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What Would Joseph Do
Scripture: Matthew 1:18; John 1:46; Luke 1:26-33, 3...
Track 2 of 13 in the Almighty God...Jesus series
Running time: 59 minutes, 44 seconds.
As Mary unjustly suffered the scorn of her community, so Joseph willingly suffered the same thing to share her burden. Her injustices were his. Any misunderstandings she suffered, he suffered that too. This act by Joseph was just a foreshadow of the injustice that Marys son, The Son of God would endure on our behalf.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

What Would Joseph Do?

I bet you probably heard the story of Christmas so many times that you can repeat the story to your kids without any help from scripture. Every Christian is aware of the events but before we get started today, I want you to go back into your mind’s hard drive and find every reference to the birth of Jesus and erase it. We are going to forget the story and start over from scratch. The story has been so sanitized and romanticized over the centuries that even Hollywood fails to capture the gritty events that surrounded his arrival. The Church has been so influenced by what was said about the events that we really miss the actual reality of what Mary and Joseph experienced.

My son Tom started a new Sunday school class in Cartersville where he worships and the first thing he did this Christmas was give the Christmas test to his class. He started out by placing all the pieces to the nativity set he brought and asked someone to come up and set it up. As expected, the lady set it up in traditional fashion. Tom had fun removing the pieces that didn’t fit and his class was surprised how incorrect the traditional story of Jesus birth really is. So today I want to try and discuss some of the actual reality of those events.

Theos, a Theological think tank, conducted a survey in November 2007 found that only 12 per cent of the 1000 people questioned about the Christmas story as told in the Bible could answer all 4 questions in the survey correctly. However most of those questioned (73 per cent) knew where Jesus was born but slightly more in depth questions caused problems for most participants. 36 per cent of the Christians in the survey answered all 4 questions correctly. The knowledge of the Christmas story varies with age. The youngest people questioned (aged 18-24) know least, with only 7% knowing the correct answers to all the questions asked. Middle aged people (aged 55-64) know most - 18% answering all questions correctly.

If there is one word that can be removed from the description of the birth of Jesus, that word has to be “ideal”. BC 6 was a lousy time to live in Judea. Herod the Great was on the throne in Judea and he was very ruthless and if anyone stood in his way they were eliminated. He even killed his own sons to keep them from taking his throne. People don’t realize that when Herod had all the boys, 2 and under killed in his attempt to wipe out Jesus, the boys were not only Jewish, Herod did this to all the boys 2 and under including his own son. When Caesar Augustus heard about what Herod did to his own son, he was heard saying, I’d rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son”.

Herod was a hideous man yet he claimed to be the King of the Jews. He pretended to be a Jew even though he wasn’t Jewish. To protect his kingdom from the unpredictable Jews, he decided to do nice things for them. He expanded and built a magnificent temple for God. The temple in Jesus time was the one built by Herod. To make sure the Jews were controlled, he put into place the high priest, one corrupt high priest after another. He taxed the Jews through the temple tax using the Old Testament Law and then used the proceeds to build pagan temples to honor pagan gods.

How many times in the Bible do we see the image of a barren wife? Give me some examples? Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Elizabeth, barren women and a barren land. What does this imagery represent? It is one of the strongest images of desolation and rejection. The theme of restoration comes from this image.

In a time when the Jews felt no hope, lived in total desolation and rejection by God, the image of restoration appears in a little town in the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth, a barren woman is pregnant. Not only was she pregnant, she was well past child bearing age. Barren was believed to be a curse from God directly related to some sin. Elizabeth would have been rejected by many women in her community. Her son John would be the person to announce to the world that nothing is impossible for Him who is coming.

Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine the complications of Mary when she found out that she was pregnant?

Nazareth, why would God allow his son to grow up in Nazareth? At the time of Jesus, there were probably only 200 or less people living there. It sat on a ridge overlooking the Jezreel valley. It was a perfect place to for a Roman garrison because it looked out over many miles in several directions. Put Roman soldiers with their depraved habits in a little town and nothing good will come from it. Nazareth had a very bad reputation because of the garrison there. When Nathaniel first heard where Jesus was from, his thoughts were,

John 1:46 Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

How many of you would like to arrange the marriage of your kids? What advantage do arranged marriages give? What is at stake when two people get married?

In the first century, marriage was seen as two families joining together. And because the stakes were so high, no parent allowed the whims of teenagers to mess that up. Hebrew marriages were arranged and according to rabbinical law, this could take place sometime after the age of consent, 12 for girls and 13 for boys. The kids weren’t given the final word in this matter.

The marriage ceremony took one year. A contract was created by the fathers and read during the marriage ceremony. Vows were taken, tokens were exchanged and the families celebrated. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the boy and girl would enter into the betrothal period which could not be less than on month but typically lasted one year. During this period, the couple was husband and wife except they were to live with their respective families and there was to be no sex.

