Joseph was in love. It was obvious. There was no way he could have done what he had done without being “head over heels” in love. In fact, his family had looked at him askance when he came home and told them whohe had moved in with. Horrified, appalled, dismayed, condemning, and disapproving are the words to describe their response. Cold, aloof, withdrawn was their demeanor towards him after pleading, bribing, cajoling, appealing, threatening, and reasoning did no good whatsoever in persuading him to turn back from his choice.
“Don’t be unreasonable!” was the catch cry. “This feeling of so-called love will wear off and then where will you be?”
“Your reputation will be ruined.”
“Don’t burn your bridges.”
“I was headstrong once,” said his father, “but this is absurd. Listen to your father who has the wisdom of years. Don’t commit yourself wholeheartedly to this.”
“At least be circumspect.”
But Joseph would not listen to reason. You might have thought he was an impetuous youth, sowing his wild oats in love, but actually he was a steady man, married and respectable, very respectable, a man of property and influence who was casting it all away for the sake of love. He had met a man... not just any man, but a man who knew Yahshua. And the man took him home to meet those who had seen Yahshua and heard the gospel He had preached.
While visiting in Jerusalem he had been invited home to a little cluster of small mudbrick-and-stone houses. What on earth did he see worth seeing when he came to dinner that night? Certainly they were hospitable, in the way that Middle Eastern people are famous for being hospitable, so perhaps he wasn’t struck by that. Something did strike him though, enough to want to come live with them.
Come live with them? Joseph already had a nice house, a pleasant and spacious home.Coming from a wealthy family, he was accustomed to having his own space. He and his wife had a room of their own, and their children their own rooms. He had a living room for receiving guests and a courtyard for dining. Their kitchen was separate from the house. The servants lived in their quarters above the kitchen and stables.
And although living all together in small spaces wasn’t unusual for the culture of the day (regular people usually had the whole family living in their one- or two-room houses) these people were squished together even more than normal. And yet, they were extraordinarily content with the arrangement. There were many families living together, finding the way to share their cramped spaces without exasperating one another, being sensitive to the needs of the others. They were quite happy to welcome him to stay the night, even though it meant a shuffle and someone giving up their sleeping space for him. He noticed that they worked out ways to combine the roof spaces and used one house in a cluster to be the central kitchen. They said they could always find room for one more, because whenever they packed out one house, their God gave them another one.
God gave them another house? “How does God give houses?” he had to ask. “Through the hearts that respond to our Master’s gospel,” came the response. And of course, Joseph had to ask who their Master was and what was his “gospel.” Back then, if someone said they had a master, it was not a poetic or historic title. When they referred to their master, Joseph knew then that they were servants, even slaves, of a property owner like himself. He was called “Master” by his servants and he essentially owned their lives, telling them what to do. They had no life other than serving him within the confines of his house and estate. His wealth and enterprises provided for all of their needs too, and they lived all their lives serving him. He was their master and he ruled over them. So he didn’t need an explanation for the word master, but for the word gospel.
Excitedly they told him the very words of their Master, passed on by faithful men who had followed Him. They didn’t have everything written down in chapters and books, so they wouldn’t have referred Joseph in any way to a Bible. But they spoke to him the words of Yahshua that we have recorded in the Bible by the Holy Spirit.
Gospel means “good news” and it was quite the news. It took quite sometime to tell, probably the whole eveningand then some. They had to explain the purpose of the gospel, that it would produce a nation on earth that would be a foretaste of the kingdom of God. They had to explain the whys and wherefores of its terms, or Joseph would not be able to understand what Yahshua meant by saying, “No one can be My disciple unless he forsakes all that he has.” Most of all, they couldn’t help but tell him all about their wonderful Master.
His parents protested, “Joseph, don’t be a fool. How do you know that is true? No one rises from the dead. They’re hucksters, after your money!” But Joseph believed; he believed the unbelievable. He couldn’t explain it reasonably to his parents or his business associates. He could only say, “I know what I know. I saw a people who live a resurrected life. I believe.”
It was hardly a satisfactory answer or reason for giving away all that you’ve earned and all your security, but what else could Joseph do? “It’s the least I can do to serve Him. He died for me. It’s life for life.” You see, back in those days, men still knew the value of a ransom. They knew that if someone died for you, you owed him your whole life, even to serve as a bondslave for the rest of your days. Joseph knew it was only fitting to do so.
