Christmas Devotional: The Dreams of Joseph
"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. 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.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”[i]
Sleep was eluding Joseph. He was miserable. Runaway thoughts were exhausting him. He had been tossing and turning for what seemed like hours. He was hoping sleep would silence the Tsunami in his soul. He desperately wanted this to be only a dream and not the living nightmare he was experiencing.
“How could this be happening to me”, he muttered repeatedly? Three months ago, he was so happy. But the news that Mary dropped in his lap today was multiplying his misery by the moment. “Did she really think I’d believe this story”? ”What does she take me for…a fool?”
When Mary left abruptly to see her cousin Elizabeth three months ago, he had sensed then that something was wrong. He could tell that something had happened to her. He felt something troubling her and she was very anxious to leave. Yet, when he looked in her eyes, her countenance had been reassuring. He saw a serenity that was almost unnerving. He could tell she was carrying something huge inside, but she said she didn’t want to talk about it then. She assured him that she was fine. She assured him they would talk about it when she got back.
And now that she was back, she unloads this story on him? He always had the upmost respect for Mary. But how could she expect for him to really believe this? When she told him, “I’m pregnant”, it was like someone had hit him with a sledgehammer in the stomach. Nausea followed. Trust felt broken. Time slowed to a trickle as life seemed to be sucked out of him. Waves of disbelief kept pouring into his heart. He was incredulous. He was mad. “And she expects me to believe that God got her pregnant”? “And who is this ‘Holy Spirit’....and an angel…come on!” And on top of it all, she was deeply hurt and cried when he didn’t believe her. He was definitely mad...perhaps she had gone mad.
Scenes painted various corridors of his mind...scenes of them telling their families that Mary is pregnant. He could easily envision the looks on the faces of their parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. He could predict the words they would hear. These images constantly collided with visions of his various friends and their reactions. Judgmental voices and gossip would be rampant as everyone speculated who had really gotten her pregnant. And then what about the rabbi and synagogue leaders…O’ what a disturbing thought. Mary might be stoned for this! What was he going to do?
Suddenly a thought occurred to Joseph. Maybe Mary could just quietly disappear for a while? She wasn’t showing yet. He had a cousin who would probably help her. And there was her cousin, Elizabeth. Yes, Elizabeth would help her. She said that Elizabeth even believed her. This would be so much better for Mary. This would be so much better than all the explaining…all the words and the looks. He would call off the engagement first thing tomorrow…Joseph was glad he had figured out what to do. At least it was a temporary solution. He fell asleep.
Joseph’s solution allowed him to sleep. Sleep, however, does not stop God from revealing himself. Joseph was asleep but God wasn’t. He’s not limited to only revealing himself when we are awake. Joseph temporarily pacified his problem yet God pursued Joseph with a deeper purpose. While Joseph dozed, God gave Joseph a dream. In the dream an angel from God appeared to Joseph 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 conceive and 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 did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”[ii]
I have developed a great admiration for Joseph. What a brave man! The issue was no longer whether Joseph believed Mary. The issue now was whether Joseph believed God…and whether he believed God based on a dream! The scandal of Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was no longer just about Mary; the scandal would be more appalling if Joseph took “this woman” to be his wife. Without hesitation, he married her. When he married her he also married all the whispers and the all tongue wagging, all the contempt and all the condemnation. Joseph didn’t take Mary as his wife out of pity or self-piety; he married her because he believed God. He was the first believer in the divine conception. He believed in Jesus. He knew his marriage had a bigger purpose than marriage itself. He believed his marriage had a divine purpose. He believed his marriage mattered because of the presence of the Savior. Joseph chose to become the father to the Son…the Son who had created him to be his father.
From this moment forward, God continued to lead this young family through the dreams of Joseph. We are told of at least three more times over a period of years where God supernaturally reveals his will to Joseph in dreams. It was through these dreams that God gave Joseph instructions on where to go in order to protect Jesus from being killed. Some of the most powerful men in the world were intent on murdering Jesus.[iii] But it was…
Through the dreams of Joseph the Savior was saved!
This was not the only time God used dreams to sovereignly make provision for His divine purpose and plan. Almost 2000 years earlier, God supernaturally used dreams through the life of another man to save the lineage of The Chosen One…another man, whose name was also Joseph. While centuries separated their dreams, the similarities in their stories between the Joseph of Genesis and the Joseph of Galilee are God inspiring.
Both men had fathers whose name was Jacob. The Joseph of Genesis was forced to live in Egypt while Joseph of Galilee had to flee into Egypt. Both experienced severe persecution and humiliation because of their dreams. Both men had their lives dramatically changed by a woman. In Genesis, Joseph fled a married woman. In Galilee, God led Joseph into marriage with a woman. In Genesis, Joseph ran away from temptation. In Galilee, Joseph resisted the temptation to put Mary away. In Genesis, Joseph said “no” to a powerful seductress. In Galilee, Joseph said “yes” to a simple servant girl. Both men refused sex in order to honor God.
The dreams Joseph encountered in Genesis were prophetic, being full of graphic images and mysterious meanings. The dreams Joseph experienced as described in Matthew were prescriptive, being simple, specific and instructive. In Genesis, Joseph trusted God by patiently acquiescing, as it took years for God’s plan to unfold. In Matthew, Joseph trusted God by promptly acting on God’s plan which was clearly known in the present.
Through the Dreams of Joseph, we see men who learned to trust God…men who were willing to not give in to the pressures of the present moment over what was right and obedient in the eyes of God. We learn that God’s promise takes precedent over pleasure and God’s opinion is more important than reputation or the opinion of others. Through the Dreams of Joseph, we learn that our hearts matter, because it was through the heart of Joseph in Genesis that lineage of Judah was saved and it was through the heart of Joseph in Galilee that the Lion of Judah was saved. May your heart dream His dreams and may His dreams matter in your heart.
“Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus.” Neal A. Maxwell
[i] Matthew 1:18-20 NIV
[ii] Matthew 1:20-25 NIV
[iii] Matthew 2:13, 19,22 NIV