We are in the second week of our Advent series called “Christmas with Joseph: When Things don’t Go as Planned.” Our goal in this series is twofold: To learn from Joseph on how to respond to difficult and surprising circumstances, and then also to see the birth and beauty of Jesus in a fresh new way.
Last week we looked at the integrity and kindness of Joseph and saw that he was committed—even under enormous pressure—to do the right thing in the right way. But here’s the thing—what this story teaches us is that often times our moral commitments and our moral character isn’t enough to figure a situation out.
We all face situations in life where the rules don’t neatly apply, where there’s not a clear-cut easy decision to make. And so, what do we need? We need wisdom. We need a broader perspective on the whole. We need a God-given perspective on our situation. And this is what Joseph gets. But how do we get it too?
In 1967, a 17-year-old energetic and athletic young lady dove into the water. But after misjudging the shallowness of the water she suffered a severe fracture and was immediately paralyzed from the shoulders down. One minute she’s running and leaping and diving with her whole life and dreams ahead of her; the next minute she’s a quadriplegic.
As you can imagine, this young lady suffered from deep depression and comprehensive pain. But since that accident she has gone on to become a world-famous artist, author, vocalist, conference speaker, and champion for the disabled across the world. Many of you know her name—Joni Eareckson Tada. But how did she do it? She once said this, “Perspective is everything when you are experiencing the challenges of life.”
What did Joni need to recover from her depression and to turn her quadriplegia into a life and ministry that has blessed the world? Perspective. But not just any perspective. She needed and received a God-given perspective–that God wanted to use her disability to bring healing and hope to the lives of millions. Joni’s circumstances didn’t change; her perspective on them changed.
It was the same with Joseph. Here he is and the circumstances of Mary’s unplanned pregnancy didn’t change. What changed for Joseph? His whole perspective on the situation. What is Joseph given here? He’s not given a new situation; he’s given a new perspective on the same situation. This is what we need as well. Each one of us needs a God-given perspective on our lives and on our circumstances.
But here’s the challenge. Every day our natural tendency is to lean on our own understanding. Ever since humanity’s fall in the Garden, our natural tendency is to assume that our immediate view of things is always the right view of things. What’s going to help us overcome that natural tendency and to seek out a God-given perspective on our lives?
From this text, I want us to see three key truths about the Lord: The Lord leads his people, saves his people, and reassures his people. This should motivate us to always be seeking his perspective on things.
The Lord Leads Us
It doesn’t matter who you are, all of us sense a great need for direction and guidance in life. Eric Liddell once said, “If you are not guided by God, you will be guided by something or someone else.” But one of the promises that every Christian can hold onto and draw upon is that as God’s children, as God’s sheep, he promises to lead us. But how do we receive and experience the Lord’s leading?
What’s the first thing that we see here? It says, “As Joseph was considering these things.” Joseph took the time to think this through. The word means he gave serious thought to this. Joseph wasn’t flying off the handle after he heard Mary’s news and immediately said, “That’s it, the betrothal is off!” No, he took the time to think things through.
We can’t be hasty in our decision making. We’ve got to slow down and think it through. Listen to what Paul tells Timothy later on in the New Testament, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).
Which is it? Is the Lord going to lead me and give me understanding in this or do I need to think it through? It’s always a both/and. The Lord leads his people, but we have a part to play in this and the first step is slowing down and giving serious thought to our situation.
We have to think through our situation through the lens of scriptural truth. We’ve got to search the scriptures. As a just man and a man of faith, we believe that Joseph was thinking about this through the lens of the biblical truth that was available to him at the time.
I think here’s the point where someone might say,
Yeah but this isn’t how Joseph is led. We’re not told Joseph was studying the Bible here. Joseph is taking a snooze and an angel just shows up to him in a dream! Now, yes, it’s an angel of the Lord and so the Lord is leading him but it’s coming through this miraculous encounter with an angel! Where’s my angel? Where’s my angelic visit that’s going to give me the right perspective and take away my fears?
This is where we need to keep in mind where we’re at in human history. It’s interesting when you study the different periods in the Bible where God was giving new divine authoritative revelation, it frequently came with miraculous signs and the activity of angels. But we’re no longer living in a period where God is giving new divine authoritative revelation to his people. That period has closed and ceased with the completion of the New Testament.
So the reason that we shouldn’t expect and wait for Gabriel to interrupt our nap and lead us in a decision is because in the scriptures we have been given God’s full and final revelation. The process of receiving God’s leading is going to be different for Joseph than it is for us, but the promise of his leading is the same.
