The Nativity Story part 3:
Joseph: One Righteous Dude
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 17, 2006

 

Main Passage: Matthew 1:28-35 (NLT)

 

This is our third week in our message series based on The Nativity Story, and over the past couple of weeks we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Mary. We started by talked about what a huge honour it was for Mary to be chosen by God. And we saw that when any of us are chosen by God for anything, it’s a reason to celebrate. That’s what we learned from Mary in week 1.

Last week, we talked about the potential consequences that Mary faced because of her pregnancy. Because she was an engaged woman, and because her fiancé knew that he wasn’t the father, there were all kinds of possible consequences she faced. It was unlikely anyone would believe her story about being told by an angel that while she was still a virgin she would give birth to a son. And so she would have been seen as being immoral. She would have been treated with contempt and shunned by the very people who used to call her “friend”. Her own family could have rejected her. Her fiancé could have abandoned her. And there was even a good chance that she could be executed by stoning in the streets. And in spite of all these dangers, we learned something from Mary. We learned that any sacrifice to be in the centre of God’s will is no sacrifice, because there’s no better place to be.

But today, we’re going to switch our focus from Mary to Joseph.

Now, truth be known, we don’t really know a whole lot about Joseph. In fact, we don’t even know any words that he spoke. We’re only told what he did, never what he said. We’re told he was some kind of craftsman, possibly a carpenter (Matthew 13). At least for a while, he lived in the town of Nazareth. But his ancestral home was Bethlehem, because that was the home of his ancestor King David.

Now there’s something. Joseph could actually track his family line back a thousand years to the greatest king of Israel. Do you know who your ancestors were one thousand years ago? Me neither. But Joseph did. However, even though he was a direct descendent of royalty, he was far enough removed that he wasn’t seen as anyone special. No one from Nazareth was seen as anyone special.

Plus, Joseph wasn’t exactly wealthy. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to be dedicated, they took along with them a sacrifice to offer to God. Now, according to the Old Testament law, after a woman has given birth she is supposed to offer a sacrifice of a lamb and small bird – either a dove or a pigeon. But there was a provision for those who couldn’t afford a lamb… they could bring two young pigeons or two doves (turtledoves), which is exactly what Mary and Joseph did. So Joseph was not wealthy by any stretch.


Oh, but there is one more thing that we know about Joseph. And this is where we’re going to spend the rest of our time. This is the reason why Joseph was chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus. This is what qualified Joseph to be the man who would be closer to Jesus than any other man. This is it: We know that Joseph was a good, righteous man. He was a man of honour. He was a man who wanted to do what was right… toward other people and toward God.

Matthew 1:19 (NIV)
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man…

So Joseph was known as a righteous man, which basically means he always tried to do what was right. He lived his life according to the Old Testament law. He believed God’s Word and followed it. He was honourable. He acted with integrity in interpersonal and in his business relationships. He was one righteous dude.


Now, just so we’re clear, righteous and religious are not synonymous. They’re not the same thing. Joseph lived in a very religious society, but not all that righteous. Just like today, there were a lot of religious people who did not live righteously. Even the religious leaders of Joseph’s day were corrupt – more interested in perception, politics, power and possessions than in living for God.

But Joseph – he was righteous. He was a man of honour. He was the kind of man that God would choose to raise His own Son. He’d be the kind of man every child could wish for: a father who knows the right way to live and who follows the right way no matter what the cost!


So how did Joseph get this way? Did he wake up one morning to discover he had become righteous? Did he trip on the sidewalk and fall into righteousness? Is it just one of those things that happened?

No, you don’t become righteous by accident. Understand this: being righteous is never the easy thing to do. Being righteous means that you act against your own sinful, selfish desires and you do what is right. It’s never easy. But it’s always right.


And so, Joseph had devoted himself to pursuing righteousness. He had disciplined himself and had developed a habit of making the right choices. And I’m sure he made sacrifices along the way. But he had determined that he would live righteously before his God.

Now, in The Nativity Story, they kind of substitute that word “righteous” with the word “honour”. And I know they don’t mean exactly the same thing. But they’re close enough for our purposes here this morning.

So take a look at this clip… this is just after Joseph has discovered that Mary is pregnant, he doesn’t understand the circumstances yet, and he’s wrestling with what the righteous, honourable thing to do would be…

VIDEO – “I HAVE PURSUED HONOR” SCENE (from the movie The Nativity Story)

Okay, so in that clip, Joseph claimed that he had pursued honour all his life. And he probably had. He wanted to be right with God. He wanted to act rightly toward others. He wanted to have integrity. He wanted to be righteous. He wanted to have honour. And he had pursued it by keeping the Law, offering the appropriate sacrifices, and just being a good, honest man.


But Joseph was about to discover that true honour – that true righteousness – meant much more that just saying and doing the right things. It meant more than being respected in the community. In fact, for Joseph it meant the exact opposite. So this morning let me identify for you three ways in which Joseph demonstrated honour and righteousness… in ways that I’m sure he never expected he’d have to. But when the time came, he was up to the task and acted righteously. So first…

 

Joseph demonstrated true righteousness through…

A. A deep compassion for Mary (even when he felt betrayed)

Put yourself in Joseph’s sandals for a minute. Imagine you were engaged, you had been completely faithful, and you suddenly found out you had been betrayed. Your fiancée had cheated on you, and you didn’t even know with who. How would you react? How much compassion would you have?

It must have been tremendously difficult for Joseph. Now, if he really did love Mary, them maybe there was a part of him that wanted to work it out. But there would have been an even bigger part of him that felt hurt… felt betrayed… felt angry… that wanted to get even… wanted to put her to shame… wanted to wound her just as she had wounded him. Joseph must have been hurt by what he thought Mary had done. But still, there was nothing hurtful in his response to her.

