I took a funeral recently and an amazing story came out, a friend of the woman who died revealed that they had both been code breakers at Bletchley Park during the war. In fact they had translated Hitler’s will.
The code breakers who worked in secret at Bletchley Park in England deciphering the German’s secret messages have emerged as the great unsung heroes of the last war. It is impossible to calculate how many lives their work saved or how many months their work shortened the war by. Until the last few years they didn’t get the recognition that deserved.
History is full of unsung heroes like the WW2 code breakers but this evening I want us to think about one unsung hero in particular.
Someone who is quite literally an unsung hero.
Over the next few days as Christmas gets closer we’ll sing just about all the well known carols. We’ll sing about Jesus,
we’ll sing about Mary,
about the shepherds,
the wise men
and the angels.
What we won’t do is sing about one of the most significant characters of the Christmas story, that’s Joseph.
There are carols about little drummer boys and little donkeys,
there are carols about ancient Czechoslovakian Kings but I don’t know of any Carols about Joseph.
In fact, even cattle, that aren’t even mentioned in the Christmas story, get mentioned more often in our carols than Joseph does.
Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[d]—which means, “God with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Just about everything we know about Joseph comes from that passage we read from Matthew.
There have been lots of speculation that Joseph was an older man,
that he had been married before
, but the truth is we just don’t know.
It does seem probable that Joseph had died by the time Jesus had grown up because after the stories about Jesus’ childhood he completely disappears. All we really know about Joseph for certain is what Matthew tell us here.
Now Joseph might be regarded as being insignificant by most hymn writers
but he wasn’t regarded
as insignificant by God.
I think if I had to entrust my son Allan’s upbringing to another man. I would look for someone who was rich,
or famous or intelligent.
Yet when God had to entrust his son’s upbringing to a man he chose to overlook all the rich and powerful men of that generation like the Roman emperor.
He chose to overlook all those regarded as being educated and intelligent like the Greek philosophers.
Instead God chose to entrust the upbringing of his son to a working class man, a carpenter from a small town from an area of Israel that everyone else though was a bit backward.
Do you remember one of Jesus disciples voicing the common opinion about Nazareth. “can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Well God thought something good had come Nazareth, and that was Joseph.
God’s choice of Joseph to oversee the upbringing of Jesus is a reminder to us of one of the most important spiritual principles God operates on.
Here it is “Prominence doesn’t equal significance in the Kingdom of God”
What that basically means is that God isn’t impressed by what impresses us.
We live today in what some has called the Celebrity Culture.
Inside those magazines like Hello & OK that you see at the supermarket check outs you’ll discover what people think success and significance is all about.
According to these magazines your significance as person is judged by
How well you are known
How much you own
How good you look
How much success you’re having
In our celebrity culture prominent people are significant people but in the Kingdom of God it is different.
The whole message of the Bible is that what counts with
God is character.
What counts with God is
or what you have done
who you are and who you are becoming.
When God wants to judge our significance,
He doesn’t look at our image, at what we want people to think we are.
He doesn’t look at our reputation, at what people think we are.
Instead, the Bible tells us that God looks at our heart, at the person we really are.
When he looked at Joseph’s heart he saw someone that impressed him.
Joseph was significant in God’s eyes because God saw in Joseph a character that he could count on.
Joseph and God’s treatment of him I think raises two questions for us that I want us to think about
WHAT REPUTATION DO YOU HAVE WITH GOD?
The first question I want you to ask yourself is what reputation do I have with God?
In a shop the other day I overheard a woman describing someone else to her friend as “Mr Angry.” Someone through their action and attitudes had built a reputation for being angry.
Joseph in the same way through
his attitudes and actions
had built a reputation with God.
Just listen to God expressing his opinion of Joseph in His Word “Joseph was a righteous man” Mat 1:19
Other versions of the Bible use words like “just, good and upright” to get over to us what God thought of Joseph.
