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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

Hope-God With Us (Matthew 1:18-25)

    This morning marks the first Sunday of advent, the Sunday when, as we read, we celebrate hope, particularly the hope we have in Christ. Over the next few weeks, we’ll remember different things about Christ and the reason He came in the form of a baby all those years ago, but to start our advent season, let’s look at Matthew 1.
    Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, the first gospel which tells the good news about Jesus’ coming, his life, his death, and his resurrection.
    Before Christ came, the Israelite people hadn’t heard from God in 400 years. 400 years and He was silent, at least as far as we know. The Israelite people had been promised that the Messiah, God’s chosen One, would come at some point and save the people, but I can imagine that when they didn’t hear from God for 400 years as a nation, they may have begun to doubt God’s promise.
    Can you imagine, not hearing from God for 400 years?! You would likely lose hope, lose faith, lose your very identity.
    Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy. It’s the story of Jesus’ family, where and who He came from.
    Now, Matthew begins this way for a few reasons. He begins with the story of Jesus’ family to let his readers know that Jesus came from a long line of Jewish families. Matthew gives us Jesus’ family history to tell us that both of Jesus’ earthly parents came from the line of David. This is important because the people had been told the Messiah would come from David’s line, so by giving Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew tells us, and any who read his gospel, that Jesus fits this qualification for the Messiah.
    Matthew also tells us about Jesus’ family story to bridge the gap between the Old Testament, which at that point was over 400 years before, and the events that were unfolding which we have come to know as the New Testament. Matthew traces Jesus’ family line back all the way to the beginning of the Old Testament. This tells us that even though God had been silent to His people for 400 years, He had not gone away, He had not left them. He was still working in the lives of His people, and He was the One who brought about the birth of Jesus that we’re about to read.
    Perhaps the most important reason that Matthew started his gospel with Jesus’ family story is because he is inviting us to know something. If you have a bulletin this morning, I want you to fill in the first blank that you have. Matthew invites us to know that JESUS is central to our understanding of Scripture.
    Matthew invites us to understand that we must view all of Scripture in light of Jesus, and we must view Jesus in light of all Scripture. He is the key to our understanding Scripture.
    I want you to look at Matthew 1:18-25, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 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. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
    To prove his point, that Jesus is central to our understanding of Scripture, Matthew recalls Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
    By recalling this Old Testament passage, Matthew tells us that without Jesus, we cannot understand that this passage in Isaiah was about the Messiah. Jesus is central to our understanding of Scripture, and without Him, we cannot hope to truly understand what God’s Word says to us.
    Not just that, but without Jesus we have no hope.
    I was thinking about hope this week, as we’re celebrating hope this morning, and as I was looking at this passage in Matthew 1, I began to see Joseph in a different way, and I want to tell you about the specific ways that Jesus brought hope to his own earthly father, Joseph.
    We just read the verses that detail what happened when Mary became pregnant with Jesus. We’ve all heard the story, probably many times. Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph planned to send her away, but then an angel appeared to him and told him the true story, that the baby was the Messiah that had been promised, that He would be Immanuel, which means “God with us”. The angel was telling Joseph that the little baby his fiancee carried was God in the flesh. So Joseph did what God had told him to do, he didn’t send Mary away and still married her, and raised the child as his own.
    So what hope did Jesus give to Joseph?
    I’ve always read this passage and kind of felt a little irritated with Joseph. Like, seriously, man? The woman that he’s engaged to gets in trouble and he’s just like, peace I’m out! And I know, before the angel came to him he was probably thinking what everyone else was thinking, that Mary had been unfaithful, and yeah, I’m sure that just about anyone else in this same situation would have left Mary, too. But, for some reason, this has always bothered me about Joseph.
    Until this week.
    I want to paint a picture for you.
    See, now, when this sort of situation happens and a guy finds out that the woman he’s married to is pregnant and he’s not the father, he’s free to make one of several choices. He can divorce her, he can stay and make the best of a challenging situation, but regardless of his choice, you couldn’t really say one was right or wrong.
    After all, the entire Bible, even the New Testament allows for divorce if one spouse has been unfaithful, but we also know that forgiveness is sometimes the better option, too. The situation Joseph found himself in was sticky, yes, but if he were living today, he could be free to make whatever choice he thought best.
    Not so 2,000 years ago. Unlike today, Joseph had no option of giving Mary a second chance, even if he wanted to. See, both Jewish and Roman law demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of being unfaithful. He would have had no choice but to divorce her. Not only that, but Roman law actually stated that if a husband failed to divorce his wife after she had been unfaithful then he would be charged for exploiting his wife as a prostitute!
    Joseph was in a very difficult situation. He wasn’t yet officially married to Mary, but they were betrothed which meant that he had received the dowry, which was simply any inheritance or assets given to Joseph from Mary’s father, and they were committed to one another. According to the law, that was just as serious and binding as actually being married.
