Joseph, the father of Jesus, had dreams for his life. He was about to embark on one of the most exciting times of his life by getting married and starting a family. He probably felt blessed and advantaged when he thought of how fortunate he was to have landed Mary as his fiancée. She was known in the community for being a sweet and pure young woman. Together he dreamed they would make a fine, respectable couple and raise many children to carry on his carpentry business.
Everything seemed to be going his way. Things couldn’t be better…until…could it be true? Could the sweet, darling, pure image of Mary be a fallacy? Joseph’s perfectly planned future was in jeopardy, but even worse, certain beliefs that he had founded his life upon seemed to be in question. Should he let justice be served and allow Mary to be disgraced? Should he cancel the engagement? After all, she had brought shame to his name. If he married her, it would look as though the child were his. He would have to take on her shame. Regardless of his choice, Joseph knew that it would have long reaching repercussions.
All of us have had a situation where things couldn’t end up more differently than we had planned. One moment it seems as though everything is going the way we’ve strategized and then the next minute all of our hopes and dreams seem to have been destroyed. Let’s take a look at the life of Joseph to learn how God helped him through the transition from his plans to God’s plans.
Often when we feel we have been wronged, we don’t even consider asking God how we should respond or what his will is on the matter. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Joseph. He seems to be a merciful man. He could have easily had Mary punished, even stoned! Instead, even before God comes to Joseph with wisdom, he chooses to go to Mary privately. He doesn’t assert his own rights. He follows after mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). This is a precursor to what Jesus would come and do for the world.
When we read familiar Bible stories, it’s easy to read them with the end in mind. We know the wisdom in Joseph’s mercy because we know the end of the story. However, Joseph didn’t have that advantage. He chose to show mercy before the angel came and explained the truth to him. He chose mercy because he loved Mary more than he loved himself.
Sometimes we don’t know or understand why something is happening to us. We may feel angry toward others or toward our circumstances in general. But we can learn from Joseph that mercy triumphs over judgement. We don’t have to insist on our own way or plan. We can think about what is best for everyone involved, even if it seems that the other person has hurt us or in some way, or that every circumstance seems to be against us.
In showing mercy, Joseph laid down his simple and common dream. Nothing would ever be the same again. There would be whispers behind his back. There would be those who felt they were too righteous to give him their business. Everything would change based upon his choice. Little did he know that the laying down of his everyday common dream would have massive and uncommon implications on the whole world!
Joseph was a “righteous man” (Matt. 1:19) and wanted to do the right thing. He was seeking answers about the situation. Matthew 1:20 states, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” Joseph was open to hearing from God about how to respond to this uncomfortable situation he found himself in. God was faithful to respond by giving direction in a dream.
When our plans and dreams for the future seem to be decaying all around us, we can go to God and ask for direction and understanding. He may not always reveal the why, but he will always reveal the “what’s next?”. It may be a big next step, or it may be a tiny act of obedience, but we can trust that he has our best interest in mind and will lead us into something greater than we had ever dared to dream.
As previously mentioned, it is likely that Joseph was dreaming of a nice family and prosperous business. God had a different plan in mind. He had something so much bigger planned for Joseph. He was to be the earthly father figure for Jesus, the savior of the world! When the angel came to Joseph in a dream, he brought hope. The angel gave Joseph a glimpse of the future when he declared, “…he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Joseph would get to take an active part in the life of the Messiah! Yet the bigger dream could never have happened without the laying down of his own plans and choosing obedience to God’s instructions.
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…” Matthew 1:24. God replaced Joseph’s earthly dream with a heavenly plan of epic proportions. God’s plan required some next steps. He was to take Mary home to be his wife. He did that. Even though it could have meant a loss of reputation. Even though the claim of the angel was impossible. He obeyed God’s instruction. Because of Joseph’s obedience, we are able to experience the freedom Jesus offers.
Perhaps you are experiencing the death of a dream. Maybe you wanted to live a quiet life with no fanfare, a peaceful existence with no waves to rock your boat. Sometimes God has to capsize our boat and shipwreck our earthly dreams in order for us to experience the fullness of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us. When we find ourselves in this situation, it might be wise to follow Joseph’s example by showing mercy and love, looking to God for instruction, and embracing God’s plan for our lives by obediently taking the next step. When we obey instructions, the benefits go far beyond our own dreams and desires. We are affecting the world around us.