MATTHEW 1:18-25 & ROMANS 8:12-17
Here’s a sermon for you to file for next Fathers’ Day (or, if you’re a dad, to stop right now and read! It was preached by my wife Rev. Jan Croucher, children’s and family pastor at Syndal Baptist Church, Melbourne, Australia.
Shalom! Rowland Croucher
Fathers’ Day – great day, the kids brought you presents and may be breakfast in bed, some of you received hand made cards and greetings. Many older fathers will be having family home for lunch or dinner, and you’ll (be glad when it’s over) – be made to feel it was all worthwhile.
– not the case with everyone here today – some of you have sad memories of a father who mistreated you, even rejected you – some of you dads are hurting because you know there will be no contact today with a child you loved – there may be someone here who has abused a child and the guilt is overwhelming
My own dad was an unhappy man with a violent temper. He whipped his belt off frequently to use on one or all of his 6 children. But I recall in my first year in high school winning the prize for mathematics and having to go up on stage to receive it. As I turned I glanced at my parents and saw on my father’s face the most amazing beam of pride. That beam carried me through many of the traumas that lay ahead. Unfortunately, I always felt I had to earn my father’s love and I recognise the inevitable transference of that attitude when I came to meet my heavenly Father.
– ‘Family’ – the centre of our lives – despairing parents, questioning the popular culture where logos on clothes are more valued than the values of the heart. – recognised those who were helping children such as doctors, the police etc but challenged everyone with the responsibility for seeing that our community acts in ways that value faamily. – she emphasised the need for every child to feel special, and challenged the nations leaders to support parents in this job. – change is certain but progress is not – we can’t always control the changes that come but we can turn them with effort into progress
THE TEXT – A GOOD EARTHLY FATHER
Both Matthew and Luke explain the fact that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, but that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born to a virgin. Having God as His real Father must have made a difference, but we know Jesus was also fully human.
When we begin to focus on Joseph it’s disappointing to find just how little biographical information is given to us in Scripture. About all we know of him is that he was a descendent of David from the village of Bethlehem and that he was a carpenter. He seems to have migrated north to the town of Nazareth snd there became engaged to the young woman, Mary. The inference is that he may have been older than Mary, and may have died before Jesus commenced his public ministry. We do know that he was alive when Jesus went to Jerusalem at the age of 12, and that is the last mention of him in the gospel record. Years later when Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, His mother was there and presumably alone, maybe a widow. These are the meagre facts we have as a framework for Joseph’s life.
However there’s a rather illuminating sequence of events that enable us to look deeply into his character. It was a time of personal crisis for Joseph. During the time of their engagement Joseph learned that his bride to be was pregnant and he knew that the child could not be his. This must have come as a staggering blow to him, and observing his reaction is a telling indicator of what he was really like. John Claypool suggests that three qualities in Joseph provide clues to the developing character of Jesus:
1. He demonstrated mercy. Assuming Mary had been unfaithful was perfectly natural and so would bursting into a rage have been, because when we humans are hurt, our first reaction is to want to hurt back. But this was not the course he chose to take. After mulling it over in his mind he decided to ‘divorce her quietly’ v19. Joseph is described as a ‘just man’, which meant he regulated his life by the Jewish law, and this law called for a woman caught in adultery to be publicly stoned. But Joseph was ‘unwilling to put her to shame’ which means that not even his own hurt or legal considerations could over rule his compassion for Mary. He was serious enough about what had happened to plan to divorce her, but the fact of human imperfection did not blind him to the fact that here was a human being with feelings. So is it any wonder that years later the Young Man who was nurtured by this kind of father, would say to a fallen woman ‘My friend, I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more. I came to be part of the answer for sinful people, not to add to their burden.’ In fact the compassion that Joseph shows here can be seen all through Jesus’ ministry.
2. As Joseph moved further into his crisis a second characteristic comes to light – an openness to incredible possibilities. As Joseph set about to dissolve their engagement quietly Mary no doubt shared with him what had occurred to her when first the angel and then the Holy Spirit had come and the story must have been very much on his mind. First he had learned that his fiance was pregnant, he’d managed to work through his feelings to the point he was not going to humiliate her and now she tells him that God was in it, things were not as he supposed but full of a mystery beyond imagining. It was almost more than his mind could handle, and Matthew says he ‘considered it’. Now what would most men have done – laughed her to scorn I’m sure – ridiculed the very suggestion as preposterous – ‘You’ve got to be kidding’. But Joseph wasn’t an ordinary man. He had already shown an extraordinary capacity for compassion, and now he is displaying an amazing acceptance of wonder and mystery. He wasn’t one to say ‘Because I can’t understand it, it is not possible’. What Gabriel had said to Mary, Joseph obviuosly believed – ‘with God all things are possible’. He didn’t arrogantly throw the word ‘impossible’ around, neither did he impose limits on God. And lo and behold that night in a dream the angel confirmed all that Mary was saying was in fact true. Only one who has a great sense of openness could have accepted such a possibility. This is the nature of faith – being willing to let God be God and not restrict him to our narrow limits. We tend to decide beforehand what is possible and what is impossible and refuse to look beyond these self-imposed limits. Who are we, as creatures in this vast universe which we didn’t make, to define what can and cannot be? Who of us is an absolute authority? Yet we continually assume this role and so drastically reduce the possibilities before us.
