Sunday Sermon: ‘The Story of Joseph and Mary’ (series – The Greatest Story Ever Told’

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Last week we began a series of messages I am entitling, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’ By calling it a ‘story’ we are not suggesting that it is something someone made up, but that it is a historical account of how Christ became a part of our world.

Today I want us to consider the story of Mary and Joseph. Last week we studied about Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, and we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath which for us symbolizes ‘hope.’ Here was a couple who had just about given up any hope of ever having a child, yet God remembered them and gave to them a precious son. Today we light our second candle which for us is going to symbolize ‘comfort’ or ‘peace.’ The Bible says – “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) Great comfort and peace can be found in the Christmas story.

Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

I. A Young Couple Whose Lives Were Suddenly Interrupted

The first thing I want to call to our attention from this story is that here was a young couple whose lives were suddenly interrupted. That sometimes happens, doesn’t it? We have our plans all laid out for how it’s all supposed to happen, but then something occurs and all our plans are changed. Why does God sometimes allow our lives to be interrupted? Let’s consider the story of Joseph and Mary.

A. Their Delight

1. Their Engagement 

The Bible says that Mary and Joseph were ‘betrothed’ to be married. The Jewish process of getting married was a little different than it is for us today. Oftentimes the parents of the couple arranged the marriage long before the couple met each other. At the proper time the young man and the young woman would be brought together for a ceremony known as the ‘betrothal.’ During this special ceremony the groom would place a ring on the finger of his wife to be and say, “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” In the eyes of the Jewish community, the betrothing was as sacred and binding as the actual marriage covenant and could be broken only by death or a divorce.

After the couple were betrothed, both the bride and groom would return to their parents’ home for a period of six months to a year in order to get prepared for their wedding day.

2. Their Excitement

Imagine how excited Mary and Joseph must have been as they waited for the day when they could become husband and wife. Scripture seems to indicate that there was already a love growing between the two of them and we can imagine their anticipation and excitement.

B. Their Disruption

But then something happened to disrupt their excitement.

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Notice that the Bible says that ‘before they came together’ as husband and wife, (before there was any type of physical interaction between them), it was discovered that Mary was carrying a baby. We’re not told how Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant. Did Mary somehow send him word? Did she herself go to see him? Did he hear some rumors? We don’t know. But we do know how he reacted.

Matthew 1:19  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 

I wonder if at some point Joseph asked the question many of us ask whenever our plans are suddenly interrupted. ‘Why God did you allow this to happen?’

1. Joseph Questioned ‘Why?’

a. Joseph was a just man

The Bible wants us to know that Joseph was a ‘just’ man. The word used here means ‘righteous.’ He was not perfect for the Bible says that we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23), yet Joseph was striving to do everything he could to live righteously before God. Apparently Mary was so as well for the two of them to be engaged.

b. Joseph was a merciful man

Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

Being a righteous man or woman is more than dotting all your ‘I’s’ and crossing all your ‘T’s.’ It is to bear the character of God. Consider what it says in the Old Testament book of Micah –

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God

The law of Moses dealt with adultery in two ways:

i. The Sentence of Death

It says in Deuteronomy 22:22 that if a man’s wife was caught with another man, both she and the other man were to be put to death by stoning. No doubt you remember the story in John 8 where the elders of the city brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the very act of adultery. Their verdict was that she should be stoned; yet Jesus said something that stopped them. “He who is among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” (see John 8:7) In other words, “You’re right. The Law does say that. However, which of you feels worthy to be the one to cast the first stone?”

ii. The Certificate of Divorce

It ways in Deuteronomy 24:1 that if a husband discovers that his wife has been unfaithful, yet she has not been caught her in the very act, he is to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away from his home.

The news of Mary’s pregnancy must have hurt Joseph very deeply. No doubt he loved Mary and looked forward to the day when she would fully become his wife. The Bible seems to indicate that he wrestled over the decision of what do do. Finally Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. 

2. Mary’s Question was ‘HOW?’

Joseph’s big question was ‘Why did God allow this to happen?’ Mary’s big question was ‘How in the world did this happen?’

Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Critics and skeptics want to say that the noun ‘virgin’ here simply refers to a young girl. They do this in order to deny the virgin birth of Jesus and therefore deny His death on the cross for their salvation. However, the context in which this word is used here clearly indicates that Mary was someone who had never been sexually involved with a man. Neither Mary or Joseph could understand how it had happened. The angel explained that it was only because of the power of God.

a. The Angel’s Announcement

Luke 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

As I was studying for this sermon I discovered that the word ‘hail’ means more than hello. It means ‘rejoice and be exceedingly glad.’ It’s hello with several exclamation points behind it. Why should Mary be so happy? The angel said, “You are being highly favored by God. You are the most blessed among all women. You are the one He has chosen to give birth to the Messiah.”

