Key people



The strength of what we believe is measured by how much we are willing to suffer for those beliefs. Joseph was a man with strong beliefs. He was prepared to do what was right, despite the pain he knew it would cause. But Joseph had another trait: He not only tried to do what was right, he also tried to do it in the right way.

When Mary told Joseph about her pregnancy, Joseph knew the child was not his. His respect for Mary’s character and the explanation she gave him, as well as her attitude toward the expected child, must have made it hard to think his bride had done something wrong. Still, someone else was the child’s father - and it was mind-boggling to accept that the “someone else” was God.

Josep decided he had to break the engagement, but he was determined to do it in a way that would not cause public shame to Mary. He intended to act with justice and love.

At this point, God sent a messenger to Joseph to confirm Mary’s story and open another way of obedience for Joseph - to take Mat as his wife. Joseph obeyed God, married Mary, and honored her virginity until the baby was born.

We do not know how long Joseph lived his role as Jesus’ earthly father - he is last mentioned when Jesus was 12 years old. But Joseph trained his son in the trade of carpentry, made sure he had good spiritual training in Nazareth, and took the whole family on the yearly trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, which Jesus continued to observe during his adult years.

Joseph knew Jesus was someone special from the moment he heard the angel’s words. His strong belief in that fact and his willingness to follow God’s-leading empowered him to be Jesus’ chosen earthly father.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • A man of integrity

    • A descendant of King David

    • Jesus’ legal and earthly father

    • A person sensitive to God’s guidance and willing to do God’s will no matter what the consequence

Lessons from his life

    • God honors integrity

    • Social position is of little importance when God chooses to use us

    • Being obedient to the guidance we have from God leads to more guidance from him

    • Feelings are not accurate measures of the rightness or wrongness of an action

Vital statistics

    • Where: Nazareth, Bethlehem

    • Occupation: Carpenter

    • Relatives: Wife: Mary. Children: Jesus, James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and daughters.

    • Contemporaries: Herod the Great, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna

Key verses

    • “Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit’” (Matthew 1:19-20)

Joseph’s story is told in Matthew 1:16-2:23; Luke 1:26-2:52.


The Bible records history. It was proven itself an accurate and reliable record of people, events,and places. Independent historical accounts verify the Bible’s descriptions and details of many famous lives. One of these was the father of the Herodian family, Herod the Great.

Herold is remembered as a builder of cities and the lavish rebuilder of the Temple in Jerusalem. But he also destroyed people. He showed little greatness in either his personal actions or his character. He was ruthless in ruling his territory. His suspicions and jealousy led to the murder of several of his children and the death of his wife Mariamne.

Herold’s title, king of the Jews, was granted by Rome but never accepted by the Jewish people. He was not part of the Davidic family line, and he was only partly Jewish. Although Israel benefited from Herold’s lavish efforts to repair the Temple in Jerusalem, he won little admiration because he also rebuilt various pagan temples. Herold’s costly attempt to gain the loyalty of the people failed because it was superficial. His only loyalty was to himself.

Because his royal title was not genuine, Herold was constantly worried about losing his position. His actions when hearing from the wise men about their search for the new king are consistent with all that we know about Herold. He planned to locate and kill the child before he could become a threat. The murder of innocent children that followed is a tragic lessons in what can happen when actions are motivated by selfishness. Herod’s suspicions did not spare even his own family. His life was self-destructive.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Was given the title king of the Jews by the Romans

    • Held on to his power for more than 30 years

    • Was an effective, though ruthless, ruler

    • Sponsored a great variety of large building projects

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Tended to treat those around him with fear, suspicion, and jealousy

    • Had several of his own children and at least one wife killed

    • Ordered the killing of the baby boys in Bethlehem

    • Although claiming to be a God-worshiper, he was still involved in many forms of pagan religion

Lessons from his life

    • Great power brings neither peace nor security

    • No one can prevent God’s plans from being carried out

    • Superficial loyalty does not impress people or God

Vital statistics

    • Occupation: King of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.

    • Relatives: Father: Antipater. Sons: Archelaus, Antipater, Antipas, Philip, and others. Wives:Doris, Mariamne, and others.

    • Contemporaries: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Mark Antony, Augustus.

Key verse

    • “Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16)

Herod the GReat is mentioned in Matthew 2:1-22 and Luke 1:5.


More than any other disciple, Matthew had a clear idea of how much it would cost to follow Jesus, yet he did not hesitate a moment. Then he left his tax-collecting booth, he guaranteed himself unemployment. For several of the others disciples, there was always fishing to return to, but for Matthew, there was no turning back.

Two changes happened to Matthew when he decided to follow Jesus. First, Jesus gave him a new life. He not only belonged to a new group; he belonged to the Son of God. He was not just accepting a different way of life; he was now an accepted person. For a despised tax collector, that change must have been wonderful!. Second, Jesus gave Matthew a new purpose for his skills. When he followed Jesus, the only tool from his past job that he carried with him was his pen. From the beginning, God had made him a record keeper. Jesus’ call eventually allowed him to put his skills to their finest work. Matthew was a keen observer, and he undoubtedly recorded what he saw going on around him. The Gospel that bears his name came as a result.

