“Fear of What People Think About Me”

Pt. 2 of the Series: “Fear Not”

December 16, 2018

 

Matthew 1:18-25

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.19 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. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream 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. 21 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.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

 

Fear.  We’ve all been touched by that emotion at one time or another in our lives.  You may be afraid of heights or afraid of spiders or afraid of things that go bump in the night afraid.  You may be afraid of cancer or afraid of what will happen if you lose our job, or afraid of where your kids or grandchildren are headed, but we’ve all had bouts of fear.  In this series, we are talking about some different kinds of fears, like a fear of what God might be asking to be done, or a fear of one’s standing before God, or a fear of what tomorrow might bring and today.   And, we are looking at various characters in the Christmas story to get at that because to these characters the angel said, “Fear not!”  Last week, we looked at Mary and next week we will look at the shepherds.  Then, on December 30, we will look at the Wise Men.  But, today, we will look at Joseph and we will be examining the fear of what others might think.

 

  1.  One Amazing Situation

 

So, the angel came to Mary and said, “Fear not,” that she was going to have a baby even though she was a virgin.  Mary asked how that can be and the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the Holy Spirit would overshadow her, two wonderful descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Can you just let it sink in to you that the Holy Spirit comes upon you and the Holy Spirit overshadows you, not in the same way as Mary since I’m not expecting any virgin births around here, but in other ways that are still amazingly impactful.  It is the Holy Spirit who nudged you to go over and talk to a friend who was hurting.  It was the Holy Spirit who gave you the words to speak.  It was the Holy Spirit who moved you to take a step forward in ministry.  Understand that the Holy Spirit comes upon you and overshadows you. 

 

  1.  Mary’s visit with Joseph

 

So, now, Mary has to go and tell her fiancé, the one she is betrothed to, that she is going to have a baby.  That had to be one crazy conversation.  Can you hear Mary saying, “Yo, Joey, you’d better sit down for this one,” and Joseph is saying, “What, did you max out the credit card AGAIN?”  “Did you have an accident with the donkey?  Our insurance rates are going to go out the whazoo.”  Mary tells him; “Joey, honey bunches, I’m pregnant but don’t jump to conclusions because it is the Holy Spirit’s doing.”  Now, what do you think was

 

  1.  Joseph’s reaction

 

 to that one?  “Good one, Mary.  That’s funny and did you hear the one about the 2 Corinthians who went into a bar?”  Or, he might have said, “How long did it take you to come up with that one.  Don’t give me that Holy Spirit stuff.  I saw that guy checking you out over at the well.”  He may have thought that it is one of two things; either she is crazy or she is a liar and he didn’t want to be married to either.  Now Joseph has to figure out what he is going to do about it. 

 

  1.  What were his options?

 

The logical option was divorce.  The Scripture tells us that Joseph didn’t get beyond that option.  The only question was how?  How would he divorce Mary?  We looked at this last week.  He could have publicly divorced her, shamed her in front of the entire community and had her stones.  That was prescribed in the law. 

 

“If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.”  Deuteronomy 20:20-21

 

That’s harsh.  Bring the woman to her father’s house and stone her to death there while her father and mother watch.  Joseph could have done that.  If Mary was guilty of promiscuity, which in Joseph’s way of thinking could be the only explanation for her pregnancy, then he could have had her executed.  Or, Joseph could have divorced her quietly, which would still mean that Mary would be a single mom, probably unmarriageable which in those days was almost a death curse, and she would have incredible difficulty finding a job except, as we said last week, as a prostitute.  Those were the two options Joseph was considering.  Either option was not a good scenario for Mary.  But, those options were also not good for Joseph.

 

  1.  These options had ramifications for Joseph, too.

   

