What Joseph teaches us about faith and obedience

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This past Sunday we saw from Luke 1:34 – 55 that God does the impossible. We also saw that when Mary believed God was doing the impossible her life was flooded with Joy. She burst into spontaneous song, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Joy is a fruit of faith. When we believe that God is doing the impossible, not just that he can do the impossible, we are filled with joy. There is a second fruit of faith that God shows us through the birth narrative. It’s seen through the life of Joseph in Matthew 1:18 – 24.

Matthew’s gospel tells us nothing about the angel’s visit to Mary. He picks up the birth narrative with a pregnant Mary and a languishing Joseph. “When..Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph found himself in an incredibly difficult situation. The woman he was to marry was pregnant, and he knew with absolute certainty that the child was not his. The Bible does not tell us how Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, only that she  was “found to be with child.” Perhaps no one but Mary knew about the pregnancy until she was undeniably showing, or perhaps Mary, filled with wonder, went to Joseph and told him about the angels message and her pregnancy. No matter how it happened, there must have been a conversation between the two at some point. I imagine Joseph asking Mary, “How could you do this?,” and Mary replying, “I’ve done nothing wrong. The child is God’s.” It would have been easier for Joseph to believe Mary had cracked under the stress of having a child out of wedlock than for him to believe that the child “conceive in her [was] from the Holy Spirit.” And so Joseph resolved to divorce Mary.

Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, so he planned to divorce Mary quietly instead of exposing her to public ridicule and shame. As frustrated, confused, and hurt as Joseph was, he loved Mary, and seeing her paraded through the public square as an adulteress was more than he could bear. In this moment Joseph’s love for Mary was greater than his pride that demanded a public declaration of his innocence in the matter. We should pause here and let God’s work through Joseph challenge us. I think of Peter’s words, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” The love that God works in his children does not dismiss the seriousness of sin committed against us, but it does remove a prideful, vindictive spirit that demands self-vindication. Now, back to the main lesson.

Before Joseph could do anything an angel appeared to him in a dream. The angel commanded Joseph to marry Mary, followed by two truths: Mary’s child was from God, and the child will save his people from their sins. Verse 24 records Joseph’s response, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.” There it is, the link between faith and obedience. Joseph was staring the impossible in the face: the virgin birth! Every fiber of his own logic and reasoning told him to divorce Mary. But there was a voice that carried more weight for Joseph than his own. God told Joseph that he was doing the impossible, and Joseph believed. He obeyed and took Mary as his wife because he believed what God said. Joseph’s faith fueled his obedience.

And so it is with all obedience–at least obedience rightly done. We obey God when we believe what he says.

And so it is with all obedience–at least obedience rightly done. We obey God when we believe what he says. That’s why Jesus could say, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Obedience to God is always a battle between our own thinking and the revealed truth of God. Our thinking tells us that sin is better, it’s pleasures supreme. God tells us that he is better, and a thimble full of his presence brings more delight than an ocean full of sin. All of Scripture is leading us to believe that God is doing the impossible; namely, that he is reconciling the world to himself through the work of Jesus. When we hear and believe that God is doing the impossible, like Joseph, we will wake up and obey what the Lord commands–no matter how impossible it seems.

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