David Jeremiah - The Forgotten Man of Christmas
I'm David Jeremiah wishing you a blessed Christmas season. When you think of the Christmas story, which key players do you remember most often, Mary, the shepherds, or perhaps the wise men? I imagine there's one person who did not come to mind right away, this character is often overlooked and in today's message, I'll remind you of the importance of this individual, The Forgotten Man of Christmas. This man Joseph found himself in an impossible situation. His betrothed wife, Mary, announced that she was with child before their marriage and he had a choice to make. As we consider what he could have done, it makes us reflect upon what we would have done in the same situation and as we'll learn today, Joseph turns out to be one of the most honorable men in the Bible. I'll explain more about Joseph's honor and faithfulness on today's edition of, "Turning Point".
A worried mother planned to allow her child to be in the Christmas pageant and on the afternoon before the annual Sunday school Christmas pageant was to take place, she called the church office to say that her little boy, who was supposed to play the part of Joseph, had caught the flu and was confined to bed. The director of the pageant thought for a moment and he said, "Well, it's too late to get another Joseph, so I guess we'll just have to write Joseph out of the script". And that's exactly what they did, and the probability is that very few people even noticed. Every year when we celebrate Christmas, we get caught up on the shepherds, the wise men, the angels, especially Mary and the Christ child, but we write Joseph out of the script.
But I want you to consider this before you write him out of the script. God had all the men in this world from whom to select an earthly father for Jesus and he picked Joseph. He was the earthly father of the Lord Jesus. He was the one that God chose to accompany the mother of our Lord on her earthly journey, and God's plan for redemption of the world depended on one man's willingness to raise a child who was not his own. Joseph must have been an interesting person. We know very little about him because not much a written about him, but we do that he must have been poor because when he and Mary offered a sacrifice at the temple, they sacrificed a turtle dove, which was a sacrifice for poor people. And we first meet him when he is mentioned, incidentally, in the record of the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary.
Here is the Scripture, "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary". After Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of our Messiah, the Bible tells us that Mary left town with haste and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also with child. And we read in the Book of Luke that Elizabeth, after three months, allowed Mary to return to Nazareth and when she came back to her own house, as we would say it in our day today, she was three months pregnant. And the discovery of that is about to happen on the part of Joseph, verse 18. Now, the birth of Jesus was as follows, "After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit".
Now, this is a very interesting section of Scripture and one that is often under attack by those who don't believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And oftentimes misunderstandings happen in the understanding of the Bible 'cause we don't stop to realize that Jewish times back then were different than our times today. In fact, that is completely evident when you talk about a Jewish marriage. In Judaism in Jerusalem if you were to get married, there were three phases to it. First of all, there was what they called the espousal phase, and that was something that you had nothing to say about because an espousal was the time when mom and dad got together and picked out your future mate. Parents would maybe have people that grew up in their community and they would have little discussions about, "Oh, she would be great". By the time they were in the second or third grade, they already knew they were gonna marry, that was espousal.
And then about a year before they got married was another period called betrothal and that was kind of like our engagement period and during that period of time, they would continue to live at home with their parents. So, they wouldn't live together but the betrothal part of a Jewish marriage was very serious. It was so serious that if they would break it, that would consider that a divorce. And even though they had not come together and consummated their marriage during that yearlong betrothal, this was very serious. According to the Scripture, as we open our Bibles to the Book of Matthew, the engagement between Joseph and Mary has been solidified, gifts have been given, friends and relatives know in general that Joseph and Mary are engaged and would soon be married. And then we read the stark words of the Bible which say, "She was found with child". What a moment of discovery that must have been for that man. What a terrible moment to believe that he had married a virtuous woman, that he was espoused and betrothed to this woman, and to find this out.
So, we move in our study of Matthew, chapter 1, from the discovery phase to the dilemma phase. It says in verse 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". Now, I've actually heard some people think that that means he was gonna do away with her, but that's not what it means at all. The word "to put away" in the New Testament language of the Bible is a phrase that means to divorce. So, you could read this that he did not want to make her a public example, so he was minded to divorce her secretly. The late Bill Bright captures the dilemma in the heart of Joseph when he writes this very powerful statement. He said, "What if you lived in a society with a strict moral code and you were engaged to a young girl who, during the engagement period, was discovered to be pregnant by somebody other than yourself? And then while you were contemplating breaking the engagement, what if an angel appeared to you in a dream one night and told you that God himself had made her pregnant and that she would give birth to one who would be the Savior who was promised by more than 300 prophecies hundreds of years before? This would make you the human stepfather of God in the flesh".
