18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 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, 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 conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (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 did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The relationship of Mary and Joseph is confusing. “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph”…”Joseph her husband was faithful”…”he had in mind to divorce her”… but…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Were they “pledged” or were they married? Why was divorce involved? Here’s what I found.
Marriage was considered far too important to be left to a matter of the heart. A pledge of marriage was made by family arrangements in the name of the couple. It was only a promise at this point but the next step really mattered. The promised couple must confirm their agreement with that family arrangement at some future point in time. Their agreement turned that promise into a binding contract that only another legal action could break. Legally they were now recognized as husband and wife but there was one more step that must happen. That’s where Mary and Joseph were at this point. It was the wedding celebration ahead that was meant to unite promise, contract and their relationship into the one flesh God promised in Genesis but there were those disturbing circumstances.
I can pass on facts I discovered about the culture of relationships of the time but I cannot explain why God would use these circumstances in Joseph’s life to fulfill his promise to all of creation. They were hard circumstances. Joseph could declare Mary unfaithful and possibly condemn her to death by stoning. He could stay in the relationship and deal with his own conflict with the law he was faithful to…or he could accept his dream and the words from the angel of the Lord as a truth and a blessing on their life together. God bless circumstances. Joseph’s circumstances and his response became a blessing for all of us that celebrate the Big Event. Wisdom and the Word still work to help the believer navigate circumstances today. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this scripture says it perfectly.
“Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God’s time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts.”
Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about divorce. It’s a law but even then it’s controversial. Jesus responds with v5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” and then lays out God’s original plan for marriage from Genesis. Then the scene changes drastically to talk of the hearts of children and the kingdom of God.
Once again this book of Mark seems to follow a unique diary-like style of writing. The first entry is the very adult issue of divorce…and it’s relationship to hearts. This was not one of the “Big 10” laws the Pharisees were asking about. It sure doesn’t fit with the words Jesus quotes from Genesis about the condition God set for the marriage relationship in v7…be united and the promise in v8…’the two will become one flesh.’ That’s the point, it wasn’t about legality of divorce at all it was about the impact on the heart.
It was the flawed reality of those hearts Jesus was addressing that makes the next entry such a dramatic contrast to the impact on the heart of a child.
• Some hearts have had years to develop their own sense of importance in the world around them. A child’s heart has not yet learned the importance of himself in the world.
• Some hearts have learned to value independence from others. A child’s heart still knows he’s dependent on others.
• Some hearts only respond to what they trust of authority. A child’s heart can more readily know the authority of those he trusts.
• Some hearts look for convenient loopholes in kingdom requirements. A child’s heart accepts God’s requirements to enter the kingdom.
Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life [a]in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, [b]weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of [c]sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. NASB
Everything that led up to that day of condemnation so long ago has led you to this day we’ve come to call Good Friday. We get a lot of practice learning about the crucifixion of Christ being the bridge of forgiveness between us and God and between himself and us. There’s a third reality to that sacrifice that’s much harder to wrap our heads around. It was a sacrifice to set us “free from the law of sin and of death… free to believe “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That’s what what this solemn day is about. The sinless Savior did what no law, priest, pastor or counselor could do. He condemned the sin that our human flesh could so easily use against us and replaced it with his promise that we could be free to walk according to his Spirit. This day the promise of forgiveness became our reality.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
This first day of 2017 reminded me of that long-ago first day in Genesis when out of “the empty darkness” God created the dependable cycle of days and nights we still live by.
The first light of this first day is dependable evidence of the bottom line of what God created so long ago; an essential difference between yesterday and today. That cycle held the promise of brand new days that could separate what was from what could be.
“In the beginning God…said…“Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…and there was morning—the first day.”…the first day of a year of brand new days, 2017.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:21-24
There’s the truth of Advent in Luke’s story of the son who came home. It’s a revelation of the heart of God that shows his desire to welcome and celebrate the life of those who bear his image if they will just do that one thing, come home.
That’s God’s promise to a world filled with needy people like us really, convinced we can figure out life if given the chance. God has gone beyond chance to provide for our need. Advent is the celebration of His promise in the flesh. It’s our reminder every year of why He sent a baby in a Christmas cradle, ready and waiting.
After all what else can a baby do but wait? There’s no forced compliance at the cradle, no persuasive words, no clearly laid out “do it this way” doctrine, but a waiting baby…an invitation…to come home to the celebration of an unexpected and undeserved reality of new life that triumphs over circumstances.
Ephesians 5:18b-20 Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t be tempted to skip right over that seemingly insignificant word “Instead.” It may surprise you to consider how important just that one word is when it becomes stand-alone Scripture. “Instead” is a word of promise that God’s options and really good advice are available.
Here’s the key. “Instead” is a very simple “word of God” with the power to separate circumstances from outcome.
“Instead” is Scripture that’s easy to memorize too! It’s not a rule or an ultimatum. It’s God’s reminder when the right choice counts, he’s provided an “Instead.”
Hebrews 8:10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
The Revised Story
There was no confusion about Adam and Eve’s genealogy. God had created them himself and placed his own DNA within them. The tragic story of what they lost when they were expelled from that first Garden became human destiny. They had to leave minus God’s genetic link; his own DNA.
DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid. 1. a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.
Our genealogy was created there in the Garden and that never changed. We are still God’s creation…but with that big genetic loss. We no longer carry God’s unique and perfect DNA within us but Hebrews tells us The Revised Story.
Adam and Eve’s loss no longer has to be our destiny. We no longer need to be satisfied with just a cover-up. God has dealt with our genetic loss with his promise: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”