“Joseph’s Dilemma”

The Gospel Truth  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Joseph was faced with a problem when his fiancee was discovered to be pregnant before their marriage was consummated.

Series: “The Gospel Truth”
Text: Matt. 1: 18-24
Introduction: (What?)
We could call Joseph “the quiet man” because in scripture he never speaks. We are sure that he must have spoken, but we don’t know what he said. We do, however know what he did. He was a man of great faith and also was obedient to the LORD evidently without question. He was faced with a situation that had no precedent. He could not look back to see how someone else handled such a situation, because no one ever had.
Examination: (Why?)
1. The Father who wasn’t (vv 18-19)
In order to understand Joseph’s dilemma, one must also understand the Jewish laws and traditions regarding marriage. When we read that Mary was “engaged” to Joseph, we think of it as modern day engagement. However, in the Jewish tradition it was much more. The “engagement” or “betrothal” was as binding as marriage. In order to break it, one must get a divorce. The reasons for divorce included infidelity among other things. Joseph was perceived to be a “righteous man” which to the Hebrew meant that he was a true believer in God who obeyed the Law. In addition to being righteous, Joseph was also merciful. There was no malice in his plan. He wanted to protect Mary is at all possible. With this as a backdrop, let’s look at Matt. 1:18-19
“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.”
In order to divorce Mary secretly, Joseph would have to get the agreement of both his family and Mary’s family that the proceedings would be kept secret. He would have to forfeit the dowry he had paid to the bride’s family to cover some of the cost of losing a wage earner or house keeper. They would also have to have a “cover story” to explain to the people in town why the marriage was not going forward. Nazareth was not that big a place, and people talked and counted on their fingers. Failure to pull off this secret divorce would place Mary in jeopardy. The Law required that a woman who became pregnant before the consummation of her marriage should be stoned to death.
2. The News that Shook Joseph (vv 20-23)
Joseph was operating on very little information when he began planning a divorce that would not put put Mary in peril. All he knew was that his soon to be wife was pregnant and he knew that he was not the father. Then he had a nocturnal visitor.
Matt.1 20-23 “But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus (Joshua or Hoshea), because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.’”
The Virgin birth of Jesus was necessary so that He would not inherit Adam’s sin nature. God was his father and therefore had no sin nature to pass on to His “only begotten Son”. John reminded us in John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Even though it had been prophesied, it was still hard for the people of the day to wrap their minds around. Thus Joseph was faced with a dilemma. He could either divorce Mary or be complicit in her murder. That is a lot to swallow for a young man who has just seen his plans go up in smoke. In modern lingo, one can imagine Joseph saying, “Yeah, right!” when the angel told him that Mary’s pregnancy was supernatural and that she was still a virgin. Not only did the angel give Joseph the news about his bride, but he commanded (or at least strongly suggested) that Joseph go ahead with the marriage as planned.
Matthew added that this angelic message was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isa 7:14 “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” Joseph, as a God-fearing Jew, would recognize this scripture. Perhaps that helped him with the decision he must make.
3. A Decision of Faith (vv 24-25)
“When Joseph woke up, he did as the LORD’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.”
Occasionally I have a dream that I remember the next morning. Most of the time I don’t remember. Even when I do I have a difficult time making sense of the dream. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream that was a message from God. If I did, I hope that my faith would lead me to act on it as Joseph did. Regarding the restoration of Israel, the prophet Joel said, “your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.” I keep hoping for one or the other.
When Joseph woke up all of his plans had changed. His game plan became the words of hymn that we sing. Trust and Obey. Notice that they hymn does not say, “Understand, trust and obey.” He had to trust that his dream was actually an angel (messenger) from God and if so, he had to decide to obey, whatever the cost, or not. Take into consideration that Joseph himself was either in his late teens or early twenties.
Application: (How should I respond to this message?)
Joseph was a righteous Jewish man. He was a believer and keeper of the Law. Yet he was called to act in faith regarding his involvement in the birth of Messiah.
Acting in faith means that you don’t necessarily understand the “why?” but God calls on you to “trust and obey”.
Jesus never gave an altar call. Rather he said “Follow Me”. That is what it means to surrender to Jesus. Joseph gave up his plans and followed the directions of the messenger from God. Essentially he “followed Jesus” even before Jesus was born. Surrendering to Jesus means that you operate on His terms, not yours.
Have you surrendered to Jesus? Are you walking (living) as Jesus walked? Are you living by faith or by sight? Today is the day to exercise faith as Joseph did…Trust and Obey.
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