Matthew 1:18-25, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Each of us undoubtedly will experience times in our lives when we wrestle with fear. I’m not talking about wrestling with your fear of spiders, heights, snakes, or clowns. I’m talking about those moments when you experience a crisis of belief and are faced with a decision to act in faith or to respond in fear.
In Matthew 1:18-25 we find Joseph experiencing one of those very moments. It’s a watershed moment in his life, one where he’s faced with what seems like a lose / lose proposition.
Look with me again at vs. 18-19, “Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his Mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
Mary and Joseph were betrothed to one another. The betrothal period was much more significant than our modern day ‘engagements.’ According to Hebrew custom the Hebrew marriage involved two stages. The first was called the ‘kiddushin’ (betrothal) and the second was the ‘huppah’ (marriage ceremony). Most Hebrew marriages were arranged marriages made by the parents.
Once there was agreement between the families, the father of the groom would give the father of the bride a ‘mohar’ which in essence served as a dowry. The dowry ratified the agreement and the betrothal period would begin. At this point the marriage was seen as legally binding and could not be broken except by divorce. The betrothal period could last up to a year in which there was very little contact between the bride and the groom, and was often a time to test sexual fidelity.
It’s in the betrothal period that Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. In Joseph’s mind he would have assumed that one of two things would have happened. Either Mary had been unfaithful and conceived a child by another man, or Mary had been sexually assaulted. Either way, Joseph is in a tough spot and we can certainly empathize with the complexity of his situation.
Joseph’s response was governed by the fact the Scripture says that he was a ‘just man.’ But what exactly does that mean?
John MacArthur said it well: “First, because of his righteous moral standards, he knew that he should not go through with the marriage because of Mary’s pregnancy. He knew that he was not the father and assumed, quite naturally, that Mary had had relations with another man. But second, because of his righteous love and kindness, he could not bear the thought of shaming her publicly (a common practice of his day in regard to such an offense), much less demanding her death, as provided by law (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).”
So Joseph has three choices:
- He could continue in the marriage knowing Mary was fathering the child of another man bringing shame both upon him and her.
- He could publicly shame her by calling her out and having her judged before the religious leaders, perhaps leading to her death.
- Or he could quietly divorce her by having two or three witnesses sign a bill of divorce.
Joseph pondered these things and “resolved to divorce her quietly.” But the story goes on…
As Joseph is considering what he believes his options are, an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.”
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife…” What the angel is saying is Joseph, don’t be afraid to take on the ridicule and the shame, don’t be afraid to have your character run through the mud, don’t be afraid to be accused of having sexual relations with Mary prior to the wedding ceremony.
We know that upon waking up from his sleep that Joseph, “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” How could Joseph overcome his fear, change his mind, and resolve to do just as the angel of the Lord commanded him?
Before I answer the question, let me ask: “Isn’t this the same question we must ask ourselves? “How can we face our fears, change our minds, and resolve to do just as God has leads us?”
We face very similar fears. And these fears have the propensity to paralyze us, or worse yet, build our hope on something that was never intended satisfy us in the way that only Christ can. Let me give you some examples of the types of fears we face:
The Fear of Uncertainty. Perhaps you’ve come to a crossroad in your life and for the first time you’ve lost your bearings. Maybe it’s the loss of a job or needing to make a career change. Perhaps it’s the loss of your health. Or maybe for the first time you’re spending the Holiday Season alone. And if you’re honest, really honest, you realize that deep down you’re scared of the uncertainty you’re facing. In those moments of fear, your salvation is found in comfort.
The Fear of Losing the Approval of Others. This keeps you from saying ‘no’ and having appropriate boundaries in your life, and the people that suffer most is your spouse and children. It also means that you avoid conflict and allow people to take advantage of you. Because you can’t live without the approval of others you constantly ask yourself, “I wonder what ___________ thinks?” When you fear losing the approval of others then their approval has become your ‘hope’! In other words, the approval of others makes your life worth living.
The Fear of Being Insignificant. Tim Keller in his book The Reason For God reminds us that sin is in essence building one’s identity apart from Christ. He gave an illustration from the first Rocky movie where Adrianne asks Rocky why it’s necessary for him to ‘go the distance’ in his fight. Rocky’s response was, “If I go the distance then I know I’m not a bum.” Too many people fear going through life as a ‘bum’. This fear of being insignificant drives you to run over anything and anyone that you consider to be a barrier to your success.
The Fear of Losing Control of Circumstances and Security. Perhaps you have turned people and things into ‘safe havens’ where you find your security and peace. ‘Safe havens’ can come in the form of relationships, careers, standard of living, or even our health and vibrancy. You find yourself peaceful and calm as long you know your ‘safe haven’ is intact. But the moment it becomes threatened, we begin to panic and start to despair. In this instance our ‘security’ or ‘control’ is mastering our heart and is functioning as our idol.
KEY: The only thing that can overcome our fear is something greater than our fear.
Do you remember the show ‘Fear Factor’? Ask yourself, “Why were these people willing to do insane stunts, put themselves in precarious situations, and even eat some of the vilest things imaginable?” Because something was greater than their fear…MONEY!
You face your fear of flying because you know the vacation, or family, or mission trip on the other end of the flight is worth it.
You face your fear of heights because you know the view on top of the mountain is going to be breathtaking.
You face your fear of water because the desire to swim with your kids or grandkids is something you just don’t want to miss.
Listen carefully to what the angel says to Joseph, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel refers to Jesus as the one who ‘will save his people from their sins.’ This had to be the most incredible news that Joseph had ever heard…that Mary, his wife, was carrying a child within her womb that was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And this child, whose name was to be Jesus, would be the promised Messiah who would save his people from their sins. Can you imagine?
The angel referred to Joseph as the ‘son of David.’ This reference reminds us that the Jesus, being the legal son of Joseph, was in fact from the lineage of David. Matthew has gone to great lengths to remind us that Jesus Christ is a descendent of both David and Abraham.
You see, as we reflect back on the Old Testament, we are reminded that God made specific promises regarding the coming Messiah. God promised that through the seed of Abraham all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). God also promised David, and the people of Israel, that his throne would be established forever. (II Samuel 7:11b-17) God was faithfully working in time to fulfill His promise of sending the Messiah through whom His kingdom would be forever established.
“What led to Joseph overcoming his fear of rejection, ridicule, and shame?” It wasn’t the angel! It was what the child in Mary’s womb! This child “will save people from their sins.”
Key: Joseph’s fear was replaced by faith in the one who could actually save him! You see, Joseph replaced his fear with something greater…a Savior!
The key to overcoming your fears is moment by moment putting your faith in Jesus, the One who can actually save you from yourself and deliver your greatest dreams.
Do you have the fear of uncertainty? Jesus says to you, “I’ve paid the price for your sins so your eternity is settled and nothing can shake that. He says to you, I know your future, and the plans I have are good plans to give you a hope and a future!”
Do you have the fear of losing the approval of others? Jesus says to you, “I’ve been rejected by others, in order to make you my child. You have been clothed in my righteousness and you bear the name son/daughter of God.”
Do you have the fear of bein insignificant? Jesus says to you, “I became insignificant for you when I bore your sins on the cross and now you can have life abundant!”
Do you fear losing control over whatever brings you the greatest security? Jesus says to you, “I gave up oneness with the Father and the glory of heaven. I became poor that you might become rich, and in order that you might have the security of knowing you rest in the protective hands of God Almighty.”
Jesus is greater! So moment by moment combat your fear with faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.