When it comes time for Christmas, we too often forget about Joseph. His choice to wed Mary despite the scandalous allegations leveled against her is one of the most defining and self-sacrificing moments in the Christmas story -- nay, history.
“The Surrender of Bliss”
I have read about a man named Wilmar McLean who refused to participate in the Civil War. He adamantly opposed taking sides. He had friends in the North and friends in the South. In order to keep out of harm’s way, he retired from his successful grocery business and moved to Northern Virginia where he was convinced that he could escape any conflict between the North and the South.
Wilmar bought a beautiful estate near Manassas Junction in Virginia where he settled into plantation lifestyle.
Trouble is, the very first battle in the Civil War occurred in Manassas Junction on July 21st, 1861. It was called “The Battle of Bull Run” and more than 50,000 soldiers were engaged in a fight that that lasted all day. This was the famous battle where General Jackson earned his nickname, “Stonewall Jackson” for his unwillingness to back down.
And where did Stonewall Jackson do some of his fighting; on Wilmar McLean’s plantation.
When then battle was over, McLean’s buildings had been destroyed. A cannon ball actually went down his chimney and destroyed his home. Even his beautiful stone barn was demolished.
McLean wanted nothing to do with this war . . . and yet he was found in the middle of the very first battle and it cost him nearly everything.
Bitterly, Wilmar McLean decided to move again . . . this time to southern Virginia where he bought another plantation in a town called Appomattox.
Poor guy. That’s exactly where not only the last battle was fought in the Civil War, but the place where General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant signed the terms of surrender.
Problem was they needed a place to meet and agree to the terms. The chose to meet in the parlor of a plantation home – the one owned by Wilmar McLean.
And so, on April the 9th, 1865, the meeting took place in McLean’s parlor. It lasted 2 ½ hours and when it was over and the Generals had departed, soldiers from both sides, officers and citizens wanted mementos of this once in a life time occasion. They took pictures from his walls, silver ware and settings, furniture and even the drapes. When it was over and the people were gone, nearly everything from Wilmar McLean’s home was gone.
This was the man who had just wanted to steer clear of the Civil War . . . but it seemed to hunt him down. It started in his backyard and ended in his parlor.
And it cost him nearly everything.
Poor Wilmar McLean. He longed to stay uninvolved and out sight, but the conflict just seemed to hunt him down.
Then it boxed him in . . . and there was no where for him to run.
Ask the average Christian what their perspective is of the Christmas narrative and Joseph’s involvement and more than likely the mere mention of his name will evoke pity.
Poor Joseph. He just couldn’t stay out of harm’s way. He got engaged to a girl, planned to get married, have children, expand his carpentry business and – wham! – right in his back yard, a conflict begins that will turn his world upside down.
The average person thinks of Joseph as this unwilling participant – or barely willing at that, but somewhat out the picture. Like a school child in the Christmas play who’s dazzled into mute silence by the spotlight and the sight of the crowd.
Here’s Joseph, thrust into the spotlight of human history for a brief moment and then he’s gone.
Have you ever noticed the Christmas plays . . . Joseph’s the guy who leads the donkey around . . . knocks on the innkeepers door and asks, “Is there any room?” And then he has a couple of lines in the stable scene and that’s about it.
The truth is, Joseph did much more than lead the donkey around and fluff up the hay in the manger.
Joseph, as much as anyone in this scene, will model self-sacrifice. He will demonstrate what it means when we dare say to God, “I surrender all.”
He will mirror the humility of incarnation and Joseph will embrace the sorrow; he will accept the shame of it all and willingly say, “Farewell to the bliss of a simple, peaceful life!”
As we continue uncovering the choices of Christmas, let’s clear away the intellectual debris that Joseph was this man who unwittingly got engaged to the wrong girl and, man, if he’d only know, he would have never given Mary a second look. He’d have never bought that plantation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Joseph was not an unwilling participant – he was, in fact, a surrendered man who embraced the incarnation of Jesus Christ with his entire life.
Don’t miss this model of humility and deference and character; it’s all here, for those who want to discover what Joseph was really like.
