God is faithful. One of the very best things about God is that he is faithful. Having the benefit of hindsight is wonderful because it helps us to see how faithful God has been to his people.
Have you ever prayed for something, and I mean really prayed for something to happen? This is one of those things that you were on your face all the time praying about. You prayed every day for months and months for this to happen. Have you ever prayed for something like that? Have you ever received exactly what you prayed for? Did it look exactly like you thought it would, or maybe was it a little different?
When I first felt God calling me into vocational ministry I thought I was supposed to pastor. I didn’t know why I thought that, it’s just what stuck in my mind. I went throughout the rest of high school and the first part of college thinking that. Then God started changing the circumstances around me. I started asking tough questions that I didn’t always have answers to. My faith was still there, but things didn’t look the same as they did before. I went to seminary because I thought maybe I wanted to teach at a college level. Then I left there to teach history in high school. Then I left that to do music and youth ministry. Now I’m a pastor, but it’s not the path that most “normal” pastors take. I don’t even look like a “normal” pastor. There is no part of this journey that I planned out, but I’m still where I thought I would be.
God is faithful. He always answers prayer. It doesn’t always look like we think it’s supposed to look. It doesn’t always happen the way we thought it would happen or in the timing in which we think it’s supposed to take place, but God always answers prayer. There are things you’re praying for right now that God is going to answer and they might not look the way you have planned in your head. But God answers prayer. God is faithful.
In this same way, God was faithful to the nation of Israel. He did what he told them he was going to do. God told them he was going to make everything right, to restore the Nation and place a king on David’s throne whose line would never end. The Israelites expected a conquering king who would overthrow the current government. God sent them a sacrificial lamb. The Israelites were looking for a powerful warrior. God sent a suffering servant. The Israelites were looking toward the nation’s capital, Jerusalem. God sent a baby to Bethlehem.
Things aren’t always what they seem.
We don’t really know a lot about Joseph. There are very few passages that talk about Joseph at all. But it seems that when God chose a man to be the adopted father to his son, he would choose an honorable man, one who would work hard to provide for his family, even though it wasn’t his own flesh and blood. We often forget that Jesus was adopted by an earthly father, paving the way for our heavenly adoption as children of God.
But Joseph was an honorable man. He was just. I wonder if he knew his family tree. Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus down to Joseph himself. I wonder if Joseph knew that his great ancestor was King David himself. I wonder if he knew he had kingly blood in his veins. Maybe this is why he was an honorable man.
I wonder what Joseph thought when he discovered that Mary was pregnant and he knew the baby wasn’t his. I’ve tried this week to put myself in Joseph’s place and imagine the situation around him. He was an honorable man. For all accounts he was not a wealthy man, but he worked hard to make a living for himself. Who knows how long he had waited for someone to marry. He was a simple man, probably known throughout the community. It was known that he was betrothed to Mary. I can imagine that, much like small communities everywhere, everyone knew everyone else’s business. Then he discovered that his fiancée was pregnant. And the baby wasn’t his, because they had never slept together. I wonder what the emotions were that he felt.
The laws of the land were very clear. A woman caught in adultery was to be put to death. Joseph could have had her killed. He could have seen her stoned in front of the whole community. He could have divorced her with great shame and public humiliation so that she and her illegitimate son would have to live in exile. But Joseph was an honorable man.
I bet Joseph never thought it would happen the way it happened. Maybe he had been looking forward to a family. Maybe he had been planning how he would teach his sons the trade of carpentry. Maybe he had been looking forward to the day when his daughters would marry. I know that we are mentioning ideas about which we know nothing, but so often we de-humanize people in the Bible. Joseph was a regular guy. He had regular hopes and dreams. He had plans for his life. I bet he never thought that his fiancée would get pregnant before they were married. I bet he never dreamed he would become the adopted father of the Son of God. Nobody thinks about those things.
What would you do in this situation? Joseph could have had her killed. He could have put her away publicly. He could have gone through with his plan to put her away quietly, so as to reduce her shame. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told him to not be afraid.
Why is it that God has to always tell us to not be afraid? When the Lord tells us something he wants us to do he always has to remind us to not be afraid. Is it possibly because what he’s asking us to do is so different from what is normal, what is accepted?
We read this passage about Joseph resolving to continue with the marriage, but we don’t see what happened after that. Joseph took Mary as his wife, but they didn’t consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born. They lived together as husband and wife and then Mary gave birth to Jesus. But that doesn’t tell us what else was going on. It was obvious that Mary had to have been pregnant before they were married. Everyone knew how to count to nine. Of course people talked. People always talk. What must Joseph have felt? What kind of scrutiny did he face in the public eye? This just wasn’t normal.
The angel told him not to be afraid, that his wife would bear the Son of God, that God had supernaturally and miraculously formed in Mary’s womb his son. The angel told him not to be afraid, that God was going to save his people from their sins. The angel told him not to be afraid, that he was living out the fulfillment of prophecy. Have you ever wanted to live out a prophecy? That must be cool. But the angel said to not be afraid.
Things aren’t always as they seem. It didn’t work out for Joseph exactly as he had planned out. It didn’t look the way he thought it would look. It wasn’t as it seemed. But what did Joseph do? In light of all the abnormality he could have just run away. He could have left his home and gone off to figure things out, to find out who he was. Verses 24-25 say that when Joseph woke up he did as the angel told him. He was obedient. He took Mary as his wife and when her son was born they named him Jesus.
Joseph was obedient. In the face of ridiculous circumstances, Joseph was obedient. When it didn’t make sense, when it didn’t look like anything he had ever encountered, Joseph was still obedient. What kind of person must it take to be obedient in light of this kind of abnormality?
