When I viewed a documentary in the fall on TLC that told the story of the tragedy of the World Trade Center I was struck with just how courageous the rescuers were in the days following 9-11. In the documentary story they told of how when everyone was running out of the buildings firefighters and rescue workers were running in. This documentary also focused on the incredible courage of many of the people who helped each other in escaping the building. There was one group of office workers who ran into a heavy-set guy going down the stairs who was giving up because of the distance. Two gentleman decided to stay behind and help this guy get down even though it risked their own safety in the unknown circumstances of their escape. At any moment the massive building above and around them would topple, trapping or killing them as well.
Then there were the courageous rescuers who made their way through the rubble of the collapsed trade towers looking for survivors and doing anything they could to pull them out. They descended into perilous caverns that could collapse at without warning. They new that even the smoke and dust in the air was hazardous to their help.
And yet they did their duty. They did what they had been trained to do and what the trapped people needed them to do. The nation was right to honor them for their courage even though many of their stories may never be told.
There is a story of courage that is told every Christmas season. But it is a story we often miss because the hero of the story is usually in the background. In nativity scenes he stands silently next to the manger in which the baby Jesus is laid. His name is Joseph and he seems to play a secondary role in the nativity story. He is not even given a single line to speak! Then he disappears completely from the narrative after the teenage years of Jesus.
And yet, the courage of Joseph was what made it possible for the child to be born in Bethlehem and to survive the life-threatening early years of his life. Joseph was the man to whom God entrusted the task of protecting the mother and her child from the time she conceived Jesus. He was the rugged and brave man who led Mary safely along the dangerous roads to Bethlehem, to Egypt and eventually back home to northern Israel.
God selected this man to protect the infant Jesus in the dangerous first years of his life and as we look over the span of Joseph?s life we see that he had the courage to:
? Live a morally upright life in an immoral world
? Marry a pregnant girl who was not carrying his child.
? Protect his wife and son in their flight to Egypt and then again upon their return to Nazareth.
I believe that the Holy Spirit has included the story of Joseph in scripture to encourage each one of us to live courageously, even if it means living dangerously, in doing God?s will. Before we study his courage, we must remember that Joseph was not some kind of super being. He was an ordinary, flesh and blood man.
Joseph: Man of COURAGE
An ordinary man?
In the midst of this story of the miraculous birth of Jesus, one that features visitations from angels we find this ordinary man called Joseph. One of the themes of the Bible is that God uses ordinary people to do his work ? people like you and me.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV)
This is one of the reasons why one of the frequent sayings we use around Hanover Pentecostal Church is that we are ordinary people who are part of an extraordinary plan!
Joseph was the kind of man God could trust to be strong in the midst of a crisis. He was strong and resilient enough to protect his family during hazardous journeys to Bethlehem and Egypt, before they were finally able to return home to Nazareth years later. The reason Joseph had such courage was because of his relationship with God:
?who lived a morally upright life?
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. 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.
Matthew 1:18-19 (NIV)
Joseph was known as a righteous man. This means that he had such a strong relationship with God that he became like God in character. This means that Joseph was courageous enough to stand up against his own sin nature. He had disciplined himself to live the way God wanted him to do, not out of duty but because it was what he wanted to do.
Joseph was courageous enough to live a moral life in a corrupt culture. He grew up among people who were very religious but not very righteous. Even the religious leaders of the day were corrupt men, more interested in politics, power and possessions than in living for God. Friends, truly righteous people make the rest of us uncomfortable. Just by the way they live they make us aware of our shortcomings. So the people had never treated righteous men very kindly. They killed the prophets. They would later reject Jesus.
Even today, moral purity is sneered at. An example is how the movie ?The 40-Year-Old Virgin? made fun of the idea that a man could live to such an age and be sexually pure. The long line of business leaders who have gone to jail over accounting fraud and insider trading during the past few years lets us know that ?business ethics? is all too often a buzz word rather than a corporate code.
Joseph was an unusual man. The kind of man every child would wish for: a father who knows the right way to live and who follows the right way no matter what the cost!
The movie ?Cinderella Man? tells the story of a man like Joseph. He is a boxer who has lost everything and whose family is starving. His son steals a loaf of bread to help his starving family. The father rebukes his son and makes him apologize to the storekeeper from whom he stole it. This God-fearing father may not have been able to fill his children?s stomachs but he nurtured their spirits! How many of us can say we have the courage and integrity of this father?
Joseph was a man of moral courage?a moral courage born out of his Godly character.
Joseph was a man of GODLY character.
Joseph courageously restrained his anger and chose to treat Mary with love.
I can only imagine what Joseph felt when he found out that Mary was pregnant. The only way he would have been able to explain her pregnancy, since he and Mary had not consummated their marriage, was that she had been unfaithful to him with another man. That left the understanding that she was an adulteress!
