How do we respond to God when He does things that confuse us? Let’s be honest, God’s ways are mysterious, but we can discover how to discern what God is doing. The story of Joseph helps us learn how to walk by faith and trust the character of God revealed in the Scriptures when we aren’t sure what is going on in our world.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from Our Teaching Team:
If you missed last week, let me catch you up on the heart behind today’s message and the rest of our series leading up to Christmas.
- So much has changed in 2020, and for some it’s been minimal change and adjustments in order to live out or normal days, but for others of us, it’s been revolutionary, one change after another after another.
- So we wanted to anchor us in the coming week so that we don’t miss out on the anticipation of the celebration that is the birth of Jesus Christ.
- So as we lead up to Christmas, and it all culminates with song, Christmas nostalgia, family, presents, prayers and joy, we didn’t want to miss out on the intricate story that is Immanuel, God with us.
- Last week, John began with the story of Mary, the young woman who was charged with carrying Jesus, and how much God trusted her, and how he trusts us with the important message of Jesus.
This week we’re going to read and look at Joseph, her husband, and the role he played in this story that has pierced human existence for over 2000 years.
There isn’t much written about Joseph in the Bible, so we’re going to take a bit of a different approach today. We’re going to read the passage and stop along the way to process the story from Joseph’s perspective before we look at insights from the story of Joseph can be applied to our lives. Because as we’ll read, God does Trust us, but it’s also fair to say that God also confuses us.
At the beginning of the Christmas story, it was not a good experience for Joseph. Joseph was an unsung hero. We don’t sing songs about Joseph. We sing songs about Mary, about the magi, and even about the drummer boy who I cannot seem to find in the Bible. Even still, Joseph plays an important role in this most amazing story.
Let’s read together:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:18
We cannot just stop there. Did you hear/read that?
Joseph was betrothed to Mary. They were committed to each other, but they had not consummated their relationship. Betrothal was even more of a commitment than engagement in ours. Betrothal was like the opposite of the modern day “friends with benefits.” Betrothal had all the commitment and none of the intimacy.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but she was pregnant before they were ever married or ever had a physical relationship. So let me ask you the question gentlemen, how would you respond to the same exact news that Joseph is now hearing? Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. These are real people going through what we now know as the first Christmas, but for them it was just life.
A “Good” Decision
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19
When Joseph heard that his betrothed was pregnant, I imagine he was shocked and hurt. Now Joseph was a good man. Rather than wanting revenge which in those days a woman caught in the act of adultery could be stoned to death. Instead because Joseph was a good man, he thought he would quietly divorce her. He would allow her to go on with her own life. In this moment in Joseph’s life, he didn’t want to go the route of vengeance, but he didn’t go all the way to be courageous either.
Now that was a different time and it was a different place, yet when you read the story you cannot help but wonder: Why didn’t Joseph send someone to find out what had happened with Mary? Why did Joseph just give up so quickly? Why did he just assume the worst and make a decision without having any conversation with her. Maybe she had been a victim. Maybe she was remorseful about what had happened. I realize what actually had happened would have never crossed his mind. I mean, how could it!?
Some versions of the Bible use the phrase “righteous man” to describe Joseph.
So he was wrestling with the tension of being an adherent to the law, but also filled with grace and mercy as to not disgrace Mary. He knew that being pregnant out of wedlock would ruin Mary, and the her child would forever be labeled as a child born out of wedlock which was a very shameful thing in their culture. It would be something he would never be able to shake.
Many of us desire to do what’s good so we try not to do what’s bad. I mean really, it’s hard enough just to try and do what’s good and you see sometimes I think we think that having a relationship with God means moving out of bad decision-making into good decision-making, but actually it’s more than that. God calls us to make courageous decisions. It was a good decision for Joseph not to take revenge, but the most courageous decision for Joseph to have made would have been to reach out and to find out what was happening in her life.
The Scriptures are interesting because there’s a little verse that summarizes this journey with God. This spiritual walk that we have is not about not doing bad things, it’s not a list of things not to do, it’s not even a list of things to do. It’s about becoming the person God created us to be. There’s this little verse Ephesians 4:28 that says: “Stop stealing.” That’s a good verse, right? “Stop stealing.” We shouldn’t take things from other people. We shouldn’t do bad things but instead, the verse continues: “Get a job.” That’s good! That’s progress. We’ve gone from not doing bad to doing something good. Too often, that’s where we stop. We try to stop stealing and instead we try to get a job. But the verse continues: “Get a job so that you can be generous with other people in need.”
You see, God is always calling us to the most courageous choice that we can make. He invites us to make the most sacrificial choice that we could make.
In that moment, Joseph had decided he did not want to bring revenge, he just wanted to end it quietly rather than make the courageous decision to choose to stay with her no matter what.
But God intervenes.
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.” Matthew 1:20-21
Here we have an angel speaking to fear and encouraging Joseph to continue to walk out the plan of taking Mary as his wife, because what was in her was directly from God.
Have you ever had God intervene to guide you?
Are you willing to see the signs of God’s guidance in your life?
