Divine Intervention

Title: Divine Intervention

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: November 25th, 2006

It’s officially the Christmas season this year, being two days after Thanksgiving, so we start a five-week series on Christmas themes. Christmas is a great time of the year because for at least a few weeks out of the year people seem to be more open to God than at other times of the year. The Christmas season opens people’s hearts and minds to the Bible stories about the first Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ. We begin to hear Christmas music in the stores during December proclaiming the birth of the baby Jesus. We begin to see television specials dealing with the birth of Jesus during this time of the year. Manger scenes are seen in front of public buildings and homes. The radio plays Christmas music even if some of it is secular Christmas music; still some of it is spiritual and Christian Christmas music. And it seems that everyone is a bit more open minded and open hearted about faith and belief in God. More people attend churches around the holiday season than do during the rest of the year. There are special Christmas pageants and performances at churches which many people attend. There are special concerts and performances even in secular settings that cover biblical Christmas themes. So Christmas is a most unusual time of the year and a good time of the year to open our hearts and minds to all the things of God. Today I ‘d like to talk about how God totally interrupted the lives of two people, Mary and Joseph, how they reacted to God’s interruption of their lives, and how we can learn from the whole story about being open to God moving in our own lives. We are all familiar with the beginning of the Christmas story, but let’s read it again and then learn what God is trying to teach us today from it. Matthew 1:18-25 (read). Three things that we notice from this account of the beginnings of the Christmas story. First, Mary and Joseph have made plans to marry. They did what millions of couples do every year, here and around the world: they made their plans to marry one another; nothing unusual about that. Second, God intervened supernaturally and changed their plans, not totally but powerfully with the news from the angel that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit; that is very unusual. Finally, third, both Mary and Joseph learned to be open-minded and open hearted toward God’s plans for their lives, even if it wasn’t what they originally had in mind. We can all learn a lot by looking at their example. We are used to making our own plans in life, especially as Americans in this land of opportunity, but we can easily forget that it isn’t what we want but what God wants that’s important in life. We need to learn how to submit to the plan and purposes of God rather than insist on our own way in life. We can learn a lot about that from Mary and Joseph, about submission to the will of God in life. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

First, God calls us to make our plans. Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. . . .” I’ll stop there halfway into the verse because it describes the first point I want to make today: God calls us to make plans with our lives. We see Mary and Joseph making normal, ordinary plans with their lives. They were planning on marriage, they had pledged marriage to each other, they had made plans to marry. That was a good plan, nothing wrong with their plan to marry. In fact, there is everything right with their plan to marry. Today, many couples don’t even bother to make plans to marry, they just move in together. It’s called shaking up, which sounds kind of cheap and dirty, which it is. Today, many couples don’t even bother making promises, pledges, and commitments to one another, they just live together like animals, like cats and dogs and other forms of lower animals. A couple of weeks ago Actor Tom Cruise got married in a big ceremony in Italy; it was all over the news in the papers and on television. The only problem was that his girlfriend had already given birth to their first child together. So they had a child first, and then got married. They got the whole order of things mixed up. It’s supposed to be one marries first, and then has the child. But today, couples don’t do things the right way, which is why couples usually don’t stay, married very long and eventually break up. But Mary and Joseph had a good plan, a holy plan, and that was to get married. They made a pledge to marry, or we might say they got engaged to marry. Now they were following the will of God in respect to marriage. They had abstained from any sexual contact because being good and pious Jews they were following the moral code of the Bible in waiting until after they were married to have marital relations. Again, people today don’t follow God’s will in this matter any more either. Just as many couples don’t wait to get married before living together, many people don’t wait for marriage to have sex anymore. But Marry and Joseph were godly people and they followed God’s will in these respects. We can imagine their parents were preparing for the marriage ceremony and celebration, a Jewish wedding that might last for days. Mary and Joseph probably were making plans for children and raising a family. They probably talked about the future, where they’d live, etc. These are all good things and God calls us to make our plans within His will. If we don’t make plans then we are living moment-by-moment and not very organized lives. So we are called by God to make normal plans, to think about things, pray about things, and use all the normal means to set goals and make plans about our futures within God’s will. Do you have dreams, goals, and plans for the future? Do you think and pray about them? That’s good, that’s right. God wants us to do these things under normal conditions. But sometimes God changes things.

