Matthew 1:19

Sermon preached on December 16, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

There's an old saying that goes something like this—

"If you want a job done give it to a busy person."

I think the first time I heard it was when Marg's father quoted it to me one time. We were talking about something related to work and he said that to me. When I heard him say that I was incredulous. I remember thinking,

"That doesn't make sense. How can that be?"

The way that I looked at it, it seemed that if you have something that needs to be done, you should give it to someone who is not busy because he will have more time to devote to the task. But Marg's father was an executive in a big corporation. He actually ran several companies so I was aware that he knew a lot about managing workers and about getting things done. So I questioned on it. He said that a busy person knows how to get things done. He's good at accomplishing things. He's organized. He's a doer. There's a reason why busy people are busy, and people with time on their hands have time on their hands. People who aren't busy often don't know how to get things done. So it's true. Whoever came up with that saying knew what they were talking about.

Who does God pick when He has an important job to accomplish? What kind of person does He choose? The passage before us is important because it answers those questions. Our text says,

"Because Joseph her husband
was a righteous man and did not want
to expose her to public disgrace,
he had in mind to divorce her quietly."

What kind of man did God choose? There are two things to note in our text. First, it says that

Joseph was a righteous man.

He loved God's commandments and put them into practice in his life.

Our text says that Mary was 'pledged' to be married to Joseph. Engagement was different in ancient Israel than it is for us. Back then it was a firm commitment and was normally undertaken a year before the actual marriage. But it was so serious that, even though the girl continued to live with her parents, in a certain sense she was already considered married. A betrothed woman could be punished as an adulteress if she was unfaithful to her betrothed.

Many people think that Joseph's righteousness consisted of the fact that he was a kind and merciful. That is possible. Being compassionate is certainly an outworking of having a high regard for the law. But other commentators see the two phrases as having a tension between them and they understand them as referring to different things. I think they're probably right. They see the 'and' in our verse as adversative, being understood in the sense of 'yet', so we would have,

"Although her husband Joseph
was a righteous man,
yet he did not want
to expose her to public disgrace,"

The main meaning of the word 'righteous', (R. T. France Matthew, NICNT; p. 51)

"one who is careful to keep the law."

John B. Lightfoot paraphrases the first clause this way, (A Commentary on the Gospels)

"Joseph, being a just man, could not, would not, endure an adulteress…"

In other words, Joseph had an ardent love for God's commands and this was a situation he could not tolerate. The evil that he thought was there grieved him. Joseph was righteous. Joseph wanted his marriage to be what God designed it to be. God designed for marriage to be between one man and one woman. He designed so that both man and woman would be pure and unspoiled entering it. He designed it so that both partners would be devoted to God and have as one of their primary duties to help the other draw closer to Him, be more devoted to Him, be more obedient to Him. In Psalm 119:136 David said,

"Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed."

It grieved him that people disregarded God's commands. It was the same for Joseph. He would not tolerate this situation with Mary. It was despicable to him. He was righteous and so he was going to walk away from this situation.

You need to be like that with sin.

Sometimes we wink at sin. We tolerate it. We accept it. We may not do it ourselves, but we accept situations which we should not. If your child is living with someone out of wedlock and they come to visit—many so-called Christian parents let them sleep together in their homes. They accept situations they should not.

Like so many other Christians we have made an accommodation with sin. We don't like some things about sin—like the punishment that comes from it—but we somehow have the idea that if it wasn't for that, sin would almost be okay. We're not righteous and we're comfortable with sin. That should not be.

You should have a deep and abiding hatred of sin. It should be despicable to you. You should hate it in your life and in the lives of others. We need to be righteous and part of that righteousness consists of not accepting sin, not accepting some situations. We need to be righteous.

The second thing we see about Joseph is that

he was a kind and compassionate man.

In Old Testament times the penalty for the crime of adultery was stoning. Deuteronomy 22:13-21 tells us if a man found his new wife was not a virgin, he could accuse her and if no proof of her virginity was found, she was to be brought to her father's house and stoned to death.

In Joseph's time the Romans had prohibited the Jews from enforcing their laws that required death. You'll remember when the chief priests wanted to put Jesus to be to they had to go to Pilate and ask him to do it. We are told this in John 18:29–32. When they brought Jesus to Pilate he asked them,

"What charges are you bringing against this man?"

They replied,

"If he were not a criminal,
we would not have handed him over to you."

Pilate said,

"Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law."