Having Mary executed was probably the easier option.  Again, putting the virgin birth aside, Mary was the offending party here.  It would have been a slam dunk case.  Stone her!  But, you kind of get the message that Joseph actually loved Mary.  He had feelings for her and didn’t want her killed.  Option #2, the quiet option, would mean that He would be a marked man for the rest of his life.  There would be some who would say that he was justified in his actions, that if Mary was messing around, then Joseph was in the right.  However, even those people might laugh at Joseph behind his back, saying, “Look at him.  He can’t even control his woman.”  (Could I just be quick to add that what I am saying here is indicative of the attitude toward women in the culture of the 1st century.  Women do not need to be controlled today.  Anyway, any man who thinks he can control a woman is just kidding himself.  I just didn’t want you thinking I was condoning the thoughts of the people back then.  Then, I would have another title for a sermon; “Fear of what kind of dull razor blade my wife would use to cut me to pieces.”)  So, some people might think Joseph was justified in divorcing her but others might wonder if he was doing some hanky panky with her and then if he divorced her, what father would ever trust Joseph with his daughter ever again.  Joseph might find it difficult to get a job.  He was a carpenter and people could have said, “If Joseph can’t be trusted with Mary, how can I trust him to build me an end table.”  And, he might find it difficult to get some basic services done.  He might take his donkey into the shop for an oil change and the owner might say, “You know, we don’t work on THAT kind of donkey here…”   So, Joseph has a lot to think about.  He has a tough decision before him and I wonder, I just wonder,

 

  1. How much of what others thought impacted Joseph?

 

How much of what others thought, how much of what the community was saying, went into his decision making?  Joseph had to decide between doing what is easier and doing what was right, between what other people wanted him to do and what God wanted him to do.  Joseph could have been afraid of what others might think of him.  Here is something Joseph was about to learn;

 

  1. Pleasing God often means disappointing people. 

 

Joseph could have been swayed by what others thought of him, but he would be disappointing God.  Or, he could discover that pleasing God often means disappointing people.  By doing what God wanted him to do, he could be incurring the disdain of a whole lot of people. 

 

Now, I might ask you how much does the opinion of others influence both how you feel about yourself and how do those opinions influence your actions?  How many of you would say that what other people think about you is important to you?  Raise your hand.  Those who didn’t raise your hand was because you are afraid of what I would think about you if you did.  All of us are concerned to one degree or another about what others might think of us.  You might wonder; Do you like the car I drive, the clothes I wear, the way I comb my hair?  Do you think I am funny?  Do I fit in?  Teens are so concerned about what their fellow teens think of them.  Teenagers invented the term, peer pressure.  They are concerned about wearing the right clothes or being seen with the right people.  And, here, the term, “right,” means, what everybody else thinks.  So, teens will wear the clothes that everybody else thinks is cool.  They will want to be in that crowd because everybody knows that is the coolest crowd.  Just to get a guy to like them, girls will wear revealing clothes, or change things about their personality, or go farther sexually, again, because they are concerned with what that guy thinks.  And, this applies to adults, too.  We might flash our degrees, or buy a certain make of car, or become a member of that country club because in doing so, others would think more highly of them.  How much does the opinion of others influence both how you feel about yourself and how do those opinions influence your actions?  Do you have a fear of what other people might think about you?  Pleasing God often means disappointing people 

 

  1.  Joseph had a Decision to Make

 

So, while Joseph is thinking through all of this, an angel comes to him.  The angel comes in a dream and tells Joseph that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary is pregnant and that this baby’s name is to be Jesus and that Jesus would be the fulfillment of prophecies dating back thousands of years and that he would be called Emmanuel.  Then, Joseph awoke and the Scripture says quite simply that Joseph “did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”  Now, this could mean that the angel’s appearance sealed the deal for Joseph.  I mean, how can you argue with an angel?  But, even though the angel laid it out for Joseph in living color, still, Joseph had a decision to make.  He had to decide; will I follow what other people think I ought to do, or will I do what God commands?  Now, let me give you two statements that can help us as we consider this further;

 

  1.  Two statements to consider when you are afraid of what others might think of you.

 

Becoming obsessed with what people think is the quickest way to forget what God thinks. 

Becoming obsessed with what God thinks is the quickest way to forget what other people think.

 

If you are obsessed with what other people think, that will have a huge impact on what you think about yourself and it will have a huge impact on what you do in life.  If you are obsessed with what others think, you will be sure to buy the right car or wear the right clothes or do whatever it takes to get that guy to like you or to go to great lengths to be popular, to be in the “in” crowd.  And, when you do that, it is the quickest way to forget what God thinks.  But, if you are obsessed with what God thinks, then you won’t be so concerned with what others think and your actions will reflect that. 

