This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Characters of Christmas". See series.
This sermon is part of “The Characters of Christmas” sermon series. See the whole series here.
Matthew’s gospel tells the story of Joseph and how Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah. Joseph was a descendant of Abraham, as shown in Matthew’s detailed description of Jesus’ lineage. This genealogy is extremely important for Matthew’s gospel, because Matthew is writing to Jewish people to introduce them to the Messiah.
Joseph is very much a part of the Christmas story. We will discover that Joseph must learn to align his life to God’s plan as he leads. This is a truth every believer in Jesus the Messiah must learn to obey. Before we look at Joseph’s story, let me introduce you to a man named Timothy.
Timothy is a Senior Software Developer for a large corporation and is studying for his master’s degree in business administration. He has been married to his wife for fifteen years. They have two children, a son who is eight-years-old and a daughter who is six. They have a very busy life because both of their children love soccer and every Saturday morning Timothy and his wife take their kids to soccer games. They are often at different locations and so they make plans every week to join up for lunch at Chick-Fil-A.
Timothy and his wife are strong believers in Christ, and church is central to their life. Every Sunday morning you will find Timothy and his family sitting in the same row at church, center section, just off to the right-hand side of the pew, because Tim will only sit on the end—if he sits anywhere else he becomes claustrophobic. Their kids love the children’s ministry on Sunday and Wednesday evening while mom and dad enjoy a Bible study of their own. They are a typical family and Timothy leads a simple and comfortable life.
Confirmation and Decision to Act
Matthew provides an overview concerning the birth of Christ. Matthew does not give the detail that Luke does, but centers our focus on Joseph. Joseph is betrothed to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The betrothal period lasted about a year and it tested the fidelity of the couple to one another prior to the wedding celebration.
We learn in verse 18 that Mary was “found” to be with child before they came together. This would suggest that Mary had been unfaithful to Joseph in the betrothal period. It was typical during the betrothal period that husband and wife had very little, if any, contact with one another. The fact that Mary was found to be pregnant could suggest that she was beginning to show. But Matthew confirms for us what Mary learned from Gabriel, that the child Mary carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. At this point in the story, Joseph has no idea concerning the details of this amazing conception.
I think its probably safe to say that Joseph was feeling betrayed and was hurting. In verse 19 we get a glimpse of the truly remarkable person of Joseph. Joseph is said to have been a just man and, according to the Law, adultery was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22). Since Joseph does not have any details yet about Mary’s pregnancy, he assumes she has been unfaithful. But Joseph decided not to make a spectacle of Mary and publicly shame her, he decided to divorce her quietly. This shows both the character and commitment of Joseph to the Law and to Mary. As Joseph considers all of this, he falls asleep and his decision to act is divinely intercepted and changed.
Like Joseph, Timothy’s simple and comfortable life is about to change. Every year at his church the men’s ministry has their annual men’s retreat. This retreat is set in a rugged environment, with simple accommodations. The retreat is held every winter in the mountains about two hours from the church. The men have come to expect cold days, snow, and a great time of fellowship and study of God’s Word on a theme developed by the pastoral staff at the church. The church hires a speaker for the weekend to speak on the theme. The year Timothy went, the theme centered on the idea of listening to Lord when he calls. Timothy was not able to go every year because of different obligations, but this year he was free to join the guys, study God’s Word, and fellowship together.
The retreat was a great opportunity for the men in the church to reach out to someone they knew and invite them to the retreat. Saturday night was the session where the speaker would challenge men to decide to follow Christ. As Timothy was listening to the speaker talk about how God calls and uses people to serve him, Timothy began to have an uncomfortable feeling in his heart. This feeling was nothing he ever experienced before. Timothy was sensing the Lord leading him to change the focus his master’s degree from business administration to a degree in ministry. God was calling Timothy into full-time ministry. You see, Timothy was an excellent speaker and was often asked to teach Bible studies, small groups, and sometime even fill the pulpit. It began to appear that God was using those experiences for a purpose, and to call him into ministry. Timothy did not know what to do and he kept this idea close to his heart. He would ponder this for the next couple of days, trying to make sense of God’s leading before speaking to his family.
Communication and Resolve
As Joseph sits in quiet contemplation over what to do about his situation and the options available to him, beside the hurt he feels, the intensity of the situation results in him falling asleep. As he sleeps, God speaks to Joseph. This is indicated in verse 24, which tells us what happens after Joseph wakes up. It suggests that the instructions that Joseph receives came from an angel of the Lord and took place in a dream.
