December 4, 2016
All of us make plans for our lives. Some of us are careful planners. Others are impulsive planners. Some are long range planners, while others plan for the short run. When we are young our plans may be big and unrealistic. As we grow into middle age our plans become more measured and attainable. As we grow old and we experience limitations, our plan may be to just get through the day.
This morning we are looking at Joseph. Joseph had plans, but as is often the case, his plans were greatly altered by his commitments and life’s circumstances. And this leads me to say from Mt.1:18-25 that God’s work in our life calls us to surrender our plans to Him.
I. DISAPPOINTMENT IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY. 1:18
When we make plans it is an expression of our desire and will. I would imagine that most people do not make plans with God in mind. I mean, at night sometimes I plan to have oatmeal in the morning. I will even say to Angie, “I am looking forward to having oatmeal tomorrow morning.” Well, do I really need to include God in my planning to have oatmeal? There are some believers who pray about what clothes to wear each day. I would certainly not discourage anyone from doing that, if that is what they want to do. At the same time I don’t see examples of that level of detail when it comes to praying in the Bible. But many of our plans are complex and involve a great deal more variables that must fall into place if our plans are going to succeed. We have little control over most of those variables. It is not uncommon to have to change our plans.
Sometimes this involves great disappointment and disruption in our lives. Joseph was an upright Jewish man. He was looking for an upright Jewish girl to marry. During the time of Jesus it was common for Jewish girls to marry at the age of 12, so Mary was probably in her teens. I have read that the rabbis counseled Jewish men to marry between the ages of 14 and 18. If you were an unmarried man at 20 something was wrong. We don’t know how old Joseph may have been. Some think that since there is no mention of him after Jesus’ bar mitzvah at 12 years of age, at the end of Lk.2, that he must have been much older than Mary and probably died. We don’t know.
Joseph was engaged to Mary and was making plans for marriage. According to the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical Antiquity, engagements usually lasted for a year and then the bride would be transported from her home to the groom’s house in a carriage or on a litter while people sang and danced. The groom and his friends would come out to meet her with tambourines and music. Feasting usually lasted a week or even two weeks. It was a big deal involving much planning.
So now Joseph learns the news that Mary is pregnant. We don’t know how Joseph came by the news. It doesn’t sound as if Mary told him. She was “found” to be with child. In other words her pregnancy began to become obvious. Can you think of anything more disappointing than to learn that your fiancée has been unfaithful and is pregnant? Joseph’s plans had come to a disappointing end.
Maybe something similar has happened to you. Maybe as a young person you had planned to prepare for a certain vocation only to discover after graduating from college that you were not well suited for the work. That is a disappointment. Maybe you had a career but things changed and you were let go. That is a disappointment. Maybe after a good number of years being married your spouse left you and then divorced you. That is a deep disappointment. Maybe you had plans for your retirement only to find out that you have a serious disease. Or maybe you had invested your money with a trusted advisor, only to discover that he or she deceived you. What a disappointment! The world is filled with disappointment. By the way, there is no disappointment with God.
Well, if your plans have ended in disappointment, I see from this passage that God clearly had more for Joseph than he could know at the time. Now look, most people who are forced to change their plans in life seem to find their way towards something comparable or better. They go back to school. They remarry. They get a different job. And they do this seemingly apart from any input from God. They don’t seem to consider God in their planning.
But believers are not most people. Followers of Jesus Christ understand that God uses the circumstances of our lives to accomplish his purposes for our lives. At the time we may have no idea about what God is doing. And we may never really understand what God is doing. But the reason why we seek the Lord in our planning is because we desire to see his purposes fulfilled in us. Joseph was an upright man. My sense is that he wanted to honor God in his life. And when we want to honor God in our lives, God will use our disappointments to help us know him and serve him in a deeper and better way. There may be many seasons of disappointment as our plans do not work out. But in every season of disappointment God is working into us his way and his good for his honor and glory.
II. GOD SEES THE BIG PICTURE. 1:19-20
When our plans are frustrated we have to respond in some way. In the case of Joseph, the expected response was exactly the response he chose. He was a godly man. What is more he was innocent of any immorality in regard to Mary and so it was important to establish his innocence for the sake of his reputation in the community.
We can see that he also had no desire to expose or shame Mary in any way. Surely he did not understand how Mary could have done this, but he was not the kind of man to make Mary pay. That says a lot about Joseph.
I want to point out that Joseph was seeking to do the right thing in the eyes of God. No one would have questioned Joseph’s decision. But here’s the thing. Divorcing Mary was not the right decision in this case. God knows the big picture. And of course, that raises the question, how can we know what the right thing to do is.