    Poor Joseph! His hands were truly tied. He had to divorce her, he had to leave her, even if he didn’t want to, he was bound by law.
    Aside from the law though, even the Scriptures told Joseph to leave Mary. See, if she was found to be unfaithful, she could be stoned. At the very least, she was supposed to be divorced so Joseph wouldn’t bear her guilt.
    According to the Old Testament, Joseph would have been acting justly and righteously to divorce Mary. In fact, verse 19 says, “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.”
    Now, I had always read this to mean that because Joseph was a righteous man he was going to send her away quietly so she wouldn’t be shamed. But actually, it means that he was acting righteously by sending her away, but because he cared enough for her that he didn’t want her to be shamed, he planned to do it in secret. The righteous act here wasn’t sending her away quietly, the righteous act was sending her away. Period. That was what he was supposed to do, even according to Scripture.
    But then God made it known that His plan was to bring Jesus into the world, Immanuel, God with us, the bringer of hope. Through that little baby, Joseph received the hope that was necessary to do the unthinkable.
    We often think of hope as an abstract concept, an idea that’s just sort of floating out there. But that’s not what hope is. Not really. Hope is a power, and it’s a power that comes only from Christ Jesus, and it’s a power that enables us to do what we can’t on our own. Hope is a power that enables to do what we can’t do on our own.
    Hope, through Christ Jesus, gave Joseph the power to withstand sin. The final verse of the passage we read this morning tells us that even once Joseph and Mary had become officially married, he still kept her a virgin until after she gave birth to a Son whom they named Jesus.
    Hope is the power behind that action. Think of it this way: the promise we have for living a life devoted to God, a life of purity, a life of repentance, a life free from sin, the promise is eternal life. The promise for believing God and believing His truth is eternal life. We hope that this is true, we hope that when we believe in Him and believe what He says, that we’re not believing in a myth. Hope in the promise of eternal life is what helps give the power to say “no” to temptation.
    This certainly was the case for Joseph. The hope he had in God kept him from doing something that would have been destructive to his character and his relationship with God.
    The hope that came from Jesus also gave Joseph the power to obey God. Look at verse 24 again, “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,”. It’s only after the hope that Jesus brought that Joseph had the power to be able to obey what God had asked him to do.
    Before this dream, Joseph experienced the pain of betrayal. He thought the woman he was betrothed to had been unfaithful to him! This subjected him, not only to the pain of betrayal, but it also shamed him just as much as it shamed her. Culturally, if Mary had been unfaithful, it would have meant that Joseph had chosen a mate poorly, and this reflected poorly on him.
    Add to that what we already know about what the law said he had to do: that he had to divorce Mary or he would be found guilty of exploiting her as a prostitute!
    He was doing the righteous thing by divorcing her!
    But hope gave him the power to obey what God had asked him to do. Hope gave him the power to go against the law, to go against his own feelings of betrayal, and to do what God asked.
    Hope through Jesus Christ gives us the same power to do as God asks of us!
    Hope gave Joseph the power to treat others with Christian character. Think of this: that Joseph could have actually profited if he had divorced Mary publicly. She was pregnant and he wasn’t the father! He was expected to divorce her, but if he did it publicly, he could’ve taken her dowry, all the assets she brought into the marriage, and even gotten his bride price back if he had paid one to Mary’s father.
    He could have really made her suffer for what was seen as Mary being unfaithful. But, he didn’t.
    Hope gave him the power to be kind and to show compassion toward Mary, when everything about the culture and their society gave him the right to publicly shame her, still he treated her kindly.
    Hope gives us the power to do the same when others wrong us. Hope gives us the power to show the love of Christ to others, even when they have offended us in the worst ways.
    Finally, hope gave Joseph the power to believe and trust God’s plan. When God revealed the truth about Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph in the dream, and Joseph awoke, he immediately believed God.
    I don’t know about you, but if an angel appeared to me in a dream and told me that I was going to bear the Son of God, I’m not so sure I would be so quick to believe this! It’s a truth that is nearly unbelievable! In fact, without a deep trust in God’s power, without hope that God is truly as powerful as He says He is, we can’t get around what happens here.
    We need hope to believe and trust God’s plan, and that’s exactly what Jesus gives us.
    Believing in God’s plan meant that Joseph and Mary both would have started off their marriage by being the object of shame. But Joseph chose hope, he chose to embrace God’s plan and to preserve the high calling both he and Mary had been called to.
    We need hope. Hope is more than just a nice thought, more than just a nice idea. The hope that we have in Christ Jesus actually gives us the power to do what we think we cannot.
    I want to end with this thought about the uniqueness of Christianity. Again, if you’re following along with this morning’s bulletin, you’ll find two more blanks to fill in here. “Of all the world’s faiths, only Christianity announces a God who embraced our pain with us.” Immanuel, God with us, the God who gives us hope to give us power, was able to do that because He fully experienced what it was like to be human.

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