Love Is... Obedience

Series: Love is...

Advent: Love Is…

Good morning, my name is Wally and I am on the Pastoral leadership team here at Jericho Ridge.

  • This Advent our sermon series is called “Love Is…”
  • We’re probing what love is within the Christmas narrative.
  • And for many people, there are two obvious or main players in the Christmas story: God and Mary
    • God the Father authors a divine conception in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus is born in human flesh … Immanuel, God with us.

And even as Jesus grows and matures, Mary remains as a key figure in the Gospels, often mentioned in Jesus’ life

Joseph, on the other hand, Mary’s husband, seems to have a much lesser role in the Christmas story and in the life of Jesus.

  • In fact, we simply can’t focus too much on Joseph because not a lot is written about him in the Gospel accounts.
  • But surely, Joseph is integral to the birth narrative…
  • After all, he was engaged to the woman who was going to give birth to Jesus/the Messiah, and he was going to parent Jesus.
  • So Joseph must have something to tell us about what Love Is…
    • Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 1:18-25... in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, Matthew is the only writer to record details about Joseph in the birth narrative of Jesus.
  • As we are about to read, we find Joseph engaged to be married when unexpectedly, everything starts to unravel.

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Joseph, son of David, the angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lords message through his prophet: 23 Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God is with us.’”

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

So who is Joseph? What’s he going through? And what does he have to tell us about what Love Is… this advent?

  • Notice how this passage begins and ends...
  • In v.18, Mary is referred to as Jesus’ mother … Joseph isn’t referred to as Jesus’ father.
  • Then in v.25 it doesn’t say until “their” son was born … it says, until “her” son was born.
  • Mary, we read, is the mother... but Joseph isn’t the father.
  • We know more about Mary’s significant role because Luke records her encounter with the angel, Gabriel, in Luke 1.
  • Luke tells us that Mary is to be the “chosen one.”
  • But Joseph doesn’t know this … he wasn’t there when Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her what was going to happen.

Joseph is simply going about his daily routines coupled with the excitement of being engaged and getting married.

  • 18 tells us that he was engaged to Mary, which meant something different in Joseph’s culture.
  • When Mary and Joseph intended to be married, they would have gone to the rabbi and publicly signed a legal document.
  • They were bound to each other and there were only 2 ways to break an engagement if the woman was found to be unfaithful.
  • Option 1 was drastic and brought public shame on the entire family … the fiancé would have her stoned, often to death.
  • The other option, more compassionate, but rarely taken … was to go back to the rabbi and pay for a bill of divorce…
  • This too would have been embarrassing for Mary because it would affect her family... but at least it wasn’t public...
  • It was the more gracious and caring thing to do.
  • 19 tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, which means he was just … he cared about doing the right thing.
  • So because Mary had been unfaithful in his eyes, he decided to break off the engagement quietly with a bill of divorce.
  • I’m sure he struggled between not having anything to do with this child and not wanting to hurt Mary.
  • He loved her, but divorce was the logical way forward.

Now remember, at this point, Mary is the only one who knows the truth directly from the source about what’s happening.

  • Luke tells us that Mary is alone when she’s told by the angel that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
  • She is alone at the moment of conception … no fiancé, no priest, no rabbi, no parent … to corroborate the story.
  • So from the onset, Mary’s story was unbelievable: laughable at best and blasphemous at worst.
  • But Joseph knew Mary, at least he thought he knew Mary … would she really joke about something like this?
  • Mary seemed to truly believe that she was actually pregnant with the Messiah, the Christ-child.
  • Nevertheless, having decided on divorce, Joseph’s next question was obvious, “Who’s the father?”
  • Joseph’s conscience was clear … he had never physically violated the purity of their engagement relationship.
  • But Mary obviously wasn’t the person he thought she was.
  • In one short conversation everything was turned upside down and Joseph was devastated and shocked beyond belief.
  • His perception of Mary was shattered, and his life, his future, was in shambles.

18  Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

Regardless of who the father was, there was only one proper and just option, a bill of divorce.

  • Joseph wasn’t there when Gabriel first appeared ... he wasn’t told about that “power of the Holy Spirit” clause.
  • All Joseph had was his finance’s shocking words to go by.
  • And to make matters worse, Mary ups and leaves town.
  • Luke 1:39 tells us that just a few days after the angel visited Mary, she “hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town” where her relative Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.
  • Mary receives her news, tells Joseph, and leaves town!
  • At a time when Joseph most needed to process and make life-altering decisions, he doesn’t even have Mary to talk to.

20 As he considered breaking the engagement, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

  • Joseph said goodbye to Mary, heads home and falls into bed.
  • You can imagine an incredibly lonely and restless sleep, filled with confusion and negative foreshadowing…
  • And then suddenly his sleep is interrupted by an angel speaking to him in a dream…

 Joseph, son of David, the angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

  • “Well, now you tell me! How is that even possible?”
  • Astonishingly, the angel confirms Mary’s story!