You would think that this might be enough, that Joseph could now get on with his life, but not so.
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
If Joseph thought he was done with crazy dreams, he was mistaken. Imagine again that you were in Joseph’s place. Your wife has given birth to a miraculous son and you’ve accepted that. Shepherds were there to celebrate with you at his birth in a stable, but now things have calmed down. Perhaps now you’ve even seen your wife give birth to another child. Scholars say that it’s likely that Jesus was around two years old when the wise men came, so it’s plausible that Joseph and Mary had a child of their own by this time. We don’t know. But these crazy men from the east have come to see the miracle baby, the king of the Jews that was born in Bethlehem. While that was weird, you’ve dealt with weird before.
But then there comes this night when you’re asleep, and once again an angel appears in a dream. We don’t know if Joseph regularly conversed with angels in dreams, but we assume that he didn’t. So now you’re faced with another unnerving situation. It seems that Herod, the ruler over that region, is rather put-out that there is another king in the area and is seeking to have this Jesus killed.
Scripture tells us that Joseph got up and took Mary and Jesus by night and fled to Egypt.
Joseph and Mary made their home for a time in Egypt, apart from their families and friends, apart from everything they knew. We don’t know if they had ever been to Egypt, but it’s likely they had not. In the first century, one did not travel far. If they went anywhere they most likely walked. Perhaps if they had money they would ride some sort of beast of burden. So they lived in Egypt, but if Joseph thought he was through with dreams and angels, he was wrong.
After Herod died, Joseph had yet another dream. I wonder if he was getting used to them. I wonder if anyone ever gets used to something like that. In the dream the angel told him that Jesus would be safe because those who wanted to kill him were themselves dead. We don’t know how long they had been in Egypt, but it was possibly a couple of years. So Joseph again uprooted his family and went back to Israel and moved to the region of Galilee, into a city called Nazareth.
As we’re looking at the character of Joseph, I marvel at his fortitude. He was faced with the supernatural not just once, but three separate times and he was obedient in all of them. I wonder if I would have been that obedient. I wonder if I would have been that faithful. It’s easy to assume today that if an angel came to us in a dream then we would certainly obey it. If we only had some sort of sign then we could be faithful, too. The problem with that logic is that we have the gift of hindsight that Joseph never had. He didn’t know how things were going to turn out. Yes, he knew the angel told him that Jesus would save the people from their sins, but he didn’t know what that was going to look like.
We think that Joseph, being older than Mary, had probably died before Jesus was sent to the cross. We think that he never saw his adopted son crucified and raised from the dead. Joseph never saw the culmination of his faithfulness, yet he was faithful. How often are we in a hurry to see God’s promises fulfilled? How often are we determined that our plans are going to work out and we never consult God for his plans? I marvel at Joseph. He was obedient in the face of oddity. He was obedient in the face of humiliation. He was obedient.
What about you?
It’s easy to look at Joseph as a man who simply did what the angels told him in dreams. It’s easy to see Joseph as a minor character in a major story, but I think that would be to lessen his importance. Joseph went beyond what society required of him. He was legally within his rights to either have Mary killed or at least made the object of public scorn. But he listened to what the angel said. He didn’t understand it, he didn’t know the outcome, but he listened. He was obedient. And here’s the other thing. He didn’t have to be. So often we make our litmus test right from wrong and we won’t go beyond that. Joseph could have had Mary killed and he wouldn’t have sinned. He wouldn’t have been wrong. But he went beyond that. He took Mary as his wife. In the face of scorn and humiliation, he went beyond what was expected.
Because of Joseph’ obedience, we have the opportunity to become children of God. There is a wonderful parallel here that I alluded to earlier, but didn’t spend any time developing. Joseph was Jesus’ adopted father. Because he treated Jesus as his own son, we now have the opportunity to be adopted into the Family of God, with all the rights and privileges of God’s children. Joseph set an example.
I wonder at my own capacity for obedience sometimes. I wonder at my own level of faithfulness. There’s a wonderful series of books called “The Chronicles of Narnia.” If you’ve never read these I encourage you to get them and read them. Get them and read them. Read them to your children. Read them as a family. Read these stories. They are stories about the Kingdom of God wrapped up in the guise of children’s fantasy. In one of the books two children are given a list of signs for how they will know what to do, but they are cautioned that the signs will not look like what they think they will look like.
So often life doesn’t look the way we think it should. So often our prayers are answered in different ways than we think they will be. So often things are not as they seem. I wonder if we could be as obedient as Joseph.
Things aren’t always as they seem. In light of all of what God has done and is doing in our lives, I wonder if we could be more faithful. I wonder if we could be more obedient. I marvel at the faithfulness of Joseph. I want to be that obedient. Yes, Joseph had angels appear to him. We have the Bible. We know the end result. We have the message of God. Could we be faithful to what it says? Could we be radically obedient?
It’s December now. The Christmas season is in full swing. We’ve had Black Friday shopping, Mingle and Jingle, and the Christmas parade (all in November, I might add). Perhaps God is calling us to live differently this year. Maybe there’s a new way to live, a new level of obedience we could achieve. Last week we watched a brief video about Advent Conspiracy, a new way to give gifts at Christmas. What if we engaged people more relationally? What if this year we took the opportunity to start a new life? What if we started acting more like a family with our families? What if…?
I long for the faithfulness of Joseph. I long to be radically obedient, to live differently in the face of scrutiny and scorn. I wonder if we might take the example of Joseph and, even when things don’t look like what we thought, perhaps be obedient to what and who God has asked us to do and be
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