Matthew 1:18-25 "Conviction"
We come finally to the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Honestly, I have been waiting to preach this sermon for a month now. So, I am really excited about reaching the culmination of this process of preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas.
Let us do the quick review of this sermon series. We started with the idea of "Peace" or "shalom" in Hebrew. We said that we could not have a godly peace in our lives without divine justice, that is "shaphet" in Hebrew and is the second candle. We then went on to talk about how divine justice leads us to righteous living, "tsedek" in Hebrew. Today we go one step further than righteousness: the Hebrew term is "yakech." This is translated mostly as the word "conviction" in our English bibles.
Last week I gave you all some examples of those people who are called "righteous" in the Bible. You will recall that Noah was called "righteous," in fact the ONLY righteous man left. Job was called righteous. He kept to his righteous living despite having lost everything near and dear to him. At the end of the sermon last week I mentioned Joseph, the man who married Mary, the hanai father of Jesus. The Bible says that he is righteous as well.
The bible tells us that Joseph, being a "righteous man" was set to send Mary away. That certainly would have changed the whole Christmas story for us today! However, before he carries out HIS plan, God interrupts with the appearance of an angel to Joseph in a dream. The angel says to Joseph that although sending Mary away would be a righteous thing to do (please understand that in those days having another man's baby in wedlock is met with the death penalty), Joseph is now called on by God to do more than what would be considered the "righteous thing" to do.
"Joseph, if you have faith in God, then you must not send Mary away." That is what is spoken here. In that moment, Joseph is privileged to catch a glimpse of God's wider plan of redemption and salvation and how his actions are supposed to fit into that. Yes, this is beyond just that feeling of doing something righteous. This is knowing in your heart that you are a piece of God's puzzle, a part of God's plan, a soul that has been in essence chosen by God for a purpose. "Con Victus," meaning that you are a part of God's victory! Conviction!
In Bible study the question was raised, "Who told Joseph to marry Mary?" The bible does not say. I do not want to read more into this than might actually be there, but it does seem as if God has already chosen Joseph and Mary to be together for the sake of bringing Christ into the world. In fact, wouldn't that have to be?
I had this funny conversation with a colleague once about what would be the worst way to start the story of salvation through Jesus Christ. I jokingly said, "With the 'begats' in Matthew." If you still are looking at your bibles in Matthew, you can see what I mean. The New Testament, the start of our faith if you will, starts with this long list of people from the Old Testament. It is as if someone ask you about your faith in Christ, and you start off with "My great, great, great, great, grandmother was born to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, they had a baby named Pebbles, and so on." That just does not inspire the faith. What is the point?
The point for us then is that God convicted each one of these people mentioned. God intervened in their lives. They were a piece of the puzzle that God was putting together for us. Just like we here are a piece of the puzzle for what God is doing today! They did more than just live righteous lives. Just like today, we are called to do more.
When it comes to talking about "conviction" in the Bible, we have the one poster-child that must be mentioned: Saint Paul the Apostle. You will recall that Paul, with his Hebrew name Saul, was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians. He was a Pharisee who had actually been present at the stoning of Saint Stephen. On his way to go kill Christians, who else should drop in on him but Jesus himself. Paul is blinded the light of the presence of the Lord and is then healed miraculously by the Christian Ananias in Damascus.
initially does not want to heal Saul. He complains that Sual is an evil man who
wants to destroy Christians,. But then, Jesus comes to Ananias too, and says
(Acts 9:15) "Go for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my
name before the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel. . . ."
Saul is healed. His eyesight is back.
Now, Saul, now being called Paul because he feels he is a new man in Christ, could have done the noble and righteous thing of just going back home to his family. "Thank you Jesus for opening my eyes, now I will be back to the same ol-same ol." Yet, he is convicted. He understands that he is now an instrument of God. He sees the larger picture of what God is doing through his life. He is convicted in the faith.
He shares his conviction with the early churches. Open now to 1 Thessalonians 1: 4-5, "For we know, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, that God has chosen you because our message of the gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in the power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake."
The word here in the Greek for "full conviction" is really a lot of fun to consider for us. Πληροφόρια is made up of two words actually. Πληρο simply means full or filled to overflowing. And, the second half of the word is φόρια, which means "let oneself be borne along by unbridled passions." That is the exact definition from my Greek dictionary. So, the term "full conviction" here means to be fully borne along by unbridled passions. Come to think of it, the word "euphoria" in English comes right from this Greek word. So, for Paul, "conviction" is "full euphoria" for the Lord.
Jeepers, why do we say "conviction"? It sounds like someone who is being punished for what they have done. It is literally from the Latin "con victus," which means "with victory." Let me take for an example the Waimea High School football team. As they moved up the championship ladder to finally become the State champions, they did that with the understanding that they could actually win the final match. They played football with conviction. They could see and taste the victory at hand. So, they experienced that unbridled passion!
Is it okay to mention the world soccer championship? I know we are Americans here who generally do not care about such. Although, America did have a team entered and made it to the quarter finals. This week are the semifinals already. Germany is out of the running. America is out of the running. Where is my victory? Why do I always pick the wrong team? I was routing for Morocco this last week against France. But, that was more because I have never really liked France and they were the brutal colonizers of Morocco way back when. But Morocco really is not my team, so to say.
I am a Christian and am in a different game with different rules. This was so well expressed by the country singer Bobby Bare with his song "Dropkick me Jesus." Yes, this is the same Bobby Bare who wrote "Tequila Sheila." Yeah, so he is famous. Okay, listen to these lyrics:
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts
End over end, neither left, nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly tempestion below
I've got the will, Lord, if you've got the toe. . . .
Win with Jesus! Amen.