About a half of a lifetime ago I was leading a music group to Scotland on a summer missions trip. I was being hosted by a lovely Scottish family, who in the course of conversation told me that they were still in a bit of recovery from having lost a five-year-old son in the past year to some disease that took him rather suddenly. Even in the midst of their grief, they modelled the joy of faith and life in Christ.
It was quite remarkable, and my understanding of their faith was informed by what the father told me of his experience. He said, “This is the thought that has given me the most comfort: If God had come to me six years ago and said, ‘I have this precious child that I need someone to give a home for five years, but then I’m going to take him back with me; would you be willing to do that?’”
And the father, with moisture gathering in his eyes, looked at me and said, “I would have certainly said to God in answer to that question, ‘Absolutely, YES, we will take that assignment.’ So why should I be angry about my loss when I have so much to be thankful for about the great blessing we received?”
That would be a tough assignment. It is difficult to give your heart away to uncertain situations. And that is what, for example, makes foster home parents such fantastic people in my book! But honestly, most of life is quite uncertain.
God sometimes gives people some tough assignments to carry out in the context of a difficult, sinful and fallen world. Mary and Joseph could justly say that God gave them a pretty tough job. Along with the issue of the social stigmatization of the pregnancy, there was the challenge of raising and having this unique child in one’s home. We see a taste of that when Jesus is accidentally “left behind” in Jerusalem, hanging out in the Temple playing Bible trivia with the religious leadership.
Beyond that we see that his brothers were essentially finding Jesus to be a bit “out there” in the early days of his ministry. It appears they sort of came to try to talk him down off the edge, get a more balanced view of self, and to come back home.
And finally, at the cross we see Mary … apparently Joseph had died somewhere along the way … watching her son on a Roman cross. Talk about a brutal assignment!
But both took the assignment from God … immediately … no doubting or delaying.
From Luke chapter 1 is the account of Mary hearing from God …
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
There is no waffling or but, but, butting … she just said, “Yep, bring it to me, I’ll do it. I am blessed among all people to be given this assignment.”
And then in Matthew chapter 1, we see the portion of the story about Joseph …
18 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.
So Joseph woke up and went and put into action what God wanted done. There was no doubting or second-guessing. The assignment was tough, but the rewards of obedience are better and higher.
There is an eternally timeless truth in that statement