Matthew’s experience points out that each of us, from the beginning, is one of God’s works in progress. Much of what God has for us he gives long before we are able to consciously respond to him. He trusts us with skills and abilities ahead of schedule. He has made each of us capable of being his servant. When we trust him with what he has given us, we begin a life of real adventure. Matthew couldn’t have known that God would use the very skills he had sharpened as a tax collector to record the greatest story ever lived. And God has no less meaningful a purpose for each one of us. Have you recognized Jesus saying to you, “Follow me”? What has been your response?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Was one Jesus’ 12 disciples

    • Responded immediately to Jesus’ call

    • Invited many friends to his home to meet Jesus

    • Compiled the Gospel of Matthew

    • Clarified for his Jewish audience Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies

Lessons from his life

    • Jesus consistently accepted people from every level of society

    • Matthew was given a new life, and his God-given skills of record keeping and attention to detail were given a new purpose

    • Having been accepted by Jesus, Matthew immediately tried to bring others into contact with Jesus

Vital statistics

    • Where: Capernaum

    • Occupations: Tax collector, disciple of Jesus

    • Relative: Father: Alphaeus

    • Contemporaries: Jesus,Pilate, Herod, others disciples

Key verse

    • “A Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow and be my disciple.’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

Matthew’s story is told in the Gospels. He is also mentioned in Acts 1:13.

Mary (Lazarus’s sister)

Hospitality is an art. Making sure a guest is welcomed, warmed, and well fed requires creativity, organization, and teamwork. Their ability to accomplish these goals makes Mary and her sister, Martha, one of the best hospitality teams in the Bible. Their frequent guest was Jesus Christ.

For Mary, hospitality meant giving more attention to the guest himself than to the needs he might have. She would rather talk than cook. She was more interested in her guest’s words than in the cleanliness of her home or the timelines of her meals. She let her older sister, Martha, take care of those details. Mary’s approach to events shows her to be mainly a “responder.” She did little preparation - her role was participation. Unlike her sister, who had to learn to stop and listen, Mary needed to learn that action is often appropriate and necessary.

We first meet Mary during a visit Jesus paid to her home. She simply sat at his feet and listened. When Martha became irritated at her sister’s lack of help, Jesus stated that Mary’s choice to enjoy his company was the most appropriate response at the time. Our last glimpse of Mary shows her to have become a woman of thoughtful and worshipful action. Again she was at Jesus’ feet, washing them with perfume and wiping them with her hair. She seemed to understand, better even than the disciples, why Jesus was going to die. Jesus said her act of worship would be told everywhere, along with the gospel, as example of costly service.

What kind of hospitality does Jesus receive from your life? Are you so busy planning and running your life that you neglect precious time with him? Or do you respond to him by listening to his Word, then finding ways to worship him with your life? It is that kind of hospitality he longs for from each of us.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Perhaps the only person who understood and accepted Jesus’ coming death, talking time to anoint his body while he was still living

    • Learned when to listen and when to act

Lessons from her life

    • The business of serving God can become a barrier to knowing him personally

    • Small acts of obedience service have widespread effects

Vital statistics

    • Where: Bethany

    • Relatives: Sister: Martha. Brother: Lazarus

Key verses

    • “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed’” (Matthew 26:12-13).

May’s story is told in Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:38-42; John 11:17-45; 12:1-11


Jesus’ first words to Simon Peter were “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were “Follow me” (John 21:22). Every step of the way between those two challenges. Peter never failed to follow - even though he often stumbled.

When Jesus entered Peter’s life, this plain fisherman became a new person with new goals and new priorities. He did not become a perfect person, however, and he never stopped being Simon Peter. We may wonder what Jesus saw in Simon that made him greet this potential disciple with a new name: Peter - the “rock.” Impulsive Peter certainly didn’t act like a rock much of the time. But when Jesus chose his followers, he wasn’t looking for models; he was looking for real people. He chose people who could be changed by his love, and then he sent them out to communicate that his acceptance was available to anyone-even to those who often fail.

We may wonder what Jesus sees in us when he calls us to follow him. But we know Jesus accepted Peter, and, in spite of his failures, Peter went on to do great things for God. Are you willing to keep following Jesus, even when you fail?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Became the recognized leader among Jesus’ disciples - one of the inner group of three

    • Was the first great voice of the gospel during and after Pentecost

    • Probably knew Mark and gave him information for the Gospel of Mark

    • Wrote 1 and 2 Peter

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Often spoke without thinking; was brash and impulsive

    • During Jesus’ trial, denied three times that he even knew Jesus

    • Later found it hard to treat Gentile Christians as equals

Lesson from his life

    • Enthusiasm has to be backed up by faith and understanding, or it fails

    • God’s faithfulness can compensate for our greatest unfaithfulness

    • Is better to be a follower who sometimes fails than one who fails to follows

Vital statistics

    • Occupation: Fisherman, disciple

    • Relatives: Father: John. Brother: Andrew

    • Contemporaries: Jesus, Pilate, Herod

Key verse

    • “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the power of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18)

Peter’s story is told in the Gospels and the book of Acts. He is mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:7-14; and he wrote the books of 1 and 2 Peter.