December 18, 2016

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Isaiah 7:10-14

Epistle Lesson; Romans 1:1-7

Sermon Text; Matthew 1:18-25

The text we will look at for today is taken from Matthew, chapter one, verses 18 through 25.

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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” ( which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: He took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.

These are your words, Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


One of the more fun phone calls Pastor Tweit, and I get, here at Holy Cross, is when someone calls, and says, “Pastor Bartels, Pastor Tweit, I am engaged, and I am going to get married. Can you look at the calendar, when we can get married?”

We look at the calendar, and then we talk to the young couple. We say, “To get married here, we want to take you through Pre-Marriage Counseling.”

So, they come to the office, and we talk about what God's Will for marriage is. Then, we give them something to fill out called, “Pre- Marriage Awareness Inventory”. Each has a separate booklet. The guy has one. The girl has one. We say, “Fill these out. There are like 120 questions in here. Don't compare answers with each other. Bring them back, and we are going to look at the results.” And then, we send them back home.

We look at the results, as they show what their strengths are, as a couple, and what their work areas are, as a couple. It is always interesting to go through these.

Now, I want you to imagine Mary and Joseph have announced to their pastor they are going to get married. If their pastor had done “Pre-Marriage Counseling” in those days, I am sure they could have had some interesting questions to discuss. I am going to read some of the questions we go through in our little booklet. These are great, if you are thinking about getting married.

Here is one. “I find it difficult to tell my spouse, when I feel hurt, offended, or upset by something he, or she has done.” Yes, or no. That is a good question.

Here is another one. I wonder how Mary and Joseph would have answered this one. “Who tends to control your conversation?” That is a good question.

How about this one? “When I am feeling angry, my partner tries to...” (and then it gives a whole bunch of different strategies your partner tries to do, when you are feeling angry). That is a good thing to talk through.

Oh, how about this one? “A tactic I use, when we argue is...” (and then, it goes through a whole bunch of negative tactics people use.) I wonder how Mary and Joseph would have answered that. Mary and Joseph were not perfect people. They would have brought some faults into their future marriage.

Here's one. “I wonder how my sexual history will affect the future of our relationship.” That is a good question.

Then, there are all of these questions about religion. And while I am not sure how Mary and Joseph would have answered some of the questions we just discussed, I am pretty convinced I know how they would have answered the following questions.

“My faith is of great importance to me.” Agree, or disagree. I am sure both Mary and Joseph would have agreed with that 100%. The Bible tells us Joseph was a just man, or a righteous man. He was a devout follower of God. The Bible tells us that Mary, when she heard she was going to conceive by the Holy Spirit, she simply said, “May it be to me, as you have said.” She had a faith that trusted the Lord. When she sang what is called her 'Magnificat', it shows she had this deep, profound, intellectual, knowledge of The Old Testament. So, they both would have said their faith is of great importance.

Here is another couple ones. “Shared spirituality plays an important part in your relationship.” Agree, or disagree.

“I think spiritual intimacy is an untapped resource for us.” Agree, or disagree. I am sure they both would have said spirituality plays an important part of their relationship. They would have agreed.

How about this one? “I am concerned how we will integrate our different religious backgrounds in our marriage.” Agree, or disagree? They would not have had any concerns about that, because they had the same religious background.

“We pray together.” Agree, or disagree. I am sure they would have agreed with that one.

“I go to church...”

       a. regularly

       b. on special days

       c. occasionally

       d. rarely.

I am sure they would have said, “Regularly. We both go to church regularly.”

“We are involved in a church.” Yes, or No. I am sure they both would have said, “Yes”.

“My future spouse, and I are from the same religious background.” Agree, or disagree. I am sure they would have agreed. I know they would have agreed with that.

So, their pastor would have looked at all of those questions on religion, and probably in his heart known, “This is a couple who has a deep, deep foundation in the Word of God. They are built on God's Word. They trust God. They follow God. And, however they answered some of the other questions in here, I know with God's help, they can have a blessed, blessed marriage, with Him as their Rock.”

I am sure Joseph felt the same way. And, I am sure Mary felt the same way.

And so, it must have been, (I don't even know the word, other than stunning) incredibly stunning, when Mary appeared visibly pregnant. Joseph could tell Mary was pregnant, and they weren't married yet. And, Joseph knew he was not the father. Joseph had treated her as a faithful, godly gentleman, and he knew he was not the father. So, there was only one conclusion he could draw, literally only one conclusion he could draw. And, the only conclusion he could draw was, “Somebody else was the father, and Mary had broken The Sixth Commandment. She had committed adultery. She had been unfaithful in her promise to me.”

