December 9, 2018
Those who play the game of Chess know the danger of having a singular focus. There you are. It’s your move. You see a way to put your opponent’s king in check. So you boldly make your move. Before you know it your opponent brings his knight from seemingly out of nowhere to capture your queen. Oh! If you had only stopped to gain a better perspective of the board you might have kept your queen.
Perspective is critical in Chess. But it is even more critical for life in this world. There is never a time when we don’t have some kind of perspective on life. The question is do we have a big enough perspective to be able to correctly discern our circumstances.
This morning we are looking at the experience of Joseph in his relationship with Mary. Joseph’s perspective was correct as far as it went. But it was incomplete. And frankly, that is the case for all of us when it comes to discerning the circumstances of life in this world. So from Mt.1:18-25 let me say that believers are learning to view their circumstances in light of Jesus Christ.
I. DISAPPOINTMENT IS NEVER FAR AWAY. Mt.1:18-19
When I was just out of college I got a job working in a hospital psych unit outside of Detroit. During my two years there I had a co-worker who was a joy to work with. I left that job to go to seminary. Angie and I were married and I completely lost track of my co-worker and could only remember her first name. It has been almost 40 years since I last saw her. Recently I happened to find an old address book and found her full name. I found her on Facebook and we reconnected. However, I was saddened to learn that her husband (whom I had met) died in 2017. And now she is dealing with cancer. That is just one example of a deep disappointment in life. All of us experience these kinds of disappointments. Look at the disappointment in v.18-19. “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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant the angel came to Mary. Mary then went to visit Elizabeth. We don’t know when Mary became pregnant. There were no pregnancy tests so I imagine Mary was not immediately aware that she was pregnant. However when she came to Elizabeth’s door, the baby in Elizabeth leapt in her womb and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit “exclaimed, with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Because Mary may not have been aware of when she became pregnant I am surmising that she said nothing to Joseph. When it began to become obvious that Mary was pregnant, Joseph learned of the pregnancy. What a disappointment for Joseph! Think about it. His impending marriage to Mary is something that may have been arranged for some years. Husbands were usually ten or more years older than their wives. In that culture when two people were engaged to be married it was legally binding. Any kind of sexual unfaithfulness was adultery.
One can only imagine what Joseph was thinking. The Mary he knew was humble and trustworthy. But how do you argue with a pregnancy? Women do not just turn up pregnant! What other explanation could there be but that she had been unfaithful? The fact that Mary was pregnant had significant ramifications for Joseph. If Joseph married Mary, everyone would assume that he was also guilty of immorality. Joseph was known for being a righteous and just man because he was a righteous and just man. What should he do?
He came to the conclusion that he should divorce Mary. But he would divorce Mary quietly so as to not expose Mary to public shame. Not only was Joseph righteous and just, he was merciful and kind.
That was Joseph’s disappointing situation. You may be facing a completely different kind of disappointment. Your life has not unfolded the way you envisioned it. Maybe there has been a divorce or an untimely death. Perhaps your health has betrayed you. Your work has not been fulfilling. Maybe a sense of personal failure or family betrayal has burdened your life. This world is a fallen, broken world, and so disappointment is never far away from any of us. Disappointment can certainly lead to disillusionment in life. Perhaps you are living with disappointment on this second Sunday in Advent.
And if that is the case, let me offer you some hope. For in this weary world of disappointment…
II. THE PRESENCE OF JESUS TRANSFORMS OUR PERSPECTIVE. Mt.1:20-23
In v.20-23 we read, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).”
It should be noted that the presence of angels was no more common then than it is now. People were not regularly seeing angels in person or in their sleep. In scripture every time an angel appears there is fear. That’s why angels are always saying, “Fear not.” It would probably be no different if we saw an angel. But when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angel said, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” In Joseph’s mind, the dream was clearly from God. I imagine Joseph waking up and saying, “Oh, Mary wasn’t lying after all. This pregnancy is the work of God.” Perhaps Joseph recognized the Old Testament passage from Isaiah about a virgin bearing a son who would be called Immanuel.”
But I wonder what Joseph thought about the rest of the angel’s message: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." In Luke’s account the angel tells Mary that Jesus would have the throne of his father, David, and would reign forever. In Mt.1:1-17, Matthew calls our attention to the fact that Jesus is of the royal line of David by giving us a genealogical record beginning with Abraham. Matthew traces the descendants of Abraham through David, down to Joseph and finally to Jesus. Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, but he was Jesus’ legal father, making Jesus a legal descendant of the line of David.
