“Do not fear” (Isaiah 41:10) has been the most searched, read and bookmarked verse on the You Version Bible app in 2020, according to Christianity Today. The topic of fear was the term searched most often in the early months. It spiked in frequency as the year unfolded with every anxiety-producing news report.
There is a reason “do not fear” is the command repeated most often in the Bible. We humans are prone to anxiety. This is especially obvious during the holidays when busyness, economic worries, and shorter daylight hours contribute to higher levels of stress. Domestic violence and alcohol abuse usually increase during this season. ‘Tis the season to be anxious!
Joseph was afraid. His world had been turned upside-down. He was reeling emotionally, off-center, unsteady. He had received word that his beloved Mary, to whom he was betrothed, was expecting a baby. He knew for certain that he was not the child’s father!
Perhaps he was afraid of the unknown. Who was responsible? He was afraid for Mary’s future. Should he divorce her? (Betrothal, according to Jewish custom at the time, was as binding as marriage. They were bound legally but not yet living together as husband and wife.) He must have been afraid of scandal and public disgrace. We may read about this in Matthew 1:18-25.
The impression I have of Joseph is of a strong man, skilled in his work as a craftsman, reliable, trustworthy, with a reputation for integrity. He was a man of few words, preferring to let his actions speak for him. He was devoted to God, a righteous Jew who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year for Passover (Luke 2:41). Now suddenly he was faced with the most fearful situation of his life.
As he contemplated this predicament, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream,” and told him what to do. He was to take Mary as his wife, recognizing that the child she was carrying was “from the Holy Spirit.” He was to name the baby “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel began by saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.”
God gave Joseph several reasons not to be afraid. He was speaking: through the dream, through the angel, and also through the scripture. What was happening in Mary was a direct fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew’s gospel is telling us that’s who Jesus is: God with us.
God was near, on the scene, close by, another reason not to be afraid. Paul would say, “He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27), and “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). If we only remembered that, we would surely have less anxiety. Joseph was being told not to fear because God has shown up! He has come to us in Jesus Christ to share our humanity. He has come to us as Savior to die on the cross to save his people from their sins.
Joseph responded with instant obedience and long-term strategic action. As the story unfolds, we see how he recognized how God was guiding him as he cared for the mother of our Lord and the holy child himself. He took Mary as his wife, and in doing so, exposed himself to slander and misunderstanding (see John 8:47).
By order of the Roman government, the couple travelled to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-4), where the child was born in accordance with another Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2). Who helped Mary with the delivery? Was it Joseph? Joseph obeyed the command of God to name the child Jesus which means “Yahweh is salvation” or “the Lord saves.” This is another of the prophecies about God which is fulfilled in Jesus, and another evidence of his deity (Psalm 130:8).
Later, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph received more guidance from heaven. He was instructed in another dream to take the family to Egypt for the protection of the child (Matthew 2:13). Then in yet another dream he was told when it was safe to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). A fourth dream gave specific instructions to return home to Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23).
I imagine Joseph’s fears dissipated and his confidence grew with every step of obedience. All his life was preparation for this — his purpose. The guidance of God confirmed the truth of the original revelation. Mary had not been unfaithful to him! This baby boy was the Son of God and the Savior. Joseph’s calling in life was now clear: he was to provide for and protect the child and his mother.
What about our fears and uncertainties? Perhaps during this Advent season we can take time to pause and recognize that God still speaks to his people. He is near to those who call upon him in truth (Psalm 145:18). He still guides his people who are willing to follow him, as Joseph did.
A friend of mine sent me a note that put a smile on my face. In her own hand she wrote: “Good morning! This is God. I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help, so have a great day.”
Pastor Randy Faulkner