Text: Matthew 1.18-25
Every year I get the same questions about sermon preparation for Christmas: What are you going to say different? About Mary, About Joseph, About the Magi, About his birth? That’s a good question! What’s new about the birth of Jesus? Many of you have heard the Christmas Story preach or talked about more times than you can count! When preaching on Joseph, we come to an especially difficult place. We don’t have any quotes from him. There is so much more about Mary. Let me encourage you to look for something different – maybe, for something you’ve never noticed before – or something you’ve never thought of before.
For me, I’d like to personalize it – make it more of my own. So, let’s review the story of Joseph. Then later, you can tell me if you learned something new. Truth is, if we look, every time we read the Scriptures, God reveals something special that we’ve not seen before. He teaches us something new or brings things into perspective from a different vantage point.
Have you ever noticed it for yourself? You read something you’ve read it before, but this time, you learn something new?
Let’s not assume we know the story, but rather, let’s go to the Bible. I say that because much of what we know of the Christmas story is from songs and plays and movies. Some of the stuff is fluff!
Transition: This morning I’m simply going to share with you of how Joseph submitted to the will of God – once he knew it. I’m going to share with you of the struggle he endured – and try to help you see just how great that struggle was. But first, I’d like to just begin with his situation. Rd v 18; the 1st tidbit of information we’re given is Joseph’s situation:
I. His Situation (18)
exp.: he is betrothed to a young lady named Mary; if this is a typical betrothal, she’s a young girl…a teenager say 15 years old or even younger; we all know women who were married by that age or even younger; to be betrothed means that one has pledged their ‘troth’ to another; their truth or fidelity; You know of the arranged marriages in that culture; these exist today;
ill.: back at Calvary, we adopted some IMB missionaries who serve in a country where there are arranged marriages. There were multiple instances where these young ladies were given to none believers. You and I have to take ourselves out of our current mindset to try and understand just how arranged marriages work. I think this is a very real problem for young women in middle eastern and eastern countries where young believers are given in arranged marriages to non-believers.
For Joseph, His situation is fine, except for one small detail we find in verse 18; before they came together she was found to be with child…; When you and I read about his betrothal, we understand him to be engaged to Mary. But for Joseph, it’s more that!
Jewish Weddings in that day were quite different than the weddings you’ve probably experienced. The Jewish Wedding contained two main parts:
- The Kiddushin – betrothal (pledge); this is the period of time in which v18 is referring. It might be something similar to an engagement period, but much more intense. We would see this couple as married. They have a relationship in which they are married in every way except, in the evening, she goes home to mom and dad. They’ve not consummated the relations – and won’t until after the next part…
- The Huppa (Wedding ceremony – one year later); during the Kiddushin, the bride would prove her fidelity. You’ve probably seen a Jewish wedding on TV or in a movie. Maybe you’ve even been invited to one and experienced it. It is a huge event.
Ill.: remember the wedding at Cana (John 2), when Jesus turned the water into wine? A big event… So big, they ran out of wine…
app.: So, it is during this one-year period (The Kiddushin) that it is discovered Mary is pregnant. And Joseph doesn’t know the last part of that verse yet…from the Holy Spirit.
Listen, there are some secrets you can hide, but being pregnant is practically impossible to hide.
t.s.: So, 1st we see his Situation: He has pledged his love and fidelity to Mary (and her to him), but it appears she has broken faith, but Matthew then shows us Joseph’s struggle
II. His Struggle (19-23)
exp.: rd v 19; Man, you really begin to see this man’s character when his struggle reveals his character. I think Character has come to describe a person, either good or bad. But I think the original meaning was only good and virtuous. Someone either had Character or he/she didn’t. Noah Webster wrote in 1828: The peculiar qualities, impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguish him from others; these constitute real character, and the qualities which he is supposed to possess, constitute his estimated character, or reputation. Hence we say, a character is not formed, when the person has not acquired stable and distinctive qualities. So, you either have character or you don’t. Let’s look at Scripture says about his character:
- He is righteous or just; I love this word δίκαιος; this word describes a person’s actions; to say that someone is righteous or just doesn’t mean they’re good in their heart, but that they’re good in their actions. This is a word that describes God. He is righteous.
Ps. 36.6: 6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep;
Ps. 65.5: 5 By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, man and beast you save, O Lord.
Ps. 74.19: 19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
Being righteous means acting rightly. Joseph wants to do the ‘right’ thing. He is going to act in a godly manner about this horrible, embarrassing situation he’s found himself in.
Now, I’m pretty sure you know by now his options, but let’s just review them;
- The Law said such a crime deserved death; Deu. 22.21 said any woman who played the prostitute should be put to death by stoning; But did you know that the penalty was higher for the daughter of a priest? Remember last week we learned that Mary is of the priestly lineage of Jesus. Lev 21.9; any daughter of a priest getting pregnant out of wedlock should be burned to death; Now to be fair, the laws in that day had been changed and altered and explained away that it wasn’t really that common to happen. You remember John 8…the woman caught in adultery?
- So, another option available to him would have been to charge her publicly and put her on trial for her actions. Though death might not have been the judgment, she definitely would have been publicly disgraced. She probably would have been beaten in the public square. Her family would have been humiliated. But Joseph doesn’t appear to even consider these options; death and a trial are really out of the question for him; If he wanted to though, he could have really broken her spirit. Here’s his answer: rd 1.19b – and unwilling to put her to shame.
ill.: Pause for a moment and think about your young self: how would you have handled such an embarrassment? You feel the pain of betrayal. You feel the embarrassment of her infidelity. How would you have responded? How have you treated others in the past for the way they mistreated you? Or, the way you felt you were mistreated?
