The Two Josephs

It is no mere coincidence that the two Josephs of the New Testament were prominent, one at the birth and the other at the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a third Joseph in Acts 1, but he is of no account. The Joseph of the Old Testament was called “a fruitful bough,” and these two men were of the same stock; they brought forth their fruit in its season, and their fruit abides, and their leaves have not withered unto this day. They bore the same name and in character they were alike. They are both said to be “just” men, which clearly indicates that they had walked in the fear of God though their positions in life were very different. He of Arimathea was a rich man and an honourable counsellor, while the husband of Mary was an obscure and poor carpenter of despised Nazareth, though of the house and lineage of David. His social position confirmed the Scripture which spoke of the tabernacle of David having fallen down, and yet as we consider his character and faith, we see his moral greatness; he was a true son of David, a man after God’s own heart.

They were both vessels meet for God’s use, and though we have no record of their lives before their sudden appearance in the events in which they played so important a role, we are sure that they were the subjects of God’s grace and discipline which prepared them to do His will in regard to the entrance to this life and the exit from it of His beloved Son. It was not natural for men to act as they acted, and as we consider them we are impressed with the sovereign will of God. He chooses whom He will from poor and rich; He has need of both in the carrying out of His purposes, but if they are to be of use to Him He must fashion and mould them as the potter moulds the clay, that His thoughts may control them and not their own. This He most surely did with the two Josephs.

Joseph of Nazareth had staggering problems to face, but he faced them as only a just and upright man whose heart was as tender as his conscience could. As far as we know he expressed no surprise when an angel from the Lord appeared to Him with the amazing news. “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 Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son and THOU shalt call his name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins.” He asked no questions, but discerned with the simplicity of faith the revelation as from the Lord and obeyed without hesitation or delay. He stands first in the line of New Testament worthies as an example to us of subjection to the will of God.

He was called to be the guardian of “the young Child,” who was “the Son of the Highest,” “a Saviour which is Christ the Lord” and “Emmanuel,” and he took up the tremendous responsibility without any sign of agitation. With commendable simplicity he hearkened to his instructions from God and obeyed them. But what a test it must have been to him on their arrival in Bethlehem to find no room for Mary at the inn. Room would probably have been made for her if Joseph could have paid more than others, or if he had been a man of note like him of Arimathea, but he was a poor man and without influence, and the only place that he could find for the virgin mother when her great hour arrived was a stable, and a manger was the only available cradle for her Son, who was the Son of God, come in flesh. Only a sense that he was in the path of God’s will, who orders all things for His own glory, could have sustained him in such circumstances.

These Josephs could not have changed places. If the Lord had come into the home of the rich man the grace of God would not have shone out with the same lustre. This was the sign in the depths that God had promised of old. So the angel announced to the shepherds, “This shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Thus came the Son of God into the world that He had made. What human mind can comprehend the greatness of this condescension? He, who being in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to equal with God, had made Himself of no reputation and had come into the world in deepest poverty; for our sakes He had become poor. I will quote from a Spirit-taught writer: ‘He came down into the lowest depths that there should be none, even the most wretched, who could not feel that God in His goodness was near to him and was entirely accessible to him—come down to him—His love finding its occasion in his misery: and that there was no need to which He was not present, which He could not meet. It was thus He made Himself known on earth, and on high He is still the same. He does not forget His human experiences … He came down, took part in all the sorrows of humanity, and entered into all the circumstances in which the human heart could be, and was wounded, oppressed and discouraged, bowing down under evil. No tenderness, no power of sympathy, no humanity like His; no human heart that can so understand, so feel with us, whatever the burden may be that oppresses the heart of man. None so near, none who has come so low, and entered with Divine power into the need, and all the need, of man’ (J. N. Darby).

As Joseph began so he continued. If we consider the carrying of the Young Child and His mother into Egypt, their sojourn there, and their return into the land, we see the same simple obedience and trust. He did what he was told to do, never going before the heavenly vision nor lagging behind it, thus he fulfilled his great mission and glorified and justified God in His choice and training of him.

The life that began in such circumstances of poverty came to its climax and close upon the cross of a felon. There was no escape from this; in plainest words the Scriptures had foretold it and the Scriptures cannot be broken. It was for this that our Lord came forth from God. To Joseph was given the heavenly command, “Thou shalt call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And to do this He must bear those sins “in His own body on the tree.” “He was delivered for our offences.” At the cross, man’s sin and God’s love came face to face, it was the proof and the measure of both; and as we contemplate it, we bow our heads in shame at the sin of man, and bow our hearts in adoration at the love of God. “God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But that great fact in nowise excuses the sin of man. When He was delivered into their hands they treated Him with unparalleled insult and cruelty. He was mocked by Jew and Gentile, beaten and spat upon, scourged and crowned with thorns, and at last condemned to the most shameful and cruel death. As He hung upon the cross He was the centre of mockery and derision until He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. And they would have pursued Him beyond death; the crowning insult was that “they appointed His grave with the wicked,” as Isaiah 53:9 should read. They had prepared a rough grave near the cross in which to cast His body along with the bodies of the robbers who had died with Him. But God intervened. He cried, Halt, to the malice of men, and His beloved Son “was with the rich in His death.”

God had held His man in reserve; Joseph was a secret disciple, in whose soul God had secretly wrought. He had feared the Jews while Jesus lived and had not openly confessed Him as his Lord, but now when all the world seemed against Him and His mission to earth seemed to be a complete failure, he stood forth as bold as a lion. It was an unheard of thing that a Jew and a Jew of high standing, should claim the body of a crucified criminal, for crucifixion was a death reserved for the lowest and the worst. But God’s chosen man went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. He stood alone, against the world. He took his stand by the cross, taking on himself the reproach of it, and declaring by his act that he loved the Man whom the world had rejected.

He was God’s prepared vessel, and being a rich man he had a prepared tomb, a new tomb, hewn out of the rock wherein never man had lain. There the body of Jesus was laid by tender, reverent hands, a fitting resting place for the body of Him who had glorified God on the earth and finished the work which He had given Him to do. “He was with the rich in His death.”

We read no more of Joseph, but we shall see him; for the Lord will fulfil His own words:—“Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.” We do not know whether these two Josephs ever met upon earth, but they will meet in heaven and rejoice together at the grace that gave them so great places in relation to the Lord in His human weakness and need.

J. T. Mawson