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I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible:

“[Some] people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but… most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.” [1]

She’s right, the Bible isn’t primarily a book of heroes. There’s one hero, His name is Jesus. That said, the Bible does sometimes give us other examples to follow (as we follow Jesus!) and I believe that Joseph’s story in Matthew 1:18-25 is an example of faith that we would do well to follow.

This adoption story gives us a portrait of Joseph, an example of true faith. But why call it “true” faith? Because not all faith is created equal. Joseph’s biological son, James, wrote a lot about faith. In James 2:19 he says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Demons have a type of faith, but its not true faith. On the contrary, Joseph is an example of true faith. Joseph’s story in Matthew 1:18-25 teaches us three truths about true faith:  

True faith is never easy

A virgin born baby. A sinless man. Miracles. A crucified God. Resurrection. Many people think these things are too hard to believe. But true faith has never been easy!

Put yourselves in Joseph’s shoes for a moment. You’ve just heard that your fiancée is pregnant, but she insists she’s been faithful to you! Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well there’s no way I could believe that. This is the 21st century! Science tells us that’s not how it works!” People in 1st-century Palestine knew how babies were conceived too. They weren’t stupid. As Russell Moore says, “When Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant, his first reaction isn’t a cheery ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’ No, he assumes what any of us would conclude was going on, and he sets out to end their betrothal. [2]

Joseph didn’t believe Mary, which is why Matthew 1:19 says, “her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” After much consideration (v. 20), he chooses to show mercy to Mary by ending the relationship as delicately as possible. Here’s the point: it’s always hard to believe! True faith is never easy!

Virgins don’t have babies. People don’t walk on water. A few pieces of bread and fish aren’t enough to feed thousands of people. Blind people don’t see. The deaf don’t hear. The lame don’t walk. The mute don’t speak. The dead don’t rise. None of those things happen. . . ordinarily. All of those things are hard to believe because they require us to believe in the extraordinary, in the supernatural. Faith invites you to believe in more than what your eyes can see!  

True faith is never blind

Ben Franklin once said, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Some people think that faith is blind. You just take a leap of faith and believe! No offense, but that’s an incredibly foolish idea! That’s not what Joseph did, and it’s not what we should do either!

Matthew 1:20-21—But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph is preparing to break up with Mary when God sends an angel to stop him. The angel tells Joseph to adopt Jesus, which would’ve been official when Joseph named him. But here’s the point: Joseph doesn’t adopt Jesus based on blind faith. He adopts Jesus based on revelation. God speaks to Joseph through an angel in a dream.

Perhaps you’re tempted to respond, “well I would believe if God spoke to me!” But He has spoken to us. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

Joseph’s example of true faith reminds us that true faith is never blind. We believe because God has spoken to us. In His Word, and through His Son.  

True faith always works

Many years after an angel told Joseph to adopt Jesus, Joseph’s biological son James wrote this about true faith:

James 2:14-17—What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

You can say “I believe” all you want, put here’s the question: does your faith go to work? Does your life give evidence that you believe? Joseph’s faith was true faith. Joseph had faith that works. Notice how he responded to the instructions from an angel: Matthew 1:24-25—When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.

Joseph obeyed. What about you? Does your faith work? None of us will ever face a situation like Joseph’s. The virgin conception of Jesus was a one-time historical event that will never happen again. Never again will a man be asked to marry his virgin fiancée and care for her and her unborn supernaturally-conceived child. In that sense, Joseph’s story is unique.

But in another sense, it’s not unique at all. Since the first Adam fell, our world has been filled with opportunities for us to follow in Joseph’s footsteps. And often that means caring for the most vulnerable, for women and children.

Think about what’s happened in Afghanistan. Advertisements with pictures of women’s faces painted over. An image of a baby being passed over a wall covered in barbed wire. “But problems like Afghanistan are so far away! What can I do about it?”

Think about your own zip code. There are single moms, struggling to make ends meet, feeling like damaged goods because they chose life in a culture of death. There are pregnant teenage girls, thinking about driving to the clinic on Jefferson Avenue because their boyfriends told them to “take care of it.” There are young children bouncing from one foster home to another, wondering if this year they’ll get Christmas presents. There are highschoolers about to age out of the foster care system, and if the statistics are right they’re doomed to a life of homelessness, crime, drug abuse, or worse.

Joseph’s story should occupy more than a place on your mantle for a few weeks every December. Not everybody is called to work for the vulnerable in the same way. But all of us are called to work. Joseph’s example of true faith reminds us that true faith always works.


[1]Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 15.

[2]Russell Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches, Updated and Expanded Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 67