Joseph was a spiritually attuned man. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was apparently an adulteress. When he thought in his own generosity, instead of accusing her publicly, he chose to put her away quietly. Not muss, no fuss, no publicity. I’m sure her parents (Joachim and Anne, according to tradition) were relieved, since a public denouncement would have meant stoning.
But, when Joseph had a prophetic dream, everything changed for him. He was obedient. He embraced Mary in marriage. He embraced her pregnancy. He embraced the reality that he was to be the earthly father of a child of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that Joseph was a godly man. He was sensitive to God’s leading. He, unwillingly, but submissively took his late-stage pregnant wife on a 70-mile donkey ride to pay the required taxes. The ride precipitated Mary’s labor.
Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, he urgently sought a room where her baby could be born. Urgency forced Joseph to accept an otherwise unacceptable stable for animals. Cleanliness was a problem, but the body heat of the animals brought warmth to an otherwise chill night. Scripture doesn’t give us word of the birth, but I suspect with importance of the child, birth went according to nature and the mother and child did fine.
Mary and baby were somewhat recovered from the process, when Joseph was confronted with shepherds who rattled excitedly about an Angelic announcement about the baby. His first inclination was to drive those trespassers away. But Mary invited them in, so Joseph relented. Their joy was contagious, so by the time they left, the atmosphere in the stable was ebullient.
Mary and the Baby Jesus could not travel the 70 miles back to Nazareth for several weeks, while they grew stronger. They had to have a better place to stay and they had to eat. Joseph began searching for a home and work. Likely his carpentry skills were needed in the town so he was able to obtain work. His skills became known so his part-time soon became full-time. I suspect he was able to rent a small house for the three of them and rig an outdoor “shop”.
It was a year and a half later, while he was planing a door he was making, when he heard, “Carpenter!” Joseph turned to see several richly attired men on camels. A camel driver was speaking to him.
“The star,” he pointed up. Yes, there was that beautiful, magnificent star overhead. It had been there night and day for all these months. People had gotten used to it and stopped remarking about it.
“May I assist, you?” Joseph responded.
He began in a strange language, but switched to Greek which was the trade language. His accent and Joseph’s rudimentary knowledge of Greek were making communication difficult, but not impossible.
“Yes, we have a baby boy,… You want to see him?” People had long since stopped asking about the Baby, since he was just like all babies, except precocious and quite perceptive to human feelings.
“Please wait, while I speak with my wife.” Joseph placed the plane on the work bench, wiped his hands on a clean rag, brushed sawdust and chips off, before going into the house. “Mary, there are several rich strangers who want to see Jesus.”
The Baby began to dance around and chanted “Let me see!” Let me see!”
“Joseph, my beloved, it appears that we must bring them in,” Mary smiled in answer.
The personages crowded into the small room, and while they nodded and greeted Mary respectfully with long flowery (and somewhat indecipherable) phrases, their eyes kept darting to the Child that was their main interest. With a wave of her hand toward little Jesus, she gave permission for them to concentrate on the Child. They clustered around and volubly, but unintelligibly to Mary and Joseph, conversed. They nodded and fell to their knees and obvious prayer. Joseph couldn’t tell whether they were praying to Jesus or about Him to God.
Jesus stood calmly, excepting their adulation, smiling. As they quieted down, He reached out His tiny hand and touched each one on the cheek. Joseph could tell that each one felt resoundingly blessed. There were a few moments of silence then the Christ Child said laughingly, “Go home.”
It was as if they had awakened from a beatific dream. They reluctantly rose. One went to the door and called to the camel driver. In a few moments he came in with three containers. One of the personages took from the camel driver a cruse that appeared to contain about a log (ca. one pint) of oil. Another man took a pot (ca. 1 pint) of ointment. A third took a coin cask. They turned to Joseph, handing each gift in turn. They saluted Joseph and Mary, and did obeisance to the Christ Child, and then left.
