JOSEPH: the righteous man of God
Reading: Matthew 1: 18-25
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
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.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel“—which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
I enjoy some of the old films (movies)
- I like the ‘film star quality’ of the actors and actresses
- The characters are generally straightforward…you know what’s what and who is who
- The storyline is comfortably predictable but usually has a few twists and turns to maintain your interest
- Many of the best old films have a strong moral dimension
When films and shows are being advertised there is a lot of discussion about who is ‘top of the bill”
- Heated discussions take place
- There is a lot of rivalry and jostling for position
- Eventually a ‘star’ is named or maybe two or three equal stars
- The credits other lesser categories, such as ‘also starring’ and ‘co-starring’ and ‘other parts played by’
- Some people are merely ‘extras’ who ‘fill’ the scene
Some characters in the Bible get the star billing, too
- Who has not heard of Abraham, Moses, King David, Jonah, Simon Peter, Pontius Pilate and the Apostle Paul?
But have you heard of Asaph, who wrote many Psalms?
- Or of Ahithophel, prophetic adviser to King David
- Or Tabitha (Dorcas) who was renown for assisting the poor
- Or Phinehas, the prophet (Aaron’s grandson) who stood up and intervened between God and the Israelites when plague threatened to wipe them out
And what about the ‘supporting actors’, who play such a crucial role in God’s plan and purposes?
- Jethro, Moses’ father in law…who not only gave him a job but also such wise advice about leading the people
- Aaron and Hur…holding up Moses’ arms during the battle
- Boaz…who married Ruth and continued the family line that led to Jesus Himself
- The slave girl who advised Naaman about Elisha
- Memucan who wisely advised King Xerxes (Ahaseurus) when Queen Vashti refused to attend his banquet…which meant that Esther became queen
- The young men who badly advised Solomon’s son, Rehoboam about the treatment of the people…and led to a splitting of the kingdom
- Joseph of Arimathea who gave up his private tomb for use by the crucified Jesus
These characters may not have the ‘movie star status’ of some Bible personalities but their influence was considerable
- Without their actions the course of Jewish history and therefore of civilization as a whole would have been very different
- Even those who acted unwisely or foolishly!
Perhaps you are one of the ‘supporting cast’
- You see yourself as a ‘behind the scenes’ person
- You could never be a leader
- You are much happier working alongside others than in spearheading a new initiative!
If that’s you, welcome aboard!
General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once commented that God must have liked ordinary people because he made so many of them!
And God reminds us through Micah, chapter 4 that we must not despise the day of small things
- You may see yourself as a small piece in the jigsaw
- But without you the jigsaw would be incomplete
Have you ever tried to fix a leaking tap without a washer? Or use a screw without the raw plug? Or light the Christmas tree when one bulb has blown?
- You are needed in God’s Kingdom work, however modest you might consider your role to be
You may be thinking that you are not even a ‘supporting actor’ but more like an ‘extra’, without a speaking part…
- Well you may not have a speaking part but never let Satan convince you that you are a ‘spare part’
- God is not looking for people with talent…he gives those talents in the first place and wants them used for the benefit of others in His world
God is first and foremost looking for people who are obedient to His will
- Those who will use the talent (gifting) or talents for His glory
Let’s look at one such person who played a ‘supporting role’ but a crucial one… JOSEPH, MARY’S HUSBAND
- We might argue that we should say, ‘Mary, Joseph’s wife’!
- But here the order is different because Mary has the ‘lead role’ and Joseph has the supporting part
- BUT BOTH ARE ESSENTIAL in God’s plan and purpose
Because Joseph was faithful and obedient to God, the plan of salvation in Christ was fulfilled
Let’s look at some key phrases from the passage we read earlier…
His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph
- In those days a betrothal was a legally binding affair
- Mary’s father had probably selected Joseph
- Breaking a ‘pledge’ could land the person concerned in big trouble!
My father used to warn me that there is no such thing as loyalty these days…but loyalty motivated by LOVE is a powerful tool in God’s hands
And Mary and Joseph had made a pledge before God
- One in two out of every co-habiting couple separate within five years, compared to 1 in 12 married couples…because they have PLEDGED to one another
- What pledges have you and I made before God…how well have we kept them?
So we read… Before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit
- Strict laws governed the relationship between a man and his intended wife
- Joseph knew that he and Mary had not slept together…yet she was pregnant
- And Mary’s explanation was that God Himself had been instrumental in creating the foetus within her
It’s hardly surprising if Joseph found this a bit hard to swallow
- In fact even the suggestion was blasphemous…it sounded like some pagan idea about a ‘god’ coming to impregnate a woman and create a ‘god-child’
Mind you there are some verses in Genesis 6 (1-3) that gives some credence to this idea!