As a first born I am very much a direction follower. For the most part, I want to do what is right. And when I can’t determine what is right, it causes me great angst. In most situations I have a pretty clear sense about what would be wrong. Lying, cheating, stealing, anger, etc. are not acceptable responses. But when it comes to knowing the right thing to do, it is often not as clear. As a follower of Christ I try to bring these matters to the Lord. I often seek the advice of other mature and seasoned believers. I try to weigh the implications of the possible responses. I try to pay attention to my feelings about the various responses. As I pray and go through this process, I eventually will come to a decision. As a believer, I want to be sure that my decision is honoring to God. I realize that any number of decisions could be equally honoring to God, as far as I can tell. So if God does not direct me in a clear way, I make the decision and commit it into his hands.
Why do I do this? It is because I do not live to myself. My life belongs to God. I want to honor God and I want his will to be done in my life, whatever that involves. So I don’t assume that my thoughts are the only thoughts that count in the decision making.
When it comes to making plans, I ask God to weigh in. And I believe that if God, seeing the bigger picture, has a different plan for me, he will make it clear. In Joseph’s case, God had a very specific purpose and plan that he was bringing into being. And so God made it very clear to Joseph. “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The appearance of the angel in his dream was profound and weighty. But this would not have been the only information Joseph would have. Mary would surely have told Joseph about her experience and about what happened when she visited Elizabeth. These were additional events that helped to compel Joseph to change his plan.
We do not know the big picture. But we do know that God is fully aware of all that needs to be known. We can read our way through the Bible seeing instance after instance in which God revealed his specific will for various individuals. You can be very sure that as you seek the Lord he will make clear that which he needs for you to know. And as we wait upon the Lord, we trust in his good promises found in Scripture.
In Jms.1:4-5 we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In Phil.4:19 Paul writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” When your plans come to naught, take comfort in the fact that God sees the big picture and will give what is needed for you to move on in your life with him.
III. GOD WANTS TO USE YOU IN HIS PLAN OF RECONCILIATION. 1:21-25
As the angel continued to explain what God was up to, it became clear that the birth of Jesus was of great significance. “He will save his people from their sins.” He will be called Immanuel, God with us. Surely Joseph would have recognized that God was doing something profound. Perhaps Joseph connected the angel’s message with various prophecies found in the Old Testament. But let’s not miss the fact that Joseph and Mary were really nobodies in the grand scheme of things. Outside of their communities, they were unknown. She was a young woman. He was a simple carpenter. And yet God brought them into his work of reconciling all things to himself through the person of Jesus Christ.
Israel, like all of us, was guilty of the sin of idolatry, worshiping other things in the place of God. In Ez.14 when speaking about Israel’s idolatry, God repeats a phrase several times when he says, “These men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.” What we worship shapes who we become deep in our heart. Idolatry leads to many sins because what is in our heart works its way out through our bodies. Idolatry takes us further and further away from God, his righteousness, and truth. We become like what we worship.
All of us are idolaters in various ways and our sins have separated from God. That is why we need reconciliation. That is why we need forgiveness. Jesus is the great and only Reconciler. Since sin separates us from God, the natural outworking of sin is death, which brings eternal separation from God. Jesus, who had no sin of his own, died in our place, bearing the punishment of our sin. The wrath of God against all ungodliness was absorbed by Jesus, God in the flesh, that we might be set free from sin and death.
Well, Joseph was being called into a divine vocation. By marrying Mary he was becoming a participant in God’s great reconciling work. When we talk about knowing Christ and having our sins forgiven and being in the kingdom of God, it is not just about our being right with God. It is also about entering into a new vocation. New creation people are given new creation work. Followers of Jesus are called to be part of his project of reconciliation. Paul says in 2Cor.5:19 that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
If you know Christ, you have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. It is the message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross so we might have forgiveness and life in God’s kingdom.
The church, the body of Christ in this world, is the light of the world because Jesus who is “the true light, which gives light to everyone, has come into the world” and he dwells in the lives of his people.
So let me ask you. Do you see yourself as being a part of God’s plan for reconciliation? Do you ever ask God to use you to share Christ and his love with others? This is not so easy since people in the world are not all that interested in Jesus. It wasn’t easy for Joseph either. He put his reputation on the line for Christ. Your plans and my plans for our lives may be good plans. But if your plans are not surrendered to the work of God in this world then you are pretty much living for yourself. God wants to use you in his work of reconciling the world to himself through Christ
The Lord’s Table is all about being reconciled with God and each other through faith in Christ. As we eat the bread and drink the cup we are nourished in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We rejoice in our reconciliation with God. We leave ready to be part of God’s reconciling work. As we come to the Table today, let us surrender all of our plans, big or small, to Jesus and his work in the world. Amen