Any man under such circumstances would probably respond with:
? Shock! Joseph thought Mary was a pure and chaste girl. He must have been shocked to the core!
? Deep sorrow. His dreams of marriage to this young girl now seemed to be forever shattered.
? Anger. Joseph must have felt betrayed. His manly pride would have given rise to the desire to punish somebody! No one would have blamed him if he had caused a terrible scene in the village.
But Joseph?s godly character enabled him to rein in his anger. His love for Mary, even under these circumstances, compelled him to seek for a way to protect her. Love covers over a multitude of sins!
The apostle Paul teaches that God the Spirit empowers us to do the same. When we live in the Holy Spirit?s power, the fruit of the Spirit always trumps uncontrolled human emotion, even anger and rage. And the Holy Spirit empowers us with supernatural love (Galatians 5).
Joseph faced down his own emotions and courageously chose to forgive Mary. But he also had to face down the society in which he lived?
Joseph resisted the pressure of the WORLD he lived in.
As Mary?s pregnancy became obvious to the people in their small town, Joseph knew that he also would be publicly embarrassed. To save face, Joseph would have been justified in publicly divorcing Mary. In fact, the society he lived in expected him to express outrage and to punish Mary.
But because of his godly character Joseph decided to divorce her privately and protect her from public disgrace. Then, after an angel explained to him that Mary was pregnant because of a miracle, Joseph changed his mind and decided to marry her.
Joseph obeyed God and took Mary home to be his wife.
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.” 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.” 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.
Matthew 1:20-25 (NIV)
When the angel told Joseph that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, it is possible that Joseph would have though of the role of the Spirit of God in creation?
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:2 (NIV)
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
Psalms 33:6 (NIV)
But even now, with the Scriptures and an angel to direct him, Joseph had to make a courageous decision. He had to take for his wife a woman who was not bearing his child and, in so doing, share in the unjust shame that was heaped upon her. He would also be undertaking to provide for the child and function in a fatherly role as he raised him.
Joseph chose to do what the angel commanded him. Joseph?s faith in God was what enabled him to overcome the stigma of becoming the husband of Mary and to accept the responsibility of the child.
The writer of Scripture adds a comment that displays the integrity of this man. Although he had the legitimate right to it, Joseph didn?t have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus was born. And this simple fact underscores the truth of the virgin birth of Jesus!
It takes courage to say no! We tend to treat our sexual urges as if they have some kind of overwhelming power. But, for the higher purposes of God, Joseph was able to restrain himself. The fact that they did have sexual relations after the birth of Jesus models that within the boundaries of real marriage, sex is a pure and beautiful gift of God.
Joseph?s courage was tested again after the child was about two years of age. Wise men from the East had visited the family and had worshipped Jesus. After the wise men had departed Joseph was again visited by an gel who commanded him to take the child and flee to Egypt for Herod was seeking to kill him.
Joseph courageously protected the child whenever His life was in danger.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Matthew 2:13-23 (NIV)
Having heard from the wise men that they were seeking for the one who had been born to be King of the Jews, Herod commanded that all boys under the age of two were to be killed.
An angel of the Lord commanded Joseph to take the child and his mother first to Egypt and then later back to northern Israel. This meant months of dangerous travel over hostile terrain. Joseph probably walked most of the way! But God knew that Joseph was courageous enough and strong to handle the task.
Next time you look at a Nativity scene and see Joseph standing in the background, think of the courage and ruggedness of this man. Remember that he was a courageous man because of his belief in God. Remember he demonstrated this courage when, despite personal embarrassment and in the face of social ostracism, he believed God and married the pregnant girl who was not carrying his baby. And also, remember how he continued to show this courage in protecting the mother and child during the life-threatening years of Jesus? childhood.
What do we learn from Joseph?
1. Courage shows up when we least expect it and when we most need it.
Joseph had no idea that his tranquil life was going to be thrown into upheaval. But because of his relationship to God and the righteous character that was a fruit of his life, courage was nurtured in his being and was there when he needed it. How do we cultivate the growth of courage?
2. Courage is cultivated by learning that God is more powerful than any threat that may come our way!
King David learned about God from nature, from history and from Scriptures while attending his father?s sheep. That?s why he was able to fearlessly face up to Goliath, confident that the commander of the armies of heaven was with him!
Joseph had cultivated his relationship with God and so he was ready when the day of testing came.
3. Children need courageous Dads and wives long for courageous husbands!
Children want to be able to boast ?My Dad?s bigger than your Dad!? It gives them security to know that their Dad is brave enough and strong enough to protect them! One of the greatest statements of a husband?s love is when he protects his wife regardless of the cost to himself.
I want to conclude the service this morning by sharing the story of a husband and wife who display the incredible courage of Joseph as they care for their much beloved child. If anything shows the love of Christ and the courage God gives those close to Him ? this is it?