So, turn with me to the Gospel by Matthew, chapter 1 and verse 18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows; when He mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together (that is and consummated the marriage)she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
In this verse and following verses, I want to point out at least 3 surrenders that Joseph made.
The first is the surrender of Personal Pride.
In order to understand the devastating blow Mary’s announcement was – that she was pregnant – we need to understand something about the Jewish customs of marriage.
There were three stages to a Jewish marriage.
The first stage was called the Engagement.
This is where the man went out and sold all his livestock, emptied his bank account, sold everything he owned, including the shirt off his back and bought a diamond ring for his fiancé. Oh, that’s the American custom, sorry.
But it was worth it though, wasn’t it guys? Amen? It was worth it though wasn’t it guys? Amen?!
Okay . . . 2,000 years ago, an engagement was something carried out by the parents while the children were younger. Parents normally picked out the spouses of their children.
The older my kids get, the more I like this idea.
Many times, the couple never met until the second stage.
This stage was called the Betrothal – or the Kiddushin.
It was a formal event, considered binding by both families.
During a brief ceremony, the Bridegroom would pay the dowry, or the (mohar) – this was known as the bride price. It was often paid in cattle or clothing or money – or all three, depending on the wealth of the bridegroom.
The dowry was delivered at the Betrothal ceremony. It was given to the bride’s father to compensate him for wedding expenses.
Adapted from John MacArthur, Matthew (Moody Press, 1985), p. 16
I really like this custom. It’s Biblical . . . don’t argue with the Bible.
The Kiddushin lasted a year. During this period of time the couple still didn’t live together or consummate their marriage. The Bridegroom would spend this year preparing a home for his bride.
By the way, the analogy to our Lord, our Bridegroom, are another study.
But I’ll at least say that the Bridegroom paid the price for His bride – with His own blood – and now we await the time when He’ll return for us and take us to the home he’s prepared for us.
We’re already His. His Spirit is our seal – our engagement ring; our wedding feast – the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, will occur in heaven in the near future – it could be any day now. You are invited to come! Have you accepted His invitation and RSVP’d you’re response?
In Joseph and Mary’s day, the Kiddushin was binding. They were actually considered husband and wife. They were considered legally married, even though the third stage had not yet been reached.
The only way out of a betrothal was death or divorce.
In fact, if Joseph were to die during the Betrothal period, Mary would be considered a widow.
The betrothal period was a time when both man and woman prepared themselves for the wedding.
Adapted from Ivor Powell, Matthew’s Majestic Gospel (Kregel, 1986), p. 26
The man would be busily preparing a dwelling place and the woman would be collecting all the things necessary to be a wife, a home-maker, a helpmeet for her husband.
Finally, the wedding ceremony would take place – the third stage, called the Hoopa.
Several days of feasting and celebrating the goodness of God in establishing another household of faith.
Now do you understand the devastation of verse 18 to Joseph?
When Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child.
How could this be? In Luke’s Gospel we’re told that an angel visited Mary and explained what was going to happen.
But what would Joseph do?
Notice verse 19. And Joseph her husband – notice the reminder of the legally binding relationship he has with Mary – Joseph her husband was a righteous man.
That settles it – Joseph will bring her before the elders and accuse her of sexual sin with another man, thus keeping himself from the obvious accusation that he was the culprit. He couldn’t wait until the Kiddushin was past. He was the child’s father.
Joseph was a righteous man.
Lenski, the Greek scholar points out that this Greek word for righteous, refers to the heart as well as to the conduct.
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Augsburg, 1943), p. 42
Joseph had a godly reputation that was now on the verge of being destroyed.
The only way to clear his name is tell the truth – publicly. He wasn’t the man.
And he didn’t believe Mary either.
But he loved her.
So the text goes on to say, “and not wanting to disgrace her, he planned to send her away secretly.” (v. 19b)
The Rabbinical writings allowed a man in his position to either accuse her publicly or divorce her as quietly as he wanted. All he needed were two witnesses and the Kiddushin was over.