20the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

  • The first-born was always named after the father...
  • But remember, Joseph isn’t the father.

 21 she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lords message through his prophet [Isaiah 7:14]: 23 Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God is with us.’”

  • Matthew doesn’t leave any question in his commentary as to what was actually happening.
  • God spoke these words to Isaiah the prophet centuries ago.
  • Joseph knows this from his lessons in the synagogue, but he had no idea it would be his fiancé who was the chosen virgin.
    • In that moment, Joseph moves from confusion and safety to a mind-boggling place of risk and the unknown.
  • Did an angel, did God, really speak to him in his dream?
  • And if so, what does Joseph do?
  • Here’s where we find what love is in this part of the Christmas narrative … namely, Love Is… Obedience.

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

The confusion and wrestling are gone for Joseph!

  • The way forward is clear as he connects the dots with what he’s been taught from the Scriptures and told by the angel.
  • On that morning, Joseph woke up and DID what the Lord commanded him to do.
  • Let that sink in … think of everything Joseph’s been going through … he did, he obeyed, because he loved God.
    • Friends, in Joseph’s Christmas story, love is… obedience.
  • In the book of 1 John, the Apostle John repeatedly makes this link between love and obedience.
  • For example, 1 John 2:3-6, “we can be sure that we know God if we obey his commands … those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him…”
  • Joseph “did” what the Lord commanded … it’s called obedience.
  • It’s not called comfortable, or easy, or even inviting…
  • When the Lord calls you to do something that is out of your routine … when he calls you to step out in risk … when he asks you to go against human logic … it comes with a price.
  • Shortly after Joseph and Mary got married, she would have started to show and wear maternity clothes.
  • And the community would react with disdain and distancing.
  • Joseph knew all this would happen.
  • But he DID what the Lord commanded him to do.
  • Joseph loved God via his obedience, despite the challenges associated with it.

Now, none of us can truly know all that Joseph went through, but in this short passage, he sets a profound example for us to follow as God speaks to us.

  • So on behalf of Joseph, let me end with 4 questions:
  1. First, are you facing a life-altering decision in this season?
  • This is the kind of decision that will most likely move you in a direction marked by change, sacrifice and risk.
  • Friend, if God is in it, go there!
  • If God is in the decision you are facing, go there.
    • Yes, check his word for contradiction or affirmation.
    • Yes, pray/listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
    • Yes, seek out Spirit-filled wisdom and counsel.
  • And if God is asking, then go there, whatever it requires!
  1. Second, when you become the brunt of talk from those who wonder how you could possibly make such a decision… what will you do?
  • Prepare yourself, because questions and opposition will come.
  • Nevertheless, if God is in the ask, go there!
  • How often we let public pressure keep us from obedience.
    • What will people think or say? How will people treat me?
  • Whatever the reaction of others, be prepared and do what the Lord is asking of you.
  1. Third, in the ask, are you being required to stand alone?
  • At their festive wedding, Joseph was going to be centre stage as the groom, along with his lovely bride.
  • He would live happily together with Mary... start a family in his community... Joseph would father their first-born son and celebrate with his family and friends!
  • But not now.
  • Instead, Joseph stands apart from his peers who were once looking forward to being a part of the wedding … but are now saying, “Don’t ask me to stand with you. I don’t want anything to do with this.”
    • Your decision may leave you standing on your own for a while.
  • It’s okay... if God is leading you, then go there.
  • You’re in good company if you’re standing alone in obedience to God.
  1. Lastly, has the Lord revealed his will to you and you are resisting the call?
  • Go there!
  • Is there a better choice than God’s will for you, regardless of what it might involve?
    • Chances are good that many won’t understand when the Lord leads you to take a risk, because God often goes against human logic and the safety of the masses.
  • Has the Lord been calling you and you’ve been resisting? … go there … you cannot do better than sheer obedience to live out your love for God.

Now, will you always get it right? I’m sure Joseph didn’t always get it right throughout his life … no one does.

  • But the Lord speaks to our spirits; he sees our hearts.
  • What he desires is a heart that loves him and aims/has faith to be obedient to what we hear him calling us to.
  • So as he does … go there.
  • If God is in the ask … go there.
  • Take that stand, make that move, forgive that person, sacrifice your finances, speak out, step up, step aside.
  • When God is in the asking, go there despite the war that wages between your heart and your circumstances!
  • Joseph did as the Lord commanded.
  • And Matthew 1:24 records perhaps the greatest epitaph anyone could ever have, “he did as the Lord commanded”.
  • Friends, may we all go there!
Even though Joseph is often seen as one of the lesser characters in the Christmas narrative, his story is a challenging model for our lives today. Joseph reminds us that our love for God is fleshed out in our obedience to Him. As you consider what "Love Is..." this Advent, are you willing to follow in Joseph's steps?

Speaker: Wally Nickel

December 19, 2021
Matthew 1:18-25

Wally Nickel

Senior Associate Pastor

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