Here’s the amazing thing: God will guide us even without miraculous intervention, even without an angel, even without a shooting star. In fact, you can grow to know God so well that His thoughts become your thoughts.
Not only is Joseph challenged to stay with Mary, but to also be obedient to the next step, naming the baby Jesus, and pointing him to his purpose.
John mentioned this last week, but I love how the name of Jesus in Hebrew means “salvation.” If you could read the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament, you would see the word “salvation” over and over. It’s the word “Yeshua.” Over and over you would see the name of Jesus all throughout the Scriptures that were pointing towards the birth of the Messiah.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:22-23
Now we have Joseph not only being a passive participant to the birth of Jesus, but he is actively participating in the fulfillment of prophecy.
Written 700 years before Jesus was born and found in scrolls that were scientifically carbon dated before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah 7 says:
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’) – Isaiah 7:14
So back to the story of Joseph…
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:24-25
Joseph wakes up from the dream and we are not told if he questioned the dream, or was filled with doubt about his next step. No, we’re told he obeyed, he did as the Lord commanded him.
In the end, Joseph did the right thing. He did not abandon Mary even though everything inside of him wanted to do so. I mean he thought leaving her was actually doing the right thing!
You see what we learn from the story of Joseph is this: God’s ways are better than our ways. They may not make sense at first, but we can trust God. God was calling Joseph from being good to becoming courageous. God is calling us to a deeper level of trust as well. He has things for us on the other side of what does not make sense.
Here are a few thoughts about wrestling with God’s plan to be with us, and our plans of execution:
Our confusion grows in isolation
In his own mind we know that Joseph was considering the circumstances, thinking about Mary’s future, thinking about his own future. When we have so much consider it can become a weight that is too hard to carry. But all of this was in his own mind. I can imagine the conversation he’s having with himself.
- “I cannot believe this is happening.”
- “Sure, the Holy Spirit got your pregnant.”
- “What is my family going to think…especially my mother?!”
- “What will our life look like?”
Inevitably, overthinking something leads us to recycling our own thoughts, and in the end choosing what we think is best.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (ESV) – Proverbs 18:1
“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”– Ruydard Kipling in The Light That Failed
When we try to fit God into our pragmatic approach to life, we inevitably will be confused with life’s outcomes.
So, how do we break out of our own minds, our own understanding?
For Joseph, he didn’t seek out God’s guidance, God intervened into his situation through a dream. Our confusion about current circumstances can be turned into wisdom with time spent with God.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55
You see sometimes when God invites us to trust Him with our finances, He calls us to sacrifice. When we give more money the miracle that we experience is learning to live on less.
God’s ways are so much higher than our ways, even if they don’t make sense!
The promise of God is not a simple, paved road with clear road signs and check in stations, it’s more of a long windy road through difficult terrain and at times tough elements, and yet we GET to explore this terrain knowing we’re not alone, and the promise is yet to come.
God sheds light on our confusion.
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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1: 20-23
By leaving our isolation and connecting with God, we open up the door to better understand.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. – Psalm 19:7-8
Some versions say in verse 8 that the commands of the Lord “give insight for living”
Many times we want the
want to the short answer to the what and why everything is happening, but what we find in this interaction with Joseph is that he receives both. He receives instruction AND he receives insight.
“Joseph didn’t have the honor of fathering Mary’s first child, but he had the great joy and responsibility of guiding the son of God so that ALL could be reconciled back to their heavenly father.”
How did he do this? Because in the dream, he was planted with the seed of the big WHY…he was branded with the purpose of God’s plan. What seemed confusing in the natural, morphs into something empowering in the supernatural.
Obedience melts away confusion
There were three things we see Joseph do that tells us he was walking in obedience:
- He took Mary home as his wife
- He didn’t consummate the marriage until after she gave birth
- He and Mary gave the baby the name they were instructed to give…Jesus
So now that Joseph is out of his own head and isolation, he’s had the dream that sheds light on his circumstance, he now has a chance to walk it out.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. – James 1:22
Joseph is now put into position to either do what is right in his own eyes, or to truly rely on what God has asked him to do. When we choose to do what is right in our own eyes we start down a path that leads to sin, a separation from God.
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. 17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. – James 4:13-17
So what does it mean to be obedient…according to Joseph and his interaction with the angel we see that it’s:
- Acknowledging what we would prefer
- Lining ourselves up to what is right
- Allowing God to speak to us/guide us
- Understanding the why
- No matter what it is, choosing to obey
You see, the story of Joseph didn’t necessarily get easier from there.
- He had other angels come and visit him in his life.
- Soon after Jesus was born, the evil King Herod tried to kill the baby being worshiped by the Magi so King Herod ordered the murder of all baby boys under the age of 2.
- Joseph’s family was in danger so he moved them to Egypt.
- By choosing to marry this woman his life got harder, but he also had a front row seat into God’s work in the world through Jesus.
Are we willing to make sacrifices that bring life to other people? Are we willing to be inconvenienced?
When we trust God in every way – with our relationships, with our finances, with our plans, with our hopes, with our dreams, we get a front row seat to God’s work in our lives too!