CHARACTERS OF CHRISTMAS: Joseph - Making Hard Decisions
Pastor Terry Inman
Fourteen generations after the exodus when the Jews escaped Egypt to repopulate Palestine an ancient prophetic promise was fulfilled. A young couple with royal roots, parent an heir to the David’s long vacated throne.
Centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah made two predictions. While addressing current political upheavals he forecasted a supernatural birth. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isa 7.14 (NIV)
Later he prophesied that this virgin born Immanuel (God with us) would be the future ruler. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
His reign according to the prophet would be unprecedented. His influence would increase and there would be no term limits to this universal kingdom. "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." Is. 9.6 (NIV)
What’s unusual is that at the time of conception the Roman’s were actually in power and they had already appointed a puppet ruler named Herod as the king of the Jews. He was really not looking for a successor. In fact he did everything his could do, including infanticide to eliminate this threat to his power.
This extraordinary birth of course was dependent on the full cooperation of a willing couple. Any couple wishing to parent heaven’s heir to David’s throne would not be thinking about the down side to a “virgin” birth and all the not so positive notoriety.
It’s one thing to give birth to a future king, but there were just no human models for birthing a baby God especially when it involved a pre-marital pregnancy. The gospel of Luke features the angel talking to the mommy Mary but Matthew’s gospel starts out with the lucky step-dad, Joseph.
Now Joseph is simple a guy like you and I that had to make some hard decisions. He was more than an extra in this dramatic event. He was chosen for his parental role not because he just happened to be officially engaged to Mary but because God knew he could trust his character.
He’s more than a good ole Joe from the carpenters union. He was a Godly man of integrity who wasn't afraid to make the hard decisions no matter the cost. I want to talk about three things we can all learn from his life.
Joseph made a hard decision to honor his convictions.
Joseph made a hard decision to honor his commitments.
Joseph made a hard decision to honor his calling.
Our culture has lost its understanding of commitment. Many wedding ceremonies no longer contain vows like, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance”
The exclusiveness and permanence of traditional monogamous marriage between a male and a female is being replaced with tentative and trendy significant others. They’re “significant” as long as they make us happy.
Joseph made some hard decisions not because they made him happy but because they made God happy. After a long genealogy attesting to Joseph’s Davidic linage, Matthew introduces him as Mary’s husband to be.
Joseph gets brief but honorable mention in scripture. We know very little about him. There’s just this short introduction to the nativity, and some travel log before and after Christ’s birth. But what we do know he is very significant. Let me read the narratives were Joseph is featured.
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly." Matt. 1.18, 19 (NIV)
Let me start there. He was a righteous man; his righteousness put him squarely on the horns of a dilemma. He had a very hard decision to make.
This passage says Mary was pledged: (betrothed NKJV) to be married to Joseph. Then it refers to Joseph, as her “husband” even though the marriage had not yet been consummated with sexual intimacy.
It was customary in ancient Jewish culture for the engagement to be a moral and legal commitment to marriage. It was a binding covenant. Relatives or family friends would have been matchmakers. The engaged or betrothed couple would sign pledges and move in with parents for up to a year. The marriage would be final when the husband took his wife home.
The summer before I was married I was invited to live with Mary’s family in Modesto. I worked and saved up for the wedding. Like my brother-in-law before me, I ate and slept under the watchful eye of my mother and father-in-law. My room was next door to Mary’s. Trust me that will test your metal! I was sure happy when I got to take Mary home!
Joseph preserved his wife’s virginity. That is still righteous even in our permissive culture. God wants us to enjoy sexual fulfillment with-in the marital boundaries he has created because it is in our best interest. Engagement is a season of promise that provides a healthy opportunity for emotional and spiritual bonding before entering into sexual intimacy.
Joseph honored his convictions. He also honored his commitments. He honored his pledge to Mary. He honored God and his companion by abstinence until the marriage was fully consummated.
When it became obvious that she had conceived out of wedlock he also wanted to honor the law and yet protect the woman he loved from public exposure and severe punishment. He had some tough decisions to make.
He was considering a confidential divorce when a dream changed his convictions. Because he was righteous he could not in good conscience consummate the marriage to a woman who appeared to be unfaithful. The law allowed for a private divorce. A full public divorce for sexual infidelity could carry the sentence of stoning even though that was unusual then.
Joseph had to make a hard decision that would leave both his convictions about the law and his compassion for Mary in tack. The angel gave him an alternative. His response to this revelation is evidence that he made difficult decisions based on conviction and not on convenience.
Matthew says, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” Matt. 1.20, 21 (NIV)
Joseph’s conviction was to honor God, not to preserve his or Mary’s reputation. He was willing to ignore tradition due to God’s intervention.
His small village would be abuzz with gossip. It would even mean rejection.
Joseph had the conviction to face shame, disgrace and ridicule. When it comes to conviction one supernatural visitation can trump years of religious enculturation. One supernatural encounter turned a religious extremist named Saul into a passionate missionary of Jesus named Paul.
Matthew who writes this gospel with a theme of prophetic fulfillment says, “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').” Matt. 1.22, 23 (NIV)
Matthew also records evidence that Joseph made hard decisions based his calling. He was more than a good carpenter and a nice fiancée; he was a man of purpose! He was obedient to God’s calling on his life no matter what it meant. He was a husband and father with destiny.
"When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." Matt. 1.24-25 (NIV)
Just naming the baby Jesus makes it clear that Joseph understood his role to help raise the savior. Jesus or Yeshua is a compound word that means, God rescues or delivers.
Joseph was there to love Mary and provide protection and provision for this special son with an incredible mission.
There would be more dreams with angelic orders. Each time, Joseph’s calling to God, his wife and his family took precedence over his career.
Three eastern dignitaries arrived when Jesus was learning to walk and talk. They were following his star. They were also asked by the paranoid ruler Herod to report what they found so he could carry out his vile scheme.
After gratefully accepting their unique gifts, typically given to royalty, Joseph had a second instructive dream with God’s angelic messenger.
"When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'” Matt. 2.13 (NIV)
Again Joseph made a hard decision based on his calling not his personal preferences. I don’t think he was thrilled to death about the relocation. Why would any Jewish person want to go back to Egypt? Let me tell you I’ve been there Egypt is not the Promised Land.
Again he would have to pull up stakes, and leave family and friends. It wouldn’t be that great of a business decision ether. His customer base was in Bethlehem. He put God’s purposes and his child’s wellbeing over location and vocation. How do we make our lifestyle decisions?
When I was only two years old my Father answered God’s call to be one of eleven missionaries to go to Japan after the war. He left his ranching business, and a secure management position. His in-laws were not happy. God did amazing things though the ministry there in a very short time.
Joseph did not hesitate to obey. It was part of his calling. “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'” Matt. 2.14-15 (NIV)
When Herod the King of Jews died Joseph had a third dream. This time the angel of the Lord told him it was time to return home. But when he arrived he learned that Herod’s son was reigning in Judea so he made a course correction to Galilee and settled in the small village of Nazareth.
When Jesus answered his own calling. He made an announcement to the hometown folks of Nazareth that he was the Messianic deliverer promised by Isaiah the prophet. He stood up in the synagogue and read…
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4.18 (NIV)
The bible says the homefolks were amazed at his gracious words but had a hard time believing in his destiny. Their questions actually paid a great complement to his earthy father. They said, Isn’t this Joseph’s son?
A simple man of integrity raised Jesus. Joseph made hard decisions to honor his convictions, his commitments and his calling.
Do you have some hard decisions to make? First have you made a clear decision to follow Jesus? The bible says, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Rom. 10.9 (NIV)