I can't imagine what happened in Joseph's heart. First of all, he must have been incredibly confused. That was not the Mary he knew. He knew her to be this godly, god-fearing, committed to God's way woman, and here the conclusion, the only conclusion he could draw was she had committed adultery. He must have been incredibly hurt. He must have pondered, “Now what do I do? If I go ahead, and marry her, it will give the impression I am the father. Then, I am going to give everybody the impression I committed adultery, too, and I conceived this child out of wedlock.”

And so, in his mind he must have wrestled with, “What is the right thing to do?” The Bible tells us that finally, as he was wrestling with all of these things, because he did not want to shame Mary, but by the same token he felt completed to say, “This is a relationship that is not going to work. I can't trust her anymore. This is not the Mary I know.” So, he decided to divorce her quietly.

In Bible times, even though you were betrothed, pledged, you were not married yet, but you had made a promise, and that promise had to be formally broken. Now, you could either do it publicly, and have the whole town come. You could have a public trial, and publicly shame her, or you could do it privately. This is what Joseph chose to do. He was going to privately tell a couple witnesses, “I am not the father of this child”. And then, he would break the relationship. But, the Lord sent an angel to Joseph in a dream. There was a guy by the name of Bernard of Clarveaux. He was a pastor who lived about in the year 1,000. He once made the following statement.

“There were three miracles that happened at Christmas time.”

       -“Number one, God took on human flesh.” (That is a huge miracle.)

       -“Number two, a virgin conceived.” (That is an incredible miracle!)

Then he said,

       -“The third miracle is that Mary believed the message of the angel, that she was going to be the mother of God's own Son!”

Five hundred years after the comments made by Bernard of Clarveaux. Martin Luther commented on those three great miracles of Christmas - that God took on human flesh, a virgin conceived, and Mary believed the promise. Martin Luther believed the greatest of those three miracles was that Mary believed.

You know what? I think there is a fourth miracle, and this one is a really great miracle, too. That is, Joseph believed.

Joseph believed the unbelievable.

Joseph believed the impossible.

Joseph had been given the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit, when the angel told him,

“ not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The gift of the Holy Spirit is that Joseph believed that promise. He believed the child Mary had conceived was not conceived by a human being. This is a child of God. He believed this child is literally “God with us”. God became one of us. It is a miracle Joseph believed this, and Joseph acted on faith. Joseph acted on faith.

Now, I want you to think about the trouble that came into that couple's life, because Mary had conceived out of wedlock. You know when trouble comes into lives of families, things can go all kinds of different ways.

Families can be messy.

But, think of the blessing that came to that family, because Joseph believed. Joseph believed the Word of God.

There was one time after Jesus had grown up, and He was preaching, that some woman yelled from the crowd to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts nursed you.”

What was the woman saying? “Your mom is really blessed. Mary is really blessed to have been your mother, and to have given birth to you, nursed you, and taken care of you.”

Do you know what Jesus responded to that? He said,

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

Now, was He disparaging His mother? Was He saying, “Oh well, it is not a big deal that she bore me, and nursed me?”

No, I believe He was going way beyond that. He was saying, “Not only is my mother blessed, because she bore me, and nursed me, but she is blessed, because she heard the Word of God, and she kept it. She believed it. She believed I am the Savior. She believed I was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

And so, Joseph acted on God's Word. He took Mary into his home. They were united as husband and wife. And, God certainly blessed that family. Joseph had the great blessing of being the foster father to the Savior of the world.

Now, I am going to get back to us, and our relationships. You may, or may not be married. You may be pondering marriage. You may be single. You may be divorced. You may be widowed. You may be the grown child of an adult parent, who is elderly. Whatever your relationship is, whatever your family relationship is, we are all in families. Families are messy. And, just like us, Mary and Joseph had difficulties to work through.

Families can be messy,

but God's promise is:

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

In your family there can be things that happen, that none of us know about, except you and your family. They are secrets.

Families can be messy.

In your family, there can be really hurt feelings. There can be brokenness. There can be cruel words said. There can be deep resentment in hearts. There can be hurtful actions that are almost impossible to get over.

I don't know how you would do, if you filled out an inventory like this about you, and your relationship with your family, and your family's relationship with you. But, I know it would not be perfect. I know there would be lots of issues each one of us brings into a relationship. But, I love scripture's promise.

