December 14, 2014
If only life were as simple as following a yellow brick road. How helpful that would be. But there is no yellow brick road. And I don’t know about you, but never have I heard the voice of Yoda from Star Wars, or Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, telling me what decision to make. Life doesn’t work that way. And yet, we all long for guidance. “What should I do,” we ask.
Joseph was in that situation. He had some difficult decisions to make. Today on this second Sunday in Advent, I want to speak with you about decision making from the situation of Joseph. And from Joseph’s story, I want to say that God will provide all that is needed to keep you in the way of Christ.
I. LIFE’S EXPERIENCES GIVE US OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE GOD-HONORING DECISIONS. Mt.1:18-19
Now before I say anything, let me mention that this morning I am assuming that you know Christ and that your desire is to live for Christ and you are actively seeking to do his will. If that is not the case then this message will not apply so well to you. The person who is seeking the Lord is deepening in their knowledge of God’s word and seeking the Lord in prayer and worship as we are becoming like Christ.
Let’s think about Joseph. We don’t know much about Joseph. From Mt.1 we know that Joseph was a descendant of David. From Mt.13:55 we know that Joseph was a carpenter. And we know that he was betrothed, engaged to Mary. We also know from v.19 that Joseph was a just man. And while I can’t really prove this from Scripture, I am assuming that Joseph was every bit as blameless as Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. He was a godly man. Many think that he was probably a bit older than Mary.
So here he was, engaged to Mary, patiently waiting to claim his bride. Mary had always struck him as being such a pure and godly woman. But things are not always what they appear to be, and from Joseph’s perspective, it must have been a rude awakening when he learned that Mary was pregnant. He could hardly believe it and yet there was no denying it. What does a godly man like Joseph do, when his wife to be turns up pregnant?
In that day if an engaged woman became pregnant, it was considered to be adultery. Joseph could only conclude that Mary had committed adultery. She had been unfaithful. Did Joseph pray about the matter? I’m sure he did. He was a godly man. That is what godly people do. They pray about matters.
Notice that this godly man came to a godly decision. He did not want to sully his own righteous reputation. Nor did he want to expose Mary to public shame. So he decided to divorce her quietly. His decision was thoughtful, merciful and very compassionate. How did he know what to do? He probably didn’t know exactly what to do. I doubt that he had ever been in that situation before. He had to give it much prayer and thought.
What I want us to see is that Joseph made a godly decision without any obvious or direct input from God. I would imagine that Joseph had a mind that was shaped by God’s word. His character was godly. All of this had bearing on his decision.
Men and women, as Christians we are called on every day to make all sorts of decisions. It would be great if God would whisper in our ear and say, “No don’t do that. Do this instead.” But God doesn’t usually whisper in our ear. Like Joseph we must utilize the word of God, the wisdom of other godly people, prayer and personal discernment as we make daily decisions. In Rm.12:2 Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As our minds are shaped by God’s word through the Holy Spirit, we are able to make God honoring decisions.
Let me give some biblical examples. In Acts 15 we learn that some Jewish believers were telling Paul and Barnabas that Gentile believers had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. A special council was called in Jerusalem to figure this out. Peter stood up and spoke to the matter. And then Paul and Barnabas told of what the Lord was doing among the Gentiles. And then James stood up to speak. James gave his perspective and in Acts 15:19-20 James said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” James’ perspective was embraced by everyone. There does not seem to be any supernatural word from God here.
Later in Acts16 we read about Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. They wanted to take the gospel to Asia but the Lord closed those doors. In Acts 16:7 it says that they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they went down to Troas. On this journey Paul and Barnabas were obviously making decisions about where to go. I’m sure they were praying about it, but clearly they were making god-honoring decisions based on their own good judgment.
Through the experiences of our lives we learn to make godly decisions. We may not always make the best decision. Some decisions are of less import than others. But as our minds are shaped by God’s word and prayer, we try to make God honoring decisions, just as Joseph did. And you notice that I have not talked about making right decisions. We rarely know what the right decision is, especially in complicated situations. But we can make God honoring decisions even if they are not always the wisest decision and we can entrust ourselves to the Lord.
II. GOD’S DIRECTION IS GIVEN AS NEEDED. Mt.1:20-23
So far what I have been saying is basically that God leaves many decisions to our own discretion. In fact one could make a case that God desires that his people become mature in Christ to the point that the way they think and act is like Christ would think and act. But of course we are not Christ. And there are times when God intervenes to give clarity for our lives.
Consider Joseph. As he pondered his situation and prayed about it, he came to a decision. It seemed to him to be the best decision he could make in the circumstances. But in fact, his decision would have jeopardized the plans and purposes of God in sending Christ into the world. God had business for Joseph to attend to. So the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained that Mary’s pregnancy was indeed of God. Not only that, but instructions were given that this baby was to be named, “Jesus.” And in keeping with this name which means, Yahweh is salvation, the angel explains that Jesus will save his people from their sins. The angel explained how Mary’s pregnancy was a fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is Immanuel, which means, “God with us."