Have you noticed that some words go in and out of fashion? “Cool” was in, in the 60s, it was out in the eighties but now its back in fashion again. I sometimes think that Allan can’t complete a sentences without saying “cool.”
Well here is one word that might sound old fashioned to our ears, it’s a word that you don’t hear much today, but it’s a word that has never gone out fashion with God, “righteous”.
What impressed God most about Joseph was that he was “righteous”
Joseph built a reputation with God for being “righteous”.
Now that is important for us for two reasons.
The first is that it shows us that ordinary people with ordinary jobs can live their lives in a way that impresses God. If Joseph working as a carpenter in Nazareth 2000 years ago could live a life that impressed God, then so can nurses, salesmen, administrators, and students working in Scotland in 2012
The other important truth we are shown here is what it is that impresses God in a human life. “righteousness” impresses God, that’s what he saw when he looked at Joseph’s life and that what he is looking for when he looks at your life .
So what is righteousness?
The best definition I know of righteousness comes from a description of another man who stood out to God as being someone who was righteous. Noah.
Here is how God’s word describes Noah “Noah was a righteous man … He consistently followed God’s will and enjoyed a close relationship with him” Gen 6:9 (NLT)
That’s righteousness in a nutshell.
Being righteous means enjoying a close relationship with God in which you consistently follow His will.
Righteousness is about knowing god personally and following his will consistently.
It is that word consistently that makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Most of could build a reputation for being righteous if it was about following God’s will, occasionally or selectively.
Joseph built a reputation with God because he followed God’s will “consistently.”
Look at the story again:
“an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, … When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. MT 1 20-:24
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. … So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,” MT 2:13-14
“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” … “ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” MT 2:19-21
Do you see that pattern of consistent obedience?
On every single occasion in God’s Word when Joseph is told by God do something, he does it right away.
Now do see why God called him righteous?
You know that there are some questions we need to ask ourselves now?
As I ask you, I am asking myself the same questions.
What reputation do you have with God?
If God had to sum up your life in one word, what do you think that word would be?
Would it be righteous?
How are you doing when it comes to building a reputation for righteousness with God?
We are nearly at the end of another year, as you look back on the last year how have responded to what God has told you to do?
WHAT REPUTATION DO YOU HAVE WITH PEOPLE?
The second question that Joseph raised in my mind for me to ask myself and for you to ask yourself is.
Is “What reputation you have with people?”
What are you best known for among your family and friends/ what kind of reputation do you have among those that you work with or live beside?
I discovered living in England that there are some words that we use here in Scotland that are almost untranslatable.
How do translate, “Sleekit” for instance or “Gallous” ?
Thinking about how Joseph treated Mary when he knew she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, but didn’t know that God was, my mind went to a verse in the book of Philippians that I think sums up Joseph’s actions
“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” PHP 4:-5
The Greek word that the NIV translates as “gentleness” in that verse is another one of these words that are almost untranslatable from one language to another. In fact one expert in NT Greek called it the most difficult word to translate into English in the whole NT.
There are two English words that help us grasp what God’s Word says here is to characterise all our lives but which I think especially characterises Joseph’s actions in the Christmas story
The first word is merciful. God wants his people to be known for being merciful.
Do you remember when some Jewish leaders dragged a woman in front of Jesus who had been caught committing adultery?
The penalty under Jewish law should have been for her to be stoned to death. John tells us in his gospel that Jesus’ reaction to this woman was to say ” neither do I condemn
you,” “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus was merciful to someone who was clearly in the wrong.
I’ve been wondering if part of the reason that Jesus did what he did was because he had heard the story of how Joseph had treated Mary when he discovered that she was pregnant but before he knew God was responsible.
Matthew tells us. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Mat 1:19
When Joseph got the news that Mary was pregnant he must felt,
incredibly let down
and probably more than a bit angry.
He could have done several things.
