JOY: Finding God’s Way

(Delivered by Gail Ray, in Rom's absence...)

Folks, do you believe that God’s way … is the best way? How ‘bout when it doesn’t make sense to you? Do you still believe that God’s way is the best way? I’m most sure we’ll find out in today’s Bible story that Joseph may have had his doubts … until an angel came to him, who—you guessed it—had a message from God…

josephangelOur lesson for today comes from the Gospel of Matthew. And the fact that Jesus was born to Mary—even though she had not had sexual relations with Joseph [Matt. 1:16]—needed to be explained to Matthew’s audience, his readers. In this section, Matthew relates the story behind Jesus’ birth and how all attempts to thwart God’s plan go awry when God gets involved. We can appreciate God’s miraculous working in both Mary’s and Joseph’s lives, can’t we? Although God’s actions were beyond human comprehension, and although they may have faced misunderstanding and questioning looks from those around them, Mary and Joseph willingly followed God’s guidance…

So, as we think about this story today, just how willing are we to do what God wants in our lives? Can we follow God’s guidance … no matter what? Let’s share in today’s story together as we move to Matthew, Chapter 1 (18-25, NLT)…

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became. pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Folks, we will find the JOY that comes with the Christ of Christmas … when we come to know God so intimately we begin to understand God’s Ways! So, we’ll find the JOY of Christmas when we come to understand these things: First…

GOD’S WAY IS NOT ALWAYS OUR WAY. Verses 18-19 again tell us, “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.”

So, what do you think of this part of the story? Folks, Joseph had every right to ‘do away’ with Mary … through divorce (breaking their engagement) or even death! Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes for just a moment, would you? The circumstances must have made Joseph desperately confused at this point in time. Can you imagine the thoughts that were racing through his mind? And, as long as we’re on the subject, how about what Mary must have been thinking? Do you think Isaiah’s words that said, “Your ways are not my ways, O Lord,” were helpful to either one of them in the midst of this chaos?

Folks, what should have been a joyous occasi

on—a couple expecting their first baby—was now marred by what seemed to be an immoral soap opera! Matthew explained that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit; but it was something that had not happened before to date, nor has happened since. Why did it have to happen this way—God’s way?

And here is maybe the most important question: Why is the ‘virgin birth’ so important to the Christian faith? That’s what we’re really asking here. And, here’s the simplest answer I can give you:hypostatic_union

In order to accomplish God’s purposes of saving humanity from their sin—what separated us from God and thus from eternal life with God, Jesus had to be born not just of a human being, but also of the sinless Spirit of God. He had to be a sinless sacrifice in order for this deal to work. In other words, he had to be a human being that was free from the sinful nature passed on to all other human beings through Adam—the first human who fell to sin…

Because Jesus was born of a woman, he was fully human; because Jesus was also born of the Spirit of God, he was fully divine—both at the same time, the only one ever to accomplish such a thing. That’s because it was done God’s way … and, if it was to be successful in saving us, this was the only way possible that it could be accomplished! Do you think any of us could come up with this perfect plan? Only God could…

The ‘added extras’  to this plan, other than knowing that our sins are forgiven and that our relationship with God is restored for eternity, is that…

• Jesus—because he lived as a human being—fully understands our experiences and struggles in life (Heb. 4:15-16).
• And because he is also God, he has the power and authority to deliver us from that which condemned us—our sinful nature that we inherited (Col. 2:13-15).

Without the virgin birth, none of this would have been possible! And even though we don’t understand it fully (and never can), don’t you agree that God’s ways are best? This is certainly cause for great JOY for us, even though it must’ve been utter confusion for Joseph and Mary … at least for a time! We can also take JOY in this:

GOD’S WAY ALWAYS SAVES. Verses 20-21 elaborate: “As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” God assured Joseph that his life would not be destroyed at this point; quite the opposite, he heard that the Son he would raise would be one who saves life, not destroys it…

The name Jesus means: “The Lord Saves!” It always has … and always will! What’s of God always saves and brings life; on the other hand, what’s of the Enemy always steals, kills, and destroys! Folks, GOD’S WAY ALWAYS SAVES. Then, we also find out that…