When he had heard about Yahshua’s death as his Passover lamb, he knew that his own sins would take him to death if he clung to his own life. “What shall I do?” he had asked.
“The only thing you can do,” Peter had said. “If you believe in your innermost heart that what we have said is true, that Yahshua was raised from the dead, then you need to confess with your mouth that He is your Master.” Master — a chilling, final word in Hebrew, ha Adôn, meaning among other things, controller. “Confess that Yahshua will control you as a master owns his slaves, and come, pick up your cross and follow Him.”
The cross — the shameful, public death for those who were outcasts from society. Peter didn’t mean that all disciples would undergo the physical torture and execution on the cross, but all disciples would bear the disgrace for following their Master. There was a death, a death to self, and it was right in front of him. Peter’s words to him didn’t need to be recorded.They are the same words his Master spoke to them.
Joseph could keep his life in this world and dismiss the requirements of the gospel as unreasonable. He could keep his house and his wealth and his reputation and his family’s approval, at least in this life. Or he could willingly lose his life and so have eternal life.
Eternal life — a gift freely given to any who would follow Yahshua to where His life had ended up. When Yahshua had stood before Pilate, He had been penniless, without home or security, betrayed by a close friend, abandoned by all His friends, despised by His countrymen, hated by the establishment, accused and branded a criminal, beaten and bloodied, and with no reputation or strength left. “Would you follow this man?” Peter had asked him.
Following Yahshua was going to be hard, but gratitude for what this man had done for him welled up in Joseph’s heart. It was right then that he fell in love. He fell in love with Yahshua and he fell in love with Peter, the man who told him this good news. He fell in love with John and with James and Andrew. He fell in love with all of them. He wanted their Master to be his Master.
Joseph knew what it meant to have a master, although he had never had one over him before. He knew he would have to leave his home and come live at his Master’s home. Of course, he would have to do this in order to serve Him where He was. He could no more serve Yahshua from his house on Cyprus than one of his own servants could serve him, Joseph, while he had an occupation somewhere else. That would have divided his interests, and Yahshua rightly said that no one can serve two masters at the same time. You hate one and love the other. If Yahshua was to be his Master, it was only reasonable that Joseph would be His servant, and give up his own life to serve Him.
His mother’s contempt at her son being a menial servant was indescribable. His father was more concerned with his money and reputation. He certainly thought Joseph a complete fool, even deranged to consider something as unreasonable as giving up all his possessions to follow a no-hoper who had been crucified by the Romans as a common criminal.
Joseph, being an Israelite, excitedly told his father that Yahshua was the fulfillment of the prophecies, and that His people were the new Israel, an obedient people that Yahweh longed for. Not surprisingly, this did not in any way dissuade his father. He had lived on Cyprus, even though as a Levite he should have been serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. Obviously he didn’t think the commandments of God needed to be taken at face value.Their God, he maintained, only required that they come to the Temple twice a year. He wasn’t so unreasonable as to expect anything more than that when, after all, they had a living to make.
So neither father nor son could hear from each other, because truly they were now living on different planes — one natural, the other spiritual.
Legally his father couldn’t restrain him, and in the face of family hostility, Joseph sold all the estate that belonged to him. He couldn’t release his servants without providing a new master for them, so he told them the good news that he had received. They could be free from sin and guilt, and they could come into this new life with him. Their servitude would not be much different in the daily life they had with him, but they could give up the futility of living for this life alone. They could have their sins forgiven, have eternal life and the privilege of building up this new spiritual Israel. Was it good news to them? It isn’t recorded whether they came with him or not. Nor is the response of Joseph’s wife or children.
Of course, Joseph also gave up his old fallen religion that had not been able to transfer him from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. He sold everything he had and hurried back to Jerusalem, eager to begin an entirely new life, being squished in and told what to do, without a penny of his own to meet his creature comforts. He actually laid all the proceeds of the sale of his estate at the feet of those men who had told him the good news. It was a lot of money, for he had been a rich man.
Just as he had heard the first night he visited, God provided for them through the heart of someone who responded to the good news of their Master. With the money he gave up they were able to buy another house for more brothers and sisters! And they even gave him a new name; they called him the “son of encouragement” — Barnabas.