Advent Attitude: Obedience
Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.
If you haven’t discovered it yet, please take a look at the website Bible Gateway. It is a handy way to do research on the Bible and you can read from many different Bible translations without requiring loads of Bibles in book cases.
Bible Gateway reported last week the most often-searched Bible verse of 2018: “Out of more than 2 billion page views conducted by visitors to Bible Gateway during 2018, the most popular verse for the year was Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
You would not want to read too much into this one factoid, but 2 billion is a big number, except in comparison to the federal debt. So it may be safe to infer from this choice of Jeremiah 29:11 that people are looking for some reassurance. We who believe need to be reminded from time to time that the trust we put in God is well-placed. We need to be encouraged to continue to be faithful that our obedience to God is making a difference. We need to hold fast when trials discourage us.
Obey God especially when it costs you.
1. Joseph obeyed God (Matthew 1:18-25).
He was the type of man who you’d expect to obey God. Matthew lists five obedient qualities Joseph evidenced.
He was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (v. 19). Normally, we think of RIGHTEOUS as obeying God’s law. However, in this situation the “righteous” thing for Joseph to do was to divorce Mary. Jewish custom required divorce to break an engagement where adultery had been committed. The little word AND figures large in this verse. Joseph was RIGHTEOUS and yet, he did not want to make a public issue of Mary’s pregnancy which was assumed to be the result of adultery. So there’s something deeper at work in Joseph’s heart than legalism. Love is there, too, and it tempered the legal response.
He did not want to EXPOSE Mary to PUBLIC DISGRACE (v. 19). The Greek word for PUBLIC DISGRACE is fourteen characters long. It meant to punish someone by exposing them to the contempt of the community. The punishment was shunning; making the person an object of scorn and ridicule.
Adultery was supposed to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and John 8:3-5), so there’s a greater danger to Mary than that of a broken heart. The point is that Joseph was looking for a way to obey God, keep his honor, and not punish Mary. He was merciful instead of being vengeful.
In the original language, the phrase AFTER HE HAD CONSIDERED THIS (v. 20) means that Joseph came to this decision after a lot of thinking about it. He did not act rashly.
But when it came to being obedient, Joseph did not take his time; he obeyed immediately (v. 24). The text plainly points out that when Joseph awoke from the dream, he brought Mary into his home as his wife. He brought her under his protection. He accepted her shame as his own and defied the customary response to cases of adultery.
Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions and, on his own initiative, went beyond them (v. 25). Matthew points out that Joseph gave up his conjugal relations with Mary. He was not instructed to do this, so it may have been something he felt honor-bound to do. He may have had the foresight to know that any relations between them might cause some to say Jesus was his son. This way, it is historically clear Joseph was not the birth-father of Jesus.
Obedience in this matter would cost him. Matthew identified two costs Joseph paid for His faithfulness to the angel’s message.
To accept PUBLIC DISGRACE with Mary. As far as anyone else knew, Joseph was the injured party here. Mary had wronged him; she had been unfaithful to him. As a man and as the innocent party, Joseph held all the cards and Mary’s life in his hands. He chose mercy before God explained the real reason for Mary’s pregnancy. After that, Joseph changed his mind about the marriage and proceeded with it.
It cost him what most people would consider a “normal” marital relationship, the customary way to consecrate a marriage. The Bible confirms the marital rights of husband and wife. It is an important aspect of the relationship. Their marital relationship began under a cloud of suspicion. Instead of the week-long celebration most Jewish couples enjoyed, Joseph simply set aside custom and took Mary into his home immediately. And, as Luke tells us, one of the first things they did as a couple was to pack up and make the long journey to Bethlehem.
2. Mary obeyed God (Luke 1:26-38).
She was the type of person you’d expect to be obedient to God. Luke details five virtuous aspects of Mary’s character.
As the text tells us several times, Mary was A VIRGIN. Mary had been moral and observed God’s command to have sex only in the marriage relationship.
She was HIGHLY FAVORED by the LORD (v. 28). This Greek word (charitoo) literally means “full of grace.” It is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6 and indicates we are recipients of God’s grace, not dispensers of it. The use of this word shows that Mary is on the same gracious status as the rest of us; she should not be made semi-divine.
THE LORD was WITH her (v. 28). This explains the grace we just mentioned. God is gracious by being present with us and by working His will in us.
She identified herself as THE LORD’S SERVANT (v. 29). Mary’s faith was mature enough to make her humble. She knew her place in relationship to her Creator.
Though the angel’s message GREATLY TROUBLED Mary (29), she was obedient. The appearance of the angel and the greeting alone prompted this reaction and caused her to WONDER what this was all about. Gabriel’s response was to answer her questions and try to calm her fear. (In the previous section, Zechariah questioned the angel that appeared to him and was disciplined by being rendered mute. Mary does the same thing and is not disciplined. There is no obvious difference between the questions, so the difference my lay in the people. Zechariah must have disbelieved the angel but Mary believed him. She asked a question out of curiosity, not out of disbelief.)
Her obedience in this matter would cost Mary. Luke’s Gospel and a little reasoning reveal four ways in which agreeing to carry God’s Son would require sacrifice on Mary’s part.
We go back to the PUBLIC DISGRACE we mentioned in regard to Joseph. As the apparently offending party, and as the woman, Mary would have suffered a greater share of the DISGRACE. Contrast the DISGRACE the people of Nazareth threatened with the grace God offered Mary in v. 28. Remember our comment on the phrase HIGHLY FAVORED?
As we noted with Joseph, there is the problem of starting a marriage under these adverse conditions. This initial awkwardness was expertly portrayed in the film “The Nativity Story.” I recommend it. (Incidentally, the two leads would also appear in Star Wars films. From the Star of Bethlehem to Star Wars - it’s a fun bit of trivia - look it up!)
Mary would have to face the physical and emotional conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth. We can’t assume that just because she was carrying the Savior that she was spared morning sickness, getting kicked, labor pains, etc. The conception was supernatural, but we can assume the rest of it was natural and typical.
This is not affirmed in Scripture, but I think we can assume that both Joseph and Mary were concerned how Jesus might be treated by their family and the people in Nazareth. In that culture, an illegitimate child would probably have to bear that stigma and be treated cruelly.
This happened once when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His public ministry. In Mark 6:3 someone referred to Him as “Mary’s son.” This might be taken as an insult, that Jesus was no son of Joseph. While we know that was biologically true, it’s unlikely this remark referred to His divine father.
Thankfully, this was not always the case. Luke 2:52 reports, the boy JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MEN.
Obey God especially when it costs you.
Obedience that costs us nothing is not going to be worth much. Being faithful while trying to take control isn’t a great act of faith at all. Obedience to God is risky, difficult, and in some places in the world, downright dangerous.
Mary and Joseph are examples of obedience that was costly. Mary’s obedience took her all the way to the cross. That was a sword that cleaved her heart in half.
In a December, 2012 article for Relevant magazine, Nick Price wrote, “As we approach Christmas, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.”
There is a place where you have not really said “yes” to God. There is something He’s called you to do and you haven’t yet obeyed. Advent is an especially good time to begin a life-long habit of obedience.
One Perfect Life, John MacArthur
The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock
Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon