Introduction: Christmas Eve at my parent’s house in the sixties and seventies was really special for me and my four siblings. My mom and dad would put us all to bed by 9pm and then tell us to wait until 6am before we were allowed to hurry out to the living room to see what gifts we’d received. I have to admit that it was hard to sleep with the excitement running so high. I shared a room with my older brother. Since I was four years younger, I would doze on and off while he stayed awake most of the night counting down the seconds (Yes, that’s right) until we could leave our room. From time to time, he would wake me up and say, “Kerry, in just 7,560 more seconds we can open our presents.” For the mathematically challenged among us, that’s two and half hours. Then about every ten minutes he would subtract 600 more seconds and give me a new total. With about thirty minutes (1,800 seconds) to go, he would get my little brother who slept in another room with my grandpa and two sisters and we would all countdown the final minutes. Then at exactly 6am, we would run out of our bedroom to the living room and make as much noise as possible to assure that my parents were also awake. I will never forget those times and how excited we were to open our presents! As far as the Bauman family was concerned, Christmas was the most exciting day of the year and we could barely wait for it to come. Those are good memories for me, as I’m sure they are for my brothers and sisters, but obviously today I see Christmas a little differently.
As a Christian I recognize it is the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And while kids around the world still can’t wait to open the presents they will find under the tree, as a pastor I spend a lot of my time thinking about the meaning of Christmas and what that first Christmas must have been like for those who were there to witness our Savior’s birth. After all, this is what marks the first coming of the Son of God into our world! The Bible gives us some clues as to what they thought about it and that’s why last week I began a brief five week preaching series called, “Christmas through the Eyes of ….”
In our first message we considered what the birth of Jesus must have looked like to His mother Mary. We recognized that she was a woman of faith who trusted the words from God spoken to her through the angel Gabriel. She praised the Lord for bestowing upon her a great honor … to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. Though her role required that she forfeit her freedom to choose her own destinyand that she would also endure great pain as the mother of the Son of God, she was up to the task. Listen to her words to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” What a remarkable young woman she was. Perhaps the thing I like most about her was that Mary was a pretty normal. She was young and afraid at first. She had trouble understanding how she could be with child when she was still a virgin. And yet she had faith to believe the words of God and become the mother of the promised Messiah. Her story actually gives me some hope that if I trust God, maybe He can use me too! Now, this morning I’d like to spend our time considering what the first Christmas must have looked like to her husband, Joseph, the man who was thought to be the father of Jesus. Certainly, he saw it from a little different perspective than his wife. Now let’s open our Bibles to Matthew 1:18-25and let’s see what we can learn about this godly man.
Background: Here is the chronological order of the events leading up to our text this morning. Mary was told by the angel, Gabriel, that she would bear the Son of the Most High God and that He would sit on the throne of His father, David, forever (See Luke 1:30-33; Psalm 89:35-36). Upon receiving this news, Matthew explains that she left Nazareth with great haste and went up into the hill country of Judea to be with her cousin, Elizabeth whom Gabriel had announced was also with child. After staying for about three months, Mary returned to her own house. It was probably soon after this that the events recorded here in Matthew 1:18-25occurred.No doubt that her quick getaway and the fact that she was pregnant when she returned caused Joseph, the young man to whom she was betrothed, great concern. This may well have been the very reason why the angel of the Lord appeared to him, to ensure that the first advent of God’s Son would go just as planned. And though it saddled Joseph with some difficult choices, by virtue of his response we come to see some of the character traits that made him the kind of man that God would use for His purposes.
- Joseph had A GOOD REPUTATION(Matthew 1:18-19– Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.). In the first century it was disgraceful for a woman that was pledged to be married to be found pregnant. It was also very dangerous because of the penalty that could have been imposed (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 —But if the…evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel).Compound this with the fact that Joseph was a godly man with a godly heritage(his ancestry could be traced all the way back to King David who was called a man after God’s own heart) and you have the makings of a true scandal. Now, it’s one thing when a man tarnishes his own image, but when he is truly innocent yet stands accused of wrong-doing(in this case marrying a promiscuous woman), the price to be paid is often a ruined reputation. Consider Joseph’s situation:
- He knew that hehad demonstrated sexual restraint with Mary.He also knew that she had not claimed that another man had forced himself on her. The only logical conclusion then was that she must have had an affair. Matthew confirms that Joseph couldn’t have been the father in two ways: Firstwith the phrase “before they came together” which is another way of saying before they were sexually involved. Second, by calling him a righteous man. This is not to say that he was sinless, but that he was law-abiding and upright in character, cut out of the same mold as Noah(See Genesis 6:9), Simeon(See Luke 2:25) and John the Baptist(See Mark 6:20) … all of whom were considered righteous. Certainly had he used his bride-to-be to satisfy his own lustful passions, these words would not have been said of Joseph.
- He didn’t really know Mary all that well.Jewish texts suggest that Galilean couples were allowed no privacy until the wedding night. With the engagement period lasting only about a year, this would have afforded them little opportunity to get to know each other at a deeper level, or for that matter, to be involved sexually. Perhaps he wondered if his parents, in arranging their marriage, had errantly chosen a promiscuous woman for him.
