Noble Joseph

Noble Joseph

If we followed the lead of the text of Scripture, the men playing Joseph in our various Christmas programs would have no speaking parts. There is no song of Joseph, nor do we hear him respond verbally to the multiple angelic visits he receives. He never pleads with the innkeeper. He says nothing to the shepherds or sages. He rightly stands stoically in the background of our nativities, work-worn hands behind his back, a model of the many strong, silent-types we know. We see his face in the subdued and unassuming men who make up our world. In front of Joseph’s bent frame, the Infant lies front and center, where he should always be. But this Christmas in particular it may be profitable to let our second glance turn to noble Joseph.

Chronologically, he enters the narrative after Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and the miraculous conception of Jesus in her virgin womb. When her pregnancy is finally revealed, Joseph determines to divorce her (Matthew 1:18-25). The move seems somewhat heartless, but we’re told this decision flowed from the righteousness that marked his character and from a commitment to shielding Mary from shame. It would be done quietly; he would bear whatever disgrace fell to him due to the absence of a more public display.

His plans were of course altered with the appearance of an angel of the Lord, who assured him that the child truly was a work of the Holy Spirit, just as Mary had attested. We might imagine how her claims had been dismissed by nearly everyone but her cousin, Elizabeth, but God always causes the truth to prevail, and often gives us faithful friends to stand by us. Rising from sleep, Joseph’s righteous and just character continue to shine as he immediately follows God’s command, taking Mary as his wife, but postponing the physical consummation of their marriage, honoring both her and God in his self-control.

Matthew 2 shows us that his protection extended from his young bride to the Son he was called to care for. Herod, drunk with power and paranoid that he might be deposed and exposed for the fraud he was, heard the good news of the wise men as a threat to his reign, and chose to eliminate two-year-olds throughout his land rather than humble himself before the true King. In that dark shadow, Joseph’s light shines brighter still. He again silently stands as a shield to the innocent, traveling wherever his dreams directed, aiding in the preservation of the life of Jesus until God safely brought them all to Nazareth.

In the small slice of his life revealed in Scripture, Joseph wordlessly calls to us all, especially the men of our age, to courageously stand against both the easy path of self-preservation and the Herod’s who are focused solely on self-exaltation. He reminds us to trust that God’s ways, though confusing and counter-cultural, always lead to life and joy and the promotion of truth. His example says, “Protect the innocent, especially those whom society would seek to silence. Be a defender of women, of the unborn, and of children. ‘Be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.’” (Phil. 2:15)

As we seek to match Joseph’s strides, we also join him in taking a step back to let Jesus fill center stage. The Son in the manger would far exceed his earthly father in all his noble actions. Joseph and every man and woman before and after him have dirt and blood on their hands, which is why Christ entered our world – to walk through the dirt of earth but not be stained by sin and to shed his blood to cleanse our violent hands. He’s come to redeem us, to fill us with the power of the Spirit, and to call us to follow him down the path of true holiness and humility. It was a path Joseph walked well, and a path Jesus walked perfectly. May we as men and women of God follow them in our day, proclaiming righteousness through our words and actions.

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Darkness in the Garden of Prayer

The sound of footsteps broke the silence of prayer
As cowards came in the night to snuff out the Light of truth.

The betrayer drew near with a deceptive kiss,
Mercifully stopped by a question from Christ:
“With a kiss, Judas, you would betray me?”

Panic stricken, the disciples grasped the hilts of swords,
Striking in a futile attempt to push against
the will of the Father,
that Jesus had just submitted to,
and the power of darkness,
that was being allowed to reign.

Blood was spilt as a blade struck the ear of one of his arresters,
But a touch of grace,
from the one who had the authority to give life and healing
and who was now willfully submitting himself
to the hands of those who would take his life,
brought healing in the blackness of the garden of prayer.

We Are Never Alone

One of the greatest lies a follower of Christ can believe is that he or she is alone. It can lead to shameless sin or loneliness and fear. If I assume in a circumstance that I am alone – that no one sees me or knows what I am doing – then I will be tempted to act as if there are no consequences to my actions. Temptation will become stronger with the thought that no one will know my deeds or my thoughts. Yet if I pause and realize that I am never alone – that the eyes of the Lord search the earth to see the righteous and the wicked – then I will seek to glorify and honor my Father, who is lovingly looking out for my good.

I may also think that I am alone in distressing and disheartening situations. I can begin to believe the lies that no one understands my thoughts and no one cares about what I am going through. I can feel that I am isolated and abandoned, when the truth is that God has promised to never leave or forsake me and to be with me in the valley of the shadow of death.

