Joseph: A Model of Obedience

Advent 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  52:35
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Matthew 1:18–25 ESV
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. 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). 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.
I believe Joseph, Jesus earthly father, is one Scripture’s most marginalized character. My own preaching supports my accusation. In 29 years of preaching today is my first sermon on this important Christmas character.
A quick internet search on Advent sermon series proves that I’m not the only pastor guilty of such an egregious act. My research leads me to conclude that less than 10% of Advent sermon series will include a sermon dedicated to Joseph.
Christian’s have placed a great emphasis on not forgetting Christ during this season that we have forgotten other characters who are worthy of our attention.
Joseph is often treated like the father of bride in a wedding. Nobody notices him, but he has to pay for the whole affair.
Why do pastor’s and christian’s unintentionally treat Joseph with insignificance?
Maybe it was his silence? Scripture never records a single word from his lips.
Maybe it is his absence? Scripture records nothing of his life following the Temple event in Luke 3.
Though he has been marginalized in the minds of most Christian’s he is no minor character within Scripture.
Scripture calls us this morning to look closely at this not so minor character in Redemptive History. Let us not allow a perceived deficiency of words and works to lead us to flawed conclusions.
Emerson said, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
If that is true, what Joseph did speaks so loudly that it wasn't necessary for him to say anything.
The silent carpenter from Nazareth reminds us of Christianity’s most important teaching, obedience.
John 14:15 ESV
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
His obedience is remarkably simple and immediate in spite of the Lord’s absurd command. Joseph is remarkably simple and simply remarkable.

Joseph is obedient regardless.

I'd like for us to look at Joseph in real life, because he shows us obedience to the word of God regardless.
Nativity sets make us feel nostalgic. They give us the warm fuzzies. Yet one feeling never enters into our hearts as we look at a nativity set difficulty. Joseph’s reality was deeply difficult.
In preparing this sermon I have been reminded that our Lord calls His people to simple obedience in difficult circumstances to bring salvation to others.
I’m not sure another Biblical character, outside of Jesus, was called to obedience in the face of greater difficulty.
He was betrothed or engaged to a young woman who was suddenly and strangely pregnant, and an angel says this is an act of God.
Then this northern Palestinian cabinet maker has to drop all of his tools and go to Bethlehem for a census.
Shortly after that there's another warning in a dream and he flees to Egypt where he has no network, no connections, no job, no place to stay.
If you look at the life of Joseph, the man who says nothing, you can summarize it in a single, simple word, obedience.
His life teaches us that it is possible to obey God with a breathtaking, unquestioning obedience.
God spoke through the angel, and Joseph married Mary. In that regard, he acted with an obedience that outran any of the other major characters in the story of Jesus' birth.
In Luke 1:18 when the announcement came to Zecharias, the aged father to be of John the Baptist, Zecharias said to the angel,
Luke 1:18 ESV
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
He was struck silent because he said that. Zecharias met the command of God with a denial.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Luke 1:34, met that command with doubt. Mary said to the angel,
Luke 1:34 ESV
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Interestingly, Joseph did not respond with a recorded denial or doubt but, rather, with obedience.
Matthew 1:24–25 ESV
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.
In fact, Joseph has an obedience that outshines many of the luminaries of the Bible.
There's Moses called upon as an eighty-year-old shepherd to lead an exodus. What do you hear from him? Four consecutive excuses before he finally submits to do the will of God.
There's Jeremiah called to be a prophet, and he gives God two excuse. "I'm too young. I can't speak."
There's Amos, the keeper of sycamore fruit and of sheep, and he says, "I don't have the credentials to be a prophet."
When God spoke to him an astonishingly difficult word, he responded with obedience.
I'm reminded of those words in 1 John which give us a test of salvation.
1 John 2:3 ESV
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Joseph was marked with obedience.
God is not interested in our guilt-ridden excuses. He wants to be obeyed. Obedience is better than sacrifice.

He models obedience in painful circumstances.

This wordless woodworker models obedience in painful circumstances. He was engaged to Mary.
In that Jewish culture when a girl was only twelve or thirteen years old her parents signed a consent that she would be betrothed or engaged, and that was a legally ratified, binding marriage covenant, even though she lived with her parents for another year.
The second phase of that ceremony was the transferral in which the husband would go get her and take her to his house to be his own. In Joseph's experience between step one and step two Mary was with child.
He couldn't deny it. I'm sure, like most of us in the face of unpleasant circumstances, at first he wanted to deny it, not even see it but there came a day when it was obvious.
Joseph reaction to Mary’s pregnancy should not be viewed as an expression of anger. Notice the phrase, “being a just man” has two meanings. Joseph was obeying Jewish law. His actions were in line with cultural mandates.
Dikaios means, first of all, he was a righteous man, and that meant that under the law he had no choice but to put her aside.
For according to the law of Moses she was classified legally as a prostitute for what she had done, and as a righteous man living in the law he had no choice but to put her aside.
But, that word dikaios, "just," has another meaning. It means to be prudent, to be discreet, to act with chivalry, to be big-hearted.
He intended to put her away with chivalry and discreet justice, when suddenly he had this life-altering dream from God.
Matthew 1:20 ESV
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.
I have often heard Christian’s say “If the Lord would just show me what He wants me to do in this situation life would be so much easier”.
Joseph’s story is proof that such a request does not make life easier in some ways it can make it more difficult. Yet Joseph awoke from his dream and “did as the angel of the Lord command him”.
Joseph shows us that we can obey God in the midst of painful and difficult circumstances.