What advantages do you think there were to go through the betrothal period?

• Gave the groom time to prepare the couple’s home
• Gave time for the wife to prepare several purification rituals to prove she was pure. Proof of paternity was very important.
• This period allowed the couple to bond under strict supervision of the parents
• Though they lived apart, the community saw them as a married couple
• To end a betrothal, it required a divorce decree.
• Adultery within the betrothal was punishable by stoning.

At the end of the period, they would move into their new home and consummate the marriage.
It was during this period when Mary conceived through the Holy Spirit and was pregnant.

Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The word “virgin” just rolls off our tongues when we read this. To many of us it doesn’t really have any meaning. But for a Jew reading this for the first time, those words would leap off of the page. Too often when we read scripture not knowing the culture, we lose so much emphasis. For example:

Luke 1:28-29 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

Why would these words from the angel confuse her so much? A peasant girl was not favored. Teenage girls occupied a very low status in ancient times. Unlike a son, she didn’t offer any worth other than eventual marriage and domestic advantages. In fact, the beasts had higher priority than young daughters.

But before she could continue on, the angel continued.

Luke 1:30-33 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Now this statement by the angel was no casual decree. He states what every Jew anticipated. Mary would have recognized exactly what he was talking about and would have been excited to hear the words. Everyone anticipated the Messiah but not everyone anticipated it the same way. If you were poor and powerless, you looked forward to his arrival. If you were rich and powerful, you hoped it didn’t happen in your lifetime because it would end your personal claim to wealth and status. For Mary, this was good news. Every mother had hoped she would be the one to bare the Messiah. But there was a problem, she was a virgin.

The solution:

Luke 1:35-37 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

The angel uses powerful imagery, the same imagery used back in Exodus when God came upon the tabernacle after the text was erected. God came and overshadowed the tent. All Israel knew God was present. The same was true with Mary; she literally was God’s tabernacle.

What would have happened if Mary would have responded by saying, no way? I can’t do this, I will be a disgrace to my husband, to my family and I will be killed for doing this? Did Mary have a choice or was she forced into being Jesus’ mother?

Luke 1:38 I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

The word Mary uses her for servant is the Greek term for “bondslave”. A bondslave was someone who voluntarily sells himself into slavery. This was not forced upon Mary, it was offered and Mary accepted it knowing the consequences. With God, service to him is always a choice; he never works outside free will.

There are two more events that Luke and Matthew record but it is unsure which comes first. It is recorded that Mary visits Elizabeth and Mary tells Joseph that she is pregnant.

I want to take a minute and just consider the problems Mary now has to contend with as she become pregnant with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. As she lies in bed that night, what does she have to plan for? How does this affect Joseph and his family? What about Mary’s family? How logical will Mary’s explanation sound to Joseph? To her family and to his?

There is tremendous irony here, an irony that will stay with Jesus all his earthly life and last even until today, Mary became the bearer of the most wonderful secret in the history of humankind and yet suffer the consequences of a sinner. The rumor that Mary became pregnant by a Roman soldier staying in Nazareth would follow Jesus all his life.

What kept Mary from being stoned for adultery? When do you feel Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant?

Here are some scriptures to consider:

Luke 1:39-40 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

Luke 1:56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Matthew 1:19, 24-25 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace; he had in mind to divorce her quietly. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

This is the part not many people deal with or tell their children in the story of Jesus birth. Mary returns home 3 months pregnant. It is probably at that time Joseph has to deal with the problem.

Either Mary left Joseph a letter explaining where she was going and why or she dealt with the problem when she returned. What is awesome to consider are the actions of Joseph.
The angelic visit put at peace his heart for Mary and their situation. He was comforted that Mary was still pure but it didn’t solve the problem of having an unexpected pregnant wife in a small town. What was the solution? According to rabbinical law, Joseph could only divorce Mary if her child was not his own. That would cause Mary to be stoned. The law also prevented Joseph from divorcing Mary because he fathered her child before the home-taking. Therefore, under other circumstances, to bring her home was to admit the child was his. Joseph voluntarily subjected himself to any humiliation in the community about Mary’s pregnancy. He took the blame.

What does this say about the character of Joseph?

Even though Joseph wasn’t the actual father of Jesus, in many ways Jesus was a lot like Joseph especially considering the way Joseph handled this situation. Joseph’s willingness to share Mary’s circumstances is a great illustration of the humility and sacrifice of the incarnation. As is often the case, obedience to God requires great sacrifice. As Mary unjustly suffered the scorn of her community, so Joseph willingly suffered the same thing to share her burden. Her injustices were his. Any misunderstandings she suffered, he suffered that too. This act by Joseph was just a foreshadow of the injustice that Mary’s son, The Son of God would endure on our behalf.