“Blessed are those,

blessed are those

who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

Regardless of the troubles, and the messes that come into our family, the promise is:

“Blessed are those

who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

Here is the awesome blessing. If God has given you the gift of faith, that is the gift He gave to Mary, and that is the gift He gave to Joseph. Faith is not something you come to, on your own. If you have faith, it is a gift the Holy Spirit has given to you, at your baptism. He has nurtured that faith in the Word of God. Here is the faith you bring into a relationship. I don't care what your relationship is, and who you are relating to, you know two things.

       -You know, by faith, the Person of Christ, and

       -the Work of Christ.

In this scripture reading that I read today, the message to Joseph was this. A virgin will conceive, and give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel, which means, God with us. That is what we call the Person of Christ. You know

Christ Jesus is,

God with us.

He is God in the flesh He is God, become our brother.

You know the work of Christ. The angel said to Joseph,

“ shall call His name Jesus,

for He shall save His people from their sins.”

You know God came in the flesh. You have been given faith to believe this. God came in the flesh, and He came with a purpose.

His purpose was to save you from your sins.

That means you need to be rescued.

You know Jesus has rescued you.

You know God, in the flesh, came to be your substitute, taking your place, living under The Law for you. And, He carried it out fully, and perfectly, as God in the flesh.

When He went to the cross, and there suffered for your sins, He was your brother, taking your place, as your substitute, paying the holy, perfect, payment for your sins.

Here is what you know. You know that Jesus came to rescue us in the following three ways.

       -Number one, “He came to rescue me from the guilt of my sin.”

       -Number two, “He came to rescue me from the punishment of my sin.”

       -Number three, “He came to rescue me, or save me from the power of my sin.”

I don't care what sins you bring into your family. I don't care what they are. And, some of us may bring some deep sins into our family. Some of us bring sins that we repeat over, and over into our families. Jesus came to rescue you from the guilt of your sin. That means, in God's eyes (and this is a stunning thing to think about) in God's eyes, God does not hold you responsible for what you have done. He holds His own Son responsible for whatever you have brought into your family. That is what guilt is. He is saying to His Son, “Jesus, You are responsible for whatever they have done to their families.”

Number two, Jesus has rescued you from the punishment of your sins. If God would really give us what we deserve, because of what we have done, it would not be pretty at all. In fact, it ends in eternal damnation. But, the Bible says,

“The LORD has laid on Him

the iniquity of us all.”

He has taken my guilt. Then it says,

“The punishment that brought us peace

was on Him.”

That is the stunning statement in scripture. Whatever you have done against your family, Jesus was punished for it. And, God holds you guiltless. God declares you to be guiltless. That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas, then, changes our lives. When Joseph heard the message, he acted on faith, and he took Mary as his wife. When we hear, “God has taken my guilt and my punishment”, well then, Jesus rescues us from the power of sin. It causes me to say, “I want to go to my family, knowing the impossible has happened. God has declared me holy, innocent, and guiltless for Christ's sake. I want to go to my family, and live for Jesus. I want to be merciful. I want to be forgiving. I want, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to amend whatever sinful things I do in my family. I want to try to amend those to God's glory.”

Those of you who are attending our worship service are going to come to The Lord's Supper in a little bit. But, when I was a kid, I always had this impression, “Oh yeah, we go through church, and one of the last things we tack on the end is The Lord's Supper. It is kind of unimportant. We just put it at the end.” But, you know. It is just the opposite of that. We believe our service is designed so that it climaxes at The Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is the ultimate climax to what happens here today. You have come here today. You have confessed your sins. We started out that way. You have heard your sins are forgiven. You have heard the message of The Word. The Holy Spirit works through The Word, works in your heart, declares you forgiven, motivating you to live for Jesus. And, now what happens? Now, what happens is “God with us”. God is going to unite Himself with you, here in The Lord's Supper. We believe this piece of bread is going to be the body of Christ. This cup of wine is going to be the blood of Christ, because Jesus says, (and we believe what His Word says),

“This is my body.

This is my blood.”

He is going to give it to you, and God will truly be with you. When you walk out of this room, you are going to walk out of this room, having heard Jesus say,

“This is my body,

and my blood given to you

for the forgiveness of your sins.”

When Jesus tells you your sins are forgiven, they are gone. He is the One who paid for them. You will walk out of this room having taken God to yourself.

“God with us.”

Then, we go back to our families.

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”

God grant that each of us be a blessing to our family - blessing to our family because,

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,

and keep it.”