Second, God sometimes changes our plans. Matthew 1:18, “. . . but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” I’ll pick up the first verse at the last half of it where God changes the plans of Mary and Joseph. God changes things when He sends the Holy Spirit to impregnate Mary with child. Now before God changed things I’m sure the plan was for Mary and Joseph to marry soon, we don’t know how long their engagement was, whether for weeks or months or close to a year, we just don’t know, but the plan was for marriage first, then children. But God steps in and changes their good plans into something better; they don’t know it’s better, but it ultimately is something much better, not only for them but for everyone, all of us today too; a savior was born. I’m sure the plan of Mary and Joseph was for Joseph to continue being a carpenter, working his trade as a single man until the wedding day; Mary was to continue living under the roof of her parents home, helping her mother with the chores and preparing for the wedding day. They would continue in this way until they became man and wife, when at that point they would live together and establish their own separate home. But God had other plans. He intervened into their normal lives and did something unusual, supernatural: He produced a child within Mary through the Holy Spirit and she became pregnant. Now this changed everything. It wasn’t that it was unusual for a virgin to be with child, it was totally unheard of! When the angel announced to Marry that she was with child by the Holy Spirit I’m sure Mary didn’t understand what that meant, but she did understand that she was with child. But such news would change everything because it was such a hard thing for a normal person to believe. It would be so much easier for Joseph her fiancé and others to believe the worse about Mary not the best. So God’s intervention might seem to be a bad change brought about in Mary and Joseph’s life. It seemed like a bad thing to Joseph at first. Matthew 1:19, “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.” So from one point of view, God’s change brought about something worse not better. That was the natural reaction to the change God brought into their lives. Isn’t that how we react a lot of the times to changes God brings into our lives that aren’t in line with what we had planned? We usually thank God when things go as planned, and cry out to God, “Why God” when things don’t. We assume the worse when things change. But God has His reasons, His own plans that prove the Bible passage, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord,” Isaiah 55:8. Do you automatically think it’s for the worst when your plans get changed? Do you resist change all the time? Do you always think that your plans are best? We need to rethink that kind of thinking.

Third, God calls us to be open to new plans. Matthew 1: 20-25, “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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ which means, ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” So Mary and Joseph had plans to marry and start a family, but God changed things by making Mary pregnant now through the Holy Spirit. That change of plans was hard because it interrupted their godly human plans, but eventually both Mary and Joseph welcomed God’s new plan for their lives. For Mary, it seems that she was willing to accept it almost immediately, but for Joseph it took a little longer, but he too eventually accepted it. How do you react to God’s changes in your life? I was talking to my mom during the Thanksgiving holiday break about how children and animals like normal, regular routines; they don’t like a lot of changes in the daily plans. Adults are like that too most of the time. If you are typical you get up in the morning and do about the same thing every day. If something doesn’t follow the regular, normal plan, you usually see it as something bad, don’t you? I do too. But we need to stop and question that assumption. The assumption is that the normal, regular, routine plan is always best, but that’s just not true. To use a funny illustration, there used to be a television commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy where one person is eating chocolate and another person is eating peanut butter and they run into each other mixing the chocolate with the peanut butter. One says, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter,” and the other says, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” But out of that collision came Reese’s Peanut Butter candy. Something good came out of it. That’s the way life is when we are walking in God’s will. Something happens out of the ordinary, changing our plans, and we naturally resist the change, but we’ve got to consider that if we are in God’s will then the promise of Romans 8:28 is “God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to His purposes.” If God is working all things together for good in our lives then we can view all changes as for a purpose. Let’s look at some examples.

If you are working at a good job but your company goes out of business and you lose your job, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Our natural reaction would be to say that it’s a bad thing, but that’s not necessarily so. If we are walking in God’s will and praying to God daily in order to know and do His good will and something happens, Romans 8:28 says that whatever happens it will be for the good. We’ve got to have the faith to believe that. I’m sure Joseph wasn’t happy about hearing the news that his fiancé was pregnant with child even before they were married. I’m sure he was very discouraged. He reacted in a typical and natural way: he wanted to break off the engagement. But God got through to him to show him that the new change that had occurred was for the best. Joseph accepted and welcomed the new change into his life and carried out God’s plan for his life. Are you willing to give God time to show you how the changes that He brings into your life should work out? How do you react to changes beyond your control? There’s a prayer that they pray in Alcoholics Anonymous called the Serenity Prayer that goes like this: “Lord, grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the patience to accepts the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That’s a great prayer, one that we should all pray on certain occasions. The truth is that not one of us knows exactly what the best plan is all the time. We usually get attached to certain plans for our life but we must remember that only God knows what’s best for us at any given time. Yes, God calls us to pray and think through and make plans for our life. He even helps us look ahead into the future to plan and prepare for things to come. By God’s grace we make wise plans and faithfully carry them out and receive His blessings in life for doing so. But we must remember that the same God who gives us our normal plans for life can change those plans at any time. Rather than fighting God’s changes and resisting His will when it goes against our familiar plans, let us be open minded and open hearted to what God might want to do that is different. Are you open to God making changes in your life? Are you willing to follow God into the changes he desires to make in your life? Consider how Mary and Joseph had to learn to follow God into something totally new and different. Would you have been as lead-able as they? What good changes might the Lord God want to make in your life except you are resisting Him? Let us not only pray daily that God blesses our plans for the day, but let us also pray that God might change our plans for the day if He has something better in mind. Then let us pray for the sensitivity and ability to follow along willingly with something new when God brings good change into our lives.

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