The Lord leads his people and he leads us through his Word. The more we are in God’s Word, the more we have the perspective from above. Maybe think of the Bible like the ultimate weather report or traffic report. Why do we rely on those reports? Because they have a greater view of the whole. They have the view from above. The satellite or the helicopter isn’t limited in its view like we are.
You see friend, what is the Bible? It’s the view from above. Now are we going to flip open the scriptures and immediately be told who we should marry or whether we should buy this or that. No, but the more you get acquainted with God’s Word and God’s ways through the Bible, the more you get a sense of his wisdom and will in a particular situation.
I was recently speaking with my neighbor David Wells and he was sharing with me that the more he has lived with his wife Jane and gotten to know her, the more in tune he is with what she’s thinking or wanting in a particular situation. She doesn’t even need to say a word about something he needs to do; all she needs is to just give him a look. Sometimes, he said, he doesn’t even need that. Why? Because he’s spent so much time getting acquainted with her.
And this is kind of how it works in the Christian life. The more we’re in the Bible, the more we’re studying and searching the Scriptures, the more the Holy Spirit will take that truth and apply it to our minds and hearts as we think through a situation. It’s like in our hearts the Spirit will give us a look and a prompting. The Lord leads us when we slow down and think things through. When we search the scriptures and get acquainted with his will.
He also leads us through his sovereign hand of providence. We have to trust the unexpected providence of God. The Lord leads us through the 101 circumstances and situations that we encounter in life. Joseph didn’t sign up for this visit. This wasn’t in his appointment book. No, this came out of nowhere and God used this visit to providentially steer Joseph’s life in a different direction.
One of the ways we can look at this visit is the hand of God’s providence in our lives. In 101 ways, every day God is orchestrating the events of our lives and steering us in the direction we should go. Our job is to trust his leading. Deep down we’ve got to truly believe that he is working all things together for our good. Not some things. Not most things. All things—the unexpected circumstances that we didn’t sign up for are completely under his control.
The Lord leads his people. The way you and I draw upon that leading and experience that leading is we must slow down and think things through. We must search the Bible and get acquainted with God’s will. We must trust God’s hand of unexpected providence.
The next key truth that we see about the Lord is that the Lord saves his people.
The Lord Saves Us
What is Joseph told with this revelation that he gets? He’s first told that Mary’s story was true. The child is indeed from the Holy Spirit. But what’s the next thing he learns? The next thing he learns is that he isn’t getting a choice in picking out the name. God is going to pick out his own name.
He’s told this, “You shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” In Hebrew the name is Yeshua, which means “The Lord saves.” But saves from what? Low self-esteem, a financial downturn? No. What has Jesus come to do? What is his ultimate mission? The Lord has come to save us from our sins.
I realize that this word “sin” isn’t a popular word in our day. But it’s a relevant word, it’s a timely word, because over and over the Bible teaches us that the real problem that needs to be dealt with, the real problem that is wreaking havoc upon humanity is our sin. The very fact that sin and salvation is being mentioned here is proof-positive that this is the perspective that all of us need, and the perspective that all of us are looking for in life.
When we’re facing dilemmas and predicaments, what are we all looking for? A perspective that is both honest and hopeful at the same time. We want to hear from someone who is going to speak the truth to us, even if we don’t want to hear it, but also is going to deeply encourage us to go forward. Friend, you are never going to find someone who is more honest and more hopeful with you than God himself. God is the faithful friend and the wonderful counselor that all of us are looking for.
Someone said this, “You can never measure your own nose by just looking at it yourself.” Go ahead and try. You can’t do it. You need some outside source and gives you a perspective that you simply can’t get on your own. Friend, you and I are never going to be able to accurately measure what’s wrong with this world without God’s outside help and perspective.
Now what is sin? It’s the twisting of good things and a turning from our good design. It’s leaning on our own understanding. It’s saying “no” to God and “yes” to ourselves. It’s believing that God isn’t good and isn’t needed. This is the problem.
Here’s the wonderful thing about the Christian faith. It never comes to us with just the diagnosis. It never comes to us and says “Here’s what ails you.” No, it gives us the diagnosis and the cure. It says, “Here’s what ails you but there’s a cure for what ails you. The cure is Jesus.” The great problem wreaking havoc in our hearts and world, this is what God has come to deal with.
Sin and death had come into this world by a man and the only way it could be dealt with was by a man, but all of us had fallen short of God’s moral standard. So, we needed someone who would be born of a virgin, someone who would not be tainted with the transmission of sin through the covenant headship of Adam. Someone who didn’t need to bear the judgment for his own sin, but could bear the judgment for our sins.
