A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

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“He is not Here”

(Please read Matthew 28:1-10.)

MESSAGE: Joy is one of our greatest resources of faith.  Our joy comes from the Resurrection.

CONTEXT: The previous section (27:62-66) introduces the Jewish clergy’s conspiracy to make sure there would be no deceit about the resurrection of Jesus.  They asked the Roman governor to set a watch to keep Jesus’ disciples away from the tomb.  This tells us two things: One, they were aware of Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead.  This is important: they knew His teaching to this extent and yet still rejected Him!  Two, they were so paranoid they anticipated a situation in which Jesus’ disciples would fake a resurrection.

The following section (MTW 28:11-15) is the conclusion of the conspiracy; the guards were bribed to create a false report, the Jewish clergy circulated the false report as a rumor, and the lie persisted to the days in which Matthew wrote his Gospel.

Matthew’s resurrection account is sandwiched in between these conspiracy notes.  So Matthew’s purpose is to expose falsehood of the Jewish conspiracy with the truth.

COMMENT:

  1. The evidence of the Resurrection.

One neglected bit of evidence contrary to the Jewish clergy’s “conspiracy theory” is Matthew’s evidence that there was no plot among the disciples to fake the Resurrection.  We see this in all the details that show the disciples were not initially interested in the tomb.

– While travel was forbidden on the Sabbath, the Sabbath officially ended at sundown.  If anyone wanted to get t/t tomb at the earliest possible moment, they’d have been there Saturday night.  Yet none of the disciples approached the tomb until Sunday.  In fact, if you were up to skullduggery, doing it Saturday night under the cover of darkness would make MORE SENSE.

– If anyone HAD tried to steal Jesus’ body, they would’ve run afoul of the soldiers guarding the tomb.

– Only the women approached the tomb.  If they’d planned to steal Jesus’ body, it would have been done by a group of men with enough physical strength to roll back the heavy stone that closed off the tomb.

– Matthew tells us that the women went to LOOK AT THE TOMB.  This is likely based on the traditional practice of the Jews to return to the tomb of a loved one for three straight days after death to make sure that they were truly dead.  (Apparently lots of human cultures have fears of being buried alive.)

– The other Gospel writers tell us that the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  There would be no need for these supplies if they were enacting a grave robbery OR expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead.  They expected to find a corpse in the tomb, and had planned to deal with it there, not take it away.

A second bit of evidence is the EARTHQUAKE. Before they could make arrangements to have the stone rolled back, the women experienced a VIOLENT EARTHQUAKE.  But the purpose of the EARTHQUAKE is not to roll the stone back; the text clearly says that the angel did that.  The purpose is to announce the angel’s arrival and the fact that something important has happened. Notice that the tomb is already empty when the stone is rolled away.  This was not done to let Jesus OUT, it was rolled away to let His disciples IN!

The third piece of evidence offered in Matthew’s Gospel is the ANGEL.  Matthew’s description of the angel’s appearance offers us insight into the Resurrection.  Most Bible descriptions of angels are understated.  Matthew and Luke’s description are more supernatural.

– HIS APPEARANCE WAS LIKE LIGHTNING. In Matthew 24:27, LIGHTNING is used to illustrate the suddenness of Jesus’ Second Coming.  Two aspects: the dazzling light of the glory of God and the suddenness of His appearing.

– HIS CLOTHES WERE WHITE AS SNOW.  This expression was also used to describe Jesus at the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:2).  In Revelation 7:9, the great multitude of Jesus’ followers stand around God’s throne similarly dressed. It symbolizes the purity of the wearer.

– The appearance of the angel was so striking that THE GUARDS WERE SO AFRAID OF HIM THEY SHOOK AND BECAME LIKE DEAD MEN.  This explains how the tomb was open without the soldiers being guilty of dereliction of duty.

We can also gain insight from the angel’s testimony.

– “I KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JESUS, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED.”  Jesus appears to all who truly seek Him.

– “HE IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID” (see Matthew 16:21; 17, 23; 20:18-19 for instances where this promise was made).  Though the disciples did not understand or believe them at the time, Jesus kept His promises.

– “COME AND SEE THE PLACE WHERE HE LAY.”  The angel made them an invitation to use their physical senses.

– “THEN GO AND QUICKLY TELL HIS DISCIPLES…”  QUICKLY is for the sake of the other disciples who were still sick with grief.

– “NOW I HAVE TOLD YOU.”  From then on, they were responsible to obey or not.

The fourth and most significant piece of evidence for the resurrection is when Jesus appeared to them.

– SO THE WOMEN HURRIED AWAY FROM THE TOMB…AND RAN TO TELL HIS DISCIPLES. Their feet were propelled by excitement and a desire to obey.

– SUDDENLY JESUS MET THEM.  The word SUDDENLY carries a lot of force in the Greek; in English, it might be, “WHAM! There He was!”  The most important evidence for the Resurrection is all the people Jesus met after He rose from the dead.

– “GREETINGS,” HE SAID.  This typical greeting feels out of place in this atypical situation.

  1. The women’s response to the Resurrection.

We learn first that they were AFRAID, YET FULL OF JOY.  That exact reaction is the most logical one when a person truly encounters God.  It sounds and feels like an odd mix, but it can be particularly energizing.

Second, they responded with obedience.  The angel told them to “GO QUICKLY” so they RAN.  This is a full, literal, and simple obedience.  Obedience in time is part of a full obedience.  To obey fully is to obey immediately.  They were sensitive to how well received this news would be and they were understandably eager to tell Jesus’ BROTHERS (a gracious term!).

Third, worship.  This word combines two Greek words; “to kiss” & “to bow.” It is a word picture of the posture and the attitude of worship; deference given to an authority figure.  It was customary in that culture, to show respect for someone important to kneel before them and kiss the hem of their robe.  While it sounds strange to us that the women CLASPED THE FEET of Jesus, this was the most appropriate behavior in the situation.  They expressed complete submission to Jesus.