And that's what happened to Joseph. That literally happened to him. And it caught him up in the dilemma between two parts of who he was, his character on the one side, and his compassion on the other. Somebody said, "Well, why didn't he just marry her right off the bat"? Because that would have made him complicit in what he considered to be a sinful act. In the Old Testament when someone who was engaged committed adultery... I know this is harsh. We don't do this today, it's a good thing. They stoned them. They were under Judaism. They lost their life for that act of unfaithfulness. So, on the one hand, Joseph couldn't just act as if it didn't happen because if he had done that, it was a shot at his character, and the Bible says he was a righteous, just man. But hear my carefully, Matthew does not deny that Mary had become pregnant before her marriage to Joseph. He tells us, however, that Joseph desired to shield Mary from shameful exposure and was going to quietly divorce her, but before Joseph had time to take any action at all, he received a message straight from heaven that changed everything.
How many of you've ever got a message straight from heaven? I mean, we don't get it in the dramatic ways, perhaps, as they do in the Bible but I've had times when I thought, "Okay God, I know that's you talking. I'm listening". Sometimes when we need it the most, we get a message from heaven, don't we? Usually it's through the Word of God, or maybe it comes through a sermon, or maybe a Word somebody else says to you but as soon as it happens, you know, "This is a God thing. This is God speaking into my life". It's interesting that Matthew says that while he was thinking on these things, something happened to Joseph. We come now to the dream in verses 20 to 23. In his book "Christmas Through The Eyes of Joseph," Adam Hamilton reminds us that Joseph, during this period of considering, was probably wondering what in the world was going on and maybe even doubting whether he was hearing voices or hearing God. Hamilton says that once in a while, he runs into a young couple, or a young man, who doesn't want to believe in the virgin birth and says it's just too hard to believe and it's not gonna believe it. And he says, "I like to remind a person when they say that to me, you're in good company".
Joseph was the first doubter and he heard the story from Mary. Not wrong to doubt because even in his doubting, we're told that Joseph was a righteous man. So, the Bible says in verse 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.'" While Joseph was pondering these things, the Bible tells us that sleep overtook him, and he began to dream. And the word for dream is a very special word that speaks of dreaming while you're sleep, not having a vision while you're awake. And the Bible tells that while he was sleeping, an angel of the Lord we now know to be Gabriel, came to him with a message.
Here is the interesting thing about this to me, men and women, we do not have one single word from the lips of Joseph in all of the record of the Bible, not one. He didn't say, yes, no, or anything. We don't know how he spoke or what he spoke, but we have no record of it at all. But on the other hand, we know that God spoke to Joseph on four separate occasions by way of a dream. He spoke to him, first of all, in the dream he's about to experience telling him that it's all right for him to take her as his wife. Then he speaks to him again in dream number two and he says, "Joseph get out of here 'cause Herod's coming after your life". And then he speaks to him a third time while he's in Egypt and says, "Herod's dead, you can go back home". And then he speaks to him a fourth time saying, "Oh but by the way, don't go back where you started. Go back to Nazareth". And the Scripture says that fourth dream was so that prophecy could be fulfilled that Jesus would have a connection with the city of Nazareth. I say that because it appears as if in the Bible when God was about to start something new and he wanted to get the attention of the players, he did it through a dream.
Did you know that the Bible says, "There's coming a time in the future where there will be another period of dream"? The Bible says, "The young men will see visions and the old men will dream dreams". And some of us wonder if what's happening now in the Middle East through many people who have grown up in Islam and have come to find Christ, by virtue of dreams, we might be on the front end of that period of time in the future. But mark it down, Almighty God saw this moment in the life of Joseph and in the life of Mary as one of the most important moments in the history of the world. He didn't just send him wondering, he sent him for as if to say, "This is important. I want to get your attention". I don't want to give you all my secrets, but I want to tell you that in my life, a few times that I can remember, God has gotten my attention. It hasn't been by dreams but when God gets your attention, you best listen, what's about to happen is really important.
So Joseph now hears from the angel, and Joseph learns that it is all right for him to marry this woman. And Joseph is referred to in this dream as the son of David and it's providentially and prophetically ordered that this child will come from David and Joseph was not Jesus's physical father, but by his marriage to Mary, he would give Jesus his true legal status. The angel appeared to Joseph that he should have no hesitation. He said, "Joseph, you don't have to put it away. Marry her. Make her your wife". And then the instruction that he gives him in verse 21 is this, "She will bring forth a Son, Joseph, and you will call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins". When you say the word "Jesus," you're saying Jehovah saves, that's what the word means. And the last part of that verse is just giving you the meaning of the word "Jesus". You will call his name Jesus 'cause he's Jehovah saves. He will save his people from their sins.
