Worlds turned upside down - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Sermon Notes > Topical > Christmas 2016
Christmas 2016


Worlds turned upside down

Reading : Mt.1:18-25

Some time previously Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel who had given her a message that turned her world inside-out and upside-down. Mary was pledged in marriage but she was still actually a virgin. Gabriel had to tell her that she was going to have a baby! It would be an event like no other!

All that information is found in the Gospel according to Luke and Luke’s account presents things from Mary’s perspective. When we want to see things from Joseph’s angle we have to turn instead to the Gospel according to Matthew. Each gospel account contains its own particular details and there is a wonderful harmony and balance to be found when we put their two accounts together.

A couple of weeks ago we thought about Mary, how she heard the news and how she responded to what Gabriel had to tell her. We saw then that she was up for it but what about her fiancé, Joseph? How would he react?

It was time for Joseph to have a major rethink as he discovered a truth that threatened to destroy all his plans for a happy marriage.

A Worrying Discovery
As we read Matthew’s narrative we are given the distinct impression that Mary had not said anything to him about her pregnancy. Matthew wrote:

v.18 "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."

I wonder why that was. Of course they weren’t yet living together so maybe she didn’t actually see Joseph very often. Or maybe she just couldn’t find the "right moment". Or again perhaps she was fearful. After all what conclusion was Joseph likely to draw if she told him she was expecting? And so time passed until it was no longer possible to keep things a secret. Was it her mood swings as her body underwent those hormonal changes or was her bump becoming impossible to hide? Somehow word got out.

Whatever it was Joseph now knew and he was shattered!

His fiancé was pregnant and he knew he was not the father – it could only mean one thing: Mary had been unfaithful to him. His world with all its hopes of a happy marriage now lay in ruins. He would have to call the whole thing off, there was nothing else he could do; he could see no other way forward.

Joseph was a just man, a righteous man who wanted to do the right thing, and this was the only option that he thought was open to him.

Now we mustn’t hear the word "righteous" and mistake it for self-righteous. Joseph was a good man, a believing man, and such people are humble realizing that all they have is due to God’s mercy and grace. Joseph was the kind of man you’d like to have as a neighbour, he was the kind of man you could safely entrust your children to.

Had he been self-righteous he would have been chiefly concerned about himself, his interests and his reputation. To protect himself he would have made a scene about it all. Let the whole world know what Mary has done – let everyone know his innocence. That’s how a self-righteous man might have exposed what he thought to be the moral lapses of his fiancé. But Joseph was not self-righteous but a just and a good man.

After agonising over the matter he finally resolved in his own mind what he should do: he must break his ties to Mary but he would do so as quietly as possible so as to cause her as little distress as he could – she would have a tough enough time of it after all.

But God was in it
Before Joseph could put his sad plan into action he was in for another surprise.

He had a dream and it was a dream that would have a profound influence on him for the rest of his life. In his dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke very clearly to him about the whole situation in which he found himself. Not only was he given information he had not had before he was also given instruction as to what he must do next.

Joseph had thought he was living a nightmare scenario but the angel told him otherwise – God was working his purposes out and his purposes were good, very good indeed!

And do you know what, the message that Joseph received through his dream contained fundamentally the same information that Gabriel had given Mary some months before?!

Such independent confirmation of what was taking place was doubtless very necessary. After all, this couple was being entrusted with an utterly extraordinary and unrepeatable responsibility. The Son of the Most High was being placed in their care and for the foreseeable future (12 years at the very least) they had incredibly important work to do. This being the case they must have no doubts or suspicions concerning the identity and origin of the boy child they were going to take care of. They would be exposed enough gossip and whispering from outside without having lingering doubts nagging away on the inside of their relationship.

Oh to have been a fly-on-the-wall the next time Joseph and Mary met together and discussed it all together! With what awe and wonder would they have shared their independent and corroborating experiences! How extraordinary to have been called by God to fulfil such responsibilities! But the Scripture remains silent about this meeting – we’re not meant to get our focus wrong, it is the boy child who occupies the centre stage.

What Joseph was told and how he reacted
The angel’s message contained some very specific information and some very clear instruction for Joseph.

  • His anxieties were directly addressed

  • His responsibilities for her son are outlined

  • His understanding of Mary’s son is increased

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

  • Anxiety Addressed

The angel begins by clarifying who his message is for: "Joseph, Son of David." Joseph is left in no doubt but that this message is for him – this wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.

(As an aside it should encourage us to know that we are all known by name to God – we are not reduced to our NI number but he knows us through and through. He knows too where to find us and what words we need to hear. He knows and understands the confusion that so often fills our lives and distorts our understanding of reality so that we take or are ready to take totally inappropriate decisions.)

Joseph, having been clearly identified as the recipient of this message is immediately told that he need not fear to take Mary as his wife.

Fear often affects our lives and colours our attitude towards the Lord God! Sometimes being afraid is the right thing to be but so often fear is negative and destructive. We should take heart when we realise that again and again divine messages are prefaced with a "Fear not..."

