Digging in Deeper: Matthew 1:20

“But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter)

What are you afraid of? That was actually a topic of conversation in my vehicle the other day. The list included a pretty standard set of things: spiders, snakes, mice, insects, and the like. Any of those on your list? Perhaps, but I’ll bet you have some other things on there as well; things that are bigger, harder for you to precisely define, and possess more control over your life than any of the cliched list. The good news is, you don’t have to live with this. Joseph didn’t either.

Why do so many people let fear control their lives? That’s a bit bigger of a question than we’re going to hope to answer here in these few minutes together. What I will say is this: We often turn to fear as a cover for a perceived loss of control. When we are in a situation in which we feel like we aren’t in control, fear gives us something we can do. We can be afraid. Now we’re doing something which is always better than doing nothing.

The problem is that whereas we turn to fear in an attempt to gain control, fear is a powerful enough emotion that if we are not exceedingly careful, the very fear we turn to in order to gain some control can wind up asserting control over us, leaving us worse off than when we started. This is why a little fear of the right things and people can be situationally beneficial, but too much fear or fear of the wrong things can be incredibly detrimental.

There is a second problem here. When we turn to fear in order to cover for this perceived lack of control, we are necessarily not turning to something else, namely faith. You see, when we are in a situation in which we don’t feel like we are in the driver’s seat any longer, we can turn to fear in order to take control, but we can also turn to faith in the one who led us there in the first place.

When Joseph got the news that Mary was pregnant and knew he wasn’t the father, he had to be feeling a whole range of different emotions. But in the ocean of unknown now stretching out before him, we can be sure that fear was near if not at the top of the list. His fear gave him something to do. He didn’t have to sit on the sidelines in order to see how things were going to play out. Now he was involved and wasn’t merely a passive actor.

When the angel showed up in his dream, the first thing it said to him was that he shouldn’t be afraid. On the one hand, this was meant to calm the entirely natural fear he was feeling over seeing the angel. We often imagine that seeing an angel would be a neat, peaceful, calming experience. There is nothing at all in the Scriptures to support this notion. Every time someone sees an angel in the Scriptures they nearly lose their minds with fear. And, contrary to what you might think, the more righteous a person is, the greater their fear of the angel.

In any event, there is the obvious reason for the “do not be afraid” message, but there’s something else too. Think about what has just happened to him. Joseph’s world has been rocked to pieces by the revelation of Mary’s pregnancy. In spite of her story about receiving the news from an angel and the whole thing being caused by the Holy Spirit he didn’t believe her. He had no idea what was going on and probably felt like the nice, quiet life he had planned was slipping entirely out of his control. Remember what we said is often a cause of fear? There is a good chance fear was controlling Joseph’s world and in the chaos of the moment, he may not have even realized it. The angel was shedding some light on what was going on inside of him and calling him away from it and into faith.

It wasn’t just faith that the angel was calling Joseph to embrace. The angel gave Joseph a purpose. He was to marry Mary and claim the child she would deliver as his own. Now he had something to do; something that would occupy the rest of his life. This is important. Faith doesn’t wipe out fear simply by its existence. Faith wipes out fear because it invites us into purpose.

Where there is purpose, there is no fear. There can’t be. We know where we’re going and even if we don’t know for sure what the path ahead of us is going to bring, we know the direction we are heading and that is enough to keep us going.

So, what are you afraid of, really? Whatever it is, turn to the God who can see the bigger picture and who has great work for you to be doing. Let Him, like He did for Joseph, invite you into kingdom work that will leave no time or place for fear in your heart. Let His perfect love for you—love delivered in the person of the baby born at Christmas—drive out your fear and replace it with faith-fueled purpose.

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