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Dec 02, 2012

Joseph: A Life According to Specs

Passage: Matthew 1:1-25

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: All I Want for Christmas Is...

Category: Holiday

Keywords: joseph, christmas, changes, plans, expectations, specification, faith


This first message in our 2012 Christmas series focuses upon the life of Joseph and the many changes that he must have had to make in order to accomplish God's will for his life and role in God's divine plan. Despite the many changes and difficulties, God's plan was far bigger and greater than Joseph could ever have imagined.


Joseph, A Man with A Plan

Christmas 2012—All I Want for Christmas Is…

December 2, 2012


Get Acquainted Time:  By gender groups (men with men, women with women), come up with a list of at least five of your Top Characteristics you want in a spouse.  If there are enough people in different age groups, divide your responses by younger and older participants.  Write down your responses and we’ll talk about them later. 


Drama set-up:  One of the wonderful things about birthdays is that they come every year, right?  And for millions of Christians through the ages all over the world, Christmas is our favorite annual birthday celebration.  But as obvious as it may seem, Christmas has not always been Christmas.  Some 2,000 years ago, what we celebrate as Christmas was nothing special, except perhaps for Mary and Joseph. 

Historians think that late December is probably more accurately the time at which Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.  His birth probably occurred in the fall of the year 2 B.C., perhaps in September. 

We’ve entitled this year’s Advent or Christmas worship series “All I Want for Christmas Is….”  Depending on which generation you are from, you may complete that part of the song with, “All I want for Christmas is…my two front teeth” (the 1946 version) OR “All I want for Christmas is…YOU, baby!” (the Mariah Carey 1994 version).  But for the various participants in the actual birth of Jesus Christ in this world, what did they want?  What were their hopes, dreams and expectations for that season and experience. 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at what people like Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Herod, the Magi, Simeon and Anna all “wanted”…and what they got at the birth of Jesus.  And in doing so, I trust that we’ll be able to better align our dreams and desires for not just this season but all of life to all God wants for Christmas and beyond. 

So today we’re beginning with Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father while on earth.  Eric Stapelton, our one-man theater company here at Mosaic, is going to help us begin to think today about what Joseph probably wanted that year that God gave him the first “Christmas.” 


VIDEO DRAMA:  Joseph—All I Want for Christmas Is…


Most of the biblical material about Joseph occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 1 and 2.  So turn there in your Bibles today and we’ll take a look at what Joseph probably wanted that first Christmas, what God actually gave him, and what that all has to say to us. 


The beginning of the first chapter of Matthew contains one of the two human genealogies we have in Scripture for Jesus Christ.  Luke gives us another one in Luke 3 that traces Christ’s ancestry through his mother, Mary.  I suppose you could say that John gives us another genealogy, a divine one, in John 1 when he says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). 

            But Matthew traces Jesus’ human genealogy through his “adoptive” father, Joseph.  I say “adoptive” because the Bible also makes clear that Jesus was conceived “of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 1:18), apart from how every other human being has ever been conceived through the uniting of an egg from the woman and a sperm from the man.  In Jesus case, his conception was completely miraculous, a creative act of the Holy Spirit.  Whether Mary supplied the female chromosomes and DNA and the Holy Spirit supplied the necessary male chromosomes and DNA OR whether God created the embryonic Christ supernaturally in Mary’s womb, we’ll have to wait to find out for sure in heaven.   

Since the Gospel of Matthew was written particularly to Jewish people, tracing Jesus family roots back to both Abraham and King David were important for him to be recognized as the kingly Messiah. It’s kind of like the importance any royal family of any nation places on the family tree.  If you can’t trace your ancestors, then you don’t get a shot at the throne. 

So Matthew develops this genealogy of Joseph that, while probably not containing every ancestor of Joseph back to Abraham, does trace the family line sufficiently to convince any Jew of his royal lineage. 