GOD’S WAYS ALWAYS HAVE GOD’S PRESENCE. Verses 22-23 share this: “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his  prophet: 23 ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

Immanuel, again, means: “God is with us!” Folks, that may be one of the most important truths that we hang on to for our entire lives. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold … but God does … and God is with us! That’s no small thing! It’s not that we may need God in our lives; the fact is WE DO NEED GOD IN OUR LIVES … and God has already done his part to be there for us. God has our backs, so to speak…

God was with Joseph and Mary—no doubt. God is also with you and me—no doubt. God’s presence should bring us great JOY and peace—even when his ways don’t make a bit of sense to us—like was the case for the earthly mother and father of Jesus… As we continue on today, don’t forget this:

joseph_mary_engagedGOD’S WAYS ALWAYS REQUIRE RISK. Verse 24 shows Joseph’s obedience in the face of risking it all: “When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” Folks, this was a huge risk … which we’ve talked about before! There was nothing casual about this decision Joseph made to obey God…

Joseph put his life and reputation on the line … when he decided to do things God’s way! He quickly changed his plans after learning about God’s plan for his life from the angel. He obeyed God and proceeded with the marriage plans with Mary. Although others may have disapproved of his decision, Joseph went ahead and did what he knew was right—right in the eyes of God!

Sometimes we avoid doing what is right because of what others may think; but like Joseph, we must choose to obey God rather than seek the approval of others; and there is a JOY that comes from knowing we’ve been obedient! God’s ways have to come first, even though they may require risk! And finally:

GOD’S WAY ALSO REQUIRES SACRIFICE. Verse 25 explains: “But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.”

Joseph did what God wanted, even though it could have cost him everything—his reputation in life, not to mention his impending marriage and life with Mary. Here we see that God’s way is not always easy, but we’ll open up potential for God’s fullest blessings … if we’re willing to sacrifice our agendas/plans in order to do things … GOD’S WAY!

Pastor William E. Sangster told of an experience in his youth when he went on a vacation with some friends...

Within a short time he had spent all the funds given him for the trip, so he wrote home for more. cool guys hanging outHis father, thinking he should teach his son the value of money, did not respond to the request. Sangster's companions wondered why he had been turned down and suggested several reasons. Young William said to them, ‘I'll wait till I get home, and he'll tell me himself.’

That's the kind of attitude we as Christians should have toward our Heavenly Father. Life itself holds many unanswered questions, but we know God is sovereign and ‘he makes everything work out according to his plan’ (Eph. 1:11, NLT). Our Lord has said (Isaiah 55:8-9, NLT),

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

We’re limited in our comprehension of all God is doing in our lives (1 Cor. 13:12). An explanation for many of the problems that confront us, the trials through which we pass, and the wounds that bring such hurt … will have to wait until we get to heaven!

Pastor William E. Sangster goes on to tell us, “Although God does not need to explain the reasons for His dealings with us, someday He will unveil His matchless wisdom to us. We need patience to wait for the final answer. In that day when we awake in glory, we shall be fully satisfied. Though now we may not trace God's hand, we can always trust His heart.”

How ‘bout you? Do you believe that God’s way … is the best way? And how ‘bout when it doesn’t make sense to you? Do you still believe that God’s way is the best way? Just as Joseph and Mary found out for themselves…

1corinthians13-2KNOW THAT THE REASON GOD DOES THINGS THE WAY HE DOES … IS BECAUSE HE IS TOTALLY MOTIVATED OUT OF LOVE FOR YOU! Again, ‘though now we may not trace God’s hand, we can always trust His heart.’ Can anyone say JOY? This Good News should bring GREAT JOY to all the people … including US!

(Message delivered by Gail Ray of the Dodgeville United Methodist Church, in Pastor Rom's absence.)

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About the author

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I am a second career United Methodist minister (first career being in management/sales in the air express industry). I am currently the lead pastor at the Dodgeville & Ridgeway: Grace United Methodist Churches. We have a paid/volunteer staff of approximately 6 persons, with a total membership of about 350.