Time will not allow us to do a lot of review of who the Messiah was. To make it simple, the title Messiah means ‘anointed one’ and it refers to a king God had promised to send to the nation of Israel who would set up a righteous kingdom that would last forever. For centuries every Jew had been praying for the Messiah to come. What’s more, every Jewish woman prayed that she might be the one to give birth to the Messiah. “Rejoice Mary, you’re the one God had chosen!”

Luke 1:29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

The word ‘favor’ means grace. God has chosen to pour out His grace upon you.

Luke 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

There are at least three wondrous details given in the angel’s announcement:

i. You shall conceive a son in your womb

Luke 1:34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

There’s the Bible’s answer to those who doubt the virgin birth of Christ. Mary could not understand how she could possibly conceive a child in her womb when she had never been with a man.

ii. Your son will be the Messiah 

Luke 1:32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Every Jew knew that sitting on the throne of David and reigning over the house of Israel forever were clearly prophecies pertaining to the promised Messiah.

iii. Your son will be the Son of the Most High God

b. Mary’s Amazement

Luke 1:34 … How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

i. How can such a thing like this happen?

Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee:

Literally these words mean, ‘The Holy Spirit of God shall envelop you in His power.’ On the one hand, I can’t explain to you the virgin birth of Christ; yet on the other hand I can say this –  if God could create a universe out of nothing, surely He can cause a baby to begin developing in a woman’s womb. The Bible tells us that God is the one who knits each of us together in our mother’s womb. (see Psalm 139:13-16) Even when there is a man and a woman involved, birth is still a miraculous work from the hand of God.

ii. Why would such a thing like this happen?

Why would God choose to bring His Son into this world through the womb of a young Jewish virgin? The Bible says –

Galatians 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

At God’s appointed time, He sent His Son to this world to be born as a human so that He might eventually die for the sins of humanity.

The Biblical term for this is ‘incarnation.’ Simply stated the word incarnation means – ‘in flesh.’ Jesus was God clothed in human flesh. On the inside He was perfect God. On the outside He was just as human as any of us.

Why did God do this? Paul tells us that God did this so that His Son might die on the cross and bear the penalty for our sins. Consider how Jesus described His incarnation –

Hebrews 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

If obeying the Law of Moses could save us, then God would have never sent His Son to die on the cross. If offering animal sacrifices could save us from our sins, then God would have never sent His Son to die for our sins. Only by offering His Son as a perfect human sacrifice could God make a satisfactory atonement for our sins and thus enable Him to forgive us.

Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

‘The Son of God’ is not a title given to Jesus. It is a description of who He is.

II. A Young Couple Whose Lives Were Changed Forever

A. Why Did God Choose Mary and Joseph?

1. Because of their purity

We could say that it was because of their purity. Scripture says that they both were striving to live righteous lives before the Lord. Yet most likely it was because of their poverty.

2. Because of their poverty

Mary and Joseph were pure, but they were also poor. Scripture tells us that they were from a village called Nazareth which apparently wasn’t looked upon very favorably by other Jews. (see John 1:46) When it came time for Mary to make an offering for her purification after she gave birth, the best they could do was two pigeons. According to Jewish law, that was the minimum that could be offered. When Jesus was born, He was born, not in the city of Jerusalem near the temple, but in a stable located in a small village outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. It’s as though when God decides to send His Son into the world, God quietly slips in and sit on the back pew.

God loves to use poor humble people who are willing to surrender their lives completely to His will.

Luke 1:38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Matthew 1:24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

B. How Did Being Chosen by God Affect Their Lives?

1. It Brought Them Pleasure

I’m sure that there must have been great joy for Mary and Joseph as they held in their arms the newborn baby Jesus. One wonders what they must have thought and felt as they looked into His face and tried to understand who He was.

2. It Brought Them Pain

After Jesus was born, the aged priest Simeon held Him in his arms and said to Mary, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”  (Lk 2:35) What was the sword to pierce Mary’s soul?

a. Part of it was the pain she and Joseph felt as they were rejected and ridiculed by friends and family. I’m sure they were never fully accepted in the Jewish community again.

b. Part of it was the pain she and Joseph felt as they heard others mock and ridicule Jesus. Scripture seems to indicate that not even the Lord’s half-siblings understood who He was.

c. No doubt much of it was the pain she experienced as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son die. Sometimes God allows events to enter into our world that changes our lives forever.

3. Greatest of All, It Brought Them God’s Presence

Consider what the angel Gabriel said to Joseph –

Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

“Joseph, this is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. God is coming to be with mankind.” How is God with us? There are at least three ways:

a. God is with us because the Son of God came to die for our sins 

The reason the Son of God became the son of man was so He could die for our sins.

b. God is with us because the Son of God came to walk with us through life

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ESV

Romans 8:39 Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

c. God will be with us throughout all eternity

Revelation 21:3 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” ESV

God bless you my brethren as you celebrate this season of Emmanuel.

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