He could have dragged Mary in front of a public court and divorced her in a way that would have caused her the greatest distress and would have blackened her name for ever. Women who were divorced in public for sexual immorality in Joseph’s day became social lepers and faced a life of loneliness and poverty.
Joseph could have, like the hypocrites that Jesus met about 33 yrs later, got a mob of hot heads together and decide to follow the OT punishment for adultery despite the fact the Romans had banned it and stoned Mary to death.
What he actually decided to do was divorce her quietly so she could go away and start a new life. Despite being hurt he chose to be merciful.
What do you do when you are hurt by someone else the way Joseph thought he had been hurt by Mary?
Do you go all out to get revenge?
Do you make sure that other people see them for what they are, do you set out to humiliate them and make things as difficult as possible for them in the future?
Like Shylock do you want your pound of flesh?
Or like Joseph are you willing to be merciful even to people you have been hurt by and have every right to be angry with?
Maybe there is one person in your life and right at the moment the Lord is saying you need to be merciful to that person in the way that Joseph was merciful to Mary.
You need to treat them not the way they have treated you, but in a way they don’t deserve, that’s mercifully.
Are you willing to start building a reputation for being merciful starting with that one person?
The second word that I think will help us understand what God wants us to have a reputation for and what characterised Joseph’s actions is moderate.
The KJV actually translates these words as “let your moderation be known to all men”
Not only have we to be merciful in the way we treat other people we have also to be moderate. Being moderate means being limited in our response rather than over the top. Its is about choosing to be gentle rather than harsh.
In both my careers as a police man and as a pastor I’ve been involved at times with couples when one of the partners has done something that has really hurt the other one.
In those situations I have seen people exploding and using words that would peel wall paper. I have seen others responding not with verbal violence but with physical violence.
Yet Joseph didn’t reign insults or blows down on Mary when he discovered she was pregnant. He didn’t explode.
He didn’t lash out verbally or physically, instead he responded with moderation.
Ann and I got engaged 27 ago last Wednesday.
All this week I kept asking myself what I would have done if after a couple of months after I had given her that ring, Ann had told me she was pregnant.
I wonder how I would responded if after I asked who the father was, she had said, “God”
Jesus once said this about how to respond to people: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. MT 5:21-22
Jesus there is talking about what we say and how we say it to others when we are angry.
What Jesus is ruling out is offensive and harsh language
. Whenever we get angry and sometimes, like Joseph before he was told the truth about Mary’s pregnancy, we have every right to get angry,
Jesus says we are to be moderate in our response.
As His followers Jesus says we are not to indulge in insulting, demeaning or derogatory language.
I wonder if that something else he learned in his father’s work shop in Nazareth. Joseph emerges from the Christmas story as the kind of man who didn’t verbally assault people even when he had every right to be angry.
Let me ask you is this moderation a characteristic you are know for?
Have you got a reputation for being moderate in your response even when you are provoked?
Are you known among your family, among your friends and work mates for not blowing your roof?
Have you a reputation among the people who know you best for resisting the temptation to be harsh or insulting in what you say to others?
Joseph did. If you had asked Mary what kind of man her husband was, I think she would have described him gentle
. I think she would have said he was a man who was merciful and moderate in the way he responded to people.
Am I the only one here this morning that feels deeply convicted by Joseph’s example of how to react when you are hurt by other people?
I look back over the last year and I have to admit that I haven’t always been a “gentle man” in the Joseph sense of the word in the way I have responded to my wife and children and to others too.
I haven’t always been merciful and moderate. There are things I wish I hadn’t said, in ways I wish I hadn’t said them.
But one of the gifts that God has given me this Christmas is the chance to grow spiritually. I am inspired by Joseph to build a reputation with other people for being gentle, moderate and merciful.
What about you?
Are you willing with God’s help to be like Joseph and to “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” PHP 4:-5
This Christmas you probably won’t sing about Joseph but you could do something more significant.
You could commit yourself to building a reputation like his.
with God for being righteous
and with other people for being gentle.