Courageous Obedience

Courageous Obedience
Matthew 1:18-25
December 4, 2016

VIDEO  Go to this link to watch~

WOW!  I love this commercial.  I think it’s cool!  It’s all about the new I-phone speakers, just out for your Christmas purchasing pleasure.  I’ve been up on a 10 meter platform diving board.  I would not dive.  I jumped!  At this point in life, I’m not jumping unless there are no options.  When I think about this commercial, I’m not sure if that is filled with courage or stupidity!  Personally, I don’t like heights, so that definitely would be a no go for me.  I’ll dive off the low diving board.  But I’m sure many of you would embrace that challenge and your family would call you . . .

I wonder if that’s how some people felt about a guy named Joseph.  He was courageous or he was stupid.  We really don’t know much about him.  We know he’s the soon to be husband of Mary, the non-biological father of the Messiah, Jesus.  He was a carpenter, but we don’t know much else about him.

Last week, we took a look at the some of the family tree of Jesus.  And the second half of the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel is the story of Mary and Joseph.  This is an important story in the life of Jesus.  This story gives us a glimpse of the great love Joseph had for Mary.

It also teaches us some lessons about what I’m going to call COURAGEOUS OBEDIENCE!

When the story begins, Joseph and Mary are about to be married. Matthew writes –

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.

At first, some parts of this story may seem confusing.  Matthew says they were pledged to be married, in other words, engaged, and then he refers to Joseph as her husband, and speaks of divorce.  Here’s what it means.

In that era, getting married was a three step process.

The first step was engagement, which usually was a contract arranged by the family.  The parents often used a matchmaker who would help them determine if the couple would be good for one another.  Imagine us doing that today?  How would you like mom and dad to pick your mate.

Understand this arrangement was often made when they were children.  It was usually arranged without the couple knowing each other.  This may have been the case with Mary and Joseph, since he was from Bethlehem and she was from Nazareth.

The second step of the process was called betrothal.  It was similar to engagement, but much stricter in its understanding.  The only way a betrothal could be terminated was by divorce.  For all practical purposes, the couple was considered husband and wife, even though they did not live together as a married couple.  The betrothal period lasted about a year.  During this period of time, the couple started to spend more time together.

The third step was when the couple officially were married as husband and wife and began their life as a married couple.

It was during the second stage of the process, during the time of betrothal, that Mary was discovered to be pregnant.  They weren’t living together — they probably weren’t living in the same village — and yet Mary was expecting a child.

I’m sure Joseph thought he was betrayed.  Mary was unfaithful.  He would have been angry and heartbroken.  He could have subjected her to public humiliation, but instead, because he was a just and righteous man, he decided, most likely with counsel, to quietly divorce Mary.

Divorce was not unheard of in those days — it was not all that uncommon — and if done quietly and properly, maybe Mary would be able to move on and lead a good life and eventually marry again.

One of the consequences of divorcing Mary quietly was this – – – Most people would assume Joseph was the father of Mary’s child, and the divorce was caused by a reason other than adultery.  Joseph could have made a big deal out of it, claiming she was an adulterer, and that the child was not his.

Instead, he sought to divorce her quietly.  Joseph put his reputation at risk instead of Mary’s.  This says something about Joseph’s integrity and even the love he had for her.  This was a huge risk Joseph was willing to take, but he believed in doing the right thing.  Some may have said that was an act of honor and courage, others would have said that’s total stupidity.  Imagine if you were Joseph’s parents, what counsel would you have given him, knowing this child was not his?

Next, the Bible tells us — —
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.”

The Bible tells us Joseph did as the angel commanded; he took Mary home to be his wife.  By doing this, Joseph was “claiming responsibility” for Mary’s child.  He was acting as if he was the father.

Now, the great wedding and celebration did not happen as expected.  Why?  People would have believed Joseph and Mary had consummated their relationship before the marriage officially began.

This would have been improper, and would have caused people to look down upon them.  They may not have been received with kindness at many of the places they went.  Comments like “Oh, there goes Mary and Joseph.  You heard about them didn’t you?”  While this would have been scandalous, Mary would certainly have endured far worse had Joseph divorced her and accused her of adultery.

Joseph was courageously obedient to God’s call!  We learn – – –
1. There is a cost for the call of God on your life.

In this story we see that when God wants something accomplished, He isn’t looking for public approval.  If you choose to live a life of obedience to God, there will be times when your reputation takes a few bumps and bruises along the way.  There may be times when what people think about you is the opposite of what you know to be true.  Your life may become the subject of gossip, rumor and speculation.  People will say things, even when they’re totally ignorant of the facts.  But they have those facts from a reliable source . . . another gossip, backbiting hate monger.  It comes with the territory; it’s part of the cost of following the call of God.

We see this happen all the time in the media.  There’s always a rush to judge someone else before we have all of the facts.  People speculate, yet they have no real knowledge of the truth.  And more often than not, someone’s reputation will be ruined, and there is no apology forthcoming.

