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Just Be Faithful

May 21 2023

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

I’ve recently been looking at my family tree and it has been fascinating. As you can probably guess, I have a lot of Irish, German, and Scottish ancestors. But I also have roots in the Middle East. My great grandfather was born in Lebanon!

Here’s something that’s true for all of us. No one on the planet had the opportunity to choose their ancestors. In fact, there’s only one person in history who made that choice. It was Jesus. He was born into the family he chose. And it was a humble, working-class family.

This morning, I want us to focus our attention on the working-class father of Jesus – a man named Joseph. God was, of course, the true Father of Jesus. But Joseph played a small role in the story.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Here’s what we know about Joseph. Joseph was poor. When his family visited the temple, all he was able to afford as an offering was a pair of pigeons. By trade he was a tekton, which is a general term referring to someone who worked with his hands, probably with wood or stone.

Church tradition labeled him a carpenter and early evidence suggests that he may have been a maker of yokes and ploughs. He lived and worked in a small rural town called Nazareth. The town had a poor reputation.

Joseph was also a man of few words. In fact, he has no speaking parts in the Bible. At the temple, Mary speaks for them both.

So, the Bible depicts Joseph as a quiet, blue-collar guy.

This is the man God chose as the legal guardian of His only Son. Not a priest. Not a scribe. Not a wealthy man. Not a powerful man. God picked a working-class guardian for Jesus.

He was also a descendant of David. The angel calls him Son of David. But there was nothing royal about Joseph.

Now let’s look at his character.

Notice Matthew calls Joseph a “just” man. We don’t know how Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant. She may have sent word. Or it’s entirely possible that town gossip reached him, because they were not yet living together. We think Nazareth was a town of less than 500 at that time. Everyone knew everything about everyone.

Can you imagine the inner struggle going on for Joseph? He had two lawful options. He could out her publicly and subject her to the shame and punishment of an adulteress. This option would have most protected his own reputation. OR, he could choose to divorce her quietly and mostly protect her reputation. The Scriptures call him “just” specifically because he is planning to choose the second option. Isn’t that interesting?

Think about how often Jesus’ ministry would be marked by disputes with the Pharisees about “strict observance of the law”. Jesus always interpreted the law with love as the background. He would let his own reputation go to associate with outcasts and that’s what Joseph is doing because he doesn’t yet understand how Mary became pregnant. He was a just man. He sought to protect Mary when he could have rightfully judged her. He was self-forgetful.

Second, Joseph was a faithful man. It is no coincidence how much Joseph’s story lines up with the story of the Old Testament Joseph.

Both men had a father named Jacob. Both men go to Egypt to save their family. Both men learned things from dreams. Matthew is saying that his Joseph is clearly being used by God.

It was also not immediately clear that either Joseph would be faithful. In verse 20, it says after Joseph had “considered” this, the angel came in a dream. The word “considered” is a bit weak by itself. It means that Joseph was struggling with his reality.

Life isn’t going how he had planned. His own dreams for a family with Mary and a house of their own seem to be fading at this point. But then God gives him a different dream. Four of them actually. And Joseph obeys every word. And in a period of a few years, by God’s command, he drags his little family from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back.

That’s basically what it means to be faithful. It means obeying God’s will for us even when our hearts may be telling us something else. From an earthly perspective, Joseph had a lot of good reasons to walk away from this circus. But he was a just man. And he was a faithful man. He stayed. He obeyed.

The last point I want to make is this: Joseph was a just man and he was a faithful man, but Joseph was just a faithful man.

He was not the main character, and he didn’t need to be. Jesus was not a part of Joseph’s story. Joseph was a part of Jesus’ story.

It is tempting to look at the life of Joseph and honor his grace and his faithfulness and we should, but please don’t stop there. Why was he so engaged? Why is Joseph so faithful? Because he believed the promises of God! He looked beyond his earthly identity and trusted in a bigger story that God was calling him to be a part of. This is what we talked about last Sunday in Galatians.

Jesus is perfectly just and faithful. He invites us into his family through a perfect act of grace. But we become part of His story. He does not become part of ours. And our part is that we learn to be just and faithful like our Savior, showing people grace like he has shown us.

