Joseph: God's plan or mine?
29th December 2017
Joseph must have found it all very difficult. We have such great ideas about how we think our lives should work out. After all, God loves us , doesn't he? So He'll organize things so our lives are comfortable and pleasant, won't He? He'll make sure we achieve all our ambitions, won't he? He'll make sure we never face difficulties or challenges to our faith, won't He? No. God will not follow our plans. God will expect us to follow His.
Joseph's plan and his expectations were very pleasant. He would marry Mary, they'd set up home together, have some children, and live out a nice, quiet life in Nazareth. It would all be very comfortable.
Joseph's plan did not include someone getting his girlfriend pregnant before the wedding. When he found out, he must have thought things had gone terribly wrong. I can imagine him in prayer to God, asking why on earth God let things get so out of hand. And why didn't God protect Mary from whoever did this? And How could she let him down so?
Joseph was a good man, so far as any of us are good, so he planned to do the conventional thing. And he must have wondered why God let his life be ruined.
Greatly troubled in his mind, Joseph went to sleep. And he dreamt about an angel. And in his dream the angel spoke to him. The angel called him "Joseph, son of David", reminding him of his family and national heritage. Joseph was descended from the ancient Israelite king, one of Israel's greatest heroes, whom God had called "A man after God's own heart". Joseph knew the stories about David, how he experienced tremendous difficulties, how his life was often threatened, how his zeal for the Lord almighty caused him to stand up to the giant Goliath and win, how he served God and his people, and how he messed up when he selfishly disobeyed God's law.
The angel told Joseph to marry Mary even though she was already pregnant, and not to be not to be afraid. Joseph's ideas about his marriage and his family were not going to materialize. He and Mary risked considerable criticism, perhaps ostracism, from people who didn't understand, and who were too ready to judge, and not ready enough to love. God had prevented Joseph's plan from happening, and Joseph would have been extremely disappointed, perhaps angry, certainly bewildered. But the angel told him to embrace God's plan.
One thing this passage teaches us is that God reserves the right to absolutely mess up our lives. It also teaches us that when our plans and dreams fall apart, it doesn't prove that God doesn't love us. It's just that God's got a better plan.
At key moments in our lives, we have to let go of our plans and embrace God's plans. God's plans are usually significantly less comfortable than ours. They can seem illogical to us. But they're always better than our plans. Do we have the faith to do what seems illogical, or unreasonable, or unfair because God wants us to? Joseph did.
In Joseph's dream, the angel told him that Mary's unborn baby was from the Holy Spirit. That must have baffled him. He must have been wondering which of the local lads had done it, and been frustrated that Mary wouldn't tell him. He may have heard Mary talk about the time the angel Gabriel spoke to her, but until he heard an angel for himself, until the dream, he probably didn't believe her. We can't live on somebody else's spiritual experiences. We need our own prayer life, our own encounters with God.
Sometimes when God speaks to us, it's really uncomfortable, but it's also wonderful. I hope Joseph wasn't annoyed at the angel's message, but thrilled that God had sent an angel to speak to him. It's a privilege to hear the word of God for ourselves. It's a privilege when, either directly, or through an angel, or through another human, God clearly and precisely speaks into our hearts and our lives. But it usually involves change: either a change in our hearts, which we call repentance, or a change in our lives, which usually feels like trouble.
May God grant us the great privilege of hearing God speak to us, and may He give us faith to accept His message and obey it, whatever it is.
The angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son which at least meant that in nine month's time he would be able to test the prophecy. And the angel told him "you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." That must have been the hardest part of the prophecy to accept, not because it foretold difficulties and suffering, but because it sounded too wonderful to be true. Joseph was told to marry this pregnant girl because she was going to give birth to a baby who would save God's people from their sins. Joseph was a righteous man, but he can't have felt adequate to the task of bringing up the Saviour. He would have been aware of his poverty, his lack of education, and his own sins. What an amazing privilege! But what a daunting responsibility!
God's plans are more wonderful than we can imagine. And they're more uncomfortable than we want to accept. But if we will give up our own plans, and embrace God's plans, our lives can have real significance.
When Joseph woke up the next morning and remembered the dream, he must have tried to convince himself that he'd imagined it. Most dreams aren't real, and that dream was so amazing. Dare he believe it was real? Would he submit to the will of God? Not merely the law of God, but the plans of God. Would he give up his dream of a nice, quiet, domestic life, so that he could play a part in the greatest story ever told?
Could he believe that this change in plan was from God? Could he believe that God had chosen him? Could he believe that God had chosen Mary? They were ordinary, if well-meaning, working people from an unfashionable town. Could God really have chosen them to care for the Messiah, the Saviour of the world?
But when he thought it through, Joseph admitted to himself that the dream was real, that the angel had come, that he'd delivered God's message to Joseph, and that Joseph really should obey it. He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Life would never be the same.
If Joseph had disobeyed God, rejected God's plan, he would have slipped back into obscurity. But because Joseph obeyed, he will be remembered across the world for all time.
The kingdom of God is not about us; it's about God. We are God's servants.
If the kingdom of God is a supermarket, you and I are not the shoppers; we're the staff. We don't come to choose what we want; we come to serve God by serving others. We don't come at our convenience; we come at God's pleasure. We don't do what we want; we do what He commands. We don't make plans; we follow instructions.
Are we willing to let God utterly change our lives and our attitudes, tear up our plans, and do something more wonderful? Joseph was. maybe that's why God chose him. God loves a humble and contrite heart.
Matthew writes that All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet. All the inconvenience, all the change, all the unpopularity, all the unkind jokes, all the pain, that Joseph would experience, would be for a purpose - God's purpose. God had decided before the beginning of time what life Joseph should lead. The question now was, would Joseph obey?
The centuries-old prophecy through Isaiah spoke about the Messiah, but it didn't mention Joseph. It didn't mention Mary by name. It didn't mention Nazareth, or carpentry. Did Joseph look for reason not to believe that God's word was about him and his family? Probably. Joseph could have tried to convince himself that God would never plan anything that would make his life so uncomfortable. But instead, he accepted the will of God for his life. And, by saying "Yes" to God, Joseph moved into the wonderful situation of being Jesus Christ's stepfather.
What is God saying to you? Is it uncomfortable? Is it scary? Is it different from what you would choose for yourself? If you'll give up on your dreams, as Joseph did, and choose instead to live out God's plans, you will experience the wonderful privilege of knowing that you're God's servant in practice as well as in theory. And your life will have real significance.
The prophecy came true, of course. The virgin was with child. She did give birth to a son. And Mary 's son was called Immanuel. Jesus was and is God with us.
Because he heard God's word, accepted that it was God's word, and obeyed it, because he gave up on his own plan and accepted God's plan, Joseph saw the Saviour of the world being born. He welcomed the shepherds who came to worship the Son of God, and the wise men who came to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King of Kings. He got to watch Jesus grow up, to feed him, protect him and help to shape his character. What an awesome privilege!
All this happened because it was God's plan, and it all happened because Joseph agreed to live the life that God chose for him, not the life he would have chosen for himself.
What about us? Do we want to see God do great things? Do we want to play our part in God's plan to save the world? Do we want to touch lives for Jesus? Or do we want a comfortable life? Will we stick to our own ideas, or will we submit to God's plan?