He models obedience in the face of fear.

Joseph models for us that we can obey God in spite of fear.
When the word came to Joseph, the word was this "do not fear." Joseph was terrified by the virginal conception of Mary.
God had come close, very close, and it had created a situation. You see that again and again in the fifth chapter of Luke after that miraculous catch of fish.
It doesn't say that Peter was overcome with gladness or that Peter was overcome with joy. What does it say? Peter was overcome with fear, and he got down and said, "Depart from me. I'm a sinful man."
When God draws close and invades our world with his supernatural power it can create in us a sense of fear.
Joseph would much rather have gone back to his carpenter shop and played with his tools than have to be the stepfather of the Son of God.
It would have been easier for Peter to go back to the enterprise of fishing than to have to become the big fisherman and preacher of Pentecost.
So he said, "Depart from me. I'm a sinful man." The truth is in the face of God's commands it's easier for us to go back to our comfortable, safe, cozy, predictable round of activities than it is to obey God in a radical way.
Joseph models for us that with immediacy and in spite of painful, confusing circumstances, and in the face of fear we can abandon things and obey God.
In fact, we can obey God by staking everything on his Word alone which came to Joseph in a dream.
Joseph was just like that other dreamer, his namesake, Joseph, hanging his life and destiny on the dreams that he had in that Egyptian prison.
When Joseph heard that word of command he set out to Bethlehem and to Egypt, obedient to the word of God.
From this remarkable, forgotten man of Christmas we can learn obedience that stakes everything on one word from God.

Joseph reminds us that obedience always has its consequence.

I think we could understand this story better if we contemporized it, took it out of the olivewood Nativity sets and off the front of Christmas cards and put it in contemporary language.
Suppose there was a young man today engaged to a young woman and suddenly she was found to be pregnant, and he had a dream and God surprised him by saying, "Stay with her."
After he was staggered by that kind of confusion he had to face his parents and explain to them what was going on. He had to face her parents and explain to them what was going on.
He had to face the gossip that would come from those circumstances. As he began to settle his heart down some government bureaucrat said everyone in the United States had to go back to his hometown to register for a special tax.
So he got in his old car and drove across the country, and when he got to his hometown all of the motel rooms are full, all of the hotel rooms are full, and the only place he could stray was in a garage.
He took this woman to whom he was engaged and not married, who was pregnant, and in the garage a baby was born, and they set the baby down on a workbench.
When the young man wonders What else could happen to me? a group of street people come in banging on the garage door and say, "Let us in," and these street people fall down on their knees and say, "Glory to God in the highest. We've come to worship this baby."
As the young man's eyes grow wider, not long after that, three stretch limousines pull up and ambassadors to the United Nations get out and bring Krugerrand's and lay them at the baby's feet.
Then the governor of the state calls up the National Guard to kill all the babies in that town, and he has another dream and God tells him "You better get out of there and go to South America in a hurry." Can you imagine?
If you contemporize this story you can understand viscerally what happened to Joseph. There wasn't any Interstate 20 going to Egypt. There were no McDonald's, no hotels, no restaurants.
He didn't have a job or a network. He found himself there in obedience to God, and he accepted the consequences.
Joseph reminds us that obedience often brings difficult circumstances as well as our highest joy.
But one final obvious truth to which we are oblivious to and it is this . . .

Joseph’s models for us the influence of obedience.

Joseph was the father figure in the home of Jesus.
Maybe all of those old clichÉs about fathers and sons are true. The twig does grow in the direction that it's bent. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. And when Jesus started preaching what did he call God?
He didn't call him emperor. He didn't call him sister. He didn't call him brother. He didn't call him camel driver. He called him Abba, Father.
In all of Jewish literature no one had ever called God that before. If you get out the writings of the rabbi you don't find it. Only Jesus called God Abba, Dad, Papa. Why?
It was said of Martin Luther, the Reformer, that his relationship with his father was so terrible that all of his life he had difficulty calling God Father.
Not so with Jesus, the Son of Joseph. I think that it is because of the remarkable, simple obedience that he saw in the life of Joseph that he was able to take that life and lift it up and see a word to use of our heavenly Father.
In the Louvre is a painting by Georges de La Tour called Joseph the Carpenter.
It's a picture in the carpenter's shop, and there is Joseph, older, sturdy, and there's the boy Jesus ten years old.
He's watching. He appears to be content. He is holding a candle; a candle is behind the hand of Jesus. So as you look at the painting the hand looks translucent.
You can see the light coming through the hand. I'm dumbfounded at the way he could paint that. It looks more real than real.
Jesus is holding the candle shining through his hand, shining in that carpenter's shop. They are working on some intractable material on the floor, and it looks as if Joseph is trying to meet a deadline.
When you look the shadows illumined by the candlelight in the hand of the boy Jesus, you see that what's on the floor is really two pieces of wood in a cross shape.
For in de La Tour's painting, Jesus and Joseph are putting together a cross.
And our Lord, who saw that remarkably simple obedience in Joseph learned obedience himself, even to the cross.
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