. God spoke to Joseph in a dream. (Matthew 1:20-21) Joseph obeyed. Joseph likely went to see Mary while she was at Elizabeth’s place and that is when he found out she was pregnant. In the walk home he may have been boiling. He might have been weeping as he walked away. But he calmed down. He would have had about a ninety minute walk home. During this time he must have thought about how much the news would damage Mary. He must have thought about how she could be stoned. Then God spoke to Joseph.
      2. He surrendered to the Lord (verses 20-25 show how he followed what the Angel of the Lord said. Verse 24 specifically says that he obeyed)
      3. So verse 19 says that he would divorce her quietly.
      4. Verse 19 says that he was going to do that because he was a righteous man.
      5. Then verse 20 has the angel of the Lord coming to Joseph in a dream. The child to be conceived is from the Holy Spirit.
      6. Verse 21 has the angel telling Joseph that He will save His people from their sins. Then verse 22 is stating that this is happening to fulfill what and Isaiah 7:14 says. Verse 23: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
      7. Verses 24-25 show that Joseph obeyed what the angel said.
      8. Joseph was faithful to God’s Word including purity (Verse 25 says that he kept her a virgin until the birth.).
      9. This was the man who was the earthly father of Christ the King.
  • The purpose of this passage is not to talk about ordinary, the purpose is to talk about the birth of Jesus. But God did use the ordinary.
    1. Are you willing to be used of God?
    2. What about ordinary people, events, places, do you discount them?
    3. Do you think, “God could never use me…”?
    4. Do you discount others?
    5. Now, notice that Joseph obeyed and we must as well. Notice that many times in Scriptures God uses people who were discounted such as John 8 and the woman in adultery, but also notice that Jesus says, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
    6. But He first said, “I do not condemn you” (she was given forgiveness) and we all need forgiven, we need to know that we are forgiven.  It is that forgiveness that drives us to serve God, to live for Him, to honor Him.  Forgiveness is a stronger force than saying “go sin no more.” The “sin no more part” will naturally follow and flow out of our gratitude of being forgiven so extravagantly, so completely. How can we resist loving a God who does that? How can we resist giving our all for Him who gave His all? How can we resist doing whatever He asks of us?  If we do resist, then we either do not have an understanding of His extravagant forgiveness or we are unable to forgive ourselves.  But He has forgiven us, so if we refuse to forgive ourselves, we are sinning by not accepting His forgiveness.[1]
    7. We must follow Him. Are you following?
    8. Follow Jesus, God will use you.
    9. Trust that God will use your children and grandchildren as well. Trust that God will show up and use the most unlikely of circumstances.
    10. I believe this and I believe this is so that He is more glorified. Our lives are about God’s glory.

In a short devotional for Christmas, writer Paul Williams reflects on why he still remembers one particular Christmas pageant from 1981. It all starts with a strep-stricken son. He writes:

The dull eyes tipped me off before he could open his mouth. Jonathan had strep throat. It seemed the children in our family picked up strep two or three times a year, and someone always had it during the holidays.

Jonathan had been excited about the nursery school Christmas play for a couple of weeks. He would be Joseph. Mary would be played by a Jewish girl from down the block. Yes, her parents had given permission for her to be in the Christmas pageant.

With neck glands swollen and his voice a nasally whine, Jonathan begged to go to the festivities. Against our better judgment, we acquiesced. Bundling our son in his warmest coat, we drove the five short miles to the Central Islip Church of Christ. By the time all the parents had squeezed into the small auditorium, Jonathan was as white as the pillowcase he was wearing as a head covering. He looked fragile and diminutive.

Cathy and I sat on the front row. Jonathan came down the aisle hand in hand with Mary, and the two sat down on the second step below the manger, recently retrieved from its usual home in the boiler room. Jonathan was looking paler still, all the light out of his big blue eyes. He looked at us and managed a weak smile.

As soon as the play was over we hauled Jonathan off to the doctor’s office. Since our family doctor was a friend, we sneaked in and out in no time. Filled with penicillin, our son was feeling better the next morning. I do not remember much about the rest of that Christmas season, though I am sure it was utterly delightful, as all Christmas celebrations are.

I have often pondered why that is my only remembrance of that Christmas, in December of 1981. Of all the memories of all our family Christmas experiences, what makes that one event stand out?

I know the reason.

Christmas is truly about frail vulnerability, freely chosen. With heart in throat God watched his infant Son cry and squirm in the cold manger, where there was no penicillin.

I know how I felt watching my son with his head resting in those small hands, wanting to be brave, but weak and unsteady. I can only imagine what my heavenly Father thought, seeing his infant Son in the hands of a frightened young girl.[2]

Used by permission. For more articles like this,

Paul Williams, “And So It Goes: One Christmas Pageant,”


God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)



[1] Janet Wise’s comments


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