Refresh & Restore — 12/3/2020

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Greetings, Sojourner!

It is hard to believe that Christmas is almost here! Even though Christmas trees have been out at Wal-Mart since before Halloween, the events of 2020 just have not allowed for the regular passage of time. But, in just a few short weeks, ready or not, it will indeed be Christmas.

The purpose of these devotions has always centered around the idea of being refreshed by the presence of King Jesus while we wait for Him to restore everything as He promised (Acts 3:19-21). It is my hope that this Christmas we will be able to feel the presence of Jesus, especially in the middle of everything that this year has thrown at us. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the hope, joy, and love that come only from the Lord. For us today, what could be more fitting a beginning than hope?

Can you imagine what it was like to be the earthly, adopted father of Jesus? A lot of people (and rightly so) have spent a great deal of time wondering what it must have been like for Mary, and I do not want to downplay what all she must have gone through. I have no doubt that her community was quick to brand her with a scarlet letter and cast her out as a loose woman. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. But, today, I find myself looking through Joseph’s eyes.

The Bible describes Joseph as “a just man” who was “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame” (v. 19). While this seems to be a complete description of him, I believe that these two things contradict each other. You see, Joseph could have still been just had he brought Mary before their village and had her put to death for her apparent adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22). Before you rise in anger here, imagine whether you would have believed in the virgin birth if you had lived down the street from Mary. As bad as I hate to admit it, I would likely have been casting gossip and selecting rocks. But Joseph was different – at least a little different.

Joseph was indeed a just man, but he was also a man of grace and mercy. Grace and mercy always contradict justice. They swap the pain of punishment on the part of the one who committed the injustice and place the burden of pain and shame on the one giving the grace and mercy. Joseph was unwilling to put her to shame, which means he was going to bear the shame himself. People always look at Mary and can see why God would choose her to be Jesus’ mom, but it is noticeably clear here why Joseph would get to be the man to raise Him.

This, in and of itself, should give us hope. We do not have to quake in fear of the justice of God if we have received His grace and mercy. Mary had to be scared, but, all of a sudden, the one man who could have called for her life did not seek to heap shame upon her. We do not see much of Joseph, but what we do see of him points to the God who put on flesh, grew up in his house, and took up his profession (John 1:14, Mark 6:3)!

The very same night he decided to show Mary the mercy of a quiet divorce, an angel came to him in a dream (v. 20). The angel let him know that Mary’s claims of a virgin pregnancy were true and that he should not be afraid to continue as her husband. This is good news for us as the Church, the bride of Christ! Rather than casting us away because of our legitimately sinning against Him, He gave Himself for us (James 4:4, Ephesians 5:23-27). Although their earthly relationship would be subject to gossip and ridicule, it would actually be a beautiful picture of the gospel and redemption! And there is always hope to be found in the gospel. There is always hope for the redeemed.

The angel continued to tell him that Mary’s son should be named “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). This may not seem to be a big point, but the name of Jesus is something special. In Hebrew and Aramaic it would be Yeshua, which means whose help is Yahweh or the Lord is salvation. This should not be glazed over, because there is no other name like the name of Jesus. There is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus is the name that God the Father “bestowed on Him…that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:9-10). The Father “exalted [Jesus] at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, would grow up and learn to be a man in Joseph’s house. He would grow to be the mediator between Joseph and God by giving His life as a “ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5). He would learn to work and form wood in Joseph’s workshop before He would hang on the tree in Joseph’s (and our) place (Galatians 3:13).

That night, while Joseph slept, the uneasiness and fear at the prospect of divorcing Mary gave way to peace. And it gave way to hope.

After all the many years that the Lord had been silent with His people, He fulfilled His promise to them by sending them Emmanuel. The word Emmanuel is incredibly special. God showed it to His people through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:8-10). He spoke of nations rising against God’s people. Their fierce armies would threaten doom and destruction. But Emmanuel would fill the land and make all their threats against the Lord’s people amount to nothing. The fierceness of their armies and might of their threats “will not stand, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10), which is exactly what Emmanuel means – God with us.

This gave Israel hope during their exile in the land of Babylon. It gave hope to the early believers who realized that the Messiah had come. And it gives hope to us still today.

We do not have to fear all the things that come against us because God is with us. We do not have to worry about the impending doom on the horizon because God is with us.

While this passage is not often cited in the context of Christmas, I believe Romans 8:31-34 is the epitome of Emmanuel:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We have nothing to fear because God is with us, His name is Jesus, and He loves us. He will never leave us. He will never stop loving us. Those are immovable truths. They are facts. And they give hope.

I have no doubt that 2020, the gift that keeps on giving, still has more surprises in store. I know that there will be dark days we have yet to experience. They will shake us and our faith. But there are no days that will shake the throne of heaven – the throne of the King of kings. I know that God has all of this under control – that He has not and will not be caught off guard or surprised. These facts should give us hope.

I like the way that the Jesus Storybook Bible (yes, a children’s book) reflects today’s passage. When you read these words, notice the hope that comes from what it says about Jesus:

“Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus, ‘Emmanuel’ – which means ‘God has come to live with us.’ Because, of course, He had.”

Just as Joseph rested as he dreamt of the hope yet to come in His life, may we rest and hope in the promises of Emmanuel – of God with us. Because, of course, He is.

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