Mary could pay the consequences for her sin and he could try to get on with his life.
He was right . . . she was wrong . . . but Joseph at this moment chose compassion over his violated, embroiled emotions.
She should pay . . . I am the laughingstock . . . the pity of Nazareth.
Even still, he chose discretion over revenge. Webster defines discretion as “knowing when to keep silent.” In spite of emotion.
What a model for us, even in this.
It’s one thing to remain quiet when you are wrong. It’s terribly hard to remain quiet when you’ve been wronged .
It’s especially hart to remain quiet when you’re right!
I recorded in my journal an incident when our twin sons were around 3 years of age. They were in their bedroom arguing – it’s the only time I can remember they did that. The hilarious thing was they were arguing about what 2 + 2 was. I could hear from my desk, one of them saying, “2 + 2 = 5” . . . and the other one arguing back, “No, 2 + 2 = 4”. Back and forth they went until finally that moment arrived, I’d been waiting. “Daddy, what’s 2 + 2”. You see, I know the problem is that as soon as I say “4”, one of them is going to say, “Aha . . . na na na na na na.” Then there will be this great battle until he forces his brother into exile. If I say, “No, 2 + 2 = 5,” I’m gonna hinder the development of my sons intellectual future. So I’m caught in this quandary – and so I answer in the best way I know how. I said, “Go ask your mother.”
She’s good at math!
Perhaps our greatest test of character is remaining silent rather than being proven right.
Joseph intended to quietly break off the betrothal without any public humiliation for Mary, even though it would have vindicated his own reputation.
The will of God for Joseph involved breaking his heart!
He was willing to surrender his pride and live, for the time being, with a broken heart.
Now notice however that God is about to ask Joseph to not only surrender his pride, but secondly, to surrender his privacy.
Verse 20; But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, Joseph, even though you want to go quietly back to life as you once knew it, I want you to make a decision that will launch you into the public spotlight for the rest of your life.
You are about to become the step-father of the Messiah.
You are going to raise the Savior.
Talk about a glass house.
Moments after the birth of Christ, Joseph gets a taste of how much his life would change. Shepherds show up unannounced
to worship him. The deliver the news that millions of angels had only recently appeared in the sky chanting the news of the Savior’s birth.
Within 2 years, according to the correct chronology of the Gospels, their home will be visited by dignitaries from the land of Persia; an entourage of Magi that brought with them costly gifts. You can only imagine the commotion that created in Nazareth.
We know from scripture that Joseph was given revelation through dreams at least 4 times. Three times in three years he relocated his family. He re-established his carpentry business. He reset up their home. Three times, we know of, in three years he had to change, make new contacts, feed his family.
We also know that the first two years of their baby’s life, they were virtually running for their lives.
What a whirlwind.
Joseph . . . that quiet village life you once knew . . . do you remember? You’ve probably wanted to go back to the way it was in Nazareth . . . it will never return like you once knew it.
The will of God would be inconvenient . . . uncomfortable . . . surprising . . . dangerous . . . tiring . . . confusing . . . . . . demanding and very, very public.
Farewell Joseph, to the bliss of a quiet life.
I wonder what God has asked you to surrender for His Son.
God will ask and Joseph will respond with affirmation.
He will sacrifice his pride . . . his privacy . . . and thirdly,
3. Joseph will surrender his Personal Priorities
Notice verse 21. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus (the angel is speaking to Joseph – “You shall call His name Jesus), for He will save His people from their sins.”
Joseph chose to give his life to caring for Mary and raising his son, along with other children who will come along later according to the Gospel accounts.
Your son is the Savior of the world.
How do you act around Him? What do you say to Him?
This was all unrehearsed!
There isn’t any doubt in my mind that Joseph would struggle with a great sense of inadequacy. Where’s the parenting manual for raising the Messiah.
Here was a man who had little if any formal education – he is now responsible to educate the greatest educator of all time.
The Jewish customs related to children’s education were fairly clear. We know that from the time a boy turned 3 to the age of 12, the father was responsible to pass down the traditions and customs and ordinances and the laws of God to his son.
