Adoption is a topic that Brittany and I have always implicitly agreed upon. We don’t know when or if God will call us to adopt but we are open to it. Recently, though, some of our good friends have decided that now is the time to open their family to a child in need. I’m so happy for them and wish God’s blessings on them through this journey. From the time they told us, I have been praying for them and also looking for ways to encourage them. I expected to find books by Christian authors who have examined what God says about adoption. Surprisingly, I came up with very little. I wasn’t discouraged though since I knew that God must have a special place in his heart for people who adopt.
What is the biblical basis for adoption? This is a difficult question to answer if you simply search the Bible for the word adoption. During biblical times I imagine adoption wasn’t really a common thing. It was a strongly-held cultural (and religious) belief that men and women should not have sex outside of marriage. If the majority of people followed that belief then it stands to reason that there were not often children born out of wedlock.
While we don’t see adoption mentioned outright, God often talks about orphans. Today we may not consider adoptive children to be orphans, but that is one correlation we can use to see into God’s heart. In James 1:27 ESV we see:
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
This is actually a pretty heavy verse - if we are to be undefiled, James writes, we must care for orphans and widows. Similar verses can be found in Isaiah 1:17, Exodus 22:22 and other parts of the Bible, as well. Orphans must be important to God if verses like this appear multiple times. There are a multitude of ways we can show we care - prayer, giving our time or money to organizations that help children, adoption and more. God calls us all to serve in different ways.
In the same way God calls us to care for orphans, he cares for them, too. Many people are probably familiar with Psalm 68:5 NLT which begins by saying that God is “Father to the fatherless”. This is a great verse so let’s look at it in a little more context.
5 Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
6 God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
7 O God, when you led your people out from Egypt,
when you marched through the dry wasteland,
8 the earth trembled, and the heavens poured down rain
before you, the God of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
9 You sent abundant rain, O God,
to refresh the weary land.
10 There your people finally settled,
and with a bountiful harvest, O God,
you provided for your needy people.
God cares deeply for everyone who needs help - the fatherless, widows, and everyone else. In fact, we can see just how much God cares for people-in-need by what he did when he called his people out of Egypt. It was a hopeless situation with Pharaoh's army on their heels and a sea of water in front of them. But God parted the sea, let his people walk through on dry land and then drowned the army.
While each of us are God’s children from the day he gave us life, he formalized his adoption of us through the Sacrament of Baptism. This was instituted when John baptized Jesus in the river as we read in Matthew 3:13-17 NLT.
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
In that moment, all three divine parts of the triune God were present. Through our own baptism, in the same way, God adopts us anew as His children.
We now have several examples of how God calls us to care for orphans, such as through adoption, how he cares for the fatherless and how he adopts each of us through our baptism. From this we already know that adoption holds a special place in God’s heart and anyone who chooses to adopt brings him joy. But there’s one more thing - something that we almost always overlook and that probably took more sacrifice than many of us would be willing to accept.
Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son.
God is, no doubt, the most incredible example of an adoptive father to all of us. But Joseph is perhaps the best earthly example. The Bible doesn’t make a big to do about this and I think that’s because Joseph was so humble - God called on him to do something and he answered the call. But we should appreciate how difficult a situation this was. As mentioned earlier, in biblical times men and women were not to have sex outside of marriage. When Mary conceived, her and Joseph were not yet married. Not only did it seem Mary had been unfaithful to him but everyone would think the same. At that point he had no obligation to stay with her - he could have walked away and she may have been stoned to death. But God asked him to have faith. We see all this unfold in Matthew 1:18-25 NLT.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
19 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.
20 As he considered this, an 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.
21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Throughout Jesus’ childhood Jesus was, in many respects, a regular child. Joseph raised him like his own, passing on his trade (carpentry), and teaching him all of their customs. A book by Russell Moore titled Adoption: What Joseph of Nazareth Can Teach Us About This Countercultural Choice explores this idea of Joseph adopting Jesus.
Moore says, “It’s a shame that Joseph is so neglected in our thoughts and affections, even at Christmastime. If we pay attention to him, though, we just might see a model for a new generation of Christians. We might see how to live as the presence of Christ in a culture of death."
Moore also points out that on judgement day Jesus will examine our heart and judge our treatment of the ‘least of these’. From Matthew 25:34-36,40:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ …
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
The question Moore poses is whether we recognize Jesus “apart from his sky-exploding glory”. Do we see him in the child who needs a family? Those who adopt see Jesus in that child and open their homes and their lives to them. And they will be rewarded for this. I can’t think of better encouragement for adoptive parents-to-be than to know that their actions exemplify and glorify our heavenly Father.
To our friends and anyone that answers the call to adopt, I pray:
Lord Jesus, thank you for opening their hearts, their homes and their lives to a child in need. Please bless them through this journey. Clear all obstacles in their paths - grant them the time and resources they need to complete the adoption, and place them with the perfect child that you would have join their family. As the family grows, Lord, I pray your watch over them and may they turn their eyes to you always. Amen.