I heard one religious scholar put it like this,
If you were to ask Muhammad, “Are you able to save me from my sins?” he would say that you’re blaspheming. If you asked Buddha, “Are you able to save me from my sins?” he would say, you're still in the veil of delusion. But if you ask Jesus Christ, “Are you able to save me from my sins?” he would say to you, “My child that’s why I came. I’m not just able to, I’m eager to. I am the friend of sinners. I was born to die that you might live. I went to Calvary carrying a cross and I have taken all of sins penalties. So that when you come to me, when you believe in me, I promise you all will be forgiven.”
The Bible says that “This is a trustworthy statement and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.” That’s why he came!
This is what makes Christianity so unique. Every other religious system and philosophy tells us that you must pay the price to get to God. Only Christianity says that God has paid the price to get to you. Every other religious system and philosophy offers you the tools to try and build a ladder up to God. Only Christianity offers you a ladder that God has built to come down to you. In the person and work of Jesus, God has built a ladder down from heaven to rescue us.
This is our hope! This is the reason that Christians celebrate Christmas. When we were at our worst, God gave us his best. When we turned our backs on God, he never turned his back on us. What a friend, what a Savior, what a God! He saves us from our limited perspectives and the personal brokenness caused by our sin. The Lord saves his people.
The Lord Reassures Us
I need reassuring. I don’t know about you but my faith is often very feeble. I’m very wobbly. I may not come across that way but every week one of my constant prayers is “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” What do we see God doing here? With this dream, God is reassuring Joseph that Mary’s story was true.
Do you see what else is here in vs. 22-23? What is he doing through Matthew? He’s reassuring his people that his plan is right on schedule, that God is faithful to fulfill his promises. Matthew points out that all of this was to fulfill what God has promised through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before this.
One of the things that a God-given perspective gives to us is a reassurance of God’s faithfulness in our lives. He draws near to us and reassures us that we can count on him and that he is faithful.
When my wife Lindsay and I had already decided to take this call to move up here, one of the things that was important to us was to live in the town that we were ministering in. But as we looked at the real estate market in this area it looked impossible. I remember pouring out my heart to the Lord, “God this seems impossible. But Lord I know you’ve called us here, please somehow provide us home in Hamilton.”
A day or so later, my daughter Hannah and I we’re out fixing our fence in the backyard of our Florida home, as we were getting it ready to sell. She looked down and noticed something in the grass. She picked it up and it was a little charred piece of newspaper. About a week earlier we had had a fire in our fire pit. Well, a piece of the remains from the newspaper we used to start the fire had blown about 20 feet over by the fence. She shows me this little piece of newspaper and in big bold print it had a Scripture reference on it—Psalm 68:6. I looked at her and I said, “Do you know what that verse says?” And she said, “No.” I said, “Neither do I, let’s go look it up!” This is what I read—"God settles the solitary in a home.”
Friends, the Lord used that little verse, that little moment, to reassure us that somehow God was going to provide. A few days later we learned of the couple in this church that wanted to sell us their home in Hamilton! The Lord reassures his people.
Now, it doesn’t always happen like that—finding a newspaper clipping in the grass with a Scripture reference on it—that’s not the normative way that God reassures us. I’m not hunting around every day looking for newspaper clippings everywhere, but the Lord reassures his people. Through a song, a text, or a phone call, or maybe even through a sermon like this. The Lord will draw near to us and somehow, in some way, he reassures us that he is faithful and that he is with us.
What are we told here? Jesus is none other than God with us. This is one of the most beautiful things about Christianity. We are told that the God who rules this universe came into this world and became one of us. The Incarnation itself, God taking on human flesh in Jesus, reassures us that he knows what it’s like to be us.
Have you shed tears? Jesus wept. Have you been betrayed by some close friend? Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver. Have you ever felt alone and forsaken? Jesus was abandoned when he could have used his friends the most. Have you faced temptations? Jesus was tempted in every way. Have you faced poverty? Jesus had no place to lay his head. Have you faced challenges and trials of various kinds? Jesus walked the via Delarosa with a cross on his back.
Jesus is the “with-us” God. The great reason that should motivate us to seek out and to wait for a God-given perspective is because in the gospel we know that God has been there. He knows our name, he knows our every weakness, and he is with us. And as Joni said, “Getting this perspective means everything when we’re experiencing the challenges of life.”
I recently came across this poem, and it’s quickly become one of my favorites.
He does not lead me year by year, nor even day by day;
But step by step my path unfolds, my Lord directs my way.
Tomorrow’s plans I do not know; I only know this minute.
But he will say, ‘This is the way, By faith now walk ye in it.’
And I am glad that it is so, today’s enough to bear;
And when tomorrow comes, his grace shall far exceed its care.
What need to worry then, or fret'? The God who gave his Son,
Holds all my moments in his hand, and gives them one by one.
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Planting Pastor of Gospel City Fellowship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire..