When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:24 (NIV)
You may not have realized it, but Joseph was one of the first Christians. Now stop and think about it. Becoming a Christian might best be defined as accepting Jesus as both the Savior and Lord of ones life. And that is exactly what Joseph did when he agreed to take Mary home as his wife.
When I originally wrote this blog yesterday I titled it “Meet the very first Christian!” But then a faithful reader phoned me to ask why I had not given that honor to Mary. As I thought about it I had to acknowledge that he made a good point. After all Mary accepted Jesus and yielded to his Lordship when she replied to the angel “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
But then upon further examination of the Christmas story, I realized that Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin who was pregnant with John the Baptist, was likely the second Christian ever. Mary went to visit her immediately after the angel appeared to her and we have no indication that Mary told Joseph of her pregnancy until three months later when she returned. When Mary first came into her cousin’s presence, Elizabeth exclaimed her profession of faith in Jesus. “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me.” (Luke 1:43 NIV)
And so Joseph has now slipped to number 3 on the Original Christian List, but no matter, his story is one for the ages in understanding what it means to be a Christian.
The angel who appeared to Joseph in the dream informed him of two things. He told him that Mary, his fiancé, had conceived by the Holy Spirit and was pregnant. And he told Joseph that the child within her womb was named “Jesus” the promised savior of the world.
“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. 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.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
Joseph’s acquiescence to the angel’s command to take Mary home as his wife was more importantly an assent to take Jesus home as well.
Accepting Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins is an act of faith. It is rooted in the belief that such forgiveness and the resultant transformation in our lives are really possible. It took tremendous faith on Joseph’s part to accept the fact that this Jesus, whom he had not yet seen, was the Messiah the scriptures had promised would come and the one who would make all things new.
When he agreed to take Mary home, he was explicitly taking Jesus home as well and implicitly putting his faith in Jesus as his Savior. His acceptance of Jesus as the Christ sets him apart as the first human being ever to do so.
But to me, the even more remarkable aspect of Joseph’s response was his acceptance of Jesus as his Lord. It has been said that most people want salvation and the forgiveness of sins, but few want lordship. To yield ones life to the rule and lordship of another call for the total surrender of ones will.
When the angel interrupted Joseph’s life with the earth shattering news of the advent of Jesus, Joseph rose to the challenge. He was willing to put Jesus first in his life. He was quick to surrender his plans, his preferences, his dreams, even his reputation, all for the sake of Jesus. What an example Joseph as the first Christian, has set for us regarding settling the Lordship issue in our lives.
Thankfully in God’s plan, Joseph is someone with whom we all can identify. He is a type of everyman – a person whose life and experiences, up to the appearance of the angel, seem very ordinary. His line of work, his social status, even his ambition in life to simply marry and settle down are not uncommon.
As we consider afresh the story of the birth of Jesus this Christmas season, may we all be enriched and encouraged by the example of Joseph, the first Christian. Let us not be afraid to take Jesus “home” with us as our Savior and Lord the way Joseph did.
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