- He was expected to divorce her. Honor is very important to any Jew(See Proverbs 22:1).Because of this the right thing for Joseph, as demanded by Jewish law and custom,was to divorce his wife. To go ahead with the marriage would bring reproach upon himself and his family in three ways: (1) he would have to ignore the laws and customs of the Jews to do so. This would have resulted in a great loss of respect by his countrymen. (2)he would have had to embrace as a wife a woman who likely betrayed him in the worst possible manner; and (3)those who knew him would assume that he was the father, otherwise he would have divorced Mary. Application: Yet there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Joseph was anything more than honorable man, despite the fact that his reputation was clearly on the line. That’s why the words of the angel to him matter so much: “…do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”Because Joseph recognized that God was in it, he cast aside any concern for what others might think about him and continued to do the next right thing as any other righteous man would have done. Illustration: That’s an important lesson for us all. Doing the right thing before God is more important than being concerned what others might think. During the early days of the Salvation Army, William Boothand his associates were bitterly attacked in the press by religious leaders and government leaders alike. Whenever his son, Bramwell, showed Booth a newspaper attack, the General would reply, “Bramwell, fifty years hence it will matter very little indeed how these people treated us; it will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.” SOMETIMES A GOOD REPUTATION SHOULD NOT BE OUR ALL-CONSUMING PURSUIT. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES AT THE COST OF DOING THE WILL OF GOD. (Good Reputation)
- He was willing to OBEY(Matthew 1:20-24– But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife. Joseph never hesitated once he had heard the angel’s decree. We’re simply told that hetook Mary as his wife. This probably happened right away, so that by the time they made it to Bethlehem, the two had been married for several months. Given the circumstances, Joseph’s willingness to do what was commanded of him was truly remarkable.
- He obeyed despite the fact that what the angel said to him in his dream seemed impossible. This kind of thing had never happened before! In order to obey, Joseph had to demonstrate absolute faith in the Word of the Lord, the same kind that the writer of Hebrewsdescribes in 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Though the miracle hadn’t taken place yet, Joseph trusted God that it would.
- He obeyed despite the fact that divorce would have been the more financially advantageous route. Had he wanted to, Joseph could have taken Mary to court and impounded her dowry(all of the assets that she brought into the marriage) for bringing unnecessary shame to him. In addition, he could have recouped the bride priceif he had paid one.
- He obeyed despite the fact that he knew others would not believe their story. I’m sure that more than a few people assumed Joseph and Mary had created a tall tale to cover their own sexual promiscuity. They were both young(Jewish women often married as soon as they reached puberty. Jewish men were a little older, around 18-20). They were entering a time when their sexual desires were longing to be fulfilled. Though the expectation was that they would remain pure during their engagement, a common assumption was that if a man and a woman were alone together for more than twenty minutes, they had already engaged in intercourse. Like many assumptions this one was probably made by those who reflected on their own experience. Application: It made little sense for Joseph to remain with Mary. So why did he go through with it? Because to do otherwise would have required that he disobey God, something he was unwilling to do. Illustration: When it comes to our relationship with God, we would do well to have the same kind of dogged determination to follow His commands as Joseph did.By the way, if you’re wondering what I mean by dogged determination, consider this story by Archibald Rutledgeabout a man whose dog had just been killed in a forest fire. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked out-of-doors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his lunch bucket while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that’s exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. But he didn’t move. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master’s word. With tearful eyes, the dog’s owner said, “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it.” (Good Reputation and a Willingness to Obey)
- Joseph was driven by UNCONDITIONAL LOVE(Matthew 1:25– Joseph took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus). We know that Joseph immediately determined to love his son though the Bible makes it clear that Jesus was really the Son of God. Time and again, he demonstrated time that his love for his adopted son was no different than that of any other father for his natural children.
- Joseph presented his son to God(See Luke 2:22-24). As was written in the Law, Joseph (and Mary) took Jesus to the temple to present their firstborn to the Lord. He did this because he recognized that His Son was to be holy to the Lord.
- Joseph protected his sonfrom Herod(Matthew 2:13-15 — Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son). Egypt is situated to the southwest of Judea, about sixty miles from Bethlehem. Two thousand years ago, it was a Roman province. Though there were many Jews living there, it was by no means “home” for Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. Still they were beyond the reach of Herod and that’s what was important. It is remarkable that this is the only recorded time in which our Savior was out of Palestine, and that it was in the land where the children of Israel had suffered so much and so long under the oppression of the Egyptian kings.The very place that was the land of bondage and groaning for the Jews, had become the land of refuge and safety for the new-born King of Judea.
- Joseph prepared his son for life(Matthew 13:54-55 — Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son?). Joseph taught Jesus the skills he would need to be able to support himself and perhaps a family. In short, he did for Jesus all that any father would do for a child he loved unconditionally.
Application:Like Joseph, this Christmas will you give to God…
- Your reputation? Joseph understood thatGod’s plans always take priority over our reputations. Obviously, he passed this on to Jesus, as He too, made Himself of no reputation (See Philippians 2:7 NKJV).
- Your obedience? The only kind of worthwhile obedience is unquestioned obedience. D. L. MOODY said it this way: “There are very few who in their hearts do not believe in God, but WHAT THEY WILL NOT DO is give Him exclusive right of way.” Joseph never hesitated.
- Your love? One of the primary ways that love is measured is in terms of sacrifice.“Greater love has no one than this,” the Bible says, “that he should lay down his life for a friend—John 15:13). Based on what we know of Joseph, it is right to assume that he spent the rest of his days doing all that he could to demonstrate his love for the Son of God.
Conclusion: Several years ago, I was at a Christmas program where the children were to share what they wanted to give to Jesus in celebration of His birthday. While a few said other things, the vast majority simply replied, “MY HEART.” I have to be honest, after about the tenth time that I heard that same answer, I started to think, “Okay, boys and girls. It’s time to be a little more creative.” As I consider that same response today, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, I am pretty certain that they got it exactly right. The greatest gift we can give to our Lord is the same one that Joseph gave…His Untainted Reputation; His Unquestioned Obedience and His unconditional love.