The example of Jesus Christ is a great help in both of these areas. He was tempted like we are and he knew abandonment, yet he lived his life in constant communion with his Father, trusting that he wasn’t alone. The church is also a great reminder of the presence of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ hold us accountable in times of temptation and hold us up in times of despair. Even when we are alone, we are never alone.

Jesus Will Drink the Fourth Cup

Jesus, when he institutes the Lord’s Supper and transforms the Passover meal from a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance to a remembrance of the work of salvation accomplished through his broken body and shed blood, says that he will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God has come in its fullness. Of the four cups in a traditional Passover meal, it is thought that he spoke of his blood when he lifted the third cup, and then that he announced that he would not drink again and subsequently did not drink the fourth and final cup.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the disciples each take up that fourth cup and drink it, maybe awkwardly, as they watched Jesus’ cup remain on the table untouched. I imagine Jesus’ cup sitting there, filled with wine, as they all left the upper room to go to the Mount of Olives. I envision it waiting there until the disciples returned to the upper room to hide from the Jewish authorities after Jesus’ arrest, a silent witness to the fact that what they thought was the end was not the end. Someone eventually would have cleared it from the table, and maybe as they poured it out they thought of those words he had said. When would that fullness of the kingdom come? With Jesus in the tomb, would it ever come?

I believe that day will come, though it didn’t come in the way or the timing Jesus’ contemporaries expected. One day Jesus will come, and with him will come the fullness of the kingdom. He will gather his bride, the people of God, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and we will sit at his table – the table of feasting at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Then Jesus will take up that fourth cup, much like he took the three other cups on the night he was betrayed. He will take the Cup of Praise, picking up right where he left off that night, and we will all raise our glasses with him. And we, with Jesus will drink that cup with joy for the rest of our days, all because of the broken body of Jesus and the blood he shed to inaugurate the New Covenant.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus! Come and drink that final cup that we might rejoice with you in the fullness of your kingdom!

Spending Time

Time stops for no one. It more than marches on – it gallops by, like a thoroughbred in the homestretch. And once it is gone, there is no getting it back. Yet as precious as each minute and moment is, time is a commodity that is so easy to waste. It is much more valuable than the things we waste it on, but waste it we do. Once it is spent, we cannot get it back, but spend it we do, only to open our shopping bags and wonder what we just bought as our stomachs drop with the realization that there are absolutely no refunds when you pay with time.

Oh, I don’t want to waste my time; I want to redeem it! I want to invest it in things that will pay me back with blessings in the present and eternal rewards in the new kingdom – a kingdom where time stretches on forever and where every second is used for the glory of God.

God’s Sovereign Control Casts Out Fear

As I think about the nature of fear, it seems it some part to be rooted in being unable to control what is happening in a specific situation. Someone may fear rollercoasters, and a root cause of that fear is not simply that they are being placed in (apparently) dangerous situations, but in dangerous situations that they have no control over. Scary movies place us in the shoes of a person who becomes unable to control what is going to happen to them or what someone is going to do to them. Those who conquer fear, then, could be those who have complete control in all circumstances.

Yet when the Bible tells me not to be afraid, it is not because I am in control of all things. In fact, the more I come to know of God and of myself, the more I realize how not in control I am. The command, “Do not be afraid,” is often tied instead to God’s control over all things. So when Joshua is told to be strong and courageous and to not fear, it is followed by the source of his fearlessness, which is God’s promise that he will be with Joshua wherever he goes. Joshua does not need to fear because the sovereign, all-powerful hand of God will be with him.

The fearless confidence of the Christian is not tied to personal power or a sense of control over my future, but faith that nothing is ever out of God’s control. And if God is for me – if I am his child, and I trust that he is working for my good – then I have nothing to fear. His perfect power and perfect love cast out all fear (1 John 4:18).

God is Working for Our Good

Yesterday as we looked at Luke 22:1-13 at church, we watched the scribes, Judas, and Satan himself come together to form a trap to capture Jesus and deliverer him up to death. Yet for all of their scheming, God was in complete control, orchestrating their actions. Nothing can thwart God’s plans – he turns even wickedness and evil for the good of his children and for his glory as he works out his sovereign plan.

But not only does God turn evil for good, he is also actively seeking our good. The second part of the passage shows that Jesus had taken the time to prepare for the Passover meal with his disciples – to prepare to bless his closest friends with a final meal of deep significance. He was pursuing them with lovingkindness, just as he continues to pursue his children with love, preparing wonderful things for us now and for all eternity.

What confidence the Christian has in all of life’s peaks and valleys! All things will work together for good for those who love God, and God is always working for our good.