And that is enough. Just be faithful with what God has given you. You don’t need a bigger story than that. You are a part of the biggest story in the universe right where you are now – right where God has you today.

Let me try to illustrate. Bill Clem in his book Disciple invites us to consider two scenarios. In the first scenario, three drama students have one year left to complete their degrees at a private college. They figure out how much money the last year will cost them and they decide to drop out and come up with their own play. They will write, direct, and star in their own three-man play in a garage. Everyone they tell is skeptical. Parents, friends, professors – everyone says that this is too risky and will not give them the meaning or produce the impact they are hoping for. That’s the first scenario.

Here’s the second. Another drama student also has a year left before she finishes her degree. She auditions for a small part in a Broadway play and gets a callback. She is eventually offered the part. It’s not a lead role, but it would mean working with some of the best in the business. Everyone SHE talks to encourages her to go for it. What’s the difference? A small role in something big is usually much better than a lead role in something we invented.

As Pink Floyd said, “Do you want a walk-on part in a war or a lead role in a cage?”

That really is the question we all have to wrestle with. Joseph had this choice. He could have walked away and started fresh with his own plans, but he chose to take the small part in God’s epic drama.

We are tempted to think that we can simply invite God into our little story and give him a walk-on part in the story of ME. But that’s not how it works. The story we would write for ourselves is a distortion of reality. God’s story is reality. He gives out the parts. But will we be content? Jesus gives this story meaning. He’s the only one who can give any story meaning.

I have been guilty many times of wanting more than what God has already given me. I think our culture is extremely self-focused and I am a product of it in many ways. We have an overly important sense of self, believing that our lives should be better than average.

I appreciate what Jared Wilson says about this: “You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?”

In other words, do we trust God with the story he is writing? I honestly don’t like to read long sections of a book in a sermon, but this one is so good I have to. It’s from a book called “God of the Mundane” by Matt Redmond (not the singer):

“There is a God for those who are not changing anything but diapers. There is a God for those who simply love their spouse and pour out unappreciated affection on their children, day after day. There is a God for the mom who spends her days scraping the trampled mac and cheese off the kitchen floor. There is a God for the man who hammers out a day’s work in obscurity for his wife and kids. There is a God for the just and kind employers. There is a God for generous homemakers, generous with prayers and dollars and time. There is a God for the middle-class people staving off cancer, struggling to raise teenagers, and simply hoping against hope they keep their jobs. There is a God for the broken home with a full bank account but an empty bed. There is a God for those children tending to the health of their aged parents. There is a God for the mean times in a culture drunk on the weekend’s promises.

We may flirt with greatness, but the fact is — for the Christian and non-Christian — ordinary is the divine order of the day for the vast majority of us. Kids, bills, coupons, cable, home repair, gas in the tank, church attendance, inexpensive pleasures, discount shopping, and family reunions are what we are made of. There is a God delighting in the ordinary existence of the unknown faithful doing unknown work. There is a God of grace for those who live out their faith everywhere but do not want to move anywhere.”

That is such a refreshing message, isn’t it?

Paul urged the Thessalonians to live a quiet life and work with their hands. He said it again in Timothy.

You may not see what God plans to do with your life. Joseph didn’t. He followed the instructions and provided for his family, but Joseph disappears before Jesus starts his ministry. We assume he died sometime before then. Mary got to see the end result. Joseph did not, at least not from earth. And we may not get to see what God intends to do with our ordinary lives.

The angel instructed Joseph to call the baby Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.

When we have kids, our focus shifts a lot from our own needs to theirs. How much more for Joseph to know that he had to provide for a baby that was the hope of the world? His whole life would have been re-oriented.

And yet, Joseph could only offer two pigeons as an offering for sin at the temple. But God allowed him to have a hand in raising the once and for all sacrifice for sin, His own son.

It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel, because like Joseph we are not really up for the task of receiving Jesus. Joseph needed Jesus to save him from his own sin as much as we do.

This is for everyone this morning, but especially our graduates. What will it be? His story or yours?

All of us want to buy the lie of Satan that we were meant for greater things and that God is holding out on us. We want God’s role in the story, but he will not give His glory to another.

Will you receive Jesus and name him your Savior? Will you take a walk-on part in His story? Will you be content with a life of quiet submission to the Father and enjoy eternal life in His presence?