Matthew 1: 18 – 25 (Advent 4, 2016)
“Lessons from Joseph, a Man of God”
Today is the last Sunday before we celebrate Christmas. As we finish our Advent preparation we view Matthew’s record of “how the birth of Christ came about.” He tells it from the perspective of Joseph who “took Mary home to be his wife.” Have you contemplated the unselfish thing that Joseph did? They were engaged to married. Joseph, being a righteous man, restrained from premarital relations with Mary – that is what “before they came together” means. As far as he knew, she had kept herself pure, as well. They were both waiting for marriage, (a God-pleasing purity that has dwindled in our society.)
Today we learn lessons from Joseph. Matthew reveals two Christian qualities that are worth noting: 1.) thinking of others before yourself and 2.) obeying the word of the Lord. Most notably today we see that God’s Son covers the multitude of all of our sins. His Son, Jesus, was not just an example, but is the very reason we have salvation from sin. His Son, Jesus, the great Immanuel, is the also the very reason we, too, can live as righteous men before God.
Joseph Thinks of Others Before Himself
“Because he was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph’s plan was thought through before the Lord’s explanation of what had happened. Joseph found out that she was pregnant and realized that it was not his baby. His only reasonable conclusion was that there was another man. Rather than thinking of himself first, he considered her reputation above his own. As far as he knew she was unfaithful to him. Still he was ready to forgive her and consider her wellbeing above his own. He was not thinking about himself, but of the woman he loved. He was not concerned about what others thought of him, but what they thought of her. In the face of all that might have happened, Joseph was willing to do everything in his power to protect her from public disgrace, even if it meant losing her.
God’s men think of others before they think of themselves. God’s men take the reputation of others seriously before they concern themselves with their own interest. The Bible says we are not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3) and to not do anything out of selfish ambition … looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). God’s men take responsibility for their actions. God’s men face all circumstances with discernment and a patient prayer life. God’s men put the needs and concerns if others first. God’s men especially consider the wellbeing of their wife and family before their own.
How dreadfully far we fall from that! How desperately difficult it is to put the needs of others first. Knowing that he was a sinful man, we can appreciate the selfish thoughts that Joseph had to fight through first, before he began to think about her. Who was he? When did they commit adultery? Why did she do this to ME? In the same way, we fight through the multitude of “ME FIRST” messages that swim happily around our hearts each day: What do I get out of this? What is in it for me? Do you know how much this affected ME? Do you realize how much you hurt me? Unselfishness is purely not in our nature!
Joseph Obeyed the Word of the Lord
The Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid.” How powerfully the voice of God quiets our guilt and our deepest fears! When the Lord explains things our conscience is placed at ease. When we see how even the most dreadful circumstances are going to be used for his purposes, our hearts can be stilled with his peace. The Lord’s message calmed Joseph as well.
He demonstrated his willingness to listen, consider, and trust by following through with obedience: Joseph did what the Lord said. Joseph listened to the Word of God. He considered carefully what God’s messenger had to say. He trusted that those words were true, even though he could not rationally understand them. He did it concerned more with the praise of God rather than men (John 12:43). When the Word of God was clear in his heart, Joseph was strengthened in his new God-given task. Joseph was moved by the clear messages of God to follow the Lord’s commands.
God’s men put the study of God’s Word on the top of their priority list. The Word of God is not an afterthought. Family worship attendance is not a sporadic moving target, pushed aside by other things. The Bible is not a paper weight at home. It is certainly not a shallow reference book on par with the dictionary (Hey, where is that one passage about??) The Word of God is the voice of our Shepherd. His voice speaks as we read learn and take to heart that living Word. God’s men model the importance of the Scriptures for their children by studying it for themselves. God’s men concern themselves with is taught in the Sunday School to which they send their children, by attending the Bible Study hour that is offered at the exact same time.
Joseph Believed in Christ Jesus
It is finally in that Word that we have our guilty conscience calmed. It is in that Word that we not only learn wisdom for difficult circumstances, but also where we learn of the one who shed his blood for all the times we failed as men of God. That is seen clearly in the names Matthew assigns to Joseph’s adopted Son:
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This Son of God was born for that eternal purpose. He was born to die. He was born to pay for all sins. He was born to wipe clean the conscience of every sinner. “Salvation is found in none else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
How? Jesus fulfilled the Words of the Lord by becoming Immanuel! “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.’ ” How else could God save sinful people from a sinful world? He had to become one of us. He had to take our place. He had to be born under the law (Galatians 4:4). He had to be made like us in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14). He had to be true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the virgin Mary. He took on humanity, hunger, pain, thirst, breathe, tears, blood. He had to bring divine righteousness, perfect compassion, miracles, victory over death, absolute truth. God with us, IMMANUEL, does all those things.
That is what leads Joseph to willing and joyful obedience. That is what leads us to people of God as well! From the Manger speaks the clear Word of Christ Jesus. He covers the multitude of sins that dot the landscape of our daily walks with God. Paul ties this all together so nicely in his letter to the Philippians:
“[Jesus Christ], who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of the a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.” Have you contemplated the unselfish thing that Joseph did? It is only a foggy mirror image of the unselfish sacrifice that God and his Son did for us all! “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” Amen.