Just as God chose Mary specifically to be the mother of Jesus, God also specifically chose Joseph. Joseph demonstrated how much he loved Mary by not adhering to the Old Testament Law of stoning a woman for adultery. Though Mary did not sleep with another man, the people certainly believed she had. God spoke to Joseph through four dreams, and a study of Joseph’s actions based on those dreams can encourage us to listen to God. Hearing God can be very difficult for many Christians. It is not because God does not speak; nor is it because He does not speak loudly enough. Instead, we fail because we simply do not listen! Let’s look at Joseph’s first dream:
19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:19-21 (NASB)
Even before God spoke to Joseph in the dream, Joseph already had made righteous plans. This initial dream did not cause Joseph to go in the opposite direction. Instead, the dream confirmed how he already felt. Protect Mary. Instead of sending Mary away to have this baby at the home of some far-away relatives, Joseph accompanied Mary to Bethlehem, to be counted in the census. In this manner, Mary never would be out of his sight and he could protect her himself. We all know the story of the birth of Jesus, though some of the traditions of that story are not biblically based. For example, the Bible says nothing about the magi being three kings. Also, it is highly unlikely those magi were present on the night our Savior was born, as they saw the star and began to follow it that night. Matthew 2:1 tells us that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, magi arrived in Jerusalem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus was a Child, not a babe, and in a house, instead of a manger! Daniel was a leader of the magi during his time in Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar placed him in that role based on his interpretation of dreams. The root of that word exists today in our words for magician and magistrate. We see the timing of Joseph’s second dream. After the birth of Jesus, and after the visit by the magi, Joseph had this dream:
13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.
Matthew 2: 13-14 (NASB)
After the magi departed, Joseph dreamed that the angel of Lord told him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt, as Herod wanted to kill them. What did Joseph do? While it was still night, they departed! A journey of that length would typically take planning and preparation. Joseph did not contact AAA for maps. Nor did he spend a week packing the SUV. He trusted that the dream came from the LORD and Joseph stepped out in faith. Immediately! What would have happened if he departed with his family the next day? Would the story have turned out differently? This seems to be a very important lesson for each of us walking with Jesus. There is always a balance between stepping out in faith and waiting on the LORD. Many people fail to act, as they are waiting on God to tell them what to do. Most of the time, God has spoken, is speaking and continues to speak, but we simply are not listening. How many of us would have had the same dream as Joseph and simply discounted it as a crazy nightmare? Instead, Joseph acted, without hesitation. That involves trusting God. Rather than weighing the options, spending countless hours in preparation and approaching this as an accountant looks at a balance sheet, Joseph listened, trusted and acted.
Herod killed all boys 2-years-old and younger in that region, not knowing that Jesus was safe in Egypt! After Herod died and Herod’s son Archelaus began ruling, Joseph had a third dream (Matthew 2:19-21), telling him to return with Mary and Jesus to Israel, as those who desired to kill Jesus were dead. Joseph obeyed the dream again, and took his family to Israel. This time, though, God fine-tuned Joseph with a fourth dream (Matthew 2:22). Instead of returning to Bethlehem, God warned Joseph to go to Galilee. Joseph listened and obeyed, taking his family to Nazareth, which fulfilled other Old Testament prophecies.
We all know the adage “practice makes perfect,” but understand that repetition of a bad habit does not perfect us in any way. Instead, a better explanation would be “perfect practice makes perfect.” We learn from our successes and should just as readily learn from our mistakes. Taking the example of Joseph, we do not know if he had any awareness upon his arrival in Egypt of the events that had occurred by Herod’s hand in Israel. Maybe God informed Joseph of the deaths of all those young boys. Maybe Joseph heard the news from another traveler. But maybe, he had no idea. We often believe that we need to know all of the consequences associated with our actions, but in truth, all we often get is a glimpse through a window that is more opaque than transparent. We do not have to know everything, but we need to serve the God who does. Still, when God does allow us a glimpse, we often can see His miraculous hand guiding us. Listening and acting correctly initially encourages us to do the same the next time.
God gives each believer at least one gift to use for Him. He does not want us to let any gift lie dormant, though many of us do not know what ministry God desires for us! Lights should shine brightly, rather than being hidden beneath bushel baskets. No gift is useful until unwrapped! Let’s look at the parable of the talents to highlight this:
14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
15 “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
16 “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
17 “In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
18 “But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and settled accounts with them.
20 “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’
21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
22 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’
23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
30 “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:14-31 (NASB)
Matthew 25:25 points to the most common reason we fail to step out in faith and use our gift – fear! What is there to be afraid of when we serve a God who has all power and knows everything? He certainly is capable of closing doors and opening others if we erroneously follow our own hearts while trying to do His will. He can change our course much easier than the GPS in our cars can. We need to take just one step, and He is willing to do the rest with us. So as this year begins, stop burying those talents and gifts and invest them in God’s Kingdom! No more fear. Step out in faith! Remember, each journey begins with a small step!