Joseph Shows Us God's Way to Cope with a Crisis
Joseph Shows Us God's Way to Cope with a Crisis
The Gospel of Matthew
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - December 12, 2012
(Revised August 20, 2020)
*One of Dave Berry's favorite Christmas memories as a child was the annual Nativity Pageant at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Armonk, NY. Dave said, "Shepherd was my favorite role, because you got to carry a stick. . . Many were the happy rehearsal hours we shepherds spent whacking each other with sticks. . ."
*But nobody wanted to be Joseph, because "Joseph had to hang around with Mary who was played by a girl. You had to wait backstage with this girl and walk in with this girl. Needless to say, you felt like a total goof, which was not helped by the fact that the shepherds and three kings were constantly suggesting that you really liked this girl. So, during the pageant Joseph tended to maintain the maximum allowable distance from Mary, as though she was carrying some kind of deadly bacteria." (1)
*Being Joseph wasn't easy, even in the Christmas play, and it surely wasn't easy in the real world either. Mike Fogerson explained that "Joseph and Mary had been planning a wedding when God told them to prepare a nursery.
*Verse 18 tells us that 'Mary was betrothed to Joseph.' That meant a whole lot more than being engaged today. Hebrew marriages had two stages. In the first stage called 'betrothal,' the couple was considered to be legally married, even though they did not live together as man and wife.
*This period of being separate, but legally married could last as long as a year, and it was far more binding than modern engagements. Only divorce could break it apart. And if they had been unfaithful to each other, it would have been counted as adultery punishable by death under Old Testament law. (2)
*Joseph and Mary had been joyfully making plans for a wedding. But then Mary gave him the shocking news that she was pregnant. Talk about a crisis for Joseph! With those unbelievable words from Mary, Joseph's world began to fall apart, so "the first time we see him in the Bible, Joseph was planning a divorce." (3)
*Crisis at Christmas. The hospitals don't empty out at Christmas. The funeral homes don't close down. Marriage problems don't magically go away. Rebellious children don't always come to their senses. Dreams still get shattered. People still get hurt.
*There will be crises at Christmas and every other day of the year. But Joseph shows us how to cope with any crisis that comes our way.
1. FIRST: WE MUST PURSUE GOD'S PLAN FOR OUR LIVES.
*Verse 18 shows us the Lord's unique plan for Joseph and Mary. Here God's Word says: "The birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit."
*Think about the plan Joseph had for his life. I'm sure he was planning for a good life. But he probably thought he would have a simple life: Build up his carpentry business, marry Mary, have lots of children, follow the Lord, strive to be a good and righteous man.
*Joseph had planned for a simple life, but God had other plans. Joseph could have never imagined the mission that God had planned for his life: "Me the stepfather of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah? My life story in God's Word? No way!" (4)
*Joseph thought he would have a simple life. But God had a different plan. And in today's Scripture, Joseph got to the point where he was open to God's plan. Joseph fully embraced God's plan, even though it took him to difficult places in life, and that's what God wants us to do.
*God has plans for our lives that are far greater than we can imagine. His plan for your life stretches out for millions of years into all eternity. And we can't begin to see it all, but He wants us to start looking in that direction.
*In Revelation 3:17-18, Jesus told the Laodicean church that they were blind. And Jesus said: "I counsel you to anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see." This Scripture reminds me that so often in life we are looking at this thing we've got to do, or this thing we need, or this thing we want, or this thing we enjoy. But God wants us to look beyond the earthly things of life and see the eternal things.
*That's why in Jeremiah 33:3, the Lord says: "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know." And in Ephesians 3:20, Paul tells Christians that God "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." God has more in store for our lives than we can possibly imagine. And we need to keep pursuing His plan for our lives, even when we find ourselves in a crisis.
2. WE ALSO NEED TO KEEP GROWING IN GOD'S GOODNESS.
*Joseph is a great example for us today. What a good and godly man he was! And we can see this truth in vs. 18-20. Again, God's Word says:
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
20. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
*Notice that Joseph was morally pure. That's why he was so concerned when he found out that Mary was going to have a baby. But Jesus was born through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. Joseph and Mary had both kept God's standards of moral purity.
*Many people today have been deceived into thinking that this is not important. But they're wrong. Anything that's important to God ought to be important to us. And Joseph was morally pure.
*But also notice in vs. 19 that he was a "just man." Of course, Joseph wasn't perfect, but he was "a just man." That means he was strongly devoted to God's Word and God's ways. That's the way God wants us to be.
*Joseph was a just man, and he was a compassionate man. Joseph overflowed with godly, Christlike compassion. That's why in vs. 19 Joseph didn't want to put Mary through public shame and punishment. Instead, he wanted to end the marriage privately. Joseph was righteous, but he wasn't self-righteous. He had a heart like the Savior's heart: Merciful, compassionate and kind.