Besides the obvious importance of Joseph being able to trace his family tree back to King David and the patriarch Abraham, what practical impact do you think that family heritage and legacy had on Joseph? 

Q:  What’s the difference between being able to trace your roots to say Charles Manson verses George Washington? 

  • Shame vs. pride.
  • Evil vs. good legacy

ILL:  My father’s name was Nelson Bradford Repsold.  Growing up we were always told that somewhere, somehow, we were related to Gov. William Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation.  Since my parents were raised and met in the Congregational Church, that seemed pretty plausible.  But it wasn’t until this past year when my niece actually did the genealogical work that we found out that, yes, in fact, my Dad and thus those of his offspring are actually direct descendants of the man who served for over 30 years as Governor of Plymouth.  And I’m an 11th generation direct descendent of William Bradford.  I sometimes wonder if he prayed that generations to come in his family line would be godly. 


Joseph’s genealogy reveals an amazing cast of truly world famous people—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and more.  Certainly it must have done something to him to read the O.T. scriptures and realize that you are in the line of some truly great people, people who cared deeply about leaving a godly line and legacy

            That was obviously balanced by the sobering reality that his family tree had plenty of sick branches loaded with sin and dysfunction

  • Judah who had to be seduced by his own daughter-in-law in order to carry on the family line God had commanded him to oversee.
  • Rahab the harlot from Jericho.
  • King David who was both a murderer and adulterer. 
  • Solomon who had over 1,000 wives and concubines and drifted into pagan idolatry as a result. 

So now put yourself into simple, non-descript, quiet and unassuming Joseph’s sandals.  Your heritage makes you both proud and humble at the same time knowing that while greatness and godliness run through your family line, so does failure and shame. 

Matthew 1:19 tells us which way Joseph’s character leaned on the family tree.  “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.”  

What does every “righteous man” want for his children, for his posterity?  He wants them to walk in the ways of God, to become good, honest, just and righteous people, right?  It’s that whole notion of “legacy” that seems to drive so many people.  We want to know that what we are leaving behind when our life is over is something that will outlive us and outlast our generation.  Good and godly people want to leave the world a better place and they want to leave in this world offspring who make it better too. 


As Joseph thought about the kind of sons and daughters he wanted to raise up in his family, do you think he envisioned children or even a child that would be a world leader, judge of all nations, king of all kings, the epitome of wisdom and intellect, Prince of Peace?  Or do you think he just wanted a son who could carry on the family carpentry business, a daughter who would get married and have grandkids he could play with, kids who would quietly make a difference in a world of sin?


Certainly he must never have envisioned in his wildest dreams that he would become the only father in the world to raise the only sinless son ever to live on this earth. 

Surely he never, in his wildest imagination, could imagine that the God who made the stars untold, would come to live under his roof, God in human flesh. 

And surely he never imagined that the son he would teach his craft and trade of carpentry to would die on a cruel cross, bearing the sins of the world, and bringing millions of lost sinners into an eternity of joy and peace with God Almighty. 

            From what we can surmise from Scripture which doesn’t even reference Joseph past Jesus’ early teen years, he probably never even lived to see his son’s ministry, his miracles, his resurrection or the world-changing church that has shaped so many millions of people’s lives. All he saw was a miraculous birth, a little boy and a young man whom he must have loved to parent and marveled at every step of the way. 


Truly, Joseph’s idea of a lasting legacy had to be infinitesimally smaller than God’s plan.  Put positively, God’s plan for our life impact is far greater than our dreams. 

            But the very nature of life means that we will have to wait until eternity to view the greatness of God’s plan.  God’s plans are far grander than our wildest dreams.  Neither the great failures nor grand successes of previous generations box God in or lock him out of building a far greater legacy than we ever imagined possible.  When we get to heaven, there are bound to be some amazing revelations of how God used a word of testimony here or an act of kindness there to help bring people to faith in Christ, people who may go on and reach others far beyond our wildest sanctified imaginations. 