More and more people were born, until finally they spread all over the earth. Some of their daughters were so beautiful that supernatural beings came down and married the ones they wanted. Then the LORD said, “I won’t let my life-giving breath remain in anyone forever. No one will live for more than one hundred and twenty years.” [Contemporary English Version]
Nevertheless, Mary’s explanation must have seemed like a fantasy to the godly, faithful Joseph…
So we read… Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man
- No doubt that is why Mary’s family were so delighted when the marriage was agreed
- Joseph was reckoned among the ‘righteous’ men
- It appears that this status was only conferred on very special people
- He was a man of high standing in the community
- His life was pointed out as an example to others
- He was a ‘gold medal winner’ when it came to pleasing God
And now this!
So we read… He did not want to expose her to public disgrace so he had in mind to divorce her quietly
- It’s noteworthy that Joseph was primarily concerned with Mary’s welfare and not his own
- But he must have felt terrible…his whole world collapsed around him…just imagine the scene…[“Joseph, dear, I’ve got something important to tell you”]
He could have brought the whole force of the Jewish law down on her…which might even have led to her execution
- Instead, he shielded her and took the burden upon himself
How quick some of us are to steer free of controversy and ‘stay safe’, rather than stepping forward and taking responsibility
- Being a leader involves more than having a ‘label’ attached to you
- We can all be leaders by demonstrating humility, putting others ahead of ourselves and ‘seeking God’s kingdom first of all’
So we read… But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream
- Do you believe in angels? What do they do?
- Do they still speak and communicate God’s words?
- Does God still speak in dreams?
Or are the events of the Bible from another age? If this is so, is the part of the Bible dealing with the life of the early church only there out of historic interest?
And then the angel told him something that would change his life for ever…
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.
- So it really WAS true!
- Mary had not been imagining it or making up a story to cover her behaviour…there was no other man involved after all…she was the wonderful young woman that he knew and loved
- What a relief for Joseph!
And what an amazing message…
- First, the angel told him the gender of the child
- Then told Joseph the child’s name…and WHAT a name!
- And finally told him why the child was to be born
This is a million miles away from those who argue that we are the random product of evolution, an extension of the animal kingdom and certainly of no interest to a Divine Being
God is keenly interested in every aspect of our lives…so we must learn to acknowledge Him and give Him more praise in all that we do
It is SO important to give God the glory
- When we are praised…give God the glory
- When we feel pleased with our efforts…give God the glory
- When we praise others…give God the glory
- When things go well…when things seem to go wrong…give God the glory
And so we read… All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, God with us.
- But these words were spoken hundreds of years before
- Most people would have forgotten all about it…but God has a long memory!
It may be that you have been given a promise by God…but nothing seems to have occurred…
- Has God forgotten or changed His mind?
- No, He promises, when you call I will answer… only not always in the way or at the time you expect!
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3: 9)
It may be that the answer to your prayer will only come after you have forgotten that you prayed it or died…but GOD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN
And so we read… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
- Joseph didn’t just give lip service to obedience…he WAS obedient
- Obedience is better than sacrifice
We can preach great sermons…sing hymns with conviction…give our testimony…these are powerful and commendable…
- But true faith is obeying God when the consequences of doing so are far from clear!
- And Joseph was such a man…He had not earned the accolade of being righteous for nothing!
He married Mary but did not have sexual union with her until after Jesus was born
- Because if he HAD done it might have been claimed that it was actually HIS son and not the Only Begotten of the Father, conceived of the Holy Spirit
And he gave him the name ‘Jesus’
- Jesus was a fairly common name then, as now…but this Jesus was the Chosen One…the One who would save His people from their sins
And righteous man Joseph had performed a vital role in ensuring that salvation would come to the world
- Mary was the star; Joseph was the supporting actor
- But unlike many movie stars, the great men and women of the Bible exhibit humility and a desire to further God’s kingdom rather than their own ambitions
We don’t hear much about Joseph after these events…he largely fades into obscurity…and might have died quite young
- His OT namesake receives much more attention in the Bible and in sermons (How many sermons have you heard on the NT Joseph?)
So it must be for you and me…learning to take whatever position in life He deems suitable for us
- So that whether we have what seems to be a major role in the Kingdom or a lesser role, we submit to God’s will
- To remember the words of John the Baptist: “He must grow more important (increase); I must grow less important (decrease)”
Gypsy Smith was an English evangelist, who was mightily used by God … but his watchword was always: ”Lord, keep me low”.
Not low in spirit… but humble before God.
Preachers…indeed, all of us… need to take note of Gypsy Smith’s life principle… and the example set by righteous man, Joseph.