*It helps us to think how difficult this situation was for Joseph. He didn't know who the father was, but he knew it wasn't him. And terrible things would have happened to Mary if Joseph had put her away publicly, so he didn't want to make a public spectacle of Mary. He was merciful, compassionate and kind, and that's the way God wants us to be.
*Joseph was a compassionate man, and he was a patient man. Verse 20 tells us that "he thought on these things." Joseph could have flown into a rage, but he didn't act in anger or haste. He was thoughtful. He took the time to think things through.
*In all these ways, Joseph was a good and godly man, and God wants us to be like him, especially in times of crisis. We must be growing in God's goodness.
3. WE ALSO MUST TRUST GOD TO GUIDE US.
*And thank God, we can trust Him to guide us in every situation! Joseph found this out starting in vs. 20: "While he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.'"
*God spoke to Joseph through a dream, and Joseph listened. He didn't brush it off, or rebel against the guidance of God. Sometimes God does speak through dreams. We see this in both the Old Testament and the New. For example, in Matthew 2, when the wise men went to see Jesus, God warned them in a dream that they should not return to King Herod in Jerusalem.
*Of course, most of our dreams are not to be taken as guidance from God. That dream you had last night is probably not the Lord speaking to you. It may be a mixed-up rehash of something you watched on TV or a childhood memory.
*Sometimes medicine can even affect our dreams. But the Lord God does still speak through dreams today, especially in places like Muslim countries where the Word of God is so scarce.
*Some of us here today could tell how God touched our lives through a dream. But for the most part, God speaks to us through His perfect Word. And you may never get a dream from the Lord, but you can always look into His Word, and find just the message you need to hear.
*Today's Scripture reminds us that we can always trust God to keep His Word. In vs. 22-23 Matthew summed up this miraculous story by saying:
22. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
23. "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,'' which is translated, "God with us.''
*Over 700 years had gone by since God made that prophecy in Isaiah 7. But God kept His Word, and He always will. The question is: Will we listen to God like Joseph listened?
*God wants to guide us, especially through His Word, so keep trusting God to guide you, especially in times of crisis.
4. WE ALSO MUST TRUST CHRIST TO TAKE CARE OF US.
*And thank God, we can trust in the Lord Jesus Christ!
 IN VS. 21, WE CAN TRUST JESUS, BECAUSE HE CAME TO SAVE US.
*There the angel told Joseph the most important news the world will ever hear: "SHE WILL BRING FORTH A SON, AND YOU SHALL CALL HIS NAME JESUS, FOR HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS."
*Bill Bouknight explained that this "name reveals the breath-taking essence of Christmas. Jesus is the Greek form of the familiar Jewish name Joshua. It literally means 'Jehovah is salvation,' and Jesus' very name highlights the most important mission of His life: To save us from our sins and reconcile us to a holy God.
*The angel listed only one task at the top of Jesus' job description: 'To save His people from their sins.' Jesus was the only baby in history born for the purpose of dying. Across his manger fell the shadow of the cross." (5)
*But why did He have to die? A big part of the answer can be seen in this letter a little girl wrote to Santa. I can relate to what she said. "Dear Santa, I tried to be good this year, but it just didn't work out." (6)
*You know it never will. No matter how hard you try, you just can't be good enough. That's because we are all born with a terrible, spiritual disease called sin. And it is deadly. Bill Bouknight called sin "the worst virus, and it infects 100% of humanity.
*The symptoms of the virus are everywhere: Drug and alcohol addiction, child neglect, lying, stealing, family friction, selfishness, and even murder. Unless the sin virus is cured, it will increasingly wreck our lives in this world, and put us in hell forever.
*The good news is that a cure has been found for the sin virus. God sent it through His Son, born as a baby in a Bethlehem manger." (5)
*But what a cost for this cure! -- God's Son leaving Heaven to live in our fallen world. God's Son dying on the cross to take our suffering and death, then rising again to give us His eternal life.
*But how do you get the cure? Turn to God in faith. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Put your trust in Him and receive Him as your Lord and Savior.
 ALWAYS TRUST CHRIST TO TAKE CARE OF YOU, BECAUSE HE CAME TO SAVE US, AND BECAUSE HE CAME TO STAY WITH US.
*We see this truth in vs. 22-23, where God's Word says:
22. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
23. "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,'' which is translated, "God with us.''
*Church: The only way that God could fully be "Emmanuel, God with us," was to become one of us, and that is what Jesus did when He became a man.
*Hebrews 2:14 explains it this way: "Inasmuch then as the children (that is the children of God) have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:17 says, "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."