But they replied,

"But we have no right to execute anyone…"

Sometimes in their anger the Jews got carried away and they were willing to execute people right on the spot, without even asking the Romans. In Acts 21 the Jews seized Paul in the temple area and dragged him out and were in the process of trying to beat him to death when the Romans intervened and saved Paul's life.

But Joseph, besides being grieved by Mary's perceived betrayal, was also compassionate and he did not want her put to death, either by a mob or by a reasoned court ruling. He didn't even want her publicly disgraced. He was going to divorce Mary, but he was going to do it in a very discreet way, to save her from public shame. David L. Turner writes, (Matthew, BECNT; p. 65)

"Joseph becomes something of a model of one whose high standards are balanced with compassion."

The third thing I want you to see about Joseph is that

he was like Jesus.

You've all heard the expression,

"Like father, like son."

Well, that was true in the case of Joseph and Jesus. But in their case the saying is backwards. With Jesus and Joseph, Jesus is the archetype. Through God's grace Joseph was like His great Savior.

If we really want to see 'righteousness' and hatred of sin we need to look at Jesus. He was the Righteous One. Sin was anathema to Him. He hated it. He fought against it. He wasn't like us. In John 2:14–17 we read that when Jesus went up to Jerusalem he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves in the temple courts. Other men were sitting at tables exchanging money. What did Jesus do?

"So he made a whip out of cords,
and drove all from the temple area,
both sheep and cattle;
he scattered the coins of the
money changers and overturned their tables.
To those who sold doves he said,
'Get these out of here!
How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!'"

Jesus hated to see the temple area desecrated. It was supposed to be a place for worship and contemplation. The misuse of the temple area angered Him.

Jesus had such a high regard for the law. He used it to fend off every temptation Satan threw at Him. He saw through the hypocrisy and pretensions of the people of His day. He knew that the Pharisees, for all their talk about devotion to the law, didn't keep it. He didn't wink at their evasions of the law. He condemned them for it. They didn't support their elderly parents because they said their possessions were devoted to God. Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy. He said to the people, (Matthew 5:20)

"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."

Jesus revealed the pretensions of the religious people. He criticized them for complaining about the lesser faults of other people while ignoring their own bigger faults. He told them to take the log out of their own eyes before helping others with the specks in theirs.

The rich young ruler thought he had kept all of God's commandments, ever since he was a boy. To show him that he didn't, Jesus told him to go and sell everything he had, give it to the poor and then come and follow Him.

Jesus lived His life in total devotion to God. He went around doing good (Acts 10:38) to others, pointing them to God. He became our servant, taking our sins upon Himself. He was scrupulous about obeying the law perfectly.

Yet, at the same time, Jesus was kind and compassionate toward sinners. Mark's gospel tells us that when the rich young ruler told Jesus that he had kept the law for years, Jesus looked and him

"and loved him."

The young man was filled with pride. He had all kinds of faults. He treated himself much better than he treated others. Yet Jesus loved him.

Or consider the woman taken in adultery. Adultery is despicable in God's sight. Yet He didn't condemn her. He was gentle with her and told her to sin no more.

How many times His disciples were filled with fear? How many times did their faith waver? They argued about which of them was the greatest while Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross. Yet Jesus still laid down His life for them. Peter denied Him three times, yet Jesus was very loving toward Peter and restored him to his place.

What does all this mean for us?

There are three applications I want to make from this.

First of all, do you have such a high regard for God's law, about putting into practice that if someone was to summarize your behavior they would characterize you as 'righteous'?

Are you committed to righteousness?

If you want to be used by God to do great things for Him you must be righteous.

I find it interesting how a lot of people are eulogized today. Just about everything that is said of the person is good. I mean, people don't usually say anything bad about the recently deceased. They will say things like,

"He had a good sense of humor." "He loved spending time with his family." "He loved teaching English." "He was into computers." "He loved the outdoors." "He loved hunting and fishing." "He loved his dog." "He loved cooking." "He loved the Boston Celtics."

Some of those things describe me. There's nothing wrong with any of those things. They're all good. Some of them are even important. The problem is that when your life is summarized by such things and that those things are the main things about your life—that's sad.

Joseph's life could be characterized as, "righteous" and that righteousness consisted of Him having a high regard for God's Word as revealed in the Old Testament. He applied that word to His life. It often showed itself in acts of kindness and compassion. Now that's an eulogy that is worth having.

Do you have such a high regard for God's law that

evil grieves you.

Joseph thought that Mary had been promiscuous. He was grieved by that. He was troubled. He knew it was wrong. He knew that it was against God's commands. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. It was something to be ashamed of.

