Have you ever watched the Jerry Springer Show? The few times I have seen the show in a doctor’s office or hospital room, it has given me a pretty good idea of how that program operates. They bring people onto the show with really messed up lives who have made a lot of mistakes. And then they have a spouse or a family member who is innocent, and they have no idea what their spouse has been doing behind their back. And they get onto Jerry Springer’s show, and this innocent person gets this bomb dropped on them. We are locked in on this poor person asking ourselves, “What are they going to do about this shocking revelation?”
We have the same thing happen right here in our Bible. A man is about to be married. But then he gets the bomb dropped onto him: his fiancée is pregnant. And we are left staring at Joseph as if we are in the audience of the Jerry Springer show asking ourselves, “what is Joseph going to do about this?”
How do we win life’s challenges?
- When Wronged Leave Revenge to God
19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Matthew 1:19
And what happens between him and his pregnant fiancée really gives us the best insight into what Joseph was like. And this is where we can see like the bible says Joseph “was a good man.” I don’t think we could fault Joseph for jumping to the wrong conclusion regarding Mary’s pregnancy. I mean, in every other pregnancy in human history, there is always a man involved. And Joseph knew that it wasn’t him…so the only possible conclusion was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Put yourself in his shoes for a second, and imagine how hurt, how disappointed he was. Many would have sought some sort of revenge for being wounded so deeply. And by Jewish law, Joseph would have had the right to really run Mary’s name through the mud. Mary could have been branded as a loose woman with no morals. And had Joseph really wanted to push the issue, she could have been put to death for her alleged adultery. You might recall the story of the woman caught in adultery a few years later who was brought to Jesus, and many in the crowd wanted to stone her for his sin. But here we see in Joseph’s heart FORGIVENESS…KINDNESS to someone who really didn’t appear to deserve any. Joseph wanted to make things as easy as possible for the wife he was divorcing. He wasn’t going to make a public example of her. He would swallow his pride and give up the urge to exact revenge. It was going to be a quiet divorce.
How would the Bible describe you? It would be nice to be called a “good” person like Joseph, and yet often we human beings don’t act much like him, do we? It is just our sinful human nature to want to get back at someone who hurts us. We learn that early on at the playground: if Tommy hits me, I’m going to hit him back. On Jerry Springer, when that innocent person is confronted with their spouse’s infidelity, often they are stunned and begin to try to get back at them. The verbal assault begins, profanity spews, hurtful words fly, fists, chairs, and microphones fly too. When someone at work says nasty things about you behind your back, the natural reaction is to get back at them. We think that revenge is the natural course for us.
And if the story ended there, that would be an amazing enough lesson for today. But of course God knew something that Joseph didn’t know: that Mary hadn’t cheated on him, and that he was to receive about the greatest honor ever bestowed on a mere mortal. Joseph would be the guardian of the Godchild. Joseph would protect God.
How do we win life’s challenges?
- Follow God’s Direction
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. Matthew 1:20
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Matthew 1:24
I like Joseph. Joseph isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have any recorded words. He’s an ordinary guy who’s just doing his best to live a life faithful to his God and his family.
Because most of us are more likely to find ourselves quietly leading a donkey over an uncertain path, wondering what the future might hold, than standing on a ridge, preaching to the multitudes. Most of us spend our lives as peripheral characters in the Gospel narrative. Most of us aren’t flashy. Most of us are just ordinary people doing our best to live lives that honor Christ, faithful to our God and our families.
Here are two truths I have learned about God’s Direction in our lives:
- God’s leading and direction in our lives is often unexpected. We have our plans and then God comes and gives us different direction.
Joseph was preparing for a future of settling down with Mary to raise children while continuing his carpentry trade in his hometown. He expected his leisure time to be rearranged. He expected his social calendar to be different. He expected to worry a little more when business was slow. He expected to know new joys when his sons someday read Torah before the congregation and his daughters someday gave him grandchildren.
Joseph did not expect to be having dreams full of messages from God Almighty. He did not expect to raise a boy that he did not father. He did not expect to be traipsing around the countryside on the run from Herod’s soldiers.
Joseph did not expect to be responsible for the religious training and upbringing of the Son of God and Redeemer of creation.
Sometimes the future you think you are preparing for is not what the Lord has in mind for you.