He didn’t seek revenge, he didn’t compromise his integrity, he didn’t try to humiliate Mary. Instead, he acted with honour and compassion toward Mary… even when he thought she had betrayed him.

Now remember – we talked about this last week – if Joseph had gone public and made a big show over what he thought Mary had done, there was a good chance that Mary would have been executed. Some people today who go through a bitter divorce wish they had that option. Joseph actually did. But he decided not to use it. Joseph was going to break it off with Mary, yes, but he was going to do it quietly. He didn’t want to subject her to public disgrace. And he didn’t want her to be killed. So he was going to break it off as quietly as he could.

In that clip we saw from The Nativity Story, you could see the internal battle that Joseph must have waged. I know that’s the screenwriter’s version of what could have happened, but I think it’s probably pretty accurate. Joseph probably did struggle with what he should do. He probably weighed all his options… and he came down on the side of compassion.

Now, there’s a man of honour. Keep in mind that at this point, Joseph didn’t know God’s plan. He didn’t understand that Mary was still a virgin. He believed that Mary had cheated on him… had betrayed him. And yet he acted with honour and compassion and righteousness.

Secondly, Joseph demonstrated true righteousness through…

 

B. A willingness to sacrifice his reputation

Remember that Joseph was engaged to Mary, and he was maintaining his sexual purity by waiting until their marriage was finalized. But suddenly Mary shows up with a bun in the oven. She “fell pregnant”. (If that’s the way it happens, you’d better watch your step.)

Well, Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father. But if he stayed with her, then people would assume that he was, and that they just weren’t able to control themselves. They’d both be looked down on. Both of their reputations would be destroyed, including Joseph’s reputation as a good, honourable man… a reputation he had worked hard to achieve.

And that’s why Joseph planned to break it off with her. It was because he was righteous. It was the right thing to do. Or so it seemed.

And that’s when God stepped in. He sent the angel Gabriel to Joseph in a dream to explain what was going on. And the angel encouraged Joseph to go ahead with the wedding.

Now remember, that would destroy his reputation. Joseph understood that staying with Mary would make him the object of ridicule. So even with the angel’s urging, it would still be a courageous decision. He would have to take for his wife a woman who was bearing a child that wasn’t his own, and in so doing, he would share in the shame and humiliation that would be heaped upon her. People would talk about him behind his back, they’d shun him, and they could even treat him with outright contempt.

His reputation would be ruined. That’s what Joseph faced if he took Mary as his wife. But that’s exactly what he did.

VIDEO – “I BELIEVE YOU” SCENE

Joseph sacrificed his own reputation because he was a man of honour. Ironic, don’t you think? But true honour – true righteousness – does not depend on what other people think of you. It depends on what God thinks of you. Joseph understood that. And so he made it his goal to be a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser… even to the point of sacrificing his reputation.

And third, Joseph demonstrated true righteousness through…

 

C. A courage to follow God into the unknown

Joseph was going where no man had gone before. He was taking on the responsibility of raising God. How exactly do you do that? I mean, really? I went to Amazon.ca and I couldn’t find any books or videos on how to raise God. So how do you do that?

Would Jesus always be self-aware? Would He always be all-knowing and all-powerful? Or would Jesus have some self-imposed restrictions as He grew? Would Jesus need disciplining? If so, how do you do that? And what if they had other kids (which they did)? Do they play favourites?

This was unfamiliar territory. Joseph was stepping into the unknown. He was just a craftsman… a carpenter… how was he going to raise God? There must have been a lot of uncertainty and even fear about it. Take a look at this…

VIDEO – “ARE YOU AFRAID?/WILL I BE ABLE TO TEACH HIM ANYTHING?” SCENE

There’s a song written by Michael Card that tries to capture how Joseph may have been feeling about becoming the acting father of the Son of God. The song says…
 

Lord I know He’s not my own.
Not of my flesh, not of my bone.
Still Father, let this baby be
The Son of my love.

Father show me where I fit into this plan of Yours.
How can a man be father to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter.
How can I raise a King?
How can I raise a King?
~ Joseph’s Song
 

Now, raising Jesus would be daunting enough all by itself. Just think about when Joseph found out that his responsibilities would be a little more complicated than that. What does a small-town craftsman know about outwitting the armies of the king and protecting the most precious baby ever born? What does a carpenter know about traveling to foreign lands? What does an ordinary Joe know about raising the Messiah?

How different would this be from what Joseph originally planned for his future? He probably expected a quiet life, living in Nazareth, raising a family, working as a craftsman, making a meagre living… life wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but it’d be predictable. My, how things change.

And yet Joseph embraced all of this. He courageously followed God into the unknown.

 

You know, maybe there was a time that Joseph thought being righteous meant being religious… Keeping the Old Testament Law… offering ritual sacrifices… outdoing your neighbour in the “goodness scale”. Maybe Joseph thought like that.

But not anymore. He came to understand that…

True righteousness is not revealed in what we do; it’s revealed in who we are.

True righteousness is not revealed in what we do; it’s revealed in who we are… and ultimately who God is making us to be.


Joseph sought honour all his life. He pursued righteousness. And he attained it. He was motivated by compassion to follow God’s leading regardless of the sacrifice. That’s true righteousness.


You know what I wonder? I wonder if, some thirty years later, Jesus was thinking about His dad when He said…

Matthew 5:6 (NIV)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Does that describe you? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness, like Joseph did?

Let’s pray.

 

 

Sources:

The Nativity Story: The Courage of Joseph by C. Raymond van Pletsen
Christmas According to Joseph by Jonathan McLeod
Joseph: A Divine Example by Dr. Damian Phillips
Joseph by Chris Tiller
Joseph, a Just Man by John Gaines

 

 

 

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