*Jesus was like us. He experienced loneliness, illness, and anger. He laughed, played, swam, caught fish, built tables, and attended parties. (5)
*In Matthew 4:1, Jesus was "tempted by the devil." In Matthew 4:2, He "was hungry." Mark 6:3 tells us that Jesus was a carpenter. In John 4:6-7 Jesus was weary and thirsty. And in John 11:35 Jesus wept with sympathy for His friends.
*Jesus really was and is "Emmanuel, God with us." God the Son humbled Himself to become like us in all ways but one: The perfect Son of God never sinned even once in thought or word or deed. Hebrews 4:15 says, "We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
*So the only man who never sinned died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins. Now by His Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ is Emmanuel, the God who came to be with us and stay with us. That's why in Matthew 28:20 Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world."
*What a difference that makes! Joseph trusted God to take Him through his troubles, and we can trust Him too! Most of all, we can trust Jesus to save us from our sins, so put your trust in the Lord today! And keep trusting Jesus, even when you are going through a crisis.
*That's what Charlie Greer did, and he was a great example for my family. Charlie went home to Heaven three days after Christmas in 2004. I got to know him best when his daughter, Denise, came to serve as the Children's Director at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Charlie came with the family, and he was like a grandfather to our daughter Katie.
*My dad died 10 years before Katie was born, and Mary's dad died when Katie was 2. But "Papaw Charlie" was a "papaw" to our baby, and we will always be thankful for that. He was a treasure to us. I don't think Charlie consciously tried to encourage me. He just did.
*He loved the Lord, He loved the Bible, and he loved to come to church. Charlie also loved to pray. We had a Prayer Room at Emmanuel, and Charlie came like clockwork. He also brought our Katie and his own granddaughter, Amber. They were best friends, and I found out yesterday that Charlie taught both of them to pray, using the Lord's Prayer as a model!
*Another great thing about Charlie was his tremendous attitude in the face of terrible health problems. Charlie had a brain tumor, but he kept going. He had several surgeries that took his leg, and Charlie had to limp along, but he kept going along with a smile. He was trusting the Lord through every crisis, and that's what God wants us to do.
5. BUT CHURCH: WE ALSO NEED TO DO WHAT GOD WANTS US TO DO.
*Joseph is a great example for us in vs. 24-25:
24. Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, DID as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,
25. and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
*Joseph was totally committed to do everything God asked Him to do. He obeyed God. He took great care of Mary and little Jesus. Where would Mary and Jesus have been without Joseph? He stood in the gap to provide for them and protect them.
*Think about that trip to Bethlehem they had to make just before Jesus was born. They had to go, because of the Roman census. They also had to go, because God had prophesied that His Son would be born in Bethlehem. Mary was very pregnant when they made that 70-mile journey to Bethlehem. They were on foot or maybe Mary was able to ride a donkey.
*How do you get a very pregnant woman anywhere? -- The answer is: VERY CAREFULLY. Joseph safely got Mary to Bethlehem. Then he safely got Mary and Jesus to Egypt when Herod tried to kill the baby king. That was a journey of at least 90 miles.
*Joseph also provided love and guidance during the early years of the Lord's life. In Luke 2, he made sure that Jesus was circumcised. And he took baby Jesus to the Temple, to obey the law of redemption. Later, Joseph took Jesus to synagogue every week. The family also took the Lord to Jerusalem for the important feasts every year. The last time we see Joseph in the Bible was when the family had gone up to Jerusalem for Passover. Joseph took the best possible care of his family.
*Here in vs. 24, Joseph DID what God wanted him to, and the whole world was changed. He did what God told him to do, even in the crisis. And that is surely what God wants us to do too.
*We all will have to face crises in life, so what should we do? Live like Joseph. Keep pursuing God's plan for your life. Keep growing in God's goodness. Trust God to guide you forward. Trust Christ to take care of you. And do what God wants you to do.
*Let's ask for His help right now, as we go back to God in prayer.
(1) Dave Barry, DAVE BARRY'S GREATEST HITS - New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988, pp. 76-78 - Source: Sermons.com sermon "A Christmas to Remember" by King Duncan - Matthew 1:18-25
(2) Adapted from SermonCentral.com sermon "Surviving the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Mike Fogerson - Matthew 1:18-25
(3) SermonCentral sermon "Christmas through the Eyes of Mary and Joseph" by Matthew Rogers - Matthew 1:18-25 - Dec. 13, 1998
(4) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Are you ready for Christmas?" by Richard White - Matthew 1:18-25
(5) Adapted from Sermons.com sermon "Naming the Divine Baby" by Bill Bouknight - Matthew 1:18-23 - 2001
(6) Sermons.com sermon "The Names of the Christ-Child" by Bill Bouknight - Matthew 1:18-23