December 15th 2019: Norman Rees

Norman Rees-Sept 17We have all had days when we have been downcast and troubled. But one man in the Bible who had probably a few days of concern, anxiety and sleepless nights was Joseph. Joseph was a godly man who was engaged to Mary. They both lived in Nazareth. He was a carpenter. He loved Mary deeply. In those days engagement was something akin to marriage. It was a promise that could not be broken. But then Joseph had news; his fiancée was pregnant.

Mary was spoken to by an angel of God. Mary, a virgin, one who feared and loved God, was terrified when she first heard the news. The angel told her not to be afraid, he brought a blessing from God. He told her she would have a child. She was confused. Here was purity; two godly people who loved each other would now be the talk of the town. It knocked her sideways. She asked how it could be, “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

She was overwhelmed. It is not recorded in Scripture if she went and told Joseph but she did go to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant. Elizabeth hid herself for five months. She was old and barren but now pregnant. It was a wonderful miracle of grace. Mary spent three months with her. Then Mary went back home to Nazareth, to Joseph. He could see she was pregnant. The first thing that came into his mind must have been ‘What has happened?’ Had she been unfaithful? He couldn’t marry her. He thought of ‘divorcing’ her but did not want to embarrass her, so planned to do it privately, before a couple of witnesses.

One night Joseph went to sleep and there God spoke to him through an angel in a dream, “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” (Matthew 1:20). Well, what a revelation! What a shock! His expectant wife was expecting the Son of God. Being a man of God, he would have known the prophecy from Isaiah. She must be the one spoken of by Isaiah. He woke and immediately, without doubting God’s word, he went to Mary, took her in his arms and they rejoiced together. They married but did not have a relationship until after Jesus was born. Joseph cared for her, looked after her and her most precious gift growing in her womb. People around would have tutted and mocked. They did not know what God had revealed to Mary and Joseph. But Mary and Joseph did not care what the world had to say.

The glory of heaven, the Father sent Jesus to earth for 33 years. God the Son was in the eternal plan to save mankind, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,”  (John 3:16). Here is the gift of God before us, looked after and cared for by Mary and Joseph. He, who could control all the elements, was subject to His mother Mary and step-father Joseph. Such humility! This is the Christ we worship. He was in Mary, then with Mary and Joseph, with His disciples and all those who were called. He helped them, encouraged them and loved them deeply. Immanuel, God with us! They had God walking by their side, God in the flesh – Jesus Christ. Some people hated Him for this. They thought He was blaspheming.

All that happened 2,000 years ago. When Jesus went back to heaven He sent His Holy Spirit. So within us, as believers, is Jesus Christ, the Spirit. They are not to be divided. Here is one who is with them, with us. Immanuel! 2,000 years ago people could see Him, hear Him. When He went back to heaven His disciples were fearful. But when the Holy Spirit came they were bold and could rejoice. And that same Holy Spirit is with us now in Penuel.

We go through situations, problems, difficulties, sadness and deaths. Sometimes we feel God is not with us but He is always with us. He will never change. It is no good relying on feelings. God is with us in every situation. He is with us all the time. Whatever the future hold, Immanuel is with us. Never forget this, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10). This verse is a great comfort in times of trial. When there is nowhere else to go, God’s presence will comfort us. If we have confessed our sins and repented, then this promise is for us. God says He will never leave us or forsake us. Immanuel, God with us. This is easy to say in good time! Believe it! As health changes, our situation changes, government changes, here is one who never changes.

December 17th 2017: Alan Davison

alan davison-dec17Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the forgotten man

When reflecting on the Christmas story, Joseph is usually in the background, in a supporting role. However, if we look at the scriptures, Mary and Joseph have equal billing in the Nativity story. Here in Matthew the focus is on Joseph. Luke’s focus is on Mary. The Roman Catholic tradition of focusing on Mary has contributed to the general forgetfulness of Joseph. Here in Matthew’s account of the Nativity, God’s story is from Joseph’s perspective. Joseph was a carpenter living a fairly normal life. Other than the Nativity and visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, there is no other mention of him. He had a humble station in life and yet the Holy God dealt with him directly.

As a carpenter Joseph would have had a busy life of hard, manual labour. He was engaged to be married to Mary, everything seemed set for the rest of his life. He was betrothed – effectively married, underlying the seriousness of the relationship. May became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, in his human nature, must have thought this incredible. He probably thought the worst, that Mary had been unfaithful. Deuteronomy 22 warns of falsely accusing a woman of adultery. If, however, this was true, an adulteress would have been stoned to death. This was the potential threat hanging over Mary. However, more likely, it would have ended in divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Joseph could have formally divorced Mary. But instead he wanted to put her away secretly, to save her from public embarrassment. Joseph is to be commended here. He did not have a knee-jerk reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. He wanted to protect both Mary and himself. Yet it’s a wrong decision, even if made for the right reasons. ‘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.”’ (Matthew 1:20). Joseph still considers what to do when God intervenes to reveal exactly what is going on. As human beings we can be easily confused and distracted by what we see. God in His grace intervened in Joseph’s life.

God then reassures Joseph. An angel says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ This phrase occurs throughout scripture (e.g. shepherds, Mary). Jesus repeatedly had to tell people not to be afraid (e.g. disciples on the boat in Lake Galilee). God always reassures His people. Joseph here is going to be told the reason for Mary’s pregnancy, which is the will of God. The Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s creativity, particularly in the creation of new life. Isaiah 11:1-2, Isaiah 42:1.

As well as being told by the angel of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph was probably told by Mary herself. Presumably he did love Mary. Any doubts about her truthfulness would be removed. The angel now goes on to offer an explanation about what is happening. God is under no obligation to do this but issues commands in a loving manner (Matthew 1:20). Joseph is to take Mary as his wife, to continue the marriage. Joseph is part of the lineage of David, born into the people of God. Any sons of his would be legally considered to be sons of David, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would come from David’s line.

 ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21). For God to reveal a child’s name would reveal something special and the role for them. Here, even before Jesus was born, God is saying He will save people from sins. Isaiah prophesies the role of Jesus’ life. When Jesus came to earth He was Immanuel, God with us. We are separated from God by our sin, but Immanuel, God is with us.

God remains in control throughout. Having been reassured and given an explanation, Joseph obeys. He didn’t pause to consider any more. He acts and obeys. It is not just blind servitude. God has explained to Joseph what is going on. His own knowledge of the scriptures would have directed his way as well. Joseph kept Mary a virgin after marriage. There was no doubt Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. Joseph follows God’s guidance to the letter.

What does all of this mean for us? God intervened in Joseph’s life. Even as believers we can find it difficult to follow God’s will. After intervening God then reassures Joseph. Because God is with us we too know things will work out. God didn’t reveal everything to Joseph, but he knew it would all be OK. God gave Joseph everything he needed, enough so he could make the right decisions.

Sometimes, life can overwhelm us. The temptation is to despair but God guides us step by step. Sometimes we just need to get on with the work. God will never overburden us. Joseph obeyed. Quite simply, that’s all we need to do. God is sovereign. He knows what is best for us. God wants us to enjoy our lives. We only really do that when we trust the future to God. This Christmas, may we, like Joseph, find the time to pause and consider things. Simply trust Him for tomorrow, as Joseph did.