At this time of year, many around the world will have cause to think of Mary and Joseph and the nativity story. But rarely is the price they paid considered, in submitting to God’s will.
Mary was a young girl, possibly only around 16 years of age. Joseph was likely a bit older possibly mid to late twenties. Mary was a simple girl from an agricultural village in northern Israel, Joseph a local carpenter, both humble young village folk.
Yet when approached by the angel Gabriel and told what was to happen to her, Mary’s response was; “let it be unto me according to your word.”i She humbly and obediently submitted to God’s will. But at what price? The law of Moses stated that if a woman became pregnant outside marriage the penalty was death by stoning, on the assumption of adultery. Mary knew this risk. She would have been ostracised by her family and community. Shame and dishonour would have befallen her father and the family name. Yet against this backdrop of potential consequences she still said “let it be unto me according to your word.”
Joseph was also put in a very difficult position, so much so Gabriel also had to have a word, telling him to stand firm, remain faithful and protect Mary, which he duly did. This act of obedience and submission to God’s will was done, despite his understanding that the circumstances would be regarded as wholly unacceptable in the eyes of the wider community.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived is of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 1:20.
Joseph would likely have been told to break off his betrothal to this assumed unfaithful woman. He would have fallen under suspicion himself of having had pre-marital sex in a culture with strict protocols, a culture that thrives on gossip and rumour. Mary and Joseph would have endured ‘looks’ from their neighbours, suspicion and even risked harm for appearing to have broken the law. Yet they both agreed, lay down their lives, their fears, concerns and personal worries, and those of their families, in order that God’s will be done in their lives.
The Orchestrator of this big social ‘faux-pas’ was of course God Himself. God did something unprecedented and miraculous, yet which flew in the face of contemporary society with its protocols and traditions. Why? Because He is God, and as such He can do as He wills, for His ways are higher
Even after the birth of Jesus things remained tough. Although blessed with gold frankincense and myrrh to support them financially, the family soon had to flee to Egypt and lived as refugees for many years after Herod’s assassination attempt, in which, most unfairly, all the young boys in Bethlehem were murdered.
There are two lessons we can learn from this not so happy back-story to the more popular nativity story. First, God’s ways are not like man’s, and they can often be
tough, hard, dangerous even, and conflict with contemporary society. Jesus confirmed this when He said:
“Do not think I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,, and a daughter in law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” – Matthew 10:34-37
Jesus came to bring peace between God and man, not man and man. When we read ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ in Matthew 5, it speaks of those who reconcile man to God, not ‘community’ peacemakers.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My names sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” – Matthew 19:29
God’s will for us, to fulfil our calling and destiny in Christ often requires passing through through the school of hard knocks, to toughen us up and sharpen our faith. It also requires sacrifice – the sacrifice of obedience with a willingness to lay down everything, literally, to follow Him.
Secondly, we humans are creatures of habit. We don’t mind change as long as it doesn’t affect us. Ever noticed how people in church sit in the same seats for years? God forbid someone should sit in ‘their seat’, just try it and see what happens! Following Jesus requires a complete change of heart and mind, and a change our ways (repent)of conventional thinking. It requires us to take every thought (process and rationale) captive and weigh them against the word of God and the teachings of Christ. We love tradition because it brings comfort. Christmas is a good example, although it has no real biblical precedent and is mostly rooted in pagan practice, we love it and it makes us feel good, thus we refuse to let it go. Modern society and even some church traditions/doctrines now promote values and laws not of God.
A current hot potato is the whole question of sexuality, with openly gay priests now officiating in holy sanctuaries. This new ‘church tradition’ enshrined in the ‘law of man’, underpinned by equality and diversity protocols, is nonetheless directly opposed to God’s word. Read what is written in Revelation 21:8 about the sexually immoral and idolaters, to understand what lies in store on Judgement Day. Jesus scolded the Pharisees for teaching the people to follow the laws of man (including Rabbinic religious laws and traditions instituted by them) and in so doing, nullify the true commands of God.
The church too is guilty of promoting traditions, ideas and precepts over history, which have also nullified the commands of God. Orthodox churches the world over are full of icons and statues yet God explicitly states we are not to make any image of anything, in heaven or on the earth, nor bow down and worship them. Such traditions and ideas are often well meaning and well packaged to look and sound good, but nonetheless conflict with sound biblical teaching.
We need eyes to see and ears to hear in these days, for our Lord and Saviour is coming back for a holy and pure bride unspotted by the world.
So the question we wish to ask you is this: in 2017 would you lay down your life and allow the Spirit of God to implant something supernatural in you, so you can fulfil your destiny in Christ? Or will you seek comfort by holding on to your own ways, thoughts and traditions?
Like those first disciples, would you put your nets down and walk away from your life as it is today to follow Him? Those men left their family businesses, their families, wives, friends and communities to set off into the great unknown, following a rather enigmatic and largely unknown figure called Yeshua.
Do you know and trust God enough to say, “be it unto me as you have said?”
Dear friends, as 2016 draws to a close we exhort you to diligently seek first the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness of God. Be willing to let go of the old ways and let God take control and inspire you to follow new ways, whatever the cost. And there will be a cost. But the prize far outweighs anything this world has to offer. For you will be storing up treasure in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy!
Shalom. i Luke 1:38