Day 8: Listen, Trust, and Obey

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. (Matthew 1:24)

Every Christmas season, Joseph gets the short end of the stick. I understand it to some extent. Joseph never speaks in Scripture. He’s not the one carrying the second Person of the Trinity in his womb. Besides all that, he’s not a mother. Everyone knows that without mothers, our homes (and the world) would fall apart!

Yet when we encounter Joseph in Scripture, we don’t find a distant, lazy man who rejects responsibility. We find a silent man, yes, but one who is thoughtful, responsive, kind, and obedient. In our culture today where many fathers are either absent or aloof, here is a prime example of fatherhood.

Joseph was betrothed (i.e. legally pledged to be married) to Mary. When it was discovered that Mary was pregnant before marriage, he didn’t want to make a public spectacle and humiliate her. In those days, a child born outside of marriage was tremendously shameful. Yet being a “just man,” he wanted to quietly divorce Mary, not shame her. As he gave thought to this, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him not to fear and that he should name this baby, implying that Joseph would be the adoptive father of this child.

When Joseph woke up, he obeyed. Period. At great cost to his reputation, he took Mary and her baby in and, when the child was born, he named him Jesus, as he was told to do. In Joseph, we see a profound, yet simple example of how God calls all of his people to respond: listen, trust, and obey.

Of course, this little story is not mainly about Joseph. It’s mainly about a God who intervenes in human affairs, who interrupts our plans, who challenges our assumptions of what is good and just and what it means to follow him. Above all, this story is about a God who speaks. He spoke to Joseph in that moment, but ultimately he speaks through the baby whom Joseph would adopt. This baby would grow up into a man and call his people to abandon all to follow him. Abandon your plans, your reputation, your assumptions. Abandon yourself. God called Joseph to do that, and he calls you and me to do the same.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Matthew 1:18-25

  1. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. How would you have responded?
  2. Imagine the alternative scenario in which Joseph did not obey. How would that change things?
  3. Read verses 24-25. It’s been said, “Character is who you are and your reputation is who people think you are.” What do these verses say about Joseph’s character? Why is character important to you?
  4. Is there a specific opportunity for you to listen, trust, and obey Jesus? What must you do?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent


What if obedience doesn’t give me joy?

Oftentimes in the Christian life, we do not want to do something even though it is the right thing to do. It may be something that causes us to be uncomfortable or particularly humbled or work in an area of weakness. We simply do it because we know we are “obeying God,” even though it does not give us joy. I experience this. Some might answer this problem with, “Don’t do it if your heart isn’t right. After all, God cares more about your heart!” Others might say, “Just keep obeying. You’ll have joy in heaven.”  Neither of those help me, and I doubt they help you.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this might help. Obey until you have joy, then keep obeying. I do not believe that joy is only reserved for the next life, and I also believe God cares about heart-level obedience that manifests itself in external ways. Jesus prayed, “I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).  But he also said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). These are not at odds.

If you continue to obey, plead with God for your heart motivation to change and to experience true joy. I believe God will soften your heart. If you disobey, your heart motivation will not change, no joy will come from disobedience, and your heart can only harden more.

True joy lies in humility and insignificance. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and the Apostle Paul, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).


Jesus, the Lamb of God Who Never Went Astray

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. (Psalm 119:176)

This verse ends the longest chapter in the Bible.  Psalm 119 is all about God’s word and the psalmist’s desire to follow it. Often he makes bold statements, as he does in verse 176, petitioning God to “seek his servant” because he “does not forget God’s commandments.”

If you read the whole chapter, however, you will notice that this is rooted in repeated requests from the psalmist for God to teach, open eyes, give mercy, give understanding, and be gracious. Our “remembrance” of God’s commands is rooted in one thing: God sovereignly and generously granting it. Thankfully, God does grant it to some.

This psalm looks forward to the Messiah, because the ability to remember God’s word and rejoice in it “like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162) was ultimately purchased by Jesus, the great treasure (Matt. 13:44) and the perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is not just God’s servant like the psalmist; he is the Suffering Servant who took the iniquity of the sheep who have gone astray (Isa. 53:6), and he becomes our Good Shepherd and gives life to God’s flock (John 10:10). He does not simply “not forget” God’s commandments, he is the only one who has perfectly communicated God’s word, being, and character to the world (John 1:1-5; 14:5; 15:15; 17:8, 14; Heb. 1:1-3).

If you want to know, remember, and rejoice in God’s word, you must know Jesus, and all of your failures to do what God demands must be cast upon him. Run, silly sheep, and embrace your Good Shepherd.


Why Should I Get Baptized?

After the last two posts, I thought it would be helpful if I quickly said why it’s important for Christians to be baptized.  Some people may assume that because I believe paedo-baptists are sinning (since they do not get baptized as believers) that they might be disqualified from salvation.  I don’t mean that.  Belief in Jesus as the atonement for one’s sin saves people.  After all, the thief on the cross next to Jesus was not baptized, yet Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

What I do mean when I say that paedo-baptists (or others!) who have not been baptized as believers is that they must obey the Bible’s command to be baptized (just as we must obey other commands in the Bible).  If the Bible tells us to do something, by God’s grace we need to do it.  Here’s a sampling of verses to show this truth:

  • Acts 2:37-38, Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
  • Acts 8:35-36, Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”
  • Acts 10:46-47, Then Peter declared “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

I have heard people say, “Well, I don’t want the church to tell me what to do.”  “I don’t want people to think that you need to be baptized to be saved, so I’m not going to do it.”  “I’m not going to be legalistic.  It’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal.

Peter said, “Repent and be baptized” to receive forgiveness.  Simply, this verse says that new birth is something that God works in our hearts and we respond by turning from sin (repentance).  The outward sign of that which is true on the inside is water baptism.  It should be a willful, joyful, happy obedience in the Christian’s life, just as it was for the Ethiopian eunuch.

Now I must be careful here.  The above statements are not made by paedo-baptists — for they think that they are truly baptized.  And though I think they are wrong, I will respect their diligent study and not question their faith in Jesus, yet still encourage them in the truth to change their stance on baptism.

But what I would say to someone who makes the statements above — someone who is willfully and knowingly not seeking to be baptized when they know they must be?  I would ask them plainly: Are you are true believer in Jesus?  Don’t you want to publicly declare your death, burial, and resurrection with Christ?  Are you viewing baptism through the lens of an imperfect body of believers or through the perfect Holy Scriptures?

Baptism doesn’t save you.  But if your disobedience is willful and stubborn, as with any sin, there must be a great examining and testing of your faith.  Jesus’ blood saves you by God’s grace through faith.  If that’s your confession, then trust God that your baptism is designed to be an external display of internal realities and that it will be a great public testimony of the transforming power of God in your life.


Jesus Died for My Obedience

Jesus didn’t just purchase salvation for the elect on the cross.  He also bought all of the benefits of the gospel kingdom, one of the greatest being obedience.  Without obedience to the gospel, we would only have wrath waiting for us (2 Thess. 1:8).

Ezekiel 36:26-27,

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Hebrews 5:9,

And being made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. 

Without God giving us a new heart of flesh, we would have no ability to obey him.  Praise God that he has purchased obedience for us through Jesus’ death so we can experience eternal salvation with him forever.