I believe that God revealed his plan to Mary first and then to Joseph. Matthew tells us that Mary was found to be pregnant and, on this discovery, Joseph is contemplating a specific action. As Joseph sleeps, the dream he has is very real and the communication he receives helps Joseph make his decision. In Joseph’s dream, an angel of the Lord appears to him.
The angel tells Joseph several key factors that are important to the story. First, the angel clarifies how Mary has conceived. The angel confirms that this miraculous conception is of the Holy Spirit, just what Gabriel told Mary (Luke 1:35). Second, the angel affirms the mission of the baby that is to be born. Joseph is instructed to name the boy “Jesus.” The angel says that this child will save his people from their sin. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, and the Jewish audience to whom Matthew is writing to, the people Jesus is coming to save are the Jewish people. The third and final factor that is significant to note in this passage is that all the angel is speaking of fulfills what the Prophets had spoken about, specifically Isaiah 7:14, as the angel confirms to Joseph. The angel has effectively communicated with Joseph and brought clarification to his troubling situation.
On Sunday morning, the final day of the retreat, Timothy sat in the morning worship session considering what he sensed the Lord was calling him to do. Fear began to set in as Timothy’s mind was flooded with “what if” scenarios related to God’s call. Timothy had friends in the ministry, and he knew the pay scale was not the greatest, and he would be walking away from a decent salary that kept his family very comfortable. He also knew that ministry is a difficult place to be. He had seen friends in ministry who were beaten and bruised emotionally. But then he also knew of the amazing blessing that ministry provides when people come to Christ and grow in God’s Word. Timothy was very confused, and everything in him wanted to run a thousand miles an hour in the opposite direction. In his heart he knew that would be wrong because he would be running from God’s calling. The ride home from the retreat was a quiet one. It provided a great opportunity for Timothy to sit in silence, meditate, and seek further clarification from the Lord in prayer.
As Timothy pulled into the garage after this life-changing retreat, he kept his thoughts to himself. His wife and children were happy to see him and they all embraced. After a time of catching up on weekend events he had missed, and giving a general explanation of the great retreat, Timothy went into his home office and put some things on his desk. He grabbed his cell phone and sent a text message to his pastor, asking him to have breakfast the next morning. The pastor agreed and the two men met for breakfast where Timothy told his pastor what he believed was God’s calling. Timothy received some great counsel from his friend and pastor and the next chapter of Timothy’s life was about to begin.
Back in Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that after the angel speaks to Joseph in a dream, he woke up and was immediately resolved to do as the angel instructed. Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife. This action would have been frowned upon in Joseph’s world as would have been the pregnancy of Mary, but Joseph didn’t care because he was obeying the command of God.
Matthew’s gospel does not go into detail about the birth of Christ, but it does tell us that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Both Mary and Joseph immediately obeyed the Lord’s command and welcomed Jesus, their Messiah into the world.
Timothy also chose to obey God. He eventually would share with his wife what God was doing in his life. He shared with her how he believed God wanted him to change his course of study and pursue a divinity degree that would prepare him for ministry. Timothy’s wife was extremely supportive of this decision and began mentally preparing herself to be a pastor’s wife. Timothy was fortunate to be in a Christian University that offered both a business degree track as well as a divinity track, and Timothy changed his focus of study. God would allow Timothy to stay employed as a software developer, while finishing his master’s degree. The church where Timothy attended was also a training ground which afforded him many places to volunteer his time as he followed God’s call in his life. Timothy learned how to align his life to God’s plan when he calls, and Timothy stepped out in obedience.
As believers in Christ, our desire is to live in the center of God’s will. But often times we pray and wait for God to announce his plan to us. Joseph’s life is a story of a man who lives in obedience to the Lord and through his life of obedience God revealed his plan to him. Joseph’s resolve was to immediately follow. We do not need to look and wait for God’s will to show up. Every day we are to walk in obedience to the Lord and as we do, he reveals his plan to us.
This plan could involve a radical change in life, as the story of Timothy provides, or could be something as simple as sharing the gospel with a co-worker. Either way we must learn to align our lives to God’s plan as he calls and take a step of obedience to execute what God is calling us to do in life. When we obey, we understand what it means to be standing in the center of God’s will and we will have a front row seat as we watch what God will do through us for his glory.
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.