This little comment in v 19 says so much about his character, his kindness – even toward this one who has hurt him! Rd 19c – resolved to divorce her quietly… He didn’t want to publicly humiliate her, so, he has still another option: (the verse continues)
3. He resolved to divorce her quietly; yes, divorce…Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, they weren’t married! They were only engaged. Remember, you can’t think of this in 21st Century, Western World terms. In a Jewish marriage, they enjoyed all the rights of a married couple, except consummation and living together; There’s something else to consider as well: The father had received a dowry for her; (they lose a worker, the other family gains one); So, if the marriage was to be dissolved, there needed to be a returning of the dowry; But that aside, consider this word ‘quietly’. Whatever the arrangements were before, Joseph has decided to do this all quietly. Gk.: λάθρᾳ (lathra); lathroscopic; privately or quietly; Acts 16.37; But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? Can I just tell you that this communicates to us so much about this man? Why would Joseph now resolve to treat her so kindly? Answer: Because of the 1st statement…he is just, righteous; just like Jesus (as we say in John 8);
I’d like to take a moment and go to Isaiah, who gives a repeated picture of Christ in the Suffering Servant; one such picture (ch. 42.1ff), reads…;
The Lord’s Chosen Servant
42 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations. (we meet the servant in v 1,4)
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. (we see his service – just, right – in v 2,3)
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
t.s.: Joseph (acting very Christ-like) looked beyond the punitive measures of the law to meet the needs of a young teen whose life had been radically changed. She was bruised and burnt out, but he didn’t break or quench her.
4. But there is one more thing here that Matthew wants us to see in the next verse (20a); When considering his options and his actions, we come to a clearer perspective of his character. Rd v20; In v 20a, this word ‘considered’, is only used one other time in the NT and that’s in Matthew (9.4); rd 20a; think evil; Gen 6.6 (sorry; regret); Joshua 7.21 (translated coveted);
ill.: This past Thursday was filled with emotion. I’m so proud – in a good way. But, I experienced an emotion that I just don’t know how to describe. In those precious moments after our grandson was born, I was filled with great emotion – an emotion I don’t know quite how to describe. After I had spoken with my mom, I thought of my dad, who passed away 20 years ago. Regret; anger; sadness; hurt; disappointment – and yet, none of the above, but some of all of the above. It was all through my thinking. No decision had to be made – no action to take. Just emotion – an indescribable emotion.
App.: that’s what we’re getting here – regret, anger, sadness, hurt, disappointment, sorrow. And in all of this – what an incredible balance between his pain, his anger, and the way he chooses not to respond in like manner – to hurt her, to cause her pain. But, instead, he responds… well, like Jesus – in a godly fashion.
- He is hurt (troubled, disturbed, angry, most lit.: stirred); ‘as he considered these things; he’s in turmoil; What is important to note is the timing – translation: while he is in turmoil…behold, an angel of the Lord…rd v 20b-23;
t.s.: So, Matthew shows us 1st, His Situation, and (2nd) how he Struggled with it all. Now, Matthew lets us in on one last bit of information about Joseph – his obedience to God’s instructions through the angel…
3. His Submission
exp.: We see his submission in v24-25; four specific details to show his submission to God’s will:
- He did
- He took
- He knew her not (Gen 4.1)
- He named
Conclusion: From what I read in Bailey’s book and MacArthur’s Commentary, Women didn’t have to go along on these journeys to handle the legal matter of registering for the census. (Read from a commentary) So, why did Joseph bring Mary along? I think it was because he was just and righteous, demonstrating a deep kindness and just how much he cares for Mary. Maybe he was concerned for her back home with what the people knew (or assumed they knew). Maybe she wasn’t safe back home without his protection. Maybe he didn’t want to leave her to have the baby alone; Maybe, he wanted to bring her along because he knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem; Whatever his reason, even in her state, he brought her along… He was a just man, a righteous man… and that was evident in what he did.
- Character is revealed through struggle. How are you responding to your struggle? Do you want to get back at, or hurt those who’ve injured you? If you were to ‘self-evaluate’ your situation, what kind of grade would you give yourself?
- Do you have a forgiving spirit toward those who’ve hurt you? It is a characteristic of our Lord – forgive them, Father, they know not what they do. It doesn’t mean you have to keep going back to that person and serve as their punching bag. It doesn’t mean you have to go back to that person and be their doormat for them to mistreat you. But there is something truly powerful in forgiving someone. Bitterness, Anger, resentment, hatred… those are just toxic emotions that destroy your spirit. Susan Cheever wrote: Bitterness is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.
- Emotion is a wonderful blessing and yet a horrid curse – all depending on what it does to you. Something I’ve learned from my wife is never to make decisions when I’m hurried or emotional. Sometimes you have to make decisions when you’re emotional, but you’ve got to get the better of your emotions and make a well thought out decision. I learned this much the hard way. I’m the kind of dad who would charge into the bedroom and spank all three of my kids – only to later find out only one of them had been at fault. I wish I would have counted to 10 first: counted by minutes… or even hours.
- Do you realize that what you believe is what you do? Much like Joseph who did as the Lord commanded; who took Mary to be his wife; who knew her not until she had given birth; who gave him the name Jesus, as was commanded. We oftentimes speak of faith as something we possess – my faith got me through it. But, faith is really a verb…