 

  1.  And, what does God think?

 

We learn some of this from Joseph.  In our Preschool staff devotions the other day, we asked the question; Whatever do we need with Joseph in the Christmas story.  I mean, Joseph is the forgotten man of Christmas.  He is kind of relegated to the back of the manger scene.  We don’t sing Christmas carols about Joseph.  There are no Christmas cards or poems dedicated just to him and he is not even the most well-known Joseph in the Bible.  The best we can say about Joseph is that he was the Expedia guy.  He has his family travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then when King Herod threatened to kill the male babies around Bethlehem, Joseph scurries Mary and Joseph off to Egypt and then, after Herod dies, he takes them back to Nazareth.  So whatever do we need Joseph for and what can he teach us about what God thinks of us?  What we found in our devotions the other day is that

 

  1.  What God thinks of you can be summarized in the two names He gave to Joseph

 

Without Joseph, we would not have those two beautiful names given by the angel.  Oh, God could have given those names to us through some other character, but God chose Joseph to receive those names.  And, those names say bunches about what God thinks of you.  The first name is

 

  1. Jesus, for He will save you people from your sins.

 

“You are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:21

 

I like that old, old story about the draw bridge operator.  It was this man’s responsibility to make sure that the drawbridge was down and in the right position for when the commuter train was came down the tracks going 50 miles per hour.  If the operator didn’t get the drawbridge down, the commuter train would crash and hundreds of people would go to their deaths.  So, one day, the horn sounded and the speeding train was coming near.  The draw bridge operator knew he had to get that bridge down.  Just as he was about to throw the levers that would turn the giant gears and get the drawbridge into the proper position, the operator heard a sound, looked up and there, in the giant gears of the bridge, was his young son, playing.  There was no time to get his son from amongst those gears.  The train would be there in a matter of seconds.  If the operator didn’t throw those levers, hundreds of people would die.  If he did, his son would die by his own hand.  The operator reached down and threw the levers.

 

Your Heavenly Father knew that there were billions upon billions of people whose lives and eternities depended on Him and in His love, He threw the lever that would have Jesus born of a virgin, who would come here to suffer and die for your sins.  You ask what God thinks of you?  You are of such worth to God that He would dare to have His only Son die for you.  When you wonder what God thinks of you, look to the manger, look to the cross, and know that you are of immense value to God.  The angel said something else to demonstrate what you mean to God.

 

  1.  Emmanuel, for God is always with you

 

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’”).  Matthew 1:23

 

Think about that term, Emmanuel.  Emmanuel means God with us.  There is never a time that God is not with us.  When you go through the darkest of nights, God is with you.  When you are plagued with depression and fear, God is with you.  When you must face a gruesome doctor’s report, God is with you.  When you must face death itself, God is with you.  When you close your eyes for the last, God is with you and He will always be with you.  For eternity God will be with you.  I just love that line from the song, “What a Beautiful Name It Is,” a song, we also looked at in devotions;

 

You didn't want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

 

God didn’t want heaven without you!  That is how much you mean to God!  Jesus dared to be Emmanuel, God with us, because you are of that much value to Him.  That’s what God thinks of you. 

 

Now, you can be obsessed with what people think but you will forget what God thinks.  And, can I just remind you that can’t please everyone.  No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to please everyone.  If you wear your hair one way, you will get some people who say, “That is way cool,” while other people will say, “That’s ugly.”  If you say that you like one kind of music, there will be some who say, “You are a rock star,” but there will be others who say that you are a boob.  If you say, “Okay, I will stand in the middle,” then everybody will hate you.  You can’t please everyone and if you are obsessed with trying, you will forget that Jesus means that He came to save you from your sins and you will forget that Emmanuel means that God will be with you all of the time.  That’s how valuable you are to God.  If you are obsessed with what others think, it is the quickest way to forget what God thinks.  But, you can be obsessed with what God thinks and that will be the quickest way to forget what other people think.  You can be obsessed with that audience of One, with doing what is right rather than what is popular.  You can please God but it will disappoint people.  But, that is okay because God is the one who deserves our obedience.  Do you see how freeing that is from your fears about what others might think?  You will eliminate your fears about what other people think about you when you center on what God thinks about you.  So,

 

  1.  How Can You Do That?

 

How can you become obsessed with what God thinks?  Here are a couple of things to remember;

 

  1.  If you’re not ready to be criticized for your obedience, you are not ready to be used by God

 

Think about all the ways that Joseph and Mary would be criticized.  They would be publicly disgraced again and again.  People might be saying, “Joseph and Mary said it was the Holy Spirit’s baby but I saw Joseph’s donkey parked outside of her apartment at 2AM and you know they weren’t doing Bible studies at 1AM.” 