God’s plan is far grander than our wildest dreams. 


Let’s move on in Matthew 1:18-19.

Change that first sentence to read, “This is how [that first Christmas…] the birth of Jesus Christ… came about….” 

Jesus would be Mary and Joseph’s first-born, the child every parent dreams about.  Would their first-born look more like Mary or more like Joseph?  Would they go years without having a firstborn as Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, had done or would they have a child that first year of marriage? Certainly the years of faithful waiting and the months of chaste engagement would eventually lead them to be respected parents of a first-born child.  Both Mary and Joseph’s stature among their peers would rise as God blessed them with children and the increased respect they brought to every Jewish household. 


Then comes the latter part of vs. 18“…but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”  Those words hid SO much pain.  The shock, the sense of betrayal, the disbelief, the anger…it all must have flooded in on Joseph when it was confirmed that Mary was pregnant.  How on earth she could expect him to believe that she had not had relations with another man was beyond him.  Was it the pregnancy that hurt him the most or Mary’s ardent refusal to take responsibility for it? 

All he had ever wanted was a respectable family.  All he wanted for their first-born was the joy and excitement other parents got to have over their first child. 

            We’re not told how long God waited after Joseph found out Mary was pregnant to speak to him in a dream.  We know it was long enough for Joseph to weigh the alternatives and decide on one that spared Mary as much shame and ridicule as possible.  In the midst of what must have looked like a completely shattered dream of marriage to the one he had been betrothed to for months if not years, Joseph chose the route of greatest love and protection for Mary.  “He had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  Even in deep pain and confusion, here was a man who did what was right.  But regardless of how broad the knowledge in the community would be, the dream of life with the one he had waited his lifetime for was gone.


APP:  It is terribly hard to do what is right and righteous when someone you love is causing you great pain.  God has put within the hearts of every human being a longing for relational faithfulness that will never disappoint us, deep friendships that will never betray our trust, marriages that will be filled with the love we long for. 

            Yet it seems that almost every one of life’s closest relationships will disappoint and wound and damage us at some time.  Can this possibly be in God’s good plan for us?  Can wounds come even when neither party has done something wrong?  It certainly did in this marriage.  It certainly will in the lives of people like us who don’t do everything well or righteously or lovingly. 

             Will we trust God with the pain of relationships we value in life?  Will we let go of the dreams, maybe very good and legitimate dreams, that we have for some component of marriage or friendships that have become painful or disappointing?  And will we keep doing the loving thing, the righteous thing, in times of confusion and disappointment? 


If we will, God has some more blessings that will still surprise us. 

  • I don’t think that Joseph was asking God for a dream in which an angel talked to him.  Is that what you ask for when you find life confusing or people hurtful?  Didn’t think so  J
  • And I’m pretty sure that first year of marriage was notwhat Joseph had dreamed about with Mary: 
    • Apparently there was no big celebratory, public wedding or dinner with friends and family like most young Jewish couples got.
    • Apparently there was no much-anticipated wedding night or honeymoon like other couples got.
    • Even though Mary was brought into Joseph’s home, they must have lived in separate rooms, and never experienced marital intimacy until after Jesus was born.
    • They didn’t even get to name him their favorite name.  Jesus’ name was assigned but some angel in a dream.
    • [Speaking of that, how many of us would have awoken from a dream like Joseph had and thought, “Wow.  That was weird!  This whole thing with Mary’s pregnancy really is messing with my mind.  I’ve got to stop obsessing about this and move on with my life.” 

Instead Joseph takes it all at face value and completely changes direction.  He does what few men would do in response to a dream…and he accepts all the attached implications of that decision without complaint!] 

  • And I’m pretty sure that first year of marriage with Mary either pregnant or caring for a newborn baby was not in their plans either. 

Read Matthew 1:20-25.


That last verse 25 in Matthew fills up a good part (21 verses) of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2.  Between taking Mary into his home as his wife and her delivering her firstborn in Bethlehem is a whole lot of less-than-perfect marital bliss. 


That trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was some 80-90 miles, and that with a woman who was ready to pop!  I mean, if God is in this birth, couldn’t he have prevailed upon Caesar Augustus to postpone his decree that a census should be taken?  Or couldn’t he have at least moved him to not take it of the entire world and maybe give an Executive Exemption to Israel? 

            This decree and the resulting required trip to Bethlehem could not have come at a worse time.  “Come on, God.  You know women give birth about 9 months after conception!  You know that walking or even riding 80+ miles for a young pregnant girl isn’t a good idea.  The least you could do is to help us out here!”


ILL:  Just about 2 decades ago this month, we were returning from Spain with 3 children 7 and under, 12 huge boxes of airfreight, a cello and a guitar, and 5 carry-ons for the 5 of us.  We looked like a family of Gypsy immigrants looking for asylum in America! 

Of all the transatlantic flights we did in those years, this one stands out.  That was partly because, as we prepared to land at Washington, D.C. after crossing the Atlantic from Madrid, we encountered a ground emergency at Dulles International that forced us to circle for an hour in a holding pattern.  At the same time a winter storm front that was slamming the Eastern seaboard kept us bouncing in the air the entire hour.  It was one of those horrible flights where the jumbo jet is bouncing, rocking and creaking so badly that the passengers all get very quiet and the stewardesses buckle themselves into the jump seats so as not to get hurt. 

            Sandy, then just 6 weeks from delivery, was seated across the aisle with 2-year old Andrew in the seat next to her.  I was in the center section with 7-year old Joanna on one my right and 5-year old Daniel on my left.  Joanna started complaining of airsickness so I fished out the airsick bag in the seat pocket in front of her.  Then Daniel said he was feeling sick too.  Rather than succumbing to my natural instinct to think it was just the power of suggestion, I fished out his bag too.  Before I knew it, I was holding both bags, one in one hand and one in the other, glancing left and right like a bobble-head to position them accurately…as both kids lost their lunch. 

            While this is unfolding on my side of the aisle, I happen to glance over at Sandy who also has her head in an airsick bag.  And Andrew?  Well he had a grin on his face from ear to ear and was bouncing up and down like a kid enjoying Space Mountain at Disneyland.  


About that time I’m starting to think, “I must be a horrible husband asking my wife to take this journey at this time in her pregnancy.” 


Well, Joseph’s experience was multiple factors more trying than mine.  Here he was trying to just make it through a very difficult period in his life and marriage, doing what God and country was demanding, and everything starts unraveling.  I’m sure he must have felt terribly inadequate.  I’m sure he must have been pleading with God about a place to stay even as he was working every possible distant relative connection he had in the family’s stomping ground of Bethlehem.  And I’m sure that he was not prepared to deliver his first child or even find someone else deliver it in a town where he wasn’t even competent enough to find adequate housing for his new wife and soon-to-be-born son.  Talking about feelings of inferiority, guys! 


If you had asked Joseph what he wanted for Christmas…for the birth of his first child…I’ll bet he would have said things like:

  • I just want a quiet home-birth, not an overcrowded strange town.
  • I just want a good family midwife, not some stranger…and certainly not just ME!
  • I just want my wife to have her family there to help her, not unwelcoming strangers and distant relatives who could care less.
  • I just want a set of baby clothes for our newborn son, not strips of rags to shield him from the course straw.
  • I just want a little extra money set aside to care for those unexpected expenses, not a new tax levied by these foreign Roman occupiers. 


Instead of a home-in-Nazareth delivery, Joseph got something much, much bigger.  He got a birth that in just the right city that had been prophesied hundreds of years before by the prophet Micah. 


Instead of well-known midwives he got divine assistance in a miraculous virgin birth. 


Instead of loving, well-known family at hand they got reports of angels nearby and much-later visits from wealthy wise men from other nations.