I think we all know what it means to be grieved by evil. But unfortunately we're only grieved by some kinds of evil. Let me give you just one example.

The horrible murder of 20 first graders to the Connecticut school on Friday brought that home. We grieve for the loss of those young children. It was horrible beyond our comprehension.

But do you grieve for the approximately 3300 children that are aborted in our country each day? It's proper and good for our society to mourn those children in Connecticut. But it's astonishing that so few in our society mourn for the 3000 children that are aborted each and every day.

Christian, be grieved by the sin you see. Mourn because of your sin. Mourn because of the sin in this world. Strive to be holy.

Secondly, are you committed to mercy and compassion?

Joseph wasn't going to condone the evil that he thought Mary had committed. He wasn't going to go through with the marriage. But he was still going to have compassion toward her.

Shame on Christians and the Christian church if our attitude toward that person is different than Joseph's. Joseph was going to treat Mary with consideration, with compassion, with mercy. He wasn't going to put her through public embarrassment that was not necessary. He wasn't going to get up and condemn her publicly. He was going to do what was right but he was going to do it discreetly, behind the scenes.

The world today pictures Christians as being the exact opposite of Joseph. The book, "The Scarlet Letter" pictures Christians as being hypocrites, as treating women who sin very horribly. It pictures us like that men that tested Jesus when they brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. They caught her in the very act. Where was the man? Why didn't they bring him to Jesus as well? If they caught the woman in the act, they also caught the man. Perhaps he was fast and was able to escape. But it is also possible that the people who caught them were so chauvinistic that they focused only on the woman and let the man go.

It's very easy for us to be against abortion. It's very easy to look down on those who sin. It's quite another thing to be kind and compassionate as Joseph planned to do.

The pressures on a woman to have an abortion are often great. This is illustrated in a story told in Charles Colson book, 'Loving God'. It's about a young woman, who just found out that she was pregnant. She said, (p. 138-139)

"I considered myself a Christian at the time. But I had found out about Christ while in the drug scene. After I learned about Him, I knew I wanted to commit myself to Him, but I couldn't give up my old friends or my old habits… But being pregnant ripped through the hypocrisy of my double life. I had been meaning to 'get right with God', but I kept slipping back. Now I couldn't live a nice, clean Christian life like all those church people. I felt the only answer was to wipe the slate clean. I would get an abortion; no one in the church would ever know. The clinic scheduled an abortion date, I was terrified, but my boyfriend was adamant. My sister was furious with me for being so stupid as to get pregnant. Finally, in desperation I wrote my parents. They were staunch Catholics, and I knew they would support me if I decided to have the baby. My mother called me: 'If you don't get an abortion, I don't want to see you while you're pregnant. Your life will be ruined and you'll deserve it.'"

She decided to have the baby. She said,

"I was still everything I never wanted to be- pregnant, alone, deserted by family, and rejected by the one I had loved. Yet for the first time in my life I was really peaceful, because I knew for the first time I was being obedient."

It's one thing to be against abortion and yet another thing to be compassionate and merciful to those who decide not to have abortions. So often we forget to practice the implications of God's commandments. Galatians 5:14 says

"The entire law is summed up in a single command:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

If you want to be used by God, be righteous. Be compassionate. In 2 Timothy 2:20–21(HCSB) the apostle Paul wrote,

"Now in a large house there are not only gold
and silver bowls, but also those of wood and clay,
some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable,
he will be a special instrument, set apart,
useful to the Master, prepared for every good work."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. You should understand that although Joseph was 'righteous', that is used relatively. I have no doubt that Joseph was like Job, one of the best men on the face of the earth at the time that he lived.

Yet Joseph still needed a savior.

We must not lose sight of the big picture here. Joseph was a sinner. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) The Bible tells us that there is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10) Joseph needed a Savior. Joseph was told to name the baby 'Jesus', because He would save His people from their sins. Mary needed a Savior. In Luke 1:46–50 she made this clear. She said,

"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation."

God did great things for her. He had mercy on her. If Jesus hadn't come to this earth and suffered and died—Mary and Joseph would have been lost. Joseph's righteousness would not have been enough to get him into heaven. As Romans 3:20 says,

"no one will be declared righteous
in his sight by observing the law."

In order to get into heaven we need a perfect righteousness—the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We get it by believing in Him.

You need Jesus. Even if you're a better person than Joseph—you need Jesus. Go to Him today.