2. God’s direction may be scary and uncertain but when you follow God’s direction it works out.
Before Mary turned up pregnant, Joseph had every reason to be confident about his anticipated future. He was a skilled craftsman, known in his community for his righteousness, which certainly included honesty and respectability. He knew the responsibilities ahead of him. They might not always be easy, but they were well defined, and the community was structured to support him as he carried out his duties as husband and father.
I’m pretty sure that Joseph was scared and very uncertain when he found out that his responsibilities would be a little more complicated. What does a carpenter know about traveling to foreign lands? What does a small-town craftsman know about outwitting the armies of the king and protecting the most precious baby ever born? What does an ordinary Joe know about raising the Messiah?
The first command Joseph received in his dreams was to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. Did he have the personal resources to live down the public disgrace, the shame of his peers, the rebuke of his family? Apparently, he did. But he only found that out after he obeyed the command.
The second command Joseph received in his dreams was to flee to Egypt with Mary and the child. Did he have what it would take to travel such a long journey with a new mother and an infant? Would he be able to provide for them in a foreign land? Apparently, he did and he would. But he only found that out after he obeyed.
The third command Joseph received in his dreams was to return to Israel. He ended up settling in Galilee to avoid the attentions of Herod’s son. That turned out to be a good thing—something that fulfilled prophecy. But he only found that out after he obeyed.
Sometimes it turns out that you are better prepared for what the Lord has in mind for you than you thought you were, and it’s only in the obedience that you find out.
- Be the Shelter To Those Who Need Me
Joseph becomes a shelter to Mary. He takes Mary as his wife, providing for her, caring for her, protecting her. He is a godly man. He also becomes a shelter to this new baby. God chose him to shelter, to care for and to provide for Jesus. Even the Son of God, the creator of the world, the savior came as a helpless baby that needed protection and support! We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Joseph was a man. He stepped up. Even after the child is born, the drama continues.
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee.
23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:19-23
In Matthew 2:13-23, we see Joseph taking his family to Egypt and then to Nazareth by direction of an angel. Again he is serving as a protector a shelter for this child. God has set up your family in the same way. Moms and Dads God has given you the responsibility to care for, to set boundaries and to protect your children. There are forces of evil that would love to destroy your children. Are you aware? Are you ready to do what is necessary to shelter them? Besides protecting them from harm we are to guide and teach them in the ways they should go. Joseph was a great father. God is calling and leading men to be godly fathers today.
I do not have to tell you that Fatherhood is not doing well in our society. Consider these facts from David Blackenhorn, a man who wrote a book in 1995 entitled Fatherless America. Here is some of what he said:
- Tonight, 40% of all American children will sleep in a house in which their fathers do not live.
- Before the age of eighteen, more than 50% of our children will spend a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers.
- A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with a dad. Today, an American child can reasonably expect to grow up without one.
- Fatherless-ness is the most harmful demographic trend in this generation.
Time Magazine recently reported that today we are seeing the “Disappearing Dad.” They said, “Studies of young criminals have found that more than 70% of juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes.
Children from broken families are nearly twice as likely as those in two-parent families to drop out of high school” (Dr. Harold White, “Fatherhood”)
Now, more than ever men especially need to a shelter to our children. To be the father our children need, the husbands our wives need.
We do not know how long Joseph lived his role as Jesus’ earthly father — he is last mentioned when Jesus was 12 years old. But Joseph trained his son in the trade of carpentry, made sure he had good spiritual training in Nazareth, and took the whole family on the yearly trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, which Jesus continued to observe during his adult years.
And God used the obedience of this quiet, godly carpenter and not only to protect and nurture the young Messiah but to provide principles that Jesus would employ in His ministry. I say this because it seems to me that many of the illustrations Jesus used in His teaching came out of Joseph’s shop. Remember when Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you?” As a carpenter he would have learned from Joseph how to make yokes easy for the oxen to wear. He knew how to shape them to fit just right. You can almost see the tools of the trade in Jesus’ words as He spoke. You can see the trueness of a plumb line as He called for moral standards. You can hear the whistle of the plane as He pled for religion to shave away the unnecessary traditions. God did use Joseph’s quiet, dependable obedience in so many ways.
How do we win life’s challenges?
What is God directing you to do? Are you open to his direction? Is there someone who has wronged you that you need to forgive? Is there someone that you need to be a shelter to?