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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Let Us Have Great Faith In God - Matthew 1:18-25

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Matthew 1:18-21 "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."

Introduction:

Whenever we consider the opening chapter to Matthew's Gospel, we are treated to the truths of grace and faith. Grace is God doing for man what he could not do otherwise for himself. Matthew 1:1-18 deals with how God would manifest His grace by way of the preparatory bloodline of the Messiah. Grace, as it would turn out, was not just an abstract idea. Christ Himself would reveal this attribute of God by inserting Himself into the human family by way of the virgin birth. (see Romans 5:16; Titus 2:11) 

If grace is the gift box presented by God, and Christ is the gift to be treasured, then faith is the wrapping paper used by the Spirit to draw us to Jesus Christ. People that express faith are exercising a receptive trust of God's grace. True faith that takes God at His word is a great faith. Great faith refers to the conviction that nothing is impossible for God. 

Great faith in God is expressed by Job when he states in Job 42:2 “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." Hebrews 11, for instance, lists 17 different people known for their great faith. Great faith can be expressed by God's people, whether young (like David in 1 Samuel 17) or old (such as Abraham in Genesis 12). Today's post will feature Joseph - the man whom God would use to be a father-figure in the human life of the virgin-born Son of God.  

Great faith is possible for any Christ-follower, not just a select few

Great faith is accessible to all Christ-followers as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Word of God and prayer. How often do we read of the early Christians in Acts exhibiting great faith? James 5:17 compares a prophet like Elijah to so-called "average" Christians today by the statement: "Elijah was a man just like us...". So let the reader be encouraged. Great faith (the focus of this post) is not just for the select few "super-saints". It is the privilege that any follower of Jesus can have in moments that call for it.

Whenever we consider the remainder of Matthew 1:18-25, we find a man by the name of Joseph. The more I read about Joseph in the Gospel's of Matthew, Luke and John - the more impressed I am by the faith he expressed in walking with God. Joseph had a bold faith. He had great faith. We find such faith described by Jesus in the way it trusts God to do the impossible in such passages as Mathew 8:10; 15:28 and Luke 7:9.  

The only way there can be such great faith is if it is initiated by God in the life of the person open to the truth of God. (see Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18) As noted already, we want to briefly consider great faith as expressed in the life of Joseph.

1. Joseph's faith was great due to quick obedience. Matthew 1:18-23

Joseph and Mary were betrothed. In 1st century Israel, betrothal was the legal prelude to actual, physical marriage. Other than the physical union of the man and woman, betrothal was considered a moral and legal relationship as binding as marriage. 
The purpose of the 6-12 months of betrothal was to establish the purity of the woman, to prepare for actual married life and for the husband to build a home for the time he and his wife would live together. Any sign of infidelity on the wife's part or proof that she was not a virgin would be grounds for the annulment of the contract.   

Joseph's hearing of Mary's pregnancy during their betrothal placed him in the uncomfortable dilemma. By legal rights Joseph could annul their legal marriage or betrothal. Such an action could be grounds for the death penalty for Mary, since Old Testament legislation included the penalty of stoning for such persons. (see Deuteronomy 20:7; 22:13-29) On the other hand, if Joseph decided to marry her, he would take on the reproach of those accusing her of infidelity and questioning his judgment. We know that the Jews thought such things about Jesus, implying that he had been born as a result of fornication.(see John 8:41)

Joseph was considering the first option of private annulment when angel appeared to him. (Matthew 1:21-23) God knew what Joseph was thinking, reminding us that He is ever omniscient. (see Psalm 139:1-7) God sending Gabriel to Joseph confirms this truth of God's omniscience. The angel's urging of Joseph to: "not be afraid" as to encourage him to take Mary as his wife. So what did Joseph do? He did what the angel told him. Joseph never hesitated. He responded quickly to God's word. We find his great faith in other passages. (Matthew 2:14 and 2:21) So Joseph's faith was great due to its quick response. Now notice a second trait of this great faith....

2. Joseph had great faith by the courage he had to trust God. Matthew 1:24b

Joseph's faith was great due to his quick response to the Word of God. We find another trait of great faith in Joseph's life - namely the courage to trust God. The dilemma explained above required great God-given courage for Joseph. He made the choice to trust God more than care about the opinions of people. To take Mary as his wife meant Joseph would undergo possible ridicule or questions about his character. 

Having the courage to trust God is never popular. In our 21st century world, there are pleas from every quarter to do-away with Christ from Christmas. Moreover, the secular notion that believing in the God of scripture is not merely irrational but immoral characterizes our age. Courage as the backbone of great faith is needed in our day.  

An Old Testament illustration from the book of Joshua can illustrate the place of courage in the life of faith. When Joshua was leading the ancient Jews into the promised land in the Book of Joshua, God told him on several occasions: "be strong and courageous". (see Joshua 1:9) This virtue of courage, valor and inner strength is prized as part of spiritual growth. (2 Peter 1:3-11) In over 200 places in God's Word we are told to "not be afraid". 

Imagine the pressure Joseph felt. Not only from potential pressure from his culture, but also the prospect of being a father-figure to the Savior of the world. Thank the Lord that God had a Joseph to whom He had prepared to have great faith. God is doing this very thing in our 21st century world. In the context of culture pressure, God is preparing His people to act courageously. Courage is the backbone of faith. To have great faith, like Joseph, entails quick obedience, courageous faith and one more characteristic....

3. Joseph's faith was great due to his complete follow-through. Matthew 1:25

We read in Matthew 1:25 "but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." Joseph had by this point made the marriage public and official. No longer were he and Mary betrothed or, as the Jews called it in the ancient world, "kiddushim". They were now "physically-married" or "chupah". Joseph was compelled to keep his wife a virgin till the birth of Jesus. Joseph knew his role and place. In Luke 2:22 we see Mary and Joseph bring the eight-day old infant Christ to the temple. The text notes: "And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord." 

Joseph is completing his follow-through. Great faith aims to complete the good work God began. (see Philippians 1:6) We find Joseph mention only a few times more in the New Testament. (see John 6:42) We're not sure when Joseph passed off the scene. What we do know from the New Testament record is that Joseph followed-through in his role as a father-figure to the virgin-born Messiah. It takes great faith to both get on the saddle and to remain in it.

When I think of complete follow-through in the realm of great-faith, I think of my grandmother. She read her Bible through every year while helping to raise my cousins, deal with health issues and tough early years in her marriage. She endured. She persevered. My grandmother got to witness my uncle and grandfather get converted to Jesus Christ. Today, one of my cousins is following the Lord. I thank the Lord for the examples of great faith we not only find in the Bible, but in our lives - if we but look with open eyes and hearts.

Closing thoughts

In today's post we explored the subject of "great faith" as exhibited in the life of Joseph in Matthew's Gospel and other places. We noted that "great faith" is that type of faith that concludes that with God, all things are possible. In describing what such faith looks like, we noted three traits in the life of Joseph.
First, Joseph expressed quick obedience to God's Word. Second, Joseph expressed courage to follow God, no matter what. Lastly, Joseph exhibited complete follow-through in what God called-him to do. Amazingly, Joseph's resolve foreshadowed what Jesus Himself would do in going to the cross and rising from the dead. (see 1 Peter 2:21ff) The take away for you and me is to ask for and live out great faith. Might we be like Joseph during this Christmas season and for the upcoming year. Let us be those who have great faith!  

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