A Savior Worth Waiting For

Matthew 1:16-25

December 22, 2003 | Brian Bill

Do you have your Christmas shopping done for everyone on your list?  When I was growing up, I always waited until Christmas Eve to begin shopping for my four sisters.  They always dreaded opening my gifts because they never fit or they were just plain junk.  I was offended when all four of them would head back to Shopko the day after Christmas to return their gifts and get something they really wanted.

Gift giving is not easy, is it?  While most of you already have your shopping done, some of us could use some help to make sure we don’t buy the wrong things.  But, there’s no hurry…you still have a couple days before Christmas.

Guys, here are the top five gifts that women don’t want for Christmas:

  • A table saw
  • A case of oil
  • Tickets to the WWF “New Year’s Slamfest”
  • The Rambo Trilogy on DVD
  • A new satellite dish with sports package 

Women, here are some things you probably shouldn’t purchase for the men on your list:

  • The Anne of Green Gables Collector’s Edition DVD with 74 minutes of extra footage
  • Tickets to the ballet
  • Any knick-knack
  • A Bath and Body Works soap basket
  • A weekend seminar on “Getting in Touch With Your Feelings”

Last week we studied the gifts that a woman named Mary received that first Christmas.  We learned that if we want to have a Merry Christmas then we must first understand Mary’s Christmas.  God gave her gifts that were a perfect fit for her.  She was going to be pregnant with a son named Jesus.  He was going to be great because He was the Son of the Most High God.  His kingdom will never end and He will be called the Holy One.  Mary responded in Luke 1:38 with the only gift she had, the gift of herself, when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you said.”  

This morning we’re going to look at how a man named Joseph responded to the gift that God had for him.  We’ll see that he wasn’t too thrilled with the whole idea at first but eventually accepted the present as God carefully unwrapped it for him.  Joseph is really the forgotten figure of Christmas, paling in comparison to the infinite who became an infant and to Mary the mother of Jesus. [Hold up nativity figures]  

Did you know that he’s the only one in the nativity narrative who isn’t heard from?  In fact, he doesn’t say a single word in the gospels.  While he was silent, this quiet man of character left behind something that speaks much louder than his words ever could.

A Sunday School was putting on a Christmas pageant, which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn.  One boy really wanted to be Joseph, but when the parts were handed out, he was assigned to be the innkeeper instead.  He couldn’t stand the guy who got to be Joseph but he kept quiet about everything.  Inside he was secretly plotting how to get back at his rival.

On the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage and knocked on the door of the inn. The innkeeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.  Joseph answered, “We’d like to have a room for the night.”  Suddenly the innkeeper threw the door open wide and smiled even wider, “Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!”

For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do.  Thinking quickly on his feet, he looked inside the door past the innkeeper and then said, “No wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like this.  Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn.” 

In all the Christmas pageants performed, Joseph doesn’t get a starring role, but his part is so important.  The real Joseph tried to think quickly on his feet when he thought the lines were messed up, but he needed some angelic intervention before he was able to play the role that had been assigned to him.

He probably thought his life was all scripted out.  His marriage to Mary and his vocation as a carpenter were all neatly arranged for him, but then his world came crashing down.  He had a day of disappointment, which was followed by a night of discovery that eventually led to a morning of dedication.

A Day of Disappointment

Let’s look first at his day of disappointment that maxed out his margins and fractured any hope he had for his future wedding.  We pick up the story in 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.”

It’s helpful to understand the two stages leading up to a Jewish marriage.  

  • Engagement.  A contract is made out between the families.
  • Betrothal.  This is similar to the engagement stage except that couples signed a legal document that could only be broken by divorce.  For all legal purposes, the couple was considered husband and wife but they did not live together and they maintained their fidelity.  This second stage lasted for about a year and was to be a time of building the relationship, planning and happy expectations.  This was the stage Joseph and Mary were at.  

Notice how matter-of-factly Matthew describes Joseph’s quandary: “Before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”  Have you ever wondered how Joseph found out that she was pregnant?  They were probably doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings.  I imagine Mary asking Joseph questions about the flowers and the reception and being the good guy he was, he just nodded and said, “Whatever you think, dear.”   

At some point in all of the wedding arrangements she must have dropped the bomb about the baby.  I don’t know how she did it.  How do you tell your fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had nothing to do with him?  Maybe she read him the Christmas story out of Luke.  Joseph was completely stunned, how could she possibly have done this to him, and then expect him to believe that she was still a virgin?  

The conversation must have ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t believe her.  He had trusted her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go and . . . it just wasn’t right.  So what was he to do?  Well, there were a couple of options.  He could legally have her stoned to death for committing adultery.  The other option was to secretly break off the engagement and end everything.

Can you imagine what was going on inside Joseph at this point?  “My head said she must be punished but my heart said…well, my heart said nothing, because it was broken, shattered and lying in pieces.  I had not even kissed her and now she’s carrying someone else’s child?   Her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit?  Yeah, right.”

Verse 19 reveals Joseph’s character and his solution to the problem: “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.”  The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly.  Maybe she could go back and live with Elizabeth.  But life is never that simple is it?  

A Night of Discovery

That night as he tumbled into a troubled sleep, something remarkable happened.  Listen to verses 20-21: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

As much as Joseph loved Mary, he struggled to believe her story.  He was having a difficult time understanding the incongruity of the incarnation in the womb of his wife-to-be.  Remember he hadn’t yet heard what Gabriel had said to Mary in Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible with God.”  To his credit, he is not rushing to judgment, but is certainly leaning toward cutting himself off from her.  But God is rewriting Joseph’s script and is about to give him a new role.