Talk about intimidating.
You need to understand that Jesus’ mind wasn’t already pre-downloaded with Biblical software.
Luke tells us that he grew in wisdom.
I can imagine Joseph saying, “Me?!” You want me to teach the prophecies of scripture to the One who is the fulfillment of prophecy?
You want me to teach the law to the One who would fulfill the law?
You want me to teach the system of worship and sacrifices to the One who was the final sacrifice?
Why not Joseph of Arimathea. Why Joseph of Nazareth. They lived at the same time. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man, able to afford tutors for his children. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court; he knew the law like the back of his hand. The Bible also tells us that he was also a righteous man, looking for the kingdom of God. He would make a great father for the Messiah.
Did the names somehow, somewhere get switched?
My friends, just as God chose who your parents would be, and who your children would be; just as he chose you for them, God chose Joseph of Nazareth and a teenage girl named Mary, to raise Jesus, the Messiah.
Two thoughts come to mind in studying this scene and especially the life of Joseph.
First, being in the will of God is not so much a matter of convenience, as it is sacrifice.
Here Lord . . . use my plantation. Move into my parlor! You can have my drapes . . . my silver-ware . . . my property . . . you can put my education to use for your glory . . . you can have my children and my house . . . you can have access to my calendar and my schedule . . . my wallet . . . my career . . . you can have my life.
I wonder how many Christians shuttle between Northern Virginia and Southern Virginia in an attempt to avoid the battle – anything but engage in the cause of Christ to advance his name.
I got an email this past week copying me on an article that ran in the North Carolina State University school newspaper.
The headline reads, “This Christmas Card was written 500 years before Christmas.” Then it goes on to explain; “About 500 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Micah wrote that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem;” right where Jesus was born. And do you know who knew of Micah’s prophecy? All the religious leaders who advised King Herod. We’re told that when Jesus was born, some wise men from the East went to King Herod in Jerusalem. They asked Herod where the Messiah was born, “For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” Herod didn’t know. So he gathered all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet…” There are over a hundred such prophecies that describe who this Messiah would be and what he would do. Like a prophetic Global Positioning Satellite pointing out the Messiah, the Christ. The amazing thing is that Jesus fulfilled every one of them. Before the end of the first century countless Jews and Gentiles in the Middle East put their faith in Him; this Christmas is a good time for you to look at the life and teaching of Jesus – and decide for yourself. A good place to start is by asking God to reveal the truth to you – He will. Open to the section of the Bible called “John” and begin reading.
The rest of the page is filled with names and departments – I counted about 120 professors and staff listed in this ad – and just so you can find them, they also list the department next to their name where they teach. I recognized a couple of names of professors who are members of Colonial.
But if that wasn’t enough said; in case you wondered why they ran this ad, just above all their names in a larger font is this paragraph that reads, “This ad is sponsored by the following NC State Faculty and Staff who are followers of Jesus Christ. If you have any questions about what it would be like to have a personal relationship with Him, feel free to drop by our offices and talk.
Is that great or what?!
Why risk the inconvenience . . . what threaten your career path? Why ask for misunderstanding and even ridicule?
This is the testimony of Joseph. Following the will of God has more to do with sacrifice than convenience.
When you’re willing to set aside your pride and give up your privacy . . . who knows what God what has in mind through you!
Secondly, surrendering your life for God to use doesn’t require experience, just obedience.
How man giants did King David kill before he stood in front of Goliath? None
How many Messiah’s did this son of David raise before kneeling over a manger in Bethlehem? None.
God isn’t looking for experience, but readiness . . . willingness . . . obedience!
Perhaps the most significant words in chapter 1 – at least to the life of this man are the words in verse 24. And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…”
Simple as that . . . Joseph obeyed the word of God.
But make no mistake, it will cost him everything.
On that morning, he said “Farewell to the bliss of a quiet life.”
He handed God his pride . . . his plans for a normal life . . . his priorities . . . he dreams . . . his options . . . his calendar and he said, just as his adopted Son will one day say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”