After thanking the men Joseph had set the gifts aside and formally bowed in thanksgiving. With them gone it was time to examine the gifts they had left. He opened the log. “Mary this is frankincense! This much is worthy about 30 years labor!” Next, he reached for the pot. This one has myrrh!” This, too is a fortune!” Setting the pot down he picked up the cask, “This one is heavy.” As he tipped back the lid, his eyes got big. “There must be one hundred shekels of gold here!” He sat down on the floor, in a daze.
“What does it mean, Joseph?” Mary asked.
“It means I’ll never have to work again,” but he thought a minute. “I like working, making things with my hands.” He looked at his wife, “My dearest, I’ll never stop working. But one thing sure. We’ll never go hungry!”
It was several nights later that his peace was disturbed. Unaccountably even with his new-found riches, Joseph felt apprehension. He expected to feel satisfied, even complaisant, but instead it felt like a warning. He did not speak of his confusion to Mary. He fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that the same angel that had assured Joseph to take Mary for his wife, came again. But this time with a warning. The angel warned that Herod was a severe threat to the Christ Child. Joseph must pack and immediately take his family to safety in Egypt.
When he awoke, shortly before dawn, Joseph began planning. It was 35 miles to the sea coast and to connect with the “Way of the Sea”, the shortest way to Egypt. Then it was nearly 200 miles to the in the Nile delta. By easy stages it would be nearly a month journey, traveling every day but the Sabbath. He had enough money to get to the coast and the city of Ashdod, where he could exchange one of the gold shekels for 15 silver shekels, much easier to use to pay and would raise fewer questions, thus drawing no attention. That would be enough ready money to get them to a home in Egypt. Thus, Joseph again listened to God and saved his family and the Messiah.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew we have repetitions of the lesson to listen to and obey God. But first we must turn to Luke. There Zechariah, an old priest had a visit from the Archangel, Gabriel. Zechariah was not open to hear of a miraculous birth to his wife, without a sign. He had been a priest for many decades, so the vision of an angel should have opened his heart to listen, believe and obey. Instead, he questioned and asked for a sign. Much to his embarrassment, the sign he was given was to be mute for nine months, (Luke 1)
In contrast, Mary a teen-age virgin, in simple faith said to Gabriel, “I am God’s serving girl. He may do with me what He desires.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)
Simple surrender to God’s will. Her heart belonged to God, so she was submissive and obedient.
“and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The young have far fewer learned preconditions to faith.
Whereas, older more educated and experienced in the world have more baggage to overcome in seeking to be in relationship with Christ. They have learned to test everything to see if it is true. Too many bad experiences taint the simple faith of youth.
Joseph was a mature man, perhaps middle age (which in those years meant over 30). Nevertheless, his openness to listen to the angel made him obedient to strange, inconvenient, and uncomfortable commands of God. Joseph did not dither. He did not test the waters or tempt God, asking for “fleeces”. His simple faith led him to obey. As a result, he first saved Mary, and then he saved the Messiah.
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish: and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
God’s will be done! If His will is done by you in obedience, you will be blessed, as was Esther and Joseph. But if not by you, and God has to pass on to someone else, then, at least you will lose your blessing and, at worst, you will suffer for your disobedience.
Too many believers today are more afraid of what “people will think” than what God thinks. They are concerned that they may be taken as a fool, so they do not act on God’s promptings. When we turn a deaf ear, we train ourselves not to listen to The Holy Spirit’s promptings.
One of the understandings of habits is that reinforcement increases learning. If we say, “Yes,” to anything, it is easier to say, “Yes,” the next time and harder to say, “No”. If, after a string of yeses, a “No” breaks the string, it weakens the impetus to say, “Yes”, the next time. The reverse is also true. A string of not listening to the Lord, makes it harder to hear Him next time.
Remember, God is Omnipresent. He is here all the time! The Holy Spirit dwells in the spirits of believers. He is speaking to guide us all the time. Listen to His direction and follow it.
