NOTE—For an expanded video of this message, click here.

NOTE—For an expanded podcast of this message, click here.

From what we learn about the foster father of Jesus, righteousness may not be as we have understood it.

Sunday School for children is where we first begin to learn about the many different characters of the Bible.

We learn about David & Goliath, Samson & Delilah, Abraham & Isaac, Cain & Abel, Adam & Eve and many more.

Each of these provide a background of excitement to the stories of the Bible as we learn about the mighty acts of the heroes of the faith.

We have seen some of the stories portrayed on the big screen, so we know about Charlton Heston and Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar.

Oops! I mean, Moses, Samson and Delilah.

Many of these are listed in the Hall of Heroes of Hebrews 11.

There are others who are not listed in that section and of whom we seldom hear.

One of those is Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus.

There are only a couple of instances where his name is mentioned in the Gospels for the part he played in the early years of Jesus’ life.

There are some interesting points to be gleaned from this little vignette into the life of Joseph.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.
When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,
before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
And her husband Joseph,
being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame,
resolved to divorce her quietly.
Matt. 1:18-19

Joseph and Mary were not officially married yet when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant.

Most of us today can remember when an unwed mother carried greater shame than being gay.

In Jewish society, it was even worse.

The possibility of being stoned to death was always near.

they said to him,
“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
Jhn 8:4-5

The scribes and Pharisees were demanding justice according to the law of Moses.

The human idea of justice is that there should be a punishment for every offense, and the Jews were very strict on that point.

For them, justice ruled.

But notice what we find about Joseph.

And her husband Joseph,
being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame,
resolved to divorce her quietly.
Matt. 1:19

It says that Joseph was just, but he didn’t want public satisfaction for having been offended.

Why wouldn’t he want everyone to know that he had been defrauded of his conjugal rights?

Why shouldn’t he put Mary to open shame so that she would be recognized as damaged goods?

What do we do with that?

Let’s consider the word “just” as used in this verse.

We use different meanings of the English word “just.”

We say, “I just want some peace and quiet.” Or, “I just want to go in and lie down.”

We are communicating the idea of simplicity—one thing only.

You may have thought of it that way when you read the title of tis message as “Just Joseph”.

That is not the way the word is used here.

The word in the Greek is also translated as ‘righteous’.

The split of its translations in the NT between ‘just’ and ‘righteous’ is almost 50/50.

That still brings us back to the original conundrum.

If Joseph was righteous, then why did he not want public retribution for having been made a fool of?

Why did he not want to follow the Law of Moses in the arena of justice?

Moses commanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—equal punishment for any offense.

If we had followed that line of thinking for long, the whole world would be blind and toothless.

There must be something to the biblical concept of righteousness that we may be missing.

For the Jews—and for our understanding of the OT—righteousness has to do with doing right.

We have heard the saying “Do right to be right.”

It has been emphasized in our culture from the time we were children.

We were given
Dudley Do Right
from the
Rocky and Bullwinkle
cartoon show.

And the
Romper Room
gave us
Mr. Do Bee.

There is nothing inherently wrong with teaching children how to behave in a civilized society.

However, these thoughts were adopted by the church and became the basis for understanding our righteousness in Christ.

Becoming a Christian has devolved into behavioral rectification rather than a life of faith.

For in it (the gospel)
the righteousness of God
is revealed from faith for faith,
as it is written,
“The righteous shall live by faith.”
Rom 1:17

In this first chapter of Romans, Paul is establishing the basis for the gospel, which is contrary to all that the Jews practiced and believed.

The gospel is not focused on cleaning up our behavior, but about bringing us to the knowledge of our salvation which Jesus provided.

Our behavior may change as a result of that knowledge, but it is not a requirement for righteousness.

Faith is the requirement for righteousness.

We use the word righteousness to mean our right-standing before God.

For us, we know that it means acknowledging Jesus as savior.

For the Jews, however, right-standing was achieved by doing what the law required.

What I am about to show you may make grappling with the OT a little more difficult than it already is, but I know the Lord will bring you into an understanding.

An interesting point is that in many places in the OT there are statements which should have led the Jews to understand the reality of God’s desire.

Let’s look at some of them.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Mic 6:8

This verse has been set to music and is quoted often.

Standing alone the full meaning may not be readily apparent, so let’s get the full context of this famous verse.

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Mic 6:6-7

The prophet—speaking for the Lord—is asking if what he had known all his life was a reality with God.

What is the right way to come before the Lord?

Am I really supposed to bring burnt offerings?

Is that what God requires of me for Him to like me?

Maybe I haven’t given enough.

Maybe I need to increase my service to God by doing more, giving more.

Will that help?

No. And he gives the answer in v.8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

The word translated justice in that passage is not the same as the word we are considering about righteousness.

It is about setting things right in society.

We can see, then, that there is nothing about righteous deeds contained in Micah’s prophecy.

In fact, Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, speaks very negatively about our acts of trying to be righteous.

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities,
like the wind, take us away.
Isa 64:6

David had a revelation that probably spun his head around when it first came to him.

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering
You did not require.
Psa 40:6

It is said of David that he was a man after God’s own heart.

He had gone to great lengths to bring the Tabernacle back to Jerusalem.

And so it was,
when those bearing the ark of the LORD had gone six paces,
that he (David) sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep.
2Sa 6:13

These are not isolated thoughts within the OT.

The psalmist, the judges and the prophets all had this same revelation, yet the leaders continued to focus the people’s attention on strict requirements of fulfilling the law.

David says again after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin with Bathsheba

For You do not desire sacrifice,
or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
Psa 51:16

Yet we know that Leviticus contains the requirements of sacrifice for David’s cleansing.

What are we to make of that?

I will show you in a few more verses.

There are so many more places where we can see this, but I only have space to show you a few without commenting on them.

And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
1Sa 15:22

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
Isa 1:11

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt,
I did not speak to your fathers or command them
concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Jer. 7:22

This is an eye-opener once you see it; and we talked about this a few weeks ago.

And finally we come to what may have affected Joseph and his dealings with Mary before the Lord explained everything to him.

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Hos 6:6

So, it would appear that Joseph also understood that righteousness was not found in all manner of religious activity, but in showing mercy.

There was no need for him or Mary to offer the two turtledoves required for sacrifice for her being pregnant.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees about this is something we should all take to heart and begin to meditate on.

Go and learn what this means:
‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mat 9:13

Will you take the next few days before we celebrate Jesus’ birth to think about how you might apply these thoughts in your daily life and conversation?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s