Okay, it’s Bible Dude Quiz Time! I’ll name the Bible Dude and you tell me who he is. Ready?
Joseph – No, not Joseph the “father” of Jesus. No, not Joseph the technicolor dreamcoat guy. No, not Joseph the Arimathean who took Jesus’ body. No, not even alternative name for Barnabas the “Son of Encouragement” Joseph. I’m talking the other Joseph. Got him?
Barsabbas – No, not the guy they released instead of Jesus; that was Barabbas. Also not the guy alternatively named Judas, whom the Jerusalem Council sent with a team of Paul, Barnabas, and Silas to deliver their letter to Antioch. I’m talking the other Barsabbas. Figure him out yet?
Justus – No, not Titius Justus or Jesus Justus. And not the guy who hangs out with Liberty either. I’m looking for the other Justus. Know the guy?
Maybe if I gave you one more hint, you’ll get it. Joseph, Barsabbas, and Justus are all the same person. Does that help? Probably not.
Joseph is one of those Bible guys that not many folks know about. By all appearances, he’s a great guy who faithfully served right on the edge of glory. However, when it seemed like he might finally get the recognition due him, it slipped past and he fell back into obscurity.
The disciples were faced with a dilemma. Their twelve had become eleven with the betrayal and demise of Judas Iscariot. Twelve was the number they should have and the number that they should have was twelve, so they devised a plan for a replacement. Peter stood up in front of the 120 believers who had gathered together and said, “Okay, gang, we need to find another apostle. Somebody who has been with us from the time Jesus was baptized by John to the time He was taken up to heaven.”
That right there is likely a revelation to many. Jesus is always portrayed as just having his twelve-man band of Merry Men following Him around wherever He went. Rarely will anyone talk about His greater support staff. How big was the gang of men and women who surrounded Him? Hard to tell. We do know that at one point Jesus sent out 72 disciples to spread the Good News around. With women and children, it was likely over 100. So, when the apostles needed to find a new member for their inner team, there was definitely a good-sized pool to draw from. And when they dropped their lures in the water, they hooked Matthias and Joseph.
Luke writes, “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.” (Acts 1:23) That verse is the extent of our knowledge of our friend Joseph. But can we surmise a little more, i.e., can we make a few logical conclusions about this man? Of course, but we are sure to treat them only as assumptions.
Joseph “Justus” Barsabbas – his name might give us some clues about his character. His first name doesn’t tell us much. There were likely as many Josephs in first century Jerusalem as there are Mary-Margarets in a Catholic girls school. His last name though may provide some insight, because there is debate as to whether it actually is his last name. “Bar” = “son of”; “Sabbas” could be the name of his father. But it is also closely related to the word for “oath” and “wisdom”. So it could be that Joseph was known as the Son of the Oath or the Son of Wisdom, much the same way that Barnabas was the Son of Encouragement. Joseph could have been either a guy whose word you could take to the bank or he was someone that you wanted to go to for some godly advice.
There’s also that bonus nickname “Justus” or “the Just”. This, as Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readersput it, would indicate that Joseph had “a specially high standard of ascetic holiness.” He was a guy who talked the talk and walked the walk.
What I love most about Joseph, though, is the fact that he was “the other guy”. He was the one that was almost a full-fledged apostle, but came in second. The disciples prayed and the Holy Spirit made clear that Matthias was the one to be chosen. Sorry, Joseph. So close, but yet…
Does this mean that there was something wrong with Joseph? Absolutely not. Out of all the non-apostle disciples, he was one of just two nominated for that exalted position. The Holy Spirit had to choose one, and Joseph happened to not be that one. This says nothing about his quality of character, nothing about his diligence in service, nothing about his commitment or closeness to his Savior.
So often in the church we equate position or status to holiness. That is a big mistake. Some of the godliest people in the Church are those you have never heard of – nor will you ever hear of them. They serve in obscurity. They struggle in prayer in the middle of the night. They give anonymously. They sacrifice continually. The Holy Spirit has wonderfully gifted them, and they are the ones who make the local church function. Jesus’ ministry would have been so much more difficult if it were not for Matthias and Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleophas and Salome and the large group of servants who worked privately behind the scenes to ensure that those who were working publicly could do their jobs.
We’ve finally come to the point of this whole blog. Thank you to all of you faithful and diligent servants – you Josephs and Matthiases and Marys – who make church happen every Sunday. When a Sunday goes great, I am often the one who receives the accolades. Please know that I and the other Pastor Steve accept any affirmation humbly knowing that we are nothing without you and your hard work. Thank you. We are so blessed by your quiet sacrifice.