Sure, you will make some (many!) mistakes and feel a fool. But pour the salve of Christ’s forgiveness on your wounded ego and smile broadly and declare that you are a fool for Christ.
Keep trying to live under the immediate directions of your Master. In so doing you will soon learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
The Believer who hears, but does not obey, has not really heard God’s voice. God does not speak in, “If you, please?” or “When you have a mind to.” His word is LAW!
I once heard a missionary say, when he was a teen he was at a meeting when a visiting missionary gave an altar call, “If the Lord is calling you to the mission field, step down front. I want to pray for you.” The missionary I was listening to said, “I hid under the piano, hoping the Lord would not see me.” Obviously, since he was a missionary, the piano was an ineffective hiding place from God’s missionary call.
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day:” (Psalms 139:7-12)
God calls each believer to life-long holy work. God’s retirement is “outta sight!” “it’s Heavenly!”, but not in this world. He is a severe taskmaster,
“But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:7-10)
We have been saved because God loves us. He has given us release from the burden of sin, robed us in Christ’s righteousness. Our war with God is at an end and we have peace with God. Nevertheless, while we are in this world, God has work for us to do. Jesus said
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:33-37)
When we apply this Parable to all of us, we must generalize the application. Jesus used the porter as the example. He was to keep watch diligently, since the master likely would return unexpectedly and catch the porter slacking off. The application is that God has assigned us believers (each and every one) work to do, according to each one’s ability. Our job differs from one another, but we are our brother’s keepers.
As long as we have breath, we are to be attentive listeners to God’s directions and to do as God calls us. Our Lord knows our strengths and weaknesses. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus stated the Master gave out Talents “according to his several ability”.
“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey.” (Matthew 25:15, cf.14-30)
Jesus knows what you are capable of doing. He will give you responsibilities to carry out that will stretch you, test you and give you great satisfaction in their accomplishments.
In fact, we are less confident of our capabilities than Jesus is. We are more apt to give in too quickly.
Life is hard. We live in a fallen world. We are strangers in a strange land. After being born again, we are remade for God’s Kingdom of love, kindness, mercy, generosity; whereas, we live in a material world that is broken and we live in a culture of, “Me first, and the devil take the hindmost!”
Thus, to walk with Jesus takes concentration and effort, because we are fighting upstream against the current of the world, the flesh and the devil. Everything around us tells us we are going the wrong way. It is hard to persevere, impossible on our own. Holding tight to Jesus’ hand we can carry on, if we keep holding on.
So, settle it in your heart and engage your will to listen carefully to Jesus. Learn to filter out all the static of the material and the negative spiritual world. Remember, “My sheep know My voice.” Focus on what your spirit knows. Then do it.
Basic ground rules are Love God & Love others!” Jesus wants you to acknowledge Him in all you do. Then He wants you to care for the needy, minister to the sick, and to proclaim the Good News that Jesus still saves, so all may come to Christ.
As you kneel to pray, give your heart wholly over to Jesus. Set aside all your activities and cares, while you humble yourself before Almighty God to worship our Great God and praise Him without reservation. Then arise from your knees equipped to minister in His name. Build up other believers by always praying for them and giving them what God requires of you. Always leave them with a blessing.
Look for opportunities to lend a helping hand, particularly with the aged and invalid. There are more opportunities around you than you will see in just living your life. In Christ “Lift up your eyes, for the fields are ripe unto harvest,” and you are the laborer the Master has sent into the fields to reap what He has sown. Hear and obey.
This is a recurring feature. I pose a question in this issue. You have the opportunity to send me answers. I will publish the best ones in the next issue. Please cite Biblical authority, and keep you answer within 250 words.
ANSWER: We have a confusion of terms because in the 10th Century, Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg was a great man of God. When he died in A.D. 973, John XV, Pope of the Catholic Church canonized him as an especially godly man.