 

So, you might have your friends at work ridicule you for reading the Bible.  They might wonder how you can believe in what they call fairy tales.  You might be criticized for you obedience.  Or, you might stand up for certain social issues, a stance that goes against the popular thinking of our modern culture.  You might be criticized for you obedience.  Or, you teens or young people might seek to obey God by living a sexually pure life.  Your friends might make fun of you, call you a prude.  You might be criticized for you obedience.  But, if you’re not ready to be criticized for your obedience, you are not ready to be used by God.  Here’s something else to help you surrender to God;

 

  1.  Extraordinary acts of God start with ordinary acts of obedience. 

 

Joseph said Yes to God.  In spite of what people might have thought, Joseph said Yes to God.  The Savior of the world would be born when two ordinary people, Joseph and Mary, said Yes to God.  Others might have said, Don’t do it.  You are foolish for going through with this.  In our world today, people might have told Mary to simply abort the child.  But, extraordinary acts of God start with ordinary acts of obedience.   

  

And keep in mind that Joseph and Mary didn’t have a whole lot to go on.  I mean the angel simply told her that she was going to have a baby and that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and overshadow her but that’s about all the direction Mary had.  Do you think maybe, just maybe, she had a few more questions.  All new moms have questions.  What’s morning sickness going to be like?  Why do I have these cravings?  Is childbirth going to hurt?  New moms can ask their friends or their sisters or their mom but Mary’s deal is like nothing any woman ever experienced.  This Holy Spirit overshadowing thing, how is that going to happen?  What will all that mean?  The angel didn’t offer any more details than that and still Mary submitted.  She said that she was the Lord’s servant and would obey.  That was an ordinary act of obedience but look at the extraordinary act of God it would engender.  Mary would be the mother of the Savior of the world.  Extraordinary acts of God start with ordinary acts of obedience.   

 

For Joseph, too.  Joseph had all kinds of wrestlings which we talked about today.  He had  no idea what this ride would be like?  He didn’t know any more about his role in this thing than what we hear from Matthew’s Gospel account.  He didn’t know what he might experience with Mary, would she have mood swings, would she eat pickles and ice cream?  Yet, Joseph said, Yes, to God.  On the one hand, Joseph could have been thinking, Oh my gosh, what are people going to say about me?  What is this going to cost me?  On the other hand, he could be thinking that this baby could change the world.  This baby would change the world.  And, Joseph would be a part of that.  By him saying, Yes, extraordinary acts of God would start with ordinary acts of obedience.  So,

 

  1. What extraordinary acts of God could start with your ordinary act of obedience?

 

This week, you could invite some friends to Christmas Eve services.  It’s not too late, you could invite them to the Christmas Pageant or to the Family Service or to the main service on Christmas Eve.  That could be a very ordinary act of obedience.  You are simply making an invitation.  But, you don’t know what will come of it.  Maybe they will take you up on it.  Maybe they don’t know Jesus and something in the service touches their heart, maybe the Holy Spirit will overshadow them, and they will come to faith.  And, then your ordinary act of obedience has  impacted your friend’s eternity.  Or, maybe you hear of a need at the church and you step up and God does some incredible things through you.  Or, maybe you see a co-worker struggling and all you do is buy them a soda and sit with them at lunch and lo and behold, they tell you all that’s bothering them and you get to apply the sweet balm of the Gospel to their hurting heart.  Extraordinary acts of God start with ordinary acts of obedience.  You see, the outcome is God’s responsibility.  The obedience is yours.

 

So, in one little verse we find out what happened. 

 

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. ”  Matthew 1:24

 

Joseph did what God commanded him to do and that continued God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  Joseph set aside what other people might be thinking about him and surrendered to God.  He realized that pleasing God often means disappointing people and that becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you.  So, when those fears of what people might think come barreling down on you, go back to Jesus.  Go back to the manger.  Go back to the cross.  God back to God’s amazing value He places on you, how He saved you, how you are of such value that he is always with you.  Go back to Jesus and know in living for that audience of One, know that being obsessed with what God thinks of you, that will eliminate, that will do away, with any fears that you have of what other people think of you.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Amen.