We cannot escape the subject of dreams as we deal with the Christmas story in the first two chapters of Matthew. It is mentioned five times (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22). Four times Joseph is guided through dreams and the Magi once.
As we look at the nature of these dreams we understand that God does use dreams to communicate even today. In Joel 2:28 it is said that “your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions” (NIV).
Yes, we do see many dreams. But are they of God? Is there any way to be sure whether they are from God? The study of the dreams that Joseph and the Magi had would shed some light on this subject.
The first dream to Joseph was one of encouragement (Matthew 1:20).
He was a righteous man. He did not want to disgrace Mary publicly even though she was found to be with child before their marriage. So he wanted to divorce her quietly*.
Now Joseph, through the dream, was encouraged to do right. He was assured that God’s hand was there in all what had happened to Mary. He is addressed by the angel as “Joseph son of David,” which might have easily reminded him of their long expectation of a Messiah from the royal line of David. He also might have been reminded of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament especially the one about the virgin being with child. He woke up to obey God. It is also evident that he respected God’s word because it is explicitly said that he had no union with Mary until she gave birth to Jesus.
If a dream is from God, it would possibly contain a word of encouragement to do right. It would encourage us to be obedient to what God has already commanded in His Word. The opposite of this would make it fully clear. If, Satan tries to communicate to us through a dream what would it probably contain? Would it contain a message of encouragement to do right according to God’s Word? Never. He is a liar and is opposed to God’s Word. Why? He knows that the Bible exposes His real character. Therefore it is impossible for him to encourage us to do right. In other words, encouragement to obey God and do right can only come from God.
Therefore it is safe to conclude that if there is a word of encouragement in your dream, it will in all probability have come from God.
As we look at all the other four dreams we find that they contain warnings. All these warnings are related to the safety of the Child Jesus.
When the Christ Child is born is someone’s heart immediately evil forces start their work to somehow destroy the child. God knows this in advance. So He takes measures to let the person(s) know how to escape out of the devil’s and his agent’s reach.
And God can do that through dreams. He did that in the lives of Joseph and the Magi. But the devil will never warn us of approaching danger. He will always try to sugar-coat evil and let us perish. But Jesus came that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b NIV).
Therefore when a warning note comes to us in a dream, in all probability, we can conclude that it is from God.
But the success of this kind of communication through dreams depends totally on something else. That is so because the note of warning many times are ignored by people. So it is important to understand that one factor which determines the success of God’s communication of warning to us. That one element that plays a crucial role in the success of God’s communication of warning is timely obedience on our part. We find the Magi and Joseph heeding the warning given to them in the dreams and obeying it immediately. Delays could have spelled disaster for the Child Jesus and even to their own lives too.
This Christmas, let us search our hearts to find out whether we are quick to heed God’s warnings.
Another important aspect of the dreams is the fact that they were simple and straightforward messages. God doesn’t try to confuse us with riddles. He uses dreams to help us understand His immediate plans for us. We do not know whether God used symbolic things in those dreams. Even if He uses them, we can be sure that He will make their meaning plain. The simple truth is that dreams that come from God come to give us understanding. The message will be made plain, as clear as daylight.
Therefore this Christmas let us be glad that God uses dreams to encourage us to do right and also to warn us. Let us strive to obey immediately when He does so. Finally let us rejoice that God makes His messages plain to us when He uses dreams to communicate to us!