But not so with Joseph. I believe he helped Jesus to relate positively to the mystery of life, and Jesus was helped to a right vision of the Father in heaven by the kind of father he had on earth. If we really want to participate with God in our day and age such an openness to the incredible is essential.
3. A willingness to venture out on the basis of his ‘hunches’. Let’s not think this was easy. There’s no way to prove the accuracy of dreams ahead of time. So there was risk involved here but this was the path Joseph decided on – as outlandish as it seemed to common sense. So with nothing more than Mary’s word and the testimony of a dream, Joseph took a pregnant woman with a child not his own to be his wife. And once committed there were several adjustments he had to make. We all know that Joseph had to comply with the Roman Census, but it could well have been that Joseph took Mary away from the nagging tongues of Nazareth. He had the good sense not to push the point there because he didn’t really expect others to believe the story. All this says to me that Joseph was not just a decisive man but a very sensitive one too. He was willing to trust the type of guidance that more cautious souls would back away from, and this sensitivity paid off again and again as he moved his little family to Egypt to avoid Herod and then back to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem because of the political climate. Joseph was profoundly aware of what was going on around him, and he had the courage to act on his hunches. His courage of course came from his trust – in Mary, in the angel and in his own experience of truth. And we now know that Joseph was not disappointed – look who came into the world – a Son Who was able again and again to recognise when his hour had come and to venture forth with courage and purpose.
So this has given a little insight into the man Joseph. We’ve seen him around for many years but only in the background of the manger. But I understand why God entrusted his only Son into the care of this man. What better atmosphere could Jesus have known in growing up than an earthly father who was so compassionate of others, so open to God, and so decisive in his own person.
It is a challenge to all fathers to recognise the profound influence thay have on their children. Psychotherapists today are saying that both parents are vitally important to the stable development of their children – the mother’s input is invaluable in the formative pre-adolescent years but the father’s most important influence is at adolescence. In pre- industrial cultures fathers worked alongside their sons and taught them their trade. The father led the adolescent son into manhood and the book titled ‘Absent Fathers Lost Sons’ addresses this issue. Adolescent daughters long to hear from their fathers that they are beautiful and loved. In fact a girl’s choice of partner and satisfaction in marriage is often directly related to the relationship she had with her father
I’ve been talking to you who are fathers about the importance of fathering. But there are two other situations I want to look briefly at. Some of you are thinking about your own father and praising God for good modelling. Some of you are sad about a father who dominated or was absent. Remember how God chose Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly father. When I came to know my heavenly Father at 15, I was overwhelmed by his love for me. He led me to Paul’s words: ‘I have learned in whatever state I am to be content’ and I began to see my father as God’s gift to me – the one chosen to provide for me. And later in life when I had teenagers of my own, who started to show that they had actually developed minds of their own, I wrote to my Dad, who by now had returned to the west and settled in a ghost town north of Kalgoorlie. I apologised for any pain I may have caused him, thus contributing to his frustration. He wrote back and for the first time I could remember he said he had always loved me. And for the first time ever he apologised to me – for stating the night I was to be baptised that if I went through with it I need not return home. This was the beginning of a dialogue with my father that continued by letter, and when he went missing out there in the desert there was grief but not the grief that goes along with unresolved matters. My dad has never been found but as my older brother and sister and I travelled across the Nullarbor two months later for a memorial service I remember saying ‘You know, inspite of everything we did love Dad, didn’t we?’ They each answered affirmatively and we continued on our way singing some of the songs he had taught us in our earlier and happier years.
It’s never too late to put things right with your father. It takes courage to start, but much healing will take place if you do. Well, your father has passed away, that is surely too late. I heard someone say not too long ago that he had a deep longing to tell his father he was sorry and that he loved him, but it was too late so in the end he said to the Lord ‘You know I can’t talk to him any longer, would you tell him I’m sorry’
Now that last category. There may be some father here who has badly abused his daughter or even his son. My husband and I get involved with people who come through our home who have been horrifically abused by their fathers. These people have indescribable pain for their entire lives. One lady, abused from early childhood has had to move interstate and has even changed her name in order to hide from her parents. To this very day she has nightmares every night – she sees her father’s face.
How wonderful if this father’s day there could be reconciliation as our families meet for Father’s Day. What a tremendous responsibility our nations’ fathers have. You who know and love the Lord have the resources to be the fathers God wants you to be. In closing I would like you to turn with me to Romans 8:12. Read it.
Only the Spirit of God could cause Joseph to have such compassion, to be so open to God’s supernatural power, and to be so decisive in his own person. Verse 14 of Romans 8 goes on to say that if you are led by the Spirit of God you are a child of God, and this entitles you to use that very intimate word ‘Abba’, used only of your own father never to refer to someone else’s – that precious relationship that we as children can have with our heavenly Father.
Origianl post can be found here