That began the Roman Catholic Church policy of recognizing significantly holy men and women, declaring that they were credited with more merit than they needed to achieve heaven, thus, there was a bank of “Merit” that accumulated and that Roman Catholics could tap into it to seek for answers to prayer. Thus, began the practice of appealing to the “saints” for help in life.
In the Bible the term “saint” occurs often, 20 times in Psalms and 8 times elsewhere in the O.T.
In Romans 8 times, Ephesians 9 times and The Revelation 14 times, plus 29 times more in the N.T.
Hebrew language has two primary words for “saint” – 1st, “khaw-seed” = “kind, i.e. religiously, pious (a saint) a godly (man, good, holy (one), merciful, saint. 2nd, “kaw-doshe” = “sacred” (ceremonially or morally), “God” (by eminence), an “angel”, a “saint”, a “sanctuary”, “a holy” (one).
The Greek has only one word – “hagios” = “an awful thing”, sacred (physically) “pure’, blameless” or “religious”, “consecrated”, (most) “holy” (one, thing), “saint”.
Both languages treat the word “saint” as a general term, i.e. anyone can be a saint, whose life comports to godliness.
In the New Testament, the term pertains to all believers. Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for all the sins for all of mankind. Everyone, regardless of race, sex national origin, or position in society, can come and surrender to Jesus as Lord. He washes their sins away in His blood. Further He justifies them and covers each one with His robe of Righteousness! Their surrender and His action transform each one into a saint., a sanctified one.
No special merit; the most heinous criminal in all the world, if at the moment of death repents and asks Jesus to save him, in the next moment is a saint.
Now, in human terms, that does not seem fair. “How come he or she gets rewarded after living a life of crime?”
God is not interested in what we have done, but where our hearts are. When our hearts turn to embrace Jesus, that is all God requires.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus told of a Master who paid workers the same amount, regardless of how long they labored. This was a picture of life. Everyone who comes to “work” with Jesus is rewarded by becoming a saint.
Join me in bowing before our God in gratitude that we can speak directly and personally to Him. He is our loving Father, so we can embrace Him boldly, but respectfully.
Lord Jesus, You are gracious beyond what I can understand. You, Who are the Son of God, You Who were instrumental in Creation, You Who will be the Judge of all men at the Last Day, have offered salvation to mankind. Fickle, ungrateful, rebellious, people disdain Your offer. Despite the affront, You continue to offer it.
As Sovereign Lord God You could force us to take Your offer of salvation. You could cut off everyone who refuses Your first offer. Either response for the rebuff, would be understandable and is Your prerogative. But Your love is not peevish. It is not vengeful. Your Love is unconditional, in that You continue to offer forgiveness and salvation as long as a person lives.
America is 243 year-old. In our advanced years we have to a large extent decided we do not need You any more. We have declared You, Lord Jesus as a persona non grata. We have made You the untouchable of our society
Your name cannot be mentioned in government, schools or in entertainment (unless it is used in blasphemy).
Despite our blindness, we desperately need You to govern us. We have made an effort to govern our nation without You for the last half century, or so. We have made a perfect mess of this nation. Our peoples that were a melting pot of cohesive nationalities and cultures have fragmented into national, racial, political cliques, vying for supremacy. We have thrown away Your morality of loving all people, preserving life, respecting others and others property. We have traded godly love for fleshly lust. We have rebranded what is true, and real and natural and made our own definitions, arrogantly declaring we are what we are not.
Have mercy on our stupidity. Have mercy on our delusions of grandeur. Forgive our usurpation of Your prerogatives. Forgive our displacing You in the temple of our lives with statues of ourselves. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts with the blood of Christ, strip us of our sin-filthed rags and reclothe us in Your righteousness.
Renew a right spirit, a godly attitude of seeking after You, “as the hart thirsteth after the water brooks”. Give us a spirit to acknowledge You, a heart to praise You and a will to glorify You in all we think, say and do. Help us our God! Help us God Almighty!
Hallelujah! You are worthy of all honor glory and praise!