For some, Joseph, stepfather of Jesus, is no more than a biographical footnote in His life. If we look a little deeper at the Scriptures and at the dangerous time when God sent His Son, we realize that the Babe needed a stepfather like Joseph who was a tender, wise, and resourceful earthly protector.


But Joseph did something more. For the Child Jesus whose identity was like no one else in history, the awesome responsibility to make certain that Jesus knew who He was would rest on Joseph’s broad shoulders. Despite fashionable leanings that underrate the importance of a father’s influence, study after study underscores that a father — or rearing stepfather — gives a boy his identity.


Jesus also needed Joseph to help Him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).


Joseph the Protector
At the time of Jesus’ birth, it was dangerous to be of the House of David. Reflecting his ambition to be the Jewish messiah, the megalomaniac Herod the Great was minting coins with Star of David on them. For those in David’s ancestral line, Joseph and Mary’s hometown of Bethlehem, a few miles from Jerusalem, was too convenient to Herod’s reach. Pioneering ninety miles away in the Galilee village of Nazareth seemed a safe alternative for this religious espoused couple — until dangerous rumors about Mary began.


To have a pregnant espoused wife was a dire predicament for Joseph. It was bad for business, hard on a man’s ego, and a black mark on the character of the man in a community where integrity was everything.


But Joseph had options and ways out: It was his legal right to have Mary stoned to death for adultery once the child was born. Stoning was a nasty, untidy business. In addition to the brutality, it also left an orphan to live a tortured life or die a miserable death.


Angry and hurt as he was, Joseph was just: No one would be stoned at his bidding, not even for revenge.


As he weighed options, divorce seemed to be best. It cleared his name and left Mary and her unknown lover free to pursue whatever course they chose.


Then came the dream with the message of angels that defied the laws of nature and the ego of man: “Take Mary to be your wife. The Child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…” 


It takes a remarkable man to love another man's child. And a very remarkable man to overcome his resentment when the woman he loves is carrying another man's child. But when the "other man" isn't a man at all but God Almighty, another dynamic of insufficiency is added. Joseph, however, proved to be a man with mastery over his own natural feelings. He woke up and immediately put Mary under his protection. No one would harm her or the Child without going through him.


When the census proclamation was issued, the two traveled together to Bethlehem where problems with their relatives became evident. Despite that famous Middle Eastern hospitality and the fact they were coming back to a hometown full of family, they were forced to lodge at an inn. Nor did they go back to Nazareth after the birth of Jesus, but stayed in Bethlehem for somewhere around two years.