Summary: How Joesphï¿½s problem with Mary is illustrative w/Godï¿½s problem with mankind.
Sermon: Godï¿½s Problem
Text: Matt 1:18-25
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, December 26, 2004
Occasion: Christmas I
Who: Mark Woolsey
I . Intro
"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately." (Mat 1:19)
In this one verse are two phrases whose juxtaposition has puzzled me in times past. First it describes Joseph as "a just man", then turns right around and says, "not wanting to make her a public example". Most people today, I suppose, would not be puzzled by this at all. They would read the second phrase as an explanation of the first. That is, since Joseph was a just man, therefore he desired to not make a public example of his wifeï¿½s embarrassing condition. However, this never set right w/me. For one thing, being a just man does not mean kind; in fact, they are quite frequently at opposition with each other. For example, what would you do if you visited your only child and found out that his house was filled with stolen goods, and he knew they were stolen? To turn him in would be to guarantee his separation, not to mention his wrath. Yet to remain silent would be to participate in his crime in some way. According to John Calvin, this is the better interpretation of this passage.
II. Josephï¿½s Problem
Joseph was a just man, meaning that he desired above all else to maintain the integrity of the law. He must uphold the commandments of God as all faithful Jews were required to do. Accordingto Lev 20:10:I
If there is a man who commits adultery with another manï¿½s wife, one who commits adultery with his friendï¿½s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
This is justice. This is not simply what civil law demanded; it was Godï¿½s command.
And yet, he did not want to stone her; he didnï¿½t even want to expose her to public ridicule. He loved his wife and desired to deliver her from this predicament if he could. How could he obey God and yet not violate his own tender feelings for this fair rose of Sharon?
III. Godï¿½s Problem
Iï¿½ve spent some time on this issue because it is illustrative of a similar problem God faced when He made the human race. Just as Joseph and Mary had started out with bright prospects of a happy future, so our sojourn in the garden in the person of Adam was full of promise and delight. But alas, Adam, and by representation we all, sinned. And not just any sin. This sin was a spiritual kin to adultery, the same sin of which Joseph suspected Mary. Unfortunately for God, though, what appeared to be true actually was true. We, His beloved children, those made in His own image, had rebelled and incurred the just sentence of death. God cannot go back on His word:
...for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Gen 2:17)
Whatï¿½s God to do? How can He be just and the justifier of his guilty children? To pardon our guilt would be to deny His very essence, which is righteousness, yet to condemn our guilt would be to break His heart. How can He be righteous and yet not send us to everlasting misery in hell which burns, and all those in it, forever?
III. Josephï¿½s Solution.
Before we discuss Godï¿½s solution, letï¿½s jump back to Joseph and see how his problem was resolved. Joseph, you remember, was in a quandary as how to obey God and yet save his wife. At this point God intervened. He sent an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that this child was not conceived in sin, but in Spirit. Instead of being the sinking of this woman, he was to be the savior of the world. Her story was not a myth, it was a mystery. What man could not do, God did. In manï¿½s sight, she was an adulteress, deserving of death. But in Godï¿½s sight she was "highly favored", "full of grace", "blessed among women", one who "found favor with God" and "the Lord is with you". What was the source of this favor, this amazing turnaround of fortune, this pronouncement of righteousness instead of damnation? It was that which seemed to be condemning her: the Child in her womb. As the angel said to Joseph: "He will save His people from their sins" (Mat 1:21). But what will God do about His own problem concerning us?
IV. Godï¿½s Solution
Listen to what Paul says:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:21-26).