Now this is an unusual kind of dream because of the clarity of information that is given. We might have vivid dreams, but upon waking up we quickly realize that it wasn’t real. But for Joseph there was a clearity to the dream and he was certain of it. Joseph had made a God-honoring decision but God had other plans and intervened.
Would God do that for you? I believe so, and I’m not talking so much about the dream. God still uses dreams but that is not his only method. Let’s go back to Acts 16. Paul and Barnabas decided to take the Gospel into Asia. God shut the door. Then they decided to take the gospel into Bithynia. God would not allow it. Didn’t they need the gospel in Bithynia? Yes, but God had other plans. Paul and Barnabas next went to Troas and there Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts.16:10 says, “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” We might wonder why God didn’t just say from the beginning, “Go to Macedonia.” He didn’t do that but he did make it clear by shutting and opening doors. They were making decisions all along the way and God was giving guidance in various ways as it was needed.
Let me give another example. In Mt.16, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter, in a flash of divine understanding says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus begins to explain that he would suffer and be killed and rise from the dead. In v.22, Peter, rebukes the Lord. “This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Wow! God was giving clear direction to Peter. It was negative rebuke, but it was needed and Peter learned from it.
All I am trying to say is that God cares about the decisions you and I make and when clear direction is needed, we can count on him to provide it as we seek him. God knows how each of us is wired and he knows best how to direct us. When a decision needs to be made, we lay it out before God and we trust him to give what is needed as we make our decisions.
Now, nothing is simple and I need to clarify something here. Sometimes we make poor decisions and we get ourselves into difficulty. There are any number of reasons for making poor decisions. We may be giving into sinful desires and want something that is just not good for us. Someone else might lead us astray and we make a decision that isn’t sinful, but it’s not wise. The results will vary according to the seriousness of the decision. But even then, as believers we trust the Lord to help us. If we sin, we seek his forgiveness and ask Him to help us.
A couple in our church who have long since died, invested money with a Christian man and unfortunately lost most of the money. They thought they were making a wise decision, and at the time maybe it was, but it didn’t work out for them. However, the Lord took care of them and provided for them. God gave Joseph direction as it was needed. I believe God will do that for each us as we seek him. And we can trust him. And that leads me to say...
III. OBEDIENCE IS THE KEY FOR LIVING IN THE WAY OF CHRIST. Mt.1:24-25
Like Mary, Joseph listened to the Lord and without any doubt he followed through. He married Mary and was obedient to the Lord.
We often say things like, “Honesty is the best policy.” And we believe it, even though we are not always honest. In the same way as Christians we would all agree that obedience to the commands of God is the best way to live, even though we are not always obedient.
It is important for us to recognize that obedience to God is the best way to live, but it is not the easiest way to live and in this world it will be inconvenient and even bring us into conflict with the world.
Consider Joseph. God’s command was not difficult to understand or carry out. Just go ahead and marry the girl! There’s nothing confusing about that. But think about the implications. For one thing, Joseph would be throwing his righteous reputation under the bus. People would think that he and Mary could not control themselves and she became pregnant. In our society many wouldn’t bat an eye at that, but in Joseph’s day it was disgraceful and it ought not to be celebrated in our own day. It is sin. Even Paul says, “Look, if you are burning, you better get married so that you don’t sin.” People would think things about Joseph that were not at all true, but how do you explain? “Hey it’s not what you think. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” “Right!”
Note that even after they were married, Joseph did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. Why did he wait? It was all legal now. He would have been within his marital rights. But Joseph had regard for what God was doing. He did not want to in any way jeopardize the work of God.
I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul. In 1Cor.9 Paul talks about his rights as a preacher of the Gospel. He said just like other preachers he has a right to earn his living from his ministry, but he willingly laid aside his rights in order to put no obstacle in the way of the gospel. Instead he was bivocational, working as a tent maker. Paul had regard for the work of God and surrendered his rights in obedience to God’s call.
In our walk with God, obedience to the Word of God is so important. As we read the word of God, the ways of God will become clearer to us. Keeping in the way of Christ is more than just knowing the Ten Commandments. It involves thinking like Jesus would think. By reading the word of God, the mind of Christ is formed in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we just keep on reading it. We need to be constantly shaped by God’s word in our daily living. Obedience is the key for living in the way of Christ.
As I look over my life I am grateful to have been raised in a decidedly Christian home. I am grateful to have come to Christ early in my life. I am grateful for the Christian heritage I received from both my physical family and my spiritual family in the church. The Bible has been dear to me most of my life. But I have made many sinful choices and I have made some foolish choices. But wait, how faithful has God been to me? God has guarded my life. God has given guidance at significant moments. God has surrounded me with wise people who have helped me. And God is doing that for you if you belong to him through faith in Jesus Christ. As a follower of Christ, do not be afraid to make decisions. Make your decisions as you seek the Lord. God will provide all that is needed to keep you in the way of Christ. Amen