Sermon Titled “Joseph Called By God” (Matthew 1:18-25) – Sunday 22nd January, 2013
In last weekend’s sermon, the final sermon before Christmas 2013, Pastor Reimer preached on the verses from Matthew 1:18-25. These verses provide Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, but with a focus on Joseph’s righteousness and obedience to God. There is much for us to learn from this passage of scripture, including the following key points:
1. Verses 18 and 19: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[a]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[b] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Key Point # 1 – Compassion. To fully appreciate Joseph’s compassionate gesture, it’s important to understand the cultural and legal environment in which he and Mary lived.
First of all, Mary’s pregnancy gave Joseph obvious reason to believe that his bride-to-be had been unfaithful. The stigma of being betrothed to an unfaithful woman was bad enough, but in a day and age where men were forced to guard their honor, Joseph was placed in a horrible predicament. Mary’s supposed infidelity potentially cast upon Joseph an implication of poor judgment, and consequently a significant loss of honor.
Joseph could have chosen to save his own reputation and seek revenge for the shame brought to him by Mary, but he chose instead to exercise great restraint by tempering justice with compassion. He knew that the fate awaiting Mary, once he divorced her, was essentially life-ending (her chances of ever marrying again would be slight to none – a devastating plight for any woman in that era), so he had compassion for her and attempted to divorce her quietly to minimize her public disgrace.
2. Verses 20 and 21: 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
Key Point #2 – Obedience to God. When you follow Christ, says Pastor Reimer, it will cost you something. As Henry Blackaby once said, “You can’t go with God and stay where you are.” Generally speaking, most people prefer to stay where they are comfortable.
When Joseph was told in a dream that Mary’s conception was of the Holy Spirit’s doing, and that he should continue to remain faithful to her and take her home as his wife, he did so without question. Joseph trusted and obeyed the angel’s commands, despite the seemingly absurd explanation he had received.
The cost to Joseph, in choosing to obey, was enormous. He would be marrying a woman who was pregnant; people would naturally assume that he and Mary had had premarital sex. The public condemnation they would likely receive would be difficult to endure, given that they lived in a society which took seriously the cultural laws and traditions. His act of obedience shows however, that he was a man who deeply trusted and revered God, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice his own honor by honoring God instead.
3. Verses 22 to 25 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[d] (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Key Points # 3 and # 4 – Joseph’s Sexual Restraint, And Why The Virgin Birth Matters. First of all, Matthew shows us how righteous Joseph was by showing us how strictly he adhered to Jewish customs and expectations. Determined to practice sexual restraint until after Mary had given birth and until after they were legally married, we are given a glimpse of Joseph’s virtuous character.
Few men and women would be willing, in today’s world, to wait until marriage before consummating their relationship. And fewer men and women are staying faithful in their marriages because we now live in a society which values self-gratification and devalues the discipline of self-control.
Secondly, in writing about Joseph’s sexual restraint, Matthew hopes that his audience will believe that a virgin birth really did occur, just as Isaiah had predicted more than 700 years earlier (Isaiah 7:14). It’s important that the “virgin birth” is noted as such, because any suggestions of Christ having a natural father would also be suggesting that His deity is a scam.
Final Key Point: The Names Jesus and Immanuel Give Us Hope
The term gospel, translated from the Greek noun euangelion, means “good news” (bible.org). When we consider and believe the full Story of Christmas, as told in the Bible, then it really is good news. Our hope, we are told, is found in Jesus, and here’s why:
The son of Mary was to be called by the names Jesus and Immanuel. The name Jesus gives us a hint of what He is called to do; it means “God is Savior.” In Matthew 1:21, we are told that He will save His people from their sins. His blood, shed on the cross, was the atonement for our sins, and His offer of salvation is extended to anyone who is willing to believe in Him.
The name Immanuel describes who Jesus is. Immanuel is the Hebrew word, which literally means “God is with us.” It literally implies that Jesus, also known as Immanuel, is deity. He is God, and He came so that we might be saved.
Jesus entered this world as a baby, born to parents who had no wealth or status, and detested by those who felt threatened by His presence. His humble beginnings, His selfless and loving acts all throughout His lifetime, and His death on a cross, are somewhat confusing to those who are still seeking to understand Him. These are all confusing because He is essentially everything that we, naturally, are not.
But, the names Jesus and Immanuel give us hope, when we choose to exercise the same kind of faith and obedience that Joseph did, knowing that there will be a cost involved but trusting God anyway.