Did you know that in the fist chapter of the Book of Matthew, there are six different names for the Lord Jesus? He's called Jesus Christ. He's called the Son of David. He's called the Son of Abraham. He's called Christ. He's called Jesus. And he's called Emmanuel. But the name that we call him is Jesus. Say that name with me, Jesus. He's the name we love because that's his salvation name. That's the name that we embrace when we come to accept him. The Jesus of Bethlehem is our Savior. Finally in Matthew's account, there is kind of a one final formal reminder to us of how important this information is. In verses 22 and 23 of Matthew chapter 1, we read these words, "So all of this was done". All of what? All that we have just been talking about. Joseph and Mary, and the angels, and the dreams, "All of this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which is translated, 'God with us.'"
Now, Matthew tells us that what he's about to say in this verse is a quotation of a prophet. In the text itself it doesn't tell us which prophet it is, but we know who it is. It's Isaiah. In Isaiah 7:14 we read these words, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel". Now, if I could, I would put both of these up here on this big screen and show that what Matthew quoted is what exactly Isaiah said. And there's one word in both of these texts that is critical, and it's a strange word because it's a word we often overlook. It's the little word "the". If you and I were writing this, we would say, "Behold a virgin shall conceive". But Isaiah didn't say that. Isaiah said, "Behold the virgin shall conceive". And when Matthew quoted it he said, "As the prophet said, it is the virgin who will conceive". In other words, not just any virgin, not just any girl, not just any woman, but the woman God had chosen. It was one woman, one specific woman, she was to be the mother of our Lord, not anyone else, just her.
And so, the definite article in both Isaiah and in Matthew points to a specific woman we know as the virgin Mary. And the Bible tells us at the end of this text in verses 24 and 25 that, "Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus". Without hesitation, as soon as the dream was over, Joseph got up to publicly take Mary to be his wife and doubtless, all the ceremonies of the usual wedding were involved, including the feast. And he took her into his house as was custom and nothing was missing from this wedding. And what you notice in this is that Joseph has the same compliant attitude toward the Lord that Mary had. It says here, "Joseph, being aroused, did as the angel commanded him". He took the opportunity to be obedient to God. And the Bible says in verse 25, "And he did not know Mary till she had brought forth her firstborn Son". That means he was not involved intimately with Mary until after Jesus was born.
You say, "Well, why is that interesting"? Because had he been, the critics would have come along and said, "No, that wasn't the virgin born Christ, that was a combination of Joseph and Mary". How very particular men and women in the story of Christmas is this wonderful truth that we are not talking about just an unusual situation, we are talking about a miracle situation. This was not just happenstance that she was suddenly pregnant. No, the Bible tells us she was with child of the Holy Spirit. There was no human agency involved in this pregnancy. It was Mary and the Holy Spirit bringing forth our Savior. God gave himself to us in the virgin born child, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of man. And through Mary, he could reach down and touch mankind and through the Holy Spirit, he could reach up and touch heaven. And because he was the God man and the Son of man, he could bring those two things together. He's who we needed. He's who we needed so we could be forgiven of our sin. Just an ordinary good man couldn't do that for us. I couldn't die for your sin. You couldn't die for my sin.
In fact, once you die, you're dying is over. It takes somebody like God to do that. In fact, it takes God, doesn't it? And Jesus Christ was the Son of God. His birth protected so particularly by the inspiration of the Scripture. So, you have Joseph, and you have Mary, and you have the Christ, and all of them have this one thing in common, it's in this word "surrender". What a hard word for us. You know how we pray? We pray like this, "Lord, my will be done, not thine". Don't laugh at me, you know that's true. We may not say it out loud, but that's how we, "Lord, I want what I want and if you can get on it, that'd be all right". But the Bible says, "We're to pray not my will be done, but thine". The Bible says until we are willing to surrender our will this the Lord, we will miss what he wants to do.
Think for a moment what the world would have missed if either Joseph or Mary had been unwilling to surrender to the will of God. And you can't help but wonder sometimes as you see the people of God what they're missing out on because they just can't let go and surrender. I know that's a hard step for many of us, but I'd like to encourage you at this Christmas season to use the example of the mother of our Lord and of his earthly father to be willing to say, "According to your Word, Lord, whatever you want". For some of you, that means you have got to give your heart to Christ. You've been coming to church, you know the gospel, you're just holding on. You're saying, "I don't want to give my life to Christ because then I've gotta do what he tells me to do". But what he wants to tell you to do is the best thing you could ever do in your life.
And some of you are Christians, and you haven't been baptized, or you don't want to get involved in the church, or whatever, you're holding back. Until you surrender, until you say, "Lord, I'm all in," you will never know the full joy you were meant to know as a follower of Jesus Christ. That, to me, is one of the great messages of the incarnation. The Lord Jesus Christ gave it all up to come here to be our Savior and look what happened, look how that's affected you, and me, and the world around us. "Merry Christmas" is a great way to greet people because Christmas is the story of surrender, and it's my prayer that whatever it is you're holding on to, whatever it is that you don't want God to get involved in, whatever it is you think you can manage better than he can, you will get yourself to this place where you say, "Okay Lord, you win. I'm all in".