When Your River Gets Shifted
Ever heard of the Choluteca Bridge? The Choluteca Bridge is in Honduras. When it was built, it was an architectural marvel. It was designed by some of Japan’s top engineers. The design was important because the area was known for its hurricanes and massive rain storms. The bridge was massive! It was built to last forever, well nearly forever.
In 1998 devastation hit Honduras. A hurricane unlike any that had been seen for years. It was Hurricane Mitch. Mitch dumped 75 inches of rain in under four days! It destroyed homes, businesses, landscapes, bridges and many lives were lost. But the Choluteca Bridge stood the test. It was intact and in perfect condition! But there was a problem. No the bridge wasn’t the problem. It was as strong as ever! The problem was – the river moved.
A wider look at a photo shows that the bridge, while perfectly standing, no longer served any purpose. The river moved so far that the bridge was now on dry ground. In addition, the road that led to and from the bridge got washed away. Truly amazing! Yet, truly ineffective!
Today’s sermon is about a man who seemed to have a Holy Spirit hurricane come and take away his purpose. Pray with me and we’ll see what the Lord was up to then, and how it applies to you and me today.
Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. … through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
You might not remember it, but last year at this time, we heard Mary’s side of this amazing move of God, causing her to become pregnant without the assistance of her husband Joseph, by the power of the Holy Spirit. She receives a visit from the Archangel Gabriel, who tells her that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah; literally, the mother of God.
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
For Mary, this is amazing news. She is going to have the blessings of motherhood, with none of the drama before hand!
The story plays out differently when you look at it from Joseph’s perspective. While God doesn’t tell us much of the backstory, we do know that they were betrothed husband and wife - Joseph had plans. Joseph had pledged his faithful love to this young lady, and, like every godly Jewish man, Joseph was looking forward to having God bless him with children, as it is written:
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Yes, Joseph and Mary had plans, and then, one day, Mary comes and tells Joseph, when she returns from a 6 month visit to her cousin Elisabeth, that God had a better plan. Now, I believe that Mary tried to explain what was going on. Tell me ladies, wouldn’t you try to explain to your newlywed husband about how the angel came and told you that you were about to become the mother of the Son of God before the two of you had gotten together? And brothers, you would have no trouble accepting what your dear, sweet, wonderful bride told you as you stared at what six months ago was tiny, flat waist?
But that’s not how it happened for Joseph. Joseph goes to see his betrothed, and lo and behold, he’s staring at a belly! Now, I believe that Mary tried to explain what was going on. Tell me ladies, wouldn’t you try to explain to your newlywed husband about how the angel came and told you that you were about to become the mother of the Son of God before the two of you had gotten together? And brothers, you would have no trouble accepting what your dear, sweet, wonderful bride told you as you stared at what six months ago was tiny, flat waist?
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
I am certain that Joseph heard Mary’s story. I am certain that he wanted to take her word for it. I am also certain that Joseph knew how babies came - angels or no angels. Joseph cared for Mary, just enough, however, to not want to make a public spectacle of her - or worse. In those days, adultery wasn’t just something that got your face plastered on TMZ or the Enquirer.
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
Joseph was trying to save her life, the best way that he knew how. He knew what the law demanded, and he knew what justice allowed. Joseph needed some help, saints. Joseph needed a word from the Lord!
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Joseph wanted to do the meet, right, and salutary thing - but the law limited his options. Like the old Thomas Whitfield song says :
We need a word from the Lord A word from the Lord Just one word from the Lord Will move all the doubts
And cause the sun to shine And give peace of mind Speak Lord, speak Lord....
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
“There’s a name that I love to hear. It soothes my doubts and calms my fears. Oh how I love Him.
There’s a name that gives me so much pleasure. It will make it rain in the middle of the desert.
Its a name to which every knee shall bow. You’re gonna bow later, if you won’t bow now.
Everybody say Jesus… Jesus… Oh how I love Him.
Oh how I love Him.
Marvin Winans would know what I was taking about, because he wrote those lyrics back in 1992. Joseph and Mary knew what I’m talking about too. That was the name that God gave them for this Baby that was unlike any other baby that world had ever known. That was the name that would comfort them through the days and months as that baby cried and teethed and did all the things that babies do, the years as they learned how to deal with a child who never sinned and yet still needed to be raised and taught. That was the name that comforted Mary as she watched the words of Simeon come to pass on a hill, far away where stood an old rugged cross; the emblem of suffering and shame: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” - .
… and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.
Refrain: So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.
As you join Jesus in His Mission of reconciling lost sinners to His loving Father in Heaven, there will be days when everything is clear, and there will be days when lots of things aren’t so clear. There will be days when you know what you know, and there will be days when you will need “a Word from the Lord.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), .
The Lord knows what you need, and He supplies it through Word and Sacrament. He gives you His exceeding great and precious promises to cling to to rest in. Joseph didn’t know what the Lord wanted Him to do until the angel spoke, and you might not have known until the angel of this house spoke to you today concerning God’s holy, just, and good Law that exposes sinners just like you, just like - us... and His pure Gospel that makes known to you that Jesus Christ came to save sinners just like you, just like - us.
“Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” the Apostle Paul would later say, but he wasn’t alone. I’m right there with him, and so are you. So was Joseph, and contrary to Pope Pius, so was Mary. But as the Scripture says:
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Eventually in 2003, engineers came and fixed the situation with that bridge in Honduras, so that it was able to fulfill its purpose. Today, God’s Word comes to you to heal you so that you can fulfill your purpose of knowing the peace of God.
So let the peace of God, that passes all understanding, guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen .