Parents for God's Son
Passage: Luke 1:26–1:38
Parents for God's Son
Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38
December 21st, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. The Criteria
Consider with me some of the questions that one adoption organization encourages birth mothers to ask couples who are prospective parents for her soon-to-be-born or recently born baby:
What are the ages of the prospective adoptive parents? What religion are the prospective adoptive parents? Do the prospective adoptive parents have any other children? How do the prospective adoptive parents family and friends feel about them adopting children? Do the prospective adoptive parents have any pets? How long have the prospective adoptive parents been married? Are their any diseases that run in the prospective adoptive mom or adoptive dad's families? What do the prospective adoptive parents do for holidays?
Of course, if you were thinking about giving your only child to someone else, you would probably have a thousand others questions to ask. But what would be the deciding factor? What would it be about a couple that would cause you to hand over your son or daughter? Would there be one clearly defined non-negotiable?
But given our proximity to Christmas, I'd really like us to consider these questions, not in light of a mother giving up her only child, but in light of God giving up his only Son.
When God caused His Son, the word of God that had been with him and one with him for all eternity, when God caused that word to become flesh, as John describes it in John 14, to take on the form of a human baby, what was the deciding factor when it came to the question of into whose arms that baby would be placed.
The Scriptures tell us the names of those human beings to whom God entrusted his Son: Joseph and Mary. And as we finish our series on God-centered parenting, I think it's important and helpful if we consider what God's word tells us about these two people. We can't sit down and ask them questions like a birth mother might with prospective parents, but we can think about what these two had in common in light of what the New Testament teaches us.
So turn with me, first to Luke 1:26-38.
II. The Passage: "And You Shall Call His Name Jesus" (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38)
Let's look at what is chronologically the first episode related to the human parents of Jesus Christ. Let's listen and consider what we learn from Luke 1 about this young woman named Mary.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
Now what do we know about Mary before this point? Not much at all. We know from later on in the passage that she is a relative of Elizabeth, a wife of the priest Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist. But this word "relative" is very vague.
We also know that since Mary is betrothed, she is probably between 13 and 14 years old. This was the normal time for a girl to be betrothed in Jewish culture.
Now, keep this episode in mind as we turn to Matthew 1:18-25. Here we read about a scene that took place months after Gabriel's visit to Mary. Again, listen to what we learn here about this man Joseph who was described in Luke 1:27 of being of the house of David. Matthew 1:18...
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Again, we could ask, what do we know about Joseph? About as much as we do about Mary. All we really know is what Luke 1 has already confirmed, that Joseph is a descendant of King David.
But as we think about these two episodes together, we begin to see a pattern emerge; a pattern that I believe helps us understand why God chose this man and this woman to be the parents of His Son. Let's take a closer look at this pattern.
III. A Parent Proving Pattern
If we consider Luke 1 and Matthew 1 side by side, we see that there are three characteristics that both of these accounts have in common.
First, in both scenes, Mary and Joseph are confronted by the words of God.
In both of these episodes, an angel appears, to Mary while she is awake, and to Joseph while he sleeps. The word "angel" means "messenger", and that's exactly what see happening here: these angels are bringing Joseph and Mary words from God.
Now, if you can imagine yourself in this position, it would be disturbing enough to have an angel visit you and speak to you, but consider as well what these people would have thought about the messages they were hearing.
Both messages centered on the imminent birth of a son. Both messages revealed that the Holy Spirit was responsible for this pregnancy. And the only phrase these passages share verbatim is the phrase, "and you shall call his name Jesus".
Joseph learns that this child will save the people from their sins. Mary learns that He will reign on the throne of David. Can you imagine what these two must have thought about the words of God that were being announced to them?
Pretty incredible. Pretty scary.
But in light of this, notice another characteristic that these stories have in common.
Second, in both of these accounts, we find that Mary and Joseph are faced with the difficult consequences of obedience.
Luke 1:29 tells us Mary was greatly troubled when she first saw the angel. She was troubled by the way he greeted her, an obscure peasant girl. But if she was troubled by this, how much more do you think she was disturbed by the message the angel delivered.
"You're going to have a baby Mary, and this baby is going to be called the "Son of the Most High", and he will reign over the house of Jacob on the throne of David. What? What's that? You don't understand how this is possible? Well, listen the Holy Spirit is going to come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you and "poof", you'll be pregnant!"