But in his dream, the angel emphasizes the fact that Jesus would save his people from their sins. We know that Israel was defeated and exiled because of their sins. They had turned away from God to worship idols. Idolatry always leads to sin.
After the Babylonian Exile was over, many Jews returned to Israel. But as I mentioned last week, even though the Jews were back in the land, from that point on they were ruled by foreign nations. From a biblical perspective they were still living in exile because of their sins. This is what idolatry and sin do. The brutal reality about idolatry and sin is that they separate us from God, the giver of life. Every person is living in exile because of their idolatry and sin. We are exiled from God and the fullness of life that comes from God.
But the angel said that Jesus will save his people from their sins. On the face of it we might say that “his people” refers to the Jews. Jesus is Jewish. But who are the people of Jesus? They are the ones who receive the salvation, the life he came to bring.
I wonder what Joseph was thinking when he heard the angel say, “they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).” “God with us!” Not, “God with us,” in a blazing pillar of fire like in the Old Testament. Not, “God with us,” as when he appeared on Mt. Sinai to give the law and the people trembled in fear. Not, “God with us,” in an overpowering display of his glory as when he inhabited the tabernacle in the Old Testament. But God with us in human form in the person of Jesus, born as a baby. God entered into the deep disappointment of this world and its sins in order to redeem us out of slavery to sin. In Jesus, God humbled himself taking on the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, bearing the guilt and penalty of our sins.
Joseph woke up with a new perspective on his disappointment. He realized that the greatest disappointment of his life was, in fact, the work of God in bringing salvation for you and me. Paul writes, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” In Rm.8:32 Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” What is your disappointment today? God has given us his son. What is your disappointment today? God had given us his son, Jesus, who entered into every kind of disappointment known to mankind. But as the old gospel song says, “There’s no disappointment in Jesus.” In fact every disappointment becomes God’s appointment for transformation in our lives as we look to Jesus, who saves us from our sins. But what of it? What actual difference does it make? In v.24-25 we see that…
III. A CHRIST-FORMED PERSPECTIVE SHAPES OUR DAILY LIVING. Mt.1:24-25
Look at v.24-25. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
This is amazing. Joseph went to sleep with a firm resolve to divorce Mary. He woke up from his dream with a new resolve, to marry Mary. But there was still a big problem. He was going to marry Mary and everyone would conclude that he and Mary could not control themselves. They yielded to the temptation of immorality. Both of their reputations would be sullied. They talked a good game, but now we all know the truth about Mary and Joseph. It’s not a good way to enter into a marriage.
But Joseph knew the message was from God and so he was convinced that God would see them through. The gospel news given to Joseph shaped his behavior. He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife. But wait, the angel never said anything about abstaining from marital intimacy until Jesus was born. Joseph must have recognized that what God was doing through Mary was so important that he should do nothing that might in any way compromise God’s good work.
For Joseph, disappointment turned to hope. And hope brought about a change of behavior. Hope has a way of changing our perspective so that what once seemed overwhelmingly disappointing, is filled with potential in the hands of God. It is not just a feeling of hope that we are talking about. It is hope grounded in the word of God and the person of Jesus. God sent Jesus into the world to bring deliverance, salvation from the guilt and penalty of our sins. God sent Jesus into the world so that we might now receive Jesus’ eternal resurrection life. When we put our trust in Jesus, asking him to save us from our sins he gives us his new creation life and we begin living out his new life that is in us. In Jesus we become new creations. New creation is the goal.
What does it look like to live a new creation life? Well, since it is Jesus’ life in us, the life we live will look something like Jesus’ life. As we yield or surrender ourselves to God, the Holy Spirit will help us live out the character of Jesus in our conduct and conversation.
Joseph was not turning over a new leaf in his life. Joseph was entering into a new life of faith and trust in God. Joseph was stepping out of a dream into a new reality. He was going out on a limb because God gave him a good word concerning Jesus.
I am not suggesting to anyone this morning that they try a little harder to be a better person. I am suggesting that all of us need Jesus and all of us must surrender our lives in faith to Jesus. We call upon the name of the Lord to be saved and then we live in a posture of faith, surrender, allegiance, and obedience to Jesus.
In the game of Chess, it is important to learn to view the entire board so that you can discern your opponent’s capabilities and intentions against you. In life it is vital to learn to view our circumstances in light of Jesus Christ who is Immanuel, God with us. Those, who put their faith in Jesus and give him their surrendered allegiance receive as a gift, his eternal life in the kingdom of God. No matter how sad, how bleak our circumstances in this weary world, God in Christ is working all things together in such a way that we are increasingly conformed to the good and gracious way of Jesus. Give yourself to Jesus. Amen