Joseph had looked at the fact of Mary’s pregnancy and drawn the wrong conclusion. The angel has more information to give him; information which when received and understood will mean that Joseph need have not the slightest fear about proceeding with his marriage to Mary.

The information was stunning. It was information that could only have come by divine revelation. Poor old Joseph could have ruminated and ruminated but with such divine light he would never have come to understand this truth: Mary’s pregnancy was due directly and uniquely to God! Her baby had been conceived by the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the baby boy she was carrying was indeed the Son of God!

We need to realise that without God’s revelation of the truth we too will never be able to make complete sense of the world we live in and our place in it. We need God to speak his truth to us because we will remain forever in the dark if he doesn’t. It is not that what he has to say is illogical but rather that his truth is inaccessible to our unaided and limited intelligence. And, if we’re honest, we all too frequently don’t really want to hear his truth anyway.

The Bible is where we must turn to find the truth that we need and the Bible leads us to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you listen to the Bible? Do you ask God to speak to you as you hear it and read it?

God’s truth is not meant merely to satisfy our curiosity but to leave us otherwise unaltered. God’s word through the angel to Joseph told him what he was to do as he understood what God was doing! He was not to fear to take Mary as his wife – he was to take her!

  • Responsibilities outlined

So Joseph could and should marry Mary but he needed to realise that he was being called to something more than that. In taking Mary he would have to shoulder the legal responsibility for the baby boy she was carrying. Joseph was not the biological father but that did not mean that he could disown Mary’s son, he was to care and provide for him as though he were his own.

Now where do we see that?

The angel, after speaking to Joseph’s fears and after explaining just how unique Mary’s child was, went on to tell Joseph that he had to name the boy "Jesus". Now Mary had already been given the name for her baby before even she conceived but here we find that Joseph too is told. And, a few lines further on, we read that this is exactly what he did:

v.25 "he called his name Jesus."

In this way Joseph formally took Jesus into his family. It was a wonderful act of faith on a par with Mary’s own marvellous response of faith. Joseph trusted God in circumstances that had been dark and deeply troubling to him and his trust was expressed in the adoption of Mary’s son. The name Jesus literally means "The Lord Saves" and Joseph, by taking him into his family and giving him this name, was putting his own trust in the Saviour.

It was a life changing a life determining decision that Joseph took. What responsibilities he would have to shoulder! Did he wonder how on earth he could act as the father such a child? I’m sure he did but in possession of the truth he didn’t now hesitate but followed the divine instruction he had received.

Can the same be said of us this morning? We are once more listening to the Word of God that tells us about his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The records are here for you to hear and to read for yourself – the story is simple to understand (even if so deep that we’ll never get completely to the bottom of the wonder of it all). Joseph responded with faith and took the Saviour of the world into his home along with his new wife.

Have you taken the Saviour into your home, into your life?

Who Mary’s Son is
We’ve already touched on some of the information Joseph received concerning Mary’s son – here is what the angel told him during that very special dream:

  • Mary was pregnant and the child she was carrying was male – no need of echographies or scans – God had spoken.

  • And God knew, for this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that meant without the intervention of a male partner. There are several records of unusual births in Scripture – of old barren women past the age of child-bearing who are suddenly enabled to have a child – but none of this instances comes close to what happened to Mary. She was a virgin when she conceived and she was still a virgin the day she gave birth to Jesus - for we are clearly told that Joseph had no carnal relations with her until she had given birth.

  • He was a child with a mission. He was to be named Jesus "the Lord Saves" because he had come in order to save his people from their sins. The whole of the OT had been awaiting the arrival of such a one and the rest of the NT unfolds how he accomplished his mission and caused his church to grow and expand as it still is doing today 2.000 years later.

  • In case the significance of the name Jesus as ‘the Lord Saves’ was lost on Joseph the angel reminds him of what God had already spoken through the prophet Isaiah centuries before – this child, born of a virgin, would also be known as Immanuel, "God with us". In the person of this little baby boy who was about to be born men and women would meet with God, for he was, and is and forever will be God!

Thus in the Christian faith we speak of the virgin birth – it is not an impossible doctrine or teaching. It is not a teaching that was fine for an uneducated past but unsuitable for the 21 st century for it is a doctrine about God with whom nothing will be impossible. The virgin birth was in fact the perfect way for the boy to be born who was a Saviour, Christ the Lord. He was the Son of God and yet, at the same time, he was fully human at the same time – he was one person with two natures – how else could he be God with us?

Are you a Christian this morning? Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?

Life won’t necessarily be easy for you – it wasn’t easy for Mary and nor was it easy for Joseph. But it was good for them despite all the turmoil and the subsequent pain they would experience – Mary in particular knew for many long years that the child she had sustained for nine months in her womb and then cared for as he grew up would suffer and that as he suffered she too would suffer. And still it was good for them both – what a privilege was theirs to have Jesus in their home and in their lives. What a privilege and what a delight for you to have him in yours! And the wonderful good news of Christianity is that you can – for Jesus is the Saviour come to save his people from their sins.

May he be the Saviour of us all who are gathered here this morning.


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