Wow! I don't know about you, but I would be sufficiently freaked out at this point.
And think about Joseph. To understand the difficult situation Joseph was in here, we need to know a little more about the first century Jewish culture in which this decision was made.
When we read that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, what we're talking about is a year-long engagement period. But the difference between this engagement and engagements today is that this betrothal was as binding as marriage. The man and woman were actually referred to as husband and wife, and a divorce was required to end the betrothal.
At the end of this year, the marriage would be completed with a processional march from the home of the bride's family, in which the husband would then take the wife into his home.
But if during this year-long betrothal, the woman was found to be unfaithful, this was considered adultery. And this is where Joseph finds himself.
In this situation, Joseph had three choices:
First, he could proceed with the marriage. But obviously, if he did this, Joseph, from his point of view would be marrying an immoral woman, and in doing so, he would be calling his character into question by ignoring her sin or possibly making himself look like he was complicit in her sin.
Second, he could follow the Law of Moses and turn her over to the religious leaders for a public trial and divorce. If guilty, according to Deuteronomy 22, these leaders could have stoned her to death. While it was still a possibility, by the first century, this punishment was not widely practiced. Instead, Mary would have been publicly disgraced and ostracized because of her supposed sin.
Finally, Joseph's third option was to divorce her in a less public way. Rabbinic law offered a divorce proceeding where only two witnesses needed to be present.
And according to verse 19, this is exactly what Joseph chose to do: And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
But when he heard the angels message, everything changed.
In light of God's words, God's message given through these angels, both Joseph and Mary were confronted with the difficult consequences of obedience. For Mary it was fear of the unknown and maybe fear of failure in light of such an awesome responsibility. For Joseph, it was the culturally shameful decision to marry a woman who was so obviously immoral in the mind of the community.
But as we think about how they responded we discover our third characteristic.
Third, in both episodes, Mary and Joseph respond to God's words with a willing spirit.
In spite of the reservation they may have had, in spite of the possible fear, possible doubt, in spite of the questions that would come from others, in spite of the dirty looks, in spite of the difficult consequences of obeying God, both Joseph and Mary respond to God with submission and obedience:
(Luke 1:38) And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
(Matthew 1:24) When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him...
So, if we step back for a minute and think about the three characteristics these stories have in common, I think we can begin to see the contours of that deciding factor, the reason God chose this Jewish virgin from among thousands of Jewish virgins; the reason that God chose this descendant of David from among many descendants of David.
It isn't simply the fact that Joseph and Mary heard the word of God. It isn't simply the fact that they were willing to overcome difficult consequences. It is simply the fact they were decent people who typically did the right thing.
Though God's ultimate purposes in choosing these two are known only to God, what these Scriptures tell us is that Joseph and Mary were suitable parents for God's Son because Joseph and Mary were people who were available for God's will, not matter the cost.
They were available to God, and there availability is seen in the willing spirit they demonstrate in the face of God's words, even when the worldly consequences are very, very real.
It was this availability that made them the right parents for the Son of God who would be born in the likeness of man.
IV. God Continues to Choose Parents
Now, you may be tempted to believe that this is just one of those rare circumstances in which God had an assignment for some special people who lived a long time ago, far, far away from here, and because of that, this really has nothing to do with you and me.
I mean come on, were talking about the incarnation here; about God becoming man. This is not something that will ever happen again. So what do these parents have to do with us? God's not still looking for parents for His Son, is He? He's not still choosing people, choosing parents to help reveal Jesus Christ to the world, is He?
Of course He is.
While God may have chosen Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus, He is still looking for parents who will raise up the name of His Son. While these two Jewish young people may have been the right parents for God's Son during the years of His earthly ministry, God still chooses parents who will be for His Son, who will live for and stand for and labor for Jesus Christ.
And the most important quality for the task of parenting, the most important quality that any of us can possess, regardless of whether or not you're a parent, the most important quality that any of can possess is an availability for God's will.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that the most important quality you must possess if you are to be the best parent you can be is the one we see modeled by Mary and Joseph? Do you believe availability to the will of God, no matter the cost, is the most important piece of the parenting puzzle?
What does it mean to be available for God's will?
