Topic: Matthew Passage: Matthew 1:18–1:25
December 16th, 2012
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
I. Deciding Factors
I want you to take a moment and consider some of the biggest decisions you’ve made in your life.
Decisions like where to live, or where to go to school, or what kind of career, who to marry, how many kids to have, whether to stay married, whether or not to buy a house, or buy a car, or how to invest your money.
In all of these big decisions, I’d like you to think back and see if you can remember what the deciding factor was or deciding factors were that led you to make the decision you did. Was it financial profit? Was it personal happiness? Was it obligation? Was it a desire to please someone else?
For all of our decisions, there are deciding factors. There are factors on the surface, and then there are factors at work deep down.
For example, you may choose a certain career because of the job security, the perks, and the potential for advancement. But deep down it’s fear, a fear of risk that may be the real deciding factor; fear that keeps you from pursuing your dream job instead.
This morning, I want to look at THE deciding factor that changed a man named Joseph, what it was that turned him around 180 degrees at a pivotal moment in his life.
I. The Passage: “Joseph…Do Not Fear” (1:18-25)
Look with me at Matthew 1:18-25:
This morning we are continuing our Advent/Christmas series, the one in which we are taking a Journey to Bethlehem. But this journey is not one we make by way of our feet, but instead, by way of our faith. We’ve travelled with the Magi and with the shepherds on their journeys to Bethlehem. But this morning we look to Joseph, and to a situation that actually inspired his journey. Listen as I read…
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothedto 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.
So we see that Matthew begins by highlighting the fact that the birth of Jesus was and remains unlike any other human birth. Listen again to the angel’s words to Joseph (20): “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.”
Something astonishing, something amazing, something miraculous had taken place in Mary’s womb. The creative power of God that brought the stars into existence and formed man from the ground was now forming a body for the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit!
There’s only problem: before the angel came to him, Joseph had no idea this is what really happened. He didn’t know. We know, from verse 18, but Joseph didn’t.
And without this key piece of information, this amazing, mind-boggling event, which should have inspired celebration and awe, inspires nothing but sorrow and heartbreak. Without knowing what God was doing, the news which should have lifted Joseph’s heart to heaven, instead, brings his whole world crashing down.
The woman Joseph loved, was pregnant. She must have trembled with fear about his reaction to the news. She must have realized that the story behind her conception would be considered (no pun intended) inconceivable. Who knows whether or not she tried to explain it to him.
What we do know is Joseph believed what most of us would believe: Mary had been unfaithful. She was pledged to be his wife, but now there was another man. And the evidence of her unfaithfulness was growing in her womb.
So What would he do? What should he do?
A. Joseph’s Dilemma (1:18, 19)
Well, first think about Joseph’s dilemma.
When we read that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, what we're talking about is a year long engagement period that was typical in Jewish culture. But this kind of engagement was more binding than what we think of today. Those involved were referred to as husband and wife, and a divorce was required to end this betrothal.
And 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. But 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.
The sense here is that Joseph is a man who wants to follow God’s law, but also a compassionate man who wants to spare this woman the shame of a public proceeding. But even these decisions must have been gut-wrenching for Joseph. Confusion, disbelief, betrayal, hurt, bitterness, despair. Joseph must have felt all of these things.
But, as we see, something changed all of this. One truth became the deciding factor that turned this whole thing around.
B. Joseph’s Dream (1:20-23)
It is God, through his angel, that breaks into Joseph’s grief and reveals that key piece of information that Joseph has been missing. Joseph’s dream provides the answer to Joseph’s dilemma!
Mary’s child is not a result of her sin. He is a result of God’s favor. Mary is more than innocent. She is blessed! She has been blessed with an honor that no other woman will ever know.
Not only is Joseph now permitted to take Mary into his home in marriage, he is actually commanded to do so by God himself. And he is instructed to name the child Jesus, the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which in turn comes from the name Yehoshua (or as we say it, Joshua).
Why this name? Because “He will save His people from their sins”, for, in Hebrew, Yehoshua means “Yahweh (the God of Israel), Yahweh is salvation”. And we also see here that God’s work concerning Jesus is in fulfillment of God’s word concerning Jesus, a word given by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Joseph’s time.
You see what Matthew is trying to do here is explain Jesus’ lineage for his readers. As the husband of Mary and the one who names Jesus, Joseph legally becomes the adoptive father of Jesus, and thus Jesus fulfills the prophecies that taught that the Messiah was to come from the house, the family of David.
C. Joseph’s Decision (1:24, 25)
And so in verses 24 and 25 we see how Joseph’s dilemma, which was solved by Joseph’s dream, finally led to and informed Joseph’s decision. I’m sure with great relief and with humility and wonder, Joseph obeyed God and took Mary as his wife. Joseph was a just man, a righteous man; and we see that confirmed here in his faith-filled response to God.
But I think there is something else we can and should take from this story.
III. THE Deciding Factor
Let me propose this is as a principle we see at work here:
The word and work of God concerning Jesus should always be THE deciding factor in our decisions, because (as we see here) the reality of Jesus makes all the difference.
Brothers and sisters, friends, I have great news for you this morning. We don’t have to wait for an angel to speak to us in order to make the right decisions in our life. Jesus Christ has been revealed. The word and work of God concerning Christ have been made known to us through the pages of Scripture.