That’s what the public does.  That’s what people do.  They jump to conclusions whether they have the facts or not.

This is undoubtedly what the public did to Joseph and Mary.  The people in town, at the temple, their family, the marketplace — they all had their opinions.  And their opinions were wrong.

In the same way the church is not called to judge, but to hold one another accountable.  We are not to cast judgement, because we do not always know the entire situation, and we do not know what’s really in someone’s heart.  We may know someone’s actions were wrong, but we don’t know the reasoning behind it until they reveal their heart to us.

We can’t go around assuming we know the facts because we heard from a reliable source.  We must error on the side of grace and compassion – – using God’s power, strength and courage.

Joseph could have made everyone’s opinion of him his top priority, but if he had, he would have been forced to turn his back on God’s call on his life.

There’s a cost to answering God’s call. The cost is that sometimes, some people won’t understand.  They might draw a conclusion based on limited knowledge of the circumstances, and be wrong.

That’s why it takes so much courage to be obedient.  You have to be willing to say, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, it only matters what God wants for my life.”

This is the attitude Paul had when he said ~

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I seeking the favor of men?

If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

That can sometimes be a difficult statement for us to grasp, because we are often looking to please people before we please God.

Courageous obedience means you’re willing to count the cost of God’s call on your life.  We also learn – – –

2.  Character is more important than reputation.

You’ve heard the saying, “Your reputation is who people think you are; your character is who you really are.”  God chose Joseph and Mary because of who they were, not because of who people thought they were.

There are many people who have mastered the art of perfecting their public persona.  They work at their reputation all of the time, and protect it no matter what the cost.  They will do anything to keep it going, and in the end, all they have is their reputation.  But, there’s no substance!

Your reputation is other’s perceptions of you.  It’s a one-dimensional picture the public sees when they look at your life.

Your character is what God sees when He looks at you, because God sees past the illusion into the reality of who you are.  If you have character, God can use you, even if no one else can see your potential.  Of course, God can use you whether you have positive or negative character.  God will use your negative character for His good.  The world may think you’re wonderful, when God knows your character is not.  We want God to use our positive character and help us to refine it, so we can be used for the glory of God.

We need to develop a positive character.  If you have character flaws, the goal is not to learn how to hide them, the goal is to learn from them and grow so we can be more effective and open as to how God is calling us.  It’s not enough just to cover up our flaws as if they didn’t exist.  We need to be changed . . . from the inside out.

Joseph was a man of character, a “righteous man.”  So when he was faced with the situation regarding Mary’s pregnancy, his character kicked into high gear and he sought to protect Mary, not worrying about his reputation.  That was not the goal.  The goal was to honor God with his actions and God would saw the positive character in Joseph.

That’s why God was able to use Joseph.  Real obedience takes courage, because we must be willing to protect our character, even at the cost of sacrificing our reputation.

Matthew finishes the story by telling us . . .

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.”

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.

It’s difficult to play “what if” with Bible stories, especially this one, because you get the idea that things happened exactly the way God planned them.

3.  The final point is – – our obedience opens the door for God to be radically involved in your life.

But think about it – – – What if Joseph had not been obedient?  What if he decided to save his reputation and disgrace Mary?  What would have happened?  By law, she could have been stoned to death, and the child would have died along with her. Joseph’s disobedience could have brought God’s plan of salvation to a screeching halt, before it even got underway.  He could have played a role in the Son of God’s death before the Son of God was born.

The ramifications of Joseph’s obedience went far beyond his personal life.  His act of obedience not only changed his life, but it changed the world forever.

Because of Joseph’s courageous obedience, Jesus was born into this world, and through His life and death He paid the price for our sins.

If Joseph and Mary had not been willing to obey God, God’s plan would have been thwarted.

We need to keep this in mind, because the consequences of our obedience may not always be immediately obvious.

You may not be able to see it from this side of eternity, but the fact is, your obedience to the call of God on your life could change the lives of one or a hundred — or maybe even thousands — or millions of people.

Do you know who Mordecai Ham is?  He was a simple revival preacher from the early 20th  century who traveled primarily throughout the south, preaching in a tent.  There were dozens of preachers like him in those days, and though he was reasonably well-known during his time, there was nothing seemingly special about him.

One night when he issued an invitation for people to come forward and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, a teenager named Billy Graham responded.  When Mordecai Ham responded to God’s call to preach, he had no way of knowing the impact his obedience would have on the world.

When you say yes to God, your life changes forever.  What’s more, your obedience to His call has a ripple effect; it changes the lives of those around you in ways you may never know.

What we see in the life of Joseph is that the rewards of obedience are worth the cost involved.

It takes courage to be obedient.  This courage comes with a price, but it also comes with a reward.  Your obedience, in its own way, fulfills God’s plan, and can help change the world forever.

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