“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” — James 2:17-18Read the full passage: Matthew 2:19-23
“Because I said so!” I was a little surprised the first time I heard those words come from my mouth. Even though I was trying to authoritatively lay down the law to my young sons, I could not help but laugh at myself. It was one of those moments when you realize you have become your parents. I immediately flashed back to the days of my youth and envisioned myself inquiring as to why I should do what I had been instructed to do, forcing my parents to play the parental trump card – because I said so! Unfortunately, apart from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we do not naturally grow out of disobedience. Instead, our resistance to follow our Heavenly Father’s commands often follows us into adulthood.
In the Christmas story, however, we find the example of a young man who demonstrated extraordinary faith and obedience to God. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, was ready, willing, and able to immediately obey the Heavenly Father simply because He said so.
Indeed, Joseph shows a remarkable readiness to obey the Lord’s revealed will. We see this in today’s passage. Matthew describes Christ’s return to Israel from his temporary flight to Egypt. Just as Joseph had obediently taken the family and fled to Egypt to escape Herod, Joseph obediently took the family back to Israel once Herod died.
The angel’s instructions to Joseph were three-fold: 1) “get up,” 2) “take the Child and His mother,” and 3) “go into the land of Israel” (Matt. 2:20). Joseph’s actions are three-fold too, because they parallel precisely what the angel told him to do. Joseph immediately: 1) “got up,” 2) “took the Child and His mother,” and 3) “came into the land of Israel” (Matt. 2:21). No time elapsed, no intermediate steps were taken, and no negotiations were had. Joseph heard. Joseph obeyed.
The angel also informed Joseph that the situation had changed in Israel –“those who sought the Child’s life are dead” (Matt. 2:20). While the instructions made sense, they weren’t necessarily risk-free or easy to follow. Nevertheless, Joseph was quick to obey and return to Israel.
Still, Joseph was not irrational or reckless. In following God’s instructions, Joseph continued to seek God’s guidance. He considered where in Israel he would take the family. In response, God further revealed that Joseph’s fear of Archelaus was warranted, and He sent Joseph to the region of Galilee, to a little city called Nazareth (Matt. 2:22-23).
What we see in Joseph’s response should characterize our lives as well. His faith led to a pattern of active obedience to God’s will. This is always how it is with God’s people. James says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Faith is shown by our works (James 2:18). When faith produces obedience, God provides and blesses that obedience. When Joseph obeyed, God not only provided for Joseph’s needs. God provided through Joseph’s obedience for the salvation of all who would come to know Jesus Christ. Praise God for Joseph’s obedience!