Notice that he is called the “son of David.”  This is a reference to his heritage as one who stood in the same family tree as the promised Messiah.  The angel recognizes the fear that Joseph had to take Mary as his wife.  If he married her, everyone would think that he had broken his vow of purity, and that he had gotten Mary pregnant.  He would be publicly humiliated.  He was also probably afraid to lose the greatest privilege of any Jewish father – physically procreating his first-born son.  Joseph is called to give up his legitimate rights, to violate common sense and to follow God into the great adventure of faith.

The angel then verifies the veracity of what Mary had told him.  The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Mary was not unfaithful to him after all!  Joseph is to take Mary as his wife, become the legal father and name the baby “Jesus.”  Could it be?  Was it possible that Joseph was going to be the stepfather of the one who will save people from their sins?  

Verses 22-23 provide further clarification for Joseph: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ -which means, ‘God with us.’” 

This statement gives Joseph three assurances.

1. A  Specific prophecy.  

God will do exactly what He says

What Joseph was about to experience was a fulfillment of a prophecy that was about 800 years old and was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.  While it was humanly impossible for Mary to be pregnant and a virgin, it was not only possible with God, but predicted by Him.  There are over 300 distinct prophecies that virtually foretold every aspect of Jesus’ life in detail – and every one of them was fulfilled.  This tells us that God will do exactly what He says.

2. A Special person. 

The coming Messiah had to be born to a special person.  Specifically, it had to be a virgin.  Mary qualified because she was available and she was willing to do whatever God wanted.  Jesus is never called the son of Joseph.  There had to be one human parent to allow for His humanity but He was sinless because His father was God.

3. A Supernatural presence. 

The baby to be born to Mary was to be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”  Jesus is the very presence of God with us.  He comes to live with us and in us.  All throughout human history, men and women have yearned for God to break into human history in a personal way.  When John Wesley lay dying over 200 years ago, his final words paid tribute to the reality of God revealing Himself to us, when he said: “The best of all is, God is with us!”  J.B. Phillips once wrote: “We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago.  Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.”

Immanuel means that God will meet you at your greatest point of need, whatever that might be

Immanuel means at least three things.

  • Salvation.   In the Old Testament the presence of God was in the tabernacle.  In the New Testament, the presence of God is in the person of Christ.  Because Jesus was sent from God the Father He is the only bridge back to the Father.  As Acts 4:12 puts it: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
  • Security.  God will never leave or forsake His people because He is right here with us.  No matter how desperate things are, God will never leave us.  We don’t have to go through anything alone.  Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Sympathy.  God is not some distant deity casually observing our lives from a distance.  He has come to us in His Son and He is still with us today.  He is God with us.  That means that He is close to us.  He’s near to us.  And He desires to walk with us through our worries and trials and grief.  The birth of the baby Jesus reminds us that we are not alone despite how coldly this world might treat us and how much pain we might endure.  Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.” Immanuel means that God will meet you at your greatest point of need, whatever that might be.

A group of first graders got together and decided to write their own version of the Nativity.  It was more modern than the traditional drama.  There were the familiar members of the cast: Joseph, the shepherds, and an angel propped up in the background. But Mary was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly behind the bales of hay came some loud sounds.  Evidently Mary was in labor. Soon the doctor arrived dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. Joseph, with a look of relief on his face took the doctor straight to Mary, and then started pacing back and forth.  After a couple minutes, the doctor emerged with a big smile on his face and announced, “Congratulations, Joseph.  It’s a God.”

That’s pretty close to the message the angel was giving Joseph.  The baby to born is God with us.  And now it’s time for Joseph to get on board.  And he does…as soon as he wakes up.

Morning of Dedication

Joseph is not an Old-Testament scholar.  He is a simple carpenter.  But he is a man who obeys God when he understands what he is being asked to do.  And that’s what verses 24-25 tell us: “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.” Joseph had learned a valuable lesson that would carry him for a lifetime: Never underestimate God.

In a sermon on this passage, Doug Goins states: “When he crawls out of bed, he rushes to obey the command.  The language used implies urgency.  There is no argument, no rationalization, and no hesitation.  With kindness and compassion he immediately takes Mary to be his wife.  He then lovingly cares for her through the final months of pregnancy, protecting her from the rumors of a ‘shotgun wedding.’  What we see in Joseph is an amazing model of obedience to the Lord…”

I like how Joseph responded when he knew what he should do.  His commitment was a result of his character.  He believed that God incarnate was going to be born as Immanuel and that he had a role to play.  It was Madeline L’Engle who said, “In the New Testament, there’s only one really great miracle and that is the incarnation.  Once you believe that, everything else is duck soup.”  Since Joseph believed this miracle, he had no trouble believing God for anything else.


What about you?  Could you play the role of Joseph?  Or are you still stuck in the script somewhere?

  1. Some of you are trapped in disappointment.  Maybe things have not worked out the way you wished.  Perhaps a bomb has hit you.  Maybe your marriage is melting down.  Has a friend turned his back on you?  
  2. It’s time to discover that God is with you.  Put yourself in a place to hear from God.  Maybe you need to make a fresh commitment to plug into church or a small group in 2003.  Joseph needed to hear from God and when he did, he listened.
  3. Once you move from disappointment to discovery, then it’s imperative to dedicate yourself to Christ.  What is God asking you to do?  What has He revealed to you?  Don’t just sit there.  It’s time to put into practice what you know to be true.

We’re going to close this morning by singing, “Joy to the World!  The Lord is Come.”  One of my favorite lines goes like this: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  Have you dedicated yourself to Him by making room for Him?  Both Mary and Joseph gave God the gift of their lives.  Are you ready to do the same thing?  Don’t return the gift you’ve been given.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?