It means being soft; having a soft heart when God speaks. It means being responsive to His desires. It means being submissive to His commands.
Parents and non-parents, we're not so different from Joseph and Mary, and their situation here. We too are daily confronted by the words of God concerning Jesus. They are declared in Scripture. They are declared in our hearts. We too are daily faced with the difficult consequences of obedience. It might be scary to obey. People might look at us like we're crazy. We might be rejected. We might fail. We might lose something. But we too are daily called to respond to God with a willing spirit.
We are called to be available for God's will. When He says stop, we stop. When He says go, we go. When He says give, we give. When He says love, we love. When He says forgive, we forgive. When He says speak, we speak. When He says listen, we listen. When He says watch, we watch. When He says rejoice, we rejoice. When He speaks, we obey. Why? Because He is God. Because He loves us and always knows what is best.
Mary and Joseph did not try to negotiate with God or rationalize half-hearted obedience. "How about this God. You let me marry Joseph, and then we can have a baby, and then you can do whatever you want to do to that baby. How does that sound?"
"Hold on, angel. How about this? I will take Mary if you can instantly transport us to a far away land where Mary can immediately have the baby and we can immediately be married. That would be a whole lot easier."
There were no "But, God"(s) coming out of their mouths. "But, God, that doesn't...But God, if we..."
No, Joseph and Mary were available to God. They had been before the angels ever spoke. They weren't perfect. But by the grace of God working in their lives they had lived their lives seeking to please God. Matthew 1:19...Joseph, "being a just (or righteous) man". And what kind of woman would a man like this be looking for? A righteous woman. They had been and were now available for God's will, no matter the cost.
Parents, in spite of all the messages the world sends to us about parenting, we must believe that loving our child or putting our child first is not THE most important thing if we are to be the best parents we can be. The most important thing is loving God and putting God first.
Your success as a parent, my success as a parent, as God defines success, is directly related to our devotion, trust, and obedience to the Creator. Don't gauge your parenting by first thinking about how much time you spend with your kids. Consider it in light of how much time you spend with God. That's not to say time with your kids is not important. It most definitely is. But the quality of that time matters, and the only way the quality will qualify as "quality time" is when God has your heart.
So why is all of this so important? The experts might say, "The most important thing is to be available for your kids". So why are we saying, "the most important thing is to be available for God's will"?
Because, you and I are not fit to be the parents God expects.
Well, that doesn't sound like a very nice thing to say. But it's the truth. In each of our hearts there is a "deadbeat dad", a "misguided mom" who is tempting us to compromise, to rationalize, to get ticked off, to check out, sentimentalize, to coddle, to be afraid, to give up as parents.
It's what the Bible calls sin, and it's not just a series of choices; it's condition. It's a heart condition. And because we are corrupted by this tendency of turning from God and making ourselves the center of everything, because of sin, we desperately need for God to be the parent of our children.
But once we recognize that, the answer is not to leave our child in a basket on God's doorstep. No, once we recognize that, the answer is to accept that God wants to parent your child through you!
Don't you think that's what Mary and Joseph were praying every night? "God, guide us. God, help us. God, give us your wisdom."
The Scriptures speak of only one way that God makes unfit parents like us into parents who parent according to His desires: we must receive the gift that only Mary and Joseph's son can give us.
Because of their availability for the will of God, the will of God was accomplished through Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sins that the angel declared to Joseph before Jesus' birth is now a reality because of Jesus' death on the cross. The reign of Christ that Mary heard announced is now possible because of Jesus' resurrection. He is Lord, and He can take people like us and make us people like Himself.
Parents, are you responsive to the will of God? If you are not, you will not respond to your child in the way you should, in the way God desires. Only when we recognize that we are unfit in and of ourselves, only when we sign ourselves and our child over to God, only when we trust in Jesus Christ as our only hope as parents will we be the parents we know we should be.
I don't know what kind of presents you bought for your children, but could there be a better gift to give them than a mom and/or dad who is available for the will of God, no matter the cost?
When we turn to Jesus Christ as parents, we will turn our children to Jesus as well. As we are taught by God as parents, God will teach our children as well. As we are disciplined by God, in love, then we will discipline in love as well.
May the man and the woman in the nativity scene always remind us that, like Mary and Joseph, God is calling us to be available for His will; to be parents for His Son.