Instead of nice new baby clothes they got prophetic imagery in the strips of cloths that wrapped their little boy who would one day break free from the tomb.


And instead of “a little extra money,” they ended up with gold, incense and myrrh. 


Those surprising gifts came just in time for them to be uprooted yet once again from Bethlehem, a town they had barely become accustomed to.  You see, for reasons unknown to us, they probably stayed in Bethlehem for over a year after the birth of Jesus, perhaps starting a new life and a new business in this new town.  And just when they were beginning to sink down roots and life was beginning to feel somewhat familiar again, Joseph was warned in a dream (Mt. 2:13) to flee from the murderous and maniacal plans of Herod to distant and foreign Egypt.


You can almost hear him whispering to himself,

  • “All I wanted was a simple carpenter’s life.”
  • “All I wanted was a little home in Nazareth.”
  • “All I wanted was my own little business.”
  • “All I wanted was to live near the same friends and family I’ve enjoyed for years.”


All those things are good and worthy dreams, aren’t they?  Just as so many of the things we want in life are good and worthy.  But what God wants for us is so much BIGGER than what we have in mind.

  • He may want to do miracles where we are content with the mundane.
  • He may want to fulfill prophecy where all we can see are problems.
  • He may want to exhaust our resources so he can share His resources.
  • He may want to take away all the familiar support structures so that He can be our help in time of need.
  • God may want to take away a whole host of things or people in order to give to us…HIMSELF.

What God wants for us can be so much BIGGER than what we have in mind.  But we often can’t receive Him until He makes room in our lives for…himself. 


ILL:  Sometime during our daughter Joanna’s senior year in college, Sandy and I decided to fly down to the L.A. area where she was in college to surprise her.  So we arranged with some college friends of ours who lived in the area and had become her sort of “home-away-from-home” to invite her over to their house so she would be there when we arrived. 

            We chose the weekend, cleared the calendar, bought the tickets, hopped on the plane, got to L.A., rented a car and drove to their house.  With great anticipation, we let ourselves in at the front door and snuck towards the family room where we could hear our daughter’s voice.  As we came into the room, Joanna was lying on the couch, facing the doorway we entered.  And when she saw us, the look of shock on her face was evident.  Next thing we know, she’s crying. 

            But we soon realized that they weren’t tears of joy and delighted surprise.  I think the first words out of her mouth were something like, “But I have such a busy weekend already planned!”  She was crying out of near panic that there was not room in her already-planned-out weekend.  Not exactly the kind of reception we had dreamed she might have!

            But honestly, we were completely prepared for just that sort of response.  Knowing Joanna as we do, we knew that she didn’t always handle change well.  When Joanna blurted out, “But I’ve got such a busy weekend,” Sandy simply responded, “That’s O.K.  We can take care of ourselves.  We’ll just fit in the holes and cracks in your schedule.” 

            To Joanna’s credit, within about 5 minutes, she had worked it all out in her head and was truly delighted that we were there to spend a few days together.  And we had a wonderful time together.  Our plans for her, while different and somewhat disruptive, were SO much bigger than the plans she had for that weekend. 


And that’s the way it often is with God. 

  • We’re content with the mundane;  He wants to do the miraculous. 
  • We’re content to have a relationship with Him on our terms…in our time…when it fits our schedule; He wants to have a relationship with us that is nothing short of God-sized and eternal. 
  • We’re content with stuff, things and people while God wants to give us HIMSELF!


So, what do you want for Christmas?  A simple life?  Ease?  Peace?  Just enough to get by? An uncomplicated marriage?  Normal children?  A stable home?  A steady job? 

            There is nothing wrong with any of those desire…except that they will never be enough. 

God wants to give us Himself…because He’s the greatest Gift for the greatest life any human being can possibly imagine. 


Will you make room for Him in your life?

Will you allow him to interfere with all your plans so he can give you himself in ways far greater than your greatest plans?