Like this episode with Joseph, is the reality of Jesus Christ the deciding factor in your decisions; in all of them? Because Jesus has come and saved us from our sins, because Immanuel was in our midst, everything has changed.
But have you changed? With the revelation of Jesus through the angel, Joseph’s decision changed. Without this word from God, Joseph would have still gone to Bethlehem, but he would have gone alone. And so his journey was radically transformed by God’s the revelation of Christ! But what about you and your decisions?
What are typically the deciding factors in your decision-making process?
Is your personal comfort a deciding factor? Do you make decisions based solely on how you feel that day? Is earning praise and/or acceptance from other people a deciding factor?
Is money a deciding factor? Do you make decisions based solely on what is safe or ‘normal’? Are people’s criticisms of you a deciding factor in what you say and do? Are your decisions driven by what you want rather than what you need? Is fear a deciding factor in your decision-making process? Is guilt? Is pride?
While some of these may have a part to play in our decisions, Jesus Christ, and Jesus alone must be THE deciding factor in all of our decisions.
Decisions about how we spend our time. Decisions about how we spend our money. Decisions about marriage. Decisions about our parenting. Decisions about our careers and our goals. Decisions about how we respond when wronged. Decisions about how we respond when praised. Decisions about what to look at and listen to. Decisions about how we treat others; about how we love.
You see, Jesus is the only one who can save us from our sins, from the heart of rebellion against God; that heart that wants to live a me-centered life in a God-centered universe. But because the baby laid in the manger became the man who hung on the cross, the man who defeated death three days after that, not only can we be forgiven, not only can we know peace with God, but we can receive a new heart, one that desires what God desires; one that asks, “What would the risen Lord Jesus want me to do?”
Because of the reality of the coming of Christ, because of this truth, just as for Joseph, everything has changed. Let’s take a look at a few points from the passage that help us understand this transforming truth a little better:
1. The Truth is from God
First, notice the truth is from God. In Joseph’s dream, the news about Jesus comes from an angel of the Lord. For Joseph, the identity of the messenger is all he needs to know in order to accept the message as true.
If we are honest with ourselves and we do not believe that God came to us in Jesus and that these are not the words of God, then Jesus will not be THE deciding factor in all of our decisions. Something else will rule our hearts.
In the same way, if we recognize who Jesus is, then we must listen to the voice of our Creator, the one who knows us and all things perfectly; the one who loves us.
As Paul would later write to one of the early churches, And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13) How are you receiving His word?
2. The Truth is Counterintuitive
Second, we also see here that the truth is counterintuitive. Remember what Mary, upon receiving the same news, asked the angel in Luke 1:34, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t intuitive! From the very start, the coming of Jesus meant a radical overturning of our normal ways of thinking about things.
But when Christ is the deciding factor in our decision-making process it will often mean that we will make decisions that are counterintuitive.
Instead of looking to be served, we will serve.
Instead of looking for revenge, we will turn the other cheek.
Instead of clinging to things, we will freely give to those in need.
Instead of trusting in what we see, we will trust in Him who is unseen.
Instead of exalting the self, we will deny ourselves and follow Christ.
Instead of trying to protect our lives, we will give our lives to God.
We will accept that to be full, we must empty ourselves.
We will accept that to save our lives, we will lose our lives.
Do you recognize that apart from God’s work and word concerning Christ, we would not know God’s way? Apart from grace, we do what’s intuitive according to the world, right? But’s God’s way stands against that thinking.
3. The Truth is Costly
Third, and finally, the truth is costly. I’m not sure if you picked up on this, but we see here that, if we obey, the truth will cost us something.
In spite of the fact that Mary was pregnant, and that it was not something that could be hidden, Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife. But what might people say? What would Mary’s family think? Or Joseph’s? Or their neighbors? What would stop anyone from doing the math and realizing that the baby was conceived before their marriage was formalized?
In spite of how others might have reacted, Joseph acted decisively because of the birth of Jesus. When you and I make Jesus THE deciding factor in all of our decisions, inevitably, in some of those decisions, we will experience some kind of resistance or rejection.
From a mocking look to outright rejection or persecution, decisions made with an eye to God’s word and work concerning Christ will not be popular, since, as we just talked about, God’s wisdom goes ‘against the flow’ of the world’s wisdom.
In light of God’s word and work concerning Christ, are you willing to do what is unpopular or untypical with men in order to live a life pleasing to God?
This morning I began by asking you about the biggest decisions in your life. I asked you about the deciding factor or factors in those decisions.
Was Jesus Christ THE deciding factor in all of those decisions? Was the work and word of God concerning Jesus THE deciding factor in some of those decisions? In at least one of those decisions, did you consider, above everything else, what God would have you do in light of what Christ said and did?
As we conclude this morning, I want to encourage all of us to make sure we don’t look at this as some kind of technique to better decision-making. This is not primarily about HOW we live, it is about WHO we are living for. You can study and understand how should you respond in every possible situation. You could make flash cards and charts describing what is pleasing to God.
But unless your heart has been captured by the sweet mercy of Jesus Christ, unless He and He alone is your greatest joy and love, all of that study and knowledge, all of those charts and systems, will do you no good.
Sometime in eternity past, in the mind of God himself, God decided to die for us. In response to this, have you decided to live for Him? When you do, you will be deciding to decide differently/ You will be deciding to decide, from now on, with Jesus as THE deciding factor. And your life will never be the same. And your life will never be better.