First Mennonite Church
November 30, 2014
“Joseph: His Practice of Righteousness”
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
In the following Sundays leading to our Christmas Sunday, December 21, I want us to reflect on the special traits of those persons mentioned in the story of the birth of Jesus. We will be looking at the lives of certain men and women with the purpose of learning from their godly and reverent lives before God. Today we will begin with Joseph. Joseph, as we will see, can show us what a righteous life looks like.
Let us, therefore, read Matthew 1:18-25.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Before we take a look at the life of Joseph, let me just say here in passing that beside Luke and Matthew, no other New Testament book makes mention of the miraculous conception or as it is commonly called, the “virginal birth” of Jesus. Although Paul mentions that Jesus was born of a woman under the law etc. Paul’s clue to Jesus’ Messiahship is not derived on the way he was conceived, but more on his teaching, his death and resurrection.
Joseph was a humble man. In Matthew 13, verses 54-56, tell us of Jesus’ visit to his hometown Nazareth. As he began teaching in the synagogue, the townspeople began questioning loudly, is this not the carpenter’s son? The Greek word Tekton can mean carpenter, builder, or to any craftsman’s work. As a carpenter or builder that Joseph was, he might have had to go out to work where he could find work. And must likely, as was the tradition of ancient peoples, the fathers taught their sons the trades they had. We can guess that as Joseph went about searching and doing his job, Jesus accompanied his father too. Therefore, when Jesus came back home his townspeople knew he was a carpenter as was his father Joseph.
Matthew calls Joseph Mary’s husband although they were in the midst of the marriage process. Jews of that time practiced a two-step marriage process. The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal. Betrothal involved the establishment of a marriage covenant. After the marriage covenant had been established, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father’s house. There he would remain separate from his bride for a period of twelve months. At the end of the period of separation the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. The taking of the bride usually took place at night. Hints of this can be found in the parable of the 10 brides in Matthew 25.
Matthew tells us that Joseph was “a righteous man.” That means Joseph was a God-fearing man; he was law-abiding person. In practical terms it describes Joseph as an honest, humble, and faithful person. A further explanation about a righteous person is found in Luke 1, verse 6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. A righteous person is one who lives according to the commandments and ordinances of the Lord in a blameless manner. In that regard the NIV gives a clearer picture about the character of Joseph when it says that Joseph [Mary’s] husband was faithful to the law. Joseph not only knew his Bible very well, but he also devoutly practiced his Bible. But once he found that Mary was pregnant during their in-between period of their marriage steps, Joseph found himself in a dilemma. Joseph knew that in Deuteronomy 22: 23-24, the law of the Lord stipulates that any betrothed person who commits adultery must be “cut off” his or her people. Although by the time of Joseph, this was no longer practiced, nonetheless, any such person becomes a public disgrace. Any person who commits adultery during the waiting period of their marriage is shamed and rejected by his or her community.
And this is where we should look at Joseph to learn from him what grace is. Here is where we can learn what Jesus “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). Or when Jesus said to his disciples, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Because, Joseph her husband was faithful to the law and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. What Matthew tries to make abundantly clear here is that despite the fact that Joseph knew the shame and public disgrace Mary’s pregnancy will bring upon her and that he was entitled to report of it, Joseph chose to do the right thing. He chose to divorce her quietly.
My dear friends, how tempting it is for anyone who is the right side of the law to shame those who are not? How tempting it is for anyone to take and apply the letter of the law in complete disregard to reasoning and the spirit of grace toward others.
Fred Craddock tells the story of what happened to him in a town in Tennessee. He was arriving in town around 2am and as he entered the town of Etowah, he saw the sign, “City Limit, speed limit 30MPH.” As he was driving he noticed a police car flashing after him. He stopped and the cop came over to his car. Fred tells the officer he was driving slower that the 30 mile speed limit. The office said to him that he knew that but the case is that Fred might have missed a sign that indicated a school zone of 15 MPH. Then Fred said, “But officer it is 2 in the morning.” The officer said, “The speed limit does not say ‘except 2am’. Does it?”
As for Joseph, he did not want to condemn Mary before the community. He did not want to be the one who would accuse her of a serious sin. Despite the fact that Joseph upheld the law, he knew that doing the right thing goes beyond the law. Mercy and compassion might lead us go beyond the law.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us honor his words when he said: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). Let us practice with Joseph a righteousness that goes beyond the letter of the law. Let us take Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees when he said to them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23).
Let us show mercy and compassion to those around us, especially to the weak and those who faltered. Let us walk in the righteousness